The Seeing Place

3000 year old theatre - El Jem Tunisia
3000 year old theatre – El Jem Tunisia

I took this photograph while exploring Tunisia last year.

These remains are left open and unprotected. No fence, guard or gates to stop anyone with a mind to from helping themselves to a lump of two of it.

I was touched by the echoes of this place, the palpable sense of audiences in the still clearly defined terraces, entrances and exits through the crumbling arches to the stage.

While there, it struck me that one of the first thing our species does when settling is to define a performance space, a theatre. A ‘seeing place’ (from the Greek theatron)- the place we go to see the truth. It’s right up there on our list of priorities along with sanitation and shelter. Another example of this is The Good Chance Theatre in The Jungle refugee camp in Calais. At the time of writing, the camp is a symptom of appalling international abdication of responsibly and absence of compassion during a time of the largest worldwide migration of populations since the second world war.

I saw an interview with one afghan refugee there. When asked what he thought of the theatre in the camp when there were so few resources he replied: ‘I like coming here. It means I can live, not just survive’.

We all need this.

‘A seeing place where we go to see the truth’ is becoming a rarer thing, as are the practitioners who are equipped with the competence to be able to turn up and tell the truth at the service of whatever story is being told.

And as our offering of a diet of increasingly processed and mediated performance, in which nothing actually happens to anyone, least of all the audience becomes accepted as the norm and what passes for ‘good theatre’, I am redoubling my efforts to share work in which we show up and tell the truth.

After we returned there was a massacre of tourists and locals in an appalling terror attack in the same precinct in which we had been staying a week before. And, at the time of writing a year later in the Summer of 2016, the attacks have continued around world, the fear grows, and we continue to endorse sending planes to drop their bombs, many of the victims of which are the innocent, in our literally nonsensical ´war against terror´ in which their can be no victors..


It is wonderful that we(performance practitioners) are rediscovering ‘craft’ these days. However, I see increasing cases of the well-intentioned pursuit of the purity of ‘the craft’ (as sadly directed by some teachers and coaches) completely block otherwise creative people from their full creative expression, including, ironically, of their ‘truth’ as their identity as ‘purist craftsperson’ or somesuch notion becomes just another idea, another act to hide behind, albeit an often almost-convincingly authentic one.

The upshot is that, unless remedied in the rehearsal room or in the company classes, working with such practitioners can be, at best unpleasant and, at worst, impossible.

As writer Charlie Kaufman (including of two of my all time favourite films: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Makcovitch amongst many others) so eloquently puts it:

‘the danger of craft is that it needs to be in second position to what it is that you’re doing.’

Marriage of light, vibration and time.

Charlie Kaufman is describing screenwriters here. However, I take this as a substantial part of the definition of how I approach my work as a director:

‘they find themselves in an environment where they’re encouraged to use their powers to explore the world, their minds and the form itself. Think about the staggering possibilities of the marriage of light, vibration and time.’