JOYCE MCMILLAN on INTO THE NEW 2015 for The Scotsman 17.1.15.
3 stars ***
IT’S STRANGE, it’s deliberately fragmented, it’s often deeply self-absorbed. Yet still, if you want a glimpse of where the imaginations of the next generation of theatre-makers are heading, there are few better places to be than the annual Into The New sessions created by the final-year Contemporary Performance Practice students of the Royal Conservatoire Of Scotland.
Performance artists to a man and woman, they don’t mess with normal divisions between writer, director, and performer; instead, they are trained to plunge into the heart of their own concerns like so many creative pearlfishers, generally coming up with a handful of shapeless sludge, but just occasionally producing a pearl. And this year I found myself wondering – after seven short, intense sessions at the Arches that represented about half of the work on offer – whether there has ever been a generation of young artists so painfully poised between an intense focus on self, identity and the body, and a burning anxiety about the intractable crises that darken the wider global scene.
On the introspective side of this year’s programme, for instance, there was Bel Jessica Pye’s Bodyhoods, a searching solo performance with voice over about ideas of disability, and how they map onto an apparently normal body. There was Craig Manson’s solo piece curated – like others this year – by the Glasgow performance festival Buzzcut, which featured a naked Craig sitting among crushed flowers and glasses of water, inviting us to whisper into the glasses the most hurtful words that have ever been said to us. There was movement artist and musician Gabriel Spector at a piano in a dark room, with his back to us, mourning the absence of love in a piece called When There Is No-One Else. And there was Peter Smart’s cheerfully self-absorbed Front End, Back End, a cheeky piece of meta-theatre featuring a shaggy dog story about how, in rehearsals, Peter spilt some pink poster paint on a valuable wooden floor at the Conservatoire.
Yet even in these inward pieces, there are echoes of wider issues to do with attitudes to disability, or bureaucracy versus creativity, or the 21st century plague of loneliness; and the most memorable pieces I saw were those that explicitly tried to leap that gap between private life and politics. Katherine Dye and Zachary Scott’s Instruments Of Torture takes a powerfully-chreographed fifty minutes to expose the interface between militaristic violence and human creativity by deliberately merging images of 21st century soldiers preparing for war, musicians playing, and people arming themselves for a night out; it’s intense, it’s thought-provoking, and it’s sometimes beautiful.
And with slightly less success but even more honesty, Sarah Short creates a 50-minute one-woman stand-up show, What Next?, that explores her generation’s fraught relationship with the idea of fame and celebrity. By the end, it’s clear that Sarah knows that this obsession with media fame is rubbish. Yet still, it seems to her like the only route from absolute powerlessness to some kind of influence; and it would be hard to imagine a clearer indictment of the world into which these young artists are emerging, full of hope, but also of well-justified fear.