Tag Archives: Theatre

Review: Gutted, HOME

Gutted - High-Res Image

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: How I Hacked My Way Into Space, Hat Fair

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How I Hacked My Way Into Space by Unlimited Theatre

Hat Fair, Winchester [30.06.17]

*Review produced as part of Hat Fair Young Critics

We are sitting outside the Space Shed. And for a moment, I feel like I’m about to experience a live, space-themed version of Nina and the Neurones (which would be a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon). There’s some serious build up, almost a good twelve minutes worth but, part of that of course is due to a late start. Visually not much is happening but, there’s lots of space jargon being chucked about by an unknown voice. Lift off is taking some time but, we’re getting there. Some smoke shoots out of the bottom of the shed and then the music kicks in, something similar to a high speed version of the Octonauts theme tune. And finally, a spaceman arrives in time for lift off. A cross between Fireman Sam and Flash Gordon, Jon Spooner welcomes us into the Space Shed.

We’re inside and well it’s like being in a low-tech, not time travelling, tiny tardis. Jon opens his story enigmatically, telling us about his school years, fears and dreams and, telling us just how much he wants to go to space. We’re about to here how Jon hacked his way into space. And what happens when someone’s about to bend your ear? They do the quintessentially British thing of putting on the kettle… followed by spritzing some water over a few plants. From here on in, Jon will be referred to as Big Jon and his miniature plastic sidekick, Little Jon.

What ensues is a lot of toing and froing between conversations between Big Jon and Little Jon (welcome to their cafe space shed) and Big Jon on the phone to numerous people ranging from Tim Peake to the European Space Agency to his wife. The phone calls are a plenty and whilst the idea behind these interactions is clear, they take too much of this piece of theatre outside of the theatrical world that it is residing in. This level of external activity causes said world to develop cracks and this weakens the overall experience. I wonder if it may have been more engaging for Jon to have performed the conversations – with him playing both participants. He did this at one point to illustrate a conversation that he and Tim had had. A little more of this to replace the phone’s starring role could have made this piece much more exciting and humorous. Given those conversations legs would have also given this piece more immediacy and allowed it to move with an exciting pace. The distancing in this piece made it feel quite long on top of the fact that it was already running 20 minutes over time.

Verdict: How I Hacked My Way Into Space is a show with great potential and is highly educational. However, this rocket didn’t quite make it off the ground unfortunately.

 

 

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Review: 27, Contact

27

Image: Oliver Rudkin

27 by Peter McMaster

Contact, Manchester [21.06.17]

It’s dark. There are two men in glow in the dark skeleton onesies. I think a Nirvana song is playing (it’s not Smells Like Teen Spirit so who knows). Pitch black. Silence. A glow. We are then asked to imagine a woman. A woman who is laying on her side whilst giving birth. The woman is Peter’s mother.

27 is not just a story about growing into a 27 year old man. I feel that if this were the case, I’d likely have not been able to relate with the piece because a) i’m not 27 yet b) i’m not a man and c) i’m not white. 27 however does something quite special in that it is able to transcend these states and their associated experiences and deliver a series of time conscious moments that encourage us to reflect on ourselves. In hearing Peter and Nick’s journeys from birth to their 27th year, we participate in what can only be described as a game of snakes and ladders in which no one is sure of who is rolling the dice. Everything from successfully lodging a marble up your nose to first attempts at masturbation and relationships to your mother reading your diary are a plenty in these honest journeys through time.

To the surprise of many audience members, we are each asked to assist either Peter or Nick in undressing. Those sat on the peripheries of the horseshoe seating arrangement are tasked with assisting with the unzipping of the onesies and pulling of sleeves and, those of us sat towards the middle are tasked with removing the bottom half of the onesie. In my case, the chosen action was firm grip and a quick tug and down come the bottoms… it’s always interesting when you put a naked body in a space (or in this case two). The state of vulnerability in the room drastically changes and it can become hard to know who feels more vulnerable: the actors or the audience. When Peter and Nick invite the audience to touch their bodies and invite themselves to sit and lay on audience members, they are met with mixed reactions. Everything from laughter, to avoidance, to just not knowing how to react is expressed by audience members.

