Time to burn the book

The Young Vic is providing a home for the DV8s of the future. Sarah Hemming reports
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The Independent Culture
A quick glance at the Young Vic's current programme suggests that the theatre is playing safe, hosting two productions of major classic texts. In the main house is Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, in the Studio Chekhov's Three Sisters. But look again. Closer scrutiny reveals that both these productions are anything but orthodox - these versions by performance-based groups both use the texts as launching pads for pieces of physical theatre that explore the plays' themes. Scarlet Theatre's The Sisters disposes with Chekhov's men and focuses solely on the female characters and the relationships between them; Insomniac Productions' If We Shadows disposes with the forest, the framework and the chronology of the Dream to create a new piece.

In Pete Brooks' response to Shakespeare's original, Puck (Mark Whitelaw) is a kind of cynical time-bandit in a sharp suit who pitches up at a wedding party and hijacks proceedings.The couples here slip from one theatrical reality to another, so that any character can suddenly find themselves cast in the role of Helena, Hermia or Lysander, lusting, fighting or spouting blank verse. The fairy world is a druggy haze of sexual urges, into which they stumble uncertainly, and Laura Hopkins' impressive set of huge wooden panels wheels around to make a maze of towers and walls through which they pursue their confused desires at great speed and with little thought. This dream is a nightmare of rampant gratification that generates an air of general misery, menace and loneliness.

In the end, it doesn't add up to anything more than an unsatisfying regurgitation of the Shakespeare's themes; it certainly seems less than the sum of its parts. Brooks has done many beautiful pieces of theatre; it is a shame that his gamble with the main house of the Young Vic is less successful than many of his previous works.

But is is still a gamble worth taking. Tim Supple, artistic director of the Young Vic, points out that we still tend to think of new drama in terms of writers and that, while new writing is being fostered in many fringe venues, other forms of non-writer-led drama tend not to have a home. "I think we have now all acknowledged the importance of companies like Theatre de Complicite, The Right Size and DV8," he says. "But we haven't turned that acknowledgement into helping and developing new companies in the same field - The Right Sizes and DV8s of tomorrow. There are venues who will put them on, but there is no equivalent of the readings and workshops for writers. I don't feel that we should get away from plays; I just think that this is a very neglected area."

Supple is dedicating the Young Vic's studio to exactly this type of work, just as, over in Hammersmith, Neil Bartlett is opening up the Lyric's studio to a similar enterprise.

"We want the studio to be preserved for a different quality of work - not plays as such, but other pieces necessary to the healthy development of theatre," says Supple. "So we have come up with a schedule of new work that crosses the boundaries between areas of creativity."

The David Glass Ensemble is next with a new piece of visual theatre, then Plain Clothes Productions with a determinedly physical interpretation of a new play. Louder Than Words follows with a new piece written by Pete Brooks, Primitive Science has a trilogy based on Kafka stories and The Kosh finishes the season with a double-bill of dance-drama. All the pieces will be very different, but will have in common the fact that they are not text-based.

Supple's policy is to show each piece in the context of a season and encourage audiences to see them as enjoyable as well as innovative. And if this season of new work in the studio is successful, he aims to expand his remit for the space next year and offer even more support by commissioning from scratch. "I would like to commission five new pieces of work - invite applications and see what comes up. All new shoots need fertile ground."

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