Tag Archives: physical theatre

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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Review: Table Manners, Hat Fair

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Table Manners by Avant Garde Dance

Hat Fair, Winchester [01.07.17]

*Review produced as part of Hat Fair Young Critics

A couple are sitting in a restaurant. We are aware that something needs to be said and that there is both a reluctance and awkwardness about this unspoken segment. A waiter is a third wheel, ever so keen to lose the tricycle scenario and form a bicycle with the woman in pink. We have a triangle upon us. Drinks are poured aplenty. Polite table politics soon become disembodied into questioning and exploring relationship dynamics and cultural shifts. Manners aren’t always in need of minding.

Table Manners is an energised, honest and compelling piece of dance that encourages us to reflect on the habitual behaviours that surround food and mealtimes and, how such behaviours can be reflected within our wider world relationships and our feelings towards ourselves. This is a work of dance-theatre that transcends the boundaries of the audience being mere observers and invites us into a space that is constantly transforming and changing its rules of etiquette. From Brexit banter to self-service checkout debuts, this is a world in which what happens physically and what is said can both complement and defy each other simultaneously.

What is quite captivating about Tony Adigun’s choreography is the importance of moments in their many shapes and the silent discussion that they introduce and manipulate through movement and occasional break off interactions with audience members. It is not often that dance theatre welcomes audiences to partake in the world and still be exposed to the same level of powerful dance performance almost in their lap. Performers Duwane Taylor, Julie Minaai and Sasha Shadid are attentive to audience participants and invite them to live in the world in a shared, intimate environment.

Dance theatre provides a platform to open dialogue and make reference to societal situations that are avoided, sidelined or misunderstood. Through movement, music and pockets of language, Table Manners invites us to acknowledge the harsh reality of colonialism and how it is still able to rampantly white wash experiences. We see Julie eating Chinese take away with a piece of East Asian music playing in the background. This is soon drowned out by the blaring of Rule Britannia overhead. This was a striking and powerful moment that truly laid bare the reality of how even eating a meal has become a specimen for British modification. This moment was visually striking and poignant and reminded me of Seeta Patel’s brilliant dance piece, Not Today’s Yesterday.

Speaking of captivating moments, watching Duwane and Sasha frantically nestle clementines in the folds and cuppings that Julie creates with her body is rather beautiful. Given that citrus fruits symbolise good fortune for a new year within Chinese culture, it is interesting that Julie’s two love rivals wish to inundate her with an overflowing gifting of clementines, which by the end of her ordeal she no longer wants. Sometimes we’re placed into situations where we are given a lot and expected to want and be grateful for what we have been presented with but, this removes a sense of freedom and agency around what happens to us. This is a moment that allows us to reflect on choice focused moments in our lives. It is quite unlike anything I have seen in dance theatre before and for that reason, it will certainly hold a place in my memory for ways to welcome an emotional response in an unconventional and unique manner.

Verdict: Table Manners is a welcome party to a platter of behaviour patterns surrounding food and human relationships. The strength of cultural reference points juxtaposed against the pastel costume palette allows for us to focus on the multiple narratives at play whilst appreciating the visual synergy of complimentary colours and off the chain physicality. Avant Garde Dance are a company I look forward to seeing much more of.

 

 

 

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Review: Amami!, Hat Fair

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Amami! by Mc Fois

Hat Fair, Winchester [30.06.17]

*Review produced as part of Hat Fair Young Critics

There’s a man standing in a suit was fashioned out of the most garish pair of curtains you could possibly find (Maria eat your heart out girl, those play clothes ain’t got nothing on this). He decides he’s thirsty and tries to silently negotiate with the girl sitting next to me to have some of her water. She declines his pleas and offers of monopoly-esque money and eventually he takes the hint. Possibly having taken the hump (it’s not even Wednesday), he encourages an audience member to pretend to be a bull and he is the matador. What follows of course is a rather amusing display.

After a few more audience pursuits, the show really begins. Mc Fois delivers an incredible display of acuity and bodily articulation whilst bringing three hats to life. The scene has humour and pace that gives Mc Fois the ability to mesmerise the audience with ease… and no hats dropped. This spectacle is only heightened by a partial striptease to a cover of Sex Bomb that sounds oddly similar to the Monster Mash and, Mc Fois emerging from behind a chest dressed as a ballerina. A lucky audience member is then invited to dance with and propose to our blushing dancer and for a moment, it’s like we’re in a real time, extra hairy version of Disney’s Fantasia.

Mc Fois also offers us an exceptionally skillful performance with a diabolo. The sequence is delivered with incredible control and a unique artistry that weaves it into the larger narrative at play. We get a little more stripping later to the glory that is You Can Leave Your Hat On and a broken hearted goodbye to Unchained Melody. And no Gareth Gates in sight!

