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

the-whale.jpg

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”

Review: A View From the Bridge at Tobacco Factory Theatre

A View From the Bridge

Blistering and visceral and abrasive: it burns and then it blows

Blistering and visceral and abrasive, A View From the Bridge at Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatre is a virtuosic version of this violent tale about betrayal, visas, and virility. A Greek tragedy that, like its protagonist, gets going gently but grows angrier as the time passes, the play is as pertinent and provocative now as ever, and in an interpretation as great as this, the text glows perceptively, and then ignites with gutting power.

New York, New York: a place for opportunity and escape, now and in the fifties, where Arthur Miller’s play finds its feet. This is Brooklyn, urban and buzzing with grinding background noise from Max Pappenheim, Anisha Fields’s gritty, barebones set that’s built-up and knocked-about from the beginning, and a busy neighbourhood bulked out with the general public. This is Miller’s milieu, a multi-cultural community where masculinity is king and character is not to be compromised; merciless but mercurial, it takes only two Italian immigrants to crack it. Welcomed into the world of Eddie, his beloved, daughter-like ward Catherine and his warm but critically aware wife Beatrice, director Mike Tweddle winds the tension like wool around a spool, the action well-contained in Matthew Graham’s stark-and-stilly lit spaces until it spills out in the last, destructive acts.

From the Bard’s Macbeth to Miller’s Bridge, the Factory Company are fantastic: Continue reading “Review: A View From the Bridge at Tobacco Factory Theatre”

Politics, the Creative Process, and 90s Musical Jams: An Interview with Jesse Meadows from the Wardrobe Ensemble

Original Interview: The Reviews Hub

Education Education Education

Education, Education, Education: then, a nineties political mantra, now a nostalgia-fest of nineties music, Tamagotchis, and timely political poignancy in a riotously funny and reflective piece of theatre from the Bristol-based Wardrobe Ensemble. Putting politics in the comprehensive, the play is a charming charge through the hopeful optimism of teachers and children alike in the aftermath of Tony Blair’s election, as well as the changes and truths that only came with time and perspective in the twenty years that have passed. Company member Jesse Meadows talks politics, the creative process, and 90s musical jams.

The play is the perfect mix of 90s nostalgia, political poignancy, and feel-good fun, so what’s it like to perform night after night? ‘It’s as important to us that people have a good time and a good night out at the theatre! Those points that we’re hitting that make people go, ‘oh God!’, those poignant moments, we can reach people through the funny, and through making them laugh.’

It’s also a period piece, and one that’s ‘very much set in the nineties and that’s very fun to play with.’ With everything from Cool Britannia to Britpop, Tamagotchis to Take That, ‘all the references we make are funny now because they’re set in this world of fake nostalgia’, and it’s fun to ‘take people on that memory journey with us’. And twenty years is lifetime in politics and pop culture. ‘We thought a lot about 1997. We were really interested in the hope and positivity, the promise and excitement’ of its politics, and there are representations of that in the play: ‘we put up Union Jack flags everywhere because that was really ‘in’, just think of Geri in the Union Jack dress! But now, you put Union Jacks up and people cringe. Pride for your country has just totally flipped. It feels like a divided country now, whereas then it felt like coming together.’

While politics polarise, pop culture has the power to unite: in the words of hapless headteacher Hugh, in light of the election the teachers must remain politically impartial in all classes, but, ‘we did win Eurovision, so talk about that as much as you wish’, and it’s something Jesse echoes, as ‘things like winning the Eurovision Song Contest, these are the things that unite us as a country’.

