2016 -2018

The Anatomy Act


Imagine a performance event somewhere between an academic lecture and cabaret. A mute Corpse in an elaborately engineered whale-boned costume comes to life and peels off strips to reveal mysteries beneath her flesh. Narrated by her verbose Double and accompanied by a Musical Saw-Player, a whole fascinating world opens on how we perceive, and have perceived, our insides.

This unique performance is drawing on the history of the Renaissance anatomy theatres of Europe. It plays with how, over the ages, human remains have been considered from a medical and moral point of view. When the anatomist’s knife first cut the body open in public, society was in turn opened up to new knowledge. The body’s interior parsed before the spectators eyes found echoes in the writings of Shakespeare and Johnson: the anatomy theatre and the soliloquy each being modes of introspection, both marking the birth of individualism.

Playing with these ideas, THE ANATOMY ACT explores historical, in contrast to current, medical protocols: the merits of the virtual versus the corporeal cadaver in dissection training, haptics in knowing the body, and the vital contribution to knowledge provided by the human donor. Weaving themes of life and death, the status of the cadaver, the way certain body parts become culturally meaningful, and what we know - or not - and disavow, this unique show takes the audience on a vivid journey of gazing and reflecting on our compulsion and revulsion at looking at ourselves inside and out.

The production is a creative collaboration between director/writer/performer Anna Furse, musician David Coulter, and scenographer Mela Dell’ Erba of Teatro Garibaldi, Palermo.

Research is in collaboration with The Anatomy Department, Trinity College, Dublin and Kings College, London.

THE ANATOMY ACT is a Residency Commission within CREATE- Ireland's EU-funded Collaborative Arts Partnership programme (CAPP) and for Live Collision Festival, Dublin.

Create Cappe






This talk series is co-curated by director and writer Professor Anna Furse (Goldsmiths, University of London, Department of Theatre & Performance co-director of Centre of The Body and Artistic Director Athletes of the Heart) and Dawn Kemp (Director of Old Operating Theatre Museum, former Director of The Freud Museum and The Heritage of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, co-author of Anatomy Acts: How We Come to Know Ourselves, 2006).

Prompted by the idea that the public London anatomy theatre was most likely frequented by Shakespeare and Johnson, perhaps influencing the dramatic soliloquy, we seek to deliberately overlap, braid and work discursively through three events to explore myriad questions of The Gaze, its fascination and obsession, its denials and disgust.

The project will take place at three venues in London each relating to our three central tropes: the psychological, the performative and the biomedical: The Freud Museum, The GWT Theatre Goldsmiths and Old Operating Theatre Museum.

Our Informed hearts Our Informed hearts Our Informed hearts Our Informed hearts Our Informed hearts Our Informed hearts Our Informed hearts Our Informed hearts Our Informed hearts Our Informed hearts Our Informed hearts Our Informed hearts Our Informed hearts Our Informed hearts Our Informed hearts Our Informed hearts Our Informed hearts Our Informed hearts Our Informed hearts


When We Were Birds 2012/13

'Dance first, think afterwards […] it’s the natural order'

Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot, Act 1

'Memories are produced out of experience and, in turn, reshape it. This implies that memory is
intrinsically linked to identity'

Paul Antze and Michael Lambeck, Tense Past: Cultural Essays in Trauma and Memory

When we were Birds

When We Were Birds is a duet about the body 'as memory' how when we re-embody past learnt movement the mind opens up to forgotten events of the past. It is about what makes us human, in the sense of how, in movement memory itself, selfhood and identity is stored. It overlaps personal memory with historical memory to explore, via the dancing body and its memory, how our sense of self is deeply tied into our embodied experience of the world (see video below). The Project involves the close collaboration of Anna Furse and Esther Linley, who shared an intense childhood/adolescent history together as Royal Ballet Scholarship students in the 1960's. As we have reached our 60th birthdays this year, we reflect on and continue to discover, what lies buried and what can be ignited by a sound, a smell or even just looking into each other's faces. We both stopped performing many years ago. By putting ourselves physically into the picture now, we are also reactivating those trained performer-instincts and remembering ourselves as women who once did things that people watched.

When We Were Birds began as a fascination with a story by Bruno Bettelheim in his famous analysis of the loss of self in a mass society based in his experience of the concentration camp Buchenwald, The Informed Heart:

Once a group of naked prisoners was about to enter the gas chamber […] the commanding SS officer learned that one of the women prisoners had been a dancer. So he ordered her to dance for him. She did and as she danced, she approached him, seized his gun, and shot him down. […] isn’t it probably that despite the grotesque setting in which she danced, dancing made her once again a person?

We have used this extreme trauma-incident to pose a central and perhaps ultimately unanswerable in any absolute sense question: what is actually going on at that moment when the body dances and the individual re-members herself? We have involved the contradictory disciplines for understanding the Mind psychoanalysis and neuroscience to help shed light on this matter. Research for the project has included with Cambridge Cognitive Neuroscientist Professor Nicola Clayton FRS and the pioneering psychotherapies addressing eating disorders and cultural commentator Susie Orbach who both appear in the performance video. The Bettelheim story has been a trigger from which to refer to our own shared and distinct memories to explore issues of identity, personhood, physical and psychological suffering and physical joy. We also explore the interstices between real and imagined memory, they way memories slip and slide, how different perspectives on the same event alter, how false and true the memories we hold and recall might ever be. As a background to this 'psychophysical' memory work is political history world events of the 1960s - as a backdrop for our childhood memories growing up in the ivory tower of the ballet-world whilst in London the swinging sixties rocked.

