Posts tagged ‘lyn gardner’

12 September, 2010

Punk Rock (2010)

Edward Franklin and Katie West in Punk Rock

Edward Franklin and Katie West in Punk Rock. Image courtesy of Amy Belson (Press Manager, Lyric Hammersmith)

Lyric Hammersmith, 6 – 18 September (then touring)

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

If you missed Simon Stephens’s Punk Rock this time last year, now’s your chance to make good. Despite only three of the original cast having survived to join this touring production, in most important respects it’s a facsimile of the premiere.

This is not an unequivocally good thing. While ultimately rewarding, Punk Rock is a slow starter. Until the interval, little happens besides a bunch of Stockport sixth-formers chatting in the library. What’s said is often insightful, sometimes suprising, and undaunted by big themes, but offers few clues about where the play might be headed. This is intentional, but potentially makes for a meandering, purposeless first half. The original production didn’t surmount this issue, and this one, being a near-perfect recreation, doesn’t either.

By the interval, enough tension has accumulated to tauten the sails and drive the play to its heart-thumping conclusion. A large portion of that tension is attributable to Bennett Francis, the bully whose faux-congenial humiliation games seem calculated to incubate retaliatory action.

Bennett’s is the only noticeably altered portrayal. In 2009, Henry Lloyd-Hughes lent the character a genuine affability that suggested he believed his own bullshit, that to him his victimisation of poor awkward genius Chadwick Meade really was just horseplay. With a sneering Edward Franklin in the blazer instead, Bennett is intentionally spiteful rather than monstrously insensitive; his villainy is a little more clear-cut, which peels an onionskin-thin layer of nuance away from the deliberately unfathomable climax.

Written by Simon Stephens

Crew includes Sarah Frankcom (director), Paul Wills (designer), Philip Gladwell (lighting designer), Pete Rice (sound designer) and Kate Waters (fight director)

Cast includes Nicholas Banks (Nicholas Chatman), Edward Franklin (Bennett Francis), Ruth Milne (Cissy Franks), Mike Noble (Chadwick Meade), Laura Pyper (Lily Cahill), Rupert Simonian (William Carlisle), Katie West (Tanya Gleason), Simon Wolfe (Dr Richard Harvey), Juliet York (Lucy Francis)

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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

Sub Rosa ****

Hill Street Theatre, 5 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

There’s an interesting push-me-pull-you effect going on between Sub Rosa and the Masonic lodge in which it’s staged. The building’s warren-like layout and Masonic décor naturally occasion a kind of superstitious reverence over and above what the play alone can evoke. Meanwhile, the production imposes its own, slightly broader brand of eerie, haunted-house ambience on the place.

The production – initially framed as an educational guided tour – takes place after dark, and the building is dimly lit. The geometric carvings of the Masons are picked out in sinister reds and lilacs, as is the backstage apparatus of the theatre: reminding us we’re backstage, after hours, seeing things normally kept out of the public eye.

Tours leave every ten minutes, so each group is never more than one room away from the next, but the layout of the building is such that with precise stage management, the groups can be completely concealed from each other. Creaking footsteps and hushed voices, just out of earshot, feel like an intentional part of the production.

But even once it’s taken full advantage of everything the site has to offer, the production still has to make impositions in order to evoke its desired Gothic atmosphere. Hidden speakers pipe in creepy rumblings and the crackle of flames. Once space is flooded with fog. A stuffed fox leers, spotlit, from a baluster, apropos of absolutely nothing. To achieve its goals, the production engages and cooperates with this specific site up to a certain point, then, perhaps faced with a shortfall of spookiness, turns to more generic techniques that could create the same effect in any building.

Probably not coincidentally, deliberately appearing to be something you’re not is a major theme of the play. Six ghosts stationed around the building recount the tale of the Winter Palace music hall and the power struggle between its manager, Mr Hunter (a Mason) and the newest chorus girl, Flora – and it isn’t a tale for the easily-made-queasy. Nothing is reenacted, only narrated, but David Leddy’s writing and the six actors’ intense performances are graphic and distressing enough to leave more sensitive patrons bent double deep-breathing on the stairs between scenes.

It is, however, neither exploitative nor gratuitous in its brutality. The script is poetic, and every word and image – even or perhaps especially the gruesome ones – is included in the service of the story, not to cause cheap shocks.

