Posts tagged ‘music omh’

11 July, 2010

The Comedy of Errors

Sophie  Roberts and Daniel Weyman in The Comedy of Errors

Sophie Roberts and Daniel Weyman in The Comedy of Errors. Image courtesy of The Corner Shop

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, 24 June – 31 July 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

The first and final scenes of this open-air Comedy of Errors feel dashed off, as if director Philip Franks couldn’t be bothered to do much with them. This isn’t as big a problem as it might be in a different play: The Comedy of Errors is mostly middle.

Franks appears to have judged, by no means incorrectly, that the sob story Egeon (Christopher Ravenscroft) feeds the Duke (Alister Cameron) in scene one isn’t nearly as important to the audience as it is to Egeon (who is, after all, telling it in order to secure himself a stay of execution). Adoptions and shipwrecks don’t concern us. All we need to know is that two sets of estranged identical twins are about to be set loose in Ephesus and hilarity, as they say, will ensue.

So yes, the opening scene is interminable, there’s little evidence of “grief unspeakable” in Ravenscroft’s performance and as such his climactic reunion with his wife and sons is emotionally flat. But as soon as Egeon yields the stage to the twin Antipholi and Dromios, Franks and the audience alike sit up and start paying attention.

The production has a fantastic sense of fun, embracing the absurdity of the play’s premise and embellishing it with brand new absurdities, like unexpected song and dance numbers and Scooby-Doo-style pursuits with mobs racing past people hidden in convenient wicker baskets.

The contrasting relationships of the Antipholi (Daniels Weyman and Llewelyn-Williams) to their respective Dromios (Joseph Kloska and Josh Cohen) are convincingly fleshed out: Ephesian Dromio (Cohen) is beaten and put-upon by his wealthy master (Llewelyn-Williams) but they always make up in the end, while the less affluent Syracusan pair are on a more equal footing.

This means that when the Antipholi unwittingly swap Dromios or vice versa, as they inevitably must, there’s an extra level of humour to enjoy. One Dromio leaves in search of bail money for Antipholus and another returns with a bit of rope – that’s worth a giggle. But when Ephesian Antipholus, used to getting his own way, is faced with a Dromio who isn’t used to taking orders, hilarity ensues.

Perhaps if Franks had paid as much attention to Egeon’s characterisation as to the twins’, the production could have gained yet another layer, this time of poignancy. But this production gets belly laughs from a capacity crowd using Elizabethan dialogue, so I say, who needs depth when hilarity is ensuing?

Written by William Shakespeare

Crew includes Philip Franks (director), Gideon Davey (designer), Quinny Sacks (movement director), Paul Frankish (musical director)

Cast includes Alister Cameron (Duke), Josh Cohen (Dromio of Ephesus), Joseph Kloska (Dromio of Syracuse), Daniel Llewelyn-Williams (Antipholus of Ephesus), Christopher Ravenscroft (Egeon), Daniel Weyman (Antipholus of Syracuse)

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14 May, 2010

The Human Computer

Will Adamsdale in The Human Computer

Will Adamsdale in The Human Computer. Image by Sheila Burnett

Battersea Arts Centre, 12 – 15 May 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

What must we all look like, staring into our screens, Googling and Facebooking and Twittering? Only one man has the perspective to tell us, and the only way he knows how to tell us is with props cobbled together out of cardboard and masking tape.

Will Adamsdale is 36, and didn’t send his first email until the year 2005. The Human Computer is both a confession and a defence of his IT incompetence, and an attempt at both confrontation and reconciliation with his whirring, beeping nemesis.

It’s also a clumsy, ramshackle mess of a show, as scrappily constructed as the cardboard cursors and dialog boxes he wields and flings around the stage.

There is a rough three-act structure lurking under all the pasted-on stuff and business. The first, a sort of stand-up routine recounting Adamsdale’s history of stubbornly avoiding technology, is not the most engaging possible opening, and in hindsight appears to exist mainly to set up gags that will pay off later.

