Tag Archives: Theatre

27, Contact

27

Image: Oliver Rudkin

27 by Peter McMaster

Contact, Manchester [21.06.17]

It’s dark. There are two men in glow in the dark skeleton onesies. I think a Nirvana song is playing (it’s not Smells Like Teen Spirit so who knows). Pitch black. Silence. A glow. We are then asked to imagine a woman. A woman who is laying on her side whilst giving birth. The woman is Peter’s mother.

27 is not just a story about growing into a 27 year old man. I feel that if this were the case, I’d likely have not been able to relate with the piece because a) i’m not 27 yet b) i’m not a man and c) i’m not white. 27 however does something quite special in that it is able to transcend these states and their associated experiences and deliver a series of time conscious moments that encourage us to reflect on ourselves. In hearing Peter and Nick’s journeys from birth to their 27th year, we participate in what can only be described as a game of snakes and ladders in which no one is sure of who is rolling the dice. Everything from successfully lodging a marble up your nose to first attempts at masturbation and relationships to your mother reading your diary are a plenty in these honest journeys through time.

To the surprise of many audience members, we are each asked to assist either Peter or Nick in undressing. Those sat on the peripheries of the horseshoe seating arrangement are tasked with assisting with the unzipping of the onesies and pulling of sleeves and, those of us sat towards the middle are tasked with removing the bottom half of the onesie. In my case, the chosen action was firm grip and a quick tug and down come the bottoms… it’s always interesting when you put a naked body in a space (or in this case two). The state of vulnerability in the room drastically changes and it can become hard to know who feels more vulnerable: the actors or the audience. When Peter and Nick invite the audience to touch their bodies and invite themselves to sit and lay on audience members, they are met with mixed reactions. Everything from laughter, to avoidance, to just not knowing how to react is expressed by audience members.

The only time I find bare bodies particularly amusing is when watching The Full Monty. External to this, I often feel that I am witnessing the greatest piece of art in existence and this applies to all bodies no matter what they look like. Scenarios such as this remind me of the first time I went to a life drawing class and on that day I felt like it was the first time I had truly seen another person. Peter and Nick welcomed us to see them.

They then engaged in quite a full on, rough and tumble fight (Catherine Cookson eat your heart out) around the floor. I have to say I hadn’t expected to spend my Wednesday evening watching two men rolling around the floor in some cocoa powder-esque sand… I usually spend this time at a writers workshop. Chuck in a splash of Wild Horses with no Susan Boyle in sight and mate, you’re on to a winner here.

What follows is a cascade of a phone call to Peter’s mother, a falling dominoes scenario where the men catch each other and a barrage of apologies for bad decisions. In watching Peter and Nick take each other’s weight truthfully and then swap roles to fall into their next moment, we as an audience, are given a rude awakening to the repetitive nature of life and exposed to the importance of brief moments and the beauty of their short lifespan. 27 reminds us that whatever age we are, we a changing and we are choosing but, most importantly that we are living and that whether you make the right choice or the wrong choice, the thing that truly matters is the journey along the way.

Verdict: 27 is an honest and witty piece of storytelling that creates a shared vulnerability and window of self exploration within a theatre space. Worth experiencing.

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What If I Told You, Royal Exchange

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Image: West Yorkshire Playhouse website

What If I Told You by Pauline Mayers

Royal Exchange, Manchester [19.06.17]

Enter the empty space. Leave your belongings beside the wall – you will not be needing them. Form a circle. There’s something quite wholesome about it. And your evening has begun.

Pauline Mayers’ What If I Told You (WIITY) is an exploration of life as a black woman in the performance world and beyond, delivered through storytelling, movement and tableux. This immersive experience places the audience within Pauline’s story but also allows us to revisit our own life experiences. This is a work that focuses on each of us being present, a necessary component of having access to the many truths of the piece.

