MCH | BLANK

Official website for Mark C. Hewitt & Blank Productions

Civilization and its discontents / 11 movements for theatre
as work in progress
Blank Productions
2002 - 2017


Origins and early development
The origin of this play, or first spark, was the chance observation in the bar of the White Hart Hotel, in Lewes, Sussex, of a woman all but obscured by the bulk of a red leather wingbacked armchair. All that could be seen was her bare arms and legs (in profile), gesticulating as she conversed with a friend. Over a period of time, this scene transformed into an imagined setting for a theatre space in which two chairs face each other and a man and a woman are talking. This scenario was subsequently explored with photographer Magali Nougarède and visual artist Lindsey McGown, working first with life models, then with actors.

More images in the gallery »

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Photos © Magali Nougarède (Komedia, Brighton) 2002
Sketches © Lindsey McGown, 2002




Outsize armchairs were specially constructed for these initial experiments by upholsterer Marc Whatling.
The size of the chairs had the inadvertant effect of infantilising the actors (see below).
For this reason, they were dropped from the future development of the work.


Above: actors Jonathan Cullen and Jo Howarth

Following a refurbishment of the bar of the White Hart Hotel a few years later, Mark C. Hewitt purchased the actual chairs that sparked his original vision. These were first put to the service of dramatic dialogue at Farnham Maltings in January 2009. malt(ings) extr-acts was a day of short scratch performances featuring new writing by members of Farnham Playwrights Collective. The work in development was presented as Untitled (exposure 1), performed by actors Cary Crankson and Kathryn McGarr, directed by Elizabeth Newman (below).





Photo above © Lesley Brewin. Farnham Maltings, 2010.


Further development work and experimentation with text and movement was done in early 2011 during Mark C. Hewitt’s residency as part of The Space Programme at Castletown House in Ireland. The images below are taken from an exploration of text and movement with Niamh Shaw and Sonya Kelly.

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A grant from the Artists' International Development Fund allowed Mark C. Hewitt to travel to Norway in 2013 to visit composer and sampling percussionist,
Thomas Strønen, with a view to collaborating on music for the emerging production. Following this, Blank Productions successfully applied for funding from Det Norske Komponistfond to commission the music.

During 2014, the focus turned to developing the text. Mark worked over the course of the year with dramaturg,
Katalin Trencsényi, leading to a week of practical research and development. By this time, a tentative title had attached itself to the work-in-progress, Civilization (and its discontents). The title echoed Sigmund Freud's essay of the same name, published in 1930, but it is not a play 'about' Freud's book, nor does it attempt to explain it, rather it is one of a number of cultural elements that hover around the work as loose associations. A week of practical R&D - with a technical/production team and seven actors - took place at the Half Moon Theatre in Limehouse, London, in November 2014 and combined explorations of the half-written text with improvisations and devising.

R&D of work in progress, Nov 2014
Dramaturgy: Katalin Trencsényi
Music: Thomas Strønen
Sound design: John Avery
Lighting design: Kristina Hjelm
Movement direction: Imogen Knight
Dramaturgical assistant: Simon Stache
Production Co-ordinator: Jo Rawlinson
Visual artist (documentation): Lindsey McGown
Photographer (documentation): Nivine Keating

Performers:
Kathryn McGarr
Lucas Augustine
Rhys Meredith
Liam Shannon
Ipek Uzman
Oxana Nico
Sylvia Chianti

Photos below by Nivine F. Keating © Morrighan Images. Half Moon Theatre, London, 2014

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In September 2016, with a first draft of the text completed, Mark visited composer Thomas Strønen in Oslo to consolidate the collaboration that had been initiated in in 2013 and to discuss in more detail the interaction of text and music within the emerging production. Some of the music for the production is played and recorded by Food, (Thomas Strønen's band with saxophonist, Iain Ballamy), whilst other material is written for drum ensemble and lead instruments. During Mark's stay in Oslo, he was able to hear for the first time, live, the music for drum ensemble that occupies a central role in the play. This was performed by Strønen's undergraduate percussion students at the Norwegian Academy of Music, where he is an Associate Professor (see photos below).

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Thomas Strønen leading his percussion ensemble at the Norwegian Academy of Music, Oslo, Sept 2016.

In September 2017, Blank Productions worked with three female performers to try out a section of the play entitled Songs of the Chambermaids, in which text is performed over the music for percussion ensemble. This had to be done as a separate phase of development simply because of the music's rhythmic complexity. Our questions were: can it be done?, and if it can be done will it be dramatically valid? After an intensive week of rehearsal, the Songs of the Chambermaids were performed as part of LLL's Half Hour Hits (an experimental R&D platform) on 30th September, 2017. The three performers (below, l to r) were Leann O'Kasi (Bo), Marta Carvalho (Ana) and Melissa Sirol (Cressida). See a short video clip, here »

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Still from the video by Nicola Joy

The production at its current stage of development »