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Review: The Marked, The Lowry

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Photo: Idil Sukan

The Marked by Theatre Témoin

The Lowry, Salford [20.05.17]

It’s late. A homeless man is sleeping on a stack of wooden pallets among the bins. We are very aware that there isn’t an option to go back inside.

Pigeons, puppetry and perspective – three things that Theatre Témoin bring to the table in their new offering, The Marked. Through the innovative use of masks, props and puppets, the company are able to take us into a new world filled with a variety of distinct characters, that is worryingly close to the one we reside in. Theatre Témoin offer us a magnifying glass to examine the complexities and underlying stories behind homelessness – a situation that is very much alive on Manchester’s doorstep yet, brushed out of sight. If you’ve ever walked past a homeless person and not acknowledged them, The Marked directs you to think about that person and think about why it was easy for you to do nothing.

Crafted from true stories, this piece provides an honest look at a multitude of social issues including alcoholism and abusive relationships. Flashbacks of inciting incidents to Jack’s circumstance allow us to journey with him from childhood to adulthood. We are exposed to the harsh realities of alcohol dependency – from the compulsion to drink and the anger/love switch towards loved ones, to the terrifying struggle of children exposed to this. Despite Jack (played by Bradley Thompson) being present on stage and acting as puppeteer of young Jack, these scenes are so visually compelling that we almost forget that there are actors on stage. Dorie Kinnear who plays Sophie but also wears the mask of Jack’s mother, gives a captivating performance and through physicality creates a stunning and emotional portrait of Jack’s mother. The comparisons created between Jack’s mother and Sophie throughout the piece are nuanced and carefully stitch both the past and current narratives together.

The symbolism derived from tapping into childhood that drives this piece is really quite special. Jack’s torch is very much a symbol of hope and goodness within this piece and reminds us all of the little trinkets we carried as children to stop us from being scared. This was the heartfelt object equivalent of the thunder buddies mantra in Ted. Top that off with two incredibly engaging pigeons who speak to Jack about the power of his torch and the importance of him continuing to fight the demons. When Jack declares his torch is broken, he is challenged by one pigeon: “it can’t break, it’s a metaphor”. As a writer, this line not only amused me but, was a wonderful reminder that only physical things get broken. Everything else may not necessarily be fully functioning but, nonetheless, it is recoverable. This was a beautiful, small and subtle token of healing.

Verdict: The Marked is a visually exciting piece of theatre that honestly and tactfully explores challenging social issues. The use of puppetry, masks and physicality crafts the world of this play wonderfully. A must see!

 

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Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Bolton Octagon

 

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte (adapted by Deborah McAndrew)

The Octagon, Bolton [11.04.2017]

Sitting in a seat with a somewhat restricted view following a very long and arduous bus journey (though to be fair these events were separated by some thought provoking conversation) was probably not the best start to the evening. Leaning forward to admire the set was an error on my part, there was very little visual artistry to greet or titillate.

Now, is probably a good time to say that the classics are not of huge appeal to me and I don’t usually write reviews in this style. However, there’s a first time for everything and said time is upon us.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (we’ll refer to it as Wildfell from now on) is the sort of play that my best friend would appreciate:

It is a window into the harrowing love life and struggle for independence of a ‘widow’ named Helen. Helen has fled from her foul husband with her child and is hiding away in fear that he will find her and subject her to a life of misery. In what is now to be her new home, she stumbles across local farmer Gilbert and they fall in love, against the odds.

Or at least, that’s how I imagine her describing it (okay, maybe she wouldn’t have said that last bit).

It reminded me of Catherine Cookson’s The Girl. If you’ve not read or watched it, allow me to elaborate. Hannah marries a butcher, but is in love with a guy called Ned, who’s been in love with her since she was a child (which I find uncomfortable to say the least). Anyway, the butcher dies and Hannah sends his mother away. She gives the shop to her sister and runs off into the hills to be with Ned. Yes, Wildfell is very much like that except there’s less dramatic fighting, no butcher in sight and oh yes, there’s a dog that makes an appearance at the beginning and then it just doesn’t come back. I am not a fan of The Girl, but I am able to vaguely outline its plot because it’s the joy of my mother’s life on a Sunday afternoon. It’s more predictable than that On The Buses episode where Stan becomes infatuated by the Indian belly dancer who works in the canteen and, thanks to his good old pal Jack, he ends up taking her snake home and hiding out in his upstairs loo until she comes to collect it. Wildfell is very much like this, riddled in misogyny but less humorous.

