Posts tagged ‘c’

27 August, 2010

101 ***

C soco, 15 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

I can’t tell you exactly what to expect from 101. You’ll experience one of four scenarios; the order rotates daily, so there’s no use in shooting for a particular one. Generally speaking, you can expect to have your boundaries tested – in the case of my scenario, specifically in relation to physical intimacy across the gender divide.

Patrons and performers alike are given a white sash. Wearing it signifies willingness to participate; removing it signifies a desire to sit out whatever’s going on at that point; and it can be removed and reapplied as many times as necessary. It’s an interesting visual indicator – almost a show of hands – of the tipping points of individuals and the audience as a whole, a bit like a seismograph showing how hard Oneohone are shaking our boundaries.

If the audience at my performance are anything to go by, the company actually don’t shake all that hard. Our scenario is an elaborate and tentative courtship ritual, reminiscent at once of school discos, with boys and girls lined up on opposite sides of the room, and of courtly wooing, with plenty of bowing, curtseying and hand-kissing. With the exception of one attendee, everyone keeps their sashes on throughout.

This could be because the company start us off on small, inoffensive interactions, like bowing to one another across the room, and proceed in tiny increments, asking permission at every stage. This approach coupled with our natural reticence makes for a sedate pace; there’s time enough to pluck up courage for everything that’s asked of us.

If the intention of 101 is to push us to define our own boundaries, it doesn’t really push hard enough; everything’s well within the tolerance of a typical Fringe audience. But it seems more likely the intention is to give people the power to opt out, then show them that they don’t need to use it, even when doing things that might be a little way outside their normal theatre comfort zone. In that, it succeeds; and really, the company could have contented themselves with that achievement, rather than tacking on a classical narrative in the final ten minutes.

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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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18 August, 2010

Lorca is Dead ***

C soco, 4 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 664)

Belt Up’s eulogy for Federico Garcia Lorca is anything but a stately affair. So much happens, and continues happening, all at once, in such a short space of time, that it’s impossible to pay attention to it all, and frequently difficult to know what is too significant to ignore; yet far from appearing frenetic, the action is suffused with a melancholy, restless unease. Someone has, after all, died.

While the nucleus of the surrealist movement – André Breton, Paul Éluard, Antonin Artaud, Louis Aragon, René Magritte and others – discuss important matters in the wardrobe, Salvador Dalí sits at Breton’s desk, distracting a privileged portion of the audience with a spoon strapped to a boule: a surrealist sculpture. This is the play in microcosm.

The surrealists re-enact Lorca’s life story, passing him like a conch among themselves and the odd audience member, touching on everything from his sexuality to his contribution to surrealism to his eventual execution by Franco’s firing squad.

Meanwhile, political, philosophical and personal differences are weakening the brotherly bonds between the post-Lorca surrealists. Simultaneously, Salvador Dalí is attempting to rewrite the history of the movement with himself at its centre, with help from Gala Éluard and a time machine constructed by Antonin Artaud. The play’s portrayal of ‘the divine Dalí’ is its greatest achievement: somehow both reverent idolisation and total character assassination.

The pace drops more than once when two plot threads intersect and the ensemble can’t change direction fast enough, and by the end threads that were pivotal early on are being tied off with single throwaway lines of exposition. It may well be fruitless to criticise the plot of a surreal play about surrealists staging a surreal play about a surrealist, but Lorca is Dead is demonstrably overstuffed.

Written by Dominic J Allen

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11 August, 2010

The Crying Cherry ***

C Chambers Street, 5 – 21 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Two Dutchmen in shellsuits sending up Asian culture and traditions, armed with mime-katanas and a borderline offensive pidgin Chipanglish semi-nonsense language? This is what the Fringe is for: the shows you just couldn’t get away with anywhere else.

So there’s a prophecy and a destined battle and so on, but that’s not especially important. In fact, the plot is so unimportant that it’s provided nearly in full in a helpful explanatory pre-show pamphlet, so no one gets to grump about not being able to follow what’s going on.

What is important, at least to performers Ian Bok and Maarten Heijmans, is the way it’s told: with conventions lovingly harvested from Noh theatre and kung fu action cinema and equally lovingly processed through the parody mincer.

