Tag Archives: Lost Theatre

Musical Review: Nicobobinus (LOST Theatre, London)

Official artwork for 'Nicobobinus'.

Official artwork for ‘Nicobobinus’.

Rating: *****

In A Nutshell

An utterly spellbinding adaptation of Terry Jones’ much loved children’s book. Has children and adults alike awestruck and enrapt.

Overview

Nicobobinus is a boy who can do anything! But one day, when a Golden Woman turns his arm into pure gold, him and his best friend Rosie must travel to the Land of Dragons in search of the only known cure: dragon’s blood. But their journey is fraught with peril, including murderous monks, surgeon pirates, and moving mountains.

Aye, you! Eilidh Debonnaire (front) as the Golden Woman, and Max Runham (rear) as Nicobobinus. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Aye, you! Eilidh Debonnaire (front) as the Golden Woman, and Max Runham (rear) as Nicobobinus. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Writing

Monty Python’s Flying Circus alumni has written a children’s book with wild imagination and whimsy. Characters are flamboyant and improbable who both amuse and wonderfully boggle. John Ward’s adaptation absolutely embraces and matches Jones’ creative mind, but also adds a theatrical imagination that wholly and inescapably charms.

Ward’s adaptation is one definitely aimed at a younger audience. It’s face paced, silly, and larger than life enough to keep the smaller ones involved at every moment of the way: laughing, gasping, and even quivering at dragons and dangers. It’s an epic weave of a tome with tremendous highs and perilous climaxes. Taking on Jones’ novel, Ward seems to tap into a humour that children thrive and love – just the right amount of silly and unpredictable: a posturing precisely honed at the level for small-folk. But simultaneously, there’s plenty for the adults too, including things like Monty Python and even Les Miserables reference jokes intelligently and unexpectedly placed. But most fantastically, there’s a universal comedy and tone that both parties involved lap up with relish.

The only thing that could possibly be lingered upon is that new-age morality that Jones injects, and that Ward perhaps stays on this a little too long at points. But even in doing so, it doesn’t take away from anything that Jones and Ward have conjured, or even dampens the pace and wonderment that the production adds to it. It’s just a noticeable thing rather than anything critical.

But overall, the fact that a two hour long show can keep children’s attention hook, line, and sinker without them fidgeting or chattering, is a mammoth achievement.

Life's a drag(on). Lloyd Gorman (left), Jofre Alsina (centre) and Eilidh Debonnaire. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Life’s a drag(on). Lloyd Gorman (left), Jofre Alsina (centre) and Eilidh Debonnaire. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Music & Lyrics

Eilidh Debonnaire’s score is beautiful, catchy, and energetic. It’s simple enough to grab the attention of the younger audience and to keep it, but complex and varied enough not to sound infantile in the slightest. Her scoring for an eclectic gaggle of instruments, from double basses and various saxophones to accordions, adds a rich and quirky sound which is just as interesting as the songs are sweeping and bouncy. But it’s not just in the songs that Debonnaire excels. There’s also some wonderful underscoring that replicates the imagination, rhythm, and the energy of the rest of the production.

Lyrics are straightforward and easy to understand for children, but still have a basic poetry that makes them skip and aurally intrigue. There’s really nothing bad I can say about the score: it’s pitch perfect for our pint-sized patrons, and also delights the parents.

Row, Rosie, row, Samantha Sutherland as Rosie. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Row, Rosie, row, Samantha Sutherland as Rosie. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Direction & Production

DumbWise and Red Ladder theatre companies have produced a spellbinding production using incredibly resourceful means. All there is by means of set is the stage painted like a giant map, and two moving halves of a bridge that alter their positions to suggest everything from the canals of Venice, to giant walls, and even a pirate ship. Couple with this projected images and textures upon the set and stage, it prompts a fervid imagination among the audience to fill in the blanks. Where imagination can’t quite deliver, Joshua Pharo’s video work keep the pace going using luscious animated illustrations. It adds to further wonder and variation that keeps adults and children engrossed. Elsewhere, Ward, also directing, ensures that there’s rarely a static moment, also using length, breadth, and height of the space to almost dizzying effect!

Everything in this production is spot on and well thought out. A maelstrom of colour, activity, and wonder: it’s captivating.

