Tag Archives: home theatre

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: 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: Tank, HOME

 

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Tank by Breach Theatre

HOME, Manchester [06.05.17]

CW: Mention of domestic violence, sexual violence, suicide

Sonny and Cher are an excellent opener for almost anything.

A film projection of a swimming pool. A table with some technical sound equipment. Two chairs. A water cooler with a stack of plastic cups. The actors enter one by one and fill themselves a cup of water. They drink. And so, our rather unusual and completely off the wall afternoon begins.

1965. 52 years ago. 28 years before I was born. A man named John C Lilly has decided that he wants to teach dolphins to speak English because of course, that’s the most important language (western entitlement much) and with any luck, they’d help us communicate with extraterrestrial life (erects index finger: “ET Phone Home”). At this point, you should prepare yourself for an underwater country western that puts Carry On Cowboy to shame – Breach theatre bring us sinister banter, compelling storytelling and synchronised choreography that could easily rival the 1988 version of Hairspray (you know, the one with Ricki Lake).

Enter Margaret. A college dropout who could be driving any of a handful of cars, dependent on which narrator you’d like to believe. She knows nothing about linguistics or phonology but she really likes dolphins so she heads to Dolphin Point to help John Boy (I just imagine that Mr Lilly could be in The Waltons) with his TESOL delivery. As someone who trained as a speech and language therapist, I have to see these lessons were very… odd. I mean, I’d be interested to know how the corpus of words was chosen for these experiments and whether or not they utilised the principles of phonological development to assist them. Also curious as to whether, minimal pairs played any role in the teaching of voiced and voiceless consonants or whether they just focused on whole words with particular attention to vowels. Now, that I’ve got this out of my system, I’ll consult my good friend Google to tell me the answers. Anyway, where were we?

Oh yes, so Margaret is helping to teach the dolphins English and this quickly escalates to her basically living in a flooded room with a dolphin called Peter. You really can’t make this shit up. Peter slowly starts to feel some kinda way about Margaret over the course of this 10 week experiment and then it just ends (the romance, not the play). Think Summer Nights in Grease except Peter transitions between being Sandy and Danny faster than you can down a dirty pint after a game of mushroom. Chuck in some brilliantly funny choreography, hilarious dolphin sounds, narrators with the majesty of Jerry Springer, a rubber dolphin head (worn by Joe Boylan who makes a rather exceptional dolphin with and without said head) and a cowboy, and you’re in for an experience, that’s for sure.

It’s now probably a good time to say that if you’re in search of more of the factual elements of this story (as in the actual experiment that took place in the 60’s), I am going to advise you converse with Wikipedia. And I am doing so because Tank does something quite incredible that is arguably more important than the facts of this rather peculiar experiment.

It is very rare that a piece of theatre can take an out of the ordinary and borderline ridiculous scenario and successfully use that as a vehicle to shed honest light on the extensive entanglements of relationship spectrum. To put it simply, imagine this: a man walks into a bar and makes a joke about a dolphin playing rough with a woman because he’s sexually attracted to her. People laugh. Reframe that and replace dolphin with man. Despite this story being true in its literal sense, it is also true in its underlying exploration of domestic and sexual violence towards women. What starts off as the odd nudge, a ‘playful’ dunking under the water, a poking in the ribs soon escalates to more brash methods of physical interaction and a developing blend of denial and fear in the person experiencing it. Margaret, played by Sophie Steer, describes to the narrators how she feels that Peter wants to cut her open, right through her middle, through her onto the beach and stick a flagpole in her. This was met by the audience with laughter. But, this is a reality for hundreds of women living in and surviving abuse in the home. As Peter and Margaret’s relationship begins to breakdown, there are questions around whether or not Margaret cares about Peter anymore, if she still feels the same way, whether his feelings matter to her. The same sorts of unhelpful questions that survivors are asked when starting to remove themselves from the toxic situation they are in. Breach Theatre have successfully managed to explore and unveil this topic in an exploratory manner that welcomes an audience to consider the politics of abusive relationships and gives a platform to the voice of the victim. Watching this as a survivor, I was overwhelmed by how accurate and truthful this narrative was delivered. Every actors exceptional physicality and storytelling skills gave this piece an honesty and authenticity that really moved me.

This play ends with Peter’s suicide. But, we are not left holding Margaret responsible. The responsibility lies with everyone involved. We are left wondering what Peter was meant to get out of this experiment? Even if Margaret had taught him to repeat in English, would it ever mean anything? A whole lot of phonology with the semantics, a metaphor for broken relationships that continue existing despite lacking one crucial ingredient: meaning. Peter’s last moments in a small tank away from his room with Margaret replicate the suffocation that Margaret experienced in her 10 weeks with Peter. History repeats itself wearing a new bloody gown, regularly checking the time.

Verdict: Tank isn’t just a funny tale of a daft 1960’s experiment in America. It’s a groundbreaking, honest and very real portrayal of dark side of relationships and an active examination of ethics and choice. This piece is a strong and important reminder that theatre by nature is political and it does damn good job at owning that. It is an act of solidarity to survivors and an absolute must see. I’m not really down with star ratings but, this really does deserve all of the stars.

 

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Review: MK Ultra, HOME

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MK Ultra by Rosie Kay Dance Company

HOME, Manchester [04.05.17]

This Is Fake Theatre.

Welcome to MK Ultra – a physical embodiment and exploration of the 1950’s LSD mind control experiments conducted by the CIA and a window into the intertwined affair of pop culture and the illuminati.

