Tag Archives: Theatre

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: I Capture The Castle, The Octagon

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Photo Richard Lakos

I Capture The Castle

Directed by Brigid Larmour; Based on the novel by Dodie Smith

The Octagon, Bolton [29.04.17]

A young woman, Cassandra sits in the kitchen sink. Well, not in the sink exactly, she sits on the draining board with her feet in the sink and she writes. She wants to write a novel about the castle that she and her unconventional family reside in, to truly capture the castle for all its worth, in etchings of ink. Maybe her father will go back to writing too, if his writer’s block ever subsides.

Set in 1930’s Britain, I Capture The Castle (ICTC) is a slightly odd but very enjoyable tale about a family who’s world is dominated by writing, not writing and the castle gargoyle (more on this later). We follow Cassandra, her father, stepmother Topaz and sister Rose, as their lives are tipped upside down when two young American gentlemen arrive at the castle, after their car breaks down one cold, rainy night. At this point, despite being a musical, this does not take a Rocky Horror-esque turn – which depending on your taste, you’ll either be ecstatic or distraught about. Instead it goes more along the lines of a prim and proper version of the sort of love quadrilateral you’d find in Eastenders (this is complimentary, I like Eastenders) – with songs and a bit of dancing. Rose falls head over heels for bearded, Simon (Cassandra questions Rose’s pursuit of a bearded man, making this a notable quality) and Cassandra is left to entertain his ranch-obsessed (they get mentioned a lot) brother, Neil. This all turns on its head of course,when the four take a trip to the beach. It is here that Neil and Rose slip away discreetly and we’re left to join up the dots, whilst Cassandra and Simon have a quaint little moment together. The men, being gentlemen of course, give their coats to the women. However, these coats can only be described as the wardrobe rejects from the BBC’s 1988 version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. These mixed with a an array of green fabric hanging around the castle would give one the perfect makings of a collection inspired by Babes In The Wood.

Eventually, Simon proposes to Rose and they head off to London (with Topaz and Stephen, the castle farm hand who is madly in love with Cassandra). Only Simon returns one evening to find Cassandra engaging in a midsummer ceremony which he asks to be brought into, at which point the two end up kissing. Believe it or not, this part wasn’t as predictable as it sounds. Anyway, Cassandra insists that he leave, only to later realise that she herself is in love with him and to make things worse she is sure that Rose does not love him. So she goes to London to find him, only to be left heartbroken and to find that she was write all along. She returns home and (of course) locks her father in the castle turret to help him write. Just your everyday reaction to heartbreak really.

In the end, it all comes out about Rose and Neil. Simon decides to go back to New York and invites Cassandra to join him. She declines despite still being in love, for she needs to stay at the castle to write in her novel. My younger self was screaming with happiness at this point – a story with a happy ending where the girl doesn’t go chasing after the guy… but instead opts to pursue her novel writing dreams.

Being unfamiliar with the book as I am, I cannot say whether or not this was a good adaptation. However, this was enjoyable piece of theatre that certainly made me laugh and that’s hard for a performance to do (especially when I’m sat up in the rafters and can hear the pigeons better than the cast). The characters of Topaz, Stephen and Leda (a famous photographer and aunt of Simon and Neil) really brought a comedic edge to the piece and brought it to life.

At times, ICTC felt more like a play with songs masquerading itself as a musical, rather than a solid new musical offering. Many of the songs were quite similar in tone and didn’t stick with me after the show. I feel that a truly brilliant musical keeps you singing the songs for days after you’ve left the theatre. However, it does manage to churn out one banger, They’re Only Men, for which I await its release on Spotify so that it can be added to my musicals playlist. ICTC has the potential with some tweaks to be a great musical offering.

Director Brigid Larmour was clearly thorough when laying out her vision for this piece – it is ambitious with its use of physical theatre to add an additonal element to the usual dance accompaniment. The physicality certainly added an element of intrigue but unfortunately, at times it felt misplaced within the landscape of the play. The same can be said for the gargoyle character who appears throughout the play. It was almost as though the commitment to adding these more abstract elements just didn’t go to the lengths it needed to in order to truly make them work. This accompanied by the choreography which at times felt a kin to dad dancing, distracted from the story and musicality of the piece.

