Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s La Fille mal gardée

Original review: Broadway World UK

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Timeless escapist, enchanting, Ashton charm

La Fille mal gardée is classical choreographer Frederick Ashton at his most charming: comic, characterful, and with English classicism at its finest, it’s a playful romp through a pastoral picture of an unruly fille’s attempts to outfox her interfering mother to marry her charismatic but impoverished love. Balancing Ashton’s charming choreography with bright characterisation and breezy ballon, Birmingham Royal Ballet are absolutely beaming in this brightest of ballets. 

With maypole dancing, a pony, and a pantomime dame, it’s a deceptively simple premise, but La Fille demands the same meticulous footwork, expressive épaulement, and effortless performance as any Ashton classic. The choreography is characterful – with a clog dance for the dame, a coop of dancing chickens – accompanied by some percussive clucking from the orchestra pit – and a very English gallop around the maypole – as well as intricate and vigorous, full of grand allegro leaps, lifts, and gallant pas de deux.

The pas de deux for lively Lise and her country lover Colas are just as playful as the pair themselves. Continue reading “Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s La Fille mal gardée”

Review: Insane Root’s Romeo and Juliet

Original review: The Reviews Hub

Insane Root's Romeo and Juliet

Joyous and tragic and tear-jerking and gorgeous

Shakespeare, ‘star-cross’d lovers’, ancestral strife, and… an open-air swimming pool? Insane Root Theatre’s ‘fair Verona’ is Eastville Park Swimming Pool, an empty, open-air pool just east of the city, and it’s the surprisingly perfect place to lay our scene. Rich as it is in imagery, romance, and rivalry, Insane Root’s Romeo and Juliet is joyous and tragic and tear-jerking and gorgeous, with its greatness cleverly tucked away at the edge of a green and covered by the gates of Verona.

An old amphitheatric Victorian lido, the pool is drained and derelict, thick with undergrowth, and growing ever darker in the dusk: these are organic grounds for a tragedy, but the true ground for tragedy in Romeo and Juliet is the jarring generic change that comes with Mercutio as a casualty in Act III and transforms a coarse, oftentimes juvenile comedy into the tragic ‘two hour traffic’ augured in the prologue. With canonic characterisation as a tragedy, it’s often challenging to pitch the comedic tone, but as Insane Root tease out the originality of classic plays by performing them in original, often unexpected, places, the pool is perfectly pitched to accommodate tradition and creation, comedy and tragedy, and to grow them together organically. Continue reading “Review: Insane Root’s Romeo and Juliet”

Review: RashDash’s Three Sisters

Original review: Broadway World UK

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Electrifying and confronting a classic with an unforgiving ‘fuck you’

RashDash’s Three Sisters, after Chekhov is thrillingly irreverent: to rules, to theatrical form, and even to reviews, but it’s their irreverence that’s so deserving of reverence. A rocking and rollicking retelling of a Russian classic with no time for men, marriages, or monologues, it tears up tradition and tramples all over it.

‘Rash as in reckless, Dash as in fast’, RashDash’s Three Sisters lives up to the trio’s self-titled expectations and destroys all others: dancing, dreaming, and cheerleading through the drawing rooms of Chekhov’s domestic drama, a chaise and a chandelier are the only evidence that these ladies were once in Chekhov’s Russia. The Russian Revolution that threatened and eventually overthrew the classist autocracy is reimagined as a revolution against the virility of the classical canon. Continue reading “Review: RashDash’s Three Sisters”

Review: Theatre Re’s The Nature of Forgetting

Original review: The Reviews Hub

The Nature of Forgetting

Playful and powerful

Memory is a cruel mistress: meticulous and muscular, ephemeral and fractured and fragile, it’s all too easy to forget how crucial memory is to character; after all, what – or who – is left when memories are forgotten? Theatre Re’s thoughtful and affecting The Nature of Forgetting is a free fall into the forgotten that captures the complexities of memory through gorgeously nostalgic movement, mime, and accompanying music.

A devised work that delves feet first into the devastating effects of dementia on fifty-five year old Tom, it’s a work that’s sumptuous in its simplicities. Malik Ibheis’s minimalist set, props, and costumes use only a central platform, four writing desks, and two packed, moving clothing racks to transform Tom’s muted present into his cacophonous past, with an eclectic, electric live score from Alex Judd that complements the chaos with discord and the calm with a dreamlike depth. Continue reading “Review: Theatre Re’s The Nature of Forgetting”

Review: Miss Saigon UK Tour

Original review: Underdog Reviews

Miss Saigon UK Tour

Spectacular operatic epic

The Heat is On in Miss Saigon! An operatic epic inspired by a Puccini opera, Miss Saigon is visually and vocally spectacular: Madame Butterfly with bargirls and G.I.s, it tells the tragic tale of Kim and Chris, a romance grown and gutted by the violence of the Vietnam War.

