Review: Cosmic Scallies, Royal Exchange

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Cosmic Scallies by Jackie Hagan

Royal Exchange, Manchester [07.10.17]

A concrete-esque set up of three benches and an arch way. The labels ’44 Feltons’, ‘Birch Green’, ‘Skelmersdale’ – Dent’s address. A pair of fake uggs and a cardie. A woman (Dent) emerges from behind the the arch way wearing odd socks, tie-dye leggings and layered tops with a mug of what could be tea, coffee or a beverage of multiple of descriptions. Shaun opens the door. And here we have our Cosmic Scallies.

Cosmic Scallies is as much about being disabled and being working class, as it is about the depths of friendship and how are experiences inform who we become but are not the entirety of who we are. These complex and important themes are accompanied by banter about posh pubs and their shit names, the adjectival alliterative names we affectionately give those from our ends and an ode to the best snacks you can get from the corner shop for less than a quid.

We are taken on a journey with Dent and Shaun. A journey that begins with Dent calling up a handy man to remove her late mother’s belongs from her house only for her long estranged school mate Shaun to turn up at the door. The two reminisce on old times, take the piss out of each other, argue over the severity of Dent’s disability and remember why they drifted away from each other in the first place. As the two attempt to pick up Dent’s medication and she is faced with the usual obstacle course posed to the chronically ill (if you follow me on social media, you’ll have experienced my rants about unsigned prescriptions and unavailable meds), Dent is faced with a decision of continually insisting she can do everything for herself or allowing Shaun to take the prescription and resolve the situation for her. In her reluctance and Shaun’s help focused insistence, we journey back in time to their school years. We hear of Shaun’s neglect-fueled childhood and loneliness in primary school and Dent’s experience of bullying in high school, often fueled by Shaun.

But what moved me most about this was the final scene between Dent and Shaun. Dent is in severe pain and her electric has gone. Shaun takes her final tenner to buy them a couple of treats and, returns with some Space Radars, Kit Kats, Freddos and some multicoloured fairy lights – batteries thrown in. And watching the two of them sitting, draped in these lights with their snacks, reflecting on life reminded me of what really matters. The last time I had a rough patch PTSD wise, one of my friends sat in my bed with me and at stupid o’clock suggested that we sit and meditate together. I think he did a good job. I struggled. But it’s the thought that counts and the thought here is that friendship and mattering to each other transcends being popular, having a few bob and feeling okay. Mattering is personal and it’s special. And that uniqueness and truth is something that this friendship and this play truly embody.

What Jackie has successfully achieved is a story crafted with honesty and bluntness. This is a play that turns theatre on its overly middle class head and redefines what makes a story worth telling. Cosmic Scallies is very real. It is a reflection of a life that many people live and if this shocks audiences, they’ve clearly not come up from their slumbers for quite some time. I imagine this play will be described as gritty and hard-hitting because as soon as anything differs from Hamlet or Jane Eyre, all adjectival hell breaks loose. But, what I am going to conclude with is that this play is genuine. A genuine piece of theatre about people who do matter and whose stories deserve the same recognition as those that are more palatable and/or Instagram friendly.

Verdict: Cosmic Scallies really is a special offering among the mounds of mediocre theatre that gets chucked at us daily. It is the hidden gem at a car boot that makes your Sunday afternoon. But, most importantly, it is truly relateable for the skint, the disabled, the struggling and the hopeful. An important play that almost got a tear out of me – theatre tapping into my feelings at its best.

 

 

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Review: The Believers Are But Brothers, HOME

The Believers Are But Brothers - photo by Jack Offord

The Believers Are But Brothers by Javaad Alipoor

HOME, Manchester [10.10.17]

Two men. Gaming. Interneting. The Internet.

Javaad Alipoor’s The Believers Are But Brothers is an exploration of the deepest darkest corners of the internet, breeding grounds of extremism and men lost to their obsessions to make somewhere in this world ‘great again’. Part performative lecture, part storytelling and part audience participation, this piece attempts to immerse us in a world that is only a handful of clicks away on Google.