The only time I find bare bodies particularly amusing is when watching The Full Monty. External to this, I often feel that I am witnessing the greatest piece of art in existence and this applies to all bodies no matter what they look like. Scenarios such as this remind me of the first time I went to a life drawing class and on that day I felt like it was the first time I had truly seen another person. Peter and Nick welcomed us to see them.

They then engaged in quite a full on, rough and tumble fight (Catherine Cookson eat your heart out) around the floor. I have to say I hadn’t expected to spend my Wednesday evening watching two men rolling around the floor in some cocoa powder-esque sand… I usually spend this time at a writers workshop. Chuck in a splash of Wild Horses with no Susan Boyle in sight and mate, you’re on to a winner here.

What follows is a cascade of a phone call to Peter’s mother, a falling dominoes scenario where the men catch each other and a barrage of apologies for bad decisions. In watching Peter and Nick take each other’s weight truthfully and then swap roles to fall into their next moment, we as an audience, are given a rude awakening to the repetitive nature of life and exposed to the importance of brief moments and the beauty of their short lifespan. 27 reminds us that whatever age we are, we a changing and we are choosing but, most importantly that we are living and that whether you make the right choice or the wrong choice, the thing that truly matters is the journey along the way.

Verdict: 27 is an honest and witty piece of storytelling that creates a shared vulnerability and window of self exploration within a theatre space. Worth experiencing.

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Review: What If I Told You, Royal Exchange

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Image: West Yorkshire Playhouse website

What If I Told You by Pauline Mayers

Royal Exchange, Manchester [19.06.17]

Enter the empty space. Leave your belongings beside the wall – you will not be needing them. Form a circle. There’s something quite wholesome about it. And your evening has begun.

Pauline Mayers’ What If I Told You (WIITY) is an exploration of life as a black woman in the performance world and beyond, delivered through storytelling, movement and tableux. This immersive experience places the audience within Pauline’s story but also allows us to revisit our own life experiences. This is a work that focuses on each of us being present, a necessary component of having access to the many truths of the piece.

Pauline invites us to play, embrace one another, see each other and hear her truth. WIITY is a historical playground that illustrates the bullying and abusing of black women’s bodies through time. We are exposed to the harsh truths of experiments conducted on black women by Dr J. Marion Sims in the name of gynaecology and told the names of three of the black women he experimented on: Anarcha, Betsy and Lucy. This alongside the flooding of ‘Black Lives Matter’ chanting, highlights the true war that has been and still is upon black bodies in the Western world. Pauline invites us into a space that contains black pain but she does not turn this into a spectacle. She acknowledges these experiences with a truthfulness and encourages us to reflect on how and why these events are occurring.

These narratives are weaved into Pauline’s personal experiences. She tells us of her journey from childhood to girlhood to adulthood. When she describes her audition for the Rambert School, she talks of how she has the shortest legs of all of the girls in the room. And for a moment, this brings up a memory I have from modelling. I remember being stood in a room with nine other girls who’s legs basically went up to my shoulders. And then I remember, the dodgy comments made about my thighs, nose and lips.

Back in the room and I feel even more connected to Pauline. This is likely in part due to the conversation we had over the phone where we discussed the way in which black women’s bodies are othered in theatre and the wider world. But it is also in part due to Pauline having the incredible ability to blur the edges between the theatrical play space she has created and the world outside of the studio.

Listening to Pauline’s journey through the arts world has given me hope. Her story is one that young black women should experience. It is unfortunately not often that you find a black woman in a space telling her story, talking about the challenges of her journey and absolutely smashing it. This is exactly what we need more of.

This piece ends with the audience being present and moving across the space and engaging with each other via a look or an embrace. At this point, I will admit I became quite disengaged. For me, physical contact is something to only be shared with those I am close to. I initially felt unsettled watching people hug each other and spent the next day questioning why that was. I do not have a conclusion yet but, I know this was a unique moment in which people were able to just be, together.

Verdict: What If I Told You is wonderful piece of storytelling that allows us to step into Pauline’s shoes and those of black women in history. Through measured physicality and emotive and engaging storytelling, we are able to truly be present with Pauline and explore our own narratives alongside hers. Go see it at Edinburgh Fringe this summer!

 

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Interview: Pauline Mayers on…

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Image: West Yorkshire Playhouse Website

It’s Monday morning.

This time last week, I had a conversation with Pauline Mayers about her currently touring show What If I Told You, perceptions of black women’s bodies in arts spaces and the wider world and, what it’s like being a person of colour in a white dominated industry.