Verdict: Amami! is an amusing and clever piece of physical theatre that allows an audience to reflect on what desire really means. It also has the best soundtrack that I’ve heard in a piece of theatre for quite some time. Mc Fois is definitely worth seeing this weekend.

 

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Review: Jetlag, The Arts Centre

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Image: Thomas Barlatier, Tristan Galand and Yves Kerstius

Jetlag by Compagnie Chaliwaté

The Arts Centre, Liverpool [27.05.17]

Three passengers to be, waiting in the departures lounge. One hyper-synchronised couple. One lone man. A seat giving up on its join and tipping said man onto the floor. An awkward yet valiant attempt to fix said seat back on to the others. A decision to re-attach seat back to front. A need to be a sheep and mirror the seated couple. And so, we begin.

Jetlag is an almost language-free, physical and visual exploration of airport etiquette, loneliness, missing mothers and the dreaded Third Wheel syndrome. Through a blend of circus, gesture and dance theatre, Chaliwaté an unusual yet honest exploration of what it means to be alone and to be displaced from the world around you. We are invited to be a fly on the wall and observe a man who is lost and searching for some sort of affection but, most importantly, validation. It is the moments of silence and stillness within this piece that really make this piece relateable. We are reminded of times in our own lives when we have felt completely alone despite being in the presence of others. And there is something quite cathartic about having this time to reflect on this state both as an individual and collectively as an audience.

Jetlag is a very humorous piece of theatre that offers its audience tableaux and moments that would easily put Mr Bean to shame. Gags are well timed and delivered playfully, often using changes of lighting and circus performance to provide the audience with a mish-mashed palette of experiences that left many of the audience laughing aloud. Chaliwaté successfully delivered an array of quintessentially “British problems” with an original twist highlighting that awkwardly asking people to stand up whilst you pass them and struggling to establish use of your arm rest are in fact just general awkward people problems. And to top this off, whilst the couple are sleeping on the flight and the man tries to climb over them, they resemble Grant Wood’s American Gothic being exposed to the joys of flying by Ryan Air. Absolute comedy gold!

The attention to detail with the physicality of this piece makes it an engaging and exciting spectacle for its audience. Each gesture is nuanced and delivered with intent and in a piece that doesn’t depend on language this is crucial for it to work. Through embraces, caresses, lifts, the folding of clothes and beautiful unison phrases, we are successfully taken on a journey with these lovable yet slightly odd characters.

Verdict: Jetlag is a captivating piece of physical theatre that could easily be delivered in complete silence, as the cast are able to bring humour, emotion and a truthfulness to their performance. This has certainly been an insightful experience for developing my own practice. Definitely worth seeing!

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Review: Daydream Believers, Hope Street Theatre

 

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Daydream Believers by Tmesis Theatre Training Company

Hope Street Theatre, Liverpool [27.05.17]

Welcome to San Francisco and a hippy inspired version of the fancy dress shop in Mr Benn. Try something on. No, no, really, you must – it’s immersive after all. Unfortunately, as I am only one for dressing up when in character or for someone’s birthday (who doesn’t love a good Bob the Builder themed 20th), this wasn’t the best start for me. But, still go with the flow, you’re in San Francisco after all…

Daydream Believers is an immersive piece of physical theatre inspired by the summer of love 1967. It is a love in (of sorts) crafted in just five days by Tmesis Theatre Training Company. Once you’re kitted out with a 60’s inspired outfit or awkward accessory, you are invited into the love bubble filled with a wealth of characters who are out for peace and a good time. They want to make you feel welcome and to a degree that is achieved. Though in my case, a multitude of comments about my hair (even if they are ‘positive’) is not welcoming, it is othering.

Despite not getting off to the best start, this piece did take its audience on a journey with a great soundtrack and a happy, trippy colour palette to match. The psychedelic trance complete with a looming white rabbit is certainly a memorable moment. Interestingly, this showed similarities to moments in Rosie Kay’s MK Ultra crossed with the music video of Get Down by Groove Armada. This along with the moment where one ensemble member places a flower in the gun of another give this piece an originality and honesty that were found in the moments were the ensemble felt at their most present.

The space that this piece was set in was not the most accessible nor the most comfortable however, the company made every effort to distract you from the fact that you were sat on an uncomfortable step was certainly a positive on their part. However, at times, the immersive elements seemed a little off target. For example, all audience members but myself and the woman sitting next to me were offered a ‘token’ of LSD to take them on what we will refer to as ‘the white rabbit trip’. If you going to the effort of including most audience members when your audience is small, you may as well go the whole way and commit fully. Or alternatively, pick out a select few. A little more thought maybe was needed here.

