Archive for ‘Reviews’

11 November, 2011

Five Truths

  1. First, some context, so you know what on Earth I’m reacting to.

  2. And now, my reaction.
  3. At the @v_and_a, experiencing #fivetruths. Arrived midway through the loop. Correctly identified Brecht, muddled the rest completely.
  4. Hanging around now to watch each Truth all the way through. Stanislavski first. #fivetruths
  5. The Stanislavskian Ophelia could be a character in Cartwright’s ROAD. #fivetruths
  6. Stanislavskian Ophelia’s drowning clearly a choice: she composes & arranges herself, in the bare minimum of water. #fivetruths
  7. Not that she looks happy about it – but it feels like a decision nonetheless, not a reaction. #fivetruths
  8. Brecht’s Ophelia next. She’s once again deliberate, making herself up like her own undertaker. Very Gestic! #fivetruths
  9. Have I mentioned that Michelle Terry is stunningly good? #fivetruths
  10. Brecht’s Ophelia addresses us directly, of course. Unwavering eye contact. And singing! Love a bit of Brecht. #fivetruths
  11. Stanislavski’s Ophelia shows us why she dies. Makes the act tragic, cathartic. Brecht’s tells us. Makes the act an accusation. #fivetruths
  12. And matter-of-factly, she dunks herself. #fivetruths
  13. Out of my comfort zone now. I’ve never studied Artaud, Brook or Grotowski. #fivetruths
  14. Already the Artaud version seems quite dependent on the camera angle. Close up through the fishtank. Would it work on stage? #fivetruths
  15. Artaud’s the Theatre of Cruelty one, right? Can anyone give me a 140-character crash course? #fivetruths
  16. @MattBoothman The idea is that it communicates pre-linguistically, pre-rationally.
  17. @MattBoothman Though it would be fair to add that I think Artaud is 85% codswallop.
  18. @DanRebellato I think maybe my secondary school drama teachers agreed, and that’s why they only taught Brecht and Stanislavski…
  19. I fear for Artaud-Ophelia’s goldfish. #fivetruths
  20. She took the goldfish bowl off-camera, goldfish and all, and it was never seen again.
  21. Brecht-Ophelia and Grotowski-Ophelia are competing, drowning the rest out. #fivetruths
  22. Brecht-Ophelia does a lot of strident singing. Grotowski-Ophelia wails. Because the underlying structure of the five pieces is the same, these high-energy moments tend to occur simultaneously. Stay in the installation long enough and you get a really strong sense of the rhythm of the template speech.

  23. The weird distortion on the camera is distracting me from Terry’s performance as Artaud-Ophelia. #fivetruths
  24. @MattBoothman That’s the point. Just see the work as cruelty, and how ‘painful’ it is for actor/audience
  25. @jakeyoh Well, that’s certainly a different way to look at performance…
  26. The sound is muffled/underwatery too. I don’t understand how this would work as a theatrical style. Feeling a bit ignorant. #fivetruths
  27. There’s not much question but that Artaud-Ophelia is mad, plain and simple. #fivetruths
  28. On to Brook-Ophelia. Nostalgic. Going through possessions with reverence – saying goodbye. #fivetruths
  29. She’s gone. We’re left with an empty space. #fivetruths
  30. See what I did there?
  31. She’s back. This time I really get the feeling she doesn’t want to do what she’s going to do. Singing to delay the deed. #fivetruths
  32. Brook-Ophelia’s suicide has a tragic inevitability to it – but also a heroic determination to be remembered. #fivetruths
  33. Brook-Ophelia’s tidy desk is her combined suicide note / last will and testament / confession. #fivetruths
  34. Brook-Ophelia floats but doesn’t drown, her face above the surface. #fivetruths
  35. @MattBoothman My favourite is your next one… Grotowski. It’s chilling.
  36. Finally, Grotowski-Ophelia. My brain is saying “Poor Theatre” to me – have I got that right? #fivetruths
  37. Yes, according to Wikipedia:

