Category Archives: Features

Dael Orlandersmith – Yellowman


Dael Orlandersmith and Yellowman – a phenomenon waiting to happen – Carole Woddis 

This feature first posted in Jan 2006, possibly for The Herald (Glasgow).

Many months ago, Emily Mann, the author of Still Life, one of the finest post-Vietnam plays to be written in America, now artistic director of the prestigious McCarter Theatre in Princeton predicted, `Yellowman will take Dael to the next level as an artist’. Continue reading

Tim Crouch – interview – an oak tree 2005

an oak tree – Edinburgh Fringe, Traverse, 2005

Tim Crouch – mind-games – Carole Woddis

Talking to Tim Crouch is like trying to skirt a minefield. You’re aware there are all kinds of pitfalls. You tip-toe gently and hope neither of you will blunder into the trap of theatrical pretension.

It’s lunchtime on one of the hottest days of summer, a week since July 7. We’re sitting in a pub in Barnes.

The Thames beside us is still as a mill-pond. In the stifling upstairs `ballroom’ I have just witnessed an extraordinary event, a preview of Tim’s latest Edinburgh excursion, an oak tree, opening at the Traverse in August.

Several times I have been near to tears. Several times, I have felt distinctly uneasy. I have also been aware of a growing hostility towards him as the central, leading figure whose persona as part-hypnotist, part-director has seemed to me the ultimate in manipulation.

I am deeply suspicious. Yet when I come to talk to Tim afterwards, I am beguiled by his openness, his honesty. It’s a conundrum, as is an oak tree.

Two year’s ago, Crouch’s fictional autobiography, my arm, took the Edinburgh fringe by storm. Although a performer for ten years, it was Crouch’s first exploration with the notion of theatre as the art of suggestion.

An oak tree, however, takes things much further. Inspired by British artist Michael Craig-Martin’s 1973 conceptual art-work in which a glass of water was `transformed’ into an oak tree – best not to ask how exactly; we’ll get into all sorts of quagmires about conceptualisation, life, death and theatre (of which more later) – what you most need to know is that Crouch has taken Craig-Martin’s initial notion and embroidered it.

That’s to say, he’s theatricalised and humanised it. If I tell you that Crouch’s an oak tree is like being at a seance, that wouldn’t be strictly true.  If I tell you, however, that it involves a certain degree of improvisation and casts a strange spell, that most certainly is the case.

And when I tell you that it’s all harnessed to a story of loss and bereavement – a father has lost his young daughter in a car accident – you will see its potential for stirring up a whirlpool of emotions. Add to that a highly theatrical, some might say, sensationalist or at least publicity-conscious conceit, and you have the ingredients for, I can tell you, something unnervingly close to the bone.

Each night, you see, a fresh actor is introduced as a `volunteer’ to play Andy, the father and to accompany Crouch who like John Osborne’s Archie Rice in The Entertainer, is definitely losing it. Crouch-hypnotist also emerges as the man who killed `Andy’s daughter, Clare.

Many stories, many different levels, you will now be appreciating, are intertwined. If you attend, you will find yourself hurtled into this disorientating world of intermingling realities and illusions, where you know you’re being manipulated (aren’t we always in theatre?) and where Crouch to all intents and purposes appears to be controlling events. Yet I, for one – sceptical, hostile, troubled as I was – was sucked in and deeply moved.

Would you buy a second hand car, never mind your psyche, from this man? No, you wouldn’t. Crouch’s stage persona is creepily attentive, devious – a showman shaman-cum therapist.

All of which, when I confronted him at the end, Crouch defends with splendid rationality and patience. No, he’s not exploiting the current fashion for theatrical mind-bending. And yes, he’s delighted at my brickbat responses. He’s fed up with `psychological realism’. He would much rather audiences at least feel something rather than nothing.

`Unease is not an emotion I get often in the theatre and I like it’, he says placing extra emphasis on `like’. `I’d rather have that visceral response to something than just sit through a piece of theatre that’s been made by people who are making theatre’.

To that extent, an oak tree is a piece made in his own image. Indeed, he even describes himself in it as `a 41 year old, balding, with a red face and slouched shoulders’.

