The Valley of Astonishment | Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne

July 2014 | The Young Vic, London

Peter Brook introduces this piece as an exploration into “the mountains and valleys of the brain,” (quoted from the programme) while borrowing from passages of The Conference of The Birds, a Persian poem (by Attar of Nishapur) about a journey of birds through symbolic valleys, astonishment (or bewilderment, but astonishment arguably sounds better) being no. 6. Brook had adapted this in 1979 while the body of The Valley of Astonishment comes from another project, Je Suis un Phénomène, which comes from an even earlier Brook show. It must be said that neurological disorders have been doing the rounds for inspiring theatre and art and by now, since Oliver Sacks’ book [1985] on the subject should naturally run low on steam. We’ll see.

The Believers | Frantic Assembly

May 2014 | The Tricycle Theatre, London

Frantic Assembly are known for their projects of combined movement, design and text, having toured and collaborated in countless shows. The Believers is a play by Bryony Lavery and brings two neighbouring families with overtly expressed differences reluctantly together during a flood and ends in a tragic disaster, although it takes over an hour to discover what actually happened.

It begins with a series of odd tableaux structured around a large metal apparatus that eventually becomes representative of the rooms of the house. The performers stand around or lounge on the frame but not in a way that alludes or reveals traits of their character, rather, they all look a touch too serious and overburdened with ominous angst, which would be fine if the whole thing wasn’t a mystery. As an introduction it comes across as quite pretentious, it’s obvious they’re dying to unleash their troubles but have to strut around taking strange poses.

Kiss and Cry | Charleroi Danses

June 2014 | Barbican, London

This show is the result of an experiment: is it possible to make a film on a kitchen table and a dance performance using only hands? As featured in other performances using live-feed equipment, most of the apparatus is exposed on the stage. Shelves and storage are placed at the back, various work stations dominate key positions at the front and sides, a track for the primary camera reaches around three sides, a large screen hangs high above the action and a technical desk takes centre stage. This style of theatre, using cameras and cheap props to great effect, has been gathering popularity for a while, and the standard has been set pretty high by the likes of those from the small scale Paper Cinema to fully converged multimedia shows like Frauline Julie by Katie Mitchell with Schaubühne Berlin. Kiss and Cry has been going for years and should be more than capable of impressing in the same way.

The Notebook | Forced Entertainment

June 2014 | BAC, London

Forced Entertainment were recently back at their London home, Battersea Arts Centre, for the UK Premiere of their latest work The Notebook. Based on Kristof’s stunning text, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this, arguably Forced Entertainment’s most narrative driven work to date. Once again, I was not let down.

Fitting then, that this is my most linear written review to date, and my first full review for Postdramatic. Settle in; it’s lengthy (but I think they’d like that). Basically, it’s a story. Two brothers, battling for survival in a war-torn Central Europe, all the while on a voyage of discovery of their own morality. From here, I’m not going to talk too much about the story, other than to support my observations of Forced Entertainment’s expertly crafted production.

Ubu Roi | Cheek by Jowl

June, 2014 | Barbican Centre, London

Resident Company to the Barbican Centre, Cheek By Jowl, gain access to the main stage for this attempt at a difficult text from an absurd writer and credited pre-cursor to the surrealists. My companion, James Hodgson (abstract performance artist and under-the-radar critic), and I couldn’t agree on this production: I thought it was a wasted opportunity to bring a founding text of scandalous theatre to a mainstream audience and it was a miserable failure; he thought it was an absolute disgrace.

Smashed! | Gandini Juggling

May 2014 | Udder Belly, Southbank, London

For over 20 years Gandini Juggling has been experimenting and innovating contemporary circus with a background in juggling, mathematics, rhythmic gymnastics and inspired-by-Pina-Bausch. It’s not just about what they juggle – it’s how they do it, what rhythms and detailed movements they adopt, what games they play and how they test themselves. Smashed! is a series of vignettes of nine performers and loads of apples. And a tea set.