Pauline invites us to play, embrace one another, see each other and hear her truth. WIITY is a historical playground that illustrates the bullying and abusing of black women’s bodies through time. We are exposed to the harsh truths of experiments conducted on black women by Dr J. Marion Sims in the name of gynaecology and told the names of three of the black women he experimented on: Anarcha, Betsy and Lucy. This alongside the flooding of ‘Black Lives Matter’ chanting, highlights the true war that has been and still is upon black bodies in the Western world. Pauline invites us into a space that contains black pain but she does not turn this into a spectacle. She acknowledges these experiences with a truthfulness and encourages us to reflect on how and why these events are occurring.

These narratives are weaved into Pauline’s personal experiences. She tells us of her journey from childhood to girlhood to adulthood. When she describes her audition for the Rambert School, she talks of how she has the shortest legs of all of the girls in the room. And for a moment, this brings up a memory I have from modelling. I remember being stood in a room with nine other girls who’s legs basically went up to my shoulders. And then I remember, the dodgy comments made about my thighs, nose and lips.

Back in the room and I feel even more connected to Pauline. This is likely in part due to the conversation we had over the phone where we discussed the way in which black women’s bodies are othered in theatre and the wider world. But it is also in part due to Pauline having the incredible ability to blur the edges between the theatrical play space she has created and the world outside of the studio.

Listening to Pauline’s journey through the arts world has given me hope. Her story is one that young black women should experience. It is unfortunately not often that you find a black woman in a space telling her story, talking about the challenges of her journey and absolutely smashing it. This is exactly what we need more of.

This piece ends with the audience being present and moving across the space and engaging with each other via a look or an embrace. At this point, I will admit I became quite disengaged. For me, physical contact is something to only be shared with those I am close to. I initially felt unsettled watching people hug each other and spent the next day questioning why that was. I do not have a conclusion yet but, I know this was a unique moment in which people were able to just be, together.

Verdict: What If I Told You is wonderful piece of storytelling that allows us to step into Pauline’s shoes and those of black women in history. Through measured physicality and emotive and engaging storytelling, we are able to truly be present with Pauline and explore our own narratives alongside hers. Go see it at Edinburgh Fringe this summer!

 

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Interview: Pauline Mayers on…

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Image: West Yorkshire Playhouse Website

It’s Monday morning.

This time last week, I had a conversation with Pauline Mayers about her currently touring show What If I Told You, perceptions of black women’s bodies in arts spaces and the wider world and, what it’s like being a person of colour in a white dominated industry.

Pauline on… art and defining herself as an artist

I define art as a means of being able to see the world in a different way, to explore the world through a different door, a different approach to life, different places and different times.

Pauline highlighted how art provides the space for you to express yourself in a way that you cannot in other spheres. It creates more avenues and connections, with the self and the wider world.

Regarding defining oneself as an artist, Pauline does not place herself in a box. She is a lover of reading, research, finding things out; she loves to evolve. Pauline describes herself as a risk taker, agent provocateur and artistic revolutionist.

 

Pauline on…working as a black woman in theatre and dance

Pauline has danced for many years all over the world  – she always wanted to express herself. She described the ongoing commentary on her black body and stressed what appears to be the obvious in that, we all have bodies. Change needs to come surrounding perceptions of black bodies in space but we are not yet at that point. The same goes for listening to black narratives, Pauline spoke of the disbelief in her experiences that occurs within theatre spaces and how audiences doubt her truth because it is not within their repetoire of experiences. Pauline owns her story when she shares it in a performance space because it is her truth. It is unfortunate that POC do not get to own performance spaces often.

She shared her refusal to perform for Black History Month and her disappointment at the last minute nature of programming for this month and Black theatre seasons.

We also touched the importance of being able to see yourself reflected in the theatre, especially as it is such a white dominated space and that a change needs to come. Pauline mentioned her participation in Eclipse’s SLATE Project. She described how the focus on process was something she had not experienced in a long time and how such experiences are rarely available for artists of colour.

Pauline on… the experience of POC in theatre and beyond

POC are rarely listened to, when discussing their experiences there is always a caveat of ‘oh yes, but…’ and never a moment of ‘I hear you’. Pauline who has trained as a counselor highlights that POC are less likely to participate in Talking Therapies and that comes from not being able to speak their truth and always being challenged. Their psychological injuries are sidelined.

