Tag Archives: theatre

Review: The Boy Who Climbed Out Of His Face (The Jetty, London)

Shunt artwork - A5 RGB 72dpiRating: ****

In A Nutshell

A wildly experimental event that will push you senses, your courage, and your perceptions of theatre.

Overview

Renowned (and arguably infamous) “event” company, Shunt, take up a six week residency at new south London arts venture, The Jetty. This new show promises a wild multi-sensory 45 minute experience inside shipping containers, drawing influences from both Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies and Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness.

Writing

With so much secrecy about the actual content of the containers (which I’ve been asked to keep) it’s difficult to say much about what happens inside them. However, if you think it near impossible to combine The Water Babies and The Heart of Darkness together, on account that these couldn’t be any more polemic to each other, you won’t be surprised to find that they don’t. Whilst there is a definite sequence of events inside the containers, if you go expecting a narrative in the traditional sense, you’ll only be left baffled and confused. However, if you go open to an experience, then you’ll get a lot more out of it than you would otherwise.

You genuinely have no idea about what is going to happen next as everything is supremely surreal and nonsensical. There are moments that are literally in your face, disorientating, or just downright creepy. These are made even more unnerving as there are moments where continuing on with the experience means that you, and your fellow audience members, must swallow your fears and press on to the next area; you may be singled out as an individual, or simply left to your own devices as a group in this strange and surreal landscape, with moving forwards being  your only option. Given just how bizarre and unsettling the events are, this is sometimes easier said than done.

The only major criticism is that the show is too short. 45 minutes fly by, and just when you’ve found you’ve steeled your courage enough to carry on deeper into Shunt’s twisted world, you find you’re at the end twitching for more. Furthermore, the climax is so subdued, although beautifully staged, that it feels like a big let down given everything that has been building up towards it. But at a humble £10, you definitely get your money’s worth, even if you’d like to stay longer or wanted a bit more from the event’s apex.

The Boy Who Climbed Out Of His Face: Official Trailer

Production

With Shunt’s emphasis on senses and how their theatre can make you feel, it’s no surprise that the quality of production and attention to aesthetics is superlative. Everything from lighting, set, costume, and even optical illusions, all work in tight cooperation with every other component and is as essential as the last. It all works perfectly in unison to create a netherworld of madness that makes Alice’s trip through the looking glass seem like a stroll around Ikea.

Visually there are more than a couple of incredibly arresting visuals that become images that will really stick with you. This is set design at it’s most ambitious but also most artistic, with some scenes that are as high-quality and striking of those in large scale operas. There’s some particularly good use of lighting, sound, and video throughout, demonstrating that Shunt aren’t scared of experimenting with different mediums to create a truly unique world.

Most interesting is bringing the sense of touch to the fray. By asking all audience members to remove their shoes and their socks, what you feel with your feet is just as quintessential. But this is also a very clever experiment on forcing an audience out of their comfort zone by heightening how they perceive the world around them, and making them do something that you wouldn’t do anywhere else.

Cast

Whilst difficult to say much without giving much away, Shunt has an indefatigable cast that are as intense as the production itself. They make an effort to thrill and disturb as excellently as the rest of the show. But you also get the feeling that they’re willing to push themselves as performers in their roles as much as the production pushes the audience, making them as integral and as striking as any other part of this experiment.

Verdict

If you want something unique and off-the-wall, then you’ll love this. If you want something more traditional, then you’ll probably loathe it. Go with an open mind (and possibly some Dutch courage) and experience one of the most exciting and different pieces of theatre that London has to offer. Short, contained, and intense, this is the sideshow reinvented for the 21st Century and Generation WTF. Terrifying and intoxicating, this is the stuff of both dreams and nightmares.

The Boy Who Climbed Out Of His Face will run at The Jetty, London, SE10 0FL, from 14 August – 28 September 2014. Tickets are £10. To book, visit www.barbican.org.uk. For more information about Shunt and the production, visit www.shunt.co.uk.

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Theatre Review: Love and Lust in Lewisham (Tristan Bates Theatre, London)

Louis Cardona (left) Ruby Snape (centre) and Price Lindsey (right. Photograph: Gregor Donnelly. Courtesy of the production.

