Posts tagged ‘broadway baby’

2 September, 2010

The Caucasian Chalk Circle ****

The Zoo, 6 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

3BUGS weave a convincing illusion of thrown-togetherness around their production of Brecht’s scathing polemic against class and wealth divides. Design and casting decisions appear to be made on the spur of the moment, based on what or whom is immediately to hand. A severely limited make-up colour palette (containing only black) is all that unites a cast dressed in mismatched odds and ends of costume from several different periods. A few wooden crates make do as a set.

Behind the illusion this is a respectably efficient production, rattling through even the dreariest of Brecht’s dialectic set-pieces at a pace that demands the audience’s full attention. Certain scenes and certain performers, though, are brisk to a fault, with lines reeled off so quickly they become garbled, making it easy to lose the thread of the plot even when applying full concentration.

With its panicky energy, its simple yet inventive staging, its complete understanding of and adherence to Brechtian defamiliarisation techniques and its cute-as-a-button puppet toddler, this Caucasian Chalk Circle would be a surefire hit on the schools circuit.

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2 September, 2010

Pas Perdus ****

Zoo Southside, 6 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Do many hands make light work, or do too many cooks spoil the broth? Les Argonautes seem determined to find out, and do it entirely through trial and error. The quartet, clad in identical white tunics, enhance a variety of traditionally solo activities – playing the violin, for example – through cooperation, delegation and intervention.

The result is a gentle and at times hilarious exploration of teamwork both willing and reluctant, as well as a skilful circus act incorporating juggling (with unorthodox objects), balance stunts and a good deal of clowning. Everything’s neatly choreographed to appear inadvertent, so precarious balances accidentally result when supports are removed without forethought, and juggling just starts happening when people drop things.

To place their stunts and set-pieces in some context other than simple japery, the company sketch the bare bones of characters (the mischievous one, the show-off, the nervous one, the big lunk) and a scenario (they’re inmates or test subjects or some such; a booming voice keeps insisting they stay “CAAAAALM”). Adding an element of storytelling gives Pas Perdus a level of depth beyond appreciation of the skill involved, but also raises an expectation of some kind of arc or resolution, which is only half-heartedly fulfilled.

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27 August, 2010

101 ***

C soco, 15 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

I can’t tell you exactly what to expect from 101. You’ll experience one of four scenarios; the order rotates daily, so there’s no use in shooting for a particular one. Generally speaking, you can expect to have your boundaries tested – in the case of my scenario, specifically in relation to physical intimacy across the gender divide.

Patrons and performers alike are given a white sash. Wearing it signifies willingness to participate; removing it signifies a desire to sit out whatever’s going on at that point; and it can be removed and reapplied as many times as necessary. It’s an interesting visual indicator – almost a show of hands – of the tipping points of individuals and the audience as a whole, a bit like a seismograph showing how hard Oneohone are shaking our boundaries.

If the audience at my performance are anything to go by, the company actually don’t shake all that hard. Our scenario is an elaborate and tentative courtship ritual, reminiscent at once of school discos, with boys and girls lined up on opposite sides of the room, and of courtly wooing, with plenty of bowing, curtseying and hand-kissing. With the exception of one attendee, everyone keeps their sashes on throughout.

This could be because the company start us off on small, inoffensive interactions, like bowing to one another across the room, and proceed in tiny increments, asking permission at every stage. This approach coupled with our natural reticence makes for a sedate pace; there’s time enough to pluck up courage for everything that’s asked of us.

If the intention of 101 is to push us to define our own boundaries, it doesn’t really push hard enough; everything’s well within the tolerance of a typical Fringe audience. But it seems more likely the intention is to give people the power to opt out, then show them that they don’t need to use it, even when doing things that might be a little way outside their normal theatre comfort zone. In that, it succeeds; and really, the company could have contented themselves with that achievement, rather than tacking on a classical narrative in the final ten minutes.

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27 August, 2010

Sub Rosa ****

Hill Street Theatre, 5 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

There’s an interesting push-me-pull-you effect going on between Sub Rosa and the Masonic lodge in which it’s staged. The building’s warren-like layout and Masonic décor naturally occasion a kind of superstitious reverence over and above what the play alone can evoke. Meanwhile, the production imposes its own, slightly broader brand of eerie, haunted-house ambience on the place.

