Theatre Review – Occupied

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews

****

“We are making little territories in your country, a hostile take over of your garden sheds, your abandoned houses and your toilets! The occupation has begun!”

Occupied at Theatre503, London Photographer Anna KacprzykFirst performed at Labfest 2012, Occupied is a darkly comic insight into the complexities of immigration and brutally challenges the perception of the British public. Set in a derelict toilet at an unnamed location in central London, two homeless Romanian immigrants occupy the area in their quest for total ‘Englishness’. Out of their hunger for acceptance and belonging, they kidnap an Englishman, Tom Jones, to learn how to be English through “Sunday roasts”, “Football on a Saturday” and “drinks down the pub”. Hilarity ensues, leaving the audience in fits of laughter, so much so that focusing on the performance whilst chortling was challenging at times. Yet under this light and comic exterior lay a deeper, more sinister and saddening past, coming back to haunt characters who can never quite escape.

Carla Grauls London premiere of her new play certainly gets the detailed attention it deserves with designer Petra Hjortsberg delivering a worn and filthy public toilet at once heightening the humour whilst constantly grounding the action in an honest, humble and saddening reality. Similarly her ragged costuming reiterates the dire state of immigrants, whilst Muly Yechezkel’s creates a simple but effective and somewhat eerie lighting to augment the drama.

The issues are sensitive, the characters huge and the writing funny, a potent but demanding combination which Mark Conway in the lead role of Alex handles with great aplomb. In such an ensemble piece, his striking and standout performance is an even greater testament to his talent. Beginning with a loud and playful interpretation he quickly reveals great depth, driving the play forward and always focusing the direction of a scene. Alongside him is Josie Dunn, superb in her role as vulnerable Andrea, forced into a miserable state of existence as she copes with the trials of the big city.

Underpinning all of this is Joe Marsh, the quintessential Englishman Tom Jones, who spends most of the play struggling to untie his bonds. He lends a subtle edge of melancholy in a strong performance yet is let down by the writing which prompts a too rapid and unconvincing transition into the unlikely comrade of the Romanians. Despite her small role, Fiz Marcus as Elena brings a commanding presence to the stage as the haunting old Romanian, often terrifying as she staggers on stage. However, although the actors excel, the play seems drawn out towards the end, seeming to drag as it struggles to find a clear direction but is ultimately engaging throughout.

Performed by a brilliant cast, Occupied is as challenging as it is funny. Grauls makes a bold entrance with this London premiere.

Over and out,

The Madman

Photo: Anna Kacprzyk

Runs until April 26th

http://www.thepublicreviews.com/occupied-theatre-503-london/

Public Reviews Logo

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

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

Public Reviews Logohttp://www.thepublicreviews.com/foxglove-the-vaults-london/

Theatre Review – Keepsake at the Old Red Lion Theatre

Image

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

Image

Changing casts? A Curious Incident…

  Curious Incident 1

Distressed by sounds, rattled by colours and has a fear for metaphors. That’s Christopher Boone. A 15 year old boy with ‘behavioural problems’ trying to cope with the chaos of regular life and trawl through the hazards of Swindon Station.

‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’ is as much dazzling as it is touching and has got to be one of the most ingenious productions ever to run in London’s West End. As cheesy as it sounds, this was a production that truly did ‘exceed expectations’

I must admit I was slightly worried about seeing one of my childhood heroes live on stage especially as Mark Haddon’s 2003 bestseller was lumped in the ‘unstageable’ category. So it was with great trepidation that I approached the grand entrance to the Apollo theatre (now sadly in need of some TLC) and took my seat in the upper circle speculating about whether Luke Treadaway and Marriane Elliot could replicate the success of the award-winning ‘War Horse’.

With the dimming of the house lights and dramatic boom these doubts fled instantly as Bunny Christie’s inventive design instantly portrayed the linear yet magical mind of young Christopher. Train tracks running along the floor, chalk drawings splayed out across the stage, a bombardment of visual effects translated Christopher’s inner complexities to the audience, bringing to life Haddon’s literature. Convincing technical effects ensured a visual feast but this production was not just about magical staircases and flashing lights.

There’s a reason Luke Treadaway won the Olivier Award for his performance as Christopher. His performance was astonishing in its sensitivity, carrying both comic relief and great emotional depth.

Curious Incident 2

Yet we must not forget Simon Stephens here, the playwright who scripted the play from Haddon’s novel. He achieves the impossible here, sticking true to the themes of the book evoking all the sympathy for Christopher and the extent of his father’s frustration.

Now enough of that raving! Following my initial review (abridged above), I returned to the Apollo Theatre, luckily before the cave in, to closely observe the new cast in play. Frankly, I was disappointed. Make no mistake, this is still a fantastic production by a brilliant team but having seen the original cast in action this feels like a stale remake. Indeed a colleague of mine walked out saying “that was good” – and that’s precisely what it was; good but not great. I suppose that’s to be expected with Mike Noble tasked with emulating second for second Treadaway’s performance. Technically and superficially the original is still there but feels as if the shiny gloss has been worn down leaving a somewhat lacklustre result in comparison. Tightly rehearsed and carefully choreographed it continues to wow audiences, but to put it simply, this latest version just lacks the spark that brought the production into the realm of ‘brilliance’.

Did the new cast match up to expectations? Share your thoughts below.

Over and out,

The Madman

Musings of a Madman

Hmmm, I’m writing a blog???!? 

Ok then, right. Yup. Time to write.  Hmmmmm….

So I suppose I should tell you a bit about myself – I guess that’s what most bloggers do. So I’m…….nah. What would be the fun in that? I’m not going to give things away that easily! Ask me if you really want to know. Instead I’m going to tell you why everyone thinks I’m mad…

It could be because I have a strange obsession with falling scorpions, or actors screaming half way through a performance, or just that I’m a monster raving loony. Seriously though, it’s just because I FREAKING LOVE ANTONIN ARTAUD.

Yup, I said it, I LOVE ARTAUD. But aside from that godly genius I’m also a frequent denizen of the emerging Islington Fringe Theatre scene (Red Lion Pub anyone?) and of course, London’s West End.

But come now, that’s enough from me. Keep your eyes peeled for my latest musings on a mad man by a mad man, a random assortment of reviews, and anything else that catches my fancy.

Over and out,

The Madman