Golden Boy. Max Runham as Nicobobinus. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Golden Boy. Max Runham as Nicobobinus. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Cast

If the adaptation, the music, and the production wasn’t perfect enough, there is also an amazing cast involved. Max Runham as titular Nicobobinus is exceedingly sprightly, bounding about the stage with ferocious energy. Indeed, on press night his fervour and dedication was so much so that he ended up sustaining an injury, coming on for final bows with a bloodied nose! Samantha Sutherland as Rosie matched him stride for stride, and together they’re exude an almost exhausting power and child-like quality between them, perfect for the roles of our exuberant hero and heroine.

But they are supported by a trio of supreme comic talent: Debonnaire, Jofre Alsina, and Lloyd Gorman. As excellent entertainers, they are side-splittingly hilarious to watch. Excelling at everything from facial physicality to physical high jinx and marvellous vocal characterisations, they keep both adults and children in roars of laugher throughout. They also work effortlessly together to create a close-knit ball of comic energy that is unbearably funny.

Verdict

Out-rightly one of the most magical pieces of theatre I’ve seen as both a child and an adult. A dazzling Christmas show that will have each and every member of the family utterly dumbstruck with amazement.

[youtube http://youtu.be/hqR4ZWg4klI]

Nicobobinus plays at the LOST Theatre, London, SW8 2JU, until 3 January 2015. Tickets are £15 (concessions and family tickets available). To book, visit http://losttheatre.co.uk.

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Panto Review: Booty and the Biatch (LOST Theatre, London)

bootyRating: ****

In A Nutshell

A fantastic anarchy of panto, satire, and general filth, exploding into a larger new home with hilarious bombast.

Overview

In the French village of Ashby-de-la-Zouche, a cold-hearted prince is turned into a biatch and given sh*t Netflix connection as punishment for his insolence. In order to break the spell he must learn to love. Enter Beauty (aka Booty), who is trying to be wooed by UKIP candidate Nigel Garage. Her father, Crazy Old Maurice, after being capture by The Biatch, makes a pact to exchange his freedom for Beauty’s imprisonment. With a gaggle of mal-transformed servants, can Beauty teach Biatch how to love and break the curse, and enable Mrs. Pots to finish Orange Is The New Black?

Writing

Paul L. Martin, who until recently did bi-yearly adult pantos aboard the Battersea Barge, moves into the more generous confines of the LOST Theatre on Wandsworth Road. He continues to employ his trademark wit and knowing with gusto to create a colourful and daring panto, despite it being more risqué than the norm. All the trappings are there, including rousing songs and sing-a-longs, and high-spirited dance numbers. What’s great about Booty and the Biatch, though, is the cutting and no-prisoners-taken approach to satire, sending up everything from UKIP and Operation Yewtree, to the Disney version of the fairy tale on which the show has heavily stolen from based itself upon.

Whilst it’s not as out-rightly filthy as the capital’s other adult panto offerings, such as Sleeping Booty!, it doesn’t mean that Martin has lost any flare or frivolity. There’s still jokes about bum-sex and more than a few naughty words that slip through, but Martin still manages to ensure that a joy and magic that is crucial to panto is there every step of the way. Creating a solid panto as a basis for the evening is what takes precedence here, and therefore where the focus lies. If you take away the smut and the rudeness, you’d still be left with something that’s a hoot of a show because of this. With plenty of knowing jokes about the industry and it’s rivalries, along the sexual references and the send-ups, and you’ve got blistering funny moments left, right, and centre.

But most wonderful, as always, with Martin’s pantos, is just how relaxed they are. Yes, there is (vaguely) a script, but Martin and his company thrive in the fact that things are allowed to go wrong. In fact, these are some of the best moments.

Everything isn’t perfect, though. There are parts of the show aren’t as tight as others, and moments where the cast (and the audience) run away with themselves just a little too much. But it’s still all part of the fun, and are foibles that can be forgiven through affection, rather than becoming any major detriment.

Direction & Production

As well as these pantos have always worked very well in the claustrophobic space of the Battersea Barge, Director Vanessa Pope really embraces the larger venue. Even thought the audience is now bigger and more formally arranged, they are still as integral a part of the panto as before and are involved at every given opportunity, even if it is to trample through them and steal their booze! But specifically, what’s certainly most spectacular about this venue transfer, is that Pope has gone to wonderful lengths to include wonderfully ambitious song and dance numbers that were not possible before, and they’re delivered effortlessly. Couple this with Matt Overfield’s glitzy choreography, and you’ve got a fringe panto that can rival the shazam of larger more affluent affairs. For a company which is used to a very small space, you wouldn’t have known it seeing as how comfortable they seem here at the LOST Theatre. Pope also knows how to get the best out of panto pacing, whilst leaving enough flexibility for her cast to interact and improvise according to how the audience respond/heckle.