On the most part, this immersion is successful. We are escorted on a journey alongside three young men, none of whom lead particularly exciting lives. It is with these men that we go from their mundane daily lives and things that bother them into a toxic realm of online forums that treat comments and videos of slaughter and rape as mere lunch time banter. Chuck in a handful of extremist magazines and we’re already well on our way to a side of the internet that no one really wants to see. Or rather a side of the internet, that some choose to see because it speaks to them and it gives them a voice in a world that they feel tramples on them. Even if they fail to realise that the world tramples on plenty of people other than them.

Prior to this show beginning, audience members were asked to join a Whatsapp group and during the show, we would be sent messages ranging from memes of Lionel Richie to slightly more sinister messages arranging meeting places for extremists. Now, I imagine that these messages and experiencing this part of show, immerse an audience in this subject matter on a much deeper and unsettling level… that’s if you actually receive any messages. I was surprised that for a show that was so tech filled, there was no support offered to audiences beforehand (I had told a member of staff that I was not receiving messages) but also the lack of tech equipment available. I am not suggesting that devices should be provided to all audience members as such, however there is an assumption made that audience members have the equipment and/or knowledge to access this part of the show. This in itself is a reflection of who this show can be for and I question a show that has such a significant message but can only be partially experienced by its audience. Not all phones have the capacity for Whatsapp and not everyone has or can afford a smartphone. How do these audience members fully experience this show? Or is this only for the majority? Something for the masses. A modern day technological old boys’ club…And it’s all very well to suggest sharing with the stranger next to you but no one really appreciates a random peering at their phone when anything might pop up. After all, you’ll need your data switched on…

Despite this accessibility issue, I do feel that Javaad has created an important piece of theatre. His performance is compelling and he possesses a knack for storytelling that successfully entices audiences and makes us believe that we are truly in this dystopian digital world. He successfully highlights the prevalence and silent creeping of the internet into our daily lives and, uncovers the unsettling notion that one might be able to change society’s DNA through the power of the internet.

Verdict: an important show tackling interesting subject matter with an interesting concept for audience immersion – though this needs a little more thinking

 

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Review: The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting, edited by Jennifer Tuckett

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The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting

Edited by Jennifer Tuckett

Contributers: Rob Drummer, Ola Animashawun, John Yorke, Tom Holloway, Fin Kennedy, Steve Winter, Caroline Jester, Caroline Horton, Lucy Kerbel

The Student Guide to Playwriting belongs to a series of texts that provide simple step by step lesson plans to support writers to develop the necessary skills to write in a particular genre or style, in this case playwriting. Ten lessons have been contributed along with worked examples by some of the industries leading theatre professionals.

The lesson plans in this book are clearly structured, easy to follow and include exercises so that you are able to develop your skills in the named area. This book covers everything from getting started, structuring and character development through to dialogue, theatricality and redrafting. There is also advice on the business aspects of being a playwright, a topic which often goes uncovered. The back of this book includes samples of the winning work by students who entered the Student Guide to Writing Playwriting Competition.

This book is a useful and important read for any aspiring playwright. This isn’t just because it gives you a step by step guide to actually writing a play but it also gives you a good idea of the areas and topics you may cover if you partake in a playwriting programme. Having this knowledge will also likely assist in your application. We all know it can be difficult to get onto writing programmes and part of that difficulty lies in being unsure about what is expected in an application to successfully gain a place on the scheme. This book offers a selection of inside industry tips to support you in the early stages of your career as a playwright.

Overall, I feel that this book is an excellent asset to any writers bookshelf. My only disappointment is the lack of diversity among the contributors to this book. Whilst there is a fairly even split of male and female contributors (which given the current state of theatre is a positive step), there is only one BAME contributor. I suppose this is a reflection of the current state of the theatre industry but more needs to be done to actively challenge this. I am growing tired of picking of books, attending talks, watching performances and seeing such little representation of people of colour, but particularly women of colour. I hope that in future books within this series, there will be a greater focus on providing diverse perspectives and including more contributors from diverse backgrounds.

Verdict: An important, easy to access and useful read.