The production – initially framed as an educational guided tour – takes place after dark, and the building is dimly lit. The geometric carvings of the Masons are picked out in sinister reds and lilacs, as is the backstage apparatus of the theatre: reminding us we’re backstage, after hours, seeing things normally kept out of the public eye.

Tours leave every ten minutes, so each group is never more than one room away from the next, but the layout of the building is such that with precise stage management, the groups can be completely concealed from each other. Creaking footsteps and hushed voices, just out of earshot, feel like an intentional part of the production.

But even once it’s taken full advantage of everything the site has to offer, the production still has to make impositions in order to evoke its desired Gothic atmosphere. Hidden speakers pipe in creepy rumblings and the crackle of flames. Once space is flooded with fog. A stuffed fox leers, spotlit, from a baluster, apropos of absolutely nothing. To achieve its goals, the production engages and cooperates with this specific site up to a certain point, then, perhaps faced with a shortfall of spookiness, turns to more generic techniques that could create the same effect in any building.

Probably not coincidentally, deliberately appearing to be something you’re not is a major theme of the play. Six ghosts stationed around the building recount the tale of the Winter Palace music hall and the power struggle between its manager, Mr Hunter (a Mason) and the newest chorus girl, Flora – and it isn’t a tale for the easily-made-queasy. Nothing is reenacted, only narrated, but David Leddy’s writing and the six actors’ intense performances are graphic and distressing enough to leave more sensitive patrons bent double deep-breathing on the stairs between scenes.

It is, however, neither exploitative nor gratuitous in its brutality. The script is poetic, and every word and image – even or perhaps especially the gruesome ones – is included in the service of the story, not to cause cheap shocks.

Written by David Leddy

Crew includes David Leddy (director), Nich Smith (lighting design) and Graham Sutherland (sound design)

Cast includes Angela Darcy (Millie Merkeley), Claire Dargo (Ida McCracken), Isabella Jarrett (Miss Thorn), Isabelle Joss (Dillie Merkeley), Adam McNamara (Svaty Václav) and Benny Young (Angus MacNeil)

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27 August, 2010

The Master and Margarita

David Ralf and Cassie Barraclough in The Master and Margarita

David Ralf and Cassie Barraclough in The Master and Margarita. Image by Amelia Peterson

C soco, 6 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the Oxford Times

Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita is a dense and complex novel, layered with parallel interconnected plotlines and saturated with theosophical intrigue; so as Rowena Purrett acknowledged in her review earlier this month, to pare it down to 90 minutes is an achievement. Somewhere between Oxford and the Fringe, OUDS have shaved their production down to an even more festival-friendly 80 minutes.

As well as paring down the content — the specific scenes, events and plotlines — OUDS boil down the whole work to a more manageable scale, in the process intensifying some flavours and losing others almost entirely. Where Bulgakov’s novel is a sweeping satire concerned with entire classes and communities, the OUDS production focuses closely on the individual characters: a more dramatic approach, but one that reduces the scope of the themes and ideas from a communal to a capital level.

It’s a shame to dampen the story’s potential for wide-ranging social commentary, especially as Bulgakov’s criticisms of Moscow’s atheist society still apply to ever- larger portions of the Western world; but on the stage, individuals are easier to engage with emotionally than whole societies.

What the production does communicate well is the bleak, decaying atmosphere of the benighted city. The performance space is part of a half-derelict building, all exposed brickwork, cold stone and cracked plaster; a boon for set designer Jessica Edwards. It’s also spacious as festival spaces go, but director Hoehn concentrates most scenes into as small an area as possible, highlighting the isolation of characters outcast for expressing their beliefs.

The performance is an odd mixture of styles. Brecht and Commedia dell’arte are both identifiable influences, and expressionistic movement and dance intrude on relatively naturalistic dialogue; though in a story about the invasion by the supernatural of a wilfully banal society, such intrusions feel thematically appropriate enough not to jar or distract in the least.