Pauline on… art and defining herself as an artist

I define art as a means of being able to see the world in a different way, to explore the world through a different door, a different approach to life, different places and different times.

Pauline highlighted how art provides the space for you to express yourself in a way that you cannot in other spheres. It creates more avenues and connections, with the self and the wider world.

Regarding defining oneself as an artist, Pauline does not place herself in a box. She is a lover of reading, research, finding things out; she loves to evolve. Pauline describes herself as a risk taker, agent provocateur and artistic revolutionist.

 

Pauline on…working as a black woman in theatre and dance

Pauline has danced for many years all over the world  – she always wanted to express herself. She described the ongoing commentary on her black body and stressed what appears to be the obvious in that, we all have bodies. Change needs to come surrounding perceptions of black bodies in space but we are not yet at that point. The same goes for listening to black narratives, Pauline spoke of the disbelief in her experiences that occurs within theatre spaces and how audiences doubt her truth because it is not within their repetoire of experiences. Pauline owns her story when she shares it in a performance space because it is her truth. It is unfortunate that POC do not get to own performance spaces often.

She shared her refusal to perform for Black History Month and her disappointment at the last minute nature of programming for this month and Black theatre seasons.

We also touched the importance of being able to see yourself reflected in the theatre, especially as it is such a white dominated space and that a change needs to come. Pauline mentioned her participation in Eclipse’s SLATE Project. She described how the focus on process was something she had not experienced in a long time and how such experiences are rarely available for artists of colour.

Pauline on… the experience of POC in theatre and beyond

POC are rarely listened to, when discussing their experiences there is always a caveat of ‘oh yes, but…’ and never a moment of ‘I hear you’. Pauline who has trained as a counselor highlights that POC are less likely to participate in Talking Therapies and that comes from not being able to speak their truth and always being challenged. Their psychological injuries are sidelined.

Pauline on…POC as emerging artists 

Pauline described an experience she had when presenting a piece of work and an onlooker expressed surprise that her piece was so well rounded. Having huge amounts of experience, after 30 years in the business it should look professional, Pauline exclaims.

POC are brilliant at doing many things at the same time. However, POC are too frequently boxed off as emerging artists, which creates two problems: a stagnation of progression and POC all competing with each other for a platform. Why are we all fighting for one space? Why are we having to take someone out in order to have artistic space?

Whilst opportunities are few and far between, we then face the battle of longevity and siustainability. Pauline states that theatres need to be talking to artists and finding out what they wantUnemployment is a huge issue for artists of colour – where are the sustained work opportunities?

Pauline on…What If I Told You and what’s next

What If I Told You is a calling card,  a reminder that she cannot give up on this artist thing. It’s a part of her DNA. Within this she highlights the importance of accepting the lows but focusing into the work and how this allows you to settle into your calling. She believes it is essential that we spend more time with ourselves and reflect on what it is to be human. By doing such reflections, she wonders if the world would be less divided.

She intends to continue creating work and building the Mayers Ensemble. Alongside this, she would like to continue working collaboratively and venture into directing.

 

What If I Told You is on at the Royal Exchange on Tuesday 20th June and then moves to Edinburgh Fringe, performing between 11-26th August.

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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: Schrödinger, Contact

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Image: Adrian Philpott

Schrödinger by Reckless Sleepers

Contact, Manchester [24.05.17]

The cat’s name was George.

A black box with the front wall removed. Many openings like a multi-faceted lift the flap book without the colourful folly of childhood. Water, water everywhere but, too many drops to drink. Chalky mountains. Sheets strangling lovers faces. X marks the spot.

In 1998, Reckless Sleepers built a box. It wasn’t just any old box. This box was akin to the theorised box created by Schrödinger. Within the box, a cat (George), can be both alive and dead simultaneously yet, we are only able to see one state upon looking in the box. The box creates a paradox. A compelling thought experiment.

Nineteen years later and Reckless Sleepers invite you to explore the box. Watch the chalking of arrows, listen to the simultaneous vocalisations of a letter, ponder every element of the space and then… a man drops through a flap in the ceiling of the box. The cycle repeats with differences that are nuanced yet so repetitive that they could almost be the same. Things fall – whether or not they are apart, together or existing in both states is up to you. Books drop, water is flippantly swished out of wine glasses, pencils are sharpened, apples are eaten, chairs and tables rearranged, bodies lifted and dropped and pulled and pushed. Bodies breathing.

