Posts tagged ‘assembly’

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.

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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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11 August, 2010

Julien Cottereau – Imagine-toi ****

Julien Cottereau in Imagine-toi

Julien Cottereau in Imagine-toi. Image courtesy of the EdFringe Media Office

Assembly @ Princes Street Gardens, 5 – 29 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 664)

The power of Julien Cottereau’s imagination knows no bounds. He has only to imagine a ball to make it as tangible for the audience as for himself. When he imagines an adorable suffering puppy, no one has the heart to put it out of its imaginary misery. From the moment he imagines that an audience member is actually a monstrous ogre, that person’s footsteps shake Princes Street Gardens to their very foundations.

That it’s all done with mime and mouth noises makes the experience more, not less, magical. Cottereau’s library of mouth-and-microphone sound effects is truly encyclopaedic. Some embarrassment is unavoidable for those he volunteers to join him on stage, but it’s amply balanced in most cases by the fantastical soundtrack he provides for them.

While the action consists largely of family-friendly silliness, it isn’t all just make-believe for its own sake. Right from the start Cottereau conjures a cruelly authoritarian but currently slumbering monster in the next room, deftly adding an undertone of rebellion – of imagination as refuge from oppression – to this daft yet moving spectacle.

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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.

22 August, 2009

Power Plant – A Sound and Light Experience *****

Assembly @ Royal Botanic Gardens, 12 – 30 August 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

It was a dark and stormy night. Even if it hadn’t been a genuinely dark and stormy night, it would have felt like one in the glasshouses of the Royal Botanic Gardens, thanks to the Power Plant installation. Full as they are of weird and wonderful rare flora, a visit to the glasshouses is transportative even in broad daylight; but after nightfall, full of stage smoke, humming and pealing with the alien sounds of the installation’s various objets d’art, the experience is nothing short of otherworldly.

Unlike Punchdrunk’s Tunnel 228, perhaps the most closely analogous event, it’s difficult to miss anything Power Plant has to offer. While there is no set route, and paths do diverge, and the pieces are all nestled in the tropical jungle like they grew there, maps are provided, and even without them an unhurried, mentally alert stroll through should naturally pass all the exhibits. It’s easy, therefore, to become totally immersed in the atmosphere without worrying about missing out.

That atmosphere is due in large part to the sonic element of many of the pieces, from Kirsten Reynolds’ plinking, hissing gramophones, their turntables replaced with cogwheels or astroturf, to Jony Easterby’s PLUMOSASCENS – Feathertum, which fills a whole glasshouse with the massively amplified boom of a feather brushing taut guitar strings. Mark Anderson’s IGNIFER CONSPIRO – Pyrophones, a series of musical braziers that belch plumes of flame along with pan-pipe whistles, is a spectacular midpoint highlight. It’s a groaning, flickering, whirring, mutating, eerily beautiful world you won’t want to leave.

Exhibitors include Mark Anderson, Jony Easterby, Kirsten Reynolds

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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.

13 August, 2009

Chronicles of Long Kesh ****

Assembly @ Assembly Hall, 6 – 31 August 2009

Reviewed for The List (issue 636)

A cappella Motown numbers provide an unexpectedly effective accompaniment to Martin Lynch’s history of the infamous Irish prison camp. The episodic style allows the well-drilled ensemble to cover decades of Troubles – from internment through hunger strikes to the camp’s closure in 2000 – in two furiously paced hours.

Written by Martin Lynch

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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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7 August, 2009

Who to follow at Fringe 09

Written for The Collective Review, 7 August 2009

If you can’t make it to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, because a banker vaporised your life savings, or because National Express couldn’t be bothered to drive you up the East Coast, or because you usually live in Edinburgh and have gone on holiday to Inverness for the month, never fear!

You can recreate the experience of battling your way along the Royal Mile, accosted every other step by acts and PRs waggling flyers or props or parts of their anatomy in an effort to get your attention, without even leaving your desk.

