A respectfully and perfectly repurposed The Tempest
‘Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,’ a muddling, older man murmurs to us, collected in a crypt beneath a Medieval church in the centre of Bristol as cars and buses and bits of lost conversation rumble along beyond the low door closed behind us. ‘The isle was full of noises,’ he amends, and with that opening amendment in tense alone, Insane Root Theatre have respectfully but perfectly repurposed The Tempest, Shakespeare’s most philosophical, most reflective, and most indefinite play.
The man, aged and inelegant, is Prospero, but this is the usurped ‘prince of power’ without his power; this is Prospero at the end of the play, or rather, many-a-year after the revels of the play and the epilogue’s applause has ended. Alone in his library, a homely, hearth-like creation from Sarah Warren covered in drapes and decorated with books and bric-a-brac, Chris Donnelly’s Prospero is close to the end, and not just because he’s been placed in a crypt.
The crypt, carved and cavernous, is the corporeal and acoustic setting for Prospero’s recount of what happened to him, and he recreates the characters with some well-repurposed household trinkets: Continue reading “Reflection: Insane Root Theatre’s The Tempest”
At times discordant, but strikes a real chord
On a cold Christmas Eve, a little match girl lights her last matches for warmth; imagining a home full of love, she keeps hope and herself alive for a little while longer. There are little match girls – alone, homeless, hopeless – all over the world, and Hans Christian Andersen’s story is still a powerful and poignant one, and more prescient than ever. Bristol Old Vic’s The Little Matchgirl, a co-production with Shakespeare’s Globe, is a bold and brave choice for a Christmas show, and it burns brightly.
The other tales – vaudevillian vignettes overseen by Niall Ashdown’s revelatory, wry, rhyming emcee – while fanciful and fun and fantastically performed, have to fight to find their feet. Striking a match to tell each story, the emcee takes the match girl through a kaleidoscope of Andersen classics: Continue reading “Reflection: The Little Match Girl and Other Happier Tales”
Musical suites and magical sweets
With musical suites and magical sweets, Sir Peter Wright’s The Nutcracker is a festive feast for all the senses: Tchaikovsky’s score is rich with wonder, a Christmas tree grows to great heights and snow falls in an fairytale forest, and it’s performed with all the warmth and wit that’s found in the drop of whiskey that deepens the flavour of any Christmas cake; many an ingredient go into making this Nutcracker a Christmas treat to satisfy all tastes.
There’s sugary sweetness from the Royal Ballet School children at the Stahlbaum’s Christmas Eve bash, brought back from the brink of saccharine by the Royal Ballet’s believable and oft-overlooked character artists, with Elizabeth McGorian and Christopher Saunders as the idealised Edwardian hosts and Kristen McNally making a delicious meal out of the dancing mistress. As Drosselmeyer, the magician desperate to free his Nutcracker nephew from the Mouse King, Gary Avis is the cream that melts all the magic together, introducing his mechanical dolls – Paul Kay and Meaghan Grace Hinkis’s darting soldiers are a delight for children and adults alike – with a flourish of that magnificent cloak. Continue reading “Reflection: Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker”
A show in the spectacular superlative: comedy touched with melancholic charm
Clowning belongs in the circus: beneath the big top, behind a big, red nose and between comics, not accomplished actors… yet Slava Polunin and his Snow Show are unequivocally proving that clowns really belong on the bright lights and beauty of the stage in his breath-taking blizzard of a performance.
Slava’s Snow Show is a show in the spectacular superlative: the brightest lights, the boldest ambition, and the biggest, ahem, bouncing balls. And yet, from the most outlandish and loudest laughs come the quietest moments of comedy touched with melancholic charm. Continue reading “Reflection: Slava’s Snow Show”
Passionate, poetic, powerful
The timeless tale of ‘star cross’d lovers’ and ancestral strife is one of the most well-known and widely adaptable works of literature, but just what makes an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet? Passion, poetry, power, pathos: even without the Bard’s words, English National Ballet’s staging of Rudolf Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet is all that and more.
The choreography is perfectly poised between the grand and the gentle: the crowd scenes are feasts of chaos and activity, from families at war to flag-waving to fellas womanising away, and the Capulet ball is a grandiose pageant of patriarchal control as the men flaunt their women like fashionable capes and the brass of Prokofiev’s music beats beneath. The fencing and fight scenes are frenzied and furious and performed with such force by a male corps that really come to the fore in this production, with the opposing families captained by Pedro Lapetra’s petite but capricious Mercutio, James Forbat’s benevolent and beautifully-jumped Benvolio, and Fabian Reimair’s prowling Prince of Cats, the cavalier Tybalt. With much of the fighting between the young Montagues and Capulets founded on attempts to emasculate each other – crossing swords, kissing, hands sweeping across crotches – it cleverly captures the anxieties of masculinity in cultures contemporaneous to the play, this 1977 production, and the modern day. For a four hundred year old play and a forty-year-old production, the performance feels fresh, poignant, and full of life.