I feel that devised work grows with each performance, as an ensemble grows into itself. So, by Saturday, this piece will be very different to what I have experienced. It’s the sort of theatre that you want to see again to observe how it has grown. And I do believe that this is a piece of theatre with great potential and a talented cast. So if you’re in Liverpool on Saturday, do pop in and see this as, I suspect by then it will have grown into something quite exciting.

Following this show, I couldn’t help thinking about the lack of diversity in the cast but, on a wider scale, the lack of diversity in Physical Fest. I came away from Liverpool thinking: why is physical theatre so white? That is not a question that can be answered in a small space nor is this review the place for that exploration. However, it will be something that I explore in a later post.

Verdict: Tmesis Theatre Training Company have the bones of a good show here. Special shout out to Lauren Whitter, Grace Gallagher and Ellie Woodhouse, who gave striking and emotive performances. An interesting devised piece of theatre with potential to be brilliant, once it’s fully grown and had time to breathe.

 

 

 

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Review: The Marked, The Lowry

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Photo: Idil Sukan

The Marked by Theatre Témoin

The Lowry, Salford [20.05.17]

It’s late. A homeless man is sleeping on a stack of wooden pallets among the bins. We are very aware that there isn’t an option to go back inside.

Pigeons, puppetry and perspective – three things that Theatre Témoin bring to the table in their new offering, The Marked. Through the innovative use of masks, props and puppets, the company are able to take us into a new world filled with a variety of distinct characters, that is worryingly close to the one we reside in. Theatre Témoin offer us a magnifying glass to examine the complexities and underlying stories behind homelessness – a situation that is very much alive on Manchester’s doorstep yet, brushed out of sight. If you’ve ever walked past a homeless person and not acknowledged them, The Marked directs you to think about that person and think about why it was easy for you to do nothing.

Crafted from true stories, this piece provides an honest look at a multitude of social issues including alcoholism and abusive relationships. Flashbacks of inciting incidents to Jack’s circumstance allow us to journey with him from childhood to adulthood. We are exposed to the harsh realities of alcohol dependency – from the compulsion to drink and the anger/love switch towards loved ones, to the terrifying struggle of children exposed to this. Despite Jack (played by Bradley Thompson) being present on stage and acting as puppeteer of young Jack, these scenes are so visually compelling that we almost forget that there are actors on stage. Dorie Kinnear who plays Sophie but also wears the mask of Jack’s mother, gives a captivating performance and through physicality creates a stunning and emotional portrait of Jack’s mother. The comparisons created between Jack’s mother and Sophie throughout the piece are nuanced and carefully stitch both the past and current narratives together.

The symbolism derived from tapping into childhood that drives this piece is really quite special. Jack’s torch is very much a symbol of hope and goodness within this piece and reminds us all of the little trinkets we carried as children to stop us from being scared. This was the heartfelt object equivalent of the thunder buddies mantra in Ted. Top that off with two incredibly engaging pigeons who speak to Jack about the power of his torch and the importance of him continuing to fight the demons. When Jack declares his torch is broken, he is challenged by one pigeon: “it can’t break, it’s a metaphor”. As a writer, this line not only amused me but, was a wonderful reminder that only physical things get broken. Everything else may not necessarily be fully functioning but, nonetheless, it is recoverable. This was a beautiful, small and subtle token of healing.

Verdict: The Marked is a visually exciting piece of theatre that honestly and tactfully explores challenging social issues. The use of puppetry, masks and physicality crafts the world of this play wonderfully. A must see!

 

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Review: The Toad Knew, The Lowry

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Photo Richard Haughton

The Toad Knew by James Thierrée’s Compagnie du Hanneton

The Lowry, Salford [10.05.17]

A woman draped in a red cape crosses the stage singing. We hear the strike of a match and see an amber glow in her hood. She melts into the stage curtain of matching velvety fabric and then it is peeled away to reveal the residency of the moment that is about to unfold.

The Toad Knew could be a story. It could be a play. It could be a dance. But it is most certainly a moment. A moment in a space that resembles a room that one could only imagine finding down the rabbit hole. Except this is no rabbit hole. Despite having a bizarre essence of Alice in Wonderland about it, The Toad Knew has a peculiarity all of its own that comes in part from its onlookers. Everything from the rotating staircase to the pond in the tank to the flacks of dusty carpet derive part of their meaning from you. As the experiencer, you paint part of the meaning into this spectacle and that’s part of what makes it so unique and beautiful.

