Posts tagged ‘zoo’

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

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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23 August, 2010

Silent Cannonfire ***

Zoo Roxy, 15 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Silent Cannonfire feels like it’s missing something. It is, of course: this piratical production is performed entirely without spoken dialogue, instead mimed and mummed to a live soundtrack of sea shanties. It’s an interesting conceit, but Of Vast Bigness treat the speech embargo mostly as an obstacle they’ve placed in their own way, not an opportunity they’ve presented themselves.

To circumvent that obstacle, the company communicate dialogue in every possible way other than speaking it aloud. Lines are discovered conveniently written on flags, fish and the undergarments of harlots, and Captain Hatebeard communicates exclusively via scrolls written hastily in the blood of his crew.

To be fair, the revelation of each unexpected little innovation does contribute to Silent Cannonfire’s surreal, madcap humour; but the storytelling is of necessity so broad that the vast majority of lines revealed in this way just aren’t necessary for the audience’s understanding. The same information could be communicated more easily, and more in the spirit of the piece, by paying more attention to the physical side of the performances (which often lapse into standing still and mouthing, neglecting gesture).

The live band is a real asset to the production, maintaining a salty atmosphere with melodies cribbed from traditional tunes and a certain blockbuster movie franchise (be careful, Of Vast Bigness, one man’s sly reference is another intellectual property suit). The homespun scenery and special effects, including a papier mache sea monster, wouldn’t be out of place in a very enthusiastic school play, which may not be intentional but does give the play a pleasingly tongue-in-cheek tone.

Overall, though, it can’t shake that sense of incompleteness: that it isn’t a production devised without dialogue, it’s a regular production with the dialogue ripped away and imperfectly patched.

Crew includes Will Seaward (director), Rich Mason (technical director), Owen Woods (musical director), Fred Spaven (set design and construction), Dan Summerbell (fight director) and Deanna Bergdorf (dance choreographer)

Cast includes Stephen Bailey, Flo Carr, Chrystal Ding, John Haidar, Hannah Laurence, Julia Leijola, Max Levine, Matt Lim, Chloe Mashiter, Pierre Novellie, Emerald Paston, George Potts and Emma Stirling

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18 August, 2010

Pedal Pusher ****

Pedal Pusher

Pedal Pusher. Image by Holly McGlynn, courtesy of the EdFringe Media Office

Zoo Roxy, 6 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

It’s notoriously difficult to choke verbatim theatre into life on stage, but you wouldn’t guess that from watching Pedal Pusher. You’d be forgiven for not noticing that it’s a verbatim piece at all, in fact. It seems the trick is to choose the right source material. Sounds easy, and Theatre Delicatessen certainly make it look that way.

So what’s the right source material for the story of Lance Armstrong, Marco Pantani and Jan Ullrich, three of the greatest competitive cyclists ever to have lived, and the Tour de France, the toughest and most prestigious cycle race in the world? Press conference transcripts, for the most part. Dry as that may sound, press conferences are naturally dramatic, performative events. The rehearsed statements are superficially anodyne but – thanks to the insights we’re given into the athletes’ habits, personalities and relationships – laden with fascinating subtext, and there’s something of the courtroom drama about the open-floor interrogations that follow.

That the subtlety and theatricality of the text is appreciable, however, is down to the cast, who wrap their jaws nimbly around some potential deadweights. We don’t see much more than one side to any of the characters – Armstrong, fresh from beating advanced cancer, is practically messianic in his drive to succeed; Pantani, victimised by the doping officials, succumbs to self-pitying matyrdom – but what we do see clearly, in the performances and in the text, is the hardwired competitive urge that made each man great.

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16 August, 2010

The Harbour ***

The Zoo, 8 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 664)

Peter, a fisherman, falls for a selkie (a seal-woman) he finds in his nets. Peter is at sea a lot, not to mention underdeveloped as a character, so the focus falls on the strained relationship between ‘Sally’ the selkie and Peter’s mother Betty. Sally is an enigma, Betty a caricature, but the original folk tale’s inherent poignancy still manages to show through, aided by stirring live cello and vocal accompaniment.

