Posts tagged ‘british theatre guide’

27 August, 2010

Odyssey ****

C soco, 4 – 30 August 2010 (even dates only)

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

This is Schrödinger’s Odyssey: it’s neither Homer’s Ancient Greek epic, nor is it wholly Dominic J Allen’s mid-apocalyptic refashioning, yet it’s both. The man lying unconscious on the table is not Theodore “Ted” Stirling, fascist poet, nor Odysseus, nor Ulysses: he is, as he tells anyone that asks, “Nobody”. He’s trying to return to Ithaca and also to a devastated New York City. He both has and has not already arrived.

All of which is as discombobulating as it sounds, which gives us, the audience, an idea of what Ted’s feeling; which is humbling, because the reason Ted’s feeling discombobulated is that he’s being psychologically tortured, and we’re in league with his torturers. So we’re both the tortured and the torturers, as well as being neither.

The duality of Allen’s Odyssey allows him to entangle 21st century concerns with Homerian themes without uprooting either element from its natural context and to present dual interpretations of Odysseus / Ulysses: is he a wise war hero, or a cunning butcherer? A faithful but cruelly waylaid husband or a gallivanting philanderer?

Because the play doesn’t commit fully to either setting, it also exonerates itself from many of the usual constraints of continuity and consistency. A blood ritual that summons Tiresias and the spirits of the dead may seem out of place in a world of mutant assassins and extreme ethnic cleansing, but of course it gels just fine with the Ancient Greek world to which Ted finds himself increasingly connected.

Then there’s the fact that none of the action is really happening at all: it’s all a reenactment for Ted’s sake, to “torture him with his memories”. His two tormentors – our hosts – secure our cooperation by sheer force of will, preying on our natural passivity as audience members to the point where we willingly pelt poor Ted with rubber balls. Examining what audiences will and will not willingly participate in has been one of Belt Up’s strengths since The Park Keeper in 2008, and they’ve rediscovered that strength in their Odyssey.

Written by Dominic J Allen after Homer

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27 August, 2010

The Master and Margarita

David Ralf and Cassie Barraclough in The Master and Margarita

David Ralf and Cassie Barraclough in The Master and Margarita. Image by Amelia Peterson

C soco, 6 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the Oxford Times

Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita is a dense and complex novel, layered with parallel interconnected plotlines and saturated with theosophical intrigue; so as Rowena Purrett acknowledged in her review earlier this month, to pare it down to 90 minutes is an achievement. Somewhere between Oxford and the Fringe, OUDS have shaved their production down to an even more festival-friendly 80 minutes.

As well as paring down the content — the specific scenes, events and plotlines — OUDS boil down the whole work to a more manageable scale, in the process intensifying some flavours and losing others almost entirely. Where Bulgakov’s novel is a sweeping satire concerned with entire classes and communities, the OUDS production focuses closely on the individual characters: a more dramatic approach, but one that reduces the scope of the themes and ideas from a communal to a capital level.

It’s a shame to dampen the story’s potential for wide-ranging social commentary, especially as Bulgakov’s criticisms of Moscow’s atheist society still apply to ever- larger portions of the Western world; but on the stage, individuals are easier to engage with emotionally than whole societies.

What the production does communicate well is the bleak, decaying atmosphere of the benighted city. The performance space is part of a half-derelict building, all exposed brickwork, cold stone and cracked plaster; a boon for set designer Jessica Edwards. It’s also spacious as festival spaces go, but director Hoehn concentrates most scenes into as small an area as possible, highlighting the isolation of characters outcast for expressing their beliefs.

The performance is an odd mixture of styles. Brecht and Commedia dell’arte are both identifiable influences, and expressionistic movement and dance intrude on relatively naturalistic dialogue; though in a story about the invasion by the supernatural of a wilfully banal society, such intrusions feel thematically appropriate enough not to jar or distract in the least.

