Posts tagged ‘barbican’

18 April, 2010

non zero one

Recorded for theatreVOICE at the Barbican, 15 April 2010

non zero one founder members Iván Gonzales, Cat Harrison, Fran Miller and Alex Turner talk to me about their debut show, Would Like To Meet, in which the audience explore a series of environments in the Barbican Centre while led by a voice heard through a pair of headphones. With excerpts from the production.

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.

24 March, 2010

4.48 Psychosis

Magdalena Cielecka in 4.48 Psychosis

Magdalena Cielecka in 4.48 Psychosis. Image by Stefan Okołowicz

Barbican, 23 – 27 March 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide and cross-posted to The Collective Review

4.48 Psychosis is a gift for a director. Kane’s text – her last – is more prose poem than script, lacking stage directions or delineated characters: a nearly blank slate onto which a director can impose context, character and narrative. To Grzegorz Jarzyna, of Polish company TR Warszawa, that creative freedom is a double-edged sword: by over-exercising it in certain areas, he almost crowds out the strongest elements of his interpretation.

Every scene of this Polish language production has its conceit. In one, pills rain from a table onto the floor. In another, lead performer Magdalena Cielecka is silently mirrored by a small girl. Later, a naked old woman circumnavigates the stage while Cielecka speaks. These images are more of a visual accompaniment to the dialogue than an interpretation of it, and actually serve to distract from the production’s main strengths.

One of these is the oppressive atmosphere, sustained largely by the monotonous bass drones and seasick pitchshifted showtunes of Piotr Dominski’s soundscape. Combine that with lighting designer Felice Ross’s palette of confining spots and sickly washes and even the 1,166-seater Barbican Theatre starts to feel claustrophobic.

But the production’s stand-out, defining feature is Magdalena Cielecka’s performance. Her every twitch, tic and gesture is more fascinating and meaningful than the production’s whole complement of devices and visual metaphors.

As she details her planned method of suicide, she clutches her belly, or wrings her hands together masturbatorily through her trouser pockets. Eloquently but venomously she rails against the doctors that rattle off easy chemical fixes for her every symptom, and against the people and circumstances she blames for them.

It’s clear without any supplementary imagery that this person is grieving rather than self-pitying, that she’s damaged as much by unfeeling diagnoses and labels as by whatever’s happening inside her, and that, far from taking the easy way out, she’s desperate to free herself by any means, however extreme.

It takes until the play’s final passage for Jarzyna to whisk away all the window dressing. Here Cielecka’s face, softly illuminated by a narrow spot, is all that’s visible on an otherwise darkened stage; Jarzyna decodes Kane’s final lines solely through the medium of his star’s delivery and countenance. It’s revealing that this understated moment, rather than, say, Cielecka’s earlier crazed, blood-drenched assault on the cyc, is the production’s most enthralling.

Written by Sarah Kane

Crew includes Grzegorz Jarzyna (director), Małgorzata Szczęśniak (set design), Piotr Domiński (music and sound design) and Felice Ross (lighting design)

Cast includes Mariusz Benoit, Janusz Chabior, Magdalena Cielecka, Katarzyna Herman and Rafał Maćkowiak

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3 February, 2010

My Stories, Your Emails

Barbican, 2 – 13 February 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Ursula Martinez is an enigma and so is her new solo show, My Stories, Your Emails. An original member of La Clique, Martinez exists in the borderlands between stand-up comedy, burlesque dance, stage magic and performance art. Similarly, My Stories, Your Emails is a lecture, a stand-up act, a play, a confession and an autobiography while simultaneously being none of these things.

It also appears simultaneously to be a constructive, creative response to a potentially upsetting situation and a petty, misdirected act of vengeance.

As the title suggests, it’s a show of two halves. The first involves Martinez reading (mostly) humorous autobiographical anecdotes from a lectern. Her deadpan delivery is disconcertingly reminiscent of Jimmy Carr, though Martinez excels at getting laughs by leaving stories hanging, instead of by comic over-explanation.