The second act, in which Adamsdale transforms the stage into a cardboard computer screen and invites the audience – armed with a pointer on a stick – to browse his hard drive for anecdotes, songs and silly dances, is simply inspired. As if his pitch-perfect satire of the Windows startup sequence wasn’t enough, there’s also the guiltily, gleefully enjoyable potential for the audience to catch the performer out, to overclock him or simply make him squirm – and his ‘programs’ are amongst the most genuinely funny material in the show.

As for the final third – well, imagine Tron, as written and performed by a Luddite with an unlimited supply of corrugated card and felt-tip pens, and you’re approaching the right idea.

The rickety construction of both the stage and the script is clearly deliberate, and for much of the show it actually holds together surprisingly well considering the whole thing’s propped up on charm and positive thinking. But inevitably there comes a moment when Adamsdale’s energy lets up just long enough for the audience to breathe, take a step back and gain some perspective; and in that moment the show is lost, because perspective unhelpfully reminds us that, theatrical or not, what we’re actually seeing is not a human computer but a man waving a cardboard arrow and talking like Tim Nice But Dim.

Written by Will Adamsdale

Crew includes Kate McGrath (dramaturg)

Cast includes Will Adamsdale (himself, various)

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9 May, 2010

The Riddle of the Sands

Matthew Brown and Tom Micklem in The Riddle of the Sands

Matthew Brown and Tom Micklem in The Riddle of the Sands. Image courtesy of Clout Communications

Jermyn Street Theatre, 7 – 22 May 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Espionage drama these days is such serious business. It’s all split screens, ticking time bombs and torture. It’s enough to make one yearn for simpler times, when a rather staid civil servant type could foil a dastardly German plot in the course of a yachting holiday in the Baltics.

Enter Chalkfoot Theatre Arts, with an inventive adaptation of Erskine Childers’ novel The Riddle of the Sands. The story’s influence on writers like Fleming, Buchan and Le Carré is so clear throughout that it’s hard to fathom why Childers isn’t more of a household name; perhaps this production can help rectify that, at least for as many households as will fit in the cosy Jermyn Street Theatre.

What the production lacks in tension – and there is some, but no more than in, say, an episode of Scooby-Doo – it makes up for in playful good humour. A boat chase is acted out using a pair of little models, which the two performers wave about with deadly seriousness. A climactic dinner party makes a comedic virtue of the unfavourable performer to character ratio. The yacht’s low ceilings and narrow companionways make for some mime-based sight gags that could almost be called clowning.

It’s a cuddly, rose-tinted portrait of a time when baddies obligingly labelled themselves as such with eyepatches and wobbly German accents; a time when heroes needed no more motivation than a spirit of adventure and a sense of patriotic duty. In reality there probably never was such a time, but to imagine there was is a welcome change of pace from an increasingly tense, suspicious, cynical world.

Written by Philip Dart

Crew includes Philip Dart (director), Lia Prentaki (movement director), Phil Newman (set & costume design)

Cast includes Matthew Brown (Carruthers and others) and Tom Micklem (Davies and others)

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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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6 March, 2010


Battersea Arts Centre, 2 – 20 & 25 March 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

A charitable movie reviewer might describe Return as “beautifully shot”. It’s one of those low-budget British films so beloved of awards committees, in which nothing very much happens but every frame is painstakingly composed, every close-up and gradual fade-through-black marinaded in a rich sense of atmosphere and place.

Its saving grace – unless you enjoy that kind of film, if “enjoy” is the word – is that it’s communicated not via projector and silver screen, but by affable spoken-word artist Polarbear, who describes the shots, cuts and sets, and speaks the dialogue. Everything from the text to the staging is pared back to allow maximum space for imaginative interpretation and visualisation: this film is projected direct into our heads.

