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

 

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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/

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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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http://www.thepublicreviews.com/interval-so-far-cockpit-theatre-london/

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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http://www.thepublicreviews.com/return-to-sender-jermyn-street-theatre-london/

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