Tag Archives: A Place at the Table

Let’s talk about participation

Our artistic director, Paul, has missed shows he really wanted to see because the threat of audience participation made him so anxious. And yet we make participatory theatre. Is this hypocrisy?

A Place at the Table, Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre, London

Our work isn’t about getting people to do things. It’s even less about picking on people or demanding volunteers. It’s about creating an environment in which people can find their own degree of involvement as equals.

Our breakthrough in this regard was A Place at the Table (pictured during a performance at Amnesty International, London). This is the piece we made about the 1993 coup in Burundi and its aftermath. All the audience sat round a huge table alongside the actors. Everyone was very ‘present’, and the experience was very immediate, but essentially the audience were passive observers until what appeared to be the end. At this point, food was brought and the actors joined the audience for a causal chat. People started talking to their neighbours or just quietly enjoyed the food and the atmosphere. This was actually the second half of the show; and its resolution. After hearing testimonies of appalling violence and heroism, and struggling through the complicated politics and history of Central Africa, a group of strangers found themselves sitting together, sharing food and talking. Some of them talked about how to escape the cycle of violence in Burundi, some just talked about their journey in. Most nights they kept talking till we had to ask them to leave!

Naomi Grossett in A Place at the Table, Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre, London

Gerrard Winstanley’s True and Righteous Mobile Incitement Unit is the same principle, but structured the other way around. We ask you to come to a tea party ahead of the show. (There’s also a shortened version for when there’s no time for a whole pre-show tea party). Here you can tell us about your experiences of protest, get us up to speed on local issues, make a placard, collaborate on protest song lyrics… or not.  You can also take advantage of the free tea without doing a thing! Similarly, during the performance itself you can sing along. Or not. You can even have a little dance. Or not. You can have another cup of tea. Or not. The point is, we’re asking you to join us as an equal, with full autonomy, and be part of making the show afresh each time. Or not. It’s up to you. you can just watch.


Grace Nyandoro in A Place at the Table, Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre, London

It’s the complete opposite of old-fashioned participation, really. And you can test this for yourself. We’ll be performing Gerrard Winstanley’s True and Righteous Mobile Incitement Unit this Sunday, 6th May, at Poplar Union. Details are here.





Titanic Express vigil, 3pm on Monday

The Titanic Express massacre 15 years ago was one of many atrocities against civilians in Burundi that have taken place over the last few decades. Overshadowed from an international viewpoint by the Rwandan genocide, the ongoing conflict in Burundi has taken many lives and is still very much unresolved. Recent flare-ups, not least the violent repression of anti-government protests, are a chilling sign that the situation is again deteriorating.

Our production of A Place at the Table was initially a response to The Titanic Express massacre, although it developed into a broader piece about the Burundian conflict and the how difficult it is for outsiders to engage fully with it. Making it was a profoundly affecting experience and has left us marked for ever with stories of those suffering the effects of violence in Burundi.

APATT at Southwark Cathedral – Photo: Harriet Stewart

And it’s true that it’s a difficult conflict to understand. It’s complicated, and can be traced back to colonialism and beyond. It is part of a wider set of regional conflicts. It’s a tangle of race, class and geography. But the need for peace and justice is simple, even if achieving them is not.

The Alliance for Justice, a campaign to end impunity for those who have committed atrocities in Burundi, The Democratic Republic of Congo and worldwide, has organised a vigil to mark the 15th anniversary of the Titanic Express massacre.

The time is right to increase the pressure on the international community as well as to commemorate a terrible loss. Please come along if you can. The details are here.

Titanic Express vigil, 3pm December 28th, Trafalgar Square, London – final details for those attending