Overall, for a new musical, this was well done and the characters successfully took the audience in.  Lowri Izzard played a loveable and witty Cassandra and there were a couple of good feel good songs. However, I was left with the same question I am often left with when leaving the Octagon – why wasn’t the cast diverse? In a cast of nine, it wouldn’t have been difficult to have a cast that is reflective of society. Musicals are more often than not dominated by white casts, which is why shows like The Wiz are so important. If new musicals want to be relevant, they need to be doing something that isn’t just following the path of the classics. There was a degree of effort made to make this piece relevant to the modern audience – so why not go the whole way? It would serve The Octagon well to start engaging in the act of colour brave casting rather than sticking to their safe casting or occassionally problematic casting of actors of colour in stereotyped roles (e.g. casting the two black actors in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall as an alcoholic/adulterer and an adulteress wasn’t the best casting decision ever made). Partaking in this practice would fully transform the theatre that they create and build on the potential that they most certainly have.

Verdict: This is a good musical offering and it has the potential to be fantastic with more consideration given to the finer details. If you like musicals, this is definitely worth seeing. P.S. The set is visually very interesting – this made my eyes extra happy.

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Whatever happened to Baby Jane (née Theatre Criticism)?

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Theatre Criticism is in crisis and this isn’t something new. Financial issues, the shift from print to online and the emergence of theatre blogs etc have all had their impact. However, there is another issue that is going unaddressed and that is, the hush hush muzzling of the critic.

Opportunities for  emerging critics are few and far between and so, many are opting to create their own platforms and use social media to promote and disseminate their reviews. However, there seems to be an unspoken rule that makes writers uncomfortable with writing negative reviews. The idea of writing a negative review conjures feelings of anxiety about: how it will be received, whether or not you’ve the knowledge and competency to say such things, concerns about the backlash, worries about upsetting the company in question, fear of rocking the boat and, feeling as though you’re not established enough to be the Craig Revel Horwood of criticism. All of these feelings are valid however, how much of an influence have external sources had in forging these feelings? Probably quite a lot.

Let’s start with rocking the boat. There are multiple media platforms around Britain that do not allow negative comments about plays in their reviews. If as critics we are only supposed to write a positive and/or polite commentary of every piece of theatre we see, we may as well take off our hats and hand them to the PR team.

Criticism, by definition, is about assessing the merits and flaws of a piece. And of course, the merits are raved about by default. But what happens when a piece is flawed from beginning to end and arguably inherently problematic? Are you supposed to right good things based on what others have said or on what the company was trying to do? Or maybe write a synopsis with a polite dig at the end? Or maybe just don’t write anything at all? Should you decide to write a very negative review, you have volunteered yourself to walk a very thin line and possibly sacrifice your credibility as a writer and that’s because credibility isn’t what it used to be. Just like Sunny D was pulled from our shelves and returned with the same branding yet a completely different taste, criticism is slowly becoming a going through the (positive) motions participatory activity, rather than an observational, analytical commentary. How did we end up here?

Fear of becoming a car crash and theoretically upsetting the establishment is what led us here. If you’re not one of the high flyers yet, one review is unlikely to have a national impact on how a piece of art is perceived and if it does, well that says something about the art, the critic and the audiences of the two. A negative review with no point to it will sink relatively quickly but, one that has a point may well gather some momentum and cause people to have some conversations (and prompting discussion has its plus points). You may well be branded the devil incarnate by a whole wealth of people but, your duty here is to your audience and the art form as a whole, not to individual artists. If a piece of art empowers you and people like you, you’ll push that boat right out into the sea so, if a piece of art offends and dehumanises you surely you are allowed to do the same? You have agency over your words. The pressure to give everything a more mellow tone to ‘take the edge off’ is a washed up means by which to limit freedom of opinion, pigeonhole us into a writing in a template that leans towards regurjitating tired, standardised views and, it stagnates the positive changes occurring in theatre.

