Review: ‘The Pardoner’s Tale’ – Unicorn Theatre

This review was originally written for ‘The Public Reviews’

Writer: Geoffrey Chaucer

Director/Adapter/Composer: Lewis Gibson

Reviewer: Chris Combemale

Rating: ★★★★☆

Pardonerstale - Unicorn, London

Is greed truly the root of all evil? Startlingly original and deliciously entertaining, Lewis Gibson’s children’s revival of Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale is a vibrant exploration into the conman Pardoner. With breath-taking live music, a magically empty stage and snow falling from the skies, this ingenious production of an old and weary tale gives theatre a sudden jerk back to its storytelling roots.

Not merely a children’s show, this is an inventive reinterpretation of an ancient classic; three people seeking to cheat death for wealth, whose greed ultimately leads them to destruction. At once wonderfully exciting yet hopelessly tragic, this tale of greed and envy is joined by the storytelling pardoner, bringer of forgiving pardons, guiding the audience through malevolent woods, daring deeds and sinister treachery.

Set in the expansive Unicorn Theatre, Gibson’s production is self-consciously theatrical – making no attempt to hide the bare stage or setting marks, instead playing up the ‘magic’ of this temple. Without meticulous set or extravagant costumes, actor Gary Lagden undoubtedly has his work cut out for him, confronted with the challenge of bringing to life a multifarious range of characters. Like a hero of old, Lagden rises to the occasion, whose comedic yet truthful approach to Chaucer’s creations left audience members young and old grinning from ear to ear.

Despite this, The Pardoner’s Tale feels slow to start, lacking in substance and depth, a meaningless flurry of entertaining lines before launching into the true story. If a production could be egotistical, it would be this, at times getting so confused in its own pantomime theatricality and Lagden’s multitude of asides that the essence of the story is abandoned.

However, musicians Christopher Preece and Hannah Marshall must not be forgotten, contributing as much to the performance as actor Lagden, crafting eccentrically atmospheric musical accompaniments. Extraordinarily resourceful, the audience is tantalised with eerie dulcimers, the crackling of crushed celery and the menacing growl of a wind machine. Whilst this mostly augments Lagden’s performance, it feels overused and often a distraction from the main story rather than a subtle accompaniment.

In spite of some flaws, this is a magnificent children’s production at the Unicorn Theatre offering a deep and thorough exploration into Chaucer’s 700 year old tales. A delight for children and adults alike.

Over and out,

The Madman

Runs until 31st January

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http://www.thepublicreviews.com/the-pardoners-tale-unicorn-theatre-london/?w3tc_preview=1

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Theatre Review – Keepsake at the Old Red Lion Theatre

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Lou Broadbent as Samara and Dilek Rose as Abra in ‘Keepsake’

4/5 Stars

Electrifyingly emotional and filled with coarse humour, ‘Keepsake’ makes its world premiere at the Old Red Lion theatre this year. Rising American playwright Gregory Bream brings a complex family drama to the stage for his London debut as a seemingly jovial sibling reunion quickly turns nasty.

At once a shocking exploration into childhood trauma yet perversely funny, Abra and adopted sister Samara reunite over a few drinks in the wake of their father’s death as deep-seated resentment quietly bubbles beneath the surface. But when Abra calls on Samara to radically change her lifestyle for their ageing Mother, Samara delivers the blow she’s been waiting for since middle school.

Set in the intimate fifty person theatre at the Old Red Lion theatre, ‘Keepsake’ packs a hearty emotional punch with leads Lou Broadbent and Dilek Rose coping believably with the burgeoning family tension. Not being biased by overheating before the interval, this production still feels like it would be more successful in a larger venue with the cast’s exaggerated acting leaving a forced impression.

Broadbent gives a standout performance, subtly nuancing Samara’s superficial self-confidence with deep insecurity whilst James Corscadden’s short lived appearance as her ‘white trash’ brother was a highlight of the performance. There are few cracks in such a talented ensemble so it’s only a hyper critique to point out Rose’s weaker, slightly overplayed performance, however she flawlessly manages the vocal transition between the roles of mother and daughter.

Bream’s latest play is magnificently written, with Sean Martin’s production being beautifully well-paced throughout the first half but lacking the build-up to a strong climax, ultimately leaving you cold. ‘Keepsake’ is overflowing with multiple themes and storylines, becoming too chaotic at times but the production does a fine job of holding the threads together.

Katie Bellman’s traditional set, meticulously designed and built along with Will Scarnell’s simple yet effective lighting design complete this accomplished production in one of London’s leading fringe venues and my all-time favourite theatre.

