The Last Post

This is the last post. We have finished The End. In the last week we performed four times in Brussels and twice in Cologne. Each time we had to reorder our index cards between shows. There are 1000 index cards and by the end of the week I was seeing them in my sleep. Ollie danced like a bear six times. I shot him 16 times per show. He shot me three times per show. I shot him 96 times in total. He shot me 18 times in total. We both shouted ‘Ready Aim Fire’ a lot and I lost my voice because I meant it. I drank four bottles of local beer in each show and Ollie listed at least ten local train stations in a crowd-pleasing accent. We asked technicians what was on TV after the show so I could say I was going to watch it. We asked technicians where a depressing place to stay in a caravan in November might be when it was raining. In England we said Morecambe. In Belgium it was Charleroi. In Germany it was Chemnitz. Afer the show we found a guide book for Chemnitz in the dressing room. It didn’t look too bad. Not as bad as Morecambe.

In Brussels we were driven to and from the theatre every day and offered food and drink after the show. Wholesome homemade soups and strong Belgian beer. In England we joked in the show about ‘playing cards for our per diems’ because we never received them. In Belgium and Germany we were given per diems but we didn’t play cards for them. In Cologne the programmer brought beer onstage and toasted us after giving us each a rose. In the show we say ‘There will be no flowers at our feet’ but for our last show there was. In the show we say ‘There will be no curtain call’ because in England there never is. They do things differently here. We received more applause on our first night in Cologne than all our other shows put together. Apparently six is the minimum times you take a bow in Germany. We have performed to more people in the last week than we have in the whole tour. Our matinee in Brussels was attended by 200 people. We averaged 150 people per show. We printed 500 programmes. It wasn’t enough.

When I was washing the bear suits this time last week watching them dance around the tumble drier in my local launderette I didn’t know all this would happen. I was feeling melancholy because I knew that by now we would have performed The End for the final time. We have no more invitations to present it so this really is the end. Our text in the show about touring for two years across the UK and some parts of Mainland Europe has come true. Maybe I have actually hung up my bear suit for the last time. If someone does ask us to perform again we would have to consider why that would be a better way to end the show than this, because, at the moment, sitting here, writing this in Cologne, it feels like the show went out with a bang, like it found its voice as I was losing mine. If it has to be a full stop and not a dot dot dot then I’m glad it happened here, now, like this.

We led a workshop today and asked people to think about what their last words would be if they had to say them. One of the participants said ‘Yes’ which is actually a brilliant response to the question. It suggests that ‘yes I have got some last words but I don’t want to say them’. At the moment, my last words were ‘I don’t know whether to get up or not’. And now that we have finished the show, it feels like I finally can. Ollie has arrived and reminds me to mention his bruises from falling 96 times over the last week but I don’t think I will. The bruises will fade away. The blindfolds are frayed. The beer bottles are recycled. The index cards will remain in a suitcase covered in beer and bear fur and footprints. The pentimento of every show. They are torn and ripped and creased from being thrown onto too many stages too many times. We never rewrote them so they wear their own history. Like us. The bear suits that danced in the tumble drier have danced across Western Europe and are back in their suitcase too. They are waiting for their entrance. And now so are we. Well, at least until the next time…

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British Council Edinburgh Showcase

Michael Pinchbeck – The End from British Council on Vimeo.

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beautifully structured post-modernist piece… hugely entertaining
The Guardian (Sampled) ****

It’s a sweet piece of meta-theatre, a show about a show. It’s also a love song to an art form Pinchbeck believes he will be leaving, a tender goodbye to an audience he feels he can no longer reach.
What’s On Stage (Sampled) ****

elegantly structured, thought-provoking and coolly resonant…
Exeunt Magazine ****

The End loops around itself and triggers all sorts of associations. Just as it doesn’t have a start, the end is blurred. It’s funny and thought provoking. It’s a shame it’s the end. If it is the end?
The Public Reviews *****

A compelling and intellectual piece
The Scotsman ***

The two performers guide us gently through this beautiful and slightly melancholy piece as they head tirelessly towards an end that will only ask them to begin again.
What’s On Stage ****

genius… a beautiful spectacle…
Broadway Baby ****

Let’s hope this isn’t their swansong.
Three Weeks ****

beautifully controlled performances… absorbing…
Nottingham Evening Post

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An Open Letter

An open letter to Michael Pinchbeck (and Nottingham)
Posted by Gemma Alldred

Dear Michael,

You don’t know me, but I feel as if maybe you should. I don’t mean to sound crazy when I say that, although I am aware that perhaps that can’t be helped. Last night you stood on a stage/theatre studio floor in front of me, and several others, and you said something about not knowing me, not knowing us, your audience – who of course sit in the dark.

