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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 Toad Knew, The Lowry

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Photo Richard Haughton

The Toad Knew by James Thierrée’s Compagnie du Hanneton

The Lowry, Salford [10.05.17]

A woman draped in a red cape crosses the stage singing. We hear the strike of a match and see an amber glow in her hood. She melts into the stage curtain of matching velvety fabric and then it is peeled away to reveal the residency of the moment that is about to unfold.

The Toad Knew could be a story. It could be a play. It could be a dance. But it is most certainly a moment. A moment in a space that resembles a room that one could only imagine finding down the rabbit hole. Except this is no rabbit hole. Despite having a bizarre essence of Alice in Wonderland about it, The Toad Knew has a peculiarity all of its own that comes in part from its onlookers. Everything from the rotating staircase to the pond in the tank to the flacks of dusty carpet derive part of their meaning from you. As the experiencer, you paint part of the meaning into this spectacle and that’s part of what makes it so unique and beautiful.

Tonight, I watched a piece of theatre swallow itself over and over again. What started as a levitating space age swamp filled with galactic kites soon grows into a home of sorts. Its inhabitants whilst on the surface appear rather unusual, on closer examination are a physical manifestation of feelings we have lived and a multitude of versions of ourselves and those around us. We observe the relationships between these unnamed characters and through their physicality and personal quirks, they are able to speak volumes that surpass that surpass the limits of the English language. There is nothing concrete here. All interactions are fluid and a relationship that could be perceived as father-daughter, brother-sister, lovers can exist as all of these things and none of them simultaneously.

Nothing in the world that we have been invited into is fixed. Water still trickles, sawdust still falls, girls still float in water temporarily and lights still shine bright. Among compulsive gyrations, a piano that plays itself whenever there is an ‘elephant in the room’ sensation and an array of prosthetic limbs and wigs, we are sent on a journey filled with revelation that is quiet by nature. This is not the place for Eurekas and soul searching. It is the place for being in the moment and knowing that it’s okay to relive your memories and decipher your dreams in a room filled with other people. It’s also okay to not know what is happening because you feel that there’s a universal correct way to look at this moment that we’re all participating in. What you can know for sure is that whatever you feel about it is not wrong.

The Toad Knew is a reaction, a unity and a change that prompts us to reflect on our commitments in this moment and externally. Repetition and precision in intriguing movements encourage us to engage in a habitual pursuit of a story that doesn’t have a beginning, a middle or an end. Instead, we are left trinkets of may have been and what could be: sleep disturbance, being held back and wanting to do the right thing. And we’ve all had the feeling of not wanting to let someone go that is truthfully conveyed to the sound of These Arms Of Mine.

Three pairs of arms carried silverware and one body danced under foiled shackles that dazzled and humoured the light. It is hard not to write about this moment in a poetic manner given that it defied the parameters of prose and made its physicality audible. As soon as stacks of silverware were balanced, they soon littered the floor. In the onstage frenzy to pick them up and toss them aimlessly into the tank/pond, we are reminded that there is an unspoken urgency to ‘get your shit together’ – no matter the space or time. But this doesn’t mean you need to do it right now and you certainly don’t need to brush your desires under the carpet in order to do so.

To end this moment, the toad appears in all its white, evocative glory and devours each of our characters whole. One by one. Time still turns and ticks and flows. But, our moment is soon to pass. The Toad tells us of the thoughts that she cannot keep track of, for there are so many. Each of these moments that lived in and devoured each other are not easily described in words. They are not concrete. But these characters, their acts, their journeys, their habits – they are all thoughts. Thoughts that we’ve all had in different manners and different contexts.

Verdict: The Toad Knew is an exquisite and unique moment trapped in a kaleidoscope and admired under the gaze of an honest and personal magnifying glass. Somewhat disturbed but hilariously peculiar, this is a compelling and captivating piece of theatre that reminds us that it’s not about the conclusion, but the journey that you take to get there and the meaning that you derive along the way. A stunningly original moment that we would all benefit from experiencing.

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Review: Casanova, The Lowry

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Photo: Guy Farrow, Emma Kauldhar, Caroline Holden, Justin Slee

Casanova by Northern Ballet & Kenneth Tindall

The Lowry, Salford [03.05.17]

Opulent smoke and a procession of six figures travel with intent across the stage, surrounded by three towering ornate pillars. Then, six hooded men appear and engage in energised and powerful physicality that has you leaning in just to be ever more captivated by a sweeping array of small intricate to grand dominating movements. This ensemble give us a flavour of the beauty that is to unfold before us.

