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 “Reflection: The Cherry Orchard at Bristol Old Vic”
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”
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”
‘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 “Reflection: The Caretaker at Bristol Old Vic”