Pauline on…POC as emerging artists 

Pauline described an experience she had when presenting a piece of work and an onlooker expressed surprise that her piece was so well rounded. Having huge amounts of experience, after 30 years in the business it should look professional, Pauline exclaims.

POC are brilliant at doing many things at the same time. However, POC are too frequently boxed off as emerging artists, which creates two problems: a stagnation of progression and POC all competing with each other for a platform. Why are we all fighting for one space? Why are we having to take someone out in order to have artistic space?

Whilst opportunities are few and far between, we then face the battle of longevity and siustainability. Pauline states that theatres need to be talking to artists and finding out what they wantUnemployment is a huge issue for artists of colour – where are the sustained work opportunities?

Pauline on…What If I Told You and what’s next

What If I Told You is a calling card,  a reminder that she cannot give up on this artist thing. It’s a part of her DNA. Within this she highlights the importance of accepting the lows but focusing into the work and how this allows you to settle into your calling. She believes it is essential that we spend more time with ourselves and reflect on what it is to be human. By doing such reflections, she wonders if the world would be less divided.

She intends to continue creating work and building the Mayers Ensemble. Alongside this, she would like to continue working collaboratively and venture into directing.

 

What If I Told You is on at the Royal Exchange on Tuesday 20th June and then moves to Edinburgh Fringe, performing between 11-26th August.

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Review: Daydream Believers, Hope Street Theatre

 

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Daydream Believers by Tmesis Theatre Training Company

Hope Street Theatre, Liverpool [27.05.17]

Welcome to San Francisco and a hippy inspired version of the fancy dress shop in Mr Benn. Try something on. No, no, really, you must – it’s immersive after all. Unfortunately, as I am only one for dressing up when in character or for someone’s birthday (who doesn’t love a good Bob the Builder themed 20th), this wasn’t the best start for me. But, still go with the flow, you’re in San Francisco after all…

Daydream Believers is an immersive piece of physical theatre inspired by the summer of love 1967. It is a love in (of sorts) crafted in just five days by Tmesis Theatre Training Company. Once you’re kitted out with a 60’s inspired outfit or awkward accessory, you are invited into the love bubble filled with a wealth of characters who are out for peace and a good time. They want to make you feel welcome and to a degree that is achieved. Though in my case, a multitude of comments about my hair (even if they are ‘positive’) is not welcoming, it is othering.

Despite not getting off to the best start, this piece did take its audience on a journey with a great soundtrack and a happy, trippy colour palette to match. The psychedelic trance complete with a looming white rabbit is certainly a memorable moment. Interestingly, this showed similarities to moments in Rosie Kay’s MK Ultra crossed with the music video of Get Down by Groove Armada. This along with the moment where one ensemble member places a flower in the gun of another give this piece an originality and honesty that were found in the moments were the ensemble felt at their most present.

The space that this piece was set in was not the most accessible nor the most comfortable however, the company made every effort to distract you from the fact that you were sat on an uncomfortable step was certainly a positive on their part. However, at times, the immersive elements seemed a little off target. For example, all audience members but myself and the woman sitting next to me were offered a ‘token’ of LSD to take them on what we will refer to as ‘the white rabbit trip’. If you going to the effort of including most audience members when your audience is small, you may as well go the whole way and commit fully. Or alternatively, pick out a select few. A little more thought maybe was needed here.

I feel that devised work grows with each performance, as an ensemble grows into itself. So, by Saturday, this piece will be very different to what I have experienced. It’s the sort of theatre that you want to see again to observe how it has grown. And I do believe that this is a piece of theatre with great potential and a talented cast. So if you’re in Liverpool on Saturday, do pop in and see this as, I suspect by then it will have grown into something quite exciting.

Following this show, I couldn’t help thinking about the lack of diversity in the cast but, on a wider scale, the lack of diversity in Physical Fest. I came away from Liverpool thinking: why is physical theatre so white? That is not a question that can be answered in a small space nor is this review the place for that exploration. However, it will be something that I explore in a later post.