  38. The Grotowski screens are dark the longest. The rest are humming, arranging possessions … this one’s fashionably late. #fivetruths
  39. But wow, what an entrance. Shaking and wailing with despair under the desk. #fivetruths
  40. Grotowski-Ophelia is alternately resigned to her fate and railing against it. #fivetruths
  41. Five cycles in and Brecht-Ophelia is still demanding my attention, impossible to tune out. #fivetruths
  42. Grotowski-Ophelia’s main motivator is grief. She’s utterly defeated by it, yet driven on by it too. #fivetruths
  43. Grotowski-Ophelia’s possessions lie abandoned, carelessly discarded. Stillness. She’s nowhere to be seen. #fivetruths
  44. …and lights up on her floating face down, the deed carried out *ob scene*. #fivetruths
  45. Thus endeth my #fivetruths Twitter deluge.
10 October, 2010

Heroin(e) for Breakfast


Kirsty Green and Hayley Shillito in Heroin(e) for Breakfast

Kirsty Green and Hayley Shillito in Heroin(e) for Breakfast. Image courtesy of Martin Shippen Arts Marketing and Media


Warehouse Theatre, Croydon, 8 – 31 October 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Is anyone else sick of being harangued from the stage? For being too middle class, or too complacent, or too passive?

It’s a technique that suffers from the law of diminishing returns. If Heroin(e) for Breakfast were the only play to barge down the fourth wall and berate the audience about their lifestyle, it would be groundbreaking, challenging, even blistering in its attack on modern social mores. But Tim Crouch already did it in The Author, Lowri Jenkins did it in 19;29’s Threshold, David Leddy did it in Sub Rosa – and that’s just counting shows at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. At the risk of sounding too middle class, one can only take so much.

The character doing the ribbing in this case is Tommy Croft (Craig McArdle), a self-styled revolutionary and, almost incidentally, a heroin user. Being quite justifiably fed up with being judged and diagnosed by the moral majority, Tommy injects them (i.e. us) with a strong dose of their (our) own medicine and – in a rare case of recursive double irony – proves his own point about the ineffectiveness of the hectoring sermon as an incentive for behavioural change.

In the beginning, Tommy’s fun to be around. He speaks his mind, he’s got an offbeat worldview and a gleefully filthy way with words. So are Chloe and Edie (Kirsty Green and Kate Daley), the girls that share his flat (and affections): playwright Philip Stokes has a good ear for corrosive snark, and the pair fling his stinging lines laconically across the stage, like paper planes full of anthrax.

Even the play’s most hazardous theatrical conceit, the personification of heroin in the body of Marilyn Monroe (actually Hayley Shillito), is executed with such balls that only the most hardened Naturalist wouldn’t buy in.

But come act two, the bunch of them have become tiresome. Tommy’s metatheatrical asides begin to seem gimmicky. The girls drop the subtext-laden sarcasm and just shout at each other (and Tommy) instead. Heroin(e)‘s oratory gets repetitive, and with each repetition rings increasingly hollow.

If the point is that heroin addiction makes you strung-out, paranoid, delusional and dull, Heroin(e) for Breakfast succeeds a little too well. Of course it wouldn’t be realistic for the light-hearted fun and games to continue once the shooting up begins, but the tonal shift is such that the play actually ceases to be engaging. And sorry, Tommy: whether it’s coming from the pulpit or the pews, a sermon’s a sermon, and no one reacts well to being told how to live.

Written by Philip Stokes

Crew includes Philip Stokes (director), Craig Lomas (set), Marie Dalton (lighting) and Carley Marsh (costume)

Cast includes Kate Daley (Edie), Kirsty Green (Chloe), Craig McArdle (Tommy) and Hayley Shillito (Heroin(e))

Need a second opinion?

