Posts tagged ‘matt trueman’

2 November, 2010

Reviled. Respected. Revived.

I didn’t enjoy the Lyric Hammersmith’s revival of Blasted – but you’d think I was sick if I said I had, right?

Sarah Kane’s first play features rape (both explicit and implied), bigotry, despair, physical and psychological torture, the sucking-out of a man’s eyes and the cannibalism of a dead baby. What respite there is comes from the darkest possible humour. And Sean Holmes’s production both lingers on the atrocities, and punctuates them with eked-out moments of anticipation-laden near-inaction: held breaths of suffocating duration.

It’s not a play you enjoy; it’s one you endure.

When I arrive home from the theatre, the first thing my housemates ask is “Did you enjoy it?”. Taking in a show is a leisure pursuit, so it isn’t surprising that people judge the experience on how pleasurable it is. So can giving your audience a thoroughly miserable time ever be considered a valid artistic objective?

To mix my media momentarily and paraphrase Sally Sparrow from the Doctor Who episode Blink, sad is happy for deep people. Enjoyment isn’t necessarily every theatregoer’s goal or expectation; or at least, enjoyment can be reached by more than one route – for instance, via discomfort.

Stick with me.

In Blasted, the Soldier (Aidan Kelly) accuses journalist Ian (Danny Webb) of closing his eyes to the lives and hardships of the people he meets. To watch / endure Blasted, and not to turn away when (for instance) the Soldier goes to work on Ian, is to prove oneself better than Ian and the people he represents (you and I). The enjoyment to be had from the play is a kind of solemn, supercilious smugness. “I watched. I didn’t pretend it wasn’t happening. I faced it without flinching.”

But who left the auditorium resolved to pay more attention to foreign wars, or to the people sleeping in shop doorways on your way to work? Not I. I was just relieved it was over. That’s just the thing: it ends. You know it’ll end even if it seems interminable (and those dramaturgical held breaths of Holmes’s play havoc with your perception of time; it’s masterful). You’re allowed to stop facing it down – it lets you win the staring contest in a way real life never will. The victory is fiction, and the smugness is founded on fiction.

Written by Sarah Kane

Crew includes Sean Holmes (director), Stef O’Driscoll (assistant director), Paul Wills (designer), Paule Constable (lighting designer) and Christopher Smutt (sound designer)

Cast includes Aidan Kelly (Soldier), Danny Webb (Ian), Lydia Wilson (Cate)

Need a second opinion? (Or for someone to actually tell you whether the production / performances were any good?)

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29 September, 2010

“Get dressed. The big fellah’s on his way.”

Everyone and mother has reviewed The Big Fellah already, but here’s the stuff nobody mentioned.

The Shadow of Sean O’Casey

Matt Wolf compares Richard Bean to Martin McDonagh and (tangentially) Harold Pinter in his review for The Arts Desk. Matt Trueman similarly calls the setting “Pinteresque” and references McDonagh’s In Bruges. Writing for What’s On Stage, Michael Coveney compares The Big Fellah to Bill Morrison’s Flying Blind.

Worthy comparisons all, but I’m surprised no one cast back beyond Morrison and McDonagh to Sean O’Casey, the master of Troubles tragicomedy. It could be because I studied it exhaustively at A Level, but O’Casey’s The Shadow of a Gunman sprang to my mind as a comparison almost immediately.

Gunman is a lot more claustrophobic in terms of scale and timeframe, but the similarities are there nonetheless. There’s the setting: a safe house in a deprived area (O’Casey’s in a Dublin slum, Bean’s in a Bronx brownstone). There’s the man seduced by the patriotic allure of the IRA (O’Casey’s Donal Davoren, who likes the glamour, and Bean’s Michael Doyle, who joins up out of a sense of duty to the victims of Bloody Sunday, fuelled by imagined ancestral pride). There’s the IRA assassin, laying low (though, okay, Davoren’s only pretending while Bean’s Ruairi O’Drisceoil is the genuine article).

The other thing Bean’s play has that O’Casey’s doesn’t is redemption, which may stem from the fact that O’Casey was reporting live, right from the heart of the Troubles, whereas Bean is charting their history (or, if we’re really lucky, writing their obituary).

“Britain’s most provocative playwright”

Aleks Sierz boldly labels Richard Bean thusly in his review for The Stage, though in the comfort of his personal blog he qualifies the assertion with a “perhaps”. I work for Aleks at theatreVOICE (full disclosure!), so I hope he won’t mind me saying I don’t agree with his judgement on this one.