It’s at once a consummately individual and a community experience. Unlike in the cinema, every member of the audience “sees” a different product, tinting and skewing the skeletal structure Polarbear provides with their own memories and prejudices. But his screenplay-inspired language is inherently inclusive, dependent as is it on the pronoun “we”: “We start with a close-up”, “We zoom through the windscreen”.

Given all of the above, Return ought to be considerably more engrossing than it is. The problem is that the “film” itself is less interesting than the way it’s presented.

It concerns Noah, a young man who once ascribed all his problems to his location, subsequently escaped, and on returning finds himself appalled by how little has changed, but affronted by those things that have. Even though Noah’s experience is common and relatable, and his sniping, pop-culture-rich rapport with his college drop-out brother is warmly and incisively observed, having Polarbear narrate the film is still preferable to seeing it on screen. Return is, in other words, a successful spoken-word adaptation of a sadly unsuccessful film.

Written by Polarbear

Crew includes Yael Shavit (director/script development), Marie Blunck (designer) and Mark Howland (lighting)

Cast includes Polarbear

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3 February, 2010

My Stories, Your Emails

Barbican, 2 – 13 February 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Ursula Martinez is an enigma and so is her new solo show, My Stories, Your Emails. An original member of La Clique, Martinez exists in the borderlands between stand-up comedy, burlesque dance, stage magic and performance art. Similarly, My Stories, Your Emails is a lecture, a stand-up act, a play, a confession and an autobiography while simultaneously being none of these things.

It also appears simultaneously to be a constructive, creative response to a potentially upsetting situation and a petty, misdirected act of vengeance.

As the title suggests, it’s a show of two halves. The first involves Martinez reading (mostly) humorous autobiographical anecdotes from a lectern. Her deadpan delivery is disconcertingly reminiscent of Jimmy Carr, though Martinez excels at getting laughs by leaving stories hanging, instead of by comic over-explanation.

The stories serve as a brief introduction to Martinez’s life, revealing aspects of her upbringing and career, details about her family and so on, without sketching anything like a complete picture of her as a person.

The second half concerns a similarly incomplete picture – a video of her magic/striptease act Hanky Panky, which was released onto the internet without her permission – and some of the astonishing conclusions people the world over drew about her as a result. It’s a pageant showcasing some prime examples of that uniquely 21st century prose genre, the speculative online solicitation, in which the objective is to coat every syllable in steaming sexual subtext, but convince the receiving party that you are not just another hopeless case begging for sex.

There’s a surprising variety of pretexts, from those who idolise Martinez as a campaigner for Nudism, to those who want to book her act, through those seeking friendship to those barefacedly requesting sex. What they have in common is that they all think they know, understand or have some kind of claim over Martinez just because they’ve watched a video of her stripping and making a silk handkerchief disappear.

The concept of this segment is a problematic one. A piece of Martinez’s work not intended for mass online consumption ended up online; she responds to this by taking fanmail (complete with full names, photos and even some telephone numbers) presumably meant for her eyes only and performing it publicly. The majority of the men (and they are all men) don’t come out of it especially well. On paper it feels like an eye for an eye.

But she performs the emails without commentary: the men are allowed to present themselves in their own words (though she provides each with an appropriate accent). It also becomes clear from occasional instances of two-way correspondence that their permission has been sought and granted to incorporate their words and pictures into the show.

To presume to draw a definitive conclusion regarding the motivation and ethics behind My Stories, Your Emails would be to make the same mistake as the men. Best just to present the facts and let Ursula Martinez remain an enigma.

Written by Ursula Martinez

Crew includes Mark Whitelaw (director)

Cast includes Ursula Martinez

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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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14 December, 2009

The Stefan Golaszewski Plays

Bush Theatre, 2 December 2009 – 9 January 2010

Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog and cross-posted to The Collective Review

Two one-act plays back to back don’t usually make a successful two-act play. Right? Which suggests it’s probably no coincidence that Stefan Golaszewski Speaks About A Girl He Once Loved and Stefan Golaszewski Is A Widower work so well as a double bill; it seems likely they were always meant to be performed together.