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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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1 September, 2009

Un/Familiar Fringe: Un/Afraid

Written for the London Theatre Blog, 1 September 2009

The backstage adage about not relying too heavily on technology in the theatre holds particularly true at the Fringe. If your fancy audiovisual equipment can’t be trusted to work 100 per cent of the time in a purpose-built, professionally run space, then it definitely can’t be trusted in a temporarily converted lecture theatre staffed by enthusiastic volunteers.

And yet physical and multimedia company Precarious continue to tempt fate and get away with it. Like their 2008 triumph The Factory, anomie is pure techie eye candy. Six giant flatscreen TVs are the set and often parts of the performers, too, synchronising prerecorded and rotoscoped footage with live movement so the cast can appear to fall or step or crawl partially or fully inside the false-coloured world behind the screens. As if that wasn’t enough, precise projection onto gauze or plastic film creates eerily floating apparitions: flowers or shimmering green curtains of binary code. And it all works.

Unlike The Factory, however, anomie’s multimedia aspect limits, rather than enhances, its physical theatre aspect. There are too many long scenes of performers thrashing and squirming on mattresses with their heads inside television sets, and too few of the Gestic tableaux that made The Factory a statement, rather than a technical exercise. Anomie only comes close to equalling The Factory’s images of people packaged and stored like meat when it casts aside the screens in favour of tangible props, like the reams of shiny black videotape that entangle a camcorder voyeur, or the mattress through which two potential lovers blindly explore one another.

New physical theatre company Idle Motion embrace tangible props to create onstage imagery from the very beginning in their gentler, necessarily smaller-scale production Borges and I. Stacks of second-hand books litter the stage, and their torn, clipped, punched, removed and rebound pages tumble out to form silhouetted skylines, or combine to represent an aeroplane, or stack to form a treacherous spiral staircase for Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges to stumble around as he gradually loses his sight.

The play is a tearjerker without being maudlin, and the inventive use of books and their pages as props, characters and scenery pieces is consistently surprising and delightful, whereas anomie’s invention, while undeniably technically masterful, soon becomes repetitive. Which just goes to show: even if you can defy precedent and rely on your technology to work, you still can’t rely on it to carry your show for you.

22 August, 2009

anomie ***

Zoo Southside, 7 – 31 August 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

You can rely on Precarious to deliver a technical spectacle. Prerecorded and rotoscoped footage of the six performers is as crucial to the action as the performers themselves, and the two often seamlessly combine, with the performers partially hidden behind flatscreen TVs that display their obscured limbs or heads like a technicolour X-ray. Synchronising between live and prerecorded movement requires the cast to be masters of timing, and so unison dance sequences are flawless, performed as if by afterimages of the same body.

But unlike Precarious’ masterpiece The Factory, anomie – which follows six social misfits living in the same apartment building – lacks strong thematic justification for its technical wizardry, so while the integration of screen and performer is an undeniable triumph of pinpoint timing and rehearsal, it can also feel like a gimmick, style divorced from content. The company’s other speciality, dance and physical theatre, is anomie’s strong point, remaining fresh and engaging throughout while also building clear (if not always subtle) characterisation, and making inventive use of mattresses as crashmats, scenery and allegory; though there are too few of the haunting tableaux that made The Factory so memorable.

Written by Precarious

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15 August, 2009

Home **

The Zoo, 7 – 15 August 2009

Reviewed for The List (issue 637)

Berkshire’s Theatre Oikos have their hearts in the right place, but that can’t conceal the fact that on the whole they aren’t particularly good actors or storytellers.

The dance elements are the highlight of immigration fable Home. Imagery subtly communicates meaning from the outset, as performers emerge from suitcases, wonder at the world outside, and take their first wobbly steps. Entering a new country, with its unfamiliar language and customs, leaves the new arrivals as helpless as newborns.

But the unison sequences are never successfully synchronised, and from then on physical and movement work is relegated to the background, providing settings and props for much less impressive naturalistic interactions. Everyone Polish immigrant Christophe meets on his journey through history (asking refugees from the better-known 20th century wars ‘Why do you want to go to England?’) delivers their lines mechanically and without feeling. Once he reaches England himself, the trend continues with added stereotypes, including his naturalised Indian neighbour and a bunch of predictably intolerant cockernee Chelsea fans. The dance needs to improve, so it can replace the acting altogether.

Written by Theatre Oikos