Posts tagged ‘jessica brewster’

27 September, 2010

Theatre Souk

Natural Shocks in Between Death and Nowhere (or The Stairwell) at Theatre Souk

Natural Shocks in Between Death and Nowhere (or The Stairwell) at Theatre Souk. Image courtesy of theatredelicatessen on Flickr

3-4 Picton Place, 14 September – 16 October 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

If George Osborne slashes public subsidy for the arts on 20 October – something most of us have now privately accepted as inevitable, I Value The Arts campaigns notwithstanding – then to survive, theatre will have to start behaving like any other commodity: subject to the same market forces as a falafel wrap or a wire sculpture.

Theatre Souk, then, is a glimpse of the near future. Eleven companies have pitched their stalls in Theatre Delicatessen’s Picton Place building, there to vie like costermongers for consumers’ attention and pocket change. Theatre Delicatessen aren’t charging their tenants rent, so transactions are uncomplicated by overheads, processing fees or middlepeople: what you pay is, ipso facto, what the product is worth.

The experience calls to mind more than one kind of marketplace; the limited amount of time available, compared to the number of acts on offer, makes of us speculators as well as consumers. The set-up encourages judgement of artistic merit in terms of return on investment: is it better value for money to see as much as possible, spending recklessly but spreading your bets? or to invest conservatively in high-yield products like .dash’s Chaika Casino, which can potentially provide a whole evening’s entertainment for a one-off entry fee?

Your decision in this regard reveals something about your attitude towards money, and about the ways you judge the value of an artistic work; it’s then up to the works themselves to challenge those attitudes and judgements. The Lab Collective tackle our demonisation of bankers in Matador, a one-man play that’s simultaneously an apology and a shaming accusation. Flabbergast’s Puppet Poker Pit is an amoral morality fable starring a violent, foul-mouthed puppet determined to renege on the ultimate poker debt.

Only HalfCut truly follow through on the potential of the Souk format by allowing customers to pay more for a more intense experience. It’s at once playful and tense, asking penetrating questions about the commoditisation and value of people, their bodies and their comfort, while still clearly being all in good fun. But this marketplace’s must-buy product is Natural Shocks’ Between Life and Nowhere, a heartbreaking yet life-affirming aerial partner dance devised especially for the building’s stairwell.

If Theatre Souk is a projection of theatre’s likely future post-spending review, can George Osborne cut subsidies with a clear conscience, knowing theatre will survive commoditisation? Not quite. The Souk as a whole has an entry fee; fees for individual performances are a premium on top of that, an upgrade from a bland economy-class evening spent wandering the fee-free interstices to a business-class experience with in-flight entertainment. Whether it represents a failure of Theatre Delicatessen’s experiment or a piece of veiled anti-cuts propaganda, Theatre Souk positions theatre firmly as a luxury commodity.

Crew includes Jessica Brewster, Frances Loy and Roland Smith (joint artistic directors)

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14 September, 2010

Theatre Delicatessen and the site-specific Souk

Recorded for theatreVOICE at 3-4 Picton Place, London, 13 September 2010

Interview: Jessica Brewster. The Joint Artistic Director of Theatre Delicatessen talks to Matt Boothman about the company’s occupation of derelict spaces in affluent areas of London, and about Theatre Souk, a ‘theatre marketplace’ in which acts and audiences haggle over what each performance is worth. Recorded at 3-4 Picton Place, London.

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.

29 April, 2009

The Winter’s Tale

Cavendish Gate (295 Regent Street), 14 April – 16 May 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

There’s a reason The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s less frequently performed plays. Halfway through it suffers a jarring tonal shift that makes it difficult to direct in a unified and consistent style.

For Theatre Delicatessen’s latest production in derelict office building Cavendish Gate, director Jessica Brewster has wholeheartedly embraced the schism. The stylistic split extends to the design, the staging and most other aspects of production.

The first half, in which king Leontes of Sicilia (Tom Daplyn) misinterprets a few chance remarks as evidence of his queen’s infidelity, is cramped into a gloomy corner of the space and populated by sombrely suited East End gangsters.

For the second, in which Leontes’ abandoned daughter (Sarah Llewellyn-Shore) is courted by the heir of Bohemia (Jonathan Laury), the space opens up into a flower-strewn square hung with colourful streamers, and peasant girls in bright dresses cavort with the audience.

It’s probably the only constructive way to deal with the play’s inherent split personality. Plus it makes for an spectacular end to the first half, where the walls concertina back to reveal designer Sophie Mosberger’s jazzy Latin marketplace.

The danger with this approach is that it simultaneously magnifies the play’s flaws and introduces new inconsistencies. Sicilia is London, the Sicilian court a crime family with matching black suits and sword tattoos; Bohemia, on the other hand, is less easily located in reality, with its Latin vibe and West Country accents.

Updating Shakespeare without touching the script is such common practice that nobody really thinks about it any more. Pick a period setting, costume the cast accordingly, perhaps coach them in the appropriate accents, but don’t worry about the anachronistic language, references and hierarchies (what is the East End equivalent of the Delphic Oracle, and how does it know what it knows?).

Of course, it’s usually done with the best of intentions – to refresh plays that are well known to the point of over-familiarity – and it can be done very well, but the majority of the time it results in a purely superficial update, where only the design locates the production in the director’s chosen setting.

More importantly, though, Theatre Delicatessen’s production doesn’t make the best use of the space. The company clearly love Cavendish Gate and consider its dingy bare brickwork and peeling paint one of their primary assets, yet we spend nearly two hours squashed into a tenth of the available area.

The Winter’s Tale is a problematic play, and a brave and risky choice for Theatre Delicatessen. The production falls victim to all the play’s known issues, yet it’s difficult to pinpoint what the company could have done better – other than to stage a different play.

Written by William Shakespeare

Crew includes Jessica Brewster (director), Sophie Mosberger (designer) and Florencia Cordeu (movement director)

Cast includes Florencia Cordeu (Paulina/Time), Tom Daplyn (Leontes/Old Shepherd), Jonathan Laury (Antigonus/Florizel), Sarah Llewellyn-Shore (Perdita), Laura Martin-Simpson (Hermione/First Gentleman), Henry Maynard (Polixenes/Officer) and Graham O’Mara (Camillo/Jailor/Third Gentleman)

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