4 October, 2010

Departure Lounge

Jack Shalloo, Steven Webb, Chris Fountain and Liam Tamne in Departure Lounge

Jack Shalloo, Steven Webb, Chris Fountain and Liam Tamne in Departure Lounge. Image courtesy of Jo Allan PR

Waterloo East Theatre, 28 September – 31 October 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

While they slouch about waiting for a perpetually delayed Ryanair flight home, four lads reminisce and recriminate about what they can remember of their Costa del Sol holiday. The best bits of Dougal Irvine’s new musical call to mind a sort of booze-hazy Rashomon: the natural disparities between the four lads’ perspectives are compounded by alcohol-induced memory distortion.

Comparing Departure Lounge to Rashomon makes it sound much more pretentious than it is. It rarely feels heavier than watching a bunch of mates larking about. But Irvine does have noteworthy things to say about laddism in general, and the idea of the lads’ holiday in particular.

What, for instance, is the difference between a lad, a guy, and a hooligan? And if the measure of a good night out is how little of it you remember, what’s the point of shelling out extra to have your nights out abroad? One particularly enjoyable number, ‘Spanish Hospitality’, suggests cheekily that entertaining raucous British holidaymakers is Spain’s ongoing penance for sending the Spanish Armada in 1588.

The book, minimalistically scored for two acoustic guitars, references the boyband pop subgenre with its catchy choruses, close-harmony singing and slightly self-conscious white boy rap interludes.

The dialogue between numbers is less well judged. We’re force-fed, not drip-fed, the characters’ backstories; the phrase “I mean” is used a few times too, often to execute handbrake turns in the flow of conversation; and the closeted character’s self-realisation and coming out is perfunctory and unconvincing – all of which are admittedly minor, but nevertheless disappointing, detractions from an otherwise enjoyable show.

Written by Dougal Irvine

Crew includes Pip Minnithorpe (director), Spesh Maloney (musical director), Cressida Carré (choreography and musical staging), Will Reynolds (lighting and set designer), Georgia Lowe (costume designer) and Gareth Owen (sound designer)

Cast includes Chris Fountain (JB), Verity Rushworth (Sophie), Jack Shalloo (Pete), Liam Tamne (Jordan) and Steven Webb (Ross)

Need a second opinion?

27 September, 2010

Theatre Souk

Natural Shocks in Between Death and Nowhere (or The Stairwell) at Theatre Souk

Natural Shocks in Between Death and Nowhere (or The Stairwell) at Theatre Souk. Image courtesy of theatredelicatessen on Flickr

3-4 Picton Place, 14 September – 16 October 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

If George Osborne slashes public subsidy for the arts on 20 October – something most of us have now privately accepted as inevitable, I Value The Arts campaigns notwithstanding – then to survive, theatre will have to start behaving like any other commodity: subject to the same market forces as a falafel wrap or a wire sculpture.

Theatre Souk, then, is a glimpse of the near future. Eleven companies have pitched their stalls in Theatre Delicatessen’s Picton Place building, there to vie like costermongers for consumers’ attention and pocket change. Theatre Delicatessen aren’t charging their tenants rent, so transactions are uncomplicated by overheads, processing fees or middlepeople: what you pay is, ipso facto, what the product is worth.

The experience calls to mind more than one kind of marketplace; the limited amount of time available, compared to the number of acts on offer, makes of us speculators as well as consumers. The set-up encourages judgement of artistic merit in terms of return on investment: is it better value for money to see as much as possible, spending recklessly but spreading your bets? or to invest conservatively in high-yield products like .dash’s Chaika Casino, which can potentially provide a whole evening’s entertainment for a one-off entry fee?

Your decision in this regard reveals something about your attitude towards money, and about the ways you judge the value of an artistic work; it’s then up to the works themselves to challenge those attitudes and judgements. The Lab Collective tackle our demonisation of bankers in Matador, a one-man play that’s simultaneously an apology and a shaming accusation. Flabbergast’s Puppet Poker Pit is an amoral morality fable starring a violent, foul-mouthed puppet determined to renege on the ultimate poker debt.

