Posts tagged ‘bac’

13 July, 2010

One-on-One Festival of intimate theatre

Recorded for theatreVOICE at Battersea Arts Centre, 7 – 10 July 2010

Interactive special: I talk to BAC’s joint artistic director David Jubb about the venue’s One-on-One Festival, the first ever of intimate theatre which plays to audiences of one person at a time, and then with practitioners Emma Benson (You Me Now) and Sheila Ghelani (Nurse Knows Best).

You can listen to this interview using the player below.

If you’d like to download the episode, right-click here and “Save As”.

You can also click here to subscribe to the podcast using iTunes.

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11 July, 2010

One-on-One Festival

Abigail Conway in On Dancefloors, One-on-One Festival

Abigail Conway in On Dancefloors, One-on-One Festival. Image courtesy of Mobius Industries

Battersea Arts Centre, 6 – 18 July 2010

Written for the British Theatre Guide

The One-on-One Festival is a coming of age ceremony, celebrating the graduation of the one-on-one encounter from experiment to bona fide artistic genre. That the symbolically removed training wheels are replaced surreptitiously with alternative support arrangements is not necessarily an admission of weakness: some art forms are at their best when leaning on others.

Take any one-on-one encounter on an individual basis and it’s easy to see why the genre has been repeatedly accused of inherent exclusionism and insubstantiality. Encounters rarely last more than half an hour, and many little more than five minutes. For obvious logistical reasons, audience capacity is almost always severely limited.

But to consider individual examples in isolation is to be wilfully blinkered to the genre’s unique qualities – qualities the people at Battersea Arts Centre understand well, having personally supported the development of a good few practitioners through their Scratch Festivals and Supported Artist programme.

Hence no individual work is made the centrepiece of the One-on-One Festival. Instead, 30-odd artists are installed throughout the building, and a ticket gets you a sort of charm bracelet of encounters, with three appointments timetabled for you by BAC and the chance to accessorise the experience by discovering hidden extras in the interim.

Whether or not the experience satisfies therefore depends on BAC’s quasi-random allocation process, the skill of the artists and the adventurousness of the customer in roughly equal parts – which seems appropriate, given that the defining feature of one-on-one is an exchange between artist and participant.

Inevitably, with so many acts side by side, there’s still an element of exclusion: no one can see everything, and discovering something exciting only to be told you can’t experience it without an appointment is undeniably frustrating. But whereas the limited capacity of individual one-on-one works can feel unfair, like artificial scarcity calculated to drive demand, the issue here is that there’s too much to see and too little time, which is easier to deal with.

Likewise, certain of the acts are still as whimsical and weightless as spun sugar. Patrick Killoran’s Observation Deck, in which participants lie with heads and shoulders sticking out of a third-floor window for ten minutes, is something of a ‘so what?’ experience taken on its own, for example. But the One-on-One Festival experience as a whole can’t be as easily dismissed – not when it also contains Ontroerend Goed’s profoundly moving The Smile Off Your Face.

To demand that one-on-one encounters stand up to criticism when viewed in isolation is to approach them with a narrow mind. One-on-one is not theatre; the genre may have incubated in a theatrical environment but one-on-one encounters are not plays, or even necessarily performances, and it would be wrong to measure their success by theatre’s usual benchmarks.

One-on-one is collaboration. It’s exchange. It’s intimacy. It’s two people tied back to back, scaling the inside of a chimney: something neither one could do alone. Stop imagining one-on-one encounters taking place in theatres and start imagining, say, Folk in a Box installed at a music festival, or Franko B’s You Me Nothing in a modern art gallery. One-on-one will not be pigeonholed. Stop trying.

Need a second opinion?

17 May, 2010

Plus One Podcast: The Human Computer

In which I discuss Will Adamsdale’s transformation into The Human Computer at Battersea Arts Centre with Stage Manager and Plus One Podcast alumna Fran Gardiner.

You can listen to this episode using the player below.

If you’d like to download the episode, right-click here and “Save As”.

You can also click here to subscribe to the podcast using iTunes.

Creative Commons License
The Plus One Podcast by Matt Boothman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

14 May, 2010

The Human Computer

Will Adamsdale in The Human Computer

Will Adamsdale in The Human Computer. Image by Sheila Burnett

Battersea Arts Centre, 12 – 15 May 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

What must we all look like, staring into our screens, Googling and Facebooking and Twittering? Only one man has the perspective to tell us, and the only way he knows how to tell us is with props cobbled together out of cardboard and masking tape.

