Tag Archives: Cat Robey

The Significant Other Festival (Park Theatre, London)

Post image. Photograph: Courtesy of The Pensive Foundation.

Poster image. Photograph: Courtesy of The Pensive Foundation.

Rating: ****

The Park Theatre is only a fortnight old. Hosting the second year of this short play festival run by The Pensive Federation it has already set a high bar for its programme under artistic director Jez Bond. The Significant Other Festival is the first public performance in the Morris Room at the theatre.

The concept is simple. Ten playwrights each write a play that lasts ten minutes. The play must be based around the phrase “significant other”, taken either to mean a romantic partner, or someone important or close in someone else’s life. Each play is produced by a single director and performed by two actors, and staged in just five days. This year, instead of giving these playwrights and directors free reign, producers Neil J. Byden, Serena Haywood and Laura Kim assign a specific genre for each play: from murder to musical, and comedy to crime.

The result is a wonderful and varied selection of theatrical treats. Almost all the plays are very well written and explore their assigned genre incredibly well. But the real success is just how well the directors cope with the limitations of a space that is supposedly finished. There’s nothing but a few black curtains over the windows, plain whitewashed walls, a few spots on a rig or two, and bits of bare plasterboard.

But The Pensive Federation and their collaborators demonstrate that you don’t have to be Peter Brook to create good theatre in an empty space. But this incomplete space is no hurdle to the directors and actors, and does little damage to this evening of great theatre.

There are, however, a few standout pieces.  Penny Faith’s COYI is a gripping romantic comedy where football, gambling, and love collide. You’re cheering for the couple, played intensely by Lucy Fazey and Ryan Wichert, the whole way through this wonderful rollercoaster short. Whilst Caro Dixey’s Eastbound is a wonderfully deep yet playful look at friendship and belonging that doesn’t fail to charm and chime. Nina Moniri and Nathalie Pownall give some wonderfully natural, warm, and grounded performances here. And Mike Carter, Lemon Otter, and Franner Jordan’s A Month and Five Days is an uproarious minute musical.

Other pieces of note are those that really defy the studio space’s limitations. In particular how certain directors manipulate such minimal lighting resources. Cat Robey’s use of shadows for the comedy-cum-sinister noir achieves some great effects and is as a great opener to the programme. Whilst Bryony Thomas use of a torch in tense thriller It’s Not You is incredibly chilling.

The only play that didn’t really work was Rip It To Shreds. It has a really interesting premise, but its execution is muddied. Both the writing and direction is done in a way that you’re not quite sure what time period you’re in at any given point. Along with some stilted dialogue, its bleakness and clever narrative is overshadowed by this irksome execution.

Furthermore, the space is also a cumbrance. In fairness, the Morris Space is designed more as a rehearsal and workshop area than a performance space, especially when compared against the high-tech stages of theatres below. As a performance space its crowded and hot (the air conditioning didn’t appear to be working, and if it did it would have probably been a noisy distraction). Its flat quality also means that any action nearer the floor is an inevitable mystery to everyone but the front row.

But none the less, the novelty of the festival’s remit gives way to some wonderfully innovative and fun theatre. A great evening.

The Significant Other Festival plays at the Park Theatre, London, N4 3JP, until 25th May. Tickets are £10. To book, visit http://parktheatre.co.uk.

Theatre Review: Tartuffe (Canal Café Theatre, London)

Come on down your table's waiting. The cast of 'Tartuffe'. Photograph: Jon Bradshaw. Courtesy of Paradigm Theatre Company.

Come on down your table’s waiting. The cast of ‘Tartuffe’. Photograph: Jon Bradshaw. Courtesy of Paradigm Theatre Company.

Rating: ****

For various reasons, Paradigm’s fourth production in their season had many difficulties when it first opened a little over a week ago, including a last minute change of director and some issues with the cast. However it has now finally found its feet.

Director and company associate Cat Robey has taken the Gutenberg non-rhyming translation of Molière’s satirical company, reducing it and resetting it in the world of seedy 1920s cabaret.

Orgon (Chukwudi Onwere) has been bewitched by a seemingly humble and pious beggar, Tartuffe (Jeremy Gagan). Taking into his home Orgon worships him and lets him have free reign of the household much to the annoyance of everyone but Orgon’s mother. But is Tartuffe all he seems, and is his interest solely in God or in Orgon’s daughter, wife, and wealth?

Robey’s truncation of the text down to a mere 90 minutes without an interval is quite welcome. For all that can be said about Molière, as biting as his satire is it is also as verbose in equal measure. It does feel noticeably cut and a touch whistle-stop, but all the main narrative elements are still there and it’s certainly preferred to the prospect of an additional hour of stodgy didactic where every last witticism is extrapolated to exhaustion; Molière is quite fond of his own verse. Even with an energetic cast and Robey’s attempt at make it a bit more pacey the show is still quite flat in places.