Over and out,

The Madman

Review: ‘Don Quijote’ Camden People’s Theatre

Anarchically original and perspicaciously challenging, Tom Frankland and Keir Cooper’s striking production of Don Quijote at the Camden People’s Theatre is not one to be missed.

The audience is guided into a seemingly empty basement to be greeted with cardboard boxes, egg cartons and reams of masking tape, bringing to life our hero, Don Quijote. With a different guest performer each night, this production is dazzlingly fresh, offering a unique exploration into an iconic Spanish text. Combining original music with shadow play, autobiographical storytelling and giant paper-blowing fans ‘Don Quijote’ could easily be remarked on as ‘superficial fun’. Yet whilst jovial and light-hearted, a deeper philosophical message is brazenly thrown at the audience – whether “you count yourself amongst the contented or the afflicted”; do you seek change in the face of futility or live in meek acceptance?

Once the guest Don Quijote is suitably equipped with sturdy armour a courageous spectator is called upon to undertake a great quest, vanishing (presumably to somewhere out of the rain!) before making a grand entrance with his trusty steed in the last ten minutes. What happened on his mighty adventure, we can only guess. So what judgement can I make on this production? In truth, I can make none. That is the magic of ‘Don Quijote’ – each performance is as unique as the experience of each individual spectator, partially why I feel able to review a preview (it also ran at the Edinburgh Fringe before transferring).

However, despite this production concept being magnificently original, it seemed to lack subtlety and substance, proclaiming some great societal insight but without real depth. Nevertheless, I commend and congratulate the collaborators and performers for pushing boundaries with such inventiveness and although energy was abundant, it dissipated quickly without a sense of direction. Without an apparent climax I was momentarily perplexed as to whether or not the play had finished; only when the rest of the audience tentatively began a round of applause did it dawn on me that the finale had arrived. Yet it is a testament to the creators that I left the theatre uplifted, inspired and ready to change the world.

‘Don Quijote’ is a startling insight into the nature of societal change, a thorough exploration into the spirit of the hidalgo and one of the most mesmeric productions I have seen this year (ok it’s only been a week but you know what I mean). I cannot claim to tell you what you might experience, except that you will be better off when you come out than when you came in. Go see it while you can, with diversity in each performance, you never know what you might discover.

http://www.cptheatre.co.uk/event/don-quijote/

Over and out,

The Madman

The Madman Himself – Antonin Artaud 101

ImagePoet, playwright, actor, practitioner, theorist, director – do you detect a hint of awe? Rarely has a single figure, so irrelevant during his time, so completely influenced modern theatre as we know it. Theatre critic Susan Sontag proclaimed that Artaud “has had an impact so profound that the course of all recent serious theatre can be said to divide into two periods—before Artaud and after Artaud.” Whilst this is a far too dogmatic approach for my liking, after Artaud died (with a shoe in his hand!!) his writings have influenced the likes of Peter Brook and inspired world-renowned theatre company, Complicite.

Rejecting the highly traditional, naturalistic and bourgeoisie theatre in early twentieth century Paris, he developed a radical philosophy culminating in a series of essays entitled ‘The Theatre of Cruelty’. Artaud believed that theatre’s place in society was to challenge, to affect and to free an audience; none of which classical theatre achieved. Remarkably similar to German psychologist Sigmund Freud, he sought to free the repressed subconscious, taking heavy inspiration from dreams to wake an audience “hearts and minds”.

He wanted to shock an audience, stripping the human psyche to its most primal, most human characteristics and as such placed great focus on ritual, calling for actors “burning at the stake, laughing at the flames”. For Artaud, classical theatre had placed too much focus on the spoken word and scripted language.

In response, he crafted a new language; a language of screams and cries, of gesture and movement a language of primal guttural sounds that would both terrify and delight, encompassing the audience in new, total theatre. The audience would become a ‘participant’ rather than an external, comfortable ‘spectator’. Furthermore, Artaud’s revolutionary use of space advocated the removal of the traditional (in it’s most derogatory sense) end on stage and auditorium with a bare, empty space and with an audience “physically engulfed” by performers and emotion, thrown in the “middle of a vortex”.

I often cite Antonin Artaud as my greatest inspiration. Many people ask me why? He’s a madman! Well, I believe that…

In every madman there is a misunderstood genius, a fragmented insight so terrifying for society in its truth that to defame the man from whose head this insight shines is the only solution. In this solution there is only lies.

Over and out,

The Madman

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