Will Adamsdale is 36, and didn’t send his first email until the year 2005. The Human Computer is both a confession and a defence of his IT incompetence, and an attempt at both confrontation and reconciliation with his whirring, beeping nemesis.

It’s also a clumsy, ramshackle mess of a show, as scrappily constructed as the cardboard cursors and dialog boxes he wields and flings around the stage.

There is a rough three-act structure lurking under all the pasted-on stuff and business. The first, a sort of stand-up routine recounting Adamsdale’s history of stubbornly avoiding technology, is not the most engaging possible opening, and in hindsight appears to exist mainly to set up gags that will pay off later.

The second act, in which Adamsdale transforms the stage into a cardboard computer screen and invites the audience – armed with a pointer on a stick – to browse his hard drive for anecdotes, songs and silly dances, is simply inspired. As if his pitch-perfect satire of the Windows startup sequence wasn’t enough, there’s also the guiltily, gleefully enjoyable potential for the audience to catch the performer out, to overclock him or simply make him squirm – and his ‘programs’ are amongst the most genuinely funny material in the show.

As for the final third – well, imagine Tron, as written and performed by a Luddite with an unlimited supply of corrugated card and felt-tip pens, and you’re approaching the right idea.

The rickety construction of both the stage and the script is clearly deliberate, and for much of the show it actually holds together surprisingly well considering the whole thing’s propped up on charm and positive thinking. But inevitably there comes a moment when Adamsdale’s energy lets up just long enough for the audience to breathe, take a step back and gain some perspective; and in that moment the show is lost, because perspective unhelpfully reminds us that, theatrical or not, what we’re actually seeing is not a human computer but a man waving a cardboard arrow and talking like Tim Nice But Dim.

Written by Will Adamsdale

Crew includes Kate McGrath (dramaturg)

Cast includes Will Adamsdale (himself, various)

Need a second opinion?

6 March, 2010

Sporadical

Battersea Arts Centre, 2 – 20 March 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Even such a grandiose term as “epic folk opera” – Little Bulb Theatre’s own description of Sporadical – is too small an umbrella to cover everything the company pile into this show. It’s too restrictive a pigeonhole even to contain the show’s full musical gamut, which includes sea shanties, Gothic piano-led laments and beat poetry; yet the musical, too, nestles within a larger frame.

The big picture is the 2010 Welles-Ferry family reunion. The audience assumes the role of the extended family, while Little Bulb are the family’s youngest generation. This provides the pretext for some exuberant audience interaction – the gently immersive kind, not the threatening kind – and for the meta-musical: the little ‘uns are performing the family’s origin story as passed down by recently-deceased patriarch Reginald Welles-Ferry.

Well, if only all childrens’ attempts at theatre were this good. Of course, Little Bulb are significantly older than they’re purporting to be, but apparently age is no barrier to childish charm. Goodies are good (and mostly named Welles or Ferry), baddies are bad (and have the moustaches to prove it) and ghosts and mermaids are as much an accepted part of life as death by shipwreck or the tragic separation of mother and child.

As with the company’s critically-acclaimed Crocosmia, that spectre of parental absence – usually through tragic accidental death – hovers constantly alongside their infectious juvenile optimism, complementing rather than tempering or undermining it. The way the young Welles-Ferry characters deal with death – by giving the dead the happy ending in the retelling that they were denied in real life – is as constructive in its way as any grown-up psychology or rationalisation.

But forget all that stuff! There’s cardboard lightning! Naked puppets! Peril! A wedding dress that doubles as a parachute! Destined love! There’s so much to enjoy that it’s a wrench, once it’s all over, to exit the bar and relinquish your briefly assumed Welles-Ferry name. Here’s to Family Reunion 2011.

Written by Little Bulb Theatre

6 March, 2010

The Poof Downstairs

Battersea Arts Centre, 4 – 20 March 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

The Poof Downstairs hinges on a single, simple metatheatrical gimmick. Is gimmick too negative a word? A better word might be conceit. It hinges on a metatheatrical conceit and cannot be effectively reviewed unless said conceit is revealed – regrettably deadening future audiences’ feelings of whimsical bafflement, but that’s theatre criticism for you. So apologies to Jon Haynes –

Actually, to understand the gimmick – the conceit – it’s probably necessary to know something about Jon Haynes, the writer and lead performer. Haynes is one of the co-founders of Ridiculusmus; The Poof Downstairs is semi-autobiographical, featuring a married couple based on Haynes’ parents. In an unlikely metatheatrical coincidence, Haynes’ onstage father is played by his real-life childhood friend Charles Millington –

