The Flâneur

Miscellany > Manifesto for an Alchymical Theatre

By Cercle d'Enfeu

They make a Wasteland and call it Theatre.

We of Cercle d'Enfeu hereby pronounce our utter boredom with the formulae of contemporary theatre.

Heritage Theatre: stately classics and stuffed-shirt costume drama, a culture fix for the pious bourgeoisie, ceremonial worship at the altar of high culture;

West-End Theatre: musical extravaganzas, spectacular visuals, shallow emotional manipulation, the theatrical Event - more product than production, one for the tourists.

Slice of Life Theatre: soaps on stage, inevitably 'gritty', the predictable progeny of 'local talent'. Dedicated to that hypocritical god 'Relevance' - the most conservative of deities, forever trumpeting his bogus radical credentials, as he consoles and reassures the masses that on the stage they can see lives more miserable than their own, and so go home and sleep contented.

Alternative Theatre: the arty experimental option, 'pure theatre', showcases for actors and directors to display their repertoires - running, jumping, cartwheels - as the Fringe wannabees dream of being spotted by talent scouts and landing up in the next West End extravaganza. So alternative.

Educational Theatre: Shakespeare for the youngsters (for the young are our future are they not?). A noble cause used as a smoke screen by those who have lost their nerve, to cover their cowardice and patronise teenagers instead.

They make a Wasteland and call it Theatre.

The young have their imaginations stifled. Ask a 'young writer' for a scene, and they instantly become 'local talent' and produce more warmed-through 'gritty slice of life' drama - domestic violence, miscarriages in the chippy, he's on the dole and she's up the pole, and so on, and so on…
Why do their imaginations not fly?
Because of the wise old heads promoting the old formula: 'Write from your own experience' (i.e. imitate what you have seen presented as 'authentic' innumerable times before).
Is there anything more depressing than 'writers workshops'? Never-weres posing as has-beens serving up the same stale formulae as the 'rules of the art', so every new play is exactly like their own dreary dusty scripts, mouldering forgotten in drawers.

And how the great playwrights suffer. Look at Shakespeare: Heritage Theatre stratfords him into rigor mortis; West-End Theatre disneyfies him on ice; Slice of Life Theatre sets him among drug gangs in Glasgow (always in the name of 'Relevance', of course); Alternative Theatre turns him into a circus so frenzied the audience cannot hear a word the actors are incapable of speaking; Educational Theatre desperately tries to 'appeal to the young audience' with every possible distraction - so let's have a lousy rock band because 'that's what young people like nowadays, isn't it?'

How insultingly the young are treated by smug old fogeys with their dim-witted advice for new writers, and patronising Educational productions spoonfeeding them and creating diversions away from the real meat of the play.

We have seen plenty of things to make us laugh in recent times - some intentional, not all - but when was the last time we saw anything that moved us, thrilled us, inspired us, alarmed us, frightened us, aroused us, or, God forbid, made us think?
When was the last time we saw anything that we carried with us outside the doors (apart from as a vague depression), that made our lives a little stranger, more textured or intriguing, that opened up the chance of difference or change, that gave us the most transient vision of other possibilities?

They make a Wasteland and call it Theatre.

Theatre should be alchemy - the quest to transform the everyday into the remarkable, the ordinary into the extraordinary, the material into the ineffable, the mortal into the immortal.
The favoured metaphor for the alchemical quest was, perhaps unfortunately, to turn base metal into gold. For much contemporary theatre, the quest seems to be turning shit into brass (although often enough it can't even do that - it gets its grants and turns cash into shit).

Our aim, in Cercle d'Enfeu, is to try to raise the stakes a little, to try to recapture the real alchemy of the theatre - to pursue the numinous, the erotic, the decadent, the darkly romantic, the weird - to tap into the powers of love, terror, comedy, cruelty - whatever it takes to make the familiar unfamiliar, to make life strange - to catch a fugitive glimpse of the Sublime.

Are you also searching for a real alternative to the theatre we see around us? As audience, performers, supporters or sympathique souls, are you with us? Contact us via

Announcement: 'Those People' (a private theatre group, established in Manchester in April 1997) hereby takes this opportunity to announce its formal amalgamation into Cercle d'Enfeu in its quest to establish Alchymical Theatre in the North-West.

Acknowledgement: We of Cercle d'Enfeu wish to thank the good people of The Flaneur for allowing us to be a cuckoo in their nest, to use their website in our offensive. Is it consolation for them to know that they are not the only organisation to allow us such refuge, as we lay our plans...