The Culture Whisper interview: Peter McMaster, performance artist
The director of the Battersea Arts Centre's sell-out all-male Wuthering Heights discusses the challenges of masculinity with Laura Tennant, and reveals his London favourites
The artist behind the Battersea Arts Centre's sell-out all-male Wuthering Heights talks the crisis in masculinity with Laura Tennant, and reveals his London favourites
London audiences are way too sophisticated to be spooked by the idea of gender-blind casting. Just think of the fight over tickets for the all-female Henry IV (Donmar Warehouse). But creating an all-male cast for one the greatest love/hate stories in literature might seem perverse – until you understand the production’s origins.
The Battersea Arts Centre , fast becoming one of the capital’s most interesting and innovative fringe theatres, welcomed Peter McMaster’s all-male Wuthering Heights for the second time this week – it premiered there a year ago, prompting the Guardian’s critic to call it ‘honest, inventive and beautifully choreographed’.
With the show sold out, Culture Whisper asked director and participant Peter McMasters, who describes himself as an ‘experimental performance practitioner’ and also teaches at Glasgow University about its genesis.
How did the show come about?
‘I started a men’s group a few years back in Glasgow because I felt like I needed a reflective space to be with other men and explore that huge part of our identity. A community forms, and bonds can be created.
'Many of the men in the group were also performers, and Wuthering Heights emerged as a piece of theatre from our sessions. We didn’t call it group therapy, but it certainly had a therapeutic quality to it. I do believe there is an overlap between therapy and art-making because art is often about expressing things that are inside you.’
Why Wuthering Heights?
‘The content of the novel is all about aggression, love and violence. Heathcliff seems to embody a crisis in masculinity, and the work we do in the show suggests he lives in all of us.
‘The first thing I say on stage is that his story begins when he is found abandoned. He is a lost child. One of the questions we ask in the play is, where are all the father figures? It seems there is an inability to express oneself in the male population. Fathers are cut off from their children and around puberty and early adulthood boys experience ‘lostness’. All sorts of difficult problems arise as a result.’
Has the show evolved over the last year or so?
‘Cast members have changed over time – one had to leave because he’d had a child, for example. The work has to develop to accommodate the dramaturgy of the performers' lives – that goes very deep into what we’re doing. It’s about having a creative autobiographical relationship with the book.’
Why is masculinity such a hot topic at the moment?
‘There is so much in the international media about men as perpetrators of violence against women. Even in this country there is a rape culture [in which rape is trivialised, normalized and blamed on women who are "asking for it"]. It feels like the rest of us men need to consciously offer a flip side.’
My cultural life in London: Peter McMaster
1. Old favourite?
‘I’m a vegetarian so whenever I come to London I visit Food for Thought in Covent Garden, which is something of an institution.’ [CW says, try the Andalusian chickpea bake with aubergines, fennel and mushrooms in a tomato, saffron and smoked paprika sauce].
2. New discovery?
‘I’ve just been told about Hampstead Heath’s all-male bathing ponds , and I will definitely be paying a visit while I am in London.
3. Best-loved walk or view?
‘I know it’s a bit of a cliché but I love walking along the South Bank ...’
4. Greatest meal you’ve ever had in London?
‘I don’t know about greatest, but there is a lovely little place I was taken recently called The Wild Food Café in Neal’s Yard, which serves raw, wild and vegan food.’ [CW recommends the wild guacamole with almond and pumpkin un-toast…]
5. Favourite local restaurant/bar/pub?
‘The Falcon in Clapham Junction is really cool...
[according to the Guinness Book of Records, the Falcon’s bar counter is the longest in Britain. It is overlooked by a stunning stained glass window depicting a falcon.]
Otherwise I’m always happy with a Sam Smith pub like Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street’ [this Grade II listed building was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666 – there had been a pub there since 1538].
6. Most memorable aesthetic experience?
I was recently on the Isle of Canna, where my girlfriend was directing a new work by Hannah Tuulikki called Away with the Birds. It explores “the mimesis of birds in Gaelic song” and featured a ten-woman female choir singing Hannah’s music, standing in the water in Canna’s beautiful harbour.
7. Hidden gem no-one else knows about?
‘This would have to be in Glasgow, where I live and work. The River Clyde shipyard still makes small-scale private boats, but the end of the dock has returned to the wild and has become a small secret forest. It’s also where I live.’
8. Best place to propose/have an affair?
‘I’ve been in a relationship for seven years and neither of those are on the cards!’
9. Best for children?
‘Clapham Common – or anywhere nice and green, really.’
10. Where will you next be seen in London?
‘The South Bank is putting on its Being a Man festival again in January 2015 after the inaugural event this year. I’ve been invited to be part of the thinking groups for it and will definitely be coming down to London for it.’
11. Who is your current cultural crush?
‘Kate Bush! I’m going to see her on 9th September 2014. Lots of her music is in the show and I am a very big fan.’
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