Miss Saigon shares more than its music-makers with Les Misérables: from Schönberg’s motif-rich music to Boublil’s overlying lyrics, Miss Saigon is also sung-through, has a thieving entertainer who thrives on surviving – Red Concepción’s Engineer is magnetising – is thrillingly theatrical, and has the same thematic threat of revolution on intimate romance. Yet, far from a French revolution, the Fall of Saigon is a tragedy from only forty years ago: Continue reading “Review: Miss Saigon UK Tour”

Review: Vamos Theatre’s A Brave Face

Original review: The Reviews Hub

A Brave Face Vamos Theatre

Bravely unmasks the effects of battle with verity and verve; valuable, beautiful viewing

‘His hardest battle is the one back home’: far from the battlefield, free from bullets and bombs, and back with family and friends, the fight is over – or is it? Vamos Theatre’s A Brave Face faces the fear and effects other than physical felt by veterans in the aftermath of the UK’s involvement in the Afghan conflict; a fight, like the aftereffects of war on the armed forces, with no conclusion and no victor.

Words feel worthless in the face of war: it’s a physical, visceral thing, and Vamos voice that with masks, movement, mime, and music, and they voice it mutely. Voicelessly, the plot follows a young man, Ryan, posted to Afghanistan, and sees him lose more than a mate to the fighting, as he returns from the field with Post Traumatic Stress. The themes are heavy, but Vamos reveal them with heart and humour: Sean Kempton’s stereotypically pumped-up macho-man parades his press-ups as an intimidation tactic, Ryan and his comrade-in-arms Ravi – a playful and perfectly panicky Rayo Patel – make much mischief, and there’s a performance as unexpected and meticulously executed as any military operation. Yet, heart-shattering moments haunt the humour, Continue reading “Review: Vamos Theatre’s A Brave Face”

Review: MAYFEST – The Nature of Why & Velvet Petal

MAYFEST: moving music and electrically-charged & ever-changing dance

Original review: The Reviews Hub

Imagine two magnets: pushed together one way, opposites attract, but pull them apart and attempt to put the other poles together, and it’s impossible. Why? A theoretical physicist, like the famed Richard Feynman, might find reason in forces and motion, but many of us will fail to empathise with particles if we’re unfamiliar with them: ‘when you explain a why, you have to be in some framework that allows something to be true. Otherwise, you’re perpetually asking why.’

Echoing the curiosity and cacophony of Feynman’s reaction, and with his wise words as a thematic frame, a creative collective comprised of composer Will Gregory, choreographer Caroline Bowditch, and conductor and co-director Charles Hazlewood have created an epic orchestral work. Performed at Bristol Old Vic as part of Mayfest by the British Paraorchestra the performance is proof that music moves in many ways. Here, the choral voices, percussion, and violins aren’t confined to an orchestra pit: on the Bristol Old Vic stage, with light bulbs dotted above us, voices reverberate and a double bass dances, blurring the line between instrument and musician, dancer and audience, and music and movement.

The freely expressive choreography and Gregory’s powerful score unfold in pockets of movement and music that punctuate the space and move freely, lead by four physical performers, through us, and, most impressively, make us feel comfortable to be part of it. There’s no forced participation; you’re free to move around and form your own experience, and as such, you may miss moments as instruments and performers and other people move too, but the music is moving wherever you are, and that’s the intimate power of the piece.

Imagine musicians, instruments, performers, and people like you and me pushed together in one place: that’s The Nature of Why, and it’s magnetising.

Original review: The Reviews Hub

Fleur Darkin’s Velvet Petal for Scottish Dance Theatre is an androgynous, drug-fuelled-feeling orgy of dance and adolescence. Performed at the intimate Trinity Fyfe Hall as part of Mayfest, it’s a theatrical thrill of electronica, witty choreography, and fine performances that loses its way a little in its own chaos.