Despite this the company still somehow manage to make it feel fun. Gagan’s portrayal of the villain is charmingly grandiose and scintillatingly sleazy, making his scheming seem even more dastardly. Whilst Katherine Rodden’s outspoken and saucy chambermaid really brims with energy and sass that drives the scenes she’s in. Robey also manages to direct the more comic moments with ease. Her treatment of unconvincing hiding places for eavesdropping rascals compound upon Molière’s wit to raise a few additional laughs.

However the resetting falls by the wayside as it doesn’t lift the text. Despite Shoni Wilkinson’s costumes adding some oh là là it doesn’t really add any gravitas to Molière’s damning portrait of the hypocrisy, class, and religion, and neither does it give a new perspective on the narrative; it just feels superfluous. But fortunately neither does it distract. You can’t blame Robey for attempting to freshen up a writer whose work is notoriously stuffy whilst simultaneously creating a production that reflects the venue.

Other faults are mere niggles. There were a few missed opportunities to bring out more comedy in some scenes, and Loyal’s near omnipresence sat in among the audience didn’t seem to make much sense.

It’s undoubtedly something Molière purists and enthusiasts should avoid. But by opening up the play to a more general and less severe audience the result is a robust and enjoyable take on a dowdy classic.

Tartuffe plays at the Canal Café Theatre, London, W2 6ND until 27 April 2013. Tickets are £12 (concessions available). To book tickets visit www.canalcafetheatre.com.

Theatre Review:A Woman of No Importance…Or Somewhat Little Importance Anyhow (Hen & Chickens, London)

Katherine Rodden as Lauren, with a glass of Sainsbury's Finest Merlot. Don't know it until you've down it.

Katherine Rodden as Lauren, with a glass of Sainsbury’s Finest Merlot. Don’t know it until you’ve downed it.

Rating: ***

Lauren (Katherine Rodden) is not so much having a bad day but a bad month. Out of work and lost somewhere in a sea of Bond Street shopping and empty bottles of Sainsbury’s Finest Merlot, she passes the time drunk and rehearsing monologues by Oscar Wilde. But just as she feels she about to have an epiphany her mother (Rachel Dobell) rudely barges in with some shocking news – she’s divorcing. Soon what follows is a farce of family dysfunctions, divorce lawyers-cum-marriage counsellors, feisty suitors, and some other guy whose name eludes me.

In her programme notes playwright and resident company member Rodden mentions that her goal here is to create a modern farce in the style of Wilde or Noel Coward – updating class-based comedy for a modern age. But you needn’t read the programme notes to have sussed that out. Sarah Pitard’s stage is a handsome collection of 1940s Chinoiserie furniture complete with an elegant painting of the period, even if it is cluttered with the debris from Lauren’s despair. There’s even Coward playing over the theatre’s sound system between scenes. Yet despite Rodden and the indomitable Paradigm Theatre Company’s efforts, A Woman of No Importance… is an example of just how difficult it is to perfect farce, even when it’s something so well meaning and modern as this.

There is very little wrong with the writing. In fact Rodden’s text delivers a bevy of sharp and sassy one-liners that will keep you chuckling or, in some cases, laughing out loud throughout. The only criticism is that towards the end it succumbs to what is so easily done with farce – it all gets a bit too over the top that it looses the charm it held the audience with for the first four fifths of the play with. But more so it’s the execution that lets it fall short of what its trying to be.

There are moments when the cast’s comic-timing is a little off. Snappy little lines are sometimes not delivered as quicksilver as the script begs for causing some of the gags to arrive a little stilted. Also, the cast often don’t react too well to the audience, so when there are big laughs you all too quickly miss the next line because there isn’t a pause enough it above the patrons’ bellows. And when it comes to the physical comedy element it feels far too rehearsed and laboured. Slapstick begs a spontaneous and unsuspecting energy to it and Paradigm’s crew lacks just that. Knowing where the kicks are going to come from next spoils the punch-line, and this stops what should have been a riotous climax from being so.

But there are many saving graces to the show that makes Paradigm’s effort very worthy and still manages to result in an enjoyable evening. Cat Robey’s direction, although admitting it’s her first time doing farce, manages to pick out smaller details which augment Rodden’s witty text – everything from lawyer Geoffrey’s errant tongue, played wonderfully weaselly by Matt Houlihan, to some well placed interactions with some well placed props. Robey has always been a director who knows that God is in the detail and despite venturing into new territory A Woman of No Importance… is no exception.

