Posts tagged ‘jo caird’

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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11 August, 2010

Poland 3 Iran 2 ***

Promo image for Poland 3 Iran 2

Promo image for Poland 3 Iran 2, courtesy of the EdFringe Media Office

Pleasance @ Thistle Street Bar, 4 – 28 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 664)

Iran’s narrow defeat at the hands of Poland in the 1978 World Cup serves more as punctuation than as the main text of this lecture-cum-barroom shaggy dog story. Lecture because its main visual element is a slideshow; barroom tale because it’s told in a tiny pub, as the bartender wipes glasses.

For Mehrdad Seyf (representing Iran), football is intertwined with politics. For his counterpart Chris (representing Poland; he’s Essex-born but his dad’s Polish), it’s something to obsess over. For both, the relationship between Iran and Poland has affected their family history.

The resulting I-go-you-go slideshow oscillates between the fascinating, the revealing, the confessional and the merely mildly interesting; and there are some lo-res clips of the match in question, as well. While both men are engaging speakers, and the venue encourages intimacy, the show’s demands on its audience are chiefly intellectual: to take in facts and trivia, and only to respond emotionally at infrequent moments (the tale of Mehrdad’s uncle, in particular). The highly emotive closing image therefore leaves us wondering whether we’ve missed something vital.

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1 February, 2010

Plan D

Tristan Bates Theatre, 25 January – 13 February 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

“[I]t is my intention that the play could be set or imagined in many times and places,” states Palestinian/Irish playwright Hannah Khalil of her new play, Plan D, in the programme notes. To that end the script is stripped of cultural, geographical and historical specificities – but far from imbuing it with universal applicability, this filing-off of the serial numbers makes the play feel generic and immaterial.

The plot is one we’ve all seen before. An apparently stable and contented family is exposed, here by the unexpected arrival of a cousin from a neighbouring village, as a much more fragile edifice than it initially appears. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a partially recycled plot, especially when it’s embedded in a refreshing new context, or accessorised with interesting peripheral events.

But in Plan D the context is deliberately obscured, with only Designer Paul Burgess’s generically Middle Eastern costumes to hint at the Palestinian setting.

Equally, the campaign of terror against which the domestic plot unfolds never feels close enough to be a credible threat to the family’s safety. They’re driven from their home by an anonymous detonation we never hear. The cousin hints at atrocities committed against his own village, but they never materialise in this one. Sarah Weltman’s soundscaping efficiently establishes a sense of place, but not of atmosphere: we never hear the wolves and wild boars the mother insists infest the wood.

Over and over the family tell us that they feel threatened and intimidated, and that the woods are a frightening place to be, but we never see, hear or experience the threat, which makes it difficult to believe the family is experiencing it either. Reported action is a valuable dramatic tool, but theatre is a primarily visual medium, and Plan D definitely tips over into telling, rather than showing.

Without context to colour it, the plot is left bare and unadorned, making it all the more noticeable that we’ve seen it done before. The plight of a single family becomes the focus, obscuring the bigger issue, that their experience is the experience of an entire culture, and that that experience still has yet to come to a conclusion.

Written by Hannah Khalil

Crew includes Chris White (director), Paul Burgess (designer), Sarah Weltman (sound designer) and Sam Moon (lighting designer)

Cast includes George Couyas (Father), Houda Echouafni (Mother), Leonard Fenton (Old Man), Amira Ghazalla (Grandmother), Kamal Kaan (Nephew), Louka Pierides (Daughter) and Richard Sumitro (Cousin)

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