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 at 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 at Bristol Old Vic”

Review: A Monster Calls at Bristol Old Vic

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Wild, warm, witty & ruthless storytelling with wondrous stagecraft that wreaks havoc with your heart

‘Stories are wild creatures… when you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?’ Sally Cookson’s stories on stage are wild creatures; creatures with warm, witty, and ruthless storytelling and wondrous stagecraft, and they wreak havoc with your heart. Using storytelling to face the truth for one youngster struggling with grief, A Monster Calls, from the novel by Patrick Ness, is theatrical magic, where fantasy meets mortality with magnificent effect.

Devised under Cookson’s imaginative and accomplished direction, the performance is whimsical yet weighted in a wonderful echo of the original text’s magical realism. Yet, as in its treatment of the malignant tumour in Marianne Oldham’s terminally optimistic mother, this is the monster unmasked: Continue reading “Review: A Monster Calls at Bristol Old Vic”

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 Cherry Orchard at Bristol Old Vic

Original review: Underdog Reviews

The Cherry Orchard


Cherry-picked for the Year of Change

‘How much these walls have seen,’ muses the lady Lyuba in a fond but forlorn farewell to her family home; and, as her hand touches the gorgeous green and gilded walls of the Old Vic, her words touch our hearts, too. The Cherry Orchard, Chekhov’s so-called comedy about social change in turn-of-the-century Russia following the serf reform, seems cherry-picked for Bristol Old Vic at this time of redevelopment, in their very own Year of Change.

Tom Piper’s invigorating set envelops the Old Vic into the estate that’s up for sale: the architecture is the orchard, we the trees, and, with an audience also onstage in an uncanny recreation of the auditorium, the action plays out in-the-round and uses every inch of the space, from the stairs up to the pit to the passages behind the stalls. As such, we are in the estate: Continue reading “Review: The Cherry Orchard at Bristol Old Vic”

Review: The Little Match Girl and Other Happier Tales

Original review: TheReviewsHub

The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales

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 “Review: The Little Match Girl and Other Happier Tales”

Review: Kneehigh’s The Tin Drum

Original review: Underdog Reviews

The Tin Drum Kneehigh

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 “Review: Kneehigh’s The Tin Drum”

Review: Wardrobe Ensemble’s Education, Education, Education

Original review: Underdog Reviews

Education Education Education

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 “Review: Wardrobe Ensemble’s Education, Education, Education”

Review: The Caretaker at Bristol Old Vic

Original review: TheReviewsHub

The Caretaker

‘A moment frozen in time’ thawed: funny, heartfelt, and human

Harold Pinter’s inspiration for his tragicomic play The Caretaker was seeing two men in the same room, acting separately and in isolation, ‘a moment frozen in time’. Director Christopher Haydon and designer Oliver Townsend’s set for Bristol Old Vic and Royal & Derngate, Northampton’s production, on display as the audience take their seats, certainly feels like a moment frozen in time: suspended in the space are stepladders, drawers, desks, trolleys, toilet seats, light-bulbs, buckets, a door, and two windows with rain dripping down; a scene that feels like it should be in motion, but that is inexplicably still, as if someone has pressed pause.

Once we press play, Pinter’s three very distinct characters occupy the space in distinctively separate ways. Patrice Naiambana’s nomadic Davies ambles and shambles and mumbles and grumbles until, in his overcoat and odd socks, he seems more at home amongst the haphazard furniture than the family who inhabit the muddled room that houses it. The first family member we meet is Mick, the proprietor, expressionless, and prostrate on a mattress at the opening. Once he’s in motion, though, he is, as he later says to Davies, ‘moving all the time’: Continue reading “Review: The Caretaker at Bristol Old Vic”