Show Hide image

Festivals should be ring-fenced from the routine and programmed with an eye towards the exceptional - that doesn't always happen

Reviewed: Life and Times: Episodes 1-5; Patoral; Moth.

Festivals should be ring-fenced from the routine and programmed with an eye towards the exceptional. Life and Times: Episodes 1-5 by the Nature Theater of Oklahoma is perfect festival fare. Whether it was perfect for the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, where its UK premiere played to a half-full theatre between 21 and 25 May, is a different question.

Life and Times spins the everyday into something extraordinary: a 12-hour performance marathon dedicated to an unremarkable life. Ten episodes are planned; when finished, it will last a full 24 hours.

The life belongs to the company member Kristin Worrall. In 2007, the husband-andwife artistic directors Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper asked Worrall to tell her entire personal history over the phone. The resulting ten conversations, spanning 16 hours in total, have become an unedited verbatim libretto. Every “like”, “um” and “ah” remains intact.

By the end of episode five, Worrall is 18 years old. We’ve been privy to everything from her first birthday to her first kiss, through puberty to prom night. There are ever-changing best friends, playground rivalries and – swoon – endless crushes. We’ve seen dance classes, haircuts, egg muffins and the unbridled humiliation of public urination; a bucketload of banalities given undue significance onstage and in song but all played with sincerity.

At least, they are initially. In episode one, three women and three bearded men in school uniform sing in harmony to a cute folk ukulele and glockenspiel score. They perform simple dance moves – a mix of show-made-for-mum, gym class and communist conformity.

In episode two, Worrall’s early teens become a 1980s music video, staged by a garish chorus line in coloured shell suits. While the best (and worst) bits of Worrall’s life play out, so, too, do your own, whirring away somewhere at the back of your brain. The two connect like static electricity flashing through a van de Graaff generator.

The experience leaves you beaming but puzzled. Why, after all, would anyone commit to this? Why expend so much time and energy on something so utterly inconsequential? By leaving nothing out, the Nature Theater of Oklahoma achieves a rare honesty about the process of telling stories. What’s true? What’s embellished? What’s left out? Moments of particular rawness are followed by frazzled searching for a new subject. The aim of comprehensiveness is doomed to fail. Memory is an unstoppable chain reaction. Each recollection spawns another. Chronology crumbles. All the audience can do is hold on for the ride.

Life and Times increasingly flags up its failings. Worrall’s teenage years become a codmurder mystery in episodes three and four – all bulging eyes and raised eyebrows – played on a crude replica of the set of The Mousetrap. It shows up her self-censorship, the performance of testimony. We get the edited highlights of adolescence: periods, cigarettes, booze, snogs, depression. But what, you wonder, really happened?

Episode five – never seen before – extends that question. We get a book and a reading light. An organ plays abrasively. Worrall’s words are written calligraphically. Handdrawn illustrations show the directors, Liska and Copper, having sex. As she recounts her first sexual experience, our voyeurism becomes manifest. Does the story even belong to Worrall any more? Hasn’t the story of the company and the work taken over?

Critics in the US have pronounced Life and Times a masterpiece. It’s certainly unique but “masterpiece” is going too far. The piece, by turns infuriating and exhilarating, is too often content to stop at generic performance styles rather than building precise, honed moments. Steven Atkinson, the artistic director of the HighTide Festival, which runs for ten days each May in the small Suffolk town of Halesworth, is also aiming for the exceptional. The new writing on offer is resolutely unconventional. There’s not a fourth wall in sight. Naturalism is a no-no.

Nature is another matter. In Thomas Eccleshare’s Pastoral, it’s invading our cities. England’s green and pleasant land has turned nasty. Trees are bursting through high-rise buildings. Critters are nesting in supermarket shelves. Paperchase is overrun with voles. Habitat has been inhabited.

Pastoral is, in essence, an apocalyptic disaster narrative with a twisted force majeure. Moll (Anna Calder-Marshall), a belligerent old woman, must leave her flat and flee. A six-strong group of nature-fearing refugees wind up in a woodland clearing. They’re used to ready meals, milk cartons and convenience stores. Now, they must fend for themselves. The hunter-gatherer instinct has dwindled to extinction.

Eccleshare writes with flair. There are shades of Beckett and Pinter and he has a keen eye for a dazzling image. The Ocado man battles through the hedgerow like an ancient-Greek messenger. A dishevelled bride-to-be staggers in from an abandoned hen do: a deus ex machina for our times. Steve Marmion’s production makes the most of such gifts but they don’t cohere into a compelling plot. The overused joke about animals in chain stores is symptomatic of images and ideas in search of a narrative. For all its confidence and swagger, Pastoral isn’t quite a full play.

Declan Greene’s Moth is less successful. A pair of teenage misfits – the fantasy fan Sebastian (Jordan Mifsúd) and emo outsider Claryssa (Stacey Gregg) – wake up after a fight in some undefined limbo. It’s beautifully designed by James Cotterill and snappily directed by Prasanna Puwanarajah but Greene never makes the situation or his purposes clear. It could be about schizophrenia or about youthful radicalism – or simply teenage angst. Who knows?

“Pastoral” and “Moth” run until 8 June

This article first appeared in the 03 June 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Power Christians

Show Hide image

SRSLY #13: Take Two

On the pop culture podcast this week, we discuss Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth, the recent BBC adaptations of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Cider with Rosie, and reminisce about teen movie Shakespeare retelling She’s the Man.

This is SRSLY, the pop culture podcast from the New Statesman. Here, you can find links to all the things we talk about in the show as well as a bit more detail about who we are and where else you can find us online.

Listen to our new episode now:

...or subscribe in iTunes. We’re also on Audioboom, Stitcher, RSS and  SoundCloud – but if you use a podcast app that we’re not appearing in, let us know.

SRSLY is hosted by Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz, the NS’s web editor and editorial assistant. We’re on Twitter as @c_crampton and @annaleszkie, where between us we post a heady mixture of Serious Journalism, excellent gifs and regularly ask questions J K Rowling needs to answer.

The podcast is also on Twitter @srslypod if you’d like to @ us with your appreciation. More info and previous episodes on

If you’d like to talk to us about the podcast or make a suggestion for something we should read or cover, you can email srslypod[at]

You can also find us on Twitter @srslypod, or send us your thoughts on tumblr here. If you like the podcast, we'd love you to leave a review on iTunes - this helps other people come across it.

The Links

On Macbeth

Ryan Gilbey’s review of Macbeth.

The trailer for the film.

The details about the 2005 Macbeth from the BBC’s Shakespeare Retold series.


On Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Cider with Rosie

Rachel Cooke’s review of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Sarah Hughes on Cider with Rosie, and the BBC’s attempt to create “heritage television for the Downton Abbey age”.


On She’s the Man (and other teen movie Shakespeare retellings)

The trailer for She’s the Man.

The 27 best moments from the film.

Bim Adewunmi’s great piece remembering 10 Things I Hate About You.


Next week:

Anna is reading Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner.


Your questions:

We loved talking about your recommendations and feedback this week. If you have thoughts you want to share on anything we've discussed, or questions you want to ask us, please email us on srslypod[at], or @ us on Twitter @srslypod, or get in touch via tumblr here. We also have Facebook now.



The music featured this week, in order of appearance, is:


Our theme music is “Guatemala - Panama March” (by Heftone Banjo Orchestra), licensed under Creative Commons. 



See you next week!

PS If you missed #12, check it out here.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

Anna Leszkiewicz is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.