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Shining Lights - This is a Chair

23rd November 2000, at the Corn Exchange.

This is the Newbury Weekly News review.

Churchill challenges audience

'THIS IS A CHAIR', at The Corn Exchange, on Thursday, November 23

It was brave for Shining Lights to choose to move to the Corn Exchange for its production of Caryl Churchill's 'This is a Chair', particularly since this was the first time a non-professional company has performed it. We were promised a compelling play that would be a challenging experience and something different and it certainly was.

Striking projected images and dramatic lighting perfectly created the atmosphere of this play about communication, control and the lack of control. The 'chair' itself was a powerful symbol used to good effect by this committed group of young actors.

Pete Watts' controlled and tight direction steers us through Churchill's unusual theatrical structure. We are in the realms of physical theatre and see a beautifully choreographed beginning, a superb tube train journey and are invited to explore such diverse subjects as the war in Bosnia, animal conservation, Northern Ireland, genetic engineering, gay issues, pornography and politics. Not bad for a theatre piece lasting thirty-five minutes!

This was very much an ensemble piece with a strong cast of 12 and it would be invidious to comment on everyone's performance. However David Caldwell, Francesca Tambina and Ruth Muttram, created a powerful scene in dealing with an anorexic daughter, forcing her to eat.

In a scene entitled 'Hong Kong' Marc Godfrey, Stuart Hunter and James Elliot sensitively portrayed the problems faced by gay relationships with sensitivity.

Andy Stratford's evocative original music effectively linked the scenes together, enhanced by Tina Harrison's artistic images.

At the end of the performance the audience were invited to attend a director's talkback to find out more about the play, which to be honest most of us wanted to know! Even the cast were asking questions about what the play was about. But that's Caryl Churchill's challenge!

Shining Lights do not regard themselves as youth theatre, more as a training ground for young people to learn skills that will help them in future life, for auditions at drama schools or self-confidence to make their mark on the world. I wish them well for the future.


At 8:00 p.m. on November 23rd at The Corn Exchange, Newbury, something very special happened. Shining Lights premiered a new play by Caryl Churchill "This is a Chair". This was the first time this play will have been performed in the UK by a non-professional company.

"This is a Chair" made its first professional appearance on 25th June 1997 at Duke of York's for the London International Festival of Theatre directed by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot) and starred Timothy Spall (Outside Edge, Life is Sweet) and Ray Winstone (Tough Love, Last Christmas).

The Daily Telegraph reported, "Churchill, who constantly reinvents dramatic form, has come up with something compelling and strange, an intimate revue about the increasing surreality of life"

Caryl Churchill was born in 1938 in London. She gained a degree at the University of Oxford in 1960 and her first dramatic works were produced there.

Caryl Churchill is a Post Modern Dramatist who is a writer of the humane presence and a champion of individual choice. Her unusual use of theatrical structure always aims to reveal the value of the eccentric individual over the concentricies of an explosive social order. Her works include Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, Cloud 9, Top Girls, One, Blue Heart, Mad Forest and many more.

"This is a Chair" was published last year by Nick Hern Books, and Chris Courtney, who was originally directing the play until he had to drop out because of a close family bereavement, says "The play is unique and quite different from others I have been involved with, offering new challenges for us. Caryl Churchill has written this play in a similar style that Magritte paints; each brief scene preceded by a graphic showing images of global occurrences. We are really looking forward to showing people this stunning piece of work."

Artistic Director of Shining Lights, Pete Watt, has stepped in and re-engineered the play. Watt says, "This is a very strong play and challenging for us and the audience. We have talked to author Caryl Churchill as to how the combination of images and scenes should work together. What the company is delivering is my interpretation which seems to closely reflect the thoughts of the author."

As is Shining Lights' style, they have gained a quote from the author Caryl Churchill: "I am surprised and delighted you have chosen my play. It is a very adventurous choice. You are the most adventurous youth company I have come across and certainly the first ever to perform this anywhere. I am looking forward to come and seeing 'This is a Chair' performed."

Watt concludes, "At the end of the play I will be holding a Director's Talkback with the audience and I am hopeful that Caryl Churchill will join me."