Casanova has become the social pseudonym of the womanisers and sex addicts of the modern world. But, Northern Ballet’s Casanova crafted by Kenneth Tindall invites us to take a look through a magnifying glass at an intricate and captivating narrative of the man behind the debauchery. This elegant, full length work inspired by Casanova’s memoirs explores the power, anguish, knowledge and of course, sex that dominated his many lives and delivers a vulnerable unveiling of who the real Casanova was.

On a mesmerising journey from Venice to Versailles, we see Casanova’s many versions of himself as an alchemist, violinist, writer and cleric. Among these pursuits, we see him tempt and be tempted by an array of women and take a particular fancy to a woman who has disguised herself as a man. This one is different. This becomes less about sex and more about passion and feeling.

The ensemble move with intent, diligence and passion, leaving it near impossible for you to take in everything that is happening simultaneously. The movements are captivating and give onlookers a true appreciation for the potential and possibilities of the human body. Each element is flawless in its execution and every dancer gives a distinct emotional performance to depict their character. Tableaux and trio performances convey ritualistic and sexual intent with both a tasteful and truthful aesthetic.

Christopher Oram’s awe-inspiring costume design transport us to the 1700’s in a spectacular masquerade of exquisite fabrics and silhouettes. The moving nature of the set allows us to journey with Casanova to his differing residencies and gives this tale a natural meander. But, it is the three pillars illuminated by Alastair West’s lighting design that really take this production from the Lyric Theatre stage to an entire world of its own. We see the dancers reflections on the speckled mirrored panes and the fluidity of their movements paints the most beautiful caricatures onto these panels. It is this haze of colours alongside this passionate tale that truly take us into the realm of Giacomo Casanova.

Verdict: Words cannot do this stunning production justice: this is a dance to be seen and experienced. Truly exceptional.

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Review: Not Today’s Yesterday, The Lowry

Not Today's Yesterday

Photo: Dagmara Gieysztor

Not Today’s Yesterday

Concept and Performance: Seeta Patel; Choreography: Lina Limosani; Visual Dramaturg: Dagmara Gieysztor

The Lowry, Salford [19.04.2017]

Sitting in darkness, we see a woman standing ornately. Waiting. Ready. And the story begins… a fairy tale about a far away land with ‘rivers of chocolate’ and ‘rain like diamonds’, is delivered by an external voice over and lip synced by the performer, Seeta Patel. The voice is calming and welcoming, with all the right intonations to lull a child to sleep. Although this destination, this land of nod is made of the sort of dreams that manifest themselves as nightmares for the inhabitants of the dream – almost like if the Wizard of Oz happened from the perspective of the bad witch. Except, this time she’d masqueraded as the good witch to gain your trust and the emerald city is a realm of translucent plastic.

Your journey through this land is a dance. It is a dance that you may be unfamiliar with, but nonetheless it is a dance that is gloriously uncomfortable and one that you open yourself to partake in. Blending Bharatanatyam with contemporary dance and, using the body as a storytelling map, Not Today’s Yesterday takes you on a journey to India, excavates the whitewashed history of the British Empire and hangs it out to dry.

In building a collision between contrasting materials and an absent colour palette, this piece immerses us in a world outside of the one we are familiar with. Yet, in using what resembled a curtain pull as a representation of hair, this piece immediately embodied a space that is prevalent in the lives of anyone who inhabits the diaspora. For women of colour, hair means and exemplifies a multitude of things and whilst these meanings differ for different groups of women, we share the experience of hair playing a part in our identities, both internally and externally. And when the hair is cut, the nightmare and dissociation begins…

***

Your fairy tale journey ceases when you are faced with white paint being poured slowly down a translucent screen. You watch it drip. See Patel lie on the floor behind it. Wait. You watch her study it and distort the clean lines into a hazy mess. You watch her clear a circle to look through. Then you watch a shadow, jolting to sonic screwdriver-esque noises. And then you are faced with the elitist in plastic clothing with a long white braid. Dancing. And telling you to ‘get over it’.

This is what it’s like to live in the diaspora. To be in an alarming and confusing state of being force-fed a whitewashed curriculum and being expected to grin and bear it. To be silenced constantly because your white peers don’t like feeling uncomfortable. To not fully know your history, heritage and the whole of your mother tongue, because the language of the history books tells you what it desperately wants to hear itself. This is what it’s like to be othered everyday.

This is an important piece of dance theatre. It is authentic and honest but most importantly, it wills you to think for yourself. And for the white audience member, this is the well crafted and challenging Dear White People of theatre.

Verdict: An exceptional piece of political theatre that speaks volumes without a word being said on the stage.

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