 

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Review: Kissing The Shotgun Goodnight, Contact

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Image: Noelson Dace

Kissing The Shotgun Goodnight by Christopher Brett Bailey

Contact, Manchester [04.10.17]

‘This is a hell dream… This is a hell dream… This is a hell dream’ 

…it sure is.

Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight is a piece of music theatre blended with spoken word poetry. As an ex poet, I thought this would be right up my alley. I should have known that things would not bode well when encouraged by four people to put ear plugs in because this was going to get loud. Now is probably a good time to say that noise was most certainly not the problem.

This piece begins with three overhead lights glaring at the audience. We can see the outline and shadows of a multitude of amps in the darkness on stage. Spoken word emerges into the space. This is an unconventional approach to sharing spoken word but I’m not entirely sold on having the words and nothing else. If this were a radio piece, sure, yeah, but in the theatre, it just wasn’t doing it for me.

I was hopeful though as a women with a violin walked out on stage. The lights dimmed and settled on her. The control and passion she played with was compelling and began to draw me in. However, this connection was quickly lost due to the barrage of noise that followed. As an ex SLT student, I’m really not a fan of referring to sound as noise but in this case, I will make an exception. There is a point at which sounds are so loud that they pulsate through you and it gives you as je ne sais quoi kind of feeling. However, surpassing that perfect point leads to a loss of meaning and feeling like you have the worst headache (and not in an artistic, i’m reflecting kind of way). What follows is a multilayered sandwich of noise and ominous spoken word that feels rather artificial.

Sitting through this reminded of a brief stint I had working in a factory near Byker. I was packing Dove for Men Christmas gift sets, all day, non-stop with a scratched Atomic Kitten album playing in the background. Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight is not as bad as this Atomic Kitten album, however I came out of this performance feeling the same way I did after my first (and only) day of working in the factory: tired, uninspired and switched off.

Verdict: Dull.

 

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Review: People, Places and Things, HOME

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People, Places and Things by Duncan MacMillan

HOME, Manchester [27.09.17]

We’re looking at a big, white, lidless, front-less box with a crepe paper-esque back wall. The walls have a tiled effect and a padded air about them. This isn’t the best way to debunk the cliches that surround rehab and psych treatment units but still lets hope what follows is somewhat of an improvement.

Our piece begins with a barrage of sound that can only be likened to being in the middle of an augmented reality of a wild, 90s version of laser tag. We are then dropped into a replica of Chekov’s The Seagull. We are here only briefly until Nina has a nose bleed and time splinters and changes.

People, Places and Things is an exploration of a woman’s drug and alcohol addictions and, her journey through rehab. Though Emma is quite the comedian, there is clearly something very dark and unsettling bothering her. We first encounter Emma as Emma in a reception area. She is on the phone quite frantic giving instructions to the person on the other end about things they need to do in her house. She spends a lot of time calling this person a cunt. It turns out to be her mother. Very affectionate.

But of course, this heart warming moment is disrupted by a half dressed man with ‘the end’ written across his chest, charging into the reception, shouting and ready to fight a nurse with a chair. To shut him up, they give him an injection and plonk him in a wheelchair. Yes, all the mental health stereotypes alive and kicking. Just what we need more of…

Emma is a compulsive liar. She lies about her name. She lies about her life. She’s an actor and so there’s an argument that she lies for a living. Emma has a lot of blackouts and one suicide attempt under her belt. She also has the sense of humour that only forms when you’re sick of tired of being asked whether you have plans to harm yourself and how you’re feeling today. Sarcasm is her vice – it’s almost as important for her functioning as the drugs are – potentially more.

Emma never finishes anything. Violin lessons, diets etc she just doesn’t follow through. And this is the quality of Emma that is most relatable – addict or not, mental illness or not – we’ve all got a back log of things that we never managed to finish or didn’t have the motivation to follow through with. And it is this universal quality, that can make Emma’s story accessible even if you’ve never experienced addiction and mental ill health.

