Review: Parlour Games – The Wardrobe Theatre

Original review: The Reviews Hub

Parlour Games

Hysterical history

God Save the (drag) Queen: part drawing-room comedy, part clowning, and part drag, Parlour Games is a most unconservative portrait of the Victorians. With a grande dame, a Deutsche clown prince, and any delusions of grandeur doused with playful cross-dressing, it’s a comic delight with a melodramatic crown.

From Sharp Teeth – and with even sharper wits – the show bites into the beliefs one has about Victoria and Albert and clothes the bare bones in cabaret, biting wit, and an unbelievably bad wig. Playing parlour games while a political revolution rages in England, Victoria and her Prince Consort wait out the people’s anger with their pathetic, piano-playing servant – the wondrously droll and overworked Andy Kelly – as the past, overprotective ghosts, and their courtship appear in a series of raucous vignettes.

With revolution reigning overseas and Chartists threatening the English throne, Continue reading “Review: Parlour Games – The Wardrobe Theatre”

Review: Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s Henry V – Tobacco Factory Theatres

Original review: Broadway World UK

Henry V

Like the English at Agincourt, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory aren’t unshaken, but they are victorious

Henry V, the final play in Shakespeare’s historical tetralogy, focuses on King Henry’s campaign for France, victory at Agincourt, aggressive patriotism, coming-of-age, and eventual political treaty and promise of peace with his marriage to Katharine of Valois.

From the English court to the fields of France, the performance asks a lot of our ‘imaginary forces’, even to ‘piece out [its] imperfections with [our] thoughts’, and this overt theatricality is, like King Henry’s army at Agincourt, defensive – attacking, forgiving and apologising for its faults – and defenceless in the face of a much greater force: the audience.

And, like the English at Agincourt, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory aren’t unshaken, but they are victorious. Elizabeth Freestone’s direction is austere, with the action playing out in a darkly industrial dystopia characterised by Lily Arnold’s greyed costumes and frayed edges, steely drama and gravel underfoot. Continue reading “Review: Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s Henry V – Tobacco Factory Theatres”

Feature: Dead Space Chamber Music & Bava’s Black Sabbath

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Defying Genre, Independence, & Underscoring a Film

The Three Faces of Fear face-to-face with a live three-piece: part performance art, part foley artistry, part improvisation, Bava’s classic terror-trilogy Black Sabbath finds the perfect ambient accompaniment in Dead Space Chamber Music. In an intimate cinematic setting, the music is close and the atmosphere closer, as the closing act of the film is scored by their echoing, neoclassical intensity.

Following the tense, domestic drama The Telephone and the weird and wonderful tale of The Wurdulak, The Drop of Water is the most traditionally terrifying of the trio. The film, lit with gorgeous, incandescent pastels, follows a young woman as she’s plagued by fatal guilt after pocketing a ring from a corpse. Yet, it’s not with the corpse’s fingers that the terror grips tight, but with creeping acoustics: with little dialogue, a droning fly, and the dripping water, a lot of the terror is in the transcendental sound, and it’s something that attracted the trio to the film, says voice artist Ellen Southern.

‘It’s a sonic film, so we took the soundtrack and chose which sounds to keep, fading sound in and out from the original and playing alongside,’ as well as ‘performing the speech not as just a voiceover, but as an eerie sung suggestion of the spoken content, so it sounds more like an incantation, or that the speech is dismbodied, drifting and haunting the proceedings.’ With speech sampled, echoed, and sung-over, the effect is atmospheric, melancholic, and far from simply evoking the scenes in the film, the music, part composition, part improvisation, is existing, elemental and experimental. Continue reading “Feature: Dead Space Chamber Music & Bava’s Black Sabbath”

Review: A Haunted Existence – The Island

Original review: The Reviews Hub

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Haunting and humorous: an experimental examination of the history of homosexuality

‘You may find this morally wrong. I don’t’: the irreverent, fearlessly truthful, revolutionary reaction of Geoffrey Patrick Williamson, a teenager arrested in Taunton in the fifties after approaching a plain-clothes police officer while travelling on a train. His crime? Existing as a homosexual, and what a haunted existence it was. 

A Haunted Existence is writer and performer Tom Marshman’s response to this South West story, the arrests, imprisonment, and inhuman treatment that followed, and the haunting effect the history of homosexuality still has on its future. Hosted at The Island, an old police station with some insightful installations to explore in the empty cells, A Haunted Existence is a lecture-come-floorshow with a little séance at play, too. The performance focuses heavily on the collective past of homosexuality, with Marshman echoing the harrowing experiences of these men with repeated phrases like ‘they were in it together, they were in it alone’, and ‘I imagine…’

And Marshman’s imagination is magnetic. Continue reading “Review: A Haunted Existence – The Island”

Review: Shrek the Musical UK Tour

Original review: The Reviews Hub

Shrek the Musical UK Tour

Hefty, hearty & gorgeously green

An offbeat fairytale about being a believer in happily-ever-afters for the beautiful and ogreish alike, Shrek the Musical is a hefty, hearty, gorgeously green show that lets its Freak Flag fly but its originality fall victim to fart gags and the far-greater film.