You as the observer are tasked with watching Xs being marked through a physical ‘dance’ of hands pressed against black chalk stained walls and pondering what this mountain range of movement has to do with a cat. This is not your only task and it is not your task at all. Maybe there are no tasks. Maybe you are just here to watch. Or maybe you are not here to watch but to be. You’re looking into a box for one hour but who’s to say that you as the audience who reside in the dark are not George. Maybe you are George and the frantic capers and building of a triangular pyramid structure to the sound of Hushabye Mountain is how you sleep at night. Maybe you don’t sleep. Maybe no one sleeps because thoughts keep threading themselves as time ticks and you exist in a space where everything stops and starts simultaneously.

A man drops through a flap in the ceiling of the box. The cycle repeats itself.

A woman drops through a flap in the ceiling of the box. The cycle repeats itself.

A man threatens another man with a hammer each time he removes a hand from the wall. The cycle repeats itself.

Two men and two women drink with chaotic order to the chanting of numbers. The cycle repeats itself. It goes and goes and goes. Round and rounder. When pace is lost, they fall from the wagon one by woman. Until there is stillness.

A book is dropped many times.

And a music box keeps playing Hushabye Mountain.

 

In Schrödinger, Reckless Sleepers have welcomed us to sample the delights of all contrasts without their difference. We are placed in a space in which logic constantly defies itself and forces us to consider whether what we think is happening is what is actually happening at all. Watching someone draw has never been so compelling that at one point, I acknowledged the rest of the stage and thought ‘Oh shit, that man ate an apple and I missed it…why am i concerned about missing a man eating an apple?’ I had a weird sense of feeling robbed every time I missed something despite, making decisions about what I was looking at. Reckless Sleepers bring original physicality and warped compulsive sequences that make you question how much you’re being given to see and how much you are choosing to see. Is there any choice in this experience apart from you sitting in your seat: yes and no. Are there an infinite yet finite number of possibilities for each encounter. Every time you see someone drop onto the stage, do they fall? Are you already falling into a space in which everything is nothing and nothing is everything. Yes and no. Juxtaposition is okay among friends and strangers because maybe we’re all the same but different anyway.

Verdict: This really was quite extraordinary. The cogs have not stopped ticking in my head since this encounter and I doubt they will anytime soon. Reckless Sleepers are incredibly talented presenters who are able to give us an experience quite unlike any other. This is definitely one of the most unique things I have ever seen and it almost makes me think that theatre generally has become quite static. This defied all the rules and I feel privileged to have experienced true artistry on stage. Schrödinger is brave, mind-boggling and really quite stunning.

 

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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: Heads Up, HOME

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Heads Up by Kieran Hurley

HOME, Manchester [19.05.17]

Kieran Hurley’s Heads Up is an end of the world storytelling sesh that, at times, resembles the sorts of stories you hear from people sat in Chicken Hut after a night on the lash in the toon. Except this didn’t have the “must keep talking about it” quality that late nights in Chicken Hut do.

Whilst Hurley is clearly a very talented actor and vocalist with the ability to use small and subtle movements to give the performance an urgent physicality, the story itself lacked legs. Either that or it had too many legs that, when lined up, unfortunately tumbled like a house of cards caught in a gust of wind. The four narratives that were delivered to us were rather far fetched, but nonetheless had some important home truths (that are possibly humbling when the world is about to end) and at times, were funny. However, the stories were so jumbled that they didn’t really get off the ground and the linking points between them were too obvious at points.

I appreciate shows that do not crave a set in order to make their world exist and was impressed by Hurley’s ability to provide his continued presence, vocal range and physicality whilst engaging in a live form of play with sound effects. But, and this is a very big but, the lighting of this piece was atrocious. And, I’m not saying that to be harsh but, because at points, I had to sit with my eyes closed for a moment to counteract the pain in my eyes caused by the lighting. The stage was in darkness with Hurley in the centre barely illuminated. It is clear that the thought behind this lighting choice was to create a feeling of tension and urgency. However, there is a difference between giving your audience the feeling of tension and actually causing tension in their eyes. This piece of theatre was not accessible for individuals with sensory difficulties and I believe these staging decisions cut off a potential audience and hindered some of the audience who did attend.