We watch her journey through rehab: rubbing people up the wrong way, falling off the wagon, hating everything group based, denying needing help and eventually embracing the support of her group and practitioner. But most importantly, we see her realise that it’s not about ‘being fixed’, it’s about being okay with ourselves and addressing things that have impacted who we are and how we function. None of us our broken. Some of us just need a little extra help to realign ourselves with our surroundings and work through things that have affected us.

Lisa Dwyer Hogg gives an incredible performance as Emma. She animates and embodies Duncan Macmillan’s words with skill and control. The character of Emma is well formed and developed however, the same cannot be said for some of the other characters in this piece. Many of the rehab participants felt quite hollow, as did the character of Foster at times. It was disappointing that all of the people of colour within this production played some of the seemingly less developed characters.

Verdict: Some strong performances and important themes but too many cliches and stereotypes.

 

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Review: Adrift, Z-Arts

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Adrift (a work in progress) by Kapow! Dance

Z-Arts, Manchester [17.07.17]

You are invited to witness two bodies. Lost and found at sea. Friends, Lovers, Enemies, Strangers. The only thing that is consistent is some sort of relationship because the sea and the raft change direction and momentum continually.

Adrift is an exploration of stories at sea, portrayed by two women on a pivoting raft journeying across waters built on melted plastic bags. Part environmental commentary, part relationships case study, this piece challenges us to reflect on what moments between two people truly mean and how our actions impact those closest to us. We see this quite literally in Adrift. One movement from one of the women will cause a complete change in the other’s positioning. This presents us with a view from which to examine the changing power balance between the women at different points in their far water escapades.

The most visually interesting moment for me were watching the women on opposite corners of the raft, slowly dipping up and down in a circular fashion. This continued simplistic image, gave host to a whole heap of thoughts surrounding the mundane nature of life even when things are hectic and how routine doesn’t venture too far from our mental doorsteps. It also placed a great deal of acknowledgement towards how someone can hugely affect someone else by doing very little. I guess that’s almost like when we see something bad happen to someone else but don’t always do anything about it. It reminded me of that poem about keeping your own yam on your table from GCSE English Lit.

The use of body percussion alongside stunning lift and balance sequences make this piece perfect to experience in the round with little need for extravagant staging. The trust between the two dancers during their balances is an active sharing of trust and honesty between them but also with the space and the audience members in the room. It fosters a sense of unity which is hard to achieve in smaller scale works and even more challenging when a work is so early in its development as this piece. For this reason, this effort is to be applauded.

Verdict: Adrift is an exciting piece of dance theatre that is already showing bags of potential in the early stages of its development. Excited to see the completed product.

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Why can’t the awkward black guy get the girl? Review: Sister Act, Palace Theatre

SISTER ACT. Alexanda Burke as Deloris Van Cartier and Ensemble small. Photo by Tristram Kenton

Image: Tristram Kenton

Sister Act The Musical, directed by Craig Revell Horwood

Palace Theatre, Manchester [24.07.17]

This is not another My Country but it falls in a similar ball park. Let’s start with the positives shall we…

Mother Superior is in need. She prays to the Lord in the hopes that he will help save the church… And out pops, Deloris Van Cartier disco diva in search of fame, fortune and, a white dress and fur, just like Donna Summer’s.

Sister Act The Musical is not the theatrical version of the film. If you go to see this expecting the fire that is Whoopi Goldberg alongside the best soundtrack ever (everybody loves Hail Holy Queen and I Will Follow Him, even if they deny it), you’ll be very disappointed. However I must say the songs in this (though very different) were upbeat and catchy. Take Me To Heaven and It’s Good To Be A Nun were certainly whizzing around in my head post show, that’s for sure. The show is full of good songs, some okay dance routines and larger than life characters. Alexandra Burke’s Sister Mary Clarence is even more extra than Whoopi Goldberg’s and at one point, I must say I doubted if she could keep that up for the whole show. To my surprise, she certainly did, bringing constant laughs and diva charms to the room. This was a good musical. But…

And, this is a big but…

Why has Eddie suddenly become a white guy? Before you head down to the comments section to ask me why i’m always bashing you over the head with diversity, hear me out. In the film, Eddie is a black cop and Deloris’ lover, Vince (whose name is Curtis in the musical, but the character is basically the same) is a white guy. In this musical, their races have been swapped around. ‘Well, why is that a problem?’, I hear you ask.

