The Barbican | February 2016
It’s been a while since I reviewed for you lot at Postdramatic, so apologies in advance for the rust.
It’s also been a while since I have had something I’m genuinely excited to write about. He Who Falls by Compagnie Yoann Bourgeois has certainly gone some way to restoring my faith in British theatre programming; unsurprisingly this latest treat again comes from across the channel.
First a word about the London International Mime Festival. Offering up circus and physical performance from across Europe, Asia and beyond it is a must if you’re looking for something to inspire you; sometimes you have to take a risk, but chances are you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If you’ve missed it this year, get it in your calendar for next!
The Cockpit | London, December 2015
Some reflections on actor training regarding Shakespeare and Cuescript.
For some years The Salon:Collective have been exploring Shakespeare text through scenes without rehearsal, i.e. ‘cue-script’ as a training practice. Led by Lizzie and Dewi Hughes, (the latter also co- running this at Drama Studio) this time round they are attempting the whole Two Gentlemen of Verona, a play about love, lust, friendship, jealousy and favourite plot devices such as characters taking disguise and mistaken identity, and significantly, obscure enough for the cast to have not seen or worked on it before.
June, 2015 | Barbican, London (International Beckett Season)
Avant-garde visionary Robert Wilson is a legend in contemporary theatre with grand-scale shows such as Deafman Glance (which brought about Louis Aragon’s change of heart that theatre could indeed be a medium of surrealist art- having officially rejected Antonin Artaud and other theatrical efforts for many years,) Einstein on the Beach (‘Trial-Prison’ Act III Scene 1 track is not unlike Lucky’s monologue in Waiting for Godot,) The Black Rider, Death Destruction and Detroit– the list goes on. Samuel Beckett once saw him perform and found common ground in a post-show conversation, giving Wilson further consolidation in his particular theatrical outlook. Theatrically, Beckett and Wilson draw many similarities, visually to say the least, and it’s only natural that one would note with quiet satisfaction that each of their own ideas compliments those of the other. Beckett acknowledged Wilson as an actor that truly understands how his work should be played, a useful endorsement for any performer. This makes the show highly anticipated – in fact I bought my ticket 8 months in advance and Krapp’s Last Tape is a rich choice for a theatre creator like Wilson (It helps that Wilson has the clout to get himself scheduled into most performance spaces across the world… example: his last trip to London’s Barbican was part of the Duchamp Season in John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing, his presence described simply as “passing through town” by a techie working on it.*)
June, 2015 | Barbican, London (International Beckett Season)
Waiting for Godot is a play that’s impossible to label, define or understand and famously (and accurately) described as one in which “nothing happens, twice”* – and it heads the Samuel Beckett Festival at the Barbican. Beckett often spoke out against the need to understand or interpret his work in the face of widespread despair by many a director, actor or critic. I propose that Beckett is more of a performance artist than a playwright in this respect. When you watch these unconventional pieces you are seeing live-art, a happening, staged minimalism, maths, art installation, philosophy, history, a dance; the texts are equal to or more choreographed than spoken. The viewer experiences his work (for wont of a less pretentious line) and often becomes self-conscious and reflective.
June, 2015 | Milton Court, London
Theatre/Cinema events are becoming very common now and ranging in style though not often depth. In the last two years alone I’ve seen Cinematic Theatre in the hyper-detailed Shaubühne piece Frauline Julie, Kiss and Cry (a film-and-puppetry drama made with fingers,) Paper Cinema’s Odyssey with live music and drawing with object manipulation, Petruska, a collaboration of American company Giants Are Small and the New York Philharmonic, which had puppeteers moving around with different set-pieces and previous filmed scenes projected with live-feed like a cinema while the Orchestra played along (in both senses; internationally renowned conductor Alan Gilbert was dressed up at Magician, too.) I’ve seen Neil Gaiman reading one of his short stories alongside a quartet and projected illustrations (by Graphic Novel hero Eddy Campbell,) fringe companies recreating entire films in tiny theatres with minimal props, inviting the audience to use their imagination to fill the gaps, The Film Beasts of the Southern Wild with accompanying orchestra. Secret Cinema has evolved from the early ‘promenade cinema’ concept into a full-on immersive experience, not only being a cinema event but also making the audiences experience the events in the film, too (although I have never fancied paying £50 to have underpaid and oft’ exploited actors smile through gimmicky budget-consuming action sequences and excessive sets… it’s not even ‘Secret’ anymore, as they can generate hipster interest by announcing the retro film that’s billed as opposed to the revealing it after audiences go through the whole immersive ordeal. Maybe it has to be experienced to believe, though… I digress…)
May 2015 | Barbican
The original play written by Thomas Middleton was a satire on London life back when society was very bawdy and at the same time puritan. Creators Sean Foley and Phil Porter re-stage it in 1950s Soho with the notion that this historically unconventional, culturally subversive and morally notorious area was a suitable and not ironically unimaginative setting (and to view the audience with as much dimness as many of the gags in this piece.)