Theatre is moving – it is growing and it is slowly dismantling its elitist roots and this is something we all need to see. So many theatres are making the active effort to welcome in new audiences and diversify their productions and staffing structures. These changes are huge, necessary and encouraging. So when you spot a piece of theatre that does the complete opposite, if you wish to, you have every right to call it out and challenge its message. You have the right to write what you feel and place it in the public sphere. Not everyone will agree with you, you know this. In fact, most people will disagree with you. But, there’ll a lot of people who do agree with you but didn’t feel that they could air such an opinion. To clarify, criticism isn’t a voice of the people but, it is a possible window into a world that still only attracts certain types of people and makes acknowledgement of the audiences who aren’t sitting in theatres.

Theatre criticism was like Baby Jane (full of spark and potential) and it can be that again – but, writing critical honest letters to our audiences may be a more transformative (though controversial) venture than simply pretending to write a heart felt letter to daddy.

 

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Review: Twelfth Night, Royal Exchange

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Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Royal Exchange, Manchester [22.04.2017]

I’m not a big fan of Shakespeare or Classics, but this was a great piece of Saturday afternoon theatre that really went to town with re-imagining Shakespeare and making it more palatable to the modern audience. To my surprise, I enjoyed myself. This is a rare occurrence so I will use this post to celebrate that.

But let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start, when you read you… stop) and explain why I don’t really buy old Shakey. Shakespeare has been done to death and even in death, he has not parted us. He’s still grasping on for dear life, like when Victor puts the ring on the branch in Corpse Bride and it turns out to be Emily’s finger and so she rises from the dead to wed Victor. Yeah, that sums up Shakespeare quite well.

Quick plot summary: Shipwreck. Sand Everywhere. Gender Fluidity. A High-Vis Lycra Moment. Viola loves Orsino. Orsino loves Olivia. Olivia loves Cesario (Viola). Marvolio loves Olivia. And there’s something a foot between Maria and Sir Toby. Everyone gets a reasonably happy ending except for Malvolio (bless him).

Chuck in a trolley draped in 90’s Christmas tree fairy lights, a traffic cone, a folding bicycle, an electric guitar and some next level high-vis Lycra, and you’ve got yourself a wildly funny piece of new age Shakespeare. Sir Toby’s late night party piece with Sir Andrew is enough to rival any post student night out after party (Poly v Posh eat your heart out). But, the party truly starts when Feste walks in. Played by the charming and engaging Kate O’Donnell, Feste is a loveable, inquisitive jester who makes us laugh and reflect throughout the piece. She also takes a moment to bond with the audience following the interval and finishes the play with a song that resembled what I imagine the Shakespearean version of Cabaret to be. O’Donnell’s cabaret background and ability to bring an audience in made her the perfect choice for this role. Plus her own experiences as a transgender woman, added to the emotional truth that really came through in the final song.

The story within this play is good, but it is all of the production aspects of this adaptation that really push it into the great production realm. It’s rare that you can go to see a main house production and see such a diverse cast. The casting of Faith Omole as Viola was an excellent choice, she brought wit, charm and vulnerability to the role. She gave Viola and Cesario their individual nuances, and really made us believe the depths of her love for her master, Orsino.  Moreover, it was good to see a dark skinned black woman in a challenging, leading role. Colour-brave casting isn’t a new feat for the Royal Exchange who staged King Lear last year, starring Don Warrington and an equally diverse cast.

Mina Anwar (Maria) and Kate Kennedy (Olivia) also gave us charismatic and humorous performances. Comedy gold struck when Olivia requested that Maria cover her mistress’ face, but due to their stark height difference, she has to jump to comply. Anwar and Kennedy pull the most distinctive and story-filled facial expressions throughout the play that it is hard to take your eyes off them.

Harry Atwell plays a gaudy yet loveable fool in love (or status), Sir Andrew, who gives us what can only be described as a ginger gandalf leaping over 2 for 1 Primark suitcases and a pitiful attempt at boxing – very much like sending Daffy Duck to compete in Cagey Joe’s boxing ring, with no Bugsy Malone in sight… unless you count Malvolio sporting a high-vis yellow get up, to appease Olivia. Absolutely hilarious from start to finish!