Adapted by Raymond Blankenhorn and Max Hoehn

Crew includes Max Hoehn (director), Jessica Edwards (set design), Anouska Lester (costume design), Rachel Beaconsfield Press (make-up design), Eli Keren (lighting designer), Stephen Poole (lighting design), Rosie Hore and Harriet Randall (choreographers)

Cast includes Cassie Barraclough (Margarita), Joe Bayley (Pilate), Raymond Blankenhorn (Ivan/Matthew/Baron Maigel), Ollo Clark (The Master), Bella Hammad (Babushka/Natasya/Praskovya/Natasha/Hella), Max Hoehn (Woland), Jonnie McAloon (Yeshua/Clown), Matthew Monghan (Behemoth), David Ralf (Koroviev/Berlioz/Bengalsky)

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27 August, 2010

The Night Heron

Jacob Lloyd, Kathryn Lewis and Rob Hoare Nairne in The Night Heron

Jacob Lloyd, Kathryn Lewis and Rob Hoare Nairne in The Night Heron. Image courtesy of the Bookstacks marketing and press team

theSpaces @ Surgeons Hall, 18 – 28 August 2010

Reviewed for the Oxford Times

Wattmore is a nutcase who sees Satan in the eyes of Cub Scouts. Bolla is a nervy and intense ex-convict. Griffin is resourceful, proactive and loyal but none too bright. The Night Heron, by Jez Butterworth (writer of the recent West End smash Jerusalem), is a character-driven play, powered by the friction that occurs when personalities clash in a confined space. Accordingly, Rabid Monkey Productions concentrate hardest on producing convincing characterisation.

As Wattmore — once a Cambridge University gardener, now something of a pariah — Rob Hoare Nairne is stoop-shouldered: a tall, rangy man too used to making himself appear smaller and less threatening. At once hostile and mournful, he avoids nearly all eye contact — except when gripped by religious fervour.

As Bolla, or Fiona — the new lodger in Wattmore and Griffin’s shack on the marsh, who seems at first to be the answer to their prayers — Kathryn Lewin is in constant nervous motion, pawing at her tracksuit bottoms or flicking her nails against one another. Near the end of the production she takes this to a distracting extreme, contorting both her arms around and about, but for the most part hers is a subtle, focused performance.

As Griffin — who is constantly putting himself at risk to bail Wattmore out of trouble, not that it earns him much gratitude — Jacob Lloyd (pictured with Kathryn Lewin) is saddled with the lion’s share of Butterworth’s trademark quickfire dialogue, and handles it with apparent ease, rattling off lines at speed without ever tripping or becoming difficult to understand.

There’s just one disadvantage to this performance-focused approach to the play, which is that the big picture — the pacing, the arc of the plot — is neglected. The production putters along like a little two-stroke engine, moving at a decent enough pace to maintain our interest but never slowing down or speeding up, even for the climax, which sails by almost unmarked.

Written by Jez Butterworth

Crew includes Will Maynard (director) and Ellie Tranter (designer)

Cast includes James Corrigan (Royce), Alex Harding (Neddy/Jonathan), Rob Hoare Nairne (Wattmore), Kathryn Lewis (Bolla) and Jacob Lloyd (Griffin)

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23 August, 2010

Stripped ****

Hannah Chalmers in Stripped

Hannah Chalmers in Stripped. Image courtesy of the Gilded Balloon Press Office

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 6 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 665)

Hannah Chalmers proves herself a versatile performer in this one-woman show, dropping comfortably into an array of archetypes: the naïve first time stripper, the lecherous club manager, the nervous, kind-hearted client. Chalmers seems to acknowledge that audiences don’t shock easily; her exploration of her former profession’s institutionalised exploitation of performers and clients is insightful, not salacious.

Written by Hannah Chalmers

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23 August, 2010

Threshold *****

Zoo Roxy, 9 – 20 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Everything about Threshold is a secret. The location is a secret. Most of what happens there is a secret. Whatever happens that isn’t a secret happens for secret reasons. Everything we learn is a secret revealed: scraps of overheard conversation; scenes glimpsed through the undergrowth; comments that slip out in unguarded moments: all information we know we shouldn’t know, and for that we treasure it all the more.