Verdict: Tmesis Theatre Training Company have the bones of a good show here. Special shout out to Lauren Whitter, Grace Gallagher and Ellie Woodhouse, who gave striking and emotive performances. An interesting devised piece of theatre with potential to be brilliant, once it’s fully grown and had time to breathe.

 

 

 

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Review: Schrödinger, Contact

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Image: Adrian Philpott

Schrödinger by Reckless Sleepers

Contact, Manchester [24.05.17]

The cat’s name was George.

A black box with the front wall removed. Many openings like a multi-faceted lift the flap book without the colourful folly of childhood. Water, water everywhere but, too many drops to drink. Chalky mountains. Sheets strangling lovers faces. X marks the spot.

In 1998, Reckless Sleepers built a box. It wasn’t just any old box. This box was akin to the theorised box created by Schrödinger. Within the box, a cat (George), can be both alive and dead simultaneously yet, we are only able to see one state upon looking in the box. The box creates a paradox. A compelling thought experiment.

Nineteen years later and Reckless Sleepers invite you to explore the box. Watch the chalking of arrows, listen to the simultaneous vocalisations of a letter, ponder every element of the space and then… a man drops through a flap in the ceiling of the box. The cycle repeats with differences that are nuanced yet so repetitive that they could almost be the same. Things fall – whether or not they are apart, together or existing in both states is up to you. Books drop, water is flippantly swished out of wine glasses, pencils are sharpened, apples are eaten, chairs and tables rearranged, bodies lifted and dropped and pulled and pushed. Bodies breathing.

You as the observer are tasked with watching Xs being marked through a physical ‘dance’ of hands pressed against black chalk stained walls and pondering what this mountain range of movement has to do with a cat. This is not your only task and it is not your task at all. Maybe there are no tasks. Maybe you are just here to watch. Or maybe you are not here to watch but to be. You’re looking into a box for one hour but who’s to say that you as the audience who reside in the dark are not George. Maybe you are George and the frantic capers and building of a triangular pyramid structure to the sound of Hushabye Mountain is how you sleep at night. Maybe you don’t sleep. Maybe no one sleeps because thoughts keep threading themselves as time ticks and you exist in a space where everything stops and starts simultaneously.

A man drops through a flap in the ceiling of the box. The cycle repeats itself.

A woman drops through a flap in the ceiling of the box. The cycle repeats itself.

A man threatens another man with a hammer each time he removes a hand from the wall. The cycle repeats itself.

Two men and two women drink with chaotic order to the chanting of numbers. The cycle repeats itself. It goes and goes and goes. Round and rounder. When pace is lost, they fall from the wagon one by woman. Until there is stillness.

A book is dropped many times.

And a music box keeps playing Hushabye Mountain.

 

In Schrödinger, Reckless Sleepers have welcomed us to sample the delights of all contrasts without their difference. We are placed in a space in which logic constantly defies itself and forces us to consider whether what we think is happening is what is actually happening at all. Watching someone draw has never been so compelling that at one point, I acknowledged the rest of the stage and thought ‘Oh shit, that man ate an apple and I missed it…why am i concerned about missing a man eating an apple?’ I had a weird sense of feeling robbed every time I missed something despite, making decisions about what I was looking at. Reckless Sleepers bring original physicality and warped compulsive sequences that make you question how much you’re being given to see and how much you are choosing to see. Is there any choice in this experience apart from you sitting in your seat: yes and no. Are there an infinite yet finite number of possibilities for each encounter. Every time you see someone drop onto the stage, do they fall? Are you already falling into a space in which everything is nothing and nothing is everything. Yes and no. Juxtaposition is okay among friends and strangers because maybe we’re all the same but different anyway.

Verdict: This really was quite extraordinary. The cogs have not stopped ticking in my head since this encounter and I doubt they will anytime soon. Reckless Sleepers are incredibly talented presenters who are able to give us an experience quite unlike any other. This is definitely one of the most unique things I have ever seen and it almost makes me think that theatre generally has become quite static. This defied all the rules and I feel privileged to have experienced true artistry on stage. Schrödinger is brave, mind-boggling and really quite stunning.

