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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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

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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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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

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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