Louis Cardona (left) Ruby Snape (centre) and Price Lindsey (right. Photograph: Gregor Donnelly. Courtesy of the production.

Rating: ***

Directed by Suzy Catliff, this play is set in Lewisham, where we find Bradley, a timid and hard-working student, desperately trying to find a cheap place to live so he can continue his studies. Replying to an advert for a “room”, he ends up in Pinko’s rancid bedsit faced with only a bed in a corner behind a shower curtain. Coerced by the slovenly American’s knock-down rent offer, Bradley moves in. But when Pinko, after a drug and alcohol-fuelled binge in Soho, brings home Polish masseuse and holistic therapist, Ania, she ends up uncovering aspects of all their personalities and fears that none were expecting.

At the beginning, the comedy is quite fun. The laughs are found in what nuances Pinko, Bradley, and Ania’s personalities bring out in each other, rather than relying on the clash of personalities and the living situation. Therefore, the jokes are surprisingly wry, honest, and refreshing, despite being a scenario akin to 1970s American sitcom, The Odd Couple. The dialogue is a little stilted, but you’re laughing, so it’s not a massive issue.

However, award winning author, Stewart Permutt, decides that what the play really needs is to career towards something darker and more serious. Whilst it is always worth exploring deeper human emotions such as belonging and affection, it means that all too quickly the play loses its quirks and charms, and starts to drag, with laughs suddenly few and far between.

Without much warning, the already chauvinistic and alpha-male wannabe, Pinko, turns violent, causing a whirlwind of cataclysms to sweep through the plot. And when severe mental health issues crop up with an approach that is shallow and trying hard to shock, you’re not quite sure where it’s all going. Furthermore, you really start to notice how forced some of the dialogue is, and it starts to grate.

It’s a shame that it veers from quirky comedy to overwrought drama in such a way, because both the comic and the tragic elements are actually not bad on their own merits. Having already highlighted the quality of the comedy, with the tragedy, once you strip away the troubling simplicity of how the mental health issues are dealt with, you actually have quite a poignant piece about how relationships play out when it comes to love, lust, and the longing for companionship. If the more sensational side of the play was less melodramatic, it might have be a bit less schizophrenic and more of a consistent and lighter evening.

The cast behind the show are very good. Price Lindsey, as Pinko, is so testosterone fuelled and over-masculine that you genuinely flinch at his cocksure, brash, and over-sexed antics, and feel intimidated by his bully-boy tactics. Louis Cardona, as Bradley, is also wonderfully shy and politely long-suffering of his bullish housemate from hell, and palpably exudes the tenderness that endears Ania to him. Ruby Snape, as Ania, is also on top form. Although possibly the most level and “normal” character at the start of the play, when her desperation sets in, she turns into something sweetly sinister and grossly manipulative; a marvellously subtle but equally hideous character transformation, performed with quiet panache.

All in all, it’s still a decent night out, and does leave you pondering about how we interact and relate to one another. You also, oddly, find yourself even a bit sympathetic towards Pinko in his eventual downfall. Ultimately, you laugh, you feel, and you leave the auditorium thinking. That, in itself, is reason enough to go.

Love and Lust in Lewisham plays at the Tristan Bates Theatre, London, WC2H 9NP, as part of the Camden Fringe Festival, until 17th August 2013. Tickets are £10 (concessions available). To book, visit www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk. To find out more about the Camden Fringe Festival, visit www.camdenfringe.com.


Theatre Review: The Boat Factory (King’s Head Theatre, London)

"Don't stand and wonder how to do it - do it, and wonder how you did it." Dan Gordon (left) and Michael Condron (right). Photograph: Courtesy of the production

“Don’t stand and wonder how to do it – do it, and wonder how you did it.” Dan Gordon (left) and Michael Condron (right). Photograph: Courtesy of the production

Rating: *****

Belfast, for many, is a place of infamy; whether it’s because it’s the city that built the fated Titanic, or recollections wander towards “The Troubles”. But it’s so easy to forget that behind these grandiose preconceptions lay actual lives and families. Dan Gordon lived in the shadow of the domineering Harland & Wolff shipyard, and his father actually worked there. He has teamed up with Happenstance theatre company to produce this two-hander looking at the life of a young apprentice, Davy Gordon, and the people he meets and the friends he makes.