Unfortunately, though, Millington’s performance is unreviewable at the current time, as he was unable to perform on press night due to unforeseen personal circumstances; also, as Haynes mentioned when announcing this fact, the pair were never childhood friends, more schoolyard acquaintances. Thankfully Millington’s understudy, Jon Haynes, is a capable character actor and delivers an understated but compelling portrait of the dour, gruff father –

Speaking of dour, it’s probably worth mentioning (purely for added context) Haynes’ well-documented deadpan disdain for the London new writing scene, because his disillusionment manages to colour his performance even though the subject matter of The Poof Downstairs has little to do with theatre. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as his throwaway snarky asides are amusing, especially to those with some knowledge of –

But none of this is germane without knowledge of the show’s foundational conceit, which is – what, only ten words left? Sorry to disappoint – didn’t think that would take so long.

Written by Jon Haynes

Cast includes Jon Haynes (Jeremy), Charles Millington (Father) and Patrizia Paolini (Mother)

Need a second opinion?

6 March, 2010

Return

Battersea Arts Centre, 2 – 20 & 25 March 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

A charitable movie reviewer might describe Return as “beautifully shot”. It’s one of those low-budget British films so beloved of awards committees, in which nothing very much happens but every frame is painstakingly composed, every close-up and gradual fade-through-black marinaded in a rich sense of atmosphere and place.

Its saving grace – unless you enjoy that kind of film, if “enjoy” is the word – is that it’s communicated not via projector and silver screen, but by affable spoken-word artist Polarbear, who describes the shots, cuts and sets, and speaks the dialogue. Everything from the text to the staging is pared back to allow maximum space for imaginative interpretation and visualisation: this film is projected direct into our heads.

It’s at once a consummately individual and a community experience. Unlike in the cinema, every member of the audience “sees” a different product, tinting and skewing the skeletal structure Polarbear provides with their own memories and prejudices. But his screenplay-inspired language is inherently inclusive, dependent as is it on the pronoun “we”: “We start with a close-up”, “We zoom through the windscreen”.

Given all of the above, Return ought to be considerably more engrossing than it is. The problem is that the “film” itself is less interesting than the way it’s presented.

It concerns Noah, a young man who once ascribed all his problems to his location, subsequently escaped, and on returning finds himself appalled by how little has changed, but affronted by those things that have. Even though Noah’s experience is common and relatable, and his sniping, pop-culture-rich rapport with his college drop-out brother is warmly and incisively observed, having Polarbear narrate the film is still preferable to seeing it on screen. Return is, in other words, a successful spoken-word adaptation of a sadly unsuccessful film.

Written by Polarbear

Crew includes Yael Shavit (director/script development), Marie Blunck (designer) and Mark Howland (lighting)

Cast includes Polarbear

Need a second opinion?

4 December, 2009

Plus One Podcast: Jiggery Pokery

In which I discuss Amanda Lawrence in Jiggery Pokery: An Homage to Charles Hawtrey at Battersea Arts Centre, with writer-director Poppy Corbett.

You can listen to this episode using the player below.

If you’d like to download the episode, right-click here and “Save As”.

You can also click here to subscribe to the podcast using iTunes.

Creative Commons License
The Plus One Podcast by Matt Boothman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

4 December, 2009

Jiggery Pokery: A Homage to Charles Hawtrey

Amanda Lawrence in Jiggery Pokery

Amanda Lawrence in Jiggery Pokery. Image by Sadie Lee

Battersea Arts Centre, 1 – 19 December 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

My opinion might not count for much in this situation, since my knowledge of Charles Hawtrey is limited to an afternoon spent watching videos of him on YouTube, but I think it’s safe to say that in this one-woman show, Amanda Lawrence’s revivification of the troubled Carry On actor, is spot on (though her Sidney James could use work).

There’s already a remarkable physical resemblance on which to found this living portrait. With her hair untidily pinned back and the addition of a severe pair of wire-rimmed glasses, the likeness is complete. Add to that the morosely downturned edges of the mouth, the gawky physicality, the distinctively pneumatic method of smoking a cigarette, and a captivating and lifelike presence is born.

Not that Lawrence is limited to playing Hawtrey (though this imitation is, as it should be, the show’s crowning glory). The programme lists a cast of nearly sixty, every one played by Lawrence in under 90 minutes; on one occasion she plays all three participants in a rapid-fire conversation, frantically tying, untying and re-tying the bandanna that denotes the headmistress of Hawtrey’s schooldays.