So, in response I wanted to try and let you know the number of ways and times you’ve been present in my life. I don’t know if your presence means anything, but it feels worthy of noting, so it must mean something.

I grew up in Nottingham, long before I knew how I would make work in the future, when I dreamt of being an actress or an artist perhaps, I wore purple flares that I’d bought from that Vintage shop, near the theatre royal, on the way to the Victoria centre. I don’t know if you know it, you went up some wooden stairs, it was covered in photocopied flyers for gigs and band members wanted, it smelt of old clothes. It was a vintage shop before vintage shops were cool and expensive. I don’t think it’s there anymore. If it is still there, its probably expensive and probably not cool, at least not in that way.

Whilst wearing my purple flares I spent a lot of time at Angel Row gallery, in fact that art gallery was one of the most influential places on my work now. It was there we first met, when I picked up a flyer for ‘The Long and Winding Road’, well I wore flares, it follows that I liked the Beatles.

I took up the invite, I did email, I was asked to await further instructions but they never came. I didn’t really know your name then. It’s not on the flyer. The ‘Steering Committee’ never got back to me. To be honest I forgot about you, I filed it away along with all the other bits of paper I picked up and kept from that time.

I heard about it again, later, something having happened outside of Broadway cinema. The Broadway is also in my list of the influential places in my life. Neat then that a little peruse of The Left Lion, recently led me to Deborah Pearson’s recent performance there, a ‘Hatch’ event. Another link.

Let me honest, at this point in my life, I have still not really heard of you, but as I mentioned I loved the sixties, the music, I spent a long time trying to be a hippy. When a new play came out called ‘The White Album’ I had to see it. It was on at the Nottingham Playhouse, another incredibly influential place. They used to do ‘price of a pint’ tickets for under 25′s, I saw a lot of amazing work there. I’d just started university in York, the show got a mixed press, I loved it. I defended it on the comment thread of an article on The Left Lion, I tried to find it, to hyperlink it here, but it’s disappeared into the virtual void.

I’ll be even more honest, I didn’t really take a note of the playwright’s name. Well Giles was directing it, that was as much as I needed to know.

It was year’s later then, which is another way of saying a couple of years ago from now that a younger student who was working with me mentioned your work, apparently she loved it. I tried to be intelligent, I mean I did recognise the name, but in her presence, trying to sound like I knew something, I agreed with her. I might have said, “Yes, it is, quite brilliant”.

She was going to the lecture you were giving at York St. John University. I went too, I imagine I might have been sat with Andrew Brown, a fellow student at YSJ and a lecturer at Nottingham Trent, this is how he knew Hetain Patel. I wrote an essay on Hetain Patel for a second year, undergraduate assignment, after seeing his work in Angel Row gallery. Small world. It was in that lecture that I joined the dots, I realised that I knew you, well your work anyway. It was weird. I came and spoke to you afterwards, explained these things. I think it came out a little odd.

Maybe there it would’ve ended, except for your website, which is one of my most useful sources of inspiration, I’d like to thank you for posting your CV on there. It has been a great help, just having a template for what is often termed an ‘artistic cv’ and knowing that being diverse in the work I make and who I make it with is okay. As have your blogs and process. I often use them as a source of inspiration if I’m having a blank page/can’t make anything/I’m just shit aren’t I, sort of a day. These have been a really, really great help. Nice to know someone reads them perhaps…. I couldn’t help but notice Mole in some of the video’s you have on your Vimeo channel. I’m almost certain that when I was in primary school and again in secondary school , Reckless Sleepers came to do workshops with us. It’s times like that, which can inspire you as a kid, and so are perhaps in some small way the reason I’m writing this now.

