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David Moore creates cutting-edge theatre from a 30-year-old project

The Lisa and John Slideshow theatre performance at Format. Image © Callum Beaney and Adam Davies.

Keen to “challenge the authority of the original body of work”, David Moore asked the subjects of his 1980s series Pictures from the Real World to take over and made an innovative play based on their dialogue

In the late 1980s, while studying, David Moore made a series of colour photographs depicting the everyday lives of working class communities in Derby. In Pictures From the Real World, since published as a book by Dewi Lewis, we meet married couple Lisa and John, among others.

Intrigued by the notion of returning photographs to the contexts from which they came, Moore had the idea for a new imagining of the work as a piece of verbatim theatre (drama derived from unedited spoken transcripts), through which the photographs could be ‘returned’ to the couple. Moore invited Lisa and her now ex-husband John to work with him on what he calls an “archive intervention” – to create new dialogues from the photographs.

From this The Lisa and John Slideshow was born, a 45-minute play written and directed by Moore, assisted by Gavin Dent, where actors played the couple. The play premiered at Derby’s Format festival in March 2017, with the characters reminiscing about their lives while looking at images from Moore’s project. The photographer and lecturer has also produced an installation of “theatrical maquettes” of him at work and a two-screen projection of Lisa and John’s chosen images accompanied by audio; a new installation inspired by Lisa and John and the play are now getting outings in Harrow, London, and in Belfast.

The Lisa and John Slideshow theatre performance at Format. Image © Callum Beaney and Adam Davies.

Making the new work was an intuitive process, says Moore, but what was key is that Lisa and John made their own image choices, separately, from the archive. Keen to “challenge the authority of the original body of work”, Moore left contact sheets with the pair and instructions to pick the images that stood out.

“I asked them to talk about their choices and recorded those sessions,” says Moore. “From that came this amazing, rich dialogue that would eventually develop into the themes of the play, with photography at the heart of it.”

Moore is no stranger to theatre having dabbled in acting and directing, so The Lisa and John Slideshow was the perfect way to bring his interests together. “I’m interested in the performance of the subject in documentary photographs, and the performativity of photographs in certain contexts,” he explains.

“So lots of things came together. When Lisa and John decided they didn’t want to present their images, I thought it was an opportunity to work with theatre as a device to explore the archive….It was a fantastic experience to work with performers and verbatim theatre, I learned a lot.

“Having done a bit of acting, I recognise there’s a connection between acting and teaching, where you are in a performance all the time. But photography is very much at the heart of all this. The investigation into what photographic representation can be is very much at the centre of my work.”

David Moore’s installation Lisa and John is on show at London Gallery West from 09 March – 22 April, and at Belfast Exposed from 04 May – 16 June. Moore will discuss the Lisa and John project with artist Anthony Luvera on 14 March 1-2pm in Westminster University’s Harrow Campus Auditorium

Both exhibitions will be accompanied by live performances of The Lisa and John Slideshow, which will take place at 5.15pm and 7pm on 20 April at Regents St Cinema in London, [] and on 11 May at The Mac Theatre in Belfast

This article was first published in BJP’s Cool+Noteworthy issue in January 2018, available via

Theatrical maquette made as part of the project. Image © Callum Beaney and Adam Davies.