Oh The Humanity and Other Good Intentions, End of Moving Walkway Theatre

What does one do when confronted with a company devoted to high standards of professionalism, ethical treatment and payment of their creatives, and a willingness to stretch the achievement of fringe theatre above the norm? Go and see their debut show of course! End of Moving Walkway looks to be one of the most exciting companies on the block, led by driven and passionate artistic director Paul Lichtenstern they have produced a daring, ambitious version of Will Eno’s Oh The Humanity and Other Good Intentions. Lodged in the quirky Tabard Theatre, set against the airy backdrop of Turnham Green I waited with tense anticipation for what I hoped would be a challenging, ground-breaking piece of theatre.

Lichtenstern’s production is most definitely a thrilling and gripping theatrical experience, one which goes beyond their already admirable ambitions. Yet it lacks the audacity, the spark of magic, those little moments which change an audience forever. But there is something beautiful here. At its heart, Eno’s play is a study of ordinary people forced into impossible situations. Despite this seemingly fascinating premise, Eno fails to convince with his eight characters, ranging from the Spokesperson clearly out of her depth when dealing with a downed plane to a sports coach tasked with explaining the embarrassing performance of his team.

Eight characters are featured, some presented individually, others together; but all experiencing the same existentialist confusion when faced with an increasingly absurd and meaningless world. Originally five short independent plays, Lichtenstern has threaded these together with great aplomb to give some sense of journey yet is let down by the constant emotional intensity which demands too much of its audience. Whilst the production aims to give the writing space to breathe in between monologues, it lacks the time to allow the concepts to fester and settle. Perhaps it was just the monologue format that caused it to feel burdensome. Despite this, I certainly felt a tangible effect upon leaving the auditorium; drained in a good way. Eno’s play certainly forces you to think, but is just too heavy-handed in its attempt to be ‘thoughtful’.

Oh the Humanity clearly draws influence from Samuel Beckett, focusing on humanity (obviously), the individual and what is simple and truthful. Andy Edwards’ detailed, exquisite set design captures this perfectly. A white photographer’s booth provides the backdrop for each monologue; a small capsule of time where the audience peeks into each world before being drawn back into the silence of reality. At times this feels like a large therapy session, at others a glass window with a stranger staring right out. A white shell holding the hopes, dreams, ambitions and fears of all these far too ordinary people grasping at straws in an extraordinary world.

The large cast truly grapple with this text and produce strong, if occasionally inconsistent performances. Jonathan Kemp gives a standout performance as the struggling coach, filling the room with a deep, profound sorrow and confusion. He provides the most heart-breaking monologue of the evening, made even more so by his touching and subtle use of comedy. Keith Hill waits patiently for his scene at the close of the play, exuding gravitas which lends seriousness to his struggle to turn two chairs into a car, in turn making it more comic and poignant in equal measure.

Sadly this play is often very ordinary, but at times, it is simply extraordinary. End of Moving Walkway is an astoundingly good new fringe theatre company and have produced a debut production that exceeded expectation in every way. Their ambition is great, their values to be applauded and their show a cut above the rest.

Yours,
The Madman

Tabard Theatre, Runs Until 20th September

Production images © George Linfield

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Rattleback Theatre Review – A Triptych in the Cities

*

I had high hopes for Rattleback’s A City In The Triptych: a young international cast in three new plays performed in Shoreditch’s atmospheric Hoxton Gallery. However, these overly-long plays demonstrated little more creative innovation than could be expected from a mediocre drama A Level performance.

Triptych in Cities

First up was 404: This Play Has Become Corrupted and Cannot Be Opened, a new play by Liam Patrick Harrison.  In a promising opening scene, Natasha Atherton and Jed Shardlow played a dysfunctional couple, unable to agree on the plot of the film they were meant to be producing together.  Unfortunately, with the introduction of an unexplained couple of runaways and a predatory cinematographer, the play took a turn for the wilfully disastrous.  The plot disintegrated as all the characters proceeded to variously assault each other and hold mostly inaudible arguments throughout the remainder of the piece.  In addition, Anatoli Tsempa, unconvincing as the play’s ‘director’, occasionally stepped in from the sidelines at the most dire moments, to apologise directly to the audience for the play’s failings.  She told us that the script had been partially lost in a “technological fault”, causing the gaping plot holes that the real writer presumably had not bothered to fill in.  As an ill-contrived plot device attempting to blur the lines between theatre and reality, this was one of the worst I have seen.

 

The second piece, I Will Paste Your Pictures On the Walls of the City, proved too much for my companion, and she fell asleep.  This play, intended as an examination of the relationship between activism and violence, served only as a demonstration of how an unoriginal script can doom even the most enthusiastic of casts, as the six actors danced about the space to an aggressive soundtrack, endlessly repeating such banal revolutionary phrases as “we are the people”.

 

After the interval, we were faced with the company’s devised piece, which, according to my programme, told the story of two people “connected over time and space by the actions of one night”.  Whatever the story the actors believed they were telling, it did not make its way to the audience, as we had to endure a wordless and meaningless concoction of almost parodic dramatic clichés.

 

If any of these three plays had an original point to make then we must have missed it, as the end of the show signalled for us only the sweet relief that the performance was finally over. I do not recommend.

 

Reviewed by Philippa Lawford on behalf of yours truly,

 

The Madman

 

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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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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