I’ll be directing a rehearsed reading of a new Cantonese translation of No Exit, which will be on at the start of December. The translation is by Alfie Leung (as is the design for the above image) and it’s being put on through We Draman.
After the last performance I reviewed by Hong Kong Repertory Theatre (Wait Until Dark) it is hard to imagine anything more different than this ambitious attempt at Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life. In contrast to the painfully conservative naturalism of Wait Until Dark, Attempts on Her Life comes across as genuinely progressive in the context of Hong Kong’s theatrical landscape.
The text is challenging and fractured; a collection of prose-poem vignettes about an elusive Anne/Ania/Annie/Annushka (etc.) who can be anything from a terrorist to a type of car. It is easy to interpret it as a criticism of the media’s power of manipulation of an image, but it is more than that. The mutliplicity of stories being told reflects the postmodernist approach to narrative, and it deconstructs the notion of identity as well as image, taking cues from Baudrillard. Further, from a postmodernist perspective, to perform this is a rejection of the need for the arc of Aristotelian drama in the theatre; an enormous step forward for Hong Kong. The programme mentions Hans-Thies Lehmann, Heiner Müller (spelt wrong), Robert Wilson, Tadeusz Kantor, Richard Schechner (spelt wrong), The Wooster Group and Forced Entertainment; it is clear that they have done their research (if not their proofreading) and their hearts are in the right place to make something innovative and postdramatic.
The audience is not quite ready for the opening; phone conversations in a complete blackout (even the surtitles are turned off). This is a good solution to the difficulty of staging this part of the text, allowing us to concentrate on the sound and the content. The woman in front, with unconscious irony, believes this is the perfect time to play with her own phone, and persists until she’s eventually tapped on the shoulder. The following scene mixes different dialects to great effect (one Mandarin speaker), and the contrasting sounds make a perfect vehicle for the text’s fragmentation of perspective.
However, unaccountably this great opening was followed by a blackout. Performers shuffle off in the dark, crew come on and move the table a couple of feet, bits of glow tape, people cough, other performers shuffle on, seat themselves, everybody is ready, lights up… I really think the people of Hong Kong have gone blackout-blind. This has become such an inherent part of their theatrical culture that they are not even aware of it any more. Perhaps it is written into the contracts of all stage crew that they must not suffer the indignity of being seen by the audience? And actors contracts state that they will not suffer the indignity of picking up tables? Perhaps the whole industry would collapse without at least fifteen minutes of blackout per show, I don’t know. But for a self-proclaimed postdramatic show to be unaware of its own automatic concession to dramatic convention is unforgivable.
The text is very open to interpretation, and Martin Crimp has said himself that he is happy for directors to interpret it in different ways (so long as they don’t shuffle the order too much) and bring out different themes. Hong Kong Rep has decided to follow Katy Mitchell’s National Theatre production in concentrating on the TV / media angle, using live feed video and large LED panel screens (from a sponsor, I believe). In fact, I must admit that the choices in this respect look like a more minimalist version of Mitchell’s setup; which works very well. The set consists mainly of the two large flat panels and a large framework box with fluorescent tubes on its axes, which is put to good use in different contexts to delineate space, lending certain scenes a gallery-like atmosphere.
One scene very successfully uses a live feed and depth of field to give us the image of a reporter in a war zone, with everything outside the camera’s line of sight left bare. Another nice moment is when the camera operators spray fake sweat onto their subjects. However, other uses of live feed are less successful, and there is not much innovation in that respect – there is a blackout, cameras are set up, actors positioned in front of them, and their faces are shown on the panels in different ways as they perform to camera. Yes, we get it; this is about the media. Futher uses of Mandarin are less clear and less poetic; the use of simplified characters in the news segment also seems to suggest they are attempting to convey a political message which doesn’t fit at all. I might as well make a criticism of news agencies in North Korea – it misses the universal point. It made sense for them to do the ‘porno’ section in Japanese; after all, that is where the porn (AV) comes from, right? (Mandarin is spoken by the porn director) Again, I felt this distracted from the whole point of the scene and ‘other’ed the performer in the same way as the very thing under criticism, putting it all at a comfortable distance.
An excellent moment of metatheatricality is afforded at the latecomer point. This follows on from a song and dance routine with cheesy popular culture references that is just about bad enough to work in the style of Forced Entertainment. The director may be aware that this is what they are trying to achieve, but the performers would do well to have a look at some of Forced Entertainment’s work to understand how to sell this style. The song finishes with them singing ‘latecomer point’ to the same tune, while the latecomers enter and the auditorium is lit with movers – it is genuinely funny and innovative for Hong Kong, but this is the only moment which really acknowledges the existence of the audience. This is strange given the theme; constant references to the ‘gaze’ of the camera, but none to the large number of real spectators?
