Original review for the Reviews Hub
Thrilling athleticism and beautiful artistry
A lot of grit, graft, and grazed knees go into greatness, yet for ‘showgirls’ in the ‘greatest show on earth’ the nightly danger is disguised by grace, discipline, glitz, and offstage doughnuts. Ellie Dubois’s circus celebrates the blood, sweat, and bruises of her acrobatic ensemble and aims to articulate, through biography, the physical and psychological labour of its thrilling athleticism and beautiful artistry.
The circus is where artist and athlete intersect: in their striped-and-sequined strips, the freeform structure of the evening features the five female performers striving for perfection in their physical feats, from aerial stunts to striking contorted poses. There’s no flying trapeze or tightrope, twisting and upturning our expectations of circus as effortlessly as the tricks are executed, and though they often don’t feel ‘death-defying’, their dexterity and physicality is still exciting, especially Camille Toyer’s lyrical performance on the Cyr wheel that’s preceded by an explanation of the danger if she were to put a foot or finger wrong. Yet, there’s an assurance, from Kate McWilliam, that she won’t; after all, ‘we’re professionals’.
Even professionals have imperfections, and the physical effort it takes to achieve perfection is as much a part of the performance as the tricks. Continue reading “Review: Ellie Dubois’s No Show – Spielman Theatre”
Original Review for the Reviews Hub
A blissful, beautiful thing
‘Once I believed that when love came to me, it would come with rockets, bells, and poetry – but with me and you, it just started quietly, and grew… and it’s getting better.’ Beautiful Thing at the Tobacco Factory Theatres begins with a beautiful chorus of Mama Cass’s ‘It’s Getting Better’ from a community choir, and it’s everything this urban fairytale should be about: affection, optimism, and community.
Written in the nineties, 2018 is its 25th anniversary, and with age it’s grown a warm, nostalgic naivety from the nearly anarchic work it was then. It is ‘getting better’, but the heart-breaking effects of homophobia aren’t, and the Tobacco Factory’s Beautiful Thing is heart-warming, celebratory, bitingly funny, but also a remembrance of just how ground-breaking Jonathan Harvey’s work was just for being about the beauty of two gay teenage boys falling in love with each other.
And maybe it’s the absence of any ‘bury your gays’ symbolism that’s so ubiquitous in LBGTQ+ literature that gives Beautiful Thing its ‘urban fairytale’ subtitle. Continue reading “Review: Beautiful Thing – Tobacco Factory Theatres”
Like the English at Agincourt, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory aren’t unshaken, but they are victorious
Henry V, the final play in Shakespeare’s historical tetralogy, focuses on King Henry’s campaign for France, victory at Agincourt, aggressive patriotism, coming-of-age, and eventual political treaty and promise of peace with his marriage to Katharine of Valois.
From the English court to the fields of France, the performance asks a lot of our ‘imaginary forces’, even to ‘piece out [its] imperfections with [our] thoughts’, and this overt theatricality is, like King Henry’s army at Agincourt, defensive – attacking, forgiving and apologising for its faults – and defenceless in the face of a much greater force: the audience.
And, like the English at Agincourt, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory aren’t unshaken, but they are victorious. Elizabeth Freestone’s direction is austere, with the action playing out in a darkly industrial dystopia characterised by Lily Arnold’s greyed costumes and frayed edges, steely drama and gravel underfoot. Continue reading “Review: Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s Henry V – Tobacco Factory Theatres”
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”
Electrifying and confronting a classic with an unforgiving ‘fuck you’
RashDash’s Three Sisters, after Chekhov is thrillingly irreverent: to rules, to theatrical form, and even to reviews, but it’s their irreverence that’s so deserving of reverence. A rocking and rollicking retelling of a Russian classic with no time for men, marriages, or monologues, it tears up tradition and tramples all over it.
‘Rash as in reckless, Dash as in fast’, RashDash’s Three Sisters lives up to the trio’s self-titled expectations and destroys all others: dancing, dreaming, and cheerleading through the drawing rooms of Chekhov’s domestic drama, a chaise and a chandelier are the only evidence that these ladies were once in Chekhov’s Russia. The Russian Revolution that threatened and eventually overthrew the classist autocracy is reimagined as a revolution against the virility of the classical canon. Continue reading “Review: RashDash’s Three Sisters”
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”
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”
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”
Buzzing, bloody, and bleak
Macbeth at the Tobacco Factory opens as one of Emily Dickinson’s famous works, about a fly interposing indifferently as death falls on its speaker, ends: ‘with Blue – uncertain – stumbling Buzz –’: the lighting is stark cyan, the space dark, and the electronic soundscape buzzes and breathes around us. Yet, a fly-like buzzing as one dies is not the only similarity between the atmosphere summoned by Dickinson’s unadorned words and Adele Thomas’s austere direction of Shakespeare’s death-drenched work.
Although it’s a dagger, not a fly, that the murderous Macbeth sees before him, he and his driven-mad wife, like the words of Dickinson’s dying, ‘could not see to see’: that is, as is later observed of the Lady herself, their ‘eyes are open’, ‘but their sense is shut’. Fuelled – or fooled – by the three weird sisters’ prophecy that sovereignty shall be his, the thane is blinded by ambition and soon has blood on his hands. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth at Tobacco Factory Theatres”
An impressive and uniquely intimate musical experience
On its turn-of-the-century debut, Puccini’s opera about death, desire and deception was termed a ‘shabby little shocker’ by the press, but there’s nothing shabby in this co-production from Opera Project and Tobacco Factory Theatres. Staged in-the-round in this uniquely intimate space, the story of tempestuous soprano Floria Tosca, her liberal artist lover Cavaradossi and the cruel and corrupt chief Scarpia is told with an intimacy, emotional intensity, and expressive pathos only possible in such a space.
In a New York Times review of Victorien Sardou’s original play, Tosca was deemed ‘not much of a play, a mere outline at best, made to fit like a glove’ to the talent of the infamous leading lady of the time, and although the former is perhaps still true, Puccini’s opulent score, played by Opera Project’s twelve-piece orchestra and conducted with passionate flair by Jonathan Lyness, not only fits but fills the space to create a singular musical experience. There’s a striking simplicity to the staging, with its flickering candles, focused lighting, and black bars that shift from confession to confinement allowing the score and the singing to take centre-stage. Operatic asides – ‘he’s dead!’ – that often feel impractical work well in-the-round, and are particularly pointed in Act I when Scarpia’s plot is put into action: Cavaradossi’s supposed deception is ‘as I suspected’ sings Tosca; ‘the plan is affected’ Scarpia counters. Continue reading “Review: Tosca at the Tobacco Factory Theatre”