 

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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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Heads Up, HOME

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Heads Up by Kieran Hurley

HOME, Manchester [19.05.17]

Kieran Hurley’s Heads Up is an end of the world storytelling sesh that, at times, resembles the sorts of stories you hear from people sat in Chicken Hut after a night on the lash in the toon. Except this didn’t have the “must keep talking about it” quality that late nights in Chicken Hut do.

Whilst Hurley is clearly a very talented actor and vocalist with the ability to use small and subtle movements to give the performance an urgent physicality, the story itself lacked legs. Either that or it had too many legs that, when lined up, unfortunately tumbled like a house of cards caught in a gust of wind. The four narratives that were delivered to us were rather far fetched, but nonetheless had some important home truths (that are possibly humbling when the world is about to end) and at times, were funny. However, the stories were so jumbled that they didn’t really get off the ground and the linking points between them were too obvious at points.

I appreciate shows that do not crave a set in order to make their world exist and was impressed by Hurley’s ability to provide his continued presence, vocal range and physicality whilst engaging in a live form of play with sound effects. But, and this is a very big but, the lighting of this piece was atrocious. And, I’m not saying that to be harsh but, because at points, I had to sit with my eyes closed for a moment to counteract the pain in my eyes caused by the lighting. The stage was in darkness with Hurley in the centre barely illuminated. It is clear that the thought behind this lighting choice was to create a feeling of tension and urgency. However, there is a difference between giving your audience the feeling of tension and actually causing tension in their eyes. This piece of theatre was not accessible for individuals with sensory difficulties and I believe these staging decisions cut off a potential audience and hindered some of the audience who did attend.

Verdict: Heads Up has the potential to be something great – Hurley is a skilled performer and storyteller and, the stories of this piece have some interesting elements. However, this was a physically uncomfortable experience that I wouldn’t want to have again. Though, I would be interested to see a relaxed performance of this piece to see how much of an influence the poor conditions had on my experience of the narrative.

 

 

NB Having spoken to other attendees at this performance, it is clear that where you were seated really influenced your sensory experience of the show.

 

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Review: How My Light Is Spent, Royal Exchange

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How My Light Is Spent by Alan Harris

Royal Exchange, Manchester [09.05.17]

NB: This was a relaxed performance.

Newport, South Wales. Two individuals sit with their backs to each other on a raised rectangular podium. A recording of a phone conversation is played: a man declaring his hands have disappeared. In unison, the two raise their hands to the light. Begin.

Phone sex.

Meet Jimmy. Jimmy is a 34 year old man who lives with his mother, has a kid he hasn’t seen in 4 years, works at a doughnut drive through, hasn’t had sex in a long time and so calls Kitty every evening at 7.30pm for 9 minutes of phone sex.

Meet Kitty. Kitty is a phone sex worker who pretends to masturbate whilst talking to customers, when really she’s just waiting for time to pass. She keeps her childhood locked away in an impenetrable box, practices altruism and dreams of becoming a psychologist.

How My Light Is Spent is an honest, funny and bizarre exploration of unemployment, loneliness, sex work and the search for meaning. Part narrated, part performed in the moment, this hilarious tale charts the gradual disappearance of Jimmy’s body. Somewhat of a modern version of H G Wells’ science fiction novella, The Invisible Man, this play gives us soft sci-fi and a compelling journey through the realm of relationships.

 

Set to a palette of Spandau Ballet, Phil Collins and Maroon 5, some welsh accents and a dash of received pronunciation, our ears very much lead the way in this performance. The stripped back set (which I feel resembles Newport Bridge by night) allows us to focus solely on the two performers. Rhodri Meilir and Alexandria Riley both express their undeniable talent in delivering a multitude of characters, each with their own quirks and emotional truths. They are able to make us laugh and almost cry in the moments experienced by both Jimmy and Kitty.