And now of course, for the set. Leslie Travers’ designed the amazing structure pictured above, which I will refer to as ‘Malvolio’s Cage’. When a picture of Malvolio’s Cage was posted on the Royal Exchange’s instagram, I was so taken by its architecture that I concluded I had to see the play because I needed to know what role this creation could be playing in it – it is the 15th cast member. When the structure lowers to centre stage in the second act, a stylistic use of lighting highlights each of its nooks and crannies alongside its elegance. My inner forgotten art student was very excited by this.

Verdict: If you like Shakespeare, watch this and if you don’t like Shakespeare, definitely give this a go. You may leave as pleasantly surprised as I was and if you’re still anti-Shakespeare at least you’ll have had a good laugh. P.S. following this matinee performances may well be the shout.

Twelfth Night is on until May 20th. 

 

 

 

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Review: Letters to Windsor House, HOME MCR

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Letters to Windsor House by Sh!t Theatre

HOME MCR, Manchester [20.04.17]

Imagine living on a housing estate with blocks of flats named after royal residencies. I live on one of those, but the one I live on is in Manchester, not London. Imagine getting a shit ton of post everyday for randoms that lived in the property just before you. I get that except, we’ve been here for nearly two decades. Imagine deciding to open all the letters and then pursue the people they belong to. Yeah, I’ve got better things to do, ta.

Hailed as an exceptional piece of political theatre on the housing crisis, expectations were of course high. Following this, I’ve realised that you should never expect (too) much from anything. Brave, they said… meh. Heartbreaking, they said… meh. Hilarious, they said… really though?

Letters to Windsor House is like a modern day Carry On, without the misogyny (*claps*) and the funny bits (*tumble weed*). The gags did get laughter from some audience members, but I guess some people are easily amused. And ‘Rob Je Cock’ kind of loses it’s ha ha factor after you’ve said it twice… I stopped counting how many times this was said throughout the very long hour I was sitting down for.

In all the song, dance and silliness of this piece, I feel that the underlying ‘message’ of the show did not bloom and the housing crisis was platformed but not fully explored. The real story was emerging when performers Becca and Louise were in cardboard, strap-on telephone boxes sharing very personal letters to each other. This was what I wanted more of.

I guess I wanted more. More plot, more meaning and more humour.

Verdict: If you’re easily amused and don’t like to do too much thinking, this one’s for you duck.

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Review: Not Today’s Yesterday, The Lowry

Not Today's Yesterday

Photo: Dagmara Gieysztor

Not Today’s Yesterday

Concept and Performance: Seeta Patel; Choreography: Lina Limosani; Visual Dramaturg: Dagmara Gieysztor

The Lowry, Salford [19.04.2017]

Sitting in darkness, we see a woman standing ornately. Waiting. Ready. And the story begins… a fairy tale about a far away land with ‘rivers of chocolate’ and ‘rain like diamonds’, is delivered by an external voice over and lip synced by the performer, Seeta Patel. The voice is calming and welcoming, with all the right intonations to lull a child to sleep. Although this destination, this land of nod is made of the sort of dreams that manifest themselves as nightmares for the inhabitants of the dream – almost like if the Wizard of Oz happened from the perspective of the bad witch. Except, this time she’d masqueraded as the good witch to gain your trust and the emerald city is a realm of translucent plastic.

Your journey through this land is a dance. It is a dance that you may be unfamiliar with, but nonetheless it is a dance that is gloriously uncomfortable and one that you open yourself to partake in. Blending Bharatanatyam with contemporary dance and, using the body as a storytelling map, Not Today’s Yesterday takes you on a journey to India, excavates the whitewashed history of the British Empire and hangs it out to dry.

In building a collision between contrasting materials and an absent colour palette, this piece immerses us in a world outside of the one we are familiar with. Yet, in using what resembled a curtain pull as a representation of hair, this piece immediately embodied a space that is prevalent in the lives of anyone who inhabits the diaspora. For women of colour, hair means and exemplifies a multitude of things and whilst these meanings differ for different groups of women, we share the experience of hair playing a part in our identities, both internally and externally. And when the hair is cut, the nightmare and dissociation begins…

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Your fairy tale journey ceases when you are faced with white paint being poured slowly down a translucent screen. You watch it drip. See Patel lie on the floor behind it. Wait. You watch her study it and distort the clean lines into a hazy mess. You watch her clear a circle to look through. Then you watch a shadow, jolting to sonic screwdriver-esque noises. And then you are faced with the elitist in plastic clothing with a long white braid. Dancing. And telling you to ‘get over it’.