It’s a very simply show. Gordon is joined by only one other actor, Michael Condron. Between them they play Davy and his fellow apprentice Geordie Kilpatrick respectively, as well as a whole host of other characters. There is nothing more to the set and props other than two bits of scaffolding, a few raised levels, a cyclorama made up of a plan of the shipyard, and two hats. But the entire thing is less of a play and more a piece of storytelling, meaning that what’s actually happening on the stage is unimportant as it’s all in the mental imagery that these two conjure.

Gordon and Condron shifting in and out of different characters at the beginning of it all takes a moment to settle into. But it’s not difficult, and once you’re there, you find you’re suddenly plunged deep into the heart of post-war Northern Ireland, with these two fine actors stoking your imagination into recreating their world with vivid fascination. As character actors go, these guys are supreme. They effortlessly change from one persona to another, in mannerism, voice, and physicality. Condron, in particular, is especially masterful at this skill playing everything from an effeminate shoe shop boy to a bullying and violent foreman, without you ever quite realising that it always just him channelling these different characters. This peculiar ability makes everyone Davy meets, and therefore you meet too, seem wholly real and believable, cumulating into making the show incredibly absorbing.

The utterly immersive quality of the show is helped by Gordon’s rich text. The characters’ descriptions of the boat yard and its workers are so beautifully written that even if all you’ve seen of it are the pictures in the programme, you suddenly find yourself caught up in a mental image that’s incredibly tangible. These are also helped by some brilliant sound from Chris Warner and Gareth McLees, whether it’s subtle bits of composed music to augment a scene from Warner, or a sense of energy, drive, and rhythm from McLees’ percussion.

But ultimately, it’s Gordon’s modest and insightful accounts of Davy, Geordie, and the rest, that really clinches it. They’re ordinary folk who enjoy simple pleasures. They’re not melodramatic, they’re not caricatures, and neither are they outright heroes or villains. They’re just people. However, Geordie’s slightly more profound and left-of-centre look on life, as a result of the effects of childhood Polio, gives an enrapturing curiosity to the story: something which, as Davy gets swept up in himself, you can’t help but be totally beguiled by.

Despite all its earthliness, it’s still an incredibly high romantic look at the yard’s history: an incredibly fond remembrance more than anything else. But that by no manner means that the piece is self-indulgent or shallow. In fact, Gordon tempers his tale into something that can be universally understood, connected to, and engage with, by seamlessly weaving mentions of Herman Melville’s masterpiece Moby Dick to devastating effect, making pristine crossover of its bleak imagery and themes. It magnificently augments the overall tragedy of the lost lives and the catastrophes that went on in the shipyard, that we unfortunately also bear witness to and feel the effects of during the course of the show.

But nonetheless, it would be impossible to create a piece about Northern Ireland without the use of Ulster humour. Cheeky, wry, and sometimes a bit bawdy, as well as being swept up in the high emotion of the piece there are also plenty of moments where you’ll laugh just as hard as you’ll cry.

The result is a dizzying and heart-shattering piece of theatre. Seldom does a play captivate you with its very essence of drama so quickly and so completely as this does. Achingly moving, endearingly human, and brutally honest, The Boat Factory is a show that is an astonishing and enduring portrait of those who worked at world’s most famous, yet infamous, shipbuilders. Do NOT miss it.

The Boat Factory runs at the King’s Head Theatre, London, N11QN, until 17 August 2013. Tickets are £20.50 – £25.00 (concessions available). To book visit http://www.kingsheadtheatre.com.


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: A Doll’s House (Young Vic, London)

Hattie Morahan (left) and Dominic Rowan (right). Photograph: Johan Persson. Courtesy of the Young Vic.

Hattie Morahan (left) and Dominic Rowan (right). Photograph: Johan Persson. Courtesy of the Young Vic.

Rating: ****

Henrik Ibsen’s domineering and shocking play about female independence gets a new version by Simon Stephens. When Nora (Hattie Morahan) and her family are on the cusp of achieving financial security an old debt comes back to haunt her, jeopardising everything. But how far can womanly self-reliance and ability get her in a society that views her as weak and subordinate?