Three hours in the late afternoon is a big commitment at the Fringe. Be reassured that Threshold is a three-hour show, not a one-hour show plus two hours’ travel time, even though two of the three hours are spent travelling. The outward journey is for tipping us subtly, uncomfortably sideways and out of the real world. The return journey is for sharing the secrets we’ve learned. The moment you think it’s over is the moment Threshold puts on its triumphant final spurt. It is worth three hours of your time.

The middle hour is one of excitement, adventure, voyeurism, uncertainty, guilt and heartbreak. With a few deft touches our hosts gain our trust: from the start they trust us enough to share secrets, enough to rely implicitly on our support in a confrontation, and so we trust them back. When our guide breaks into a run and we follow suit without a thought it’s not just because we know we’ll get lost or miss the action if we don’t keep up; it’s because we understand why they’re running, so we run for the same reasons.

A secret isn’t a secret unless someone’s left in the dark. Roughly one fifth of the people that witness each major event in Threshold will be party to all the information required to fully understand it. Each occurrence we do understand strengthens our conviction that first, there must also be explanations for the events we find incomprehensible, and second, there will be people on the return journey who have discovered those explanations.

Whether anyone can be persuaded to reveal what they’ve learned is another matter. Threshold relinquishes but one piece of advice willingly: that some secrets are best kept locked away.

Written by Fred Gordon, Lowri Jenkins and Thomas McMullan

Crew includes Susanna Davies-Crook (director) and Vasiliki Giannoula (costume design)

Cast includes Kristina Epenetos, Nicky Ingram, Hayley Kasperczyk, George Kemp, Adam Loxley, Pablo Navarro-MacLochlainn, Tom Ross Williams and Seda Yildiz

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23 August, 2010

Others ****

Pleasance Courtyard, 4 – 29 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 665)

Jemma and Kylie, two thirds of the Paper Birds, perch in an armchair and speculate about Nazim, an Iranian woman Jemma’s been corresponding with by post. Maryam, the third Bird, plays Nazim, updating her performance to reflect her colleagues’ conclusions. Though based at first entirely on Nazim’s own words, the armchair pair’s enthusiastic deductions ramify farther and farther from the facts, bombarding Maryam with illogical abusive husbands and suicide bombings as she vainly attempts to draw attention to their fallacies.

Not only is this intensely comical – a rare achievement for a verbatim play – it’s also a playful dissection of the Birds’ own unconscious assumptions and prejudices, and of the conflict at the heart of all documentary and verbatim theatre: the one between entertaining an audience and being faithful to the source. And that’s just one scene.

What’s truly impressive about Others is its use of such inward-looking subject matter to interrogate a much bigger issue: the national media, which face essentially the same dilemma as documentary theatre, and seem (the Birds suggest) to be veering the wrong way.

Devised by Maryam Hamidi, Jemma McDonnell and Kylie Walsh

Crew includes Ellen Dowell (set design) and Marec Joyce (lighting design)

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23 August, 2010

Josie Long: Be Honourable! ****

Just The Tonic @ the Caves, 5 – 29 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 665)

Josie Long claims that losing weight has meant sacrificing her joie de vivre. It’s true that she gets more than usually angry, bitter and disillusioned in this, her first Edinburgh appearance in two years, but could a comedian bereft of joie de vivre hold a crowd for 20 minutes simply by enthusing about pictures of tasty breakfasts on the internet? I suspect she has a secret stash of positivity she’s not letting on about.

The chief source of Long’s newfound ire is life under the Tories and the lip-service hipsters and activists that couldn’t be bothered to oppose them. Relentlessly upbeat, she passes up the opportunity for an embittered moan in favour of self-improvement: a resolution no longer to take shortcuts to doing good. That involves talking more to strangers (which has furnished her with a first-class anecdote or two) and providing her own warm-up act, in character as a Kentish astronaut. It’s an opener that throws the audience off-guard, leaving us receptive to her call-to-arms.

Need a second opinion?

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