Whilst this play has a lighthearted feel, it touches on some very important conversations: the state of unemployment and perceptions of sex work. When Jimmy goes to the job centre, if you yourself have ever been to sign on you know exactly how he feels. We’ve all had a Michelle who’s not particularly bothered about your experiences or your aspirations and she really just wants to get you away from her desk so she can admire both sides of her hand for a little longer. Rhodri expresses the apathy and frustration that fills us in the search for a job and delivers a performance with genuine feeling. Universal Credit has been sewing its seeds all over the country yet oddly it is not outwardly addressed in the theatre that often. Yes, there are many plays that explore unemployment but, very few knuckle down into the under layers of a system that can be ignored by those it does not effect. As we watch Jimmy’s decline post ‘signing on’, we are exposed to a very real reality of Britain’s working class or as Jimmy defines it, ‘no class’. The loss of his job results in a lost of meaning and a sense of inadequacy in within that feeling, he becomes lost – disappearing at an alarming rate.

Speaking of rates, it was refreshing to see a piece of theatre include sex work as a key component without solely perpetuating stereotypes. It cleverly explores the positive and negative language around sex work and also opens a window into the world of different types of sex work. Immediately placing the audience in a phone sex scenario was a good choice on the part of Alan Harris – placing an audience in a setting that is usually private forces us to explore how we feel about this scenario but also to question how we engage and participate in privacy. Kitty is a strong, vibrant and driven character who tries to keep most of her feelings concealed. Alexandria’s performance compels us to route for Kitty and to hope that she truly ends up where she wants to be.

The end of this play was looking as though it was going to be a cheese fest but it surpasses all levels of cheese on toast and delivered a heartfelt and beautiful moment when Jimmy and Kitty found the light of life in each other (it was less cheesy than what I just said, I promise).

Verdict: How My Light is Spent is an honest, funny and original love story set on a welsh bridge. Doughnuts, disappearing body parts, personalised saucers and Newport’s answer to Mona Lisa – a truly wonderful play.

 

 

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Review: Tank, HOME

 

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Tank by Breach Theatre

HOME, Manchester [06.05.17]

CW: Mention of domestic violence, sexual violence, suicide

Sonny and Cher are an excellent opener for almost anything.

A film projection of a swimming pool. A table with some technical sound equipment. Two chairs. A water cooler with a stack of plastic cups. The actors enter one by one and fill themselves a cup of water. They drink. And so, our rather unusual and completely off the wall afternoon begins.

1965. 52 years ago. 28 years before I was born. A man named John C Lilly has decided that he wants to teach dolphins to speak English because of course, that’s the most important language (western entitlement much) and with any luck, they’d help us communicate with extraterrestrial life (erects index finger: “ET Phone Home”). At this point, you should prepare yourself for an underwater country western that puts Carry On Cowboy to shame – Breach theatre bring us sinister banter, compelling storytelling and synchronised choreography that could easily rival the 1988 version of Hairspray (you know, the one with Ricki Lake).

Enter Margaret. A college dropout who could be driving any of a handful of cars, dependent on which narrator you’d like to believe. She knows nothing about linguistics or phonology but she really likes dolphins so she heads to Dolphin Point to help John Boy (I just imagine that Mr Lilly could be in The Waltons) with his TESOL delivery. As someone who trained as a speech and language therapist, I have to see these lessons were very… odd. I mean, I’d be interested to know how the corpus of words was chosen for these experiments and whether or not they utilised the principles of phonological development to assist them. Also curious as to whether, minimal pairs played any role in the teaching of voiced and voiceless consonants or whether they just focused on whole words with particular attention to vowels. Now, that I’ve got this out of my system, I’ll consult my good friend Google to tell me the answers. Anyway, where were we?

Oh yes, so Margaret is helping to teach the dolphins English and this quickly escalates to her basically living in a flooded room with a dolphin called Peter. You really can’t make this shit up. Peter slowly starts to feel some kinda way about Margaret over the course of this 10 week experiment and then it just ends (the romance, not the play). Think Summer Nights in Grease except Peter transitions between being Sandy and Danny faster than you can down a dirty pint after a game of mushroom. Chuck in some brilliantly funny choreography, hilarious dolphin sounds, narrators with the majesty of Jerry Springer, a rubber dolphin head (worn by Joe Boylan who makes a rather exceptional dolphin with and without said head) and a cowboy, and you’re in for an experience, that’s for sure.