There is something very Alfred Hitchcock in Carrie Cracknell’s production. Her innovative use of a revolve on which Ian MacNeil’s pristine Wendy House sits, coupled with Stuart Earl’s chilling score with echoes of Bernard Hermann, is captivating. Between scenes the house spins whilst life goes on within. Immaculate timing and well placed moments create some truly riveting effects, such as when Krogstad (Nick Fletcher) suddenly appearing as a dark stranger at the end of the hallway only to instantly spin out of sight. But the real genius of this is that it’s far from gimmick. It creates a faultless fluidity throughout the entire play on which the growing tension relentlessly compounds upon, creating an unbearable atmosphere throughout the auditorium – not unlike Hitchcock’s single-shot masterpiece Rope.

Stephens’ new version is also incredibly refreshing, natural, and flowing, something which Cracknell has effortlessly matched. Unlike some older versions he does away with clunky literal translations but ensures nothing is taken away from the context. Ibsen’s trademark infantile males and the flawed but bold strength of the women are not diminished, and Stephens’ still manages to include all the subtlety of imagery and profound and complex depth of characters that made Ibsen a master. Despite set and costume design suggesting that Cracknell has moved the time period forward a fair few decades from its 1879 premier, for something not far off 150 years old this version feels incredibly modern and relevant.

Furthermore Cracknell has an excellent cast behind the production. Morahan is just stupendous in what can only be described as a rocket-fuelled performance. She goes from blissfully composed, complete with hollow social airs and graces, to a woman desperately and frantically trying to keep face whilst her life falls apart at the seams. She is utterly engrossing to watch and brings a palpable intensity to Nora. Her support from Dominic Rowan as her insufferably doting, proud, and patronising husband, and Susannah Wise as her steadfast and fretful childhood friend, also lend themselves to an overall powerhouse production.

All criticisms are negligible. Cracknell’s attempt at creating an unstoppable follow-through production means that the length of the first act makes it bit of an endurance test. The variations in the energy inherent in the text causes the pace to falter a little, but ultimately it only tires because you do. Also, Fletcher isn’t quite as obviously sinister and devious as you feel his character should be, but this juxtaposition between character and portrayal adds more enigma than distraction.

Overall this production is magnificent. It’s almost impossible, given such a profound and gobsmacking impact it still has now, to imagine how enormous a shockwave it would have sent through late nineteenth century Norway. Cruel, compelling, and extreme this is an unparalleled thriller not to be missed.

A Doll’s House plays at the Young Vic, London, SE1 8LZ, until 20th April 2013. SOLD OUT. Please contact the theatre for information on returns and Day Tickets (www.youngvic.org).


Theatre Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Apollo Theatre, London)

Luke Treadaway (left)  and Matthew Barker (right). Photograph: Brinkhoff/Mögenburg. Courtesy of the National Theatre.

Luke Treadaway (left) and Matthew Barker (right). Photograph: Brinkhoff/Mögenburg. Courtesy of the National Theatre.

Rating: ***

The National Theatre and Simon Stephens adapt Mark Haddon’s award winning novel into a stage spectacle. Christopher Boone (Luke Treadaway) is a reclusive 15 year old who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome. When his neighbour’s dog is killed with a garden fork it sets him on a detective quest to find the murderer. But Christopher ends up discovering more than just whodunit which sets him on an adventure that will push him and his condition to the very limits.

Played out on a giant piece of graph paper, Bunny Christie’s set and Pauile Constable’s lighting design is astonishing, choc full of secret panels and hidden cubby holes and lit with an array of 3D projections. This suggestion of Christopher’s mathematical mind-scape is dazzling and unforgettable. But it’s not just the stage that is full of surprises. In this vast bare space Marrion Elliot’s direction uses physical theatre to create a unique and visually arresting internal world for Christopher to play out his story. From zero gravity, to wall walking, and fast forwarding, there is an abundance of imagination that’s almost too much to keep up with.

Treadaway is also fantastic as Haddon’s unlikely hero. His intense and unrelenting energy is matched by an acute detail to every aspect of his character, from the revered fidgeting and twitches, to the stilted meter of his responses. You’re just as invested in his performance as the tricks and treatsies of the staging.