Influenced by the provocative photography of Robert Ma pplethorpe and the lifecycle of the monarch butterfly, the choreography is evocative of both: clothes come off, intimate physicality unfolds on a mattress, and a lot of the movement is characterised by a visceral beat reminiscent of the buzzing vibration of a butterfly’s wings. Darkin’s choreographic voice is confident, and the dancers echo it with their own carefree flair. Harry Clark’s twisting floor-work, Pauline Torzuoli’s expressive torso, and James Southward’s effortless extensions are particularly impressive, but the piece is most powerful in its ensemble, especially when it’s wild and euphoric and pulsing with the electric musical accompaniment.

Electrically-charged and ever-changing, from the costumes to the couples, there are also live voiceovers from Harry Clark and Adrienne O’Leary that philosophise on photography – ‘everything looks better in black and white’, even if Emma Jones’s bright lighting vibrantly rebels – and change. The two contrast each other: photography is the artificial capturing of the perfect moment, and change, as Darkin details, is, like life, ‘involuntary’. These are fine philosophies, but unlike the choreography and performances, they never quiet find their feet in the playful, chaotic cacophony that’s created.

Velvet Petal is playful and pulsing with life, but its theme, with everything around it ever-changing, feels a little lost.

The British Paraorchestra at Bristol Old Vic, 11th May 2018 & Scottish Dance Theatre at Trinity Fyfe Hall, 16th May 2018, part of the MAYFEST programme

Review: The Whale at the Ustinov Studio

Original review: Underdog Reviews

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An odyssey to the very depths of love, loss, and faith

No man is an island, but many a man is marooned on one. Charlie’s island is his couch in Idaho, just about buoyant on a sea of abandoned bottles, and with little more than a laptop to save him from total isolation. With his work and relationships folding under his vast and ever-rising weight, Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale is an odyssey to the very depths of love, loss, and faith.

A titanic, two-hour text with no interval, it’s one that’s alive with intertextuality and intellect. Revelatory in its palpable realism and its revealing plotting, it’s a play that never feels like it’s force-feeding us information from the past, but rather lets it unfold naturally as four visitors – loved ones and lost ones – pass through his living room. Everything bar the undulating waves in the intervening blackouts in Laurence Boswell’s production at Bath’s Ustinov Studio is naturalistic, from Tim Shortall’s dilapidated but detailed apartment set to the perspiration on Charlie’s brow under his ample padding, but those waves allow other whales, of the more emblematic breed, from Melville’s leviathans to the Bible’s behemoths, to bask below the dramatic tide.

The literary – but literal – whales swimming past make the play’s title tough to swallow: Continue reading “Review: The Whale at the Ustinov Studio”

Review: Kit Monkman’s Macbeth

Original review: Culturefly

Kit Monkman's Macbeth

Ambitious, bloody drama danced on a singularly psychological stage

Along with elegant poetry, gripping prose, and the grounds on which to found great performances, the freedom of adaptation is one of the greatest gifts in Shakespeare’s plays. An adept adaptor, the Bard worked historical chronicles and the King’s writings on Daemonologie into one of his bloodiest and bleakest works, but Macbeth is rich in dramatic ambition. With witches, wars, and natural order overturned, it invites new interpretation of what drives a worthy thane to kill a king – witches, his wife, free will? – and director Kit Monkman’s production is an experiment not only in motive, but filmic form.

‘Nothing is but what is not’ notes the newly crowned Thane of Cawdor as the prophecy that has also promised him kinghood takes hold, and Monkman has taken this as his muse. For Macbeth, the unbelievable is to be believed, and for Monkman, the unimaginable is to be imagined. Continue reading “Review: Kit Monkman’s Macbeth”

Review: Northern Ballet’s Jane Eyre

Original review: The Reviews Hub

Northern Ballet's Jane Eyre

Brontë and ballet in balance

Balancing Brontë and ballet is brave: poised between prose and pas, pathetic fallacy and precise footwork, narrative voice and choreographic action, Northern Ballet’s Jane Eyre is a bildungsroman of a ballet that’s as brave, and beautiful, as Brontë’s novel.

Following the ‘poor, obscure, plain and little’ Jane through her life, from unloved orphan to adored and independent wife, Cathy Marsten’s choreographic voice is as distinct as her character. With all the foundations of classical dance, there’s a freedom of form that echoes the ‘independent will’ of our proto-feminist protagonist: flexed feet, développés that unfold and then re-furl, floor work, and women dancing on flat as well as en pointe. The effect is a choreographic language that, like Philip Feeney’s evocative and affecting score, feels classical, lyrical, and full of character. Continue reading “Review: Northern Ballet’s Jane Eyre”