Firstly, let’s contextualise this. Eddie is the loveable, awkward (more awkward in musical than film) cop who basically saves Deloris’ bacon (well, the nuns actually do that) and in the musical, he actually gets with Deloris (this is only implied in the film). Curtis(Vince) owns a casino in which Deloris wants to sing and the two are having an affair, which becomes apparent when he gives his wife’s blue fur coat to her as a gift. When Deloris tries to return the coat, she witnesses a murder conducted by Curtis and his men, resulting in Eddie protecting her and her having to hide out as a nun. In switching the races of Eddie and Curtis/Vince, the white saviour rhetoric is being subliminally peddled alongside the stereotype of the violent, thuggish black male. What makes people so uncomfortable with the idea that an awkward black guy can save the day and get the girl? And to top that off, the only black man on the stage is being criminalised.

I’ve seen quite a bit of messy representation and erasure of black men on stage recently and theatre really needs to start coming up with some answers, fast. And before anyone brings up some colour-blind casting nonsense (which is a racist mess all of its own), attention is repeatedly drawn to Deloris’ race throughout this play and therefore it is impossible for anyone to claim that they do not see the race of the people on stage. Slight tangent: it doesn’t even make sense for the white nuns to keep referring to Deloris’ race, as there are two other black women on stage playing nuns. Surely the white sisters would have experienced this ‘shock’ over an African American nun when the other two black sisters joined the order? Or maybe once again, we have blackness being erased before our eyes and the only blackness that can possibly be acknowledged on the stage is Deloris’… I’m still hoping that theatres will eventually understand that people of colour don’t stop being people of colour just because they’re on a stage, in the same way that white people don’t stop being white. Erasing blackness and not having a conversation about the fact that this is happening all the time, is only feeding the misguided idea that whiteness is some sort of ‘norm’.

Some of you will be reading this thinking ‘why is she moaning again, there’s already a black woman in the leading role?’ My response to that is how many times do you see a black woman as the lead in a musical? Or in any type of theatre for that matter. And don’t just come back at me with Dream Girls and Lion King. Having a black woman as the lead, does not change the fact that the racial politics external to her casting can still be highly problematic. Too much time and energy is put into passing the book and avoiding accountability surrounding diversity issues in casting. Whether conscious or not, a decision was made that turned a black cop into a white cop and a rich, white thug into a rich, black thug – feeding the idea that white men are heroes and black men shoot to kill. This is a narrative that should be challenged not peddled. But what’s more concerning is that it isn’t being talked about.

Verdict: Yes, song and gag wise this musical is good fun. But, problematic representations have left a very bad taste in my mouth.

 

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Review: Gutted, HOME

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Gutted by Liz Richardson and Tara Robinson

HOME, Manchester [20.07.17]

Three toilets. One lid up. One lid down. One lid-less. The sort of breakfast bar that you’d found in the Studio Christmas catalogue. A cake stand filled with at least nine delights. Some flowers. Some ‘Thank You’ cards. Red Sauce. Brown Sauce. Lots and lots and lots of Activia Yoghurt.

Gutted invites us to listen to Liz’s true story of her experience of ulcerative colitis. It is a comic and honest exploration of a medical condition that has a drastic impact on quality of life, but is yet to become a condition that the general public have a good awareness of. Liz takes us on a journey through her hospital trips and treatments and, her feelings surrounding what happened to her at different points in the process. Her exploration of shame, pain and dignity is highly moving and prompts the audience to empathise (rather than sympathise) with her experiences.