For a start, I hope that Richard Bean isn’t Britain’s most provocative playwright, because if all it takes to earn that epithet is to point out on the Olivier stage that Britain is historically hostile to immigrants (in England People Very Nice), British drama is in trouble. (Having said that, I’m not sure I can think who does deserve the title. Tim Crouch, maybe? Nominations in the comments, please.)

For a follow-up, I think that while England People Very Nice was a deliberately provocative play, The Big Fellah isn’t, and I don’t see the value in bringing up the playwright’s reputation for being provocative in relation to a non-provocative play, unless it’s to say “he’s usually provocative, but this isn’t”.

I suppose my issue is with the journalistic tendency to slap labels on people, as shorthand for readers (“Oh yeah, that guy”), and to apply those labels regardless of context – and not with Aleks (my editor) after all (phew!).

“Get dressed. The big fellah’s on his way.”

What none of the critical community fail to mention is Finbar Lynch’s captivating turn as David Costello, the eponymous Big Fellah. There’s also plenty of well-deserved praise for Rory Keenan as Ruairi (the main character, to my mind, and the most interesting, beating the big fellah by a hair’s breadth), though not nearly enough for Claire Rafferty as the vibrant Elizabeth Ryan.

Unfortunately reviewers’ word counts are such that, when you only appear in one scene of a two-hour production, and the quality of your performance is matched by certain of your fellow cast members, all of whom have more stage time, you get sidelined. Well, Rafferty’s performance is lively and earnest; she makes light work of some clanging mouthpiece-of-the-playwright lines; and for a few short minutes she matches the charismatic big fellah blow for verbal blow.

Now, did I miss anything?

Written by Richard Bean

Crew includes Max Stafford-Clark (director), Tim Shortall (designer), Jason Taylor (lighting) and Nick Manning (sound)

Cast includes Rory Keenan (Ruairi O’Drisceoil), Youssef Kerkour (Tom Billy Coyle), Finbar Lynch (David Costello), Claire Rafferty (Elizabeth Ryan), David Ricardo-Pearce (Michael Doyle), Fred Ridgeway (Frank McArdle) and Stephanie Street (Karelma)

Those reviews in full:

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.

Need a second opinion?

23 August, 2010

Threshold *****

Zoo Roxy, 9 – 20 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Everything about Threshold is a secret. The location is a secret. Most of what happens there is a secret. Whatever happens that isn’t a secret happens for secret reasons. Everything we learn is a secret revealed: scraps of overheard conversation; scenes glimpsed through the undergrowth; comments that slip out in unguarded moments: all information we know we shouldn’t know, and for that we treasure it all the more.

Three hours in the late afternoon is a big commitment at the Fringe. Be reassured that Threshold is a three-hour show, not a one-hour show plus two hours’ travel time, even though two of the three hours are spent travelling. The outward journey is for tipping us subtly, uncomfortably sideways and out of the real world. The return journey is for sharing the secrets we’ve learned. The moment you think it’s over is the moment Threshold puts on its triumphant final spurt. It is worth three hours of your time.

The middle hour is one of excitement, adventure, voyeurism, uncertainty, guilt and heartbreak. With a few deft touches our hosts gain our trust: from the start they trust us enough to share secrets, enough to rely implicitly on our support in a confrontation, and so we trust them back. When our guide breaks into a run and we follow suit without a thought it’s not just because we know we’ll get lost or miss the action if we don’t keep up; it’s because we understand why they’re running, so we run for the same reasons.

A secret isn’t a secret unless someone’s left in the dark. Roughly one fifth of the people that witness each major event in Threshold will be party to all the information required to fully understand it. Each occurrence we do understand strengthens our conviction that first, there must also be explanations for the events we find incomprehensible, and second, there will be people on the return journey who have discovered those explanations.

Whether anyone can be persuaded to reveal what they’ve learned is another matter. Threshold relinquishes but one piece of advice willingly: that some secrets are best kept locked away.

Written by Fred Gordon, Lowri Jenkins and Thomas McMullan

Crew includes Susanna Davies-Crook (director) and Vasiliki Giannoula (costume design)

Cast includes Kristina Epenetos, Nicky Ingram, Hayley Kasperczyk, George Kemp, Adam Loxley, Pablo Navarro-MacLochlainn, Tom Ross Williams and Seda Yildiz

Need a second opinion?