Birgitta Kenyon’s involvement on stage as Musical Director also adds a really nice sense of live music and interaction which the cast thrives off, adding fun and spontaneity that a backing track just can’t provide. Also, despite budget constraints, Miranda Evan’s costumes find a humour in their resourcefulness that forms as much a part as the panto’s jokes as Martin’s script.

Cast

Martin and his team couldn’t have assembled a better panto cast. Martin, as the dame/Mrs. Pots is not only fantastically camp, saucy, and ridiculous, but brings a side-splitting psychosis to his character, especially when interacting with Chip.

To point out but a few of the fantastic performances; Jamie Anderson as The Biatch is also as fierce as they come commanding an outlandish queeny bitchiness, with quick-fire put-downs and heels as sharp as his remarks; and Becky Finlay Hall is preposterously funny as Cogsworth, pulling in the laughs with her lovey-dovey professional-actor-in-panto demeanour, rapaciously sending up an actor’s sensibilities. But that’s not to say that these particular cast members are better than the rest. Everyone involved, even the cameo from the stage manager, all expertly contribute in propelling the illicit Pandemonium of this rip-roaring evening.

As a company, they all work off each other’s charisma, feeding off their own energy as well as the audience’s. Most surprisingly, however, is how well they actually sing together. There’s a real power, punch, and immaculate sound that they bring to the big numbers that makes them as incredibly slick as they are silly. It’s a unexpected touch of talent and professionalism for a production that knowingly postures itself as a little ramshackle.

Verdict

An anarchy most splendid. A manic panto with added naughtiness guaranteed to make you laugh your party hat off!

Booty and the Biatch plays at the LOST Theatre, London, SW8 2JU until 17 December 2015. Tickets are £18.35. To book, visit www.paullmartin.com.


#Pantomonium Sneak Peak – EXCLUSIVE Clip from ‘Nicobobinus’

In just over a week’s time, I’ll be launching a serial feature on my YouTube channel, #FreshOffTheStalls. Starting on 1 December 2014 “#Pantomonium” will take a look at pantomime and Christmas shows past and present, and look at the state of current day seasonal theatre.

Featured in the series will be DumbWise theatre company, who are bringing their family musical adaptation of Monty Python’s Flying Circus star Terry Jones’ children’s book, Nicobobinus, to the LOST Theatre this year in association with Red Ladder Theatre Company.

As well as chatting to them about what makes a Christmas show and how this differs from pantomime, I was allowed to film them during a rehearsal. Therefore, as a sneak peak for the series and an EXCLUSIVE clip of their upcoming show, I’m proud to present a rehearsal excerpt of “Morning In Venice”, the show’s opening number.

[youtube http://youtu.be/jiGI8eHKyCw]

Nicobobinus will run at the LOST Theatre, London, SW8 2JU, from 11 December 2014 – 4 January 2014. Tickets are £15 (concessions available). To book, visit http://losttheatre.co.uk.


Face to Face Review: Betty Has To Go Now (LOST Theatre, London)

Betty-Oct-2014_y7t55n3kRating: ****

In A Nutshell

Joyful, inappropriate, and very very funny.

Overview

Take one part woman obsessed with Betty Crocker, add a pinch of nuclear Holocaust paranoia, season with a dash of menopause, and bake until outrageous.

Writing

Deirdre Strath’s culinary creation is a direct product of previous Face to Face festivals. The piece had a life as a 15 minute segment of last year’s festival, and for this year she has worked with Colin Watkeys to develop it into a full 50 minute show.

Strath’s creation is a homely taste of American hospitality combined with twisted and off-kilter world views, and tempered with an almost religious dedication to the queen of American home cooking. It’s inspired and riotously original and a character like no other to have graced the new writing. This volatile and unique concoction, whilst one cherry short of Bakewell tart, paves the way for outlandish and incredibly witty points of view as well as the cream of some comic moments, icing the show with unexpected smarts.

What’s best is that Strath peppers her dialogues with some of the most unexpected and tongue in cheek quips, all recited with incredibly creative application of language, most joyously her astonishing allegory of amazingly astute alliterations. You never quite see where they’re going to come from, and most of the time you’re left in a state of humorously winded and in awe. But behind it all is also the pathos of a woman on the edge; going through menopause, genuinely worried about international atomic warfare, and eating and drinking through the increasingly strained relationship with her son. When these rise above the laughter, you get a dark and touching portrait of a woman staving off a nervous breakdown, and who is as vulnerable as the rest of us.