What truly made this show unique was its ability to share a serious topic with humour, but also its method of raising an audience’s knowledge of a medical condition, without giving off the vibe of a boring science lesson. Liz draws her digestive system on to her torso and marks out the changes that the surgery she is asked to undergo makes to this system. The process itself is described via voice over as Liz draws. This reminded me of a number of things: the bits of A Level Biology that were actually interesting, my time working on hospital wards as a trainee SLT and my sheer love of diagrams. This was a very informative element of the piece which did not feel out of place nor did it feel as though we were sitting in a lecture. I always like to leave a show knowing that I’ve learnt something and it’s refreshing to leave with a heightened knowledge of something concrete rather than leaving solely with abstract ideas and feelings. That being said, Gutted gave me lots to think about in terms of how we as individuals perceive the experiences of others and how we navigate feelings surrounding shame and stigma.

Liz is incredibly gifted at drawing laughs from the audience, as she is at making them comfortable. This stretches as far as her inviting audience members onto the stage to read aloud notes in her thank you cards, in exchange for a fairy cake or a bottle of beer. Despite usually not being a fan of audience interaction, I felt that this was well executed and it almost (we’re not quite there yet) tempted me to volunteer myself. That alone, is an achievement!

Arguably the most hilarious element of this show is the input of Liz’s stoma to the conversation. It is both an interesting and clever concept to give the stoma a voice within Liz’s experience, especially when it certainly knows how to crack a joke about its day job, “it’s not an easy job, gotta deal with whatever shit gets thrown at you”. Giving a not-so-inanimate part of the body an opinion, welcomes us to understand Liz’s situation from a multitude of perspectives. This is also built upon by the myriad of characters we encounter who were part of Liz’s journey. We meet everyone from a ‘softly spoken nurse in crocs’ to one of her slightly dippy colleagues, ‘Matt’. Initially, I found it a little difficult to follow the character changes (Liz performs every single character). However, the display board behind her included the names of all characters and highlighted individual names as she performed them, this was a really useful tool and certainly aided the accessibility of this performance.

Verdict: Gutted is a hilarious, honest and important piece of theatre that raises awareness of a health condition that conversation is far too silent on.

 

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Review: The Marriage of Kim K, 53two

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The Marriage of Kim K by Leoe & Hyde

53two, Manchester [15.07.17]

I promise this is not a Kardashian car crash (not sure whether that will encourage or dissuade you from reading), quite the opposite actually, it’s pure genius.

I’ll be the first to stand up and be counted for having an issue with the Kardashians and this opera hasn’t changed that. It has however used Kim as a trope to tell a compelling story of three unusually intertwined relationships: Amelia and Stephen (they’re not famous yet or are they), The Count and Countess (from Beaumarchais’ The Marriage of Figaro) and of course, Kim Kardashian and her 72 day husband, Kris Humphries.

Our welcome party begins when we join Amelia loafing out on the sofa after a long day to eat and watch TV – relatable much. The music that escorts is a charming classical arrangement with undertones of the best Hilary Duff megamix you could possibly get your hands on. This of course sets the scene for Kim’s entrance. Yasemin Mireille gives a truly on point performance as Kim, to the point where every time she comes on stage I roll my eyes the same way I do when someone mentions the real Kim in any capacity. She has the mannerisms down to a T and this shows itself perfectly in her makeup tutorial demo. Her interactions with Kris (played by James Edge) are hilarious and almost had me wondering whether the real Kim and Kris were ever capable of being this entertaining. Having said that, Kris appears to be the sort of sex hungry pig that you’d bump into in Flares and spend the night avoiding and, James delivers this unfortunate vision with continued high energy and skill.

On to the Count and Countess (played by Emily Burnett and Nathan Bellis) and my, my these two have some pipes on them. The singing is really quite exceptional and both actors deliver a passionate and at points humorous story of the breakdown of their relationship. This sandwiched alongside flashes of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, with Amelia and Stephen as the filling and you’ve got yourself a slightly odd but captivating dose of TV focused weekday evenings dropped onto the 53two stage.

What’s truly enjoyable about The Marriage of Kim K is that it makes opera accessible and offers us a trio of love stories that we are able to relate to one if not all of them in some sort of way. The cross referencing of The Marriage of Figaro with Kim and Kris’ 72 day wedded bliss is just brilliant. I came out of this wanting to further analyse parallels between these post joining of hands dramas. The juxtaposition of the worlds in which these relationships reside gives us an opportunity to reflect on our compulsion as people to try to mend things and our methods of deciding when to let things alone.

