Shifting Sands

Feature in Issue 13-2 | Summer 2001

Anne-Louise Rentell profiles Gerry Flanagan.

It was almost three years ago that I interviewed Gerry Flanagan for Total Theatre Magazine. It was at the time that Commotion, the company he had established with Rick Zoltowski, had run its successful course and they were both going forward into new projects. For Gerry there was no natural beginning and end for the company, it was all part of ‘the larger creative process’. He moved on with his new company Shifting Sands and a week-long workshop culminating in a performance at Battersea Arts Centre.

Similarly, in May he completed a workshop spread over a number of days and a couple of weeks at the Circus Space which resulted in a performance of Romeo and Juliet - A Clown Show at the People Show Studio in Bethnal Green. It was probably one of the most enjoyable and hilarious productions of Romeo and Juliet I have seen. An ensemble of twelve players approached the themes and text of Shakespeare with confidence and a wonderful sense of play.

Play has always been the backbone of Gerry Flanagan’s work. When Commotion moved from devised theatre to text-based theatre – such as Don Quixote and Don Juan – play was given a scope and possibility within the realms of established character and situation. Gerry continues this process with Romeo and Juliet: there are two Juliets (a conceit of genius), a practising magician Friar, the space for irreverence, mistakes and audience involvement – but still Tybalt gets his come-uppance, the fated lovers die and fair Verona mourns.

The beauty of this style of performance is its ability to move the clown into more complex emotional states which also relate to the world of the audience. It sets the characters in relief against Shakespeare’s story, allowing the audience to enjoy and empathise with their journey in a way which a more traditional reading of the play would prohibit. It is also inspiring to see a workshop process produce such a promising piece of theatre. May the sands continue to shift in this direction – watch this space.

Referenced Artists

This article in the magazine

Issue 13-2
p. 4