And maybe there it also could end, except for a gift you made me with ‘The Ashes’. My Dad doesn’t really ‘do’ theatre, my great passion, it’s not really his thing, I’m struggling to recall if he’s ever been to see any of my work, perhaps the the primary school Christmas play. It’s not a criticism, like his Dad, my Dad likes cricket, it’s just I’d like to be able to share what it is I do with him. I bought us ticket’s to see the play, as a father’s day gift, better than whisky or socks. Something we can share together. Something we shared as a family. Thank you.

It was a strange crowd – I’m not sure it falls into all the Arts Council’s engaging new audiences stuff, but that show, that night, really seemed to have drawn quite the strangest mix of people, all interested in cricket, all sharing stories. It meant something to them, you could tell it was important. I’ve never experienced a theatre buzzing in quite that way before, it was really something. It was certainly something to me. Thank you again.

I noted in the back of the programme, in your bio, you’ve also worked with Hetain Patel. Smaller world. I did once think of writing him a letter to let him know he’d been the subject of that essay I’d written in 2007. That’s the sort of thing I’d like to know, I mean if someone ever wrote about me. I’m sure plenty of people have written about his work by now.

And so there Michael, it ends. The End, which I saw last night and seemed to speak to me, in my current performance makers block. Once again your presence, your work (and Ollie’s) floated a couple of creative bubbles to the surface, some pennies dropped. Lots of questions, lots of examples…. I am still looking for my own answers… in my process at the moment. I am looking back a lot, trying to re-cycle, to make again, to begin again, if its possible to repeat a beginning. If its possible to repeat at all.

I like to think I might invite you to my next show.

I like to think I should move back to Nottingham, stuff always seems to be happening there, maybe I could happen there.

I like to think that I will be part of the great happening here, in York, instead.

Perhaps our paths will cross again, perhaps they won’t – but if you ever read this, and you say those lines again in performance, the line I wish I could quote, the line I’m not even sure you said now. Well I think you did, I think it was about never knowing who ‘we’, the audience are. Well now you do. Perhaps you will remember this, perhaps in some small part I will be remembered in that moment.

All the best,


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On Endings

Image: Julian Hughes

On Endings
(After Michael Pinchbeck’s ‘The End’, Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham 2010)

In art, as in life, nothing is truly finished. Something appears to have come to an end – a book, a play, a sculpture, a life – only to linger on in echoes and afterthoughts and corrections. And, of course, in memory. The play finishes, the audience applaud, the house-lights go up, the actors go home. But the next day the actors come back and do it all over again, while the audience carry something of the performance with them into their following days.

But I’m being evasive; works of art do, of course, have designated endings. The reader finds out who done it, the actor removes his face-paint, the projectionist puts away the last reel. And however much the creator of an artwork might want her piece to resonate in the core of the audience’s very being, there still needs to be a moment which is called, simply, The End.

In my own writing, I’ve often had difficulty knowing when I’ve come to the end of the process. The only time I know a story is truly finished is when I’ve crossed everything out. Otherwise, it becomes a case of having the thing wrenched out of my hands and put into the hands of the audience, for them to do with as they will. Which is not the end of the process at all, in fact. It’s more like the beginning.

The End is Michael Pinchbeck’s last performance, and Ollie Smith’s first. And Michael’s exit from the stage serves as the starting point for this show, which explores ideas of entrances and exits, beginnings and ends, ruptures and closures; and, of course, that most famous of theatrical departures – “exit, pursued by a bear.” As is often the case with Michael’s work, the show is openly concerned with the process of its own creation and performance, and the way in which that process began and can never quite be accepted as ending. At times, the confusion between what Michael and Ollie wanted to do, and are doing, and will do, is reminiscent of the moebius-strip logic of Billy Bragg singing, “I was 21 years when I wrote this song, I’m 22 now but I won’t be for long.” But of course, as the older Michael keeps reminding the younger Ollie, none of us are 21 or 22 for long. And so as this performance, with its bear costumes, gun-shots, last words, and repeated cries that they “didn’t imagine it to end this way,” draws to an elliptical end, we see the older performer drift toward the exit, pursued and usurped by the bear of his young apprentice.

But is this really the end of Michael Pinchbeck’s performance career? I’m not convinced. His work to date – The Long & Winding Road, The Post Show Party Show, Sit With Me For A Moment – has played brilliantly with audience expectations, not least of what a performance can or should actually be. I suspect, once the showing of The End has been completed, that Mr Pinchbeck will realise he’s not quite done with us yet.

