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: A Haunted Existence – The Island

Original review: The Reviews Hub

a-haunted-existence2.jpeg

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: 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”

Review: Theatre Re’s The Nature of Forgetting

Original review: The Reviews Hub

The Nature of Forgetting

Playful and powerful

Memory is a cruel mistress: meticulous and muscular, ephemeral and fractured and fragile, it’s all too easy to forget how crucial memory is to character; after all, what – or who – is left when memories are forgotten? Theatre Re’s thoughtful and affecting The Nature of Forgetting is a free fall into the forgotten that captures the complexities of memory through gorgeously nostalgic movement, mime, and accompanying music.

A devised work that delves feet first into the devastating effects of dementia on fifty-five year old Tom, it’s a work that’s sumptuous in its simplicities. Malik Ibheis’s minimalist set, props, and costumes use only a central platform, four writing desks, and two packed, moving clothing racks to transform Tom’s muted present into his cacophonous past, with an eclectic, electric live score from Alex Judd that complements the chaos with discord and the calm with a dreamlike depth. Continue reading “Review: Theatre Re’s The Nature of Forgetting”

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: 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”