23 August, 2010

Others ****

Pleasance Courtyard, 4 – 29 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 665)

Jemma and Kylie, two thirds of the Paper Birds, perch in an armchair and speculate about Nazim, an Iranian woman Jemma’s been corresponding with by post. Maryam, the third Bird, plays Nazim, updating her performance to reflect her colleagues’ conclusions. Though based at first entirely on Nazim’s own words, the armchair pair’s enthusiastic deductions ramify farther and farther from the facts, bombarding Maryam with illogical abusive husbands and suicide bombings as she vainly attempts to draw attention to their fallacies.

Not only is this intensely comical – a rare achievement for a verbatim play – it’s also a playful dissection of the Birds’ own unconscious assumptions and prejudices, and of the conflict at the heart of all documentary and verbatim theatre: the one between entertaining an audience and being faithful to the source. And that’s just one scene.

What’s truly impressive about Others is its use of such inward-looking subject matter to interrogate a much bigger issue: the national media, which face essentially the same dilemma as documentary theatre, and seem (the Birds suggest) to be veering the wrong way.

Devised by Maryam Hamidi, Jemma McDonnell and Kylie Walsh

Crew includes Ellen Dowell (set design) and Marec Joyce (lighting design)

Need a second opinion?

11 July, 2010

One-on-One Festival

Abigail Conway in On Dancefloors, One-on-One Festival

Abigail Conway in On Dancefloors, One-on-One Festival. Image courtesy of Mobius Industries

Battersea Arts Centre, 6 – 18 July 2010

Written for the British Theatre Guide

The One-on-One Festival is a coming of age ceremony, celebrating the graduation of the one-on-one encounter from experiment to bona fide artistic genre. That the symbolically removed training wheels are replaced surreptitiously with alternative support arrangements is not necessarily an admission of weakness: some art forms are at their best when leaning on others.

Take any one-on-one encounter on an individual basis and it’s easy to see why the genre has been repeatedly accused of inherent exclusionism and insubstantiality. Encounters rarely last more than half an hour, and many little more than five minutes. For obvious logistical reasons, audience capacity is almost always severely limited.

But to consider individual examples in isolation is to be wilfully blinkered to the genre’s unique qualities – qualities the people at Battersea Arts Centre understand well, having personally supported the development of a good few practitioners through their Scratch Festivals and Supported Artist programme.

Hence no individual work is made the centrepiece of the One-on-One Festival. Instead, 30-odd artists are installed throughout the building, and a ticket gets you a sort of charm bracelet of encounters, with three appointments timetabled for you by BAC and the chance to accessorise the experience by discovering hidden extras in the interim.

Whether or not the experience satisfies therefore depends on BAC’s quasi-random allocation process, the skill of the artists and the adventurousness of the customer in roughly equal parts – which seems appropriate, given that the defining feature of one-on-one is an exchange between artist and participant.

Inevitably, with so many acts side by side, there’s still an element of exclusion: no one can see everything, and discovering something exciting only to be told you can’t experience it without an appointment is undeniably frustrating. But whereas the limited capacity of individual one-on-one works can feel unfair, like artificial scarcity calculated to drive demand, the issue here is that there’s too much to see and too little time, which is easier to deal with.

Likewise, certain of the acts are still as whimsical and weightless as spun sugar. Patrick Killoran’s Observation Deck, in which participants lie with heads and shoulders sticking out of a third-floor window for ten minutes, is something of a ‘so what?’ experience taken on its own, for example. But the One-on-One Festival experience as a whole can’t be as easily dismissed – not when it also contains Ontroerend Goed’s profoundly moving The Smile Off Your Face.

To demand that one-on-one encounters stand up to criticism when viewed in isolation is to approach them with a narrow mind. One-on-one is not theatre; the genre may have incubated in a theatrical environment but one-on-one encounters are not plays, or even necessarily performances, and it would be wrong to measure their success by theatre’s usual benchmarks.

One-on-one is collaboration. It’s exchange. It’s intimacy. It’s two people tied back to back, scaling the inside of a chimney: something neither one could do alone. Stop imagining one-on-one encounters taking place in theatres and start imagining, say, Folk in a Box installed at a music festival, or Franko B’s You Me Nothing in a modern art gallery. One-on-one will not be pigeonholed. Stop trying.

Need a second opinion?

25 June, 2010

Revolution Now!

The Gob Squad in Revolution Now!