Adapted by Raymond Blankenhorn and Max Hoehn

Crew includes Max Hoehn (director), Jessica Edwards (set design), Anouska Lester (costume design), Rachel Beaconsfield Press (make-up design), Eli Keren (lighting designer), Stephen Poole (lighting design), Rosie Hore and Harriet Randall (choreographers)

Cast includes Cassie Barraclough (Margarita), Joe Bayley (Pilate), Raymond Blankenhorn (Ivan/Matthew/Baron Maigel), Ollo Clark (The Master), Bella Hammad (Babushka/Natasya/Praskovya/Natasha/Hella), Max Hoehn (Woland), Jonnie McAloon (Yeshua/Clown), Matthew Monghan (Behemoth), David Ralf (Koroviev/Berlioz/Bengalsky)

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23 August, 2010

The Chinese State Circus Mulan ****

The Chinese State Circus Mulan

The Chinese State Circus Mulan. Image courtesy of the EdFringe Media Office

Ocean Terminal Big Top, 6 – 22 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

After just ten minutes in the Chinese State Circus’s big top, my palms are already sore from clapping. Applause soundtracks their entire event in a near-continuous torrent, accompanied by vocalisations of awe both voluntary and involuntary.

The legend of Mulan – who disguised herself in her father’s armour and became the Emperor’s only female general, unbeknownst to all – provides a loose framework for this year’s extravaganza. Each act is contextualised as part of the celebration of Mulan’s birth, part of the Emperor’s army or part of the enemy’s.

Mulan gains her martial prowess by studying with the Shaolin Warriors, whose presence is clearly a coup for the circus: every three or four acts they’re back, breaking metal bars on their heads or lifting each other on spearpoints. Their martial arts displays are almost too fast to register as impressive; we can marvel at their speed, but the movement is a blur, its precision and intricacy impossible to appreciate without a slow-motion replay. Everyone applauds regardless: did I mention these men can break metal bars with their foreheads…?

The dialogue is clunkily dubbed through the PA, but that doesn’t matter: it’s brief and infrequent, and its only real purpose is to distract the audience while the next act sets up. The story intrudes precisely as much as is required to give the acts a sense of purpose, and thence stays out of the way of what we’re all there to see: acts so skilled and polished you’ll double-take, realising only after a moment’s reflection just how breathtaking their apparently effortless feats actually are.

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23 August, 2010

Reykjavík ***

Jonathan Young in Reykjavik

Jonathan Young in Reykjavik. Image courtesy of the EdFringe Media Office

The Bongo Club, 12 – 29 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Looking like a cross between polar explorers and scene of crime officers in our gauzy white coveralls, we help Jonathan disinter and analyse his past. Though he feels far enough removed from his past self to refer to him as a distinct character – Yonatan (the Icelandic pronounciation of his name), or simply Y – this is still an intensely, almost painfully personal show.

Reykjavík minutely examines every possible long-term and short-term cause of a single, life-changing outcome: the breakup of Yonatan’s relationship with S, an Icelandic woman he met in Paris, and by extension his life as an expat in Reykjavík. Could immutable destiny be the reason? The inevitable fate of the child to relive the life of the parent? Or one of the countless binary decisions every one of us makes every day?

Though the show is as introspective and self-interrogatory as it sounds, with a resultant tendency towards potentially alienating solipsism, it’s also full of delightful technical innovations. Foggy goggles and coloured lights represent a near miss in a car in near-zero visibility. Several wheeled full-length mirrors create seemingly infinite corridors crowded with possibilities. The whole experience is like studying a fascinating fossil through a microscope. The level of obsession doesn’t seem healthy, and you have to work to understand its relevance to you, but every new angle reveals something else of interest.

Written by Jonathan Young

Crew includes Carolina Valdés and Lucinka Eisler (co-directors), Paul Burgess (set and video design), Katharine Williams (lighting design) and Adrienne Quartly (sound design)

Cast includes Mark Huhnen, Sinikka Kyllönen and Jonathan Young

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23 August, 2010

Silent Cannonfire ***

Zoo Roxy, 15 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Silent Cannonfire feels like it’s missing something. It is, of course: this piratical production is performed entirely without spoken dialogue, instead mimed and mummed to a live soundtrack of sea shanties. It’s an interesting conceit, but Of Vast Bigness treat the speech embargo mostly as an obstacle they’ve placed in their own way, not an opportunity they’ve presented themselves.

To circumvent that obstacle, the company communicate dialogue in every possible way other than speaking it aloud. Lines are discovered conveniently written on flags, fish and the undergarments of harlots, and Captain Hatebeard communicates exclusively via scrolls written hastily in the blood of his crew.