When We Were Birds

Collaborators include Lucy Cash (video), Graeme Miller. (Sound). The project is produced byPaula Van Hagen.

When We Were Birds will tour and work in collaboration with Live Collision in 2014.

Memories are system properties, dynamic, dependent, for each of us, on our own unique individual history. What they absolutely are not is 'stored' in the brain in the way a computer stores a file. Biological memories are living meaning, not dead information.
Steven Rose The 21st Century Brain

The project is part of Goldsmiths' new Centre of the Body, co-directed by Anna Furse who is Professor and Head of the Department of Theatre and Performance.

This performance premiered at the Cantieri Culturali Zisa, Palermo, July 2013.

Arts Council Logo   Goldsmiths Logo



THE Centre of the body 2012/3

Anna Furse is co-director, with medical historian Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim, of the new interdisciplinary Centre of the Body at Goldsmiths. For further details visit: http://www.gold.ac.uk/centreofthebody/

Centre of the Body


The Centre of the Body at Goldsmiths was set up in 2012 in order to bring together scholars and practitioners from the humanities, social sciences and the arts who are working on and with the body.

Studying the body beyond its scientific sphere has gained great prominence in the last few decades. It has been increasingly established that disciplines such as the arts, history of medicine, medical anthropology and philosophy of medicine provide aspects of enquiry and interpretation which are valuable not only within and across these disciplines, but are also applicable for health professionals. Meanwhile the study of the body in its cultural meanings overarches many arts forms and humanities studies, whilst ways in which artists and scientists have begun to work together on issues of the body suggests the dawning of a new interdisciplinarity that focuses on the body itself.



Theatre in Pieces (2011)

Theatre in Pieces: politics, poetics and interdisciplinary collaboration is an innovative compilation of seven highly acclaimed productions by key practitioners of non-playwright-driven theatre. Each playtext is reproduced in full and accompanied by extensive notes from members of the original producing theatre.

A substantial introduction by Anna Furse provides an overview of the works and contextualises their reading by revealing how a script can emerge from or provoke a collaborative devising process. works featured include: Hotel Methuselah, Imitating the Dog/Pete Brooks; Don Juan.Who?/Don Juan.Kdo?, Athletes of the Heart; A Girl Skipping, Graeme Miller; Trans-Acts, Julia Bardsley; US, 1966 (with an introduction by Peter Brook); Miss America, Split Britches and 48 Minutes for Palestine, Mojisola Adebayo and Ashtar Theatre.





A new international collaboration
Anna Furse (Athletes of the Heart, UK)
Maja Maja Mitić (DAH Teatar, Serbia)
Antonella Diana (Teatret OM, Denmark)

‘In every litre of sea water there are two tablespoons of salt…’

DAH Teatar, Belgrade, 3 - 4 December 2010
UK and international touring from January 2011

Sea/Woman Poster January previewSea/Woman poster February preview

Anna Furse direction, dramaturgy, sound composition
in collaboration with
Maja Mitić performer and co-deviser
Antonella Diana scenography and lighting concept
Mischa Twitchin lighting
Gareth Jenkinson sound research
Miroslav Cvetkovic sound mix
Paula Van Hagen producer
RF Design graphics

With special thanks to:
DAH Teatar, Dafne Louzioti, Nebojsa Ignjatovic, Ben Pester, Verity Armstrong, David Smith, John Ginman Robert Gordon, the Department of Drama, Goldsmiths.

”You think and feel in pictures and visual images”    
(Henrik Ibsen The Woman From The Sea 1888)

is about a Woman/performer searching for something indefinable. Uneasy, hemmed in, she dives repeatedly into her text to forget herself and become Her – but surfaces remembering even more. What wreckage is she finding down there?

This performance takes the Serbian word for rehearsals ‘proba’ meaning ‘to test’ or ‘taste’ and the French ‘répétition’ meaning ‘to repeat’ quite literally before your eyes, inviting the spectator to witness a normally private process: the fractured and spiralling dive into conscious and unconscious association as the actor prepares her role. As she tests and repeats the Ibsen text, slipping between her real self and the imaginary she is struggling to represent, she finds both echoes and dissonance within her own life, a relationship with the past and insight into what it might mean ‘to act’.

The collaboration is a convergence of different histories in theatrical research. Our project began as an exploration of age and memory (personal and cultural) and about what to perform – live – how and perhaps why, today. During its development, inspired by Ibsen’s domestic tragedy, our work, inevitably, became haunted by real tragedies of geopolitical disaster and conflict.

Photo: Chris Jordan Message From the Gyre 2009
Photo: Chris Jordan Message From the Gyre 2009

”the water is sick”  (Ibsen)… Every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die from starvation and toxicity, choking on a diet of human trash fed to them by their mothers who cannot access their natural food supply from the sea’s surface.

Sea/Woman has been developed as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project, ‘Beyond the Linear Narrative: Fractured Narratives in Writing and Performance in the Postcolonial Era’, undertaken by the Goldsmiths, University of London, Pinter Centre for Performance and Creative Writing.

Sea/Woman is performing in the UK and in residency in Beirut, Lebanon sponsored by the British Council, in January 2011. The project continues performing in the UK and internationally from Autumn 2011.

For information contact Paula Van Hagen 
m: (+ 44)  7958 607075

Arts Council of EnglandArts and Humanities Research

sea/woman flyer sea/woman flyer

Photo credits Djordje Tomic