Amelia and Stephen (played by Amelia Gabriel and Stephen Hyde) are in fact a real life couple and their relationship was weaved into the redevelopment of this show. Everything about this is ridiculously cute and whilst I’m not big on cute, I’ve watched a Kim K inspired opera so my life views have been changed in a temporary form of forever. Both Amelia and Stephen give honest and engaging performances that really pull us into their world and make us root for them to sort out their differences. Whilst I cannnot understand Amelia’s obsession with Kim, I temporarily had a similar one with Peter Andre (well, watching his show My Life) and I guess on those grounds myself and Amelia are rather alike. Mozart on the other hand, well I guess I can compare Stephen’s obsession to my ex watching the same three Steven Seagal films over and over.. The contrast between the couple’s Kim K vs Mozart obsessions are hilarious. Arguing over the TV is such a regular part of daily life that we forget how much of a controlling device a remote actually is. Yes, this was certainly a very relatable format which was a great way to ease opera virgins like myself into the genre.

Verdict: The Marriage of Kim K sounds torturous but is in fact a brilliant way to spend a Saturday afternoon at the theatre. I encourage all Kim K fans and phobes alike to go and see this pleasantly surprising and wonderfully entertaining show. Nice work, Leoe & Hyde.

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Review: 10000 Gestures, MIF @ Mayfield

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Image: Tristram Kenton

10000 Gestures by Boris Charmatz

Mayfield, Manchester International Festival [14.07.17]

We’re invited into the eerily empty Mayfield depot. The sense of abandonment is very real as we await some sort of action beyond the brightening and dimming of the light strips eagerly positioned on thirteen pillars. One woman bursts into eye line and what follows is a bizarre but honest physical analysis of the human condition and its ever-evolving state.

Set in an evocative space, the orgy of compulsive movement that unfolds from the myriad of bodies is nothing short of mesmerising. Reactive and challenging, we are watching bodies being bodies. Each movement is nuanced and present and occurs within the uneven sandwiching of frantic action and unnerving stillness. This is much more than a spectacle in that it challenges us to decide whether we want to give meaning to each movement. And what’s more important is that we are free to react to that how ever we please – there isn’t a concrete or correct answer in this thoroughly peculiar pursuit.

Heavily rhythmic and rife with precision juxtaposed with indecision, 10000 Gestures isn’t meant to give us specific bits of information at specific points in time. Its purpose lies in proposing 10000 opportunities to its audience and welcoming us to choose, though not always freely, what we would like to devour and digest. But in placing us in uncomfortable and uncertain situations with little freedom over what occurs, Boris Charmatz has successfully replicated a typical state within our existence, in a unique yet unsettling environment. It’s probably not the average person’s cup of tea to have a bunch of half naked shouting people climbing on top of them, touching them or requesting that they perform specific actions, but this is an experience that doesn’t even have tea on its radar. At points, you are wondering ‘what the fuck’ is happening and why and, everything about that reaction is okay. This was never going to be a comfortable experience and I imagine that people who hoped for one probably wanted their money back. It was however the most original and absurd thing that I have seen in years and for that I wholeheartedly commend it.

The 10000 gestures offered to us are a display of punctuation for the human existence, that takes us on a journey of lust, elation, desire, insanity and pain. This was Fantasia for adults on a stagnated treadmill heading for a euphoric revolution. The aim here was not to lead us to a destination but give us an abundance of tools to reflect on what’s what and where’s where, without getting overly existential about it. A multitude of scenarios without a frame to stop and start in allowed space for a slightly disheveled audience to compose themselves among the chaos that was occurring both on and off ‘stage’.

Verdict: 10000 Gestures is a captivating, raw and challenging display of bodies being pushed to the brink of their abilities and existence being measured, dissected and reassembled before our eyes. It is exposing, both literally (a few knobs and bums are flashed about) and metaphorically of the fragility and vulnerability of our existence. But most importantly it welcomes us to reflect on our resilience and in that there is healing. Nice one, Boris!

 

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