Only HalfCut truly follow through on the potential of the Souk format by allowing customers to pay more for a more intense experience. It’s at once playful and tense, asking penetrating questions about the commoditisation and value of people, their bodies and their comfort, while still clearly being all in good fun. But this marketplace’s must-buy product is Natural Shocks’ Between Life and Nowhere, a heartbreaking yet life-affirming aerial partner dance devised especially for the building’s stairwell.

If Theatre Souk is a projection of theatre’s likely future post-spending review, can George Osborne cut subsidies with a clear conscience, knowing theatre will survive commoditisation? Not quite. The Souk as a whole has an entry fee; fees for individual performances are a premium on top of that, an upgrade from a bland economy-class evening spent wandering the fee-free interstices to a business-class experience with in-flight entertainment. Whether it represents a failure of Theatre Delicatessen’s experiment or a piece of veiled anti-cuts propaganda, Theatre Souk positions theatre firmly as a luxury commodity.

Crew includes Jessica Brewster, Frances Loy and Roland Smith (joint artistic directors)

Need a second opinion?

12 September, 2010

Punk Rock (2010)

Edward Franklin and Katie West in Punk Rock

Edward Franklin and Katie West in Punk Rock. Image courtesy of Amy Belson (Press Manager, Lyric Hammersmith)

Lyric Hammersmith, 6 – 18 September (then touring)

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

If you missed Simon Stephens’s Punk Rock this time last year, now’s your chance to make good. Despite only three of the original cast having survived to join this touring production, in most important respects it’s a facsimile of the premiere.

This is not an unequivocally good thing. While ultimately rewarding, Punk Rock is a slow starter. Until the interval, little happens besides a bunch of Stockport sixth-formers chatting in the library. What’s said is often insightful, sometimes suprising, and undaunted by big themes, but offers few clues about where the play might be headed. This is intentional, but potentially makes for a meandering, purposeless first half. The original production didn’t surmount this issue, and this one, being a near-perfect recreation, doesn’t either.

By the interval, enough tension has accumulated to tauten the sails and drive the play to its heart-thumping conclusion. A large portion of that tension is attributable to Bennett Francis, the bully whose faux-congenial humiliation games seem calculated to incubate retaliatory action.

Bennett’s is the only noticeably altered portrayal. In 2009, Henry Lloyd-Hughes lent the character a genuine affability that suggested he believed his own bullshit, that to him his victimisation of poor awkward genius Chadwick Meade really was just horseplay. With a sneering Edward Franklin in the blazer instead, Bennett is intentionally spiteful rather than monstrously insensitive; his villainy is a little more clear-cut, which peels an onionskin-thin layer of nuance away from the deliberately unfathomable climax.

Written by Simon Stephens

Crew includes Sarah Frankcom (director), Paul Wills (designer), Philip Gladwell (lighting designer), Pete Rice (sound designer) and Kate Waters (fight director)

Cast includes Nicholas Banks (Nicholas Chatman), Edward Franklin (Bennett Francis), Ruth Milne (Cissy Franks), Mike Noble (Chadwick Meade), Laura Pyper (Lily Cahill), Rupert Simonian (William Carlisle), Katie West (Tanya Gleason), Simon Wolfe (Dr Richard Harvey), Juliet York (Lucy Francis)

Need a second opinion?

2 September, 2010

Please, Not the Face

Please, Not the Face

Please, Not the Face. Image courtesy of Owen Hughes

Bar 50, 18 – 28 August 2010

Reviewed for the Oxford Times

Please, Not the Face is part of this year’s PBH’s Free Fringe, one of the two largest producers of free festival shows. The typical Free Fringe act takes place in a poky room at the back of a dingy pub, with dodgy sound and lighting equipment and a crowd who haven’t paid, and so feel no obligation to give the act an easy ride.