It was clear from the plays’ debuts, a year apart at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, that they were stylistically and thematically of a piece. Each is a monologue in which Golaszewski relates romantic episodes from ‘his’ life, or a fictionalised version of it (in Widower he imagines himself in the year 2056, following marriage and a moderately successful TV career), aided by some simple props and a gift for writing fresh, cliché-free imagery.

What wasn’t immediately obvious back then was how neatly the two would bolt together for their London transfer. At around an hour each they were bite-sized enough for the choice-rich, time-poor Festival theatregoer, but the double bill is substantial enough to be worth a London audience’s while. More importantly, the emotional and thematic trajectories of Golaszewski as a character and a playwright are revealed and reinforced by the juxtaposition; images, foibles and techniques introduced in About A Girl pay off with interest when revisited in Widower.

Little gimmicks used in About A Girl simply to create sight gags give rise instead to pathos when they recur in the altered context of Widower. Golaszewski’s tendency to idolise women is the quirky fulcrum of About A Girl, but Widower acknowledges the disadvantages of such an attitude when applied to a more adult kind of relationship; the wide-eyed, innocent awe of female beauty that characterises About A Girl is only briefly retrodden in Widower before tragedy abruptly erases it in favour of a whole new range of grown-up emotions like bitterness, desperation and regret.

Individually the plays are snapshots of a man at two different stages of emotional maturity. Combined, they sketch a more complete portrait of a man learning the hard way that the reality of long-term commitment can never be as idealistically romantic as rose-tinted recollections of unrealised adolescent love. Underscoring it all are the insecurities of a young playwright coming uneasily to terms with his own premonitions of future emotional disillusionment and bodily deterioration. The whole is unquestionably greater than the sum of its parts – and given all the stars, awards and praise each play received individually, marrying them is sure to result in a critical mass of acclaim.

Written by Stefan Golaszewski

Crew includes Phillip Breen (director/designer)

Cast includes Stefan Golaszewski

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24 September, 2009

Mother Courage and Her Children

National Theatre, 16 September – 8 December 2009

Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog

The prospect of staging Brecht’s work on the Olivier Stage is similar to the prospect of flying an aeroplane backwards. Though in theory the vehicle is a tool designed to go where you tell it to, in practice there are certain manoeuvres it’s structurally unsuited to perform.

Brecht dictated that his plays be staged with no frills. But any director given the run of the Olivier can be forgiven for wanting to actually use the facilities on offer. It isn’t yielding to temptation, it’s making the most of a rare opportunity.

Like a glass-panelled clock, Deborah Warner’s Mother Courage and Her Children doesn’t just choose not to conceal its inner workings, it displays them, inviting the audience to marvel at the way the pieces fit together. During one musical number Courage (Fiona Shaw) drags an ASM, already quite visible at the edge of one wing, fully onto the stage, where she dances briefly with the announcer (who also dances little jigs in the scene changes), and during the interval the second act’s placards fly in and out, in and out, as if the winches are being tested.

Not trusting the audience to be satisfied with the real backstage goings-on of a National Theatre production, Warner treats us to a self-conscious, theatricalised version of them. What we see is more bustling and disorganised than backstage in any theatre I’ve worked in; a theatre workers’ self-portrait that magnifies every insignificant pimple.

Revealing the production’s nuts and bolts works as Brecht intended, removing the emotional smokescreen that prevents critical engagement with the play; but theatricalising and calling attention to the backstage business just replaces the smokescreen with blinkers, creating a parallel drama that competes with the more important one centre stage.

Written by Beltolt Brecht (translated by Tony Kushner)

Crew includes Deborah Warner (director), Duke Special (songs) and Mel Mercier (musicscape)

Cast includes Stephen Kennedy (The Chaplain) Martin Marquez (The Cook), Harry Melling (Swiss Cheese), Charlotte Randle (Yvette), Clifford Samuel (Eilif), Fiona Shaw (Mother Courage) and Sophie Stone (Kattrin)

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