Jon McGregor
23 December 2010

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Promotional trailer

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Any last words?

Image: Julian Hughes

Michael: In the end I want to go out doing something I love. Thank you for listening. You’ve been a great audience. Thank you for giving me an hour of your life so I could give you mine. I hope it was worth it and what you saw was what you wanted to see. I hope you won’t be glad to see the back of me. I was always told when I was at the beginning of my journey that you should never show the audience your back. Now I’m at the end of my journey I know why…

Ollie: Ready aim fire

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Final reflections – part two

Image: Julian Hughes

Now Ollie is away for four months I have time to reflect on how the show will be developed when he gets back before we tour in 2011. I think we could make more of the man dressed as a bear waiting for his stage direction, sitting in the wings, playing cards or Connect 4 for money. Maybe losing a tenner on a single hand of paper scissors stone. Like I did when I worked backstage on Grease in the West End. Ollie’s part-time job as a fire officer at the Nottingham Playhouse was an early influence on the process as he sits in the wings and watches plays, waiting for a fire that will probably never happen and, even if there is a fire, his job is not to intervene but to make sure everyone leaves the theatre safe and sound.

An audience member called Melanie said it made her think about growing old and how we say ‘You’ve lost your edge’ and how policeman look younger and how she got called Madam in John Lewis. She said it was sad and she felt sorry for me, working with someone younger than me. She understood how I felt, being pushed out of the way by the younger generation. Interestingly, a lot of Ollie’s friends identified with him and felt quite angry about how I was treating him. How his struggle for recognition and respect, reflected their struggle in their walks of life. At the same time, a lot of people noticed how Ollie is much better at falling and miming the ‘fourth wall’ so I imagine a new piece of text:

Michael: You showed me up Ollie. With your energetic dancing. And your enthusiastic deaths. And you can fall better than me. And you can mime the fourth wall better than me. Because of your drama school. Because of your acting classes. And I brought you here to show you the ropes. But you showed me up didn’t you Ollie. And I never went to drama school. I never went to acting classes. And the only advice I ever got was to look at the Fire Exit signs.

Matt thought the motif of the fall was similar to the motif in The Post Show Party Show, a central death that returns. He liked the central story of a show about a show surrounded by more abstract material. He liked the balance between ‘show and tell’ – ‘this is the last stage I will stand on’ etc. – and more contemplative reflections on where we are and what we are doing. He thought Ollie fell beautifully. Rosie said because Ollie is so good, it really works that he takes over from me at the end. It is obvious that he isn’t being shown the ropes. But I am.

He knows what he is doing and it becomes increasingly apparent that I do not. She said that at the end, when he is left standing onstage and I am lying on the floor, the journey is complete. Some people were not satisfied with the end. It felt incomplete, or unresolved, or an anticlimax. But one person described it as ‘sufficiently underwhelming’ which is perhaps a fitting way to end a show about endings. And perhaps a good place to leave the process. We are standing here. Where one thing ends and another begins. The End will be continued in 2011.

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Final reflections – part one

Image: Julian Hughes

Overall we received very positive responses about the final work-in-progress showing of The End at Lakeside Arts Centre. Here are some of the comments:

Frank Abbott, artist and filmmaker and my MA tutor at Nottingham Trent University, said the cards remained a device that was not always serving a function. He asked what we could do that only the cards could make us do. It was not always clear that we were reading from them so they did not seem functional as well as an aesthetic decision. He asked how we could push the device further. They all remain the same size. How could they be bigger? Like a flipchart. Or smaller? Like a deck of playing cards. (I say ‘Like this’ too much in the show.)

Typing this now I imagine a flip chart coming on when I am baiting Ollie. Shouting ‘Dance faster. Dance harder’ as the words are ripped from the flip chart. The scale suiting the anger. Or a pack of cards flying in from the wings as the bear is waiting for its entrance playing cards. Or cards falling out of our clothes when we change into the bear suit. Frank’s question as to how we break the homogeny of the text, the predictability of the functionality of the text is useful as we think about how the text could permeate the show?