Everyone who’s anyone at the Fringe this year is on Twitter, so add this little lot, feed the TweetDeck updates through your screen, smart phone or VirtuSpecs* and enjoy the onslaught in the comforting knowledge that, unlike those of us who actually need to get from one end of the actual Royal Mile to the other in a hurry, you can de-inconvenience yourself at the touch of a button.

Venues
Will incessantly plug their own shows, often providing the Twitter usernames of their acts for you to add to your Fringe Friend Frenzy.
Traverse Theatre – @traversetheatre
Assembly Venues – @Assembly09
Pleasance Courtyard/Dome (comedy programme only) – @PleasanceComedy
Underbelly – @UNDERBELLY09
Gilded Balloon Teviot – @Gildedballoon
Bedlam Theatre – @bedlamfringe
The Hive – @TheHiveFringe09

Reviews

They’re already calling it Twitticism – reviewing shows in 140 characters or less.  I’ve tried it.  It’s very difficult to do the show justice unless the … tweview … is backed up by a full length piece elsewhere in print on online.

@EdTwinge is, as far as I can tell, endorsed and possibly set up by the Fringe Society (Professor Ed Hegg of @TheFringeThing has certainly been plugging it for a few days now), and promises a “Realtime, Twitter-based, crowd-sourced Edinburgh Fringe review service”.  Hashtag your tweets #edtwinge to become part of the crowd they’re sourcing from.  Could prove interesting, if only as an experiment; watch this space.

The List (a print listings and reviews magazine, Edinburgh and Glasgow’s equivalent of Time Out, and first to coin the hashtag #twitreview) – @thelistmagazine

Fest (A5 print magazine, festival-only, affiliated with the University of Edinburgh) – @festmag

ThreeWeeks and Broadway Baby (daily or thereabouts A3 freesheets; ThreeWeeks is staffed by students, who are given professional journalism training, then unleashed on the Fringe) – @ThreeWeeks, @broadwaybabycom

FringeGuru (a guide to the festival, and progenitors of the iFringe iPhone app) – @FringeGuru

Official Bodies
Edinburgh Festival itself tweets as @edinburghfest – mostly it just aggregates news about the festivals.
From within the Festival as a whole, the Festival Fringe also tweets at @EdinburghFringe, providing gossip, news and dates for your diary.
And within that, the self-explanatory Five Pound Fringe strand tweets at @fivepoundfringe.
Finally, Professor Ed Hegg tweets all things Fringe along with his attempts to crack the mysterious oviform Fringe Thing, at @TheFringeThing.

*Reference to future technology included to increase article’s long-term relevance, writer’s perceived foresightedness.

14 August, 2008

Reasonable Doubt ****

Assembly @ George Street, 1 – 25 August 2008

Reviewed for the The List, issue 610

Two former jurors reunite in a hotel room two years after a controversial hung verdict in this smart two-hander from Australian playwright Suzie Miller. Both harbour guilty secrets, and sex – initially top priority – is soon shelved in favour of a ‘striptease of truth’.

Miller’s script maintains a sense of climax throughout, skilfully teasing out revelation after revelation with barely a wasted word. Emma Jackson and Peter Phelps – both TV personalities in their native Australia – more than do justice to the text, but Jackson’s performance as the energetic Anna is so captivating that she overshadows her co-star, making his few flaws seem deeper by comparison.

Phelps plays the dour, mournful Mitchell with subtle intensity. His guilt stews silently and ominously, until either he chooses to release it in a measured stream or it explodes violently and uncontrollably. But, as the play progresses, it demands more and more frequent rapid emotional gear changes and Jackson is simply more adept at these than Phelps. She bubbles with a kind of eager remorsefulness that escapes in heartfelt, confessional waves. Both performances reveal important angles of the core theme – the guilty compulsion to confess – but where Phelps is merely compelling, Jackson is enchanting.

Written by Suzie Miller

Crew includes Guy Masterson (director) and Suzi Pack (assistant director)

Cast includes Emma Jackson (Anna) and Peter Phelps (Mitchell)

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