Theatre: Words are not enough

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Death to the writer.

The ninth British Festival

of Visual Theatre begins in London on Monday

Funny phrase, visual theatre. Take away radio drama and it's hard to know what it doesn't include. A one-man, uncostumed production of The Invisible Man, perhaps? Or Hamlet performed down a coal-mine to an audience of the blind. A festival of NON-visual theatre: now that really would be a challenge.

Still, best not to be too picky about the label. We hear a lot about a renaissance in young British writing for the stage these days, but the Mark Ravenhills and Sarah Kanes remain the minority. The real trend among young performers these days is to escape the tyranny of the writer, granting movement and design at least as much weight as the words. That sometimes means doing away with the script entirely. More often it means creating a text through rehearsal. The kind of work that the BFVT showcases has never been so popular, which is why, in its ninth year, it has expanded to fill four weeks and three venues (BAC, the South Bank and the Young Vic).

Among the old favourites taking part are Frantic Assembly, Phelim McDermott, Hamish McColl of the Right Size, and Full Monty star Emily Woof, who returns to her roots with a new one-woman show. Picking highlights is a primitive art, although the ever-innovative Primitive Science are always a good place to start. In You Have Been Watching (10 Oct Purcell Room) they follow up their Borges adaptation, Imperfect Librarian, by plundering the work of the 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham (Panopticon Letters, left), the father of utilitarianism.

Bentham, whose stuffed corpse can still be seen sitting in a glass case at University College, London, was a pioneer of prison reform and made architectural designs for a new kind of jail, the Panopticon, a structure with cells built around a central well, and where inmates could see their jailers at all times. Working with Britain's most high-profile young stage designer, Robert Innes Hopkins, the company explores how Bentham's authoritarian imaginings, though they never became bricks and mortar, have influenced the design of many public buildings.

One good, old-fashioned wordsmith who did manage to sneak through is Robert Young. His The Shoeshop of Desire proved that he had an eye to match is lyrical ear. Now he has teamed up with the performance artist Vanessa Earl, for My Sky is Big (11, 12 Oct BAC), the tale of a woman with the power of flight. One of the few things the extraordinary Earl can't do is fly herself. Audiences will have to make with a mixture of mime, tango and poetry.

Purcell Room, South Bank

(0171-960 4242); BAC (0171-223 2223); Young Vic (0171-928 6363)

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