To be fair, the revelation of each unexpected little innovation does contribute to Silent Cannonfire’s surreal, madcap humour; but the storytelling is of necessity so broad that the vast majority of lines revealed in this way just aren’t necessary for the audience’s understanding. The same information could be communicated more easily, and more in the spirit of the piece, by paying more attention to the physical side of the performances (which often lapse into standing still and mouthing, neglecting gesture).

The live band is a real asset to the production, maintaining a salty atmosphere with melodies cribbed from traditional tunes and a certain blockbuster movie franchise (be careful, Of Vast Bigness, one man’s sly reference is another intellectual property suit). The homespun scenery and special effects, including a papier mache sea monster, wouldn’t be out of place in a very enthusiastic school play, which may not be intentional but does give the play a pleasingly tongue-in-cheek tone.

Overall, though, it can’t shake that sense of incompleteness: that it isn’t a production devised without dialogue, it’s a regular production with the dialogue ripped away and imperfectly patched.

Crew includes Will Seaward (director), Rich Mason (technical director), Owen Woods (musical director), Fred Spaven (set design and construction), Dan Summerbell (fight director) and Deanna Bergdorf (dance choreographer)

Cast includes Stephen Bailey, Flo Carr, Chrystal Ding, John Haidar, Hannah Laurence, Julia Leijola, Max Levine, Matt Lim, Chloe Mashiter, Pierre Novellie, Emerald Paston, George Potts and Emma Stirling

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23 August, 2010

Threshold *****

Zoo Roxy, 9 – 20 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Everything about Threshold is a secret. The location is a secret. Most of what happens there is a secret. Whatever happens that isn’t a secret happens for secret reasons. Everything we learn is a secret revealed: scraps of overheard conversation; scenes glimpsed through the undergrowth; comments that slip out in unguarded moments: all information we know we shouldn’t know, and for that we treasure it all the more.

Three hours in the late afternoon is a big commitment at the Fringe. Be reassured that Threshold is a three-hour show, not a one-hour show plus two hours’ travel time, even though two of the three hours are spent travelling. The outward journey is for tipping us subtly, uncomfortably sideways and out of the real world. The return journey is for sharing the secrets we’ve learned. The moment you think it’s over is the moment Threshold puts on its triumphant final spurt. It is worth three hours of your time.

The middle hour is one of excitement, adventure, voyeurism, uncertainty, guilt and heartbreak. With a few deft touches our hosts gain our trust: from the start they trust us enough to share secrets, enough to rely implicitly on our support in a confrontation, and so we trust them back. When our guide breaks into a run and we follow suit without a thought it’s not just because we know we’ll get lost or miss the action if we don’t keep up; it’s because we understand why they’re running, so we run for the same reasons.

A secret isn’t a secret unless someone’s left in the dark. Roughly one fifth of the people that witness each major event in Threshold will be party to all the information required to fully understand it. Each occurrence we do understand strengthens our conviction that first, there must also be explanations for the events we find incomprehensible, and second, there will be people on the return journey who have discovered those explanations.

Whether anyone can be persuaded to reveal what they’ve learned is another matter. Threshold relinquishes but one piece of advice willingly: that some secrets are best kept locked away.

Written by Fred Gordon, Lowri Jenkins and Thomas McMullan

Crew includes Susanna Davies-Crook (director) and Vasiliki Giannoula (costume design)

Cast includes Kristina Epenetos, Nicky Ingram, Hayley Kasperczyk, George Kemp, Adam Loxley, Pablo Navarro-MacLochlainn, Tom Ross Williams and Seda Yildiz

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23 August, 2010

A Pint for the Ghost ***

The Banshee Labyrinth, 7 – 17 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Helen Mort’s cycle of ghost poems, inspired by the many ghosts of her native Yorkshire, is served well by the surroundings. In a candlelit nook deep in the gloomy warren of the Banshee Labyrinth pub, it’s easy to imagine the restless spirits of unfortunate caver Neil Moss, or Mort’s dad or her friend Justin, drifting through the walls to see who’s talking about them.

Mort’s no-frills delivery, on the other hand, contributes nothing to the atmosphere. This is definitely a recital, not a performance; and while the poems themselves are short and well-written and Mort is clearly attuned to the rhythm of the words, an extra touch of theatrical flair could make A Pint For The Ghost genuinely eerie.