The stories serve as a brief introduction to Martinez’s life, revealing aspects of her upbringing and career, details about her family and so on, without sketching anything like a complete picture of her as a person.

The second half concerns a similarly incomplete picture – a video of her magic/striptease act Hanky Panky, which was released onto the internet without her permission – and some of the astonishing conclusions people the world over drew about her as a result. It’s a pageant showcasing some prime examples of that uniquely 21st century prose genre, the speculative online solicitation, in which the objective is to coat every syllable in steaming sexual subtext, but convince the receiving party that you are not just another hopeless case begging for sex.

There’s a surprising variety of pretexts, from those who idolise Martinez as a campaigner for Nudism, to those who want to book her act, through those seeking friendship to those barefacedly requesting sex. What they have in common is that they all think they know, understand or have some kind of claim over Martinez just because they’ve watched a video of her stripping and making a silk handkerchief disappear.

The concept of this segment is a problematic one. A piece of Martinez’s work not intended for mass online consumption ended up online; she responds to this by taking fanmail (complete with full names, photos and even some telephone numbers) presumably meant for her eyes only and performing it publicly. The majority of the men (and they are all men) don’t come out of it especially well. On paper it feels like an eye for an eye.

But she performs the emails without commentary: the men are allowed to present themselves in their own words (though she provides each with an appropriate accent). It also becomes clear from occasional instances of two-way correspondence that their permission has been sought and granted to incorporate their words and pictures into the show.

To presume to draw a definitive conclusion regarding the motivation and ethics behind My Stories, Your Emails would be to make the same mistake as the men. Best just to present the facts and let Ursula Martinez remain an enigma.

Written by Ursula Martinez

Crew includes Mark Whitelaw (director)

Cast includes Ursula Martinez

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4 December, 2008

Quartet: A Journey North

Barbican, 25 November – 7 December 2008

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Documentary theatre is a notoriously difficult style to present in an engaging and theatrical manner. Mehr Theatre Group’s Quartet: A Journey North battles valiantly against the constraints of the form and achieves better success than most similar productions, but it’s by no means a flawless piece of theatre.

The text is twice removed from its source material; it’s based on a documentary by one of the four performers, Mahin Sadri, itself composed of eyewitness testimony concerning a murder in Iran.

The production draws deeply from the well of documentary filmmaking techniques, resulting in a play composed almost entirely of talking heads against a black background.

The setup certainly has theatrical potential. Four actors sit in the centre of the Pit, facing out towards the audience. A television screen hangs above each one and pull-down blinds hide each actor from three quarters of the audience.

Each actor has a table, a chair, a glass of water, a tissue and a remote control for the camcorder aimed at them. The camcorders relay live images of whoever is currently speaking to the three quarters of the audience that can’t see them, via the hanging televisions.

The idea, presumably, is that no one person can ever see the full picture when it comes to murder. The cameras are focused in close on the actors’ faces, so each quarter of the audience is denied a good deal of gesture and body language from three out of four actors.

Not to mention the fact that the screens aren’t always showing the same picture. With a bit of unsubtle craning around, I managed to confirm that at one point, when my actor was speaking and my screen was showing a drive around the mountain roads leading to Tehran, the audience to my right were only seeing my actor’s face.

The technical arrangement and the intent behind it are certainly worthy of appreciation. But for three quarters of the play you’re forced to watch the screen because you can’t see the speaker directly, and even when you can see the speaker you still have to watch the screen for the surtitles – unless, of course, you speak Persian.

So monolingual Brits are forced to watch the screen for the entire play … which means that for them the only major difference between this play and a screening of Sadri’s documentary, presumably, is that the testimony is live.

The use of close-ups, a directorial technique normally denied to the theatre, does partially excuse the totally static staging. The actors aren’t really doing anything, but we’re treated to every detail of their facial expressions: conspiratorial sidelong glances, smirks and silent tears that might not be obvious without the big screens.

And the text is engaging, taking us procedurally through every step leading up to the two murders in such detail that it’s impossible to forget these are true accounts of real events.