The only issue is that parts of the extended text lacks the quick-fire punch of other moments. But nothing ever feels like padding and this is essentially just Strath’s comprehensively created character just being less funny for a moment rather than being less interesting and engaging.

[youtube http://youtu.be/9PizyE8Fd-g]

Performance

Strath really does embody her character ever atom of the way, to the point it’s difficult to see where she ends and her Crocker-acolyte begins. But as well as delivery the zingers and outlandish one-liners with slick ability, Strath also produces a gaggle of props which she also utilises with as much zest and comic timing as her text. Cue delicious cakes and cookies willing dished out to the audience, customised cocktails, mini blow torches, and a rather “explosive” creation made especially for a certain East Asian dictator. She takes the time to welcome the audience into her make-shift kitchen and make them feel at home, adding even more to her ineffable charm and demeanour.

But there were times where she slips up a little, sometimes forgetting her lines and stumbling a little through the order of her narrative. But where she does she rolls marvellous with the punches and recovers well to the point you wonder whether it was all purposeful to begin with. But you can’t come away without loving Strath’s character (and her cakes) and having seen the bright light of gospel of Betty Crocker…and the hydrogen bomb.

Verdict

Forget the Great British Bake off. Deirdre Strath serves up an evening with more sass, glamour, and flavour, than Mary Berry’s soggy bottom ever will.

[youtube http://youtu.be/C0srgX52wCU]

Betty Has To Go Now was performed as part of the Face to Face Festival of Solo Theatre which took place at the LOST Theatre, London, SW8 2JU, between 6 – 10 October 2014. For more information about the festival, visit www.solotheatrefestival.co.uk.


Theatre Review: Night of the Hellhound: Live! (LOST Theatre, London)

182763074_origRating: ****

In A Nutshell

An unexpected and wholly original Halloween show that, whilst delivering more satire than scares, produces chills and festive fun in abundance.

Overview

The remains of the infamous Lambeth Hound, aka the London Devil Dog, has returned to its home borough. At the LOST Theatre, we join a live radio show for this special and spooky unveiling. With an esteemed professor and a celebrity “psychic medium” invited as guests, things soon descend into stupidity. But beyond it grows a sinister and supernatural threat.

Writing

Robert Valentine and Jack Bowman’s approach of supplying chills and frights through this imaginative alternate reality really is different and unusual from your usual Halloween offerings. We’re the audience of a live radio broadcast unveiling of a supposedly cursed artefact: the mummified remains of a Bronze Age dog that was ritualistically slain. It’s not an overtly gothic setting: in fact it’s quite the opposite.  But it’s the first step in creating something that’s as unexpected as it is original when it comes to Halloween frights.

Valentine and Bowman have gone to some great and effective lengths to create what could otherwise be a very real history and watertight academia surrounding it. In fact, unless you knew better, you’re otherwise pulled in hook, line, and sinker into believing there is an actual legend about a demonic dog that roams Wandsworth Road. Everything is almost believable in it’s presentation. If it weren’t for the fact that you know that GLCR (106.66fm) isn’t a real radio station, you’d be completely fooled. Their efforts to purport this alternate reality, extending to websites, Twitter accounts, and even a celebrity cardboard cut-out in the foyer, really pay off: you’re involved at all levels of the story as it envelops you from every corner. The theatre’s staff also make cameos in going about their business as the show descends into a nightmare.

Audiences certainly shouldn’t expect a scare-a-minute outing along the lines of The Woman in Black or Ghost Stories. Valentine and Bowman aren’t trying to emulate these and are more about creating something new and different, and succeed in doing so. Therefore you won’t find yourself jumping out your set every five seconds. Indeed, Night of the Hellhoud: Live!’s scares and creepiness are rationed quite effectively. Overall, the show is more satire than screams, sending up bogus mediums, ghost hunting television programmes, and just how ridiculous local media can be. But when things start to get spooky, they really are quite chilling.  You always feel like something’s going to happen, but it seldom does, creating and uneasy sense of suspense juxtaposed against the farce being played out on stage

At the very end, it does get a bit unbelievable. But it’s been such a good show that you’re actually with it through to the bitter end and revel in the supernatural climax. It’s a blast from start to finish and something that’s a unique and wonderfully enjoyable.