Dignified, ceremonial chants and processions are undermined by Heijmans’ strained, bulging eyes, or by their application to such banal tasks as eating a banana. The inevitable showdown is a (mimed) splatterfest of horrific (mimed) injuries and implausibly macho (mimed) recoveries. It’s gloriously silly and arguably meaningless; there’s no better place for it than the Fringe.

Devised by Ian Bok and Maarten Heijmans

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11 August, 2010

Suspicious Package ***

C too, 5 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

The 1947 film noir Lady in the Lake, based on Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled detective novel of the same name, is shot entirely from the detective’s perspective. The camera smokes, gets kissed, punched and shot at, the idea being to translate the iconic first-person viewpoint of the detective novel to the silver screen. The viewer is meant to feel like he (or to a lesser extent she) is the detective.

A similar intention lies behind Suspicious Package, and the technology of today’s audioguided performance is much better equipped to achieve it than that of 40s cinema. With the help of four video iPods loaded with instructions, four participants every hour become a detective, a tough guy, an heiress and a showgirl in a boilerplate noir mystery.

These are instantly recognisable genre archetypes, easy to ham up regardless of the participants’ acting ability. Be aware, however, that cross-gender casting can occur and that all participants are required to wear their identifying costume pieces out and about on the Grassmarket.

As well as cueing actions and dialogue, the iPods supply both the laconic internal monologue (via audio) and flashbacks (via video) that typify noir literature. Reading lines off the screen limits engagement with fellow participant-performers – other similar practitioners deliver dialogue aurally, with more success – but onscreen maps eliminate the problems associated with aurally delivered directions (like people’s different walking speeds) and free up the audio track for more character-establishing internal monologue.

As for the plot, well, it’s at least convoluted enough to sustain interest for the necessary 45 minutes. Whether it’s satisfying or rewarding depends entirely on the level of investment and commitment from the participants, and while it’s hard not to commit to a character whose innermost thoughts are running loud and clear through your head, constantly referring to the screen for lines does make it difficult to remain in character.

Written by Gyda Arber

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11 August, 2010

Babbling Comedy: The Perfordian Show **

C Central, 5 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 664)

Once you’re over the sight of four grown men capering about dressed unconvincingly as babies, this is perfectly adequate family entertainment. A toybox of props provides pretexts for magic, juggling, balloon modelling and a healthy dollop of slapstick. But beware: the cast’s infantile babbling often continues longer than is necessary to set up each stunt; and those in the front row will be humiliated.

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28 August, 2009

Un/Familiar Fringe: Un/Seated

Written for the London Theatre Blog, 27 August 2009

Like waiting tables, participatory theatre would be significantly easier without the customers. Even more so than usual, participatory productions can’t exist without an audience; but many punters run away screaming at the mere mention of getting involved, and the majority of those that do turn up will be either a) secretly hoping they won’t be singled out or b) planning to take advantage of the altered audience-performer relationship to bring out some killer heckles.

Participatory companies not only have to tell a story or make an artistic statement; they’re also responsible for crowd control. As the style becomes more popular, more methods of crowd control emerge. From what I’ve seen so far, they fall into two broad categories: the carrot and the stick.

Belt Up (Nothing to see/hear), who remain my stand-out favourite company from Fringe 2008, lead the carrot-danglers. The cast of The Tartuffe – a revamped version of last year’s Red Room highlight – greet the audience while they’re still queueing and begin gently immersing them into the world of the play, in character but without getting too in-yer-face. At this point I was handed a hi-vis jacket and designated Health and Safety Officer, which was a set-up for a joke much further down the line, but which also began blurring the distinction between audience and performer.

The cast remain scattered throughout the audience as we enter the space and take up positions on a jumble of mattresses, armchairs and bedsteads. There’s a comfortable sense of being amongst friends. The raucous comedy of the play relaxes everyone further; the company’s infiltrators whisper conspiratorial asides to their closest neighbours; and by the time Orgon begins demanding volunteers it seems churlish not to leap obligingly up and play his first wife, or his daughter’s suitor.

The sticky end of the spectrum is characterised by a technique I think of as the Embarrassment Spotlight. I experienced it last year in the hands of Three’s Company, in Auditorium. Companies using it this year include double Fringe First award winners Ontroerend Goed, with Internal, and the slightly lower-profile Tickled Pig Productions, with Parents’ Evening.

