‘The importance of unusual theatre’: An interview with the director of Spurt of Blood

Sophie Dickinson 8 June 2016

Spurt of Blood is an incredibly provocative play, featuring minimal dialogue, raining limbs and swarms of scorpions.  TCS sat down with director Zoé Barnes, to discover the role of such boundary-pushing theatre in Cambridge.

Tell us about the show!

Spurt of Blood is a piece of Surrealist Theatre of Cruelty, written by Antonin Artaud, and dating from 1925. At its core, it is only four pages long, so we’ve worked as an ensemble, with music and movement, towards creating a devised piece built around the play and anchoring our work in Artaud’s essays, such as ‘No more masterpieces’. Even in its shortest incarnation, however, and noting its surrealist nature, there are some strong themes are expressed, some of which could be described as being almost misanthropic.

These go beyond simple cruelty, mocking the attitudes and sensibilities of people at the time it was written, but show a generally harsher view of humanity. The world is created, and then desecrated by us, while we still cling on to notions of innocence and love. In highlighting this hypocrisy, Artaud subverts innocence and love so that they become depravity, lust, and fear. Blasphemy and human transgressions against God are explicit, as is the wrath of nature. This makes it all really exciting, both to be part of and watch develop, and as an audience member.

How do performances at the Judith E Wilson compare to those at more conventional venues?

The studio is a great space that allows for experimentation, and I think it would be great to see it become increasingly utilised as an alternative venue – and I don’t only say that because a number of people I talk to about it simply want to know where it is. It’s nice to be able to do all sorts of things with a space that you can’t do with a conventional theatre. That is not, however, it’s central selling point – somewhere like the Pembroke Cellars also makes use of a less traditional space. Inherently, the studio is a black box, with room to do whatever you like with it, creating raised platforms and partitioning the space, without too much pressure to dismantle in time for a lateshow, or the next day’s mainshow. Flexibility is paramount in a show such as Spurt of Blood.

Have their been any unforeseen problems during rehearsals?

Creating stars colliding, limbs falling, swarms of scorpions and giant ‘glowing’ vaginas on stage, without causing an ecological or humanitarian disaster, has been tricky and has been having a strange effect on my dreams – a recent one could easily have been an episode of ‘Llamas with Hats’ – but with the help of an excellent team, we’re muddling through some of Artaud’s more perplexing stage directions, so to speak. If you want to know how we managed to create something visual, visceral and true to Artaud, you’ll have to buy a ticket. Otherwise, utilising a limited amount of time has been an issue in the run up to the first performance, mostly due to exams and the difficulty in having the entire cast in place at any one time.

Spurt of Blood is such an unusual show- does Cambridge need more theatre like this?

I can not stress how strongly I believe it does. While theatre is a form of entertainment, it is also an art that can be deconstructed or approached academically which, in many ways, is why it still exists in an age of smartphones. Maybe people think there’s a lot that can be gained artistically by trying to re-interpret Shakespeare, and I would have a tendency to agree, or that an emotive contemporary piece with a linear pattern will appeal to a wider audience.

However, it is also so important, especially in a university environment where there’s a number of people ready to be led along on whatever crazy artistic enterprise one comes up with. I think it says something that something written in 1925 feels so new, and also that something written in 1925 has never been done before. While there is a wealth of late 19th and early 20th century European avant-garde theatre, much of it fallen, or beginning to fall, into the public domain, we don’t see Marinetti’s ‘The Feasting King’ (1909) being staged, nor Apollinaire’s ‘The Breasts of Tiresias’ (1903) nor Jarry’s ‘Ubu Roi’ (1896). Futurism, Surrealism, Pataphysics, Symbolism – all are relatively unheard of in Cambridge and I don’t think it’s for lack of initiative or knowledge.

Perhaps the theatre scene here is perceived to actively discourage risk-taking, but I will also tentatively note that maybe Postmodernism and Modernism are so interesting precisely because they are not inducted into the mainstream.


Spurt of Blood opens on Wednesday 8th June at 7.30pm, at the Judith E Wilson Drama Studio.