This is what it’s like to live in the diaspora. To be in an alarming and confusing state of being force-fed a whitewashed curriculum and being expected to grin and bear it. To be silenced constantly because your white peers don’t like feeling uncomfortable. To not fully know your history, heritage and the whole of your mother tongue, because the language of the history books tells you what it desperately wants to hear itself. This is what it’s like to be othered everyday.

This is an important piece of dance theatre. It is authentic and honest but most importantly, it wills you to think for yourself. And for the white audience member, this is the well crafted and challenging Dear White People of theatre.

Verdict: An exceptional piece of political theatre that speaks volumes without a word being said on the stage.

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Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Bolton Octagon

 

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte (adapted by Deborah McAndrew)

The Octagon, Bolton [11.04.2017]

Sitting in a seat with a somewhat restricted view following a very long and arduous bus journey (though to be fair these events were separated by some thought provoking conversation) was probably not the best start to the evening. Leaning forward to admire the set was an error on my part, there was very little visual artistry to greet or titillate.

Now, is probably a good time to say that the classics are not of huge appeal to me and I don’t usually write reviews in this style. However, there’s a first time for everything and said time is upon us.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (we’ll refer to it as Wildfell from now on) is the sort of play that my best friend would appreciate:

It is a window into the harrowing love life and struggle for independence of a ‘widow’ named Helen. Helen has fled from her foul husband with her child and is hiding away in fear that he will find her and subject her to a life of misery. In what is now to be her new home, she stumbles across local farmer Gilbert and they fall in love, against the odds.

Or at least, that’s how I imagine her describing it (okay, maybe she wouldn’t have said that last bit).

It reminded me of Catherine Cookson’s The Girl. If you’ve not read or watched it, allow me to elaborate. Hannah marries a butcher, but is in love with a guy called Ned, who’s been in love with her since she was a child (which I find uncomfortable to say the least). Anyway, the butcher dies and Hannah sends his mother away. She gives the shop to her sister and runs off into the hills to be with Ned. Yes, Wildfell is very much like that except there’s less dramatic fighting, no butcher in sight and oh yes, there’s a dog that makes an appearance at the beginning and then it just doesn’t come back. I am not a fan of The Girl, but I am able to vaguely outline its plot because it’s the joy of my mother’s life on a Sunday afternoon. It’s more predictable than that On The Buses episode where Stan becomes infatuated by the Indian belly dancer who works in the canteen and, thanks to his good old pal Jack, he ends up taking her snake home and hiding out in his upstairs loo until she comes to collect it. Wildfell is very much like this, riddled in misogyny but less humorous.

It’s important that I highlight some good things. Number 1: Helen is a strong feminist character (be it of the time) and I can see how this would have ruffled many a feather back in the day (props to Anne Bronte). Number 2: I appreciated that the child was actually played by a child. Often adults embody children and the audience is expected to see beyond them and appreciate the craft used to make you believe they are a child. In this instance, it not only felt appropriate but would seem ill placed for an adult to perform childhood in this environment (p.s. if he can sing, they should recast him for Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol). Number 3: Gilbert (Helen’s love interest) was like a cross between Ned (mentioned above), Mr Rochester (Jane Eyre) and Mr Darcy (Pride and Prejudice) – I think this would be a positive for many audience members. Number 4: the string music played during scene changes was rather soothing and was well complemented by the purple hued lighting changes that accompanied it. Number 5: the period costumes were complementary to the era in which the piece is set. Number 6: I liked that the dog wondered about for a bit (even though I don’t like animals).