There are two plots to this story, one in which Richard Follywit tries to swindle his uncle’s great wealth and another where Penitent Brothel tries to win sexual access to a married woman with the help of a crafty prostitute. The text has been adapted to apply to a contemporary audience, changing names to sound more familiar and clean up the obscurities of the historical context, although often unnecessarily. For example, Bounteous Progress, the rich snob who wants to gain favour and privilege amongst the political class is renamed ‘Peersucker’ – fair enough, Richard Desmond, (with whom the similarity is obvious) is the owner of numerous Red Top newspapers and a pornography channel and has been funding both Conservatives and UKIP in order to be selected for Peerage. But ‘Shortrod Harebrain’ didn’t need to be renamed ‘Littledick.’ It’s the start of many superfluous changes that underestimate the intelligence of the audience.
May 2015 | Village Underground
The queue starts outside the location; a dank, former victorian warehouse on a side-street away from the noise of the Hackney nightlife. With access permits in hand, the audience are eventually bustled through the closely gated ‘crime-scene’ led by surly officers giving out torches and rapping out access rules. The space is littered with junk and odd pieces of old furniture. It’s the kind of area a murder would take place in, or at least a place a body would be dumped. Chalk outlines decorate the concrete floor, exposed by the type of flood light you see on police-dramas, alongside boards with photos and post-it notes of details about victims or suspects. In the gloom, somewhere in the tightly gathered crowd, song rises through the dense space.
December 2014 | Barbican Pit Theatre
Forced Entertainment offer their first show for young audiences, and while their trademark performance style and signature elements remain true to form the piece lacks the relevant adjustments for a more demanding audience.
The story itself carries the audience through a strange house while ‘you’ search for a lost doodle-drawn spider for a small drawn girl in a book. Throughout the journey we confront various creatures, birds, dancing soldiers and a rhino among many, all projected with semi-crude drawings onto cardboard which, combined with a keyboard and microphone has a rough but imaginative quality that can often be more successful than fully realised set pieces (like the brilliant Het Filaal’s Miss Ophelia). Rambling through this world has the quirky substance of a child telling a story: why a Rhino? Why did the mouse give a pointless key, isn’t that a hole in the story?
December 2014 | Barbican Theatre
The RSC with Gregory Doran continue the History Plays series at the Barbican following last years successful Richard II. Henry’s powerful former allies revolt against him in the messy aftermath of Richard’s abdication and murder. It’s the usual affair of armour and chivalry common with the traditional RSC productions popular amongst tourists and regulars but it falls short of the excitement and flair of a realised Shakespeare piece and feels more like the stiff, archaic performance in a static, formulaic manner that feels REALLY long (something which figures like John Barton worked hard to overcome.) This review will attempt to emulate this verily; prepare for nit-picking in a blandly structured essay.
November, 2014 | Barbican Theatre
Dmitri Krymov realises Shakespeare’s thematic and theatrical intentions through the meta-theatrical episode of the ‘Mechanicals’ in the play. Rather than lovers and fairies in the forest, it’s the company of players and their attempts to present what they see as the ultimate archetypical love story in Pyramus and Thisbe that draws the Shakespearian oscillation of dramatic forms together.
Here, commonplace elements like “Tragedy/Comedy, Foolishness/Seriousness, Laughter/sadness” (Krymov, 2014) are seamlessly executed between highly contrived Art and baseness of the coarse. Krymov, who started as a theatre designer, equates his Lab with the meta-company led by Quince; merely craftsmen making a production that’s “not yet ready” of a love story in a scratch of a space. So being, the ‘performers’ are mostly stage-hands, a pair of opera singers, some circus artists and a talented dog (which, by the way, is clearly in the text with Robin Starveling’s “this thorn-bush, my thorn-bush, and this dog, my dog.” Act V, sc.1) All of which present Pyramus and Thisbe with crude yet beautiful, comic yet sad, giant puppets. The dream of the play is in the Mechanicals, in the environment is the art.