[youtube http://youtu.be/5APrv9ohK0M]

Direction and Production

The overall production of the show really is top-notch. Nothing looks out of place or lack lustre anywhere; from the live video feed on a bowl of dog biscuits to some excellent surround sound effects. Particularly, the mummified remains of the Lambeth Hound look particularly gruesome and unnerving, being a slick doppelgänger for a real-life mummy.

Bowman’s direction is meticulous too. There’s always something going on somewhere, from the professor’s sardonic fidgeting, to the production assistants fretful wanderings around the audience. These constantly catch your attention and make you wonder what exactly is happening. Even if they are red herrings (or not) there’s never a moment when you lose interest or disengage with the broadcast’s shenanigans in this meticulously executed mystery.

Cast

The entire cast are really excellent in taking on their respective characters. Particularly, the constant squaring off of cynical Professor Jonathan Purvis, played by Tom Blyth, and exuberant psychic medium Josh Bartell, played by Troy Hewitt, is a real treat. They are always a great source of entertainment and really holds the show forth: Blyth being as wonderfully dry and severe as any real life academic is and Hewitt supernaturally channelling the likes of Derek Acorah. Marie Rabe as star presenter Michelle Mead captures wonderfully the ego of a small-time local celebrity, bouncing between arrogance and fraught mayhem when she starts getting out of her depth. As a company, each member put’s in a real gusto in bringing the show to frightful life, and are just as instrumental in the show’s sense of joy and spookiness as the rest of the production.

Verdict

It’s great to see something new for Halloween that’s not derivative, and instead is inventively original. But importantly, between the frights and frolics this is an incredibly fun show.

[youtube http://youtu.be/sM3VbewlHqA]

Night of the Hellhound: Live! plays at the Lost Theatre, London, SW8 2JU, until 31 October . Tickets are £15 (concessions available). To book, visit www.losttheatre.co.uk.

 


Face to Face Review: Martha Gellhorn – The Troubles Seen (Lost Theatre, London)

Martha Gellhonr (second from left) and Ernest Hemingway (second from right) with unidentified Chinese officers.

Martha Gellhorn (second from left) and Ernest Hemingway (third from right) with unidentified Chinese officers.

Rating: *****

In A Nutshell

A powerful and entrancing mini-biography about a most remarkable woman, with an even more remarkable performance.

Overview

Performer, Sian Webber, and solo theatre writer extraordinarie, Jack Klaff, team up to create this minuscule history play about one of the world’s most notable war correspondents of the 20th century, who also just happened to be one of the wives of Ernest Hemingway.

Writing

Klaff is no stranger to adventurous solo pieces, after his barnstorming performance of his biography of Sir Isaac Newton at last year’s festival. Now, teaming up with Webber, Klaff turns to exploring an iconic female member of the species.

What’s most spectacular about the writing is that, for want of having had the privilege to know Gellhorn in real life, this is the closest you’ll ever get, as what Webber and Klaff present what could be a dead-ringer for her if you were none the wiser. Gellhorn, as a character, is authoritative as you can get: gushing with brash confidence and American cocksure that, worthy of the place on the pedestal that history has given her. Natural but bolshy, Klaff and Webber’s writing has created a behemoth that is as believable as is beguiling.

Most interesting here is a minimum use of Klaff’s maxim that “everyone is a crowd”. Webber is only made to play an entirely separate character only the once during the entire show, turning her stance and stature to a more timid second-hand testament in explaining why the subject of her marriage to Hemingway was something to be skirted around with Martha. It had the potential seem out of place, but somehow it didn’t at all stick out, adding a nice, if not brief, garnish of variety.

Performance

Webber is absolutely indomitable in her role as Gellhorn. In fact, you could absolutely believe that she could be Gellhorn herself, in just how effortless she is in the role. Specifically, her interaction with the audience as an integral, living, and responsive part of the production is stupendous. It’s like you’ve got your own private audience with the legend herself, and you’re just as an important part of the conversation as she is. You do end up listening rather than speaking, but you feel that’s your choice rather than what you’re expected to do. Making Webber’s Gellhorn even more realistic are myriad little performance nuances she adds, such as the opening of the top of her blouse when she gets a little hot, or the hesitation in putting down her glass of water whilst she digests the accounts she’s just revisited. It all seems natural and completely spontaneous rather than something rehearsed, and is an epiphanous example of performance sheen.