A single prop or costume item, a voice and a subtle alteration to Lawrence’s physicality are all that’s required to demarcate the majority of the roles. The speed of her transitions from role to role are one major source of the show’s humour, the other being material from Hawtrey’s many cinematic outings, including his early Will Hay pictures and several of the Carry On films.

In fact, the borrowed Carry On dialogue serves its best dramatic purpose when inserted incongruously into particularly unamusing episodes from Hawtrey’s private life, including the descent of his mother into dementia and his own unglamorous death. Re-enacting bawdy lines from Carry On Doctor as he writhes in agony in a hospital bed reflects both his love-hate relationship with the films that made him famous and the tragicomic duality of his life as a whole: a much-loved comic gem in public, but a bitter, unpopular drunk in private.

Jiggery Pokery is a success on both a theatrical and an emotional level. It’s a reminder of just how much can be achieved onstage through the craft of a single talented performer, but also an homage to a complicated individual that manages to be neither sentimental nor judgmental.

Written by Paul Hunter and Amanda Lawrence

Crew includes Paul Hunter (director), Billy Hiscoke (stage manager), Cathy Wren (designer) and Jules Maxwell (composer)

Cast includes Amanda Lawrence (Charles Hawtrey, amongst others)

Need a second opinion?

27 November, 2009

Belt Up, Tim Crouch and breach of contract

Written for The Collective Review, 27 November 2009

At this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, Belt Up premiered a new piece of experimental theatre called Leasspell. It involved the company and audience standing together for half an hour, all blindfolded and telling one another love stories. While Belt Up themselves readily admit that Leasspell was not the most successful of experiments, it did raise certain issues that the company explored further this week in a discussion event charmingly titled ‘Chatting Shit: Immersive Theatre and the Actor/Audience Contract’.

I was particularly interested when the discussion – held in a remote attic of the BAC and, thanks to short notice and a start time that fell during office hours, attended mostly by BAC staff – turned to the work of Tim Crouch, having seen the self-proclaimed “darling of the universities” in conversation with playwright and lecturer Dan Rebellato only the previous day, at Royal Holloway University.

In The Author, which I felt pretty favourably about when I reviewed it for the London Theatre Blog, Crouch and his three co-performers repeatedly encourage the audience to contribute. We’re asked, again and again, “Is this okay?’ or “Do you want me to stop?” or “You say something”. At one point, a performer is uncomfortably hot-seated, in character as a survivor of sexual abuse; the sequence ends with the appeal, “Would anyone else like to ask Karen any questions?”

But when members of the audience respond to this encouragement they are ignored. If someone says yes, they would like Crouch to stop, he continues regardless. If someone fires a question at Karen she remains resolutely mute, and after a pause the play continues. And in conversation with Professor Rebellato, Crouch insisted that there is no space in the play for audience participation, claimed not to understand why anyone would continue Karen’s interrogation, and likened the audience’s desire to contribute to a prima donna actor demanding space to improvise in Shakespeare or Beckett.

The consensus amongst the Chatting Shit attendees was that by inviting the audience to speak, the cast of The Author implicitly alter the actor/audience contract that exists in ‘traditional’ or ’straight’ theatre, whereby the actors act and the audience passively observe. Belt Up create similar implicit contracts when the cast of The Tartuffe mingle and chat with the audience in the bar pre-show, or when they adorn the audience with hats and neckerchiefs at the beginning of The Park Keeper. Symbolically loaded actions such as these inform the audience that the show’s boundaries are not in the usual place, and that the environment they’re entering is more permissive.

So are Crouch and his co-performers in breach of contract when they refuse to respond to audience contributions that they have explicitly invited? Similar questions have been asked of Ontroerend Goed, in whose Festival Fringe smash Internal punters confide personal secrets to performers in intimate one-on-one encounters, then sit helpless as their confidants pass on the information in group discussions.

The difference, as far as the Chatting Shit participants could discern, is one of dramatic intent. It was felt that Ontroerend Goed’s dramatic intent is clear: Internal is an interrogation of emotional openness and vulnerability and, most importantly, you get out what you put in; your humiliation extends only so far as you willingly bared your soul in the one-on-one.

The dramatic intent behind The Author, on the other hands, seems to be to get a habitually passive audience to speak up against onstage events that they find morally offensive, but in actual fact, Crouch seethes behind his smile when members of the audience question Karen, feeling that they are perpetrating an act of abuse. But it’s the contract that he, as both a playwright and a performer, implicitly creates between himself and the audience – the permissive environment woven by the words he wrote – that permits this act of abuse to occur. So really, he should be seething at himself.