When Untitled Projects' production of Slope opens this week at the
Citizens Theatre in Glasgow as part of this year's Glasgay! festival,
both the writer and director of this sex and drug fuelled study of the
love affair between nineteenth century poets, Verlaine and Rimbaud,
will be absent from the auditorium. Instead, director Stewart Laing and
playwright Pamela Carter will be watching a live online feed of a show
first seen at Tramway in 2006 in a production which put the audience
above the stage peering down into the poets' bathroom as if spying on
some of the lovers' most intimate moments.
Slope's new hi-tech approach will further the play's underlying theme
of voyeurism. This originally developed, not out of the script, but
from the starting point of Laing's design.
“All those years ago,” Carter recalls, “Stewart had this design, and
wanted to develop a piece of work using it. It struck me that having an
audience peering down into a bathroom is as voyeuristic as you can get,
and at the time there was a lot of stuff going round about Pete Doherty
and all these badly behaved rock stars, so I applied that to Verlaine
and Rimbaud. It's about realism, and it's about naturalism, and it
seemed to me that the best thing would be to write a very
straightforward play, albeit one in which the room is a character.
“Then Stewart talked to me again about wanting to do the play
specifically in a studio theatre space, we looked at it again, and
because it's being done in a different space, that dictated certain
structural changes. It's still the same story, with the same three
characters, but for me it's about the spatial relationship between the
audience and the actor. It's not a literary event.”
The original production of Slope was Carter's first collaborations with
Untitled, since when she has scripted the company's twenty-first
century reworking of Marivaux's La Dispute, An Argument About Sex. More
recently, Carter penned Untitled's hit collaboration with the National
Theatre of Scotland, Paul Bright's Confessions of A Justified Sinner.
The latter show has already toured to Sweden and Ireland, and is lined
up for several international theatre festivals in 2015
As a dramaturg too, Carter has worked on many of the most vital pieces
of theatre seen in Scotland in recent times. She has forged a close
working relationship with Vanishing Point, with whom she has worked on
Interiors, Saturday Night, and, most recently, the haunting Tomorrow.
As a playwright, Carter has written What We Know for the Traverse
Theatre in Edinburgh, which also hosted Carter's own EK company's
production of Game Theory. Carter has also worked with the National
Theatre of Scotland, Tramway and the Finborough Theatre.
Yet, despite such an impressive string of credits, it is not Carter's
name one readily associates with such works as Interiors and Paul
Bright's Confessions of A Justified Sinner, and it seems at times that
she simply isn't getting the credit she deserves. While much of this is
down to the collaborative nature of her work, it is also in part down
to how it is contextualised. If judged in terms of a visual art or live
art context rather than a theatrical one, perhaps her profile might
“A lot of literary managers find it hard to read my work,” Carter says.
“The vocabulary of my work is non-literary, and the working
relationships I've developed have all been based on friendship and
trust as artists, and I get to work with people I really like as
artists. The reason I ended up in Glasgow was to do my Ph.D. in visual
art and performance, and I taught on the Contemporary Theatre Practice
course at what was then RSAMD.
“It's a fairly niche place I operate in, but I can't bash my way
through a TV script just to make money. That makes things financially
difficult, but spiritually and artistically I'm probably richer. I have
friends writing for TV, and they talk to me about all the compromises
they have to make. For me that's the opposite of what art is about, and
you just end up with this lowest common denominator thing. But do I
feel hard done by? Of course I do.”
Given that Untitled Projects has just been turned down by Creative
Scotland for three-year Regular Funding, a move which may jeopardise
the company's future, Carter may well have good reason to feel hard
In the meantime, she has commissions for the Traverse and the National
Theatre of Scotland ongoing, as well as work with the Yard Theatre in
London. Carter is also about to embark on a course to learn about
writing for opera.
“I'm interested in form,” she says. “I've been thinking about opera for
a while, and it's a chance to learn about something new. I'm always
looking for some new challenge.”
This is evident in Carter's ongoing work with Swedish conceptual art
duo, Goldin + Senneby.
“They're very much against the idea of the artist as author,” Carter
explains of a project that looks at the nature of financial reality by
way of alchemy and algorithmic trading. “They're interested in
financial and tyrannical structures.”
Again, context is everything for Carter in work which is as much at
times an exploration of herself as the ideas that stem from that.
Given just how much she doesn't make life easy for herself, what drives
her to work in this way?
“A difficult childhood?”she suggests. “I've been reading the
psychologist, Adam Phillips, and he talks a lot about not getting it. I
make work that some people don't always get, work that, if it doesn't
make me feel uncomfortable, then I'm not that interested in it. I'm
half Chinese, and was brought up by my father, but was surrounded by
the Chinese side of the family, who would all be talking to me, or at
me, with me not having a clue what they were on about. So I'm kind of
used to not getting it, and as much as I can work in the mainstream if
they'll have me, maybe I've deliberately put myself outside it.”
Slope, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, November 12-22; Traverse Theatre,
Edinburgh, November 26-29. Slope will be live-streamed at
www.kiltr.com/slope. Signing up to the site is required.
Pamela Carter – A life in theatre
As a writer, director and dramaturg, Pamela Carter has worked in
Scotland and beyond for more than fifteen years.
Between 1998 and 2004, she was a lecturer in cultural theory and
performance at what was then RSAMD (now Royal Conservatoire Scotland)
on the Contemporary Theatre Practice course.
From 1998 to 2002, Carter was Research Associate with Suspect Culture,
the theatre company led by director Graham Eatough, writer David Greig
and composer Nick Powell.
In 2004, Carter founded her own performance company, EK, for whom she
directed Habitats (2004), and devised and directed Soul Pilots (2004)
and Plain Speaking (2005) for Tramway in Glasgow. She also co-wrote and
directed Game Theory (2008), which was nominated for the
As a dramaturg, Carter has worked with Untitled Projects, the National
Theatre of Scotland, Coney HQ and Malmo Opera House. With Vanishing
Point she has worked on Interiors (2009), Saturday Night (2011) and
Carter's plays include What We Know for the Traverse (2010) and Teatro
Circulo in New York (2013) and Wildlife for Magnetic North (2011).
Skane was first seen at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs (2011), and won
the New Writing Commission at the Berliner Festspiele Stukemarkt
(2012), and received its German premiere as In Der Ebene at Theatre Ulm
Carter has also written Fast Ganz Nah/Almost Near for the Dresden
Staatsshauspiel (2013) and the Finborough Theatre (2014).
With Untitled Projects, Carter has written Slope (2006), An Argument
About Sex – After Marivaux's La Dispute (2009) and Paul Bright's
Confessions of A Justified Sinner (2013). The latter, a co-production
with the National Theatre of Scotland, has also been seen in Ireland
Carter also works with Swedish conceptual art duo Goldin + Senneby on
The Nordenskiold Model, an ongoing investigation into algorithmic
trading and the nature of financial reality. Scenes have been staged
in Bucharest, Vilnius, Rotterdam, Stockholm, New York, Aachen and
Carter was the IASH/Traverse Theatre Creative Fellow at Edinburgh
University in 2012.
The Herald, November 11th 2014