Jon McGregor, a writer, wrote ‘Kill the father’ in his notes about the relationship between me and Ollie. He said our relationship seemed to be at the emotional and conceptual core of the piece. Interesting because in our early versions we were quoting The Doors’ The End line: ‘Father I want to kill you’ and we had developed an idea that I was a father figure to Ollie. A father that he eventually usurps. Matt Welton, a poet and lecturer at the University of Nottingham, liked the line ‘show you the ropes’ because there is something inherently patronising about this idea. We discussed whether it was from shipping or the theatre – showing you the ropes of the rig. I imagine a dialogue between me and OIlie:

Michael: I don’t know if you know this Ollie but the phrase ‘Show you the ropes’ comes from the theatre when people were working backstage

Ollie: Actually it’s a nautical term

Matt said he liked the repetition of the phrase ‘show you the ropes’ and found it had more potential than ‘I’m here to make you look good’ which seems more vain. It would be useful to look at what is repeated in the text and ask why. What value it adds to the direction of the piece. Rosie Garton, an artist and director, said actually now we have made the show we don’t need some of the voice of the process any more. e.g. ‘We’ve got to work out what we want to say and how we want to say it?’ etc. This also sounds a bit too similar to The Post Show Party Show to me. Jon and Matt both liked the projection into the future of the show, the tour, or after the show, the audience sleeping but me not sleeping.t

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Image: Julian Hughes

Feedback from Jens Binder, lecturer in Psychology at Nottingham Trent University:

I was unsure whether you memorised the text or the routine of looking at the index cards. I liked the way they were all the same format, the same colour, the same size. There is something relentless about it. The cards are merciless units to drive you forward through the performance. There is no loss of control though. I wonder if you need to make a decision about handing over responsibility. How could you cut the cards? Maybe someone drops them and say ‘I’m not reading this any more’. How could there be more resistance to the rules?

This could be one of the tools you use to rebel. How could the performers make a decision not to proceed? There is a lot of turn-taking, the way cards are used. The way you get the cards and how that delays dialogue. Because it is a dialogue between you even though it is directed at the audience. Sometimes it is in the third person or you are describing in first person what the other person is doing. This is part of the argument between you. The performance is going round in circles. There are different time levels, you are talking about 3 months before you made it and 3 years after you start to tour it all in the same show.

At one point Michael starts reading out a text written three months ago. It dissolves all points in time. It reminded me of Slaughterhouse Five. How it does not subscribe to one particular timeflow. Existence = non-existence. This contributes to the static picture of what’s going on. You are prisoners and there is no progression towards the real end of the show. Or the exit. The bear goes nowhere, literally and metaphorically, you are going round in circles.

What would happen if the bear caught you before you exited and what happened offstage had to happen onstage? We are realising what a miserable condition you are in and watching you try to find ways to accept it. The autonomy of the individual where you thing your motives come from. When a father figure becomes overpowering. You know that you don’t want it but you can’t shake it off. It remains a bit unclear if Michael is a father figure to Ollie or not.

It sounds like Michael is Ollie’s entry into the business. When we think of patricide we think of autonomy, freedom, liberty, feeling dominated, suppressed. You want to be masters of your own actions but you fail. It’s not clear to what degree Ollie comes out of this on a positive or negative note. Open to me whether Ollie has been moulded in the same way. Ollie has overcome Michael and is free to do things differently. The pattern of dominance has changed. Who was the bear? Who was shot? Circularity. You have been phased out.

Not too long before the final scene you get a moment of resolution. The rest is just another discharge of surplus energy. I got the distinct feeling that I was witnessing a journey. It did have a beginning. It did have an end. That structure was there for me. These elements create their own dynamic and the whole thing morphs from state to another to reach a state of equilibrium. As it was at the beginning but different somehow. The relationship is the structure.

If it was just that it would be a one act piece but that is not what it is. There is too much going on around the relationship. Maybe it creates too much expectation. Standard narrative impossible. Impossible to bring it to an end because too many things have started. Too many beginnings to have an end. Resignation and despair – it doesn’t seem possible to bring this to an end. Maybe more awareness of it could remove a sense of helplessness.

How can we end it? How can we make it better? When you say ‘We’ve made a bit of a mess’ maybe it’s not that messy at all. It’s very ordered as chaos goes. Here is a role, the bear, that’s only there to enable another performer to exit the stage. The bear is a catalyst, related to the way out. The bear knows where the exits are. Held curtain in front of death. The bear is a force to drive us offstage. Maybe you need to go back to the bear. Back to the stage direction: Exit pursued by a bear.

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