The most fascinating facet of her performance is just how straightforward she is as she recounts her life: there isn’t any unnecessary exaggeration or drama where there so easily could have been. But that’s not to say that it ever comes across as unfeeling, as behind it all are always the little spikes of horror and trauma of the things she has witnessed, from the Spanish Civil War to the carnage of the WWII Normandy beach landings. Webber does a marvellous job of balancing this bullish air of glamour against the underlying distress and dissatisfaction of her witness of human beings behaving at their worst or most resilient. Whilst it seems like a little thing, it really encapsulates Gellhorn as a person and as a historical figure: someone who reported what they saw, accountable and measured, but not without profound personal contemplation and reflection.

Verdict

The final result is a wholly engrossing, elating, and surprisingly personal experience. If you didn’t know who Martha Gellhorn was before this, you are left feeling educated and in awe. If you did, you feel like you’ve come into contact with a living, breathing, and fascinatingly palpable legacy that you can’t help but be completely involved in with every single syllable Webber produces.

[youtube http://youtu.be/kIzADrty8rg]

Martha Gellhorn – The Troubles Seen was performed as part of the Face to Face Festival of Solo Theatre, which took place at the Lost Theatre, London, SW8 2JU, 6th– 11th October 2014. For more information about the festival, visit www.solotheatrefestival.co.uk.


Face to Face Review: The Fall Of The House of Usher (Lost Theatre, London)

Jamie-West-Usher_i8a8prwpRating: ****

In a Nutshell

An ambitious reduction performed with intoxicating and engrossing theatricality.

NOTE: This piece is a work in progress.

Overview

As part of the Face to Face Festival of Solo Theatre’s evening of experimentation, musician Jamie West reduces the prog rock opera by Van De Graaff Generator front-man, Peter Hammill, with libretto by Chris Judge Smith, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, for solo performer.

The narrator is summoned to the house of Roderick Usher. Upon the apparent death of Roderick’s sister, Madeline, he convinces the narrator that she should be buried in the vaults below the house. But all is not what it seems and, days later, things start to go bump in the night in the tombs below.

Music & Libretto

Hammill’s opera is wonderfully accessible in the fact that his prog rock riffs and melodies are quick to hook. Judge Smith’s libretto also blends Poe’s Gothic prose with more natural language meaning that the high-poetry doesn’t stifle the flow of the music or seeming awkwardly inserted, but still gives the glory of Poe’s wordsmithing room to pierce through.

West has made some adjustments to the music, in trying to make it possible to perform it as a solo musician on only a single given instrument at any time. But West also admits changing some of the harmonies to make them more accessible and chime more with him personally as a performer. Whilst it might seem sacrilege to make changes to the actual operatic score beyond what is necessary, unless you’re a die-hard fan of the opera you’d never have realised it unless you already knew that this was the case. Even so, it still manages to flow and be catchy without feeling like a cheaper or changed version.

[youtube http://youtu.be/NehTc1nZPI4]

Performance

West has an astonishing voice that really lends well to the piece. His incredibly rich baritone voice is garnished effortlessly with subtle but thrilling vibrato. But whilst West’s voice is certainly divine to listen to, what makes him astonish here is his stage presence and sense of theatricality. The stage figuratively shrinks when he starts to perform, as he’s a musical story-teller of the finest pedigree. You hang on every note and blissful tremelando. He does a superb effort in bringing out the high drama and dark devices of Poe’s story and Hammill’s music.

One small criticism is that it;s sometimes difficult to get a grasp of what character’s voice is coming through at any given moment: it’s not immediately clear that it’s the narrator when spoken and Roderick when sung. Also, there’s currently the absence of Madeline from West’s reduction, with gender and vocal range being an obstacle he’s yet to tackle.

The main grumble is that, in it’s current form, the piece is far too short. Whilst you’re really starting to become utterly absorbed in the rich world West conjures, it suddenly ends, leaving you gasping for more. But hopefully as the piece continues to develop, the show will expand to be even more inviting and more satisfying than it currently is.

Verdict

Musically thrilling and astonishingly performed, this bold reduction keeps the piece well away from the grave. Dark and hypnotic, it’s a dark and dexterous show that should only get better as it develops.

[youtube http://youtu.be/OYyIoeqdZIM]

The Fall Of The House Of Usher was performed as part of the Face to Face Festival of Solo Theatre, which took place at the Lost Theatre, London, SW8 2JU, 6th– 11th October 2014. For more information about the festival, visit www.solotheatrefestival.co.uk.


