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RCS: Into the New 2021

Into the New is the graduate festival for the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Contemporary Practice Programme. The event has returned for a digital installation of contemporary theatre performance, with ten RCS artists premiering their degree shows across four days.

Developing material under some of the most challenging circumstances artists and students have faced in our lifetimes deserves commendation in its own right, and unsurprisingly there’s a common denominator of questioning life and inner acceptance running through these ten diverse presentations.

From completely retreating from the outside world in Forest Wolfe’s ‘Under My Duvet (until further notice)’, which effectively highlights depression and intrusive thoughts, to Maria Monteiro’s visceral exploration of social media pressure and the cost of perceived perfection in ‘As Real As Reality’, the showcase retains the experimental. Boundaries are pushed, as you’d expect from contemporary performance, yet the wide lens of unifying themes keeps the avant-garde aspect accessible.

Jack MacMillan drives home recent life contrasts amidst a global pandemic with ‘Short/Long : Long/Short’. Juxtaposing footage from a 100-mile excursion with a friend with footage of Jack re-tracing the distance in a studio, it starkly highlights how journeys together create support and connection in turbulent times, while exploring the stagnancy that imposed restriction can create. The contrast between the vibrant banter of pals and Edinburgh landscapes with MacMillan repeatedly tracing a rectangular line laid in a plain space, reminiscent of a caged animal, is striking and will no doubt resonate with everyone.

Beyond exploring the effects Covid-19 has had on us individually and as a society, another common theme is gender, which is a hot topic subject in the current socio-political climate. Indra Wilson’s ‘Till I Die’ sees her dressed like Drew Barrymore’s doomed Scream character, using the slasher genre to explore our fascination with male killers and what it means to be a victim.

Till I Die by Indra Wilson: Image Credit © Robert McFadzean

Weaving audio extracts from pop culture throughout, with the image of Ghostface embodying the real danger to females in every day relationships of control, Wilson successfully challenges sexism, sexuality and the male gaze with a warped comedic edge that becomes less funny as violence against women is brought sharply into focus.

Sally Charlton presents a study of female relationships with ‘Mother’s Milk’, exploring generational lineage and if we have control over what we remember and forget. A cluttered space sees a woman dress, undress, dance, and drink to a soundtrack of recorded conversations. These range in subject from ballet routines to teenage pregnancy, bouncing through time with a poignant personal timeline paralleling the wider cultural landscape, embodying how regret or tragedy can often see us trying to connect with those not present.

Holly Worton’s ‘6687’ piece conversely explores communication between friends, in a collaboration with Sam Worton. Beginning by assembling two trampolines, Holly and Sam exhaustively bounce through musical interludes and dialogue to deconstruct their relationship and shifting dynamics over the years. The transition from child to adult can encourage further internalisation of thought, and Holly cleverly utilises physical exhaustion to interrogate why we regress in conversation as we get older.

The sense of self, nature versus nurture, and reflective reminiscence take the focus of Rachel McLean’s ‘We’re Not Really Strangers’ as she looks into her own history to explore the sense of self and if this is affected by hidden issues within a community. A dimly-lit stage with a wall of portrait memories hosts a casually-dressed McLean, battling a war in her head, contemplating her relationship with herself over 21 years with poetic and challenging prose. She urges us to think about our own concept of self in a digital age of distraction, asking if we’ve taken the time to know the reflection staring back at us.

We’re Not Really Strangers by Rachel Mclean – Image Credit © Robert McFadzean

‘And When I Remember That I Have Forgotten’ is a celebratory exploration of nostalgia from Minnie Crook. Set against the backdrop of a family gathering featuring a “host with the most”, there’s a Phoenix Nights feeling here, as Minnie explores personal history and kinship, comparing them to collective recollection and questioning how much the individual can be subconsciously shaped by societal manoeuverings.

Althea Young’s ‘Content Here’ will play with your eyes, as she explores dynamic objects in an hypnotic display interrogating the relationship between art, artists and materials. As. Inanimate objects take centre stage, yet are still infused with emotion. In stark contrast to Young’s dreamlike work, Miro Santeri’s nightmarish ‘The Unholy Knight’ combines old Finnish incantations, Scandinavian Black Metal and Arthurian legends. We follow a hooded character wandering through a bleak forest to reclaim something lost, meeting a host of folklore archetypes and questioning the perceived powers of magic. If you don’t like dark atmospheres designed to disturb then this one isn’t for you, but if you’ve an interest in ancient mythology Santeri’s take could help you see the light.

It’s a staggering achievement for all involved, with the assortment of creative experimentations guaranteeing there’s something for everyone, and plenty more to take a chance on. If you’re not going to tentatively dip your toe into the new, given our current circumstances, then will you ever?

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Into the New, 2021
took place online from 25th till 28th March


Main photo: As Real As Reality by Maria Monteiro – Image Credit © Jassy Earl

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