What is it about ‘poor theatre’ that appeals to me?

In these days of multi-media, CGI and big budget movies the idea of a play being performed on a almost bare stage with actors with no special costume can seem a bit odd and old fashioned.

Poor theatre – “eliminating whatever proved superfluous …theatre can exist without make-up, without autonomic costume and scenography, without a separate performance area, without lighting or sound effects” – (as described by Jerzy Grotowski in Towards a Poor Theatre Bloomsbury 1968) allows masses of space for the imagination.

My two educational plays – Impisi and Mbali – have been created with the intention of being performed in the style of poor theatre.

Why am I drawn to ‘poor theatre’ to tell my stories?

My first introduction to this style of theatre was when I was encouraged to watch “Horn of Sorrow” – a very powerful piece of theatre that was written to highlight the tragic of issue of rhino poaching. With very few props carefully used the cast can perform in school playgrounds in rural Africa, school halls or theatres. The imagination is free to create the world of Africa.

Then I went to a performance of Wave performed by Ellis Pearson and Bheki Mkwane in a school in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. With the use of no more complex props than a cardboard box and a few very simple music instruments Ellis and Bheki told a hard hitting story about the tsunami of 2004. Ellis calls his style ‘theatre of the imagination’ but his roots are in poor theatre. The audience in the school were entranced and so was I.

With the clever use of simple props, the actors bodies and faces and a good script I could see how powerful a performance can be without all the extras of costume, props and complicated scenery.

So I have developed my two scripts with this style of performance in mind. Mbali looks at the issue of mental ill health and I am looking for a theatre company to take the script to performance. I have initial interest from two charities who would like performances as part of conferences, but I do not run a theatre company, I am a writer!

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