Siembamba

Rust Co-operative (South Africa) | Ostade A’dam, Amsterdam (Amsterdam Fringe 2014)

Siembamba addresses the stark and uncomfortable issue and relationship between the South African Black nannies and the rich white children they’ve left their own families to look after. Interchanging between ‘lecture style’ natural history and a dialogue between a black nanny and her young white ‘child’, several themes and reflections are thrown at the audience to largely great effect, namely the dynamic of being a part of the family and simultaneously an outsider.

Lesoko Seabe personifies Mother Nature as a forgotten and broken being, quietly lamenting the way humanity has left her behind. She also voices those involved in the Black ‘nanny’ situation; mainly as the nanny, but also as the nanny’s daughter and interestingly the white mother. Nieke Lombard plays the young white girl, whose confusion and resentment at the situation gives her the fierce resolve when giving a ‘lecture’ style presentation about the creation of the world (albeit as a virtually different character.) It’s a great moment in the performance and she jumps between English and Afrikaans delivering the speech at top speed. However this and other moments risk becoming too preachy, and the otherwise great writing keeps returning to the notion that ‘the highest evolved organism has broken a law of nature by ascribing status and perpetuating racial/ethnic difference.’ After the third time it got a bit dull. This state-the-obvious debate doesn’t reflect the general allusions of the piece.
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October in the Chair and other Fragile Things

Old Sound Room (US) | MC Theatre, Amsterdam (Amsterdam Fringe 2014)

Old Sound Room from New York perform a selection of short stories by Neil Gaiman (a big factor in my choosing this show) framed by October taking the chair and delegating which month may tell a story. The setup should be clear: a campfire with various characters who then embody the roles in the tales as they’re told, simple. However, for the first fifteen minutes it was chaos. Four performers dash around supposedly becoming different personalities switching from one grotesque to another, repeatedly sawing the air with their arms like musical theatre vs Pantomime. It was noisy, messy and frankly looked amateurish. But after the first story finished it toned down and unraveled nicely. The use of props was generally good except for a prop sausage that lasted five seconds while an actor mimed a cigarette throughout (?) and they used an almost good looking puppet of a black bird that had a ridiculous and unnecessarily large base, which contrasted against a much better looking Phoenix (that was dismembered and pulled apart.)
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Attempts on Her Life | Hong Kong Rep

July 2014 | City Hall, Hong Kong

After the last performance I reviewed by Hong Kong Repertory Theatre (Wait Until Dark) it is hard to imagine anything more different than this ambitious attempt at Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life. In contrast to the painfully conservative naturalism of Wait Until Dark, Attempts on Her Life comes across as genuinely progressive in the context of Hong Kong’s theatrical landscape.

The text is challenging and fractured; a collection of prose-poem vignettes about an elusive Anne/Ania/Annie/Annushka (etc.) who can be anything from a terrorist to a type of car. It is easy to interpret it as a criticism of the media’s power of manipulation of an image, but it is more than that. The mutliplicity of stories being told reflects the postmodernist approach to narrative, and it deconstructs the notion of identity as well as image, taking cues from Baudrillard. Further, from a postmodernist perspective, to perform this is a rejection of the need for the arc of Aristotelian drama in the theatre; an enormous step forward for Hong Kong. The programme mentions Hans-Thies Lehmann, Heiner Müller (spelt wrong), Robert Wilson, Tadeusz Kantor, Richard Schechner (spelt wrong), The Wooster Group and Forced Entertainment; it is clear that they have done their research (if not their proofreading) and their hearts are in the right place to make something innovative and postdramatic.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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嘈之家閉 | Applied Drama Centre (with Adrian Jackson)

June 2014 | Applied Drama Centre BGCA, Hong Kong

I have never had the chance to see Adrian Jackson’s work (founder-director of Cardboard Citizens) in the UK, so I was intrigued to go to a performance directed by him here in Hong Kong (he is credited as Director/Advisor in the programme). I should make clear that this was one of two ‘preview’ shows in which Adrian would be acting as Joker (the facilitator in the context of forum theatre). Sorry that there is no English title of the show: it’s apparently a pun because it sounds like 嘈之巴閉 (you’re noisy) but the 巴 (baa) is changed to 家 (gaa) meaning family.
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Seventh Sense | Anarchy Dance Theatre

June 2014 | HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity

I remember the first time I was going to create a performance in a theatre with a revolve. We spent several months working with all of the latest revolve techniques, and hired a revolve designer and a group of donkeys who could rotate the revolve at a variety of different speeds – some faster and more nauseating than anyone had ever before witnessed – to create different moods and atmospheres. With only one week to go before the performance, we realised that we had accidentally failed to create any material to perform on this, it must be said, gloriously rotating platform. We did what any group of experienced theatre artists would do in such a situation, and hired two dancers to make up some contact impro on the revolve (as it rotated beautifully) so that the audience would know where to look. The revolve work was outstandingly accurate, with at least four different speeds of rotation. Afterwards when the donkeys and their handlers came out on stage they received a standing ovation, and we took our rightful place at the forefront of contemporary theatre technology.
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