Written by David Leddy

Crew includes David Leddy (director), Nich Smith (lighting design) and Graham Sutherland (sound design)

Cast includes Angela Darcy (Millie Merkeley), Claire Dargo (Ida McCracken), Isabella Jarrett (Miss Thorn), Isabelle Joss (Dillie Merkeley), Adam McNamara (Svaty Václav) and Benny Young (Angus MacNeil)

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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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16 August, 2010

The Vanishing Horizon ****

The Zoo, 8 – 27 August 2010

Review for The List (issue 664)

Did someone accuse Idle Motion of being one-hit wonders? Because as if in response to such an accusation, the company has recreated the success of its 2009 smash Borges and I with near-scientific precision. Recreated, that is, as opposed to surpassed.

Make no mistake, The Vanishing Horizon is still one of the most compelling shows you’re likely to see at this year’s Fringe: an exquisite weaving-together of music, text, movement and design in which each element supports and bolsters every other. But the pattern of the weave remains exactly the same as for Borges and I: suitcases replace books, pioneering aviatrixes replace Jorge Luis Borges and the heartache of an absent parent replaces that of impending sight loss, but the proportions remain comfortably unchanged.

Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with sticking to a winning formula, and winning this formula certainly is: the luggage-based set pieces alone are so delightfully innovative that some spark spontaneous applause when deployed. Surely, though, innovation of this calibre could be put to better use than reliving past successes.

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7 August, 2010

Flesh and Blood and Fish and Fowl ***

Flesh and Blood and Fish and Fowl promo image

Flesh and Blood and Fish and Fowl promo image, courtesy of the EdFringe Media Office

Traverse @ St Stephen’s, 4 – 28 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 663)

When the human race has all but died out, when the Earth has erased almost all evidence of our existence, the last redoubt of our once great civilisation will be … the back office of a microwave meal manufacturer.

As a premise, it sounds half-baked; but like Flesh and Blood and Fish and Fowl itself, the more you stew on it, the more sense it makes. Jerry (Geoff Sobelle) and Rhoda (Charlotte Ford) are the logical conclusion of the typical office environment, where a trip to the watercooler has more to do with marking time than with thirst: they cling to office etiquette even as creepers and critters encroach inexorably on their cubicles.

Sobelle’s considerable clowning skills get a thorough workout, parodying displacement activities from photocopying to fly-swatting. But it’s the bizarre work of the clearly unhinged Jessica Grindstaff and Erik Sanko – puppeteering and remote-controlling stuffed woodland creatures that peek from drawers or erupt from boxes of printer paper – that eventually leaves the audience as hysterical as the characters, laughing uncontrollably with next to no idea why.

Written by Geoff Sobelle and Charlotte Ford

Crew includes Jessica Grindstaff and Erik Sanko (set and puppet designers), James Clotfelter (lighting designer) and Nick Kourtides (sound designer)

Cast includes Charlotte Ford (Rhoda) and Geoff Sobelle (Jerry)

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15 July, 2010

Third Person Bonnie & Clyde Redux

Andrew  Westerside and Gillian Lees in Third Person Bonnie & Clyde Redux

Andrew Westerside and Gillian Lees in Third Person Bonnie & Clyde Redux. Image courtesy of Soho Theatre

Soho Theatre, 12 – 24 July 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Are you sitting comfortably? Serial bank robbery and the murder of eleven people wouldn’t exactly look at home behind the round window, but even though Proto-type’s account of Bonnie and Clyde’s lives of crime is unflinching about the facts, the entire production is suffused with the nostalgic tang of CBBC.

It has a lot to do with Andrew ‘Wes’ Westerside, who has that quiffed, pastel-shirted look and not-quite-but-nearly patronising delivery stereotypical of children’s television presenters (though he does offset that by saying “fuck” occasionally).

Then there’s the storytelling style, in which the two tellers remain out of character (or at least, not in character as our two outlaws) and represent events with Sharpie sketches on OHP transparencies, or tiny figurines, projected large on the wall for all the boys and girls to see.

In fact, even more than children’s television, what Redux calls to mind is a history lesson delivered by a pair of young, hip and progressive primary school teachers, determined not to patronise the class by editing out the sobering details.