It’s important that I highlight some good things. Number 1: Helen is a strong feminist character (be it of the time) and I can see how this would have ruffled many a feather back in the day (props to Anne Bronte). Number 2: I appreciated that the child was actually played by a child. Often adults embody children and the audience is expected to see beyond them and appreciate the craft used to make you believe they are a child. In this instance, it not only felt appropriate but would seem ill placed for an adult to perform childhood in this environment (p.s. if he can sing, they should recast him for Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol). Number 3: Gilbert (Helen’s love interest) was like a cross between Ned (mentioned above), Mr Rochester (Jane Eyre) and Mr Darcy (Pride and Prejudice) – I think this would be a positive for many audience members. Number 4: the string music played during scene changes was rather soothing and was well complemented by the purple hued lighting changes that accompanied it. Number 5: the period costumes were complementary to the era in which the piece is set. Number 6: I liked that the dog wondered about for a bit (even though I don’t like animals).

Verdict: If you appreciate the back to back period dramas shown on Yesterday (Freeview channel 20) and would like to be immersed in one in the round (be it with a no frills no fuss set), then this is definitely the shout for you. Equally if you have an appreciation of the classics, I’m sure you’ll like this. However, if like me, you prefer contemporary theatre that defies boundaries and require a less predictable plot, give this one a swerve.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall will be at The Octagon until Saturday 22nd April.

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Review: The People Are Singing, Royal Exchange

The People Are Singing

The People Are Singing by Lizzie Nunnery

Royal Exchange, Manchester [07.04.2017]

A tin tub with some cargo net. Some coloured rope. Three photographs. A tally chart counting nothing. A man lighting candles. A child skipping.

Distant memories of childhood games immerse us in a younger world view in Lizzie Nunnery’s new play. We observe a twelve year old girl, Irina skipping and playing hop scotch. But, at unexpected instances her actions and thoughts are no longer her own  – trauma is her puppet master and fear, her strings. This external domination of Irina’s choices only grows as the piece progresses. What starts as an external war to their small home, grows into an indoor war in which Olena (the mother) demands that Irina sing everything away for her, this war lapses when Olena is shot by Dima, a strange man who comes into the house offering safety, food, a ‘home’. A new war is waged as Irina runs away to escape Dima and ends up in a highly original forbidden forest, en route to a freedom she has only ever imagined.

Whilst this piece possesses a strong narrative, it is its physicality, poetry, sound and visual artistry that make it a poignant piece of theatre. Irina’s poetic monologues take us on a harrowing journey in which she begins to question her actions and who their purposes pertain to. These pieces alongside a soundscape that removes the need for specific physical props, gives us a true sense of immersion into this abraded landscape and unsettling forest.

The movements within this piece highlight the characters relationships to the warped world in which they are living and express the proximity in sensation between fear and excited pleasure: each time Irina throws her arms out, are these sensations what she perceives them to be or are they crafted externally. Theses mixed emotions are almost like a replica of the state of uncertainty that arises when you are not sure whether or not you are having a panic attack.

The accompanying strong element of visual arts only builds on this experience. The use of bungee cords (in the colours of the Ukrainian flag) as household items, undergrowth, outdoor games, and a physical expression of both internal and external limitations imposed on us, gives the piece a continued identity – which starkly contrasts with the decomposing identities of all of the characters.

The People Are Singing leaves us questioning ways to respond to wrong doing and whether it is right to do the thing that is most truthful. The snapshot experience we have through a little girl’s eyes also brings us to consider what truly crafts one’s identity in childhood and how this is impeded by the cold light of trauma.

 

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