Category: Physical Theatre Text Book

First Review for Your Handy Companion to Devising and Physical Theatre

Physical Theatre book review

It’s always daunting to get a review.

They are not just someone’s opinion about your work – they are someone’s PUBLIC opinion about your work. A review broadcasts certain aspects of your work to a wide audience. It can shape someone’s perception of you in an instant, even if they’ve never met you or seen your work.

My first experience of a show review was in Edinburgh in 1991. This was before the star system was being used broadly. I prefer the star-less review system: it makes you read a review, not just take in how many stars it deserves. “Amateur and limpish, but serious and dignified,” was the line I remember from the review of our Imperial College DramSoc production in Edinburgh, years before I decided to become a professional “theatre person”. I was a Biology student then, performing in my first ever (and in fact, my only) Alan Ayckbourn play “Mr.A’s Amazing Maze Plays”. I was playing Susie, the girl who went into Mr Accousticus’ house to look for all the sounds he’d stolen. With my fellow actor who played Neville, my dog, we had to go from one room to another, depending on the audience’s choice. Well, except for the preview, when we hadn’t quite finished rehearsing all the different locations and so the narrators had to trick the audience into choosing the locations we’d prepared.

I thought that review in The List was spot on. We were amateurs. But we also serious about what we were doing. I was 19 and had never had a drama lesson in my life. I could take “limpish”.

Being reviewed later on as a professional, mainly as part of a company I was trying to grow, was a little bit tougher. But you learn to read and move on. You celebrate the good times (Time Out Critic’s Choice!) and you bin away the bad times… Luckily, we could bin away then. Now with the internet, it’s slightly tougher to get over it.

Now by publishing books, I’m opening up myself to more public criticism. For me, an ok review that is well written is sometimes more welcome than a “five star review” that doesn’t say much about the book. Reviews are there to guide the reader, not just to say whether we liked it or not. That’s why I’m so happy at having come across a five-star review that I also think is spot on.

Thanks, reviewer, wherever you are!



Action Theatre: The Improvisation of Presence

I am delighted to introduce this guest post by María Ferrara, a performer, yoga teacher and gestalt therapist who uses her three lines of work to enable her to explore human nature and being in the moment. In this post, she discusses the importance of awareness, how improvisation has helped her to find freedom in performance once again and she recommends a book on improvisation.


This is the title of Ruth Zaporah’s first book. An absolute gem. It offers her approach to improvisation in bite-size pieces:  a sequence of exercises to do individually, in pairs or in ensemble.

My first surprise was to find a theatre approach to improvisation of this kind. Improvisation in the context of theatre tends to happen in devising processes, or in small sections of a fixed show or within frames such as Theatre Sports. The open-ended, more lyrical, more abstract improvisation seemed to belong to the field of dance.

The most visible current in this sense came from dancers in New York in the 50’s and 60’s, who started to question the rigid format of dance in many ways. One of them was improvisation. Many of them, like Trisha Brown, also experimented with their voices and even text, which blurred the boundary between dance and theatre.

What is what? Is it really that important when what we’re interested in is opening up our expressive possibilities to create a performative event in a given  space and time?

Action Theater has offered me the tools to bring together body and voice, movement and speech

I encountered improvisation as something that could be performed per se through dance. And there seemed to me to be a gap between what I was doing when I improvised in dance contexts and what I was doing as an “actress”. Action Theater has offered me the tools to bring together body and voice, movement and speech. The wealth of possibilities has increased my awareness about the power and connotations of each of them.

Regular practice makes me discover new depths all the time. At one time, improvising meant following my impulse. As my palette becomes more diverse, I find choice moment by moment. I am no longer riding a wave of energy that takes me wherever it fancies, but composing. Gradually, I’m noticing how my awareness of what there is (inside and outside of me) in a given moment is increasing. The material that the input inspires is becoming more subtle and varied. I am gaining freedom so that I respond rather than react, so that I subordinate my choice not to my personal fancy, but to the aim of “creating states in which others have the possibility of creating other states” (Carlos Osatinsky and Fernando Nicolás Pellicccioli).

I have used and am using “Action Theater: The Improvisation of Theatre” extensively. It is absolutely practical and also includes plenty of material for thought. I welcomed this too, as I find improvising is putting me in touch with plenty of conceptual and philosophical issues. A welcome manual to explore one’s personal creative material in the here and now.

The 2ND INTERNATIONAL ACTION THEATER AND PHYSICAL IMPROVISATION FESTIVAL will take place in BERLIN between 6TH AND 12TH MAY 2013. María Ferrara is organising accommodation with Berlin hosts or for the cheapest possible price to encourage international participation. If you are interested in improvisation and instant composition, this is an extraordinary opportunity: a whole week of workshops, performances, jams and exchange in Berlin, an inspiring city for anybody involved with the arts. For more information visit or get in touch with Maria: kontakt[at]

An Actor Adrift by Yoshi Oida

An intelligent, insightful, indepth, inspiring look into cross cultural creativity within an ensemble experience. Having trained in Japanese traditional theatre techniques, Yoshi became the first member of Peter Brook’s international theatre company. This book recounts his journey from Japan through Paris to India, from Noh to The Mahabharata, as an actor and a human.

The Space to Move by Christian Darley

I never met Christian but did attend her memorial event, a year after her death. I would have loved to meet her – hearing about her work and having read her book I can safely say that my practice would have been influenced by her – that my views on training for and beyond the theatre would have been influenced by her.

Christian had much worth sharing – and so it was one of her best friends who encouraged her to write down her experience and thoughts on teaching and theatre; it is a testament to her spirit and generosity that three of her closest friends got together over a year to edit her book, supported by the principal of the drama school where Christian used to teach, championing her work.

I was working with Linda Baker at the time when she began to work on the manuscript, so I have had a special connection with this book. Reading the first draft was a joy. And reading the finished product made me feel like someone was articulating my own values in a much better way than I ever could.

The Space to Move is precisely about that: about creating the space for actors to move and therefore, feel. You can’t act without moving – even if that movement consists of just your breath fueling your stillness. Only yesterday at a mask workshop, I was reminded of the need to move to discover during improvisation. Move, continue moving and the thoughts and the feelings will arrive. You just need to create the space for them.

Christian gets to the heart of what actor training should be and if you are interested in theatre but have never been through any kind of formal training yourself, you should read it. For it explains what drama training should be: discovering yourself, discovering others, surrendering to the work and above all, allowing the joy of exploration to come through.

If you are a theatre practitioner, especially if you are in charge of facilitating the work of others (as workshop leader, as director) then I urge you to read this book. It talks about issues such as trust – how trust can only be built through weeks and needs to be built slowly; it talks about the importance of contact work; it talks about how we should work on the voice through the body, as this is its shell. And all of this is done with warmth, care and humour. Just like theatre training should be.

“I often tell actors that imagination is in the body: rather than being limited to a space in the brain, it lies in the movements of fingers and toes, in the contraction and relaxation of muscles. In improvisation, imagination is the response of the body to space, time, music and human dynamic that fuels the thinking brain, not the other way around.”