Teach Theatre ‘Etiquette’ to Youngster’s? No way!

Shocked and horrified. That was my reaction to Susan Elkin’s recent article on The Stage, advocating strict etiquette that children should “sit quietly and listen/watch”. Whilst this call for etiquette lessons bothers me in the extreme I first feel obliged to respond to such sweeping and patronising generalisations about said “older students”. Why do we feel the need to criminalise all young people? More and more I hear the‘t-word’ being tossed about as some grave insult or even disease as our society pulls stereotypes from the air and superimposes them on a whole generation. And no, I’m not talking about some emerging curse-word, I’m talking about ‘teenagers’. Normal people who deserve to be treated as such. If it is so necessary to be giving theatre etiquette lessons to children/teenagers then surely we should be doing the same for adults.

In fact, I’ve found children are often more receptive, engaged, and responsive to productions which ‘adults’ might sneer and laugh at. There’s no need for this silly criminalisation, there’s diversity in teenagers as in any demographic. Of course you’ll find raucous, rowdy trouble makers but you’ll also find bright, innovative and fascinating people. You’ll find mischievous, Machiavellian toddlers, and kind generous toddlers just as you’ll find lovely and unpleasant 60 year olds. My fellow 16 year olds are launching theatre companies, directing short films and being generally decent folk. Rather than spending our time bemoaning the perceived lack of cultural etiquette within young people, I advocate that instead we try to bring more young people to the theatre which is far more constructive, culturally enriching and will secure the future of theatre for the next generation. The looks of irritation, disgust and disdain I’ve received when attending performances with friends or when reviewing for The Public Reviews is sickening.

Right, that part of the rant over. You’ll notice I get a bit heated when defending my generation but back to theatre! As I seem to be disagreeing with everything Elkin has to say, it seems only natural that I would disagree with her assertion that etiquette of sitting still and quietly needs to be taught. For me the beauty of theatre is that it’s live performances and most, especially Shakespeare, are interactive at some level – we should not try to quash that with false pretensions of social superiority by acting ‘sophisticated’ and adhering to outdated conventions. An actor friend of mine said to me that it’s pretty hard to interact with an audience member if they’ve been threatened with being hung drawn and quartered if they react. In fact many of the actors I’ve spoken to place great weight on an audience’s response to assess the success of their performances – how can they continue to progress without being judged and always met by a stony silence? I believe much can be learnt as a performer trying to engage a younger audience. Not too long ago at thirteen years old I remember being utterly spellbound by the magic of the RSC’s production of King Lear and only a few weeks ago myself and several friends were entranced by the kids production of The Pardoner’s Tale at The Unicorn Theatre. This article only reinforces the need for more projects like the RSC First Encounters to give people access to theatre who will have never seen a performance before. I can testify that Shakespeare is often killed in schools (by no fault of my teachers) and we should trying to be giving these young people an experience that will get them engaged not making them run a mile away. I believe that the worst way to develop theatre and increase its access (something we all want surely?) is to seal it off with fancy conventions, archaic etiquette and a snobbishness that will drive people away in the masses.

Let’s not shroud theatre in unnecessary, rigid structure. Let’s bring theatre back to its heart. Let’s remember what we came for. The performance.

Over and out,

The Madman

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Theatre Review: Foxglove, The Vault Festival

This review was originally written for ‘The Public Reviews

Foxglove - The Vaults London

***

A lone man enters and places a wooden stool centre stage. Whilst a lonely stool set on a bare stage might have prepared the audience for a revolutionary piece of experimental theatre, such false perceptions are soon shattered. Yet this was by no means a disappointment as Squared Circle’s first production kicks off with a direct, humorous and enthralling opening. Tucked away inside the murky tunnels of the Vault Festival, Foxglove opens with calm suspense before the booming voice of Josephine Timmins as the cornerman leaves the audience reeling from the first blow.

‘Foxglove’ centres on the pre-fight distress and anxiety of The Boxer and his female Cornerman. The Boxer, played by Brian Tynan, struggles over his identity, fearing his physical inferiority to younger, stronger fighters. He had been shouted out of the ring, branded as a “worm” and subsequently rejects his fighting name, “Mantis”, refusing to be seen as a ‘stick insect’. Recent drama school graduate Tynan gives a captivating performance as the troubled Boxer, lending a strong grounding to the performance, often producing the highlights of the show.

His Cornerman, or woman, played by Josephine Timmins must handle both the tired Boxer’s insecurity and the profit-driven Promoter played by creator Josh Morrall. Timmins fiery passion and energy as she copes with being a woman in a ‘man’s sport’ aptly contrasts the young and endearing sensitivity of the Boxer yet often feels overdone and one-dimensional leaving a calmer depth desired. Although the venue uses sparse technical effects, placing great focus and responsibility on the actors, the entirety of the cast rise to the challenge. Tynan shines at a level above the rest giving a subtle, engaging and mildly comic performance combined with a strong onstage chemistry that showcases the love and conflict between Boxer and Cornerwoman.

However, whilst performances were on the whole, formidable, the writing and play as a whole lacks substance and direction, leaving a smile on your face but ultimately lacking real purpose. Morrall explores the relationship between “a worn out fighter and his trainer” yet fails to drive the play forward, leaving it to stagnate particularly in moments between Cornerwoman and Promoter. A lack of clear direction is not inherently bad but this is no Waiting For Godot and if there was any underlying message it definitely did not stick.