The cast also hold themselves generally very well. Rodden’s Lauren is sufficiently whiney, self-absorbed, but charming enough for us to sympathise with her plight but willing indulge in a schadenfreude that makes her mishaps comically worthwhile. But it’s Alan Booty, playing Lauren’s father, that really steals the show. He has a monolithic presence on such a small stage whose persona as the oversexed toff dad is as boisterous as the laughs he brings about. His deliveries are always light, playful, and more often than not spot on making him a real delight to have on stage.

A Woman of No Importance… is a production on not quite perfection. It’s such a shame because it really tries to be, and with tighter execution it really could have been the formidable modern farce it wants to be. But none the less it’s still a sterling effort that, despite its faults, will push away the February gloom with charm and gusto.

A Woman on No Importance…or Somewhat Importance Anyhow plays at the Hen and Chickens, London, N1 2NA, until 23 February 2013. Tickets are £12 (concessions available). To book visit www.unrestrictedview.co.uk.

Stage Review: Books, Freedom, Flowers, and the Moon (Waterloo East Theatre, London)

Rating: ****

So, this is a little later up than planned due to being quite debilitatingly ill recently, and such a shame that I never got this out before the run was over! My sincerest apologies to Waterloo Theatre East and Paradigm Theatre Company. But hopefully, my views will still prove useful and insightful (that’s the plan at any rate). It’s certainly a production that is worthy of being written about.

Sarah Pitard adapts two of Oscar Wilde’s short stories for the stage, The Nightingale and the Rose, and The Happy Prince. Wilde’s fairy tales, often seen as subtle insights into his sexuality and creatively deep responses to injustice and hypocrisies, are here reset and reimagined in and among a gypsy community in 1930s Germany starting to suffer the wrath of the Nazi social eugenics.

Remodelling these beloved stories from being about bombastic birds, forlorn statues, and chatting fauna to a darker setting might seem like a difficult task to pull off. However Pitard’s approach is mindful and heartfelt keeping the essence of Wilde’s delicate narratives and conveying them in a way that enables her audience to connect with whilst avoiding silly and distracting inconveniences such as, ‘having any actors wearing pigeon costumes!’ Pitard’s Third Reich scenario surprisingly feels so natural and un-forced that you can believe Wilde came up with the plot device himself. When teamed with the fresh and enthusiastic Paradigm Theatre Company under the inspired direction of Cat Robey, the result an evening of earnest and moving theatre.

The evening is very much split into two very distinct parts. The first act being the retelling of The Nightingale and the Rose, and the second The Happy Prince. Whilst the setting links the two they are still very separate plays with very separate characters and stories, and their own strengths and weaknesses.

In the first act we get a combination of Robey at her best, but Pitard’s not as polished as could be. Out of the two, this act definitely feels more like a fairy tale than the other. The characters, like in children’s stories, don’t have enough believable depth beyond their predispositions. The text is often a little forced, especially as a lot of it is taken directly from Wilde’s flowery prose itself which is delivered a little awkwardly by the cast at times. But that’s not to make it sound worse than it was. There was still intelligence and emotion behind it, especially Tamar Karabetyan’s who managed to play Florica, the nightingale’s, role of desperation and self-sacrifice with wonderful grace.

It’s Robey’s direction that astounds. Her talent for inserting ingenious nuance into such limited space and resources is unparalleled here. The delicate white flowers dotted around the stage that so easily get trampled by a marauding and ignorant cast is a powerful and heart-breaking little flourish to the narrative. Not to mention that she generally has great command over the use of such a small space, creating tension, movement, and volume out of nothing and in defiance of any limitations. Nothing about the it is ever flat or dull.

But overall the first half just lacks that small slice of charm to propel it into something as captivating as the original fairy tale itself.

Then in Act II the tables are turned. Pitard really comes into her own with her adaptation, but we see a little less flair from Robey. Pitard adds more depth and nuance to the characters actually creating additional complexity to Wilde’s; the swallow a dying gypsy girl, and the prince a rich businessman struck with sudden philanthropy as the Nazis grow crueler. Pitard’s writing is sharp, fluid, but above all devastating, really pulling the audience right into the sheer sorrow of Wilde’s tale. Coupled with fantastic performances it doesn’t take much to be captivated here. Bethan Hanks as Isabella is brilliant, managing to convey an emotionally shattering combination of beguiling and energetic confidence in the acceptance of her fate, and compassion for Mr Prin. She works marvelously alongside Jeremy Gagan as the frail and fretful guardian, and the pair’s performance is enthralling.

However, it’s a shame to see there being little room for the ornamentation that Robey besotted us with previously. It’s still incredibly competent, the creation of a troubling merry-go-round revolving around Mr Prin’s lavish safe-haven being a strong choice, but there’s nothing as stand out as in the first act. Ultimately though, the second act is definitely the stronger of the two, and is the better choice to finish the evening.

All in all this was a production with nothing to declare but a touching and a charming execution of a brave concept.