The first act is utterly enthralling. Haddon’s narrative is full of intrigue and enigma which cast and creatives do superbly to augment through theatre. There are moments as well that are heartbreaking, especially during the revelation about his mother, making it difficult to disengage with even if you wanted to.

But Act II is an absolute let down. It’s as if Elliot et al had simply run out of ideas. The whimsy present in the first half evaporates completely, especially with a sudden clumsy self-awareness that appears without reason or warning. Scenes become fractious and quick with snap and unruly transitions as the production just trundle on to round off the narrative, rather than revel in the story as it did earlier. This contrast is a real downer after being so spoilt by Act I, and with very little heady high-theatrics to engage with the latter half drags, even with Treadaway’s unwavering octane. The only charm in Act II is provided by a gorgeous puppy, which whilst adorable, is cheap.

It’s such a shame that such a mesmerising opening act is marred by a lacklustre second. But for all its masterful stagecraft and strong performances, if you’ve already read the book you might as well leave in the interval to avoid being disappointed. But overall, you can just about forgive the faults in the second act for the undeniable mark the first leaves with you.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time plays at the Apollo Theatre, London, W1D 7EZ, until 4 January 2014. Tickets are £12-£85 (concessions available). To book visit www.curiousonstage.com.


Theatre Review: SIRO-A (Leicester Square Theatre, London)

Siro-A. Photograph: Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

Siro-A. Photograph: Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

NB: This is my review of Siro-A’s 2013 show. If you’re looking for their 2014/2015 show, click here.

Rating: *****

‘Virtual Reality’ noun. A computer-generated environment that, to the person experiencing it, closely resembles reality. – www.collinsdictionary.com Forget everything you thought about ‘virtual reality’ and prepare yourself for something far more extraordinary. Japanese group SIRO-A bring their ground-breaking show to London. Mixing live performance with 3D projections, techno music, dance, lasers, shadow-play, and traditional magic, the result is an enthralling and exhilarating hour-long assault on your senses.

Projection in theatre is nothing new, and those familiar with the work of Complicite will have already been wowed by such innovations. But SIRO-A raises the bar to an all new level that won’t fail to awe even the most hardy theatre buffs. And even if it manages to somehow unimpressed you’ve got to admire the tireless robotic precision it takes to execute such a show – SIRO-A are more akin to androids than men.

But this isn’t ‘virtual reality’, this is ‘virtual hyper-reality’. The group perform playing with and manipulating set and projected image that blur the boundaries between life and technology to the point where they’re almost indistinguishable – it’s like someone has dropped a tablet of acid between two Telsa Coils and you’ve subsequently woken up inside the internet. There are moments where life and image are one and the same and it’s impossible to tell them apart. Is that hole projected or a real one? Is that a performer or a video bursting through the screen? Confusion is gloriously rife.

The hour long spectacle absolutely flies by and nothing drags. Whilst it’s the group’s visual innovations that drive it, it’s also propelled by hypnotic video animation and thumping techno music. Also, there is also a good dollop of playful humour that really augments the show and varies the pacing. If this was a full-on serious affair no matter how bedazzling the gimmicks are there’s too much potential for it to become stale. But you end up chuckling just as much as you sit there with your mouth agape.

The show is pristine and faultless. However, unfortunately the same can’t be said about the venue. The problem with the Leicester Square Theatre is that it’s absence of raking means it’s a little irritating to have to crane your neck around any person above average height who you have the misfortune to be sat behind. Also, being so close up means it’s easier to spot the tiny give-away flaws that are unavoidable in such a technically demanding production. A quick search on YouTube and you’ll find that they’ve played much larger venues and the show is just as impressive, if not more so. But the inadequacies of the theatre are not so much of a burden to bear that it should stop anyone from seeing the show as it’s still utterly brilliant.

Overall SIRO-A is literally unbelievable. A magic show for the twenty-second century that’s unfathomably astonishing.

SIRO-A plays at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, WC1H 7BX, until 22 April 2013. Tickets are £17.00 (concessions available). To book, visit www.siro-a.co.uk.