While Foxglove won’t shake the Western world, it is a solid debut production from brand new theatre company, Squared Circle, and worth its brief hour in the atmospheric tunnels beneath Waterloo station.

Over and out,

The Madman

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This review was originally written for ‘The Public Reviews’

***

Musical Direction: Jo Louis Robinson
Directors: Bo Boland, Sarah Henley, Tim O’Hara

Interval So Far - Cockpit, London

An amalgamation of productions is always tricky, butInterval So Far pulls it off, just. A mixture of poignant past shows, Interval Productions puts on an impressive but overly long three hours of entertainment, keeping you on your toes and your heart pumping. No names will be mentioned as this was truly an ensemble production (plus there were no programmes), utilising choral and ensemble movement to maximum effect to create hard-hitting youthful drama. The rarity of a new, young rock musical in the fringe is an exciting prospect and sets high expectations upon entering to moody atmospheric lighting and a collection of your finest chavs lurking menacingly in the corners. The show opens with a bang as the audience is treated to an intensely energetic, tightly choreographed dance sequence from a flood of performers.

Frantic movement is heavily made use of throughout, imparting a sense of urgent immediacy and jolting awake the audience. Yet the whole production seems to be too much of a sensory overload with directionless focus splayed everywhere and the intimate yet expansive stage at the Cockpit Theatre is exploding with flailing dancers, booming vocals and screaming actors whose originally infectious energy becomes increasingly tiresome. Combined with little light comic relief, Interval So Far often feels like it’s pounding its audience with a sledgehammer, always operating at a high operatic tension which gives the audience little time to recover.

After The Turn was the first and most comprehensive excerpt of the three, exhibiting a strong and gripping story line, never fearing to dig into gritty disturbing psychology. It is stark exploration into loss, anger and depression, forgoing the stereotypical musical bereft of a real story. This powerful tale centres on Michael, having lost his mother Amanda in a hit and run accident who then shuts down for the next three years. Musical aspirations for his band are abandoned, instead replaced by locking himself in his room, isolated from society.

His thoughts are vocalised through the singing of a younger self on stage, whose ethereal voice (Stephen Rolley) haunts his present life as his successful financier uncle tries one last time to pull Michael out of depression before jetting off to Singapore. In fact, the calibre of vocal ability from the company is breath-taking and astounding in its complexity and control; it would not look out of place in a pricey West End musical.

Yet the sparse moments of dialogue exhibit a clear dip in quality, with contrived delivery and forced emotion that fails to find the truth in each character. Performances feel too big and exaggerated for the performance space and the audience is left longing for smaller, more intimate moments. This is certainly not aided by using microphones even when not in song, creating an artificial vocal quality and certainly not necessary for a relatively small venue.

Interval So Far was certainly an enjoyable and entertaining three hours, yet this reviewer cannot comment on the plot of the final two excerpts as the storytelling heart was lost amidst a sea of dancers and rock music. This production grapples with some hefty themes, yet fundamentally appears confused, revelling in style over substance. Despite this, the talented cast deliver charismatic, playful performances with stunning choreography making an evening that will not be wasted.

Interval is a brilliantly innovative and challenging company, but one that needs a little more subtlety.

Over and out,
The Madman

Reviewed on 9th February

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Review: Return To Sender – Jermyn Street Theatre

This review was originally written for ‘The Public Reviews’

Writer/Director: Vickie Holden

Rating: 3.5*s

ReturntoSender - Jermyn Street, LondonDelightfully truthful and charmingly eccentric, Vickie Holden’s production of is a playful one-woman comedy with a multifarious cast sharing some of their most intimate histories. Through a series of deeply personal letters and hyperbolic performances, Holden strives to craft a light-hearted commentary on the little moments in life yet just as her characters struggle to relieve themselves of their stories, so Holden struggles to wholly enthral her audience.

Her tremendous energy and enthusiasm pooled with an assortment of judiciously chosen props and costume brand these four characters from an elite aristocrat to working-class ‘Dave’ as instantly recognisable stereotypes. Holden’s initial characterisation is utterly hilariously, leaving grins plastered across every face but it isn’t long before they become tediously unfunny. Despite this thin veneer of comedy barely holding, Holden deserves much applause for her bravery – self-directing, writing and producing the entire production which on all accounts has turned out better than most.

She relies little on technical effects, leaving it all down to her personal performance and range of spectacles to imbue each character with life and charisma. Intensely physical, she maximises her body’s potential to utterly embrace each character at the drop of a hat (literally) and manages seamless transitions to classically polar opposites. She combines elements of Berkoff in her inflated performances and it is testament to her ability that she skilfully confines her generally engaging One Act production to a one-meter radius performing space.

Despite her individual acting prowess, Return to Sender leaves the audience bewildered and confused, often as its attempts to convey a wider message ultimately falls flat. There is no “deep shit” in this production. Yet it is not surprising that this won Best Act at the 2013 Solo Festival and whilst Holden’s plucky and daring production may have flaws, it is an entertaining evening that will undoubtedly leave you smiling and wondering about that fish man in the market.

Over and out,

The Madman

Reviewed on 26th January

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