Damocles and the Plucked: Audience Participation and Risk in Half Cut

Alston, Adam. 2012. Damocles and the Plucked: Audience Participation and Risk in Half Cut. Contemporary Theatre Review, 22(3), pp. 344-354. ISSN 1048-6801 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This article looks to identify a political mode of audience engagement in the ‘one-on-one’ performance, Half Cut. In response to recent economic turbulence in the UK and abroad, I draw on Hans-Thies Lehmann’s appeal for an ‘aesthetics of risk’ in the theatre: an aesthetics which I suggest might begin at the level of audience reception. This marks a turn away from the more prevalent application of risk to artistic production. Couched in the sociological context of Ulrich Beck’s ‘risk society’, I compare risk-taking in contemporary financial markets with the apparently trivial and seemingly ‘risky’ act of paying to pluck a single hair from another’s body as a participant in Half Cut. I consider how affective responses such as embarrassment and awkwardness in one-on-one theatre (which might be felt as ‘risks’) function either as something masochistically consumed within the experience industry, or as positive values subversively premised on loss – such as loss of dignity and self-assuredness – provided that risk is not something passively submitted to, but actively committed to. The argument centres on an economically defined power dynamic operating between performer and participant, paying close attention to how the successful operation of this dynamic within the aesthetic space of Half Cut might lift an otherwise fetishised relationship into something felt through affectation. I suggest that a triadic relationship between risk, agency and responsibility – which is perhaps broken in financial markets – is forged through a ‘dialogic intimacy’ between performer and participant, opening space for a radical engagement with risk beginning at the level of an existential queasiness.

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Additional Information:

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Contemporary Theatre Review on 20 August 2012, available online: https://doi.org/10.1080/10486801.2012.690742


audience participation; one-on-one theatre; one to one performance; aesthetics of risk; austerity

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Theatre and Performance (TAP)


20 August 2012Published Online

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Date Deposited:

24 Jan 2020 10:23

Last Modified:

17 Jun 2021 06:54

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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