Image: Installed at '4Days: Curtain Call', Arnolfini, UK, 2013. Photo: Justin Yockney

'IT MUST BE TOLD.' 2013
Performance lecture (PowerPoint slide show, play text, wicker trunk, stool, chair, blanket, 'theatrical gauze', lamp, electric candles, fixings, data projector, notes)


An unscripted, improvised talk about my fascination with the various elements surrounding a long-running west end ghost play, incorporating stage directions, lighting cues, footage of my own rehearsals at RADA, statistics, hyperbole, 61 near-identical jpegs and 'everything but the main action' from an actors' edition of the play text.

Although seemingly based around the story of a specific London theatrical production the talk is actually a purposely evasive examination of the early stages of any untested idea, the way it shifts and forms as you hear yourself recite it outloud.

My only interest in the play itself is in its traditional structure - as a ghost play, a west end production and a classic play-within-a-play - from plot and effects to production decisions and marketing. The talk itself is elliptically stuctured around a series of mirrorings and repetitions, as a story of uncertainty and improvised research methods becomes a dramatised narrative in itself. However as the talk goes on we realise that my motivations and the plight of the main characters have become irrevocably entwined.

Image: 'It must be told.' poster, Barry Sykes, '4Days: Curtain Call', Arnolfini. Photo: Justin Yockney

'It must be told.' was devised for the '4 Days: Curtain Call' festival at Arnolfini, Bristol, where a number of visual artists were invited to adress the mechanics of theatre and dramaturgy. Fellow artists included Cally Spooner, Edwin Burdis, Jesse Ash, Serena Korda and Heather and Ivan Morison.

The set was installed in Gallery One alongside those of Jesse Ash Edwin Burdis, open to the public all weekend and occasionally brought to life as each of us delivered our live performances.

My installation included various props listed in the original play text: wooden chair, wooden stool, large wicker trunk, heavy black curtain, blanket that we borrowed from theatres around Bristol; a brass candle lamp identical to the one used in the play that I sourced online, topped off with a hurricane shade improvised from a cheap vase, and three electric candles, one for each performance. The industry standard sharktooth theatrical gauze used in the production to shield and reveal areas of the stage depending on the direction of the lighting was replicated with a large decorators dust sheet hung down the wall as a PowerPoint screen.

Other key props where an enlarged, flipped and framed scan of one of the adverts in an outdoor frame, a clipboard with my scripted introduction and notes kept in the space, speakers, projector and rows of seats turned to the direction of whichever performance was happening.


Image: '4Days: Curtain Call' Gallery 1 install, Arnolfini. l-r, Barry Sykes 'It must be told.'; Jesse Ash, Avoidance Avoidance - tables, projector, sculptures and lamps; Edwin Burdis, The Fruit Machine (A Painting and an Opera) - wall sized painting, speakers and strewn flowers . Photo: Justin Yockney

The talk was built around my growing collection of small adverts for the play 'The Woman in Black' that occasionally appear in London's Time Out listings magazine. This production of the play has been running at the Fortune Theatre Covent Garden for 25 years and I have adverts going back to 2005, all of which vary very little, the only main difference being that with every cast change of the lead role of 'The Actor' they insert a new phoptograph of him into the design, always - with only a few notable exception - in the same pose: one hand clutching a brass candle lamp, the other hand sheilding it, as he looks out past us with an expression of something like trepidation, curiosity and dread.

Image: A slide from the PowerPoint, the folder in which I collect each new Time Out page that features an advert for the 'Woman in Black' at the Fortune Theatre, London. Photo: Barry Sykes

The rigid formality and repetition is what drew me to the adverts, and their attempt to represent what they tell us is 'The most terrifying live theatre experience in the world' and a 'Truly nerve shredding experience'.

My talk was also repeated three times over the weekend, first as 'The Preview', then as 'The Matinee' and finally the 'End Of The Run', adapting each time due to practice, rewrites and human error.

The talk leads you through this hesitant process of preoccupation, aggregation and self-set research, including: microscopic details of the the hi-res scans I have of each cutting; the legal vagaries of reciting the play
; a virtual tour of the theatre's interior; and footage of my rehearsal of the same talk with a professional actor a few days earlier ... all leading up to the talk's inevitable, dramatic conclusion.

Above and below: 'The Matinee', 3pm, Saturday 14th September 2013 (All photos: Justin Yockney)



Click here for an edit of the '4 Days: Curtain Call' weekend and here for video of a conversation between curator Jamie Eastman, artist Edwin Burdis and myself in the Arnolfini reading room.