The Embarrassment Spotlight harnesses the natural inclination of the audience not to take part, and turns it against one unfortunate individual. For example: the staff of Tickled Pig’s fictional jolly-hockey-sticks institution Aultyme High (billed as “the teachers you wish you’d had”) need a volunteer to take part in a dressing-up competition. After a brief and awkward period of optimistically waiting for genuine volunteers, the cast pick a likely individual themselves and exhort him or her to join in. The combined relief of every other audience member at not being picked on themselves then prevents the nominee from refusing. If they resist, their party (and even complete strangers) will urge them to “go on” or “live a little,” safe in the knowledge that if the nominee lives a little they won’t have to (at least not in this scene).

Ontroerend Goed combine participatory with one-on-one performance, using a speed-dating format to isolate each participant with one performer, which removes the usual recourse (hoping a more gregarious audience member will volunteer first) and forces them to play ball or completely derail the performance.

Provided the company knows what they’re doing, both techniques are actually equally effective at persuading the audience onto their feet. People seem to enjoy themselves more chasing Belt Up’s carrot than avoiding Tickled Pig’s stick, but the two companies tailor their techniques to their dramatic aims. Belt Up aim to foster a sense of relaxed camaraderie, while Tickled Pig aim to recreate the terror and humiliation of a real parents’ evening. No one technique is empirically the best way of using an audience; the whole crowd control spectrum is a toolbox for participatory dramatists.

15 August, 2009

The Trial ****

C Soco, 5 – 31 August 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

It’s often hard to see what’s going on in Belt Up’s immersive adaptation of Kafka’s absurdist work. You’re blindfolded from the moment you enter the C Soco squat; even once the blindfold is removed the space is thickly hazed, and the action often takes place beyond or amongst your fellow audience members. But perhaps this is for the best. There are monsters in the smoke.

The unjustly arrested Josef K is the only recognisably normal person in a world of grotesques. There’s extremely exaggerated vocal and physical work, a certain amount of sinister clowning, and one genuinely hideous creature: a head coated in smeared greasepaint, spitting obscenities above a monstrously obese body created from pulsating, ragged umbrellas, lit from within by golden light. It’s a bizarre, macabre, deeply unpleasant but utterly convincing world.

The company skilfully exploit the audience’s herd mentality to shepherd them into becoming corridors, portrait galleries and crowds of waiting defendants. But while the dialogue is always loud and clear enough, there are moments where it’s all too easy to get stuck behind two rows of people and miss the physical action. This engenders some empathy for K, who likewise is denied a view of the whole picture, but it’s still a wrench to miss a single eerie moment.

Written by Dominic J Allen after Franz Kafka

Crew includes

Cast includes

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11 August, 2009

The Tartuffe *****

C Soco, 5 – 31 August 2009

Reviewed for The List (issue 636)

Belt Up’s immersive Red Room programme was among the most exciting events at last year’s Fringe. Even sharing a line-up with six other highly praised productions, The Tartuffe managed to stand out. The 2009 version is even better.

The great (and immodest) French actor Orgon Poquelin and his company have left behind the plush decadence of the Red Room for a squat in a dilapidated wing of C Soco. The audience joins them, seated on a motley assortment of mattresses, bedsteads and sofas. Here, the players – actors playing actors playing characters, like meta-theatrical Russian dolls – perform the story of Orgon’s humiliation at the hands of the conman Tartuffe. Or rather, they skip, stutter and scrape through the story, interrupted at every turn by missed cues, prima donna mime artists and Orgon’s titanic ego.

The production – and the production within the production – runs on glorious, unfettered anarchy. Orgon’s company are as much at war with one another as the family they’re meant to be playing, indulging in playground one-upmanship that climaxes in the most elaborate postmodern mime battle royale ever seen on stage. Gratuitous violence, foul language and near-pornographic filth abound. Mime, straight acting, kabuki and street performance are brought out, dusted off, tried on, sent up and discarded again. Crimes against the fourth wall include offstage players commentating from the audience and constant pop culture references to everything from the Fringe to American Beauty via The Lion King and The Matrix.

But most impressive of all, the audience at The Tartuffe appears willing – even eager – to take part, practically leaping off their sofas to join the cast, beaming all over their faces. Crossing the fourth wall into the audience is one thing. Getting the audience to volunteer to cross back? Now that’s unprecedented.

Written by James Wilkes after Moliere

Crew includes Orgon Poquelin (director)

Cast includes Orgon Poquelin (himself)

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