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.
October 2014 | Warwick Arts Centre / Fierce Festival
For me, one of the most anticipated pieces of theatre this year, Forced Entertainment’s newest addition to their repertoire seemed to promise something exciting, mystical, and- naturally- full of adventure. This, coupled with the fact I had a pretty tedious 5 hour round trip to Warwick Arts Centre led me to hope I wouldn’t be disappointed…
Of course, I never really imagined I’d be disappointed. True to form, this latest collaboration with Lebanese sound artist Tarek Atoui provided a lavish, indulgent visual and aural feast, as The Last Adventures ripped through the West Midlands. I was initially perplexed by the decision to leave London, and wasn’t quite sure how Warwick Arts Centre would work. For those who haven’t been, it is quite a cosy, lecture style theatre and I feared this might subdue both audience and performer. I couldn’t have been more wrong; it was great to see FE back on a big stage with room to run and roll. Atoui’s unique soundscoring breathed a pulsating energy through the space, creating undulations reflected in the changing momentum of both performers and objects.
February 2014 | Barbican Theatre, London
Circa recently performed to sell-out audiences with How Like an Angel at St Bartholomew-the-great with British ensemble I Fagiolini, combining impressive physical feats and harmonies from medieval repertoires. This time round they bring circus improvisation, tumbling and acrobatics with three of Shostakovich’s string quartets. Since they’ve already established that classical music makes a good soundtrack for contemporary circus, in what ways have they developed this style of collaboration? The acrobatics are slick and always surprising, making use of every opportunity and space to pull off impressive moves. The performers begin with small improvisations creating meetings and playing with each other. Then there is a solo aerial demonstration which, although technically very good, made one hope that the show wouldn’t be structured completely in this manner; lists of circus styles is for the traditional environment.
February 2014 | Milton Court Studio Theatre
The disadvantages to seeing a show primarily aimed at showcasing new talent to agents and families is that often you get an overly confident or imposed performance from its actors. Everything is aimed to convincing that they can act rather than delivering the required role of character/ensemble sensitively. On the other hand these showcases are often far more interesting because there is an atmosphere that is exciting as they are taking the opportunity to be noticed, creating good energy and demonstrating what they have learnt intensively over the last few years. For these performers the stakes are already high; a good footing when presenting Shakespeare. Here both points are prevalent: implying a general success in solid Drama school training while not without faults in design and ensemble discipline.
February, 2014 | Barbican Pit Theater
Jack Charles’ new project follows a seven-year long documentary [Bastardy, 2009] of his life as an aboriginal child; institutionalised within child care and the ‘Victorian’ prison system, as an actor, activist and drug addict of forty years. The play, which could be treated as an extension or aftermath of the documentary’s release has Jack Charles scrutinising his remarkable life, alluding to his crimes, struggles and sexual disposition with comment and reflection using real props, live music and multimedia in the form of projected film and official police documents.
20th June, 2013 - Ongoing | 'Temple Studios' 31 London Street
Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man builds on the company’s reputation for brilliantly detailed large scale installation / site-intervention performances. The installation work is incredible, and worth seeing regardless of what the performers do with it.
The audience are given masks and immersed in a movie studio world of almost-American performers, fulfilling the expected tropes of the genre. It is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and one that most of the audience seems accustomed to, rushing around after the performers, the more Punchdrunk-savvy crowding around and taking every opportunity to attempt to interact with them. This begins to grate after a while, and I found it a more rewarding experience to give up on trying to follow the performers (or the plot such as there is), and explore the installation work away from the crowds.
May 2013 | The Warren, Brighton Fringe
It’s perhaps just a coincidence that two companies of Rose Bruford graduates performing at The Warren in Brighton Fringe have shows called The (Something) Catcher, aimed at kids, with live music provided by a reed based instrument. However, it seems to be a very successful combination. The Feather Catcher is the offering from Filskit Theatre, who are becoming known for their use of pico projectors and storytelling.
The group makes great use of the projection, replacing complex projection mapping technology with a simple hand-held pico projector from the front of the stage. It is clear from the audience of children of all ages and their families that this loses none of the magic of what is being done, and I was never distracted by the presence of the operator front and centre – attention is directed well onto the interaction of the performers onstage with the projected image.