Written by Helen Mort

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23 August, 2010

Others ****

Pleasance Courtyard, 4 – 29 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 665)

Jemma and Kylie, two thirds of the Paper Birds, perch in an armchair and speculate about Nazim, an Iranian woman Jemma’s been corresponding with by post. Maryam, the third Bird, plays Nazim, updating her performance to reflect her colleagues’ conclusions. Though based at first entirely on Nazim’s own words, the armchair pair’s enthusiastic deductions ramify farther and farther from the facts, bombarding Maryam with illogical abusive husbands and suicide bombings as she vainly attempts to draw attention to their fallacies.

Not only is this intensely comical – a rare achievement for a verbatim play – it’s also a playful dissection of the Birds’ own unconscious assumptions and prejudices, and of the conflict at the heart of all documentary and verbatim theatre: the one between entertaining an audience and being faithful to the source. And that’s just one scene.

What’s truly impressive about Others is its use of such inward-looking subject matter to interrogate a much bigger issue: the national media, which face essentially the same dilemma as documentary theatre, and seem (the Birds suggest) to be veering the wrong way.

Devised by Maryam Hamidi, Jemma McDonnell and Kylie Walsh

Crew includes Ellen Dowell (set design) and Marec Joyce (lighting design)

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18 August, 2010

Pedal Pusher ****

Pedal Pusher

Pedal Pusher. Image by Holly McGlynn, courtesy of the EdFringe Media Office

Zoo Roxy, 6 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

It’s notoriously difficult to choke verbatim theatre into life on stage, but you wouldn’t guess that from watching Pedal Pusher. You’d be forgiven for not noticing that it’s a verbatim piece at all, in fact. It seems the trick is to choose the right source material. Sounds easy, and Theatre Delicatessen certainly make it look that way.

So what’s the right source material for the story of Lance Armstrong, Marco Pantani and Jan Ullrich, three of the greatest competitive cyclists ever to have lived, and the Tour de France, the toughest and most prestigious cycle race in the world? Press conference transcripts, for the most part. Dry as that may sound, press conferences are naturally dramatic, performative events. The rehearsed statements are superficially anodyne but – thanks to the insights we’re given into the athletes’ habits, personalities and relationships – laden with fascinating subtext, and there’s something of the courtroom drama about the open-floor interrogations that follow.

That the subtlety and theatricality of the text is appreciable, however, is down to the cast, who wrap their jaws nimbly around some potential deadweights. We don’t see much more than one side to any of the characters – Armstrong, fresh from beating advanced cancer, is practically messianic in his drive to succeed; Pantani, victimised by the doping officials, succumbs to self-pitying matyrdom – but what we do see clearly, in the performances and in the text, is the hardwired competitive urge that made each man great.

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18 August, 2010

Hotel Nowhere ***

theSpace on the Mile @ Jury’s Inn, 6 – 14 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Hotel Nowhere is set in a hotel bedroom and staged at Jury’s Inn, a hotel full of perfectly serviceable hotel bedrooms; yet it’s performed in a makeshift studio theatre, decked out with black cloth and a hotel bedroom stage set. Perhaps the hotel couldn’t spare a room during festival season, but in that case why bother staging the play in a hotel at all?

This doesn’t detract from the production so much as deny it a potentially resonant extra dimension. The generic anonymity of hotel rooms, and the sense of dislocation they generate, is the play’s dominant theme, and the production would be strengthened if the audience could experience that first-hand. Instead, we experience the equally generic anonymity of black box theatre spaces in what claims to be a site-specific production.

It’s to the play’s credit that it remains intriguingly watchable despite being denied its full potential. Two parties of hotel guests find that the bland surroundings draw out their secrets and desires almost by osmosis. Action occurring in two different (but identical, anonymous, generic) rooms simultaneously on the same set, a dramatic device borrowed from Andrew Bovell’s Speaking In Tongues, demands the audience’s full attention and ensures a quickfire pace throughout. Bovell’s play does it better, highlighting the generic nature not just of the environment but also of the kinds of conversations that take place there; but Hotel Nowhere’s dialogue is still witty and acutely observed, especially when flirtation is involved.

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