Little Shop of Horrors | Live Live Cinema

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…)

A Mad World My Masters | English Touring Theatre and RSC

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.

Betrayal: A Polyphonic Crime Drama | I Fagiolini

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.

The Possible Impossible House | Forced Entertainment

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?

Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 | Royal Shakespeare Company

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.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It) | Dmitri Krymov Lab

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.

Ravens, We Shall Load Bullets | Yukio Ninagawa

November 2014 | Kwai Tsing Theatre

My review for Ravens, We Shall Load Bullets will be fairly brief, because I have only one criticism to offer: the theatre was nowhere near full. There has clearly been some failure in marketing or education, because this is best piece of international work I have seen here so far, and it is so perfectly relevant to Hong Kong right now that it deserves to be sold out. It seems that in spite of Hong Kong’s relative proximity to Japan, Ninagawa isn’t as famous here as in Europe.

Watch Me Fall | Action Hero

October 2014 | Kwai Tsing Theatre, Hong Kong, New Vision Arts Festival

With Watch Me Fall, Action Hero do an excellent job of deconstructing the spectacle of risk as entertainment in a way that is playful, funny and painfully human.

James Stenhouse and Gemma Paintin are charming enough to bring us along for the improbable ride of coca cola-based daredevilry, using text that apparently comes from a mix of real interviews with daredevils, Chuck Yeager, president’s speeches, Mexican wrestling matches, drag races and so on. When we enter we’re given cans of coke and disposable cameras. The cameras are a big hit in Hong Kong, and the amateur photographers in the audience are eagerly trying to photograph the ‘big’ moments. It’s a great start and gets us involved and invested in the performance.

Crazy In Love | A Conspiracy of Clowns (South Africa)

Amsterdam Fringe 2014 | MC Theatre, Amsterdam

It begins with Leon (‘a’leon,) a seeming roaming vagabond that charms his way into women’s beds. Played by multiple-Edinburgh Fringe Winner Rob Murray, Leon’s opening monologue reveals a crafty, carefree personality with absolutely no commitments until he discovers true love with a woman whom he plans to settle and get married. However, she abandons him at the alter with their newborn child, and from then on he returns to the road to seek her, obsessively travelling from place to place with his daughter and a trolley for a home, marking each unsuccessful town as a tattoo on his body. Fast forward 15 years and the daughter, Ginny, (Liezl de Kock) is developing notions of independence and is increasingly concerned their objective is proving detrimental to their lives. The comic, pacey dialogue is interspersed with dark and often touching moments but avoids sentimentality, leading the way nicely through this show while a mix of theatrical forms such as puppetry and choreographed set pieces contribute like skits to shake up the exposition.

The Last Adventures | Forced Entertainment

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.