Poor Theatre

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Plays

Christie in Love

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Christie in Love is a distressing investigation into the mind of the infamous serial killer, John Reginald Halliday Christie, who strangled eight women in his flat in Notting Hill in the 1940s and ’50s. It is part of Brenton’s group of ‘Plays for the Poor Theatre’ – plays with minimal theatrical requirements and small casts, but fierce intensity.

In 1953 the police found the bodies of six women concealed in Christie’s house, including his wife. Christie was hanged for their murders, and found subsequently to have committed two others, crimes for which another man was hanged.

The first scene of Brenton’s play opens on a police constable digging for bones in his backyard and reciting obscene limericks. He is joined by a police inspector who tells an obscene joke and warns the constable not to dwell on Christie’s perversions. The play then resurrects and interrogates Christie, turning his mind inside out and refusing the spectator any palliative measure or escape. It is a naturalistic portrait in a bleak and surreal frame.

Christie in Love was first performed in 1969 by The Portable Theatre at Oval House, London.

The Education of Skinny Spew

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Education of Skinny Spew is a savage play, a brief journey through the life of a boy who gains consciousness in the womb and is immediately disgusted with the world. Skinny Spew is insulted by his parent’s inane attempts to talk to him, rips up his teddy bear, and eventually attacks those he sees as attempting to civilise him, and repress his right to play as he wants to.

It is part of Brenton’s group of ‘Plays for the Poor Theatre’ – plays with minimal theatrical requirements and small casts, but fierce intensity.

The Education of Skinny Spew was first performed in 1969 by the University of Bradford Drama Group.

Gum and Goo

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Gum and Goo is a short dark play about the world inside the mind of a young autistic girl. It is part of Brenton’s group of ‘Plays for the Poor Theatre’ – plays with minimal theatrical requirements and small casts, but fierce intensity.

The play opens on two boys who torment a young girl, lifting up her skirt and calling her goofy. She starts screaming and retreats into her own head. There the actors who played the boys become Gum and Goo, gremlins who offer to be her friends. They send her home for tea, and she wanders through a distorted world of confusing streets, dirty old men and a mother whose head comes off.

Gum and Goo was first performed in 1969 by the Brighton Combination.

Heads

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Heads is a short and brutal play about greed and the perfect man. It is part of Brenton’s group of ‘Plays for the Poor Theatre’ – plays with minimal theatrical requirements and small casts, but fierce intensity.

A woman is in love with two men: one for his physical power; the other for his brilliant mind. But one’s muscles begin to disgust her, and the other’s obsession with increasing his vocabulary cannot satisfy her. She can never be happy while the two halves of perfection remain unreconciled.

Heads was first performed in 1969 by the University of Bradford Drama Group.

The Saliva Milkshake

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Saliva Milkshake is a short and chilling play, part of Brenton’s group of ‘Plays for the Poor Theatre’ – plays with minimal theatrical requirements and small casts, but fierce intensity.

When Martin comes home to his flat, he finds Joan who has broken in and made herself a coffee, after killing the Home Secretary. They were revolutionary socialists in their student days, but while Joan is still rebelling, Martin has settled into a middle-class academic position, and he is horrified to find Joan appealing to him for help. The play is the story of an intellectual forced into action in an oppressive and watchful society.

The Saliva Milkshake was first performed in 1975 at the Soho Poly Lunchtime Theatre.

Term associated with Jerzy Grotowski and the influential Laboratory Theatre. He called his theatre poor because it dispensed with theatrical trappings and the technological resources of ‘rich’ theatre. Grotowski made the actor’s voice and body central to the performance. Only stationary light sources were used; the only masks were the actors’ faces; costume was nondescript; vocal effects replaced instrumental music and sound ‘off’; the auditorium became an intimate space divided in varying ways to allow the utmost contact and exchange between performers and audience. Grotowski sought for something beyond drama. He worked to develop physical and emotional responses so that ‘impulse and reaction are concurrent’. He moved beyond the early influence of Stanislavsky towards a ritualized intensity. At moments of shock or terror, he argued, human beings use ‘rhythmically articulated signs’ and begin to dance and sing. ‘A sign, not a common gesture, is the elementary integer of expression for us’. Grotowski sought to explore moments of extreme pressure and moved naturally towards ‘archaic situations’ expressed in myth and often involving taboo. In a world where myths are myths and not truths, we must attempt to assume myth’s ‘ill-fitting skin’ he proclaimed. When the theatre confronts us with brutal situations where ‘the life mask cracks and falls away’ it can expose an ‘intimate layer’ which returns us to common human truths. The aims of poor theatre are reminiscent of the theories of Artaud. But Artaud aimed to synthesize the work of the actor with ‘rich’ technology of noise, light and costume. The writings of Nietzsche, Durkheim and Jung are also frequently invoked as influences on Grotowski, but the practical work of Stanislavsky, Meyerhold and the mime Marcel Marceau seem of more direct importance. The idea of poor theatre was very influential, both in the art theatre (e.g. Peter Brook) and in alternative theatre. From it Eugenio Barba developed his own theories that led to the notion of third theatre.

from Terry Hodgson, The Continuum Companion to Twentieth-Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2002).