Westerside and his compatriot Gillian Lees comment and interpret as they recount, discussing what Bonnie and Clyde might have thought or felt or said at important junctures – but their conclusions aren’t especially surprising or insightful (the pair were probably scared; maybe it was being poor that drove them to rob banks; getting shot must really hurt), so instead of revealing, the show becomes didactic.

Perhaps because that didactic storytelling style leaves the audience little to mull over, or perhaps because sitting in a theatre primes the mind to expect characters – as opposed to biographical details plus speculation – the most intriguing thing about the production is the chemistry between Lees and Westerside. “We are not lovers,” Lees proclaims right from the off; the two exchange a shy glance, knowingly performative, and the rest of the hour is spent finding excuses to touch, or to ask one another deeply personal questions that lead circuitously back to Bonnie and Clyde.

Its subtly and charmingly pulled off, for all that it is noticeably performative, but those little interactions should be one instrument in an ensemble; they shouldn’t need to carry the concert solo.

Alternate ending (which I wrote and then discarded as style over substance: I liked the simile but it didn’t represent my opinion of the show accurately enough)

Yes, that’s right, there’s always one boy at the back of the class who, even when the teachers are talking cops and robbers and stakeouts and gunfights and murder, passes notes saying “The teachers are totally doing it, pass it on.” But if Mr Westerside (sorry, Wes) and Ms Lees can’t hold that one boy’s attention even with talk of cops and robbers and so on, what does that say about their teaching?

Written by Gillian Lees and Andrew Westerside

Crew includes Peter S. Petralia (director), David McBride (lighting) and Duncan Speakerman (music)

Cast includes Gillian Lees and Andrew Westerside

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18 June, 2010

Wild Horses

Theatre 503, 15 June – 10 July 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Don’t try to deviate from your designated channel through life. It only leads to heartbreak: lost friends and unfulfilled ambitions for Ellie (Jessica Clarke), the main character in Nimer Rashed’s Wild Horses, and a near-fatal final act derailment for the play itself.

Seventeen-year-old Ellie (that’s Eleanor, not Elizabeth) is welcomed gingerly back to Eastbourne after six months AWOL with an older man. Her eyes have been opened just enough to take the shine off the idea of a job in Tesco’s and two point four children with sweet but goofy on-again-off-again Darren (John Trindle).

Meanwhile the friends and family she left behind have – discourteously – failed to stay the way she left them, so she can’t even lord her new-found worldliness over them. Her Dad’s transferred his fatherly affection to Carol Vorderman, her best mate Zoe’s about to turn the tables and abandon her for the bright lights of Camp America – even Darren smokes a pipe now.

In short, Ellie would have been happier accepting the hand life dealt her, instead of chasing romance and ambition. Her guilt over disappearing makes her incapable of refusing anything she’s exhorted to promise, which leads to a string of broken oaths, until no one trusts her but the reassuring, though mysteriously recurring, Tom Kanji.

All of which is captivating enough, but though Rashed’s plot threads are many-hued and skilfully interwoven, all but one is hacked off and left to dangle. What’s more, the one that is given some closure isn’t introduced – or even really hinted at – until the final act.

What Rashed’s going for is a daring last-minute rug-pull à la Theatre503’s last big hit, The Mountaintop. Ideally the rug should be swept stylishly out from under us, exposing the glass floor below, so we realise with wonderment that all along the play was not what we unimaginatively assumed it was. What actually happens is the rug snags, and we’re left sprawled on bruised behinds, humiliated, birdies circling our heads as we squint uncomprehendingly at the Dadaist magic-eye ceiling tiles, until the play apologises, replaces the now-ragged rug and pretends the whole incident never happened.

It’s never a mistake to dare to try something bold and different. But as Ellie learns, when it turns out you were wrong, admitting it – to yourself and others – is the only way to move on.

Written by Nimer Rashed

Crew includes Nadia Latif (director) and Lorna Ritchie (designer)

Cast includes Jade Anouka (Zoe), Jessica Clarke (Ellie Porter), Amanda Daniels (Jen Porter), Tom Kanji (Dr Gupta/Satyajit/Shanti), Patrick Toomey (Paul Porter) and John Trindle (Darren)

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24 March, 2010

4.48 Psychosis

Magdalena Cielecka in 4.48 Psychosis

Magdalena Cielecka in 4.48 Psychosis. Image by Stefan Okołowicz

Barbican, 23 – 27 March 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide and cross-posted to The Collective Review

4.48 Psychosis is a gift for a director. Kane’s text – her last – is more prose poem than script, lacking stage directions or delineated characters: a nearly blank slate onto which a director can impose context, character and narrative. To Grzegorz Jarzyna, of Polish company TR Warszawa, that creative freedom is a double-edged sword: by over-exercising it in certain areas, he almost crowds out the strongest elements of his interpretation.