The flaw lies in simultaneous over- and under-use of the different visual media in use. There’s so much focus on the screens that Quartet almost doesn’t feel like a piece of theatre at all; yet they’re only used to relay what’s happening on stage, bracketed by some aimlessly atmospheric stock footage of traffic jams and seasons passing.

If Mehr intend the screens to be the star of the show, surely they could do more with them?

Written by Amir Reza Koohestani and Mahin Sadri

Crew includes Amir Reza Koohestani (director) Vali Mahlouji (translator) and Hessam Nourani (technical director/video)

Cast includes Baran Kosari, Mohammad Hassan Madjooni, Attila Pessyani and Mahin Sadri

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4 December, 2008

Hansel and Gretel

Barbican, 1 December 2008 – 4 January 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

How do you get a hundred hyperactive schoolchildren to sit still and shut up through seventy minutes of theatre? Trick question: it’s impossible. Catherine Wheels Theatre Company accept that a young audience is going to fidget, so they’ve built it into their show.

The show in question is a promenade production of classic Grimm’s fairy tale Hansel and Gretel at the Barbican over Christmas. Promenade may well be the ideal format for children’s theatre. It keeps the audience moving, eliminating the fidgeting problem, and provides a constantly changing spectacle to keep them entertained.

The school parties certainly never seem bored or restless as friendly ushers guide them from Hansel and Gretel’s woodland bungalow, through a spooky and increasingly macabre forest to the gingerbread house.

Of course everyone knows the welcoming appearance of the house is a deception, but it’s still easy to empathise with Hansel and Gretel’s clueless relief after fifteen minutes spent wandering through designer Karen Tennent’s forest.

The trees are shadowy, insubstantial outlines – suggested by stretched tubes of gauze, lit from within by coldly twinkling fairy lights and uncomfortably reminiscent of enormous cobwebs.

As a warped version of The Teddy Bears’ Picnic lures the children onwards, the imagery becomes increasingly unsettling, at least for the adults in the audience. The bones piled in the corners aren’t nearly as disturbing as tableaux of children’s dolls – babies and Barbies – stripped, limbs contorted, and hung in chains from the ceiling.

Traditional Grimm’s horror is much more fashionable right now than supposedly child-friendly versions of their tales – and the children don’t seem fazed by it, swaggering through the groves and proudly assuring one another they aren’t scared at all.

Once we escape the forest into the apparent safety of the gingerbread house we find the production’s other great asset: the witch.

The usual witch was ill when I saw the production, and had been replaced by the Catherine Wheels’ artistic director Gill Robertson. Once she recovers, poor Helena Lymbery (and Cassie Friend, with whom she alternates the part) needs to deliver something truly stunning, or she runs the risk of being upstaged by a (presumably) last minute stand-in.

The production makes extensive use of physical clowning, to tell the story in a way that’s simple to understand, to explain motivation and intent, and to lighten the tone.

The same techniques make Robertson’s witch a feral creature of the forest. Dressed in dark leaves, she moves in an ape-like half crouch and beds down in a pile of furs like a sleepy cat. Her speech is a mixture of childlike mewling and bellowed, guttural commands.

The production focuses on Hansel and Gretel’s responsibility for one another in the absence of a reliable parent. Hansel, the eldest and the male sibling, protects his sister from the nasties lurking in the forest; once he’s caught and caged, it falls to Gretel to return the favour.

It’s made clear just how quickly she has to mature in this difficult situation. She’s forced to deal with a physically and vocally intimidating witch and to cook the very food that will fatten her brother for the kill, all while keeping him from falling into despair.

Yet despite all that pressure it’s her ingenuity that eventually saves them both. It’s not only the horror that’s grown-up; the moral lesson inherent to the fairy tale is also dealt with in a grown-up way. Precisely because it doesn’t treat its audience like children, Hansel and Gretel may be the perfect children’s show.

Written by Catherine Wheels Theatre Company

Crew includes Gill Robertson (artistic director) and Karen Tennent (designer)

Cast includes Susan Harrison (Gretel), Tommy Mullins (Hansel) and Gill Robertson (the Witch – replacing Helena Lymbery due to illness)

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