The Gob Squad in Revolution Now! Image courtesy of The Corner Shop Public Relations & Marketing

Institute of Contemporary Arts, 24 – 26 June 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Hey you! The people! Listen up! This is a revolution, and in the absence of any clearly defined goals for change, this is our manifesto:

1. The revolution will be televised
Clichés out of the way first. This is a multimedia revolution. Cameras both handheld and static relay images between revolutionary HQ, in the ICA theatre, and the outside world of the Mall.

We in the auditorium may feel neglected when our leaders, the ragtag Gob Squad, turn their backs on us to address the cameras and the outside world, but we may be comforted by the sight of ourselves on the screen, as the Mall sees us, behind our leaders both literally and figuratively (and if we aren’t comforted, tough; this is the way the majority of the revolution will be played).

2. The revolution is participation
The revolution cannot succeed if no one is willing to stand up, to shake hands and chat with their neighbour, to lie on stage representing a corpse or to recite poetry on camera to whoever on the Mall might be listening.

3. The revolution is ambitious
Others before us have challenged themselves to elicit willing participation from the audience, who’ve chosen – even paid! – to attend, and who presumably have some inkling at least of what might be asked of them. Having achieved this trifle in the first ten minutes, this revolution is not afraid to dream bigger.

The ultimate prize: willing participation from a random passer-by on the Mall. Someone removed from the burgeoning community spirit in revolutionary HQ. Someone who sees, not a revolution, not even a piece of theatre, but a chugger in epaulettes.

4. The revolution does not recognise the possibility of failure
Some will interpret twenty fruitless minutes failing to persuade passers-by to forsake their trains and buses for the sake of revolution – twenty minutes culminating in the impromptu recruitment of playwright Tim Crouch from the ICA bar, to stand in for the People – as the failure of the revolution. But to implement a contingency plan or exit strategy would be to countenance failure, and that would run counter to the spirit of the revolution.

5. The revolution is perception – of yourself, your peers, your context and community
Those of us who were there will likely say that whatever failure occurred was on the part of the People, not of the revolution. The People are hostile, the People are suspicious, the People are closed off, unwilling to give anything of themselves.

But the People are also eloquent, politically savvy, friendly and socially responsible; all those contrasting things in the space of twenty minutes at one spot on the Mall. Just because the People won’t come inside and wave the flag doesn’t mean the People aren’t revolutionary.

Written by Gob Squad

Crew includes Gob Squad

Cast includes Gob Squad

Need a second opinion?

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)

Need a second opinion?

14 April, 2010

Tape

Old Red Lion Theatre Pub, 6 – 24 April 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Something’s rotten in the state of Michigan. In a motel room, old schoolfriends Vince and Jon (Kevin Watt and Mark Curtis, co-founders of Yaller Skunk Theatre Company) are drinking, getting high and revisiting the events of ten years ago, when they last saw one another. Jon’s perception of that night is that he slept with Vince’s ex-girlfriend; Vince sees things differently and is determined to show Jon his point of view.

That isn’t what’s rotten.

The production crams Tape’s big themes – can people change? does true forgiveness exist, and if people can change sufficiently, do we need it to? – into the intimate space that is the Old Red Lion, with explosive results. Belber’s play is pacey, dialogue-driven as opposed to wordy, and crazed through with dramatic reversals – of power balance and of self-perception. In 75 minutes, the only pause for breath is a convincingly inelegant tussle for the eponymous tape.

What’s rotten is that it’s hard to care.

For the first ten minutes, Jon and Vince each state and repeatedly reiterate that the other is a dick. They’re both right. Vince is a waster with a vindictive streak, unable to apply himself to anything more constructive than petty revenge. Jon is a self-satisfied pseudophilosopher who psychoanalyses his friends to prove he’s cleverer than them.

Which means the closest we come to emotional investment in the show is a shock of schadenfreude when the ex-girlfriend in question, Amy (Tara Carrozza), arrives and, within minutes, reframes the boys’ great moral debate as the petty schoolyard squabble it is.

Absent any love for either Jon or Vince, it takes some effort to care about the outcome of the reunion – and by extension their ongoing moral welfare – on anything other than an intellectual level. Intellectual curiosity doesn’t translate well into dramatic tension, and without that, even being towed behind the runaway juggernaut that is Belber’s script starts to lose its exhilarating appeal.

Written by Stephen Belber

Crew includes Julia Stubbs (director) and Gabriela Restelli (designer)

Cast includes Tara Carrozza (Amy), Mark Curtis (Jon) and Kevin Watt (Vin)

Need a second opinion?

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)

Need a second opinion?