Posts tagged ‘tristan bates’

2 December, 2010

Writer and performer Michael Laurence on Krapp, 39

Recorded for theatreVOICE at the Tristan Bates Theatre, 27 November 2010

Interview: Michael Laurence. After a brief extract from the work, the writer and performer talks to Matt Boothman about his new play, Krapp, 39 (Tristan Bates Theatre), which is an autobiographical piece in which Laurence, a Samuel Beckett fan and inspired by Krapp’s Last Tape (1958), creates a diary using video, a laptop and audio recording on his 39th birthday.

You can listen to this interview using the player below.

If you’d like to download the episode, right-click here and “Save As”.

You can also click here to subscribe to the podcast using iTunes.

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25 February, 2010

Plus One Podcast: Sunflower House

In which I discuss East German playwright Anne Rabe’s Sunflower House at the Tristan Bates Theatre with Helen Johnson.

You can listen to this episode using the player below.

If you’d like to download the episode, right-click here and “Save As”.

You can also click here to subscribe to the podcast using iTunes.

Creative Commons License
The Plus One Podcast by Matt Boothman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

25 February, 2010

Sunflower House

Jessica Sedler in Sunflower House

Jessica Sedler in Sunflower House. Image by Gabriella Restelli

Tristan Bates Theatre, Feb 22 – Mar 13 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

The subject matter of East German playwright Anne Rabe’s Sunflower House is potentially revelatory, challenging received wisdom about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the state of post-unification Germany to which the majority of Britons subscribe. Unfortunately, the challenging and the revelatory are rendered banal by problematic presentation.

The play concerns a middle-class family living in an East German Plattenbausiedlung, or prefabricated high-rise estate, next door to the Sunflower House, which in 1992 was the site of a riot. Micha, the son (Sam Fordham), is filming a documentary about the estate – and specifically his immediate family, mother Jutta (Jayne Denny) and pregnant sister Klara (Jessica Sedler) – as his audition for film school.

Though Micha has a very specific vision for his film (“Nazi City – a film about my family”), he’s unable to stop the story of the Sunflower House riot, as well as revelations about his Stasi informant father, from bleeding through in his subjects’ testimony. The metaphor is no less potent for being obvious: Micha repeatedly demands realism and truth, but censors his subjects when their truth diverges from his vision.

Filmmaking, though, is a famously tedious process, and even a theatricalised version of it makes for dull viewing. Micha’s camera is real and functional, feeding live to an onstage TV, which necessitates a lot of camera business – adjusting focus, positioning the tripod, angling the thing – which, though performed in character, is purely logistical rather than dramatic.

Documentary filmmaking in particular is a typically static affair, and so Sunflower House is composed largely of people sitting or standing still – forced to remain within the camera’s blinkered field of view – and delivering exposition without much action. Displaying the camera’s feed on the TV makes for some interesting close-ups and multi-angle views not usually achievable in theatre, but they’re still close-ups and multiple angles of static performers prosaically delivering exposition.

To her credit, director Lydia Ziemke fights valiantly to inject some energy and movement into proceedings. Often the filming is not the only action happening onstage (though it is always the focus). In one scene the camera becomes the objective in a game of keep-away between Micha and Klara – Fordham and Sedler are at their most convincing when having fun with the pair’s playful sibling rivalry.

Then there are the few camera-free scenes. One, captioned “Advantageous Accidents”, proves simultaneously that Rabe is capable of writing action without dialogue, that Jayne Denny – who, despite a strong vocal performance, suffers from a generally uncertain, unfocused physicality – is capable of dramatically engaging economy of movement, and that Ziemke is capable of deft, wry theatricality; but that the talent of everyone involved is fatally fettered by Micha’s camera.

Written by Anne Rabe (translated by Philip Thorne)

Crew includes Lydia Ziemke (director), Martina von Holn and Karoline Young (designers) and Chris Perlin (graphic & video design)

Cast includes Jayne Denny (Jutta), Sam Fordham (Michael) and Jessica Sedler (Klara)

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1 February, 2010

Plus One Podcast: Plan D

In which I discuss Palestinian-Irish playwright Hannah Khalil’s Plan D at the Tristan Bates Theatre with lifestyle columnist Annie Casu.

You can listen to this episode using the player below.

If you’d like to download the episode, right-click here and “Save As”.

You can also click here to subscribe to the podcast using iTunes.

Creative Commons License
The Plus One Podcast by Matt Boothman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

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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15 June, 2009

Whispering Happiness

Tristan Bates Theatre, 9 June – 4 July 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Kenneth Emson and Hannah Tyrell-Pinder make a good team. His ping-ponging dialogue provides ample fuel for her energetic directorial style, resulting in a show that stimulates both the eye and the ear.

In Whispering Happiness, the country – perhaps the world – has gone down the chute. Towns, overpopulated and overrun with violent gangs, have been fenced off and left to fester in their own effluvia. Call centres, built on concreted-over parks, provide the only employment, and drugs provide the only escape.

Emson’s is a gradual, grey, drizzly apocalypse. It’s not a setting you’d immediately think lends itself to pacey exchanges and action, but if the British know anything it’s how to stay cheerful in a crisis. That goes doubly for the young and innocent, and the blind optimism of 15-year-old Hayley (Abigail Hood) is the driving force behind all the best scenes.

Her quickfire insult rallies with friend Simon – Richard James-Neale, who externalises his character’s rapidly eroding innocence with an increasingly lethargic posture and a haunted expression – are a comic highlight in a bleak landscape. Arguments between two police officers introduced in Act Two (Henry Maynard and Jim Sturgeon) match the youngsters’ rate, but are unlikely to bring a smile to anyone’s face.

Act Two and the introduction of the policemen mark the imminent collapse of the fairytale elements that prevent the play from being mere pessimistic futurism.

Jamie Maclachlan’s sinister Pirsg – hooded and leather-jacketed, his coat-tails and trouser-legs spray-painted to resemble a harlequin’s motley, now scuttling like an insect, now clambering like a monkey – seems to the dissatisfied Simon like the fairytale third alternative, promising instant happiness with a few whispered words.

But once the jaded coppers show up with their suspicion of easy explanations, it becomes harder and harder for Simon (or the audience) to deny the truth about Pirsg’s genuine, but decidedly non-magical, escape route.

Referencing dystopian stories alongside the Pied Piper of Hamelin fairytale, Whispering Happiness is the product of two confident creative contributors, both of whose careers surely have nowhere to go but up.

Written by Kenneth Emson

Crew includes Hannah Tyrell-Pinder (director), Georgia Lowe (designer), Steven Moseley (lighting designer) and Chris James (sound designer)

Cast includes Abigail Hood (Hayley), Richard James-Neale (Simon), Jamie Maclachlan (Pirsg), Henry Maynard (Jacob) and Jim Sturgeon (Tramp/Noah)