Things Come Apart (21 – 24 March 2018)
  • Mike Pearson | Tabernacle Church, The Hayes, Cardiff, UK

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  • Things Come Apart (21 – 24 March 2018)
  • Mike Pearson | Tabernacle Church, The Hayes, Cardiff, UK
  • In June 1919, Cardiff was the scene of four days of riots that left three dead, many in hospital, and buildings ransacked and burned in the hunt for black and Arab seamen. A day-by-day, hour-by-hour, scene-by-scene narrative to conjure people, places and incidents – pieced together from local newspaper reports.

    In Things Come Apart – created with Mike Brookes for National Theatre Wales – three narrators deliver a text assembled only from the local press reports of four days of racial riots, in close proximity to a small mobile audience. They speak solo; in unison; in concert but out of sync; and simultaneously with different versions: to echo the confusions of June 1919, as the papers try to track fast developing events. The performance is played out in miniature. The setting includes five large-scale period maps of the city centre, printed on wooden tabletops. Key locations – the boarding houses occupied by Somali and Arab stokers – are pinpointed by red Perspex dots; with the rushes of mobs and those fleeing them indicated by movable red Perspex arrows; and with key locales illustrated by period postcards and photographs. It also includes images of those arrested, both black and white, sourced from the registers of the Cardiff Borough Police Force. These latter are mounted on small stands, and as materials are constantly shifted and the tables animated, there is an enhanced appreciation of conditions on the ground, of the choreography of movements and incidents that happened close to the performance venue – Tabernacle Baptist Church; and of the presence of a small group of troublemakers that included soldiers and sailors in uniform ad recently de-mobbed servicemen, and their orchestration of happenings in a particular district and in a particular community. Things Come Apart is akin to a chorographic or analogue forensic architecture project: to appreciate the dynamics and anatomy of urban unrest; to identify places long erased in the contemporary cityscape; and to trace those for whom there is no civic monument.


    I am Emeritus Professor of Performance Studies at Aberystwyth University. Before becoming an academic in 1997, I was a professional performance maker – with Cardiff Laboratory Theatre (1973-1980) and Welsh company Brith Gof (1981-1997). In recent years, I’ve continued to create theatre as a solo artist; with artist/designer Mike Brookes in Pearson/Brookes (1997-2018); with senior performers’ group Good News From The Future (2014-present); and – in collaboration with Brookes – for National Theatre Wales (The Persians, 2010; Coriolan/us, 2012; Iliad, 2014; The Storm Cycle, 2018). In 1999, I introduced the undergraduate degree scheme in Performance Studies at Aberystwyth, followed by the MA Practicing Performance in 2002. In 2006, I developed the audio-work Carrlands with an AHRC Landscape and Environment programme award, and in 2009 co-organised the programme’s ‘Living Landscapes’ conference. I held a Leverhulme Senior Research Fellowship (2012-14). My authored books include Theatre/Archaeology (Routledge, 2001) with Michael Shanks; In Comes I: Performance, Memory and Landscape (2006); Site-specific Performance (2010); Mickery Theater: An Imperfect Archaeology (2011); and Marking Time: Performance, Archaeology and the City (University of Exeter Press, 2013). And:

    Pearson, M (2012) ‘Haunted House: Staging The Persians with the British Army’ in A. Birch & J. Tomkins (eds) Performing Site-Specific Theatre, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.69-83.

    Pearson, M & Roms, H. (2014) ‘Performing Cardiff: Six Approaches to a City and Its Performance Pasts’ in N. Whybrow (ed.) Performing Cities, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 120-138.

    Pearson, M. (2017) ‘Afield’, Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, 4.2: 157-162.

    Pearson, M. (2017) ‘Site-specific Theatre’, in A. Aronson (ed.) Routledge Companion to Scenography, London: Routledge, pp. 295-301.

    Pearson, M. & Turner, C. (2018) ‘Living Between Architectures: Inhabiting Clifford McLucas’s Built Scenography’ in A. Filmer & J. Rufford (eds) Performing Architectures, London: Methuen, pp. 93-107.

    Pearson, M. (2019) ‘How Does Theatre Think Through Things?’ in M. Bleeker, et al (eds) Thinking Through Theatre and Performance, London: Methuen, pp.115-129. 


    My work is rooted in site-specific approaches to performance making. During the 1980s and 1990s, I gained an appreciation of potential relationships between performance and architecture through collaborating with Clifford McLucas; and between performance and archaeology through contact with Michael Shanks. In 2000, I created Bubbling Tom – a guided tour of the landscape I knew at the age of seven – and this lead to contact with cultural geographers. Performance has no mission to explain or enact the perceptions of other disciplines, but it can create both information and emotion rich expositions that reveal the qualities of places and their inhabitants.

    Performance, Site-specificity, Chorography, Contemporary archaeology


    Grotowski, J. (1969) [1968] Towards a Poor Theatre, London: Methuen

    Tschumi. Bernard (1990) Questions Of Space, London: Architectural Association.

    Williams, D.J. (2001) [1953] Hen Dy Ffarm/The Old Farmhouse, trans. Waldo Williams, Llandysul: Gomer.

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