Posts tagged ‘threeweeks’

2 September, 2010

The Caucasian Chalk Circle ****

The Zoo, 6 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

3BUGS weave a convincing illusion of thrown-togetherness around their production of Brecht’s scathing polemic against class and wealth divides. Design and casting decisions appear to be made on the spur of the moment, based on what or whom is immediately to hand. A severely limited make-up colour palette (containing only black) is all that unites a cast dressed in mismatched odds and ends of costume from several different periods. A few wooden crates make do as a set.

Behind the illusion this is a respectably efficient production, rattling through even the dreariest of Brecht’s dialectic set-pieces at a pace that demands the audience’s full attention. Certain scenes and certain performers, though, are brisk to a fault, with lines reeled off so quickly they become garbled, making it easy to lose the thread of the plot even when applying full concentration.

With its panicky energy, its simple yet inventive staging, its complete understanding of and adherence to Brechtian defamiliarisation techniques and its cute-as-a-button puppet toddler, this Caucasian Chalk Circle would be a surefire hit on the schools circuit.

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2 September, 2010

Tea Dance ****

Pleasance Dome, 7 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Marvel as performers pay and an audience watches them for free, inverting the traditional roles of audience and performer! See real food and alcohol consumed live on stage! Stroll right across the performance space and personally influence the direction of the performance! Is this the future of avant-garde dance?

No. Not everything listed in the Festival brochure is experimental and boundary-breaking, and thank goodness for that; sometimes you need an hour to relax and enjoy yourself without worrying about being challenged for the sake of it. Tea Dance is a gentle introduction to a couple of simple ballroom dance steps, with two genial instructors and a break halfway through for cocktails and canapés. Just the ticket.

The dais in the middle of the Pleasance Dome’s very public Palm Court feels at first like an overly exposed place to take those first tentative steps of the foxtrot, but concentrating on footwork and rhythm makes the ‘audience’ easy to ignore or forget entirely. The steps are surprisingly simple to pick up, and the instructors are responsive, not to mention full of ballroom facts – be sure to pick their brains in the cocktail break to get the most out of the experience.

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2 September, 2010

Pas Perdus ****

Zoo Southside, 6 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Do many hands make light work, or do too many cooks spoil the broth? Les Argonautes seem determined to find out, and do it entirely through trial and error. The quartet, clad in identical white tunics, enhance a variety of traditionally solo activities – playing the violin, for example – through cooperation, delegation and intervention.

The result is a gentle and at times hilarious exploration of teamwork both willing and reluctant, as well as a skilful circus act incorporating juggling (with unorthodox objects), balance stunts and a good deal of clowning. Everything’s neatly choreographed to appear inadvertent, so precarious balances accidentally result when supports are removed without forethought, and juggling just starts happening when people drop things.

To place their stunts and set-pieces in some context other than simple japery, the company sketch the bare bones of characters (the mischievous one, the show-off, the nervous one, the big lunk) and a scenario (they’re inmates or test subjects or some such; a booming voice keeps insisting they stay “CAAAAALM”). Adding an element of storytelling gives Pas Perdus a level of depth beyond appreciation of the skill involved, but also raises an expectation of some kind of arc or resolution, which is only half-heartedly fulfilled.

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27 August, 2010

Death of a Samurai ****

Death of a Samurai

Death of a Samurai. Image courtesy of the EdFringe Media Office

Augustine’s, 7 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

If you or I tried cross-pollinating plot elements from Shakespeare  and Japanese exploitation cinema with aspects of characters from anime,  manga and folklore we’d end up with some hideous, limping mutant thing.  A-LIGHT try it and get a sleek hybrid organism they’ve named Death of a Samurai.

We’re in an enchanted wood straight out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A moody samurai, a beautiful assassin and a gutsy ninja (overtly based on the title character from Naruto) are all trying to get their hands on a girl (whose costume references Sailor Moon) with the power to confer immortality (a MacGuffin cribbed from Ryuuhei Kitamura’s Versus).  And those are just the references I picked up. Cue chases, intensive  training sequences, stylised fight choreography (incorporating  shout-outs to Dragonball, amongst others) and emotions (including Love-In-Idleness-induced infatuation) writ very, very large.

Knowledge of the specific reference points is not necessary  for understanding the show, though some familiarity with the general  frames of reference is helpful when trying to determine whether or not  to take any of it seriously (crash course: don’t). The few salient  points of the plot are given in English, and the storytelling from then  on is predominantly physical, so understanding Japanese isn’t necessary  either.