Face to Face Review: Adult Child/Dead Child (Lost Theatre, London)

claire dowieRating: *****

In A Nutshell

Colin Watkey’s “chorus of one” treatment – using several actors to explore the same character – makes for an intense exploration of Claire Dowie’s acclaimed look at bad childhood and mental health.

Overview

What happens when a child when it receives a lack of love? How does it affect their mind, and their health? We watch Claire Dowie’s character grow up through a troubled family life, right through to dealing with schizophrenia as an adult. Festival founder and director Colin Watkey’s, in reviving Adult Child/Dead Child, experiments in seeing how using several actors playing the same role effects the piece.

Writing

What’s most beguiling about Dowie’s writing is not only how free and natural the central character is, using unembellished and down-to-earth anecdotes and experiences, but the simple yet incredibly effect poetry that runs throughout the entire piece. It really emphasises and brings out the emotions and certain plot points that hook you right into the character’s story and plight without any effort at all. This poetic grasp of language really adds a simple yet lavish texture and rhythm to the text that makes the piece incredibly easy to listen to and engage with, but without adding any unnecessary theatre or pretence to someone who is very definitely a human character.

It takes us on a heartbreaking and absorbing journey of a child who has been let down at every step of the way into adulthood, resulting in a life on the edge of both reason and sanity. Laced with little garnishes of humour, it’s a deep, honest, and angry look at mental health, complete with gorgeously devastating insights into the fragility of human mentality. Nothing is exaggerated or over-dramatic, which is what makes it speak so directly to an audience and makes it so affecting. It taps so effortlessly into the uncomfortable delicacy of the human condition, and how easy it is to be destructively cruel to someone.

Direction

Watkey’s direction, as well as employing his “chorus of one”, succinctly embodies his views on what solo theatre should be through his direction here. His stage expands to include the entire auditorium, embracing the view that the audience are the “other character” of any solo show. Actors rest in seats within the audience and pop up next to them, or even perform their part at the back of the stalls. It’s audience immersion at it’s most simple, bringing the play, and therefore it’s themes and issues, physically to the audience.

The treatment of having seven actors play moments of the same character adds not just a certain sense of variety, but also intrigue. We don’t get seven interpretations of a character, per se, but several different perspectives. The issues explored within the piece always stay the same throughout, but the angle and empathises of them is slightly different from performer and performer. It’s fascinating, whilst always ensuring the narrative and clarity of the piece is never muddied. This is heightened by the fact that the actors cast here constitute a wonderful cross-section of gender, age, and culture, meaning you really get kaleidoscopic points of view that are difficult not to connect on at least one level by drawing on the performers own charismas.

Additionally, the decision to use Stephen Oxley as a makeshift “narrator” during the poetic interludes between scenes adds a sense of relief and momentum, especially as Oxley adds such elegant gravitas in doing so.

[youtube http://youtu.be/1_6k_oARrC4]

Cast

It’s impossible to pick out any particular performer as being better or any more outstanding than the other. Even as exhilarating as it is to see Dowie perform part of her own work nearly 30 years after she first wrote it, she isn’t any more or less exceptional than any of the other cast.

There are moments, however, that really stick in your mind about a each performer’s contribution. To pick a few, Martin Stewart’s playful nuances not only manage to provide some light relief through characterisation rather than script, making the character even more charming and tragic. Lola Kotey is marvellously manic and just that a little bit twisted in her exploration of mental health and its labels and stereotypes. And when Deirdre Strath’s charming and eloquent American homeliness suddenly crumbles into raw distress, it just makes something inside you break.

But what’s most extraordinary about the entire cast is how they feed off the audience. You get the feeling that some of the writing could come across more light and comic at various points throughout. But as the audience ended up having a bit more of a severe reaction to the show for this particular performance, each performer works with this rather than against, responding and complimenting the atmosphere augmenting it’s effect on people to an astonishing apex.

Verdict

An excellent experiment in what solo theatre is and means that has paid dividends. Dowie’s piece is lifted to intense new highs by an inspired vision and an impeccable cast.

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Adult Child/Dead Child was performed as part of the Face to Face Festival of Solo Theatre, which took place between 6-11 October 2014 at the Lost Theatre, London, SW8 2JU. For more information about the festival, visit www.solotheatrefestival.co.uk.