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> > > Review: The Hunterian Museum present Anatomize

8 May 2012

photo of two people dressed in surgeons costume standing in a room lit with a blue light

1st year Theatre Designers design, devise and perform ANATOMIZE a performance installation at the Hunterian Museum, London. 20.04.12.

Anatomize is a twenty-minute site-sensitive colloborative performance produced by undergraduate students from the Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance  and Hunterian Museum. Obi Chiejina explores the extent to which dramatic atmosphere in 'Anatomize' plays a significant role in our perception of surgeons and surgical theatres.

The Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance, one of London’s innovative theatre/ performance colleges and a collection created by the founding father of anatomical surgery might strike some as odd creative bedfellows. Not so. A key principle of Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance’s artistic vision is a ‘spirit of collaboration.’  Students are encouraged to scrutinize existing theories and practice in drama and explore emerging areas of community theatre and performance. As a surgeon and anatomist John Hunter also adopted a multidisciplinary approach combining scientific observation and knowledge of biochemistry, physiology and pathology.

A shared vision of the importance of the collaboration underpins ‘Anatomize.’ Over a period of eighteen months, fourteen sound designers, light technicians, theatre designers and costume makers worked within their specialisms and externally with other performance genres. The undergraduate students used a wide range of artistic and scientific media from the Hunterian Museum as source material including written documents, paintings, surgical instruments and anatomical specimens.

As befitting a college renowned for the tradition of community theatre, audience members are invited by the students from the college to participate and engage in the performance of ‘Anatomize.’ Adults and children are positioned in the main landing and staircase (with lighting) outside the Hunterian Museum. They are then asked to put on white face masks commonly used by surgeons whilst performing operations. Looking around at the masked faces I was transported to being a child in a surgical theatre surrounded by nurses, porters and surgeons. 

Slowly the doors of the Museum opened and four actors appeared, dressed in the uniform of surgical staff i.e. neon green trousers, neon green tops with the obligatory white face masks. Without using the spoken word the four members of the ‘surgical team’ lead the promenade into the museum and guided us into the ground floor of the museum. Audience members and college students formed a circle around a table laid with twenty or more glass jars filled with small tubes of lighting. Apart from these odd tea-lights and overhead lighting the ground floor was shrouded in an eerie darkness.

Wearing a surgical mask and participating in ‘Anatomize’ made me realise actors and surgical staff share a common need for performance skills. Actors examine plot/ character/ writers, extract artistic truths and produce a tailored dramatic piece which is entertaining and instructive. Surgeons evaluate the outcomes from surgical treatments and patient surveys. The data is applied to create a surgical theatre that is both clinical and dramatic. For example the surgical face-mask prevents the transmission of harmful agents. But in terms of performance the mask has the effect of hiding a surgeon’s face/ emotions and subduing an anxious patient in the tense atmosphere of a surgical theatre.

Overall the collaborative spirit of ‘Anatomize’ was an enjoyable experience although marred by some elements of the promenade. The journey from the first to the second floor posed logistical issues for participants unable to use the stairs (too dark) or lift (too noisy). A temporary gap in a twenty-minute event meant that some of us missed the full dramatic impact of the performance.
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Anatomy of an Athlete - reviewed by Obi Chiejina on DAO - is on show at the Qvist Gallery, Hunterian Museum until Saturday 29 September 2012
Open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm.
For details go to www.rcseng.ac.uk/museums
 

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