While the vigour and grandeur powers the production through the prose of the play, its poetry and gentleness lies with the lovers. Continue reading “Reflection: English National Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet”
A farcical, fun-filled frolic
As the saying – and singing, in this opera – goes, ‘chacun à son gout!’: ‘to each his own taste’, and the taste of Welsh National Opera’s Die Fledermaus is champagne – bubbly, celebratory, flamboyant, but with a little bit of bitterness in the aftertaste.
Die Fledermaus is an operetta caught somewhere between Restoration and Shakespearean comedy: a well-moneyed misdemeanant – a markedly strong Mark Stone – seems more interested in other women than his own wife, everyone from the mischievous chambermaid to her suspicious mistress set about scheming their way into a masquerade ball, an elaborate if improbable plot featuring false identities, lots of flirting and a few faux-Frenchmen, and, of course, a finale where all is forgiven and the ruse is revealed. This is operetta with frills-and-all, and with all the fun and frolics, it’s more than just the misbehaving husband who’s getting merrily mocked, it’s the opulence and improbability of opera, too. Continue reading “Reflection: WNO’s Die Fledermaus”
Rough-and-ready and wistfully raw
The curtain rises on an intricate, ramshackle construction of bricks, boards, and broken men cascaded across a remarkable, multi-levelled recreation of a communal prison cell. We see in through a literal break in the fourth wall, as if one side of the set has been broken apart by an unseen force, and the literal and metaphorical walls keep coming down to reveal, in all their tough-and-tenderness, the men and the motives behind the criminals and their crimes.
David Pountney’s production of From the House of the Dead is a series of vignettes from the view of the deadened and slowly dying convicts as they survive the cruelty and uniformity of captivity and escape into a life once lived outside the four walls of their confinement. Their recollections and reflections are ragtag and fragmentary and resist many operatic conventions: the prisoners interrupt each other’s arias, there’s no concrete plot, and the cast has no principals but perform as a collective. For some, From the House of the Dead may feel more ragged than ragtag, but it works to reflect the rough-and-ready, unrefined reality of the prisoners’ experiences both within the prison and without. Continue reading “Reflection: WNO’s From the House of the Dead”
Anarchy and artistry: a riot in every way
Kneehigh really do dance to the beat of a different drum. The Cornwall-based collective have created a monster from Günter Grass’ allegorical, wartime tale: a magical, musical monstrosity of chaotic mayhem with their trademark anarchy and inimitable artistry at its core.
The tale of Oskar, a boy banging his tin drum in rebellion against an adult world of war and responsibility, is a tough one to adapt: a bildungsroman where the boy won’t grow, a parable whose moral compass points all the wrong ways, and a myth with too much grit to be truly magic. Undaunted by the dangers, Kneehigh unites the novel’s density and diversity in their adaptation. Part epic, poetic opera, part Spring Awakening-style musical, part creeping electronic soundscape, The Tin Drum has music at the heart of its storytelling. Continue reading “Reflection: Kneehigh’s The Tin Drum”
90s nostalgia cut through with political poignancy
Twenty years ago, in 1997, it was a time of Take That, Tamagotchis and British teachers celebrating in the staff room after Tony Blair and the Labour party were elected with the mantra ‘education, education, education’. Wardrobe Ensemble’s eponymous play unpacks the politics of this cultural moment with wit, warmth, and winning charm, exploring the optimism and the realism that cuts through the 90s nostalgia with political poignancy.
Set in a well-meaning but not-quite-comprehensive comprehensive secondary school in the immediate aftermath of the election, the Ensemble places the individual at the centre of political change. From the highly-strung but ever-hopeful holistic teacher hopelessly losing control of her classes to the stroppy student trying to petition her teachers for a place on the school trip. Wardrobe Ensemble is unmistakably a devising company, with each character so well developed in communication and movement that even when saying the same things or doing the same dance moves, the characterisation is unmistakable, and the creative doubling of each teacher as a student sharing the same name as their actor counterpart is clearly distinct.
As the plot balances the optimism and pessimism of a new political landscape, the play is a practiced blend of the lifelike and the stylised: Continue reading “Reflection: Wardrobe Ensemble’s Education, Education, Education”
‘I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in […]’ muses Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own; an anxiety of space that arises amidst its advocacy for ‘a woman [to] have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’. Although neither are writers of fiction, the women protagonists of two texts, Sigmund Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, are subject to Woolf’s spatial anxiety. Both are locked in and out of literal and metaphorical feminine spaces, acknowledged by feminist critics Gilbert and Gubar as ‘parallel confinements in texts, houses and […] female bodies’. This study will analyse how in their texts – Freud’s a ‘case history’ of ‘petite hystérie’ (Freud, p.19) for ‘publication in a strictly scientific medical journal’ (Freud, p.4), Gilman’s a first-person fictional account of a woman’s experience of ‘a slight hysterical tendency’ – the writers’ portrayal of these spaces infers the locking in and out of their protagonists. Finally, this study aims to determine, as Woolf wonders, which is ‘worse’: to be locked in, or locked out? Continue reading “Essay: Space & Hysteria in The Yellow Wallpaper and Dora: A Case of Hysteria”