Tonight, I watched a piece of theatre swallow itself over and over again. What started as a levitating space age swamp filled with galactic kites soon grows into a home of sorts. Its inhabitants whilst on the surface appear rather unusual, on closer examination are a physical manifestation of feelings we have lived and a multitude of versions of ourselves and those around us. We observe the relationships between these unnamed characters and through their physicality and personal quirks, they are able to speak volumes that surpass that surpass the limits of the English language. There is nothing concrete here. All interactions are fluid and a relationship that could be perceived as father-daughter, brother-sister, lovers can exist as all of these things and none of them simultaneously.

Nothing in the world that we have been invited into is fixed. Water still trickles, sawdust still falls, girls still float in water temporarily and lights still shine bright. Among compulsive gyrations, a piano that plays itself whenever there is an ‘elephant in the room’ sensation and an array of prosthetic limbs and wigs, we are sent on a journey filled with revelation that is quiet by nature. This is not the place for Eurekas and soul searching. It is the place for being in the moment and knowing that it’s okay to relive your memories and decipher your dreams in a room filled with other people. It’s also okay to not know what is happening because you feel that there’s a universal correct way to look at this moment that we’re all participating in. What you can know for sure is that whatever you feel about it is not wrong.

The Toad Knew is a reaction, a unity and a change that prompts us to reflect on our commitments in this moment and externally. Repetition and precision in intriguing movements encourage us to engage in a habitual pursuit of a story that doesn’t have a beginning, a middle or an end. Instead, we are left trinkets of may have been and what could be: sleep disturbance, being held back and wanting to do the right thing. And we’ve all had the feeling of not wanting to let someone go that is truthfully conveyed to the sound of These Arms Of Mine.

Three pairs of arms carried silverware and one body danced under foiled shackles that dazzled and humoured the light. It is hard not to write about this moment in a poetic manner given that it defied the parameters of prose and made its physicality audible. As soon as stacks of silverware were balanced, they soon littered the floor. In the onstage frenzy to pick them up and toss them aimlessly into the tank/pond, we are reminded that there is an unspoken urgency to ‘get your shit together’ – no matter the space or time. But this doesn’t mean you need to do it right now and you certainly don’t need to brush your desires under the carpet in order to do so.

To end this moment, the toad appears in all its white, evocative glory and devours each of our characters whole. One by one. Time still turns and ticks and flows. But, our moment is soon to pass. The Toad tells us of the thoughts that she cannot keep track of, for there are so many. Each of these moments that lived in and devoured each other are not easily described in words. They are not concrete. But these characters, their acts, their journeys, their habits – they are all thoughts. Thoughts that we’ve all had in different manners and different contexts.

Verdict: The Toad Knew is an exquisite and unique moment trapped in a kaleidoscope and admired under the gaze of an honest and personal magnifying glass. Somewhat disturbed but hilariously peculiar, this is a compelling and captivating piece of theatre that reminds us that it’s not about the conclusion, but the journey that you take to get there and the meaning that you derive along the way. A stunningly original moment that we would all benefit from experiencing.

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Review: The Wedding, Northern Stage

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The Wedding by Gecko             Northern Stage, Newcastle upon Tyne

The trials and tribulations of marriages of all sorts are brought to light, dismantled and re-conjugated in Gecko’s newest offering, The Wedding. New arrivals drop onto the stage after a whirlwind romance overheard by the audience as though we have a glass against a dorm room wall. They shoot out of a tunnel slide and land in a pile of misplaced and forgotten innocence – each arrival leaves their teddy bear on the pile and goes in pursuit of their dream dress and their contractual existence. Gecko use their trademark physicality to shift between time and space, and escort us on a journey of overrun offices filled with overenthusiastic and overworked staff. Within this frenzied atmosphere that resembles a poetic wall street hosting a brief case endowed nu wave cha cha slide, we experience relationships. Each is shared between two characters and we feel everything from anger and love, to confusion and loss. We are there with them. And reminded of every occasion that we wanted – no needed – to scream, to be held, to let go, to get out, to be seen, to belong. To be.

It is rare that you go to the theatre and experience an ensemble being and then laughing, and then being whilst laughing. The final moment of The Wedding will stay with me for a long time. As the cast brought their chairs to the stage edge, set them down and let their lights come up, they made the most beautiful body percussion which brought every emotion to the surface. I was compelled to join in, not because I was happy, but because I could truly feel. I could feel despite limitations that I have placed on myself and that others have placed upon me.

When I saw The Institute a few years back, I thought it was the most incredible piece of physical theatre I had ever seen. Now having seen The Wedding, I have concluded that Gecko have a way with movement as Margaret Atwood has a way with words. Awaiting their next offering with anticipation…

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