Posts tagged ‘the list’

26 October, 2010

Lorca is Dead (and behind the scenes, I thought I was too)

I don’t particularly want to relive this, but I think it’s important to get it out in the open.

My review of Belt Up‘s Lorca is Dead for The List, which you can find on List.co.uk, here on my blog or in issue 664 of The List magazine, is not the first review I wrote of that show. Compare and contrast the version I originally submitted to The List:

I admit it: I wanted Lorca is Dead to be a repeat of Belt Up’s five-star masterpiece The Tartuffe, and that was very wrong of me. Earlier this year at the York Theatre Royal, the company permanently retired The Tartuffe by killing off its protagonist, Orgon Poquelin; but Lorca is Dead sounded similar enough on paper that I dared hope for another zany laugh-a-minute anarch-o-thon to fill the void.

The two plays share a writer, Dominic J Allen, and both centre around a group of artists with a loose grip on reality (in this case the Paris Surrealists). The larger-than-life characters, plays within plays within plays, and stream-of-consciousness storytelling style that characterise Allen’s writing are all present in both cases. In Lorca is Dead, however, he uses those tools to create, not wacky hijinks, but unease, unrest and melancholy. Someone has, after all, died.

That isn’t to say there are no hijinks at all; there are, courtesy of a dangerously egomaniacal Salvador Dalí, but they’re denounced by all as disrespectful, and cause much of the aforementioned unease. Dalí’s plot to rewrite the history of the Surrealist movement with himself at the centre, using the time machine Antonin Artaud created to help tell Lorca’s life story, is just one of the play’s many parallel threads. The Surrealists re-enact Lorca’s life story, passing him like a baton amongst themselves and the audience; meanwhile the movement is succumbing to infighting caused by political, philosophical and personal differences, exacerbated by Dalí.

So much happens, and continues happening, all at once, throughout the play, that not everything gets a sufficient airing, and the pace drops occasionally when two threads intersect and the ensemble can’t change direction fast enough. But whatever the play’s flaws, at least it isn’t what I wanted: more of the same.

Shortly after this review appeared on List.co.uk – but thankfully well before it was due to appear in print – I received the following email from James Wilkes, one of Belt Up’s artistic directors.

from James Wilkes
to Matt Boothman
date 12 August 2010 16:08
subject Re: Preview

Hi Matt

Just caught your review of Lorca. Could you retract the statement about the two plays having the same writer, this is factually inaccurate. I wrote The Tartuffe, Dominic J Allen wrote Lorca. We are two very different writers aiming for different ends.

Thankyou very much for your support for The Tartuffe but as a company, we appreciate reviewers commenting more on what the plays are, not what they’re not. I hope you can find the time to return to the play with a more open mind.

James Wilkes
Co-Artistic Director
Belt Up Theatre
www.beltuptheatre.com

Which was like a kick to the solar plexus, for a number of reasons: realisation I’d screwed up professionally in a way that didn’t affect only me; realisation I’d done an injustice to a company whose work I’ve always enjoyed (and with whom I’d had, I think, as cordial a relationship as a reviewer can have with artists); realisation that I’d have to re-review the show that night, which happened to be my busiest night of the Fringe so far (including the Lorca is Dead re-review, I wrote six reviews that night – or rather, the next morning, as I was reviewing comedy and typically arriving back at my flat around 1:30am).

Once I’d caught my breath I sent this email back:

from Matt Boothman
to James Wilkes
date 12 August 2010 19:23
subject Re: Preview

Dear James,

I’ve contacted my editor about the offending review and it should be removed from the site soon. I will be rewriting it in its entirety tonight. I hope you’ll accept my sincere and unreserved apologies for the error.

Upon leaving Lorca is Dead, I realised I had approached the play with certain preconceptions, and felt that it was important to disclose this and address the effect it had on my reaction to the piece. I realised that in taking this approach I ran the risk of failing to discuss the piece on its own merits; clearly I allowed that risk to get the better of me, and as you’ve pointed out, the preconceptions I identified were based on wrongful assumptions from the start. The review was a near-total failure on my part.

I’m sorry once again for failing your show, and I hope my second attempt to review it will do it justice in a way we can all be satisfied with.

Best wishes,

Matt Boothman
Freelance Arts Journalist

To my relief, James responded not long afterwards with this:

from James Wilkes
to Matt Boothman
date 12 August 2010 20:47
subject Re: Preview

Hi Matt

Cheers for this. The ensemble really appreciate it.

Let me know if you’d like to come see the show again.

Once again, we really appreciate your response.

Best,

James Wilkes
Co-Artistic Director
Belt Up Theatre
www.beltuptheatre.com

I was going to write some kind of homily off the back of this: something about the damaging effect of preconceptions on theatre reviews; or about reviewer hubris (“I know this company’s work really well,” I thought; “I don’t need to double-check who wrote what before basing a whole argument around it”); or about artists’ right to reply to reviews.

But I don’t think anyone needs me to spell out the lessons to be learned from this incident. Just don’t do what I did.

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.

Need a second opinion?

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)

Need a second opinion?

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)

Need a second opinion?

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)

Need a second opinion?

25 August, 2010

Felicity Ward Reads From The Book Of Moron ***

Felicity Ward Reads From The Book Of Moron

Felicity Ward Reads From The Book Of Moron. Image courtesy of the Gilded Balloon Press Office

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 4 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 665)

Being less a ‘moron’ (her word) than a victim of circumstance, Felicity Ward has to inflate mere embarrassing mishaps into excruciating humiliations to get her desired reaction which, with some neat turns of phrase, she does. Aware that her brave but scatological finale isn’t everyone’s ideal takeaway memory, she buffers it with a song, proving storytelling’s her forte, not music.

Need a second opinion?

25 August, 2010

Legend of the Card Ninja ****

Assembly @ Assembly Hall, 5 – 29 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 665)

Jav Jarquin flips the whole concept of the card trick on its head, flinging playing cards like throwing stars to knock over small objects or embed themselves in pieces of fruit. Not all the tricks work first time, but warmly self-deprecating stand-up segments get the audience on side, so by the climactic stunt the whole room is rooting for him.

25 August, 2010

Maff Brown – Looking After Lesal **

Pleasance Courtyard, 4 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 664)

Some funny things have happened to Maff Brown. Funny, that is, in the way that you probably had to be there to appreciate fully; like his dad Lesal reacting to being widowed by moving to Korea and Skyping 23-year-old Ukrainian girls. Thinking his anecdotes wittier than they are, Brown just tells them straight and neglects to say anything amusing about them.

Need a second opinion?

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

Need a second opinion?

23 August, 2010

The Door **

The Door

The Door. Image courtesy of the EdFringe Media Office

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 7 – 29 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 664)

Two men argue in spiteful spirals about responsibility and religion as a door bangs offstage. Each has his own particular brand of self-righteous posturing; both are equally grating. The outcome of the debate is unexpected without being contrived, and is delivered more theatrically than the rest of the play, but who cares about the outcome when neither party engages our empathy?

Need a second opinion?

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