Juggling has proved to be an exceptional device in ensemble training and Smashed! gloriously demonstrates this through concentration, tension, clowning, structures and chaos, alternating dynamic and static moments that are all present and the audience are drawn into endless mathematical patterns and games. I would confidently use Gandini Juggling as an example of Lecoq’s complicité or Meyerhold’s essential rhythm, which he believed was the most important element of theatre and created it from the very beginning with the mise-en-scène. Having argued that complicité can’t come spontaneously (despite many a teacher’s claims to the contrary), there had to be a structure and established rhythm. Skipping was the best example, at least over endless exercises with partners trying to compel one other to do something, with complicité, from nothing – until now. The audience also feel this hyper-awareness and the show is all the more compelling for it. Old-fashioned popular music is used throughout (seemingly to echo the point about Meyerhold) and the cast did very well to continue while a low flying helicopter decided to linger over Southbank covering all the sound for a few minutes (the show was also forced to share the venue with a considerably less professional band elsewhere in the tent.)

The Testament of Mary | Deborah Warner

May 2014 , The Barbican Theatre, London

This impressive adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s novel, The Testament of Mary, takes the perspective of an altogether different mother of Christ. This Mary, bitter and resentful of the way her son has been deified in the aftermath of the crucifixion, reveals her grievous thoughts and stark attitude to the audience, framed by a visit of two evangelists seeking anecdotes to spin into propaganda. Deborah Warner returns to the Barbican with familiar collaborator Fiona Shaw (and Vulture) but the decision to invite audience on the stage in the soft opening is the most questionable element.

1984 | Headlong Theatre Company

March 2014 | The Almeida Theatre, London

The biggest decision made in this otherwise true-to-book adaptation is the inclusion of a post-1984 historical debate. In dystopian London, Winston Smith commits thought-crime and begins a diary, an act which frames the novel and inevitably leads to his demise. Within the novel Orwell alludes to no future after Winston, only that totalitarian fascists remain stamping on liberty and freedom of thought in perpetual domination, but creators Duncan Macmillan and Robert Icke propose that it’s the inclusion of The Principles of Newspeak Appendix that structurally redefines the book and any further reading thereof.

Fuerzabruta! | De la Gaurda

February 2014 | Roundhouse, London

Fuerzabruta! (‘Brute Force’) returns to the Roundhouse as part of its ongoing international tour, demonstrating stunts, grand set pieces and pacey music throughout, in a sequence of dreamscapes. Music is both live and recorded (DJ’ed), switching between carnivalesque drums to an electronica score that supports the atmosphere and action of the piece which cuts through and over the audience.

Aragon excitedly wrote of Robert Wilson’s Deafman Glance as “…it is at once life awake and the life of closed eyes, the confusion between everyday life and the life of each night, reality mingle[d] with dream…” (belatedly arguing against a long-term decision that Theatre cannot be surreal.) Wilson’s production was a series of performed images, deliberately devoid of sound, but one is compelled to wonder what Aragon would have made of Fuerzabruta!, with it’s speed, fast changes of pace, ambitious design and use of technology on a grand scale. The experience, which attempts to tap into the audience’s primitive rhythms through carnival also encourages a more personal reflection;

The Odyssey | The Paper Cinema

April 2014 | BAC, London

The Paper Cinema impresses its audiences with quirky illustrations and an original live score in this atmospheric and charming adaptation of the classic story.

Their Odyssey is a great example for the use of projectors and live feed cameras in a theatre, starting with the prologue in which the protagonist is drawn before us. Scenes float across the screen, soft illustrations that are sufficiently expressive yet light-hearted and poetic. As a fan of both silent film and graphic novels, I found this miniature theatre made for great storytelling. Part of the fun is the exposure of the performers constructing the images, using their makeshift props and rotating backdrops; a small arrow flies through the trees and slays a boar, Penelope’s suitors hound her as wolves, encircling her home, a motorbike speeds through the night as part of several montages including extensive travels and changing weather. The animators manage to create life from these static images by carefully manipulating the audience perspective, creating a sense of perpetual movement and rhythm in order to focus attention on particular minute details.