How could I not interview Annie John? The co-devisor of the incredible, thought-provoking Seen that forces you to reflect on the issues it presents. I was particularly interested in the devising process and the concepts behind the movements. Whilst watching it, I would take notice of each actor using their body to portray an emotion or breaking the fourth wall. Annie shared that the team knew from the beginning they wanted to involve the audience as much as possible. They asked themselves: “How can we engage people and really speak directly to them?” I definitely felt spoken to and often felt like the actors spoke for me.
The piece had awkward moments where you sort of don’t know where to look; I remember thinking ‘ooookay’, but then I thought deeper about the questions being asked. These were Annie’s intentions of “taking it a little bit too far, making it a bit uncomfortable, not just for the audience but for the actor as well” which they certainly managed to achieve.
The group from NewVIc Arts started the piece in October 2019, conscious of Brexit and the upcoming general election, but when asked to present it for NSDF 2021, it didn’t feel current or that relevant anymore. 2020 will forever remain a year that challenged society’s strength, and young people had a lot to say. I considered if they ever questioned the sensitive topics they chose to perform, but Annie passionately replied “They did not want to hide their stories, it had been a difficult year. This was a chance for their voice to be heard.” It was as if I could feel the urgency of the young actors in the pace of her own words.
After 10 weeks of Zoom calls to make an attempt at devising a piece through a screen, the company decided to meet for an intense 3 days of socially-distanced rehearsal in which they successfully filmed on the afternoon of the final day. It must not have been an easy task – we can see the show thrived on physicality, no contact was a rule they were not exempt to. Inspired by Frantic Assembly and workshops, Annie reminded them to “be authentic”. “They’re not dancers,” she told me. “It doesn’t have to be beautiful and it’s not choreographed, it has to be raw and speak from the heart.” Some gestures we saw were crafted from a line of their own writing. How electrifying.
If it had been live, does she think it would have had a greater impact? “Yes, you can’t beat the electricity between the performer and the audience.” ‘Never have I ever’ questions were supposed to be a chance for spectators to raise their hand and look around for the similarities and differences. The company performed in schools, giving children the opportunity to get involved. Moses asks us “Do I look like a threat to you?”, and a small kid perched on the carpet (with their legs presumably crossed in the way we all had to do when we were at school) shouted back, ‘NOOO!’. That made me chuckle. If only we all saw Black men in a similar way.
This piece was of the moment. “It marked the time and how it impacts them on a daily basis.” If performed in two, five or 10 years into the future, the outcome would have been entirely unrecognisable. The ending scene, with the actors bopping about to the beat of the music, this was a shock to me at first because of the sudden change of atmosphere. “There is something political about being joyful and the cast did not wish to be seen as victims.”