It’s now probably a good time to say that if you’re in search of more of the factual elements of this story (as in the actual experiment that took place in the 60’s), I am going to advise you converse with Wikipedia. And I am doing so because Tank does something quite incredible that is arguably more important than the facts of this rather peculiar experiment.

It is very rare that a piece of theatre can take an out of the ordinary and borderline ridiculous scenario and successfully use that as a vehicle to shed honest light on the extensive entanglements of relationship spectrum. To put it simply, imagine this: a man walks into a bar and makes a joke about a dolphin playing rough with a woman because he’s sexually attracted to her. People laugh. Reframe that and replace dolphin with man. Despite this story being true in its literal sense, it is also true in its underlying exploration of domestic and sexual violence towards women. What starts off as the odd nudge, a ‘playful’ dunking under the water, a poking in the ribs soon escalates to more brash methods of physical interaction and a developing blend of denial and fear in the person experiencing it. Margaret, played by Sophie Steer, describes to the narrators how she feels that Peter wants to cut her open, right through her middle, through her onto the beach and stick a flagpole in her. This was met by the audience with laughter. But, this is a reality for hundreds of women living in and surviving abuse in the home. As Peter and Margaret’s relationship begins to breakdown, there are questions around whether or not Margaret cares about Peter anymore, if she still feels the same way, whether his feelings matter to her. The same sorts of unhelpful questions that survivors are asked when starting to remove themselves from the toxic situation they are in. Breach Theatre have successfully managed to explore and unveil this topic in an exploratory manner that welcomes an audience to consider the politics of abusive relationships and gives a platform to the voice of the victim. Watching this as a survivor, I was overwhelmed by how accurate and truthful this narrative was delivered. Every actors exceptional physicality and storytelling skills gave this piece an honesty and authenticity that really moved me.

This play ends with Peter’s suicide. But, we are not left holding Margaret responsible. The responsibility lies with everyone involved. We are left wondering what Peter was meant to get out of this experiment? Even if Margaret had taught him to repeat in English, would it ever mean anything? A whole lot of phonology with the semantics, a metaphor for broken relationships that continue existing despite lacking one crucial ingredient: meaning. Peter’s last moments in a small tank away from his room with Margaret replicate the suffocation that Margaret experienced in her 10 weeks with Peter. History repeats itself wearing a new bloody gown, regularly checking the time.

Verdict: Tank isn’t just a funny tale of a daft 1960’s experiment in America. It’s a groundbreaking, honest and very real portrayal of dark side of relationships and an active examination of ethics and choice. This piece is a strong and important reminder that theatre by nature is political and it does damn good job at owning that. It is an act of solidarity to survivors and an absolute must see. I’m not really down with star ratings but, this really does deserve all of the stars.

 

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Review: I Capture The Castle, The Octagon

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Photo Richard Lakos

I Capture The Castle

Directed by Brigid Larmour; Based on the novel by Dodie Smith

The Octagon, Bolton [29.04.17]

A young woman, Cassandra sits in the kitchen sink. Well, not in the sink exactly, she sits on the draining board with her feet in the sink and she writes. She wants to write a novel about the castle that she and her unconventional family reside in, to truly capture the castle for all its worth, in etchings of ink. Maybe her father will go back to writing too, if his writer’s block ever subsides.

Set in 1930’s Britain, I Capture The Castle (ICTC) is a slightly odd but very enjoyable tale about a family who’s world is dominated by writing, not writing and the castle gargoyle (more on this later). We follow Cassandra, her father, stepmother Topaz and sister Rose, as their lives are tipped upside down when two young American gentlemen arrive at the castle, after their car breaks down one cold, rainy night. At this point, despite being a musical, this does not take a Rocky Horror-esque turn – which depending on your taste, you’ll either be ecstatic or distraught about. Instead it goes more along the lines of a prim and proper version of the sort of love quadrilateral you’d find in Eastenders (this is complimentary, I like Eastenders) – with songs and a bit of dancing. Rose falls head over heels for bearded, Simon (Cassandra questions Rose’s pursuit of a bearded man, making this a notable quality) and Cassandra is left to entertain his ranch-obsessed (they get mentioned a lot) brother, Neil. This all turns on its head of course,when the four take a trip to the beach. It is here that Neil and Rose slip away discreetly and we’re left to join up the dots, whilst Cassandra and Simon have a quaint little moment together. The men, being gentlemen of course, give their coats to the women. However, these coats can only be described as the wardrobe rejects from the BBC’s 1988 version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. These mixed with a an array of green fabric hanging around the castle would give one the perfect makings of a collection inspired by Babes In The Wood.