Every scene of this Polish language production has its conceit. In one, pills rain from a table onto the floor. In another, lead performer Magdalena Cielecka is silently mirrored by a small girl. Later, a naked old woman circumnavigates the stage while Cielecka speaks. These images are more of a visual accompaniment to the dialogue than an interpretation of it, and actually serve to distract from the production’s main strengths.

One of these is the oppressive atmosphere, sustained largely by the monotonous bass drones and seasick pitchshifted showtunes of Piotr Dominski’s soundscape. Combine that with lighting designer Felice Ross’s palette of confining spots and sickly washes and even the 1,166-seater Barbican Theatre starts to feel claustrophobic.

But the production’s stand-out, defining feature is Magdalena Cielecka’s performance. Her every twitch, tic and gesture is more fascinating and meaningful than the production’s whole complement of devices and visual metaphors.

As she details her planned method of suicide, she clutches her belly, or wrings her hands together masturbatorily through her trouser pockets. Eloquently but venomously she rails against the doctors that rattle off easy chemical fixes for her every symptom, and against the people and circumstances she blames for them.

It’s clear without any supplementary imagery that this person is grieving rather than self-pitying, that she’s damaged as much by unfeeling diagnoses and labels as by whatever’s happening inside her, and that, far from taking the easy way out, she’s desperate to free herself by any means, however extreme.

It takes until the play’s final passage for Jarzyna to whisk away all the window dressing. Here Cielecka’s face, softly illuminated by a narrow spot, is all that’s visible on an otherwise darkened stage; Jarzyna decodes Kane’s final lines solely through the medium of his star’s delivery and countenance. It’s revealing that this understated moment, rather than, say, Cielecka’s earlier crazed, blood-drenched assault on the cyc, is the production’s most enthralling.

Written by Sarah Kane

Crew includes Grzegorz Jarzyna (director), Małgorzata Szczęśniak (set design), Piotr Domiński (music and sound design) and Felice Ross (lighting design)

Cast includes Mariusz Benoit, Janusz Chabior, Magdalena Cielecka, Katarzyna Herman and Rafał Maćkowiak

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6 March, 2010

The Poof Downstairs

Battersea Arts Centre, 4 – 20 March 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

The Poof Downstairs hinges on a single, simple metatheatrical gimmick. Is gimmick too negative a word? A better word might be conceit. It hinges on a metatheatrical conceit and cannot be effectively reviewed unless said conceit is revealed – regrettably deadening future audiences’ feelings of whimsical bafflement, but that’s theatre criticism for you. So apologies to Jon Haynes –

Actually, to understand the gimmick – the conceit – it’s probably necessary to know something about Jon Haynes, the writer and lead performer. Haynes is one of the co-founders of Ridiculusmus; The Poof Downstairs is semi-autobiographical, featuring a married couple based on Haynes’ parents. In an unlikely metatheatrical coincidence, Haynes’ onstage father is played by his real-life childhood friend Charles Millington –

Unfortunately, though, Millington’s performance is unreviewable at the current time, as he was unable to perform on press night due to unforeseen personal circumstances; also, as Haynes mentioned when announcing this fact, the pair were never childhood friends, more schoolyard acquaintances. Thankfully Millington’s understudy, Jon Haynes, is a capable character actor and delivers an understated but compelling portrait of the dour, gruff father –

Speaking of dour, it’s probably worth mentioning (purely for added context) Haynes’ well-documented deadpan disdain for the London new writing scene, because his disillusionment manages to colour his performance even though the subject matter of The Poof Downstairs has little to do with theatre. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as his throwaway snarky asides are amusing, especially to those with some knowledge of –

But none of this is germane without knowledge of the show’s foundational conceit, which is – what, only ten words left? Sorry to disappoint – didn’t think that would take so long.

Written by Jon Haynes

Cast includes Jon Haynes (Jeremy), Charles Millington (Father) and Patrizia Paolini (Mother)

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