Verdict: Heads Up has the potential to be something great – Hurley is a skilled performer and storyteller and, the stories of this piece have some interesting elements. However, this was a physically uncomfortable experience that I wouldn’t want to have again. Though, I would be interested to see a relaxed performance of this piece to see how much of an influence the poor conditions had on my experience of the narrative.

 

 

NB Having spoken to other attendees at this performance, it is clear that where you were seated really influenced your sensory experience of the show.

 

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Review: How My Light Is Spent, Royal Exchange

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How My Light Is Spent by Alan Harris

Royal Exchange, Manchester [09.05.17]

NB: This was a relaxed performance.

Newport, South Wales. Two individuals sit with their backs to each other on a raised rectangular podium. A recording of a phone conversation is played: a man declaring his hands have disappeared. In unison, the two raise their hands to the light. Begin.

Phone sex.

Meet Jimmy. Jimmy is a 34 year old man who lives with his mother, has a kid he hasn’t seen in 4 years, works at a doughnut drive through, hasn’t had sex in a long time and so calls Kitty every evening at 7.30pm for 9 minutes of phone sex.

Meet Kitty. Kitty is a phone sex worker who pretends to masturbate whilst talking to customers, when really she’s just waiting for time to pass. She keeps her childhood locked away in an impenetrable box, practices altruism and dreams of becoming a psychologist.

How My Light Is Spent is an honest, funny and bizarre exploration of unemployment, loneliness, sex work and the search for meaning. Part narrated, part performed in the moment, this hilarious tale charts the gradual disappearance of Jimmy’s body. Somewhat of a modern version of H G Wells’ science fiction novella, The Invisible Man, this play gives us soft sci-fi and a compelling journey through the realm of relationships.

 

Set to a palette of Spandau Ballet, Phil Collins and Maroon 5, some welsh accents and a dash of received pronunciation, our ears very much lead the way in this performance. The stripped back set (which I feel resembles Newport Bridge by night) allows us to focus solely on the two performers. Rhodri Meilir and Alexandria Riley both express their undeniable talent in delivering a multitude of characters, each with their own quirks and emotional truths. They are able to make us laugh and almost cry in the moments experienced by both Jimmy and Kitty.

Whilst this play has a lighthearted feel, it touches on some very important conversations: the state of unemployment and perceptions of sex work. When Jimmy goes to the job centre, if you yourself have ever been to sign on you know exactly how he feels. We’ve all had a Michelle who’s not particularly bothered about your experiences or your aspirations and she really just wants to get you away from her desk so she can admire both sides of her hand for a little longer. Rhodri expresses the apathy and frustration that fills us in the search for a job and delivers a performance with genuine feeling. Universal Credit has been sewing its seeds all over the country yet oddly it is not outwardly addressed in the theatre that often. Yes, there are many plays that explore unemployment but, very few knuckle down into the under layers of a system that can be ignored by those it does not effect. As we watch Jimmy’s decline post ‘signing on’, we are exposed to a very real reality of Britain’s working class or as Jimmy defines it, ‘no class’. The loss of his job results in a lost of meaning and a sense of inadequacy in within that feeling, he becomes lost – disappearing at an alarming rate.

Speaking of rates, it was refreshing to see a piece of theatre include sex work as a key component without solely perpetuating stereotypes. It cleverly explores the positive and negative language around sex work and also opens a window into the world of different types of sex work. Immediately placing the audience in a phone sex scenario was a good choice on the part of Alan Harris – placing an audience in a setting that is usually private forces us to explore how we feel about this scenario but also to question how we engage and participate in privacy. Kitty is a strong, vibrant and driven character who tries to keep most of her feelings concealed. Alexandria’s performance compels us to route for Kitty and to hope that she truly ends up where she wants to be.

The end of this play was looking as though it was going to be a cheese fest but it surpasses all levels of cheese on toast and delivered a heartfelt and beautiful moment when Jimmy and Kitty found the light of life in each other (it was less cheesy than what I just said, I promise).

Verdict: How My Light is Spent is an honest, funny and original love story set on a welsh bridge. Doughnuts, disappearing body parts, personalised saucers and Newport’s answer to Mona Lisa – a truly wonderful play.

 

 

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