Posts tagged ‘david leddy’

2 September, 2010

Edinburgh 2010 – David Leddy and Sub Rosa

Recorded for theatreVOICE at Underdogs, Hanover Street, Edinburgh, 24 August 2010

Edinburgh 2010: Writer and director David Leddy, of Fire Exit Ltd, talks to Matt Boothman about his critically acclaimed show, Sub Rosa (Hill Street Theatre), a Victorian gothic promenade through a dark world of secrets and revolt. Expletives not deleted.

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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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11 September, 2009

Reviewing the upholstery

Written for The Collective Review, 11 September 2009

I spent a pleasant hour on Wednesday experiencing Theatretank’s ÁTMAN, which involved wandering the residential streets and footpaths of south Wimbledon while listening to an abridged audio version of Peter Handke’s Self-Accusation.

Theatretank’s mp3 player setup was one of the better ones I’ve come across when investigating audio-assisted productions. The player was small and simple to use and, even better, came with a lanyard, so I could hang it around my neck instead of cramming it into one of my already overloaded pockets like I had to for Rotozaza’s Wondermart; but the headphones themselves, though they were great at blocking out ambient noise, kept working their way free of my lugholes.

I spent a good long while during and following the performance trying to decide whether to mention the wayward earbuds in my review. I kept coming back to this question: would reviewing the apparatus as well as the content be equivalent, in straight theatre terms, to reviewing the theatre upholstery as well as the onstage action?

I don’t have a concrete answer. And there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with reviewing the upholstery; if your seat is uncomfortable it impacts upon your experience of the play. The West End Whingers often take leg room, sight lines and bar tariffs into account in their reviews, rating their entire night out, not just what they see on stage.

What does excite me – as a combined theatre geek, language geek and futurism geek – is the effect audio-assisted productions are having on one small corner of the critical landscape. The language of criticism as it stands is inadequate to describe performances like GuruGuru or Rotating in a Room of Images, so every article or review written about such productions must experiment and re-evaluate until a new vocabulary is formed.

The term ‘production’ gains precedence over ‘play’, because ‘play’ implies an audience and performers, and many audio-assisted productions have neither; which in turn necessitates the use of a term like ‘participants’ for those involved. There are ‘audio-instructed’ productions like GuruGuru and ‘audio-assisted’ productions like ÁTMAN and David Leddy’s Susurrus.

As the landscape evolves, language evolves so we can continue to describe it. You don’t have to be a language geek like me to appreciate the symmetry.

20 August, 2009

Un/Familiar Fringe: Un/Heard

Written for the London Theatre Blog, 19 August 2009

The fringes of the theatre world are going crazy for headphones. I still think Rotozaza are the only company so far to have come within touching distance of the full potential of the audio-directed form; GuruGuru, which previewed at BAC and is now installed, in revised and improved form, in Edinburgh’s free Forest Fringe venue, is both an accomplished example of the format and a focused interrogation of its implications and potential flaws.

At the BAC, two of the five particpants were short-changed somewhat (if that’s possible in a free show) by being booted out of the proceedings with ten or fifteen minutes left to run; these two now get to return, which diminishes the shock value for the other three, but is much fairer and more inclusive. The scenario is just as weird, but tweaks near the climax have made it, if anything, even more sinister (in my dreams last night I heard a voice, struggling to be heard over a wash of static, warning me “he’s trying to take you over!”).

The full potential of audio-instruction in theatre has yet to be discovered, but GuruGuru’s discussion of determinism and free will (which chimes with chilling resonance when the players in the discussion are themselves deterministically controlled) will surely single it out as a defining early work of the genre.

Also “on the headphones” at this year’s Fringe is David Leddy, who is fast becoming a big name in the Scottish theatre scene. Susurrus sends individuals out into the Royal Botanic Gardens, equipped with mp3 players and headphones à la Wondermart, but is emphatically not audio-instructed theatre. Rather than transforming members of the public into performers, Leddy’s headphones simply insulate them from the outside world and wrap them instead in the drama of Susurrus itself.

The audio element wouldn’t be out of place in Radio 4’s Afternoon Play: inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and puncutated by excerpts from Benjamin Britten’s libretto of that play, it consists of several interwoven monologues that gradually reveal a family drama that spans two generations. What makes Susurrus theatre, rather than radio drama, is that Leddy has nominated a setting (the Botanics) and a route to take around it; each of the eight scenes is associated with a location on the accompanying map.

Though the Botanics feature prominently in the plot, the audio can feel disconnected from the surroundings – largely, I think, because you’re instructed to remain in one location during the monologues, and the action stalls while you move from place to place, so the narrative segments feel like interludes in your own personal journey, rather than inextricably linked to it. Susurrus is another example of the headphone theatre genre’s potential, but only in a purely technical sense; the story it tells is separate from the apparatus used to tell it, while in Rotozaza’s work, the two are one.

12 August, 2009

Susurrus ****

Assembly @ Royal Botanic Gardens, 4 August – 6 September 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Susurrus is a radio play at heart. A really good one. Themes and images from A Midsummer Night’s Dream ebb and flow through a series of intertwined monologues. A scientist investigates the declining population of sparrows; a brother and sister remember their famous father; an ageing actress reminisces about her role in Benjamin Britten’s opera version of Dream. Odd phrases drop, sink, bubble under and resurface in other accounts like poetic refrains. Shocking revelations simmer and are unveiled with sensitivity and without bombast, encouraging reflection, not reaction. And between scenes, excerpts from Britten’s libretto accompany relaxing strolls through the Royal Botanic Gardens – because unlike conventional radio plays, this one comes with recommended surroundings.

Because this incarnation of Susurrus can only be experienced in the Botanics, the play has been subtly reworked to include them as a pivotal location. Maps are provided with the mp3 players and headphones, and a reassuring voice explains clearly when it’s time to move to the next marked spot. The scenes are intended to be played while static, seated on benches or in gazebos rather than on the move, once again encouraging reflection over action; but while most of the locations selected for lingering in are clear points of interest, others have little to focus on visually, diminishing the effect of juxtaposing audio with environment. One such location is actually a choke point, where the path narrows and meanders and absorbed wanderers are obliged to move aside for ordinary Botanics visitors. But Susurrus is a chimerical beast, radio-play-cum-classical-mixtape-cum-guided-tour, and what one head lacks in common sense another makes up in poetic prowess.

Written by David Leddy

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