17c - a note from Matthew Warchus

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A long time ago a very clever, elderly psychiatrist said to me (in a thick German accent straight out of Central Casting), ‘All you need to do, Matthew, is go home, grab a piece of paper, write the heading ‘Who Am I?’ and then fill it in. You will find it exceedingly helpful.’ I’m ashamed to admit that, despite giving up coffee, alcohol, most dairy products, being a sucker for supplements, and adopting a modicum of meditation into my life, I have never managed to follow his prescription. Not because I question its value. Quite the reverse; I’m sure he was bang on. But I find it weirdly daunting — the idea of gazing into a mirror like that. For the same reason, I think, I have never kept a diary. Sometimes I’ve regretted this — usually in the obvious pinch-yourself moments such as my day spent with Arthur Miller, or my dinner-and-a-movie at Barbra Streisand’s amazing Malibu home. But I’ve simply never found, or made, the time to unravel life, day by day, in writing. Nevertheless, whether it is written down or not, we all unavoidably sit at the centre of our own narratives (Stephen Sondheim brilliantly referred to diaries as ‘me’moirs) which inevitably means we are very unreliable narrators. Though it may (sometimes unwittingly) answer the question ‘Who Am I?’ a diary can never be a fully trustworthy document of fact.

Even if it becomes a celebrated historic artefact. Samuel Pepys’ diary of his 17th century London life is the subject of a brilliantly witty interrogation and dissection by New York avant-garde choreographer Annie-B Parson and her Big Dance Theater company. Drawing comparisons between Pepys’ extraordinary tendency to ‘over-share’ and today’s 24-hour social media ‘selfie’ culture, this vibrant new work also pointedly unearths a missing voice — that of Pepys’ wife Elizabeth whose own diary seems to have been summarily destroyed by her husband in a fit of pique. The Old Vic has a fascinating history of dance — including, under Lilian Baylis’ impressive leadership, being the birthplace of Sadler’s Wells and English National Ballet. These days we are using this rich history as an inspiration for bringing dance back into our programming from time to time. We are very proud to be facilitating Big Dance Theater’s first UK appearance, in collaboration with Dance Umbrella, and it is especially satisfying to be able to present their work alongside our recent musical SYLVIA; both pieces developed and staged by two very different auteur choreographers (Annie-B Parson and Kate Prince) and both shining light on how our history has too frequently silenced women’s voices. Only by listening.

Matthew Warchus

Artistic Director, The Old Vic

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