This playful approach to politics is also found in their creative process, despite the divisive events that were going on whilst devising Education, Education, Education.  Continue reading “Politics, the Creative Process, and 90s Musical Jams: An Interview with Jesse Meadows from the Wardrobe Ensemble”

Feature: What if it was in Welsh? – RCT Theatres’ Miss Julie

RCT Theatres' Miss Julie.png

Theatre will never be an English language exclusive, but even for those with English as our native – and only – language, in the UK it often feels like it is. Performances often experiment with foreign tongues – in the South West this last year, witches have gotten to grips with Gaelic and Russian has been whispered on the Ice Road – yet, it’s always an experiment, not an experience. In such an anglocentric world, it’s all too easy to forget that other languages are also native languages, and we even have one just across the water in the South West: Welsh.

Arts Council Wales are backing a Welsh Language adaptation of an August Strindberg classic from RCT Theatres about gender, class, and the engendered war between idealisation and degradation. The titular Miss Julie is the archaic but frustratingly ageless trope of the damaged, degenerate woman in drama, but actor and director Gareth John Bale acknowledges that the ‘playwright’s attitude towards feminism [is] as relevant now as it was when the play was written in 1888. Perhaps more so.’

Playing Miss Julie’s Machiavellian charmer, the valet, Jean, opposite Gwenllian Higginson, Gareth John Bale is well aware of the play’s provocativeness, in all senses of the word: ‘the characters in the play present a challenge to the actors playing them. The temptation is to see them as one-dimensional but there is so much more to them than that. We intend to dig a little deeper.’

This production will inaugurate a tradition of touring  plays translated into the Welsh Language nationally, and it’s something that’s important to impede the degeneration of native languages. So, as Miss Julie and Jean play their dangerous game of ‘what if’, lets ask something similar of more ‘wonderful, naturalistic’ plays performed in Wales: ‘what if it was in Welsh?’

RCT Theatres’ Miss Julie touring to The Coliseum, Aberdare (19th April), Borough Theatre, Abergavenny (20th April), Taliesin Arts Centre Swansea (21st April), Chapter, Cardiff (22nd April), Blackwood Miners’ Institute (24th April), The Miners’ Ammanford (25th April), Theatre Brycheiniog Brecon (26th April), Garth Olwg Community Campus (27th April), & The Lyric Carmarthen (28th April). With thanks to Alan for the press pack and opportunity!

Review: Beautiful – the Carole King Musical UK Tour

Original review: Underdog Reviews

Beautiful the Carole King Musical

Beautiful jukebox biomusical

Beautiful is a jukebox biomusical: from Brooklyn to 1650 Broadway to Billboard, it charts the charming Carole King’s musical, and romantic, relationships and eventual meteoric rise to fame after finally finding her voice.

The musical is less about King’s life than it is her music and lyrics, but so rich and so resonant are their sound that it’s a moving and lively listen in its own right. This tuneful Tapestry is complimented by a plot that revolves mostly around her creatively fruitful but romantically fruitless relationship with lyricist Gerry Goffin, although, as the tattered piano at the centre of the free-roving set proves, this is more about the music than its makers. Continue reading “Review: Beautiful – the Carole King Musical UK Tour”

Review: Agnes Colander at the Ustinov Studio

Original review: BroadwayWorldUK

Agnes Colander at Ustinov

Engaging and enlightening

‘Only by forgetting all we’ve ever learned can we learn to live at all’: wise words from a work that was itself, forgotten. Lost to the British Library and brought to life over 100 years later, Harley Granville Barker’s Agnes Colander is an engaging and enlightening look at womanhood and liberation in early 1900s England from one of the Edwardian era’s greatest writers. 

Agnes is an artist living alone, a dangerous portrait of independence in a gallery of decorum. Directed for every detail by theatrical deity Trevor Nunn in the Ustinov Studio, the most intimate and diminutive of theatres, it feels more like sitting in on the seclusions of film set than seeing a play, so evocative are Rob Jones’s designs, Fergus O’Hare’s sound, and Paul Pyant’s ever-darkening lighting, and so privileged and privy is our view to the intimacies of one woman’s determinations and self-discovery. Sometimes, it feels like we’re seeing something before the final edit, and, fittingly, we are: Continue reading “Review: Agnes Colander at the Ustinov Studio”