Our evening begins with a film projection within the shape of an equilateral triangle and escorts us back to 1957. Two men are arguing in a bowling alley about the order and chaos of the world and conclude that the world needs a new way, a new religion so that everyone can think for themselves. However when this movement takes off, just like all freedom movements, demands for and the seeking of power escalate. Cue Operation Mind Fuck – with support from a couple of Playboy Bunnies and a lilac animated bunny. And let the games begin.

From here on in, we observe as seven dancers express the compulsions and attempts to resist the declarations of the ‘norm’ – whatever that even is. Are each of their movements their own planned decisions or are they moving like this because pop culture subtly told them to? This high energy, acrobatic performance is perfectly fluid and each movement is clean and controlled. The use of levels takes us on a visual roller-coaster of incredible stunts and tableaux that reel the audience in. Welcome to Operation Mind Fuck.

With a palette of trippy, ecstatic colours and a reel of projections ranging from Alice in Wonderland animations to Marilyn Monroe, Rosie Kay Dance Company have successfully created a piece of dance theatre that really challenges us an audience and forces us to question everything we think and feel about this performance and the world beyond the one it has created. Cosmic purple flowers blooming, Mickey Mouse conducting an invisible orchestra and Dorothy’s red slippers clicking repeatedly are just a handful of the images that lay imbedded in your mind. And all of this against a mashed up soundtrack of Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, takes us into a blended confusion that it is still quite hard to process. MK Ultra is so distinct and dedicated to its exploration that it had me constantly trying to work out what I was listening to and seeing. At points, I was sure that I could here Narayan by The Prodigy, Toni Basil’ Hey Mickey and Wake Up by Hilary Duff – though I’m pretty sure the latter was in my head, imposed by the overt Disney references, colour charged cityscape projections and hypnotising floor sequence. You know these triangular messages are truly messing with your mind when you’ve got Hilary Duff going round and round in your head… Wake up, wake up on a Saturday night, could be New York, maybe Hollywood and Vine, London, Paris maybe Tokyo, there’s something going on anywhere I go… Yes, there was certainly something going on here…

MK Ultra is nothing short of incredible. I like to be confused and moved from my comfort zone in the theatre and this successfully did that. I am currently in a state of ‘what on earth happened to me last night?’ and have been listening to DJ Rashad’s Twitter to try to counteract this. But, maybe that’s what they want me to do… Welcome to Operation Mind Fuck.

Verdict: A trip the light fantastic level of weird and confusing – absolutely phenomal piece of dance. Would highly recommend.

 

 

 

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Review: My Country, HOME MCR or Anti-Black Propaganda 101 or Is Shirley Bassey Even Welsh?

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My Country by The National Theatre

Directed by Rufus Norris; Poetry by Carol Ann Duffy

HOME MCR, Manchester [22.04.2017]

As a black-mixed, british person, I’d just like to say, what a load of old tripe that was! Filled with anti-black, right wing propaganda from the off – this is a concrete expression of how Britain attempts to derive its ‘greatness’ from basking in its ‘lets just brush it under the carpet’ afrophobic rhetoric, mixed with a superiority complex.

My Country is a verbatim piece of theatre about the UK’s decision to exit the European Union. It shares real people’s stories, through seven characters who represent: Britannia, Caledonia, Cymru, Northern Ireland, North East, East Midlands and South West. The National Theatre team who went out to conduct these interviews ‘nationwide’ clearly didn’t travel very far or rather they only ventured to a handful of Virgin train stops. And as for their sampling method, they picked up a few token brown and black people (mostly men and with right leaning opinions) to make this top heavy piece seem representative… in all of its white supremacy. The fact that the company failed to include a black person in their cast but wanted to create a piece that represents this country demonstrates why as a black person in the UK, you are not british by design.

I do not agree with most of the views that were aired in this piece. However, I recognise that this is verbatim theatre and so it’s going to air an array of views and stories, from real people. But, there was no balance here, which makes no sense given that leave or stay was close to a 50/50 split. The major problem was that there were lots of views describing non-white and/or non british people as: terrorists, benefits scroungers, rapists and non-english speakers, not conforming to british culture (to name a few), but virtually no stories/views conveying them in a positive light. Even the views aired by POC interviewees are relatively anti-immigration. This is just another piece of propaganda to replace the buses that promised £350 million to the NHS.

But what really struck me was the clear lack of platform to black women’s voice – misogynoir really reared its ugly head here and it has not gone unnoticed. Black women’s voices are continually erased and, to not seek out the views of black women for this piece of theatre is damaging but unfortunately not surprising. This is the reason that platforms such as No Fly On The Wall and Galdem exist – to give space to black women and to challenge racist patriarchal structures.

In terms of the direction of this piece, there was very little – lots of sitting at desks and occasionally standing up to have an argument. My year 7s could have done a better job than this! Though to be fair, some direction did occur when each representative decided to share an item that represented their area and do a little dance. Of course, there was a bit of Irish dancing (his legs weren’t straight) and some Morris dancing. But the party really started when Wales began dancing to Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey and the man sat next to me said very loudly: ‘is Shirley Bassey even Welsh?’ Yeah, that sums it up really.

My Country is a play that failed in so many areas: the direction, the production, the research, the casting, the poetry… oh and whilst it managed to platform the views of Farage, May, Cameron and Johnson, it couldn’t possibly include any left or liberal views, could it? I guess we all know, how this came about.

Verdict: I gave up my Saturday night to watch some anti-black nonsense and experience a stranger’s out loud confusion over Shirley Bassey. This play brings nothing to the table that you can’t already find on Facebook – if you need to refresh your memory, just re-add all the people you deleted when Brexit made its debut. The National Theatre needs to check itself, seriously (and maybe go back into education to study research methods).

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