The original film won an Oscar and a legion of fans for its animation and imagination, but originality is what’s lost in the musical: though full of animated characters and moments of imagination – with magical transformations, Josh Prince’s rat-tapping choreography, and impressive puppetry – David Lindsay-Abaire’s book is indebted to the film for its laughs and adapts its famous lines and filmic beats verbatim. Whilst as bold and bright as the film, it feels less than fresh, and with lots of allusions to other musicals, some of them also from movies – from Les Misérables to The Lion King, Gypsy to Dreamgirls – forced in without rhyme or remark, the musical emphasises, albeit affectionately, the flaws and imitations of its book.

The musical – and Jeanine Tesori’s music – is at its greatest and most unforgettable with its most familiar fairytale characters, Continue reading “Review: Shrek the Musical UK Tour”

Review: Wardrobe Ensemble’s South Western

Original review: The Reviews Hub

Wardrobe Ensemble's South Western

All the blood, guts, and glory of any good Western

Welcome to the Wild Wild South West: from gunslinging to cider, saloons to cancelled services, lone wanderers to line-dancing, giddy-up as the Wardrobe Ensemble drag us through a Western revenge voyage from Bristol through the best of the West. With all their charm, cheek, and wry wit, the Bristol-based Ensemble’s South Western is ambitious and offbeat, with all the blood, guts, and glory of any good Western.

Mae’s father was killed at the Cornish cliffs, and she’s off to avenge him: the camera tells us so, as it cuts to a close up of the vein on her temple and pans to her clenched fists. At least, it would, if this were a Western, Ben Vardy’s visiting Wyoming film professor tells us at the play’s opening. South Western works like the wildest lecture, with the professor calling the shots – ‘cut to close up’ – until the pivotal shootout: from there, it’s up to Helen Middleton’s determined, short-tempered Mae, and her imagination, to direct – and deconstruct – the showdown with crash mats and chroma-key.

Framed by this deconstruction of the Western filmic form, South Western wittily deconstructs theatrical form too, Continue reading “Review: Wardrobe Ensemble’s South Western”

Review: Wilderbeast’s In the Light Everything is Brighter

Original review: The Reviews Hub

In the Light Everything is Brighter

Monstrously entertaining and wildly imaginative

Something is lurking in the dark: your deepest fear, your demons, your darkest moments… what frightens you the most? Is it monsters? Or is it the monotony of your early twenties? Wilderbeast’s monstrously entertaining and wildly imaginative In the Light Everything is Brighter illuminates the nightmare of monotony in witty montages and monstrous images and boldly enlightens and engages with the anxieties of a new generation.

Elliot is 22. Work is dull, mates are moving away, and motivation – even to load the dishwasher with the mountain of mugs he leaves in his room – is low. Life is, literally, a drag, and Wilderbeast use it to grating effect in moments of the performance that play out in real time, as when Oscar Adams’s wonderfully weary Elliot and workmate Liz eat sandwiches in silence for five minutes: it’s wearisome and it’s weird, but it works. With real time grinding against monstrous stylism from monster and movement director Toby Pritchard and absurdist breakdowns in supermarkets, it’s muddled but brilliantly disturbing.

Formed through Bristol Old Vic’s programme for young theatre makers, Wilderbeast are a collaborative and versatile collective. Continue reading “Review: Wilderbeast’s In the Light Everything is Brighter”

Review: Birdsong UK Tour – Bristol Old Vic

Original review: Broadway World UK

Birdsong UK Tour

Visually beautiful, evocative and affecting, and visceral in its brutality and effects

‘Some crime against nature is about to be committed’: true not only on the eve of the Somme in WWI, but of warfare now and forever. Birdsong, based on the book by Sebastian Faulks, is a brutal and beautiful observation of war and remembrance, with this new revival touring in time for the Armistice centenary this November.

Birdsong is at best a liberal abridgment of Sebastian Faulks’s book: in Rachel Wagstaff’s reworking, the novel’s naturalistic narrative style is lost to the non-chronological structuring, with the warfare acting as the frame for lieutenant Stephen Wraysford’s affair with the beautiful but unavailable Isabelle in France a few years earlier.

The effort to adapt an orderly if episodic plot into an analeptic play is fitting – memory and memorials are often a metaphor in the fictionalising of warfare – yet only fleetingly effective in practice. Continue reading “Review: Birdsong UK Tour – Bristol Old Vic”

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”