And he totally rejects my accusation of an oak tree being a display of the ultimate in egotistical control. `I really am opening it out to it all going horribly wrong’, he counters.

Somehow, I don’t think it will. Crouch is far to expert and the concept crafted (with poet-artist a Smith and co-director Karl James) with micro attention to detail.

Admitting to the striking parallels between hypnosis and theatre – `good theatre can place an audience into a low level trance’ – what is going on here is suggestion and theatricality working in powerful waves to almost induce catharsis in connection with grief, death and bereavement.

Given the fragile collective unconscious at the moment, it’s anyone’s guess what response Crouch’s clever, getting-under-the-skin approach may engender. I suggest it’s going to be lively. Crouch positively beams.


an oak tree previews at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh from Aug 4 and runs to Aug 28

This interview first appeared in the Glasgow Herald, 2005.



Tarell Alvin McCraney interview



For THE STAGE, 2007



It was something I was inspired to do by some African myths that I had read and also another play I had read about some brothers. I decided I wanted to write something about what it means to be a brother. Continue reading

Ken Campbell – The Great Caper

KEN CAMPBELL – The Great Caper; Michael Coveney, foreword by Richard Eyre (Nick Hern. £14.99)

© www.the

Ken Campbell was a one-off. Anyone who saw him will remember that he was inimical; he simply couldn’t be replicated. It was in part the wild eyed effervescence and joy, the digressionary tales that beavered off into highways and byways and took such circuituous detours you thought he’d never get back to the main road – or thematic thrust. And then there was the tumbling erudition, pouring out of him, the absurdity of it as well as the cosmic intelligence. And those eyebrows. Set for take-off.

I didn’t see him nearly enough, only catching up with him towards the end of his life when he had practically become a National Treasure. So I missed The Warp, Recollections of a Furtive Nudist, Illuminatus and many more. I think I may have caught The Pidgin Macbeth, Jamais Vu and Theatre Stories.

For anyone wanting to know exactly how the lad from Ilford ended up wowing audiences at the Cottesloe as much as in Liverpool’s Hope Street, look no further than Michael Coveney’s ebullient `authorised biography’ according to the grey parrot who shares Coveney’s cover page.

Coveney’s admiration and appreciation of Campbell as a force of nature and maverick counter-balance to the puffed-up worthies who dominate British theatre shines out from every page. Coveney, another unlikely lad from the Essex marshes, clearly feels affinities with Campbell’s egocentricities as well as his obsessions. There is hardly a dull moment in the entire 250 odd pages and a more engaging, juicy and yes, erudite account of the spirit that animated `alternative’ and fringe theatre through the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s it would be hard to find.

This is a first rate primer of that extraordinary time, filled with egocentricity, sci-fi and paranormal happenings. And unputdownable.

Carole Woddis                                                                                                       July 2011

Published on Unfinished Histories website

Howard Brenton

Howard Brenton, extended Q&A interview for The Arts Desk

HOWARD BRENTON – THEARTSDESK – Carole Woddis    July 13, 2010

Howard Brenton (b: 1942) is always in the process of being `rediscovered’. Yet Brenton has been at the heart of British theatrical life for the past forty years, since his debut in 1969 with Christie in Love. True he has had the odd decade out of the theatrical limelight – `went out of fashion’ in his own phrase – when he just happened to pen some of the best, liveliest scripts on television with the BBC’s spy drama series, Spooks (2002-2005). Continue reading

Walking The Tightrope

Theatre Deli, London

It’s not just the awful events of Paris and Charlie Hebdo that have brought art and politics into public consciousness. Last year we had the Tricycle Theatre accused of anti-semitism for requesting withdrawal of Israeli government funding from the theatre’s annual Jewish Festival; we had a hip-hop musical closed at the Edinburgh Fringe for similar connections with the Israeli government (all in the wake of Israel’s actions in Gaza); and around the same time, violent protests erupted over Exhibit B, the installation-exhibition staged by South African Brett Bailey using black performers as human exhibits to highlight slavery and racism.

Continue reading