Posts tagged ‘dominic j allen’

26 October, 2010

Lorca is Dead (and behind the scenes, I thought I was too)

I don’t particularly want to relive this, but I think it’s important to get it out in the open.

My review of Belt Up‘s Lorca is Dead for The List, which you can find on, here on my blog or in issue 664 of The List magazine, is not the first review I wrote of that show. Compare and contrast the version I originally submitted to The List:

I admit it: I wanted Lorca is Dead to be a repeat of Belt Up’s five-star masterpiece The Tartuffe, and that was very wrong of me. Earlier this year at the York Theatre Royal, the company permanently retired The Tartuffe by killing off its protagonist, Orgon Poquelin; but Lorca is Dead sounded similar enough on paper that I dared hope for another zany laugh-a-minute anarch-o-thon to fill the void.

The two plays share a writer, Dominic J Allen, and both centre around a group of artists with a loose grip on reality (in this case the Paris Surrealists). The larger-than-life characters, plays within plays within plays, and stream-of-consciousness storytelling style that characterise Allen’s writing are all present in both cases. In Lorca is Dead, however, he uses those tools to create, not wacky hijinks, but unease, unrest and melancholy. Someone has, after all, died.

That isn’t to say there are no hijinks at all; there are, courtesy of a dangerously egomaniacal Salvador Dalí, but they’re denounced by all as disrespectful, and cause much of the aforementioned unease. Dalí’s plot to rewrite the history of the Surrealist movement with himself at the centre, using the time machine Antonin Artaud created to help tell Lorca’s life story, is just one of the play’s many parallel threads. The Surrealists re-enact Lorca’s life story, passing him like a baton amongst themselves and the audience; meanwhile the movement is succumbing to infighting caused by political, philosophical and personal differences, exacerbated by Dalí.

So much happens, and continues happening, all at once, throughout the play, that not everything gets a sufficient airing, and the pace drops occasionally when two threads intersect and the ensemble can’t change direction fast enough. But whatever the play’s flaws, at least it isn’t what I wanted: more of the same.

Shortly after this review appeared on – but thankfully well before it was due to appear in print – I received the following email from James Wilkes, one of Belt Up’s artistic directors.

from James Wilkes
to Matt Boothman
date 12 August 2010 16:08
subject Re: Preview

Hi Matt

Just caught your review of Lorca. Could you retract the statement about the two plays having the same writer, this is factually inaccurate. I wrote The Tartuffe, Dominic J Allen wrote Lorca. We are two very different writers aiming for different ends.

Thankyou very much for your support for The Tartuffe but as a company, we appreciate reviewers commenting more on what the plays are, not what they’re not. I hope you can find the time to return to the play with a more open mind.

James Wilkes
Co-Artistic Director
Belt Up Theatre

Which was like a kick to the solar plexus, for a number of reasons: realisation I’d screwed up professionally in a way that didn’t affect only me; realisation I’d done an injustice to a company whose work I’ve always enjoyed (and with whom I’d had, I think, as cordial a relationship as a reviewer can have with artists); realisation that I’d have to re-review the show that night, which happened to be my busiest night of the Fringe so far (including the Lorca is Dead re-review, I wrote six reviews that night – or rather, the next morning, as I was reviewing comedy and typically arriving back at my flat around 1:30am).

Once I’d caught my breath I sent this email back:

from Matt Boothman
to James Wilkes
date 12 August 2010 19:23
subject Re: Preview

Dear James,

I’ve contacted my editor about the offending review and it should be removed from the site soon. I will be rewriting it in its entirety tonight. I hope you’ll accept my sincere and unreserved apologies for the error.

Upon leaving Lorca is Dead, I realised I had approached the play with certain preconceptions, and felt that it was important to disclose this and address the effect it had on my reaction to the piece. I realised that in taking this approach I ran the risk of failing to discuss the piece on its own merits; clearly I allowed that risk to get the better of me, and as you’ve pointed out, the preconceptions I identified were based on wrongful assumptions from the start. The review was a near-total failure on my part.

I’m sorry once again for failing your show, and I hope my second attempt to review it will do it justice in a way we can all be satisfied with.

Best wishes,

Matt Boothman
Freelance Arts Journalist

To my relief, James responded not long afterwards with this:

from James Wilkes
to Matt Boothman
date 12 August 2010 20:47
subject Re: Preview

Hi Matt

Cheers for this. The ensemble really appreciate it.

Let me know if you’d like to come see the show again.

Once again, we really appreciate your response.


James Wilkes
Co-Artistic Director
Belt Up Theatre

I was going to write some kind of homily off the back of this: something about the damaging effect of preconceptions on theatre reviews; or about reviewer hubris (“I know this company’s work really well,” I thought; “I don’t need to double-check who wrote what before basing a whole argument around it”); or about artists’ right to reply to reviews.

But I don’t think anyone needs me to spell out the lessons to be learned from this incident. Just don’t do what I did.

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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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

Need a second opinion?

7 November, 2009

Plus One Podcast: Belt Up at Southwark Playhouse

In which I discuss York-based immersive theatre company Belt Up’s double bill at Southwark Playhouse with one of its co-directors, James Wilkes.

Unfortunately, because my podcast host only gives me limited storage space, I’ve had to take this episode down to make room for new ones. If you’d like to listen to it, send an email to mail at mattboothman dot com with PLUS ONE 001 as the subject line, and I’ll SendSpace it to you direct.

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.

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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