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The Art of Executing Theatre by Gemma Brockis

Image credit: (c) Floro Asqueta

Gemma Brockis is co-founder of the legendary Shunt and performed in all their productions. Her most recent work was Kingdom Come, a show about the English civil war for the RSC. Here she writes about her latest work, An Execution, at Camden People's Theatre (11-29 September 2018).

This is the second show I’ve made in one year where someone is beheaded. And I’ve made this show before (2002), so I’m beginning to wonder if I’m obsessed.

It’s coincidence (Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading and The history of the English Civil War are both about a lot more than someone’s head being chopped off) but also, there is something about the public nature of those deaths, and what an audience for that moment is, that fascinates me.

There is a long podcast by Dan Carlin called Painfotainment, that for 4 grizzly hours, questions why (and when – and where) the public has been able to enjoy watching executions. It’s not something I could take in one sitting. But it does really get to the heart of the question of when we like it real and when we like to know it’s not real. And that’s the bit we’re playing around with.

A beheading in theatre is definitely not real. But a kiss in theatre is real. Or at least some of it is. When is the frisson interesting? And when is it just – OK, I’m off, this is not for me, I don’t want to see people actually… blah blah fill in the blanks.

I started this show a long time ago with a question in my head – What makes us miss somebody who isn’t real? Sometimes when an actor dies on stage I have thought, oh no, that’s it. I want to see it again. I want to see her / him again. ‘Let me live you over once again’ is what the executioner in Nabokov’s novel suggests to the prisoner as a potential feeling about his life. If you are in the audience, you maybe go another night and again and again. And when someone leaves a long running show – you might really then miss them even though you only know them pretending to be something.

Anyway, here we are again making this show that was a thing once which we are collectively remembering so we can work out what it was, and then make it fresh again – two of the actors were core devisors and makers from before – and all four are core devisors and makers in this new version.

We’re in a collective act of memory and then also in a totally brilliant new world of making new stuff out of the people in the room and their brilliant heads.

And we are looking at this moment before you miss someone. Which is maybe a one hour show, or eighteen days in a cell waiting for death, or a whole lifetime. And how much of a whole lifetime can you get from somebody in an hour – maybe you get all at first sight.

This show has pretending in it. But it’s also massively about spending time with these four people in a room for an hour. At the moment that’s in rehearsal. And soon it will be for the audience.

Gemma Brockis

An Execution (by Invitation Only)
11-29 September 2018
Camden People's Theatre
58-60 Hampstead Road
London NW1 2PY

An Execution (By Invitation Only) trailer from Camden People's Theatre on Vimeo.