Twist-Head Productions — named after the sketch show they performed at the Fringe last year — are fortunate to have secured themselves an atypical Free Fringe venue. It is at the back of a bar, but an upmarket one, with ample comfortable seating and a sound system that works. This is just as well, because the show relies on sound effects and short snippets of recognisable tunes to clue the audience in on the setting of each new sketch.

The young company, which includes Headington-born writer-performer Owen Hughes, have mastered step one of performing Fringe comedy, which is to be shameless. Not one of the five performers appears bashful even when performing scatological or sexually explicit material (of which there is a glut in this show).

They’ve also dreamed up a good few promisingly absurd concepts, such as a Pied Piper who can’t connect with today’s youth and a surprise trading standards inspection of Sweeney Todd’s barbershop.

Disappointingly, the company fails to capitalise on these imaginative settings. They seem to assume that as long as the set-up is absurd enough, mere swear words and sexual references transform alchemically into punchlines.

The Free Fringe audience, many of whom have simply wandered in from the bar for lack of anything better to do, is not that easily pleased. What little laughter Please, Not the Face generates is not even audible over the hubbub of the Wednesday night bar crowd beyond the curtain.

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?

2 September, 2010

Tea Dance ****

Pleasance Dome, 7 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Marvel as performers pay and an audience watches them for free, inverting the traditional roles of audience and performer! See real food and alcohol consumed live on stage! Stroll right across the performance space and personally influence the direction of the performance! Is this the future of avant-garde dance?

No. Not everything listed in the Festival brochure is experimental and boundary-breaking, and thank goodness for that; sometimes you need an hour to relax and enjoy yourself without worrying about being challenged for the sake of it. Tea Dance is a gentle introduction to a couple of simple ballroom dance steps, with two genial instructors and a break halfway through for cocktails and canapés. Just the ticket.

The dais in the middle of the Pleasance Dome’s very public Palm Court feels at first like an overly exposed place to take those first tentative steps of the foxtrot, but concentrating on footwork and rhythm makes the ‘audience’ easy to ignore or forget entirely. The steps are surprisingly simple to pick up, and the instructors are responsive, not to mention full of ballroom facts – be sure to pick their brains in the cocktail break to get the most out of the experience.

Need a second opinion?

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.

Need a second opinion?

27 August, 2010

Death of a Samurai ****

Death of a Samurai

Death of a Samurai. Image courtesy of the EdFringe Media Office

Augustine’s, 7 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

If you or I tried cross-pollinating plot elements from Shakespeare  and Japanese exploitation cinema with aspects of characters from anime,  manga and folklore we’d end up with some hideous, limping mutant thing.  A-LIGHT try it and get a sleek hybrid organism they’ve named Death of a Samurai.

We’re in an enchanted wood straight out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A moody samurai, a beautiful assassin and a gutsy ninja (overtly based on the title character from Naruto) are all trying to get their hands on a girl (whose costume references Sailor Moon) with the power to confer immortality (a MacGuffin cribbed from Ryuuhei Kitamura’s Versus).  And those are just the references I picked up. Cue chases, intensive  training sequences, stylised fight choreography (incorporating  shout-outs to Dragonball, amongst others) and emotions (including Love-In-Idleness-induced infatuation) writ very, very large.

Knowledge of the specific reference points is not necessary  for understanding the show, though some familiarity with the general  frames of reference is helpful when trying to determine whether or not  to take any of it seriously (crash course: don’t). The few salient  points of the plot are given in English, and the storytelling from then  on is predominantly physical, so understanding Japanese isn’t necessary  either.

The visuals, from costume and make-up to choreography, are  elaborate and sumptuous, and the cast approach their roles with 100%  commitment. This may not be a subtle nor a highbrow piece of work, but  neither is it played entirely for laughs; the characters may essentially  be caricatures, but you’ll be surprised how attached you’ve become to  them by the end.

Need a second opinion?