Eventually, Simon proposes to Rose and they head off to London (with Topaz and Stephen, the castle farm hand who is madly in love with Cassandra). Only Simon returns one evening to find Cassandra engaging in a midsummer ceremony which he asks to be brought into, at which point the two end up kissing. Believe it or not, this part wasn’t as predictable as it sounds. Anyway, Cassandra insists that he leave, only to later realise that she herself is in love with him and to make things worse she is sure that Rose does not love him. So she goes to London to find him, only to be left heartbroken and to find that she was write all along. She returns home and (of course) locks her father in the castle turret to help him write. Just your everyday reaction to heartbreak really.

In the end, it all comes out about Rose and Neil. Simon decides to go back to New York and invites Cassandra to join him. She declines despite still being in love, for she needs to stay at the castle to write in her novel. My younger self was screaming with happiness at this point – a story with a happy ending where the girl doesn’t go chasing after the guy… but instead opts to pursue her novel writing dreams.

Being unfamiliar with the book as I am, I cannot say whether or not this was a good adaptation. However, this was enjoyable piece of theatre that certainly made me laugh and that’s hard for a performance to do (especially when I’m sat up in the rafters and can hear the pigeons better than the cast). The characters of Topaz, Stephen and Leda (a famous photographer and aunt of Simon and Neil) really brought a comedic edge to the piece and brought it to life.

At times, ICTC felt more like a play with songs masquerading itself as a musical, rather than a solid new musical offering. Many of the songs were quite similar in tone and didn’t stick with me after the show. I feel that a truly brilliant musical keeps you singing the songs for days after you’ve left the theatre. However, it does manage to churn out one banger, They’re Only Men, for which I await its release on Spotify so that it can be added to my musicals playlist. ICTC has the potential with some tweaks to be a great musical offering.

Director Brigid Larmour was clearly thorough when laying out her vision for this piece – it is ambitious with its use of physical theatre to add an additonal element to the usual dance accompaniment. The physicality certainly added an element of intrigue but unfortunately, at times it felt misplaced within the landscape of the play. The same can be said for the gargoyle character who appears throughout the play. It was almost as though the commitment to adding these more abstract elements just didn’t go to the lengths it needed to in order to truly make them work. This accompanied by the choreography which at times felt a kin to dad dancing, distracted from the story and musicality of the piece.

Overall, for a new musical, this was well done and the characters successfully took the audience in.  Lowri Izzard played a loveable and witty Cassandra and there were a couple of good feel good songs. However, I was left with the same question I am often left with when leaving the Octagon – why wasn’t the cast diverse? In a cast of nine, it wouldn’t have been difficult to have a cast that is reflective of society. Musicals are more often than not dominated by white casts, which is why shows like The Wiz are so important. If new musicals want to be relevant, they need to be doing something that isn’t just following the path of the classics. There was a degree of effort made to make this piece relevant to the modern audience – so why not go the whole way? It would serve The Octagon well to start engaging in the act of colour brave casting rather than sticking to their safe casting or occassionally problematic casting of actors of colour in stereotyped roles (e.g. casting the two black actors in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall as an alcoholic/adulterer and an adulteress wasn’t the best casting decision ever made). Partaking in this practice would fully transform the theatre that they create and build on the potential that they most certainly have.

Verdict: This is a good musical offering and it has the potential to be fantastic with more consideration given to the finer details. If you like musicals, this is definitely worth seeing. P.S. The set is visually very interesting – this made my eyes extra happy.

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