embedded critic: Forest, introduction
Forest, by James Monaghan
Over the next two weeks, I’m going to be sitting in on James Monaghan’s rehearsals for his show Forest and writing some reflections about the process, as the room’s Embedded Critic. James is working with Dramaturg Leentje Van de Cruys ahead of presenting Forest at HOME’s PUSH Festival.* James was thinking about who to have in this Embedded Critic role and his producer suggested me for the job (without knowing we knew each other) because he read my review of The Mysteries at the Royal Exchange and thought it was great because it is.
I’ll probably sit in on maybe three rehearsals, and write a few things in response, reflecting on thoughts I have in the space. I’ll probably not be describing exactly what’s happening in the space, or what happens in the piece. I was thinking about referring to James as ‘Monaghan’, like you would in some sort of formal piece of Arts Journalism, but you know what, this is informal arts journalism and I can make whatever stylistic choices I like cos this is my website and I cant even spell revew right so.
I met James in July, when we both had shows on at the Royal Exchange’s PUSH Festival. I was performing Prince Gorge and he’d made Over My Dead Body with Ali Wilson. Since then, I’ve met up to chat with him a lot and helped him a little in developing his piece, Hungry, which was programmed at some festival in Birmingham. My involvement consisted of going round to James’s house to make cauliflower soup with a group of other people, and have conversations about pornography.
I think of James as very conversation-oriented. In an interaction with him, talking about things becomes a journey through a theme. He has an intense energy about him, and talks in bursts which move things on quickly. Talking with James is less like a conversation and more a shared thinking-out-loud. It’s normal to end up with some realisations, or questions, or both. I’ve no idea how he makes work. I’ve never been in a rehearsal room with him before, not really seen him perform before. (Tho in 2013, I technically saw him perform but that was at a scratch night and before I knew him and was long enough ago that I was a different person so it doesn’t feel like the James Monaghan I met in 2018 even if technically legally it was.)
What I’ve seen of his work has been sensitive, responsive, live. And almost necessarily unrehearsed, in that the pieces have contained so many spontaneous elements that I imagine ‘rehearsals’ for them were more of a process of preparation than running through of lines and actions.
I’m ready to have a liminal relationship with these rehearsals. Not really a fly on the wall because I’m too big but maybe a kind of ghost. Perhaps I’ll be called upon to make my presence known, push some cups around. I’m defining my role, in my head, in negatives; I’m not here to intervene, I’m not here to appraise, I’m not here to make the show, I’m not here to impact. But more positively I’m here to be whatever I’m asked to be. So you know, if James and Leentje ask me to intervene or ask questions or throw shoes at them then I’m game.
At the end of these blogs, I’ll be reviewing the show at PUSH Festival at HOME, for Exeunt. I’m anticipating thinking about how this contradicts the traditional role of the theatre critic, as pure-eyed objective assessor. I hope to write a muddy piece of criticism, swirling with familiarity with the show, its performer, and its rehearsal process. I hope to write a piece of criticism about a show made by one of my mates which is affectionate and honest and inseparable from our personal relationship and my deep wish that both he and it do well.
*All arts festivals are spelled in all-caps now and there’s nothing you or I can do to stop it.