The visuals, from costume and make-up to choreography, are  elaborate and sumptuous, and the cast approach their roles with 100%  commitment. This may not be a subtle nor a highbrow piece of work, but  neither is it played entirely for laughs; the characters may essentially  be caricatures, but you’ll be surprised how attached you’ve become to  them by the end.

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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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27 August, 2010

The Master and Margarita

David Ralf and Cassie Barraclough in The Master and Margarita

David Ralf and Cassie Barraclough in The Master and Margarita. Image by Amelia Peterson

C soco, 6 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the Oxford Times

Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita is a dense and complex novel, layered with parallel interconnected plotlines and saturated with theosophical intrigue; so as Rowena Purrett acknowledged in her review earlier this month, to pare it down to 90 minutes is an achievement. Somewhere between Oxford and the Fringe, OUDS have shaved their production down to an even more festival-friendly 80 minutes.

As well as paring down the content — the specific scenes, events and plotlines — OUDS boil down the whole work to a more manageable scale, in the process intensifying some flavours and losing others almost entirely. Where Bulgakov’s novel is a sweeping satire concerned with entire classes and communities, the OUDS production focuses closely on the individual characters: a more dramatic approach, but one that reduces the scope of the themes and ideas from a communal to a capital level.

It’s a shame to dampen the story’s potential for wide-ranging social commentary, especially as Bulgakov’s criticisms of Moscow’s atheist society still apply to ever- larger portions of the Western world; but on the stage, individuals are easier to engage with emotionally than whole societies.

What the production does communicate well is the bleak, decaying atmosphere of the benighted city. The performance space is part of a half-derelict building, all exposed brickwork, cold stone and cracked plaster; a boon for set designer Jessica Edwards. It’s also spacious as festival spaces go, but director Hoehn concentrates most scenes into as small an area as possible, highlighting the isolation of characters outcast for expressing their beliefs.

The performance is an odd mixture of styles. Brecht and Commedia dell’arte are both identifiable influences, and expressionistic movement and dance intrude on relatively naturalistic dialogue; though in a story about the invasion by the supernatural of a wilfully banal society, such intrusions feel thematically appropriate enough not to jar or distract in the least.

Adapted by Raymond Blankenhorn and Max Hoehn

Crew includes Max Hoehn (director), Jessica Edwards (set design), Anouska Lester (costume design), Rachel Beaconsfield Press (make-up design), Eli Keren (lighting designer), Stephen Poole (lighting design), Rosie Hore and Harriet Randall (choreographers)

Cast includes Cassie Barraclough (Margarita), Joe Bayley (Pilate), Raymond Blankenhorn (Ivan/Matthew/Baron Maigel), Ollo Clark (The Master), Bella Hammad (Babushka/Natasya/Praskovya/Natasha/Hella), Max Hoehn (Woland), Jonnie McAloon (Yeshua/Clown), Matthew Monghan (Behemoth), David Ralf (Koroviev/Berlioz/Bengalsky)

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25 August, 2010

Maff Brown – Looking After Lesal **

Pleasance Courtyard, 4 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 664)

Some funny things have happened to Maff Brown. Funny, that is, in the way that you probably had to be there to appreciate fully; like his dad Lesal reacting to being widowed by moving to Korea and Skyping 23-year-old Ukrainian girls. Thinking his anecdotes wittier than they are, Brown just tells them straight and neglects to say anything amusing about them.

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23 August, 2010

Stripped ****

Hannah Chalmers in Stripped

Hannah Chalmers in Stripped. Image courtesy of the Gilded Balloon Press Office

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 6 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 665)

Hannah Chalmers proves herself a versatile performer in this one-woman show, dropping comfortably into an array of archetypes: the naïve first time stripper, the lecherous club manager, the nervous, kind-hearted client. Chalmers seems to acknowledge that audiences don’t shock easily; her exploration of her former profession’s institutionalised exploitation of performers and clients is insightful, not salacious.

Written by Hannah Chalmers

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23 August, 2010

The Door **

The Door

The Door. Image courtesy of the EdFringe Media Office

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 7 – 29 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 664)

Two men argue in spiteful spirals about responsibility and religion as a door bangs offstage. Each has his own particular brand of self-righteous posturing; both are equally grating. The outcome of the debate is unexpected without being contrived, and is delivered more theatrically than the rest of the play, but who cares about the outcome when neither party engages our empathy?

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