Posts tagged ‘alice jones’

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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16 August, 2010

Gutted. A Revenger’s Musical ***

Assembly @ George Street, 7 – 29 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 665)

Orphaned Sorrow has finally married her parents’ murderer, step one in her elaborate but strangely poorly thought-out revenge. Early on her resolve fluctuates for the sake of making her redeemable, instead making her a ditherer: an even less sympathetic quality than irredeemability. The book is mostly prosaic and uninspired, but not offensively so, and the production isn’t without a certain boisterous, admirably carefree charm.

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2 October, 2009


New SHUNT Space, 30 September – 22 December 2009

Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog

The machine fills the New SHUNT Space from floor to ceiling. It clanks, rumbles, whooshes steam and gushes water. The specifics of how it works and what it does are stubbornly obscure from within as well as without. In that regard, it’s a bit like investment banking.

Bear with the comparison. Provided you’re willing to risk a few unaided leaps of logic, it does eventually make a surprising amount of sense. (In that regard, it’s a bit like the production staged inside the machine: Money, a SHUNT event inspired by Émile Zola’s novel L’Argent.)

The machine is the undisputed star of the production, which, after a few deliberately confusing false-starts, eventually reveals itself as a parable about the dangers of stock market speculation. As a performance space, the machine is constantly, wondrously surprising; just when it seems it has nothing left up its sleeve, whole new rooms emerge from under ingenious camouflage.

Its steampunk pistons and flywheels also drive the plot, such as it is; we, the audience, are speculators suckered by the smug Saccard into investing in the machine, despite neither him nor us knowing what it does. SHUNT’s playful sense of humour goes to work here, as we’re shown a gallery of ‘artist’s impressions of the future’ – Photoshopped images of the machine in the desert, coasting along railway tracks or perched halfway up a mountain.

The production itself is a series of disjointed scenes and encounters, ranging from the Kafka-esque (as Saccard pitches his ‘vision’ to eccentric business moguls who entertain guests only in the sauna, or travel only by footcycle) to the Python-esque (as Saccard turns a board meeting into a blackly comic game of condolence one-upmanship) to the weirdly voyeuristic (as we sip champagne and observe events occurring two storeys below, through two layers of plate glass).

Each individual scene is entertaining, often humorous, but it’s difficult to identify the purpose of the whole by examining the parts, and a certain amount of imagination is required to fill in the blanks. In that regard, it’s a bit like the machine itself; and the machine itself, as I’ve mentioned, is a bit like investment banking. It’s inhabited both by presentable official staff and by unacknowledged, sinister unknowns. It has levels and mechanisms that aren’t revealed until the very end. And as it barrels towards disaster, the obvious exits are sealed off, forcing those foresighted few to abandon ship by less conventional means.

Written by SHUNT Collective after Émile Zola

Crew includes Francesca Peschier (scenic artist), George Tomlinson (head of construction) and Paul Ross (chief carpenter)

Cast includes Serena Bobowski, Gemma Brockis, Lizzie Clachan, Louisa Mari, Hannah Ringham, Layla Rosa, David Rosenberg, Andrew Rutland, Mischa Twitchin and Heather Uprichard

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11 August, 2009

The Bitter Belief of Cotrone the Magician ***

Sweet in the Firth of Forth, 8 – 16 August 2009

Reviewed for The List (issue 636)

Considering it demands £25 of your cash and nearly five hours of your time, Cotrone the Magician is inexcusably incomprehensible and unsatisying as a piece of theatre. But it’s also impossible to judge independent of its venue – the island of Inchcolm – and it’s primarily the venue that makes it worth the investment.

It’s an hour and a half by coach and boat from departure to curtain up, and even once the wait is over the onstage action ranges in pace from ‘stately’ to ‘moonwalking through molasses’. The plot is slow-moving to the point of non-existence, and what little does happen is performed in achingly slow motion.

But the trip is an enjoyable one, the island has an undeniable charm and the tumbledown Inchcolm Abbey is a tourist attraction in itself. The play is a bonus. Call it Package Tour Theatre. Add the bizarre and ingenious costume puppets that bring to life Cotrone’s magical creations, and you have a spectacle that’s worthwhile with or without a narrative to drive it.

Just one caveat: deduct a star if it’s raining.

Written by Andrea Cusumano after Pirandello

Crew includes Andrea Cusumano (director)

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16 February, 2009


Trafalgar Studios, 4 February – 14 March 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Since beginning her acting career at the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre, Sadie Frost has enjoyed a number of film roles on both sides of the camera. So what is it about Zoe Lewis’ new play Touched that tempted Frost out of celluloid’s clammy embrace and back behind the footlights?

Probably only Frost herself can answer that question. Lewis’ writing is accomplished, fluent and frequently very funny, but for a one-woman show Touched places surprisingly few demands on its star.

Frost plays Lesley, a Madonna-obsessed (and slightly dim) 14 year old that grows into a Madonna-obsessed (and slightly dim) student, then career girl. She narrates her growth into adulthood, complete with sexual and other awakenings, in and around a rumpled double bed, a bathroom sink and a huge mirror.

The mirror forms the back wall of the space and the modesty screen for Frost’s many costume changes. It’s festooned with fairy lights and plastered with pictures of Madonna; when Lesley looks in the mirror, she sees not herself, but her sparkling idol.

(Inexplicably, the publicity material persists in referring to Lesley as “plump”. Frost is anything but, and the script makes no mention whatsoever of Lesley’s weight.)

Fans of the Queen of Pop will no doubt enjoy Lesley’s running commentary on the fluctuating quality of her music, delivered while dressed in versions of her more memorable outfits and punctuated by reconstructions of her most famous dance routines.

Likewise, fans of Frost can enjoy being up close and personal in the intimate Trafalgar Studio 2. But while she’s as uninhibited as a stage actor (and Modern Woman) should be – portraying with abandon a young fan’s ability to lose herself in the music – the play doesn’t allow her to show off anything particularly noteworthy.

The problem is Lesley’s fixation with Madonna. Which, unfortunately, is the premise around which her characterisation revolves.

Madonna stands in for the concept of the Modern Woman from the 80s until today. Her many reinventions symbolise the chameleonic properties ascribed the Modern Woman by the changing expectations of society.

So Lesley makes all the important decisions in her life – when to lose her virginity; whether to choose marriage or career prospects; her sexuality – on the basis of Madonna lyrics. Which is such a monumentally stupid idea that we’re disinclined to feel sympathetic when those decisions inevitably backfire.

Frost is to be commended for at least making Lesley engaging to watch – though the conversational style of Lewis’ writing and the small performance space, which allows for plenty of conspiratorial eye contact with the audience, make her task that much easier.

Most troubling is the apparent conclusion that Lesley would have led a happier life had she settled down in her hometown with the first man she slept with, instead of pursuing her (admittedly facile) ambitions to London and New York.

While Lesley seems happy to acknowledge the might-have-beens and move on, the positioning of that throwaway suggestion right before the house lights ensures that it sticks in the audience’s minds on the way home.

Of course, it’s only a point of view – but as a conclusion to a play awash with images and doctrines of Women’s Liberation, it feels a little self-contradictory.

Written by Zoe Lewis

Crew includes Douglas Rintoul (director), Colin Richmond (set designer), Jamie Bradley (movement director) and Laura Thomas and Sian Jenkins (costume)

Cast includes Sadie Frost (Lesley)

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