Verdict: If you appreciate the back to back period dramas shown on Yesterday (Freeview channel 20) and would like to be immersed in one in the round (be it with a no frills no fuss set), then this is definitely the shout for you. Equally if you have an appreciation of the classics, I’m sure you’ll like this. However, if like me, you prefer contemporary theatre that defies boundaries and require a less predictable plot, give this one a swerve.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall will be at The Octagon until Saturday 22nd April.

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Review: The People Are Singing, Royal Exchange

The People Are Singing

The People Are Singing by Lizzie Nunnery

Royal Exchange, Manchester [07.04.2017]

A tin tub with some cargo net. Some coloured rope. Three photographs. A tally chart counting nothing. A man lighting candles. A child skipping.

Distant memories of childhood games immerse us in a younger world view in Lizzie Nunnery’s new play. We observe a twelve year old girl, Irina skipping and playing hop scotch. But, at unexpected instances her actions and thoughts are no longer her own  – trauma is her puppet master and fear, her strings. This external domination of Irina’s choices only grows as the piece progresses. What starts as an external war to their small home, grows into an indoor war in which Olena (the mother) demands that Irina sing everything away for her, this war lapses when Olena is shot by Dima, a strange man who comes into the house offering safety, food, a ‘home’. A new war is waged as Irina runs away to escape Dima and ends up in a highly original forbidden forest, en route to a freedom she has only ever imagined.

Whilst this piece possesses a strong narrative, it is its physicality, poetry, sound and visual artistry that make it a poignant piece of theatre. Irina’s poetic monologues take us on a harrowing journey in which she begins to question her actions and who their purposes pertain to. These pieces alongside a soundscape that removes the need for specific physical props, gives us a true sense of immersion into this abraded landscape and unsettling forest.

The movements within this piece highlight the characters relationships to the warped world in which they are living and express the proximity in sensation between fear and excited pleasure: each time Irina throws her arms out, are these sensations what she perceives them to be or are they crafted externally. Theses mixed emotions are almost like a replica of the state of uncertainty that arises when you are not sure whether or not you are having a panic attack.

The accompanying strong element of visual arts only builds on this experience. The use of bungee cords (in the colours of the Ukrainian flag) as household items, undergrowth, outdoor games, and a physical expression of both internal and external limitations imposed on us, gives the piece a continued identity – which starkly contrasts with the decomposing identities of all of the characters.

The People Are Singing leaves us questioning ways to respond to wrong doing and whether it is right to do the thing that is most truthful. The snapshot experience we have through a little girl’s eyes also brings us to consider what truly crafts one’s identity in childhood and how this is impeded by the cold light of trauma.

 

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Review: Nothing, Royal Exchange

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Photo by Fureya Nelson-Riggot

You know a play is dark, when you leave the theatre with that “i’m not okay” kind of feeling. You know a play is really dark, when you leave in a state of indescribable distress and an inability to articulate the state that you are in. If a play triggers me (especially if it happens on multiple occasions throughout its duration), I usually refuse to write about it. But. But, Nothing. Nothing is exactly that, it is something that needs to be talked about and experienced in all of its catastrophic disturbances because Nothing matters. Every dark tale weaved into this distorted, Rubix coated search for meaning, reminds us why we are here, why we matter and why we are more than our experiences. I am not going to go into detail about the plot of Nothing, but I will give you a list of some of the objects of reference (to meaning) in the piece and allow you to join up the dots: antidepressants, a hamster, a finger, a pair of trainers, a diary, a dvd box set, a t-shirt, a phone, a dog’s head and virginity.

In playing with levels, the elements, physicality and close proximity delivery, this production places the audience right in its centre. You are not the fly on the wall, but the fly free to roam the room and feel all kinds of sensations that you may or may not want to engage with.

Did I enjoy this play? No.

Is it an exceptional piece of theatre that breaks the mould and stays with you once you’ve left the space, in a very real way? Yes.

And for that reason, I do not regret experiencing this. It has pushed me to reassess how much my experiences matter to me and how I let them shape me. It has compelled me to think about what really matters because when nothing matters, everything matters. Nothing is to be commended for its challenging nature, a story that truly makes you ache and an amazingly talented cast.

 

P.S. Shout out to Annie Rogers who played Sophie – you made me cry.

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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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