The actors’ performances are just that; performances by actors. This is a repertory theatre, and I’m sure all of their actors want to give consistently good performances. However, if this were truly postdramatic theatre, I would be calling them performers. For the most part, they seem to be trying to play characters, to deliver dramatic monologues, and to show how good they are at doing so. I do not blame them in the slightest as this is generally exactly their job, but they need to be made aware that this particular production is not the same. The Wooster Group gets a reference in the programme – perhaps the actors would do well to read something about their performance techniques and approaches to persona and task vs. character.
Most of the ‘TV set’ pieces were very minimalist, simply quoting TV lighting and the existence of cameras, rather than attempting to recreate an actual studio set up, which is fine – we can go along with the little cameras as stand ins for the ‘media’. However, at the end they chose to replace the actors’ bow with a camcorder in a spotlight. This choice is representative of a very fundamental misunderstanding of the deconstruction of the media. It is not the camera doing the seeing, but the audience. It has never been about the camera, but about us. The camera is just a tool for some people to direct the gaze of other people. By finishing with this focus on the ‘tool’, it again gives us a comfortable distance from the real self-reflection and awareness we should be experiencing. As over-done as it is, it would have been better to have the camera pointed at the audience and displaying our faces – not this view of the back of a totally irrelevant camcorder.
All this might sound a little negative, but I am frustrated only because the production had the potential to be excellent, but failed due to some simple misunderstandings about the genre and philosophy underpinning it. With some more willingness to be self-critical and to directly address/challenge the audience I would have been more impressed. Still, it has pushed the boundaries of Hong Kong theatre, and brought something pretty new and exciting to the Hong Kong audience.
Attempts on Her Life | Hong Kong Rep
After the last performance I reviewed by Hong Kong Repertory Theatre (Wait Until Dark) it is hard to imagine anything more different than this ambitious attempt at Martin Crimp’s…
Peter Brook introduces this piece as an exploration into “the mountains and valleys of the brain,” (quoted from the programme) while borrowing from passages of The Conference of The Birds, a Persian poem (by Attar of Nishapur) about a journey of birds through symbolic valleys, astonishment (or bewilderment, but astonishment arguably sounds better) being no. 6. Brook had adapted this in 1979 while the body of V of A comes from another project, Je Suis un Phénomène, which comes from an even earlier Brook show. It must be said that neurological disorders have been doing the rounds for inspiring theatre and art and by now, since Oliver Sacks’ book  on the subject should naturally run low on steam. We’ll see.
This being my first experience of Brook’s theatre (not to ignore Estienne) this was not the subject matter I was expecting; I was not taken “into unknown territories through people whose lives are so intense…they can pass at any instant from paradise to hell…” (Brook) but found myself rather comfortable: this wasn’t an intense a theatrical experience in the least.
The piece covers synaesthesia in various forms and is performed by five people, two of which are musicians. The story follows a woman with an incredible memory and is loosely interspersed with vignette case-studies including a man with proprioception. The performances need little comment, suffice to say that they certainly held their own against the pieces of material they had to negotiate. The mash of varying medical conditions intruded the main story arc seemingly at random. I felt like they chose some examples and didn’t want to list them off at once in the ‘research lab’ but had to stick and paste these mini-scenes at logistical convenience, such was the lack of framing and (hardly) interwoven in the way that they just happened which made it superficial. Furthermore, seeing a ‘subject’ describing their world in a single scene doesn’t classify a journey through their chaotic minds. An attempt is made to visually draw the audience into the world of a jazz musician, who associates sounds with colours and then ‘demonstrates’ painting by running around the set miming along to some music. Perhaps it would have been nice to use real paint, but that’s beside the point; the skit made the pale floor show varying colours as he moved, like an ambi-light, and that was it for the jazz musician (credit to Young Vic’s lighting for having nice washes.) It can’t be described without sounding rather weak. The actual story of Sammy Costas and her amazing memory progresses nicely from discovery, exploitation and catastrophe, and Kathryn Hunter is a fascinating performer that certainly owns a chunk of this play’s successes.
Brook’s notions of theatre appear here and there; Sammy Costas has this clown-like naiveness to her but it’s more tragic than comic by the end. Other examples of fluctuation occur within those boundaries of ‘The Empty Space’. The disappointing, while seriously verging on the pretentious, treatment of The Conference… poem being read out strikes us as the ‘Holy’, a way to connect spiritually/emotionally to the action on stage. But the moment with the Magician engages the audience in a different way, such as direct address and audience on stage and comes closer to ‘Rough Theatre’ and thus contained the distinctive comic energy.
The play wasn’t any more engaging with an awareness of these theatrical ideas; instead the hype of a ‘Journey’ comes across as cheating. Conventionally the play was good, if a little fuzzy in the treatment of the material. Unfortunately I have no memory of the classic Persian literature on which it’s based, which is a shame, and there was very little to be astonished by other than learning about rare conditions of the brain (about which there’s a book written by a certain O. Sacks that’ll do instead). It isn’t because they were subtle or over the top, but that they approached it as a ‘subject with a voice’ only for the central character, while the other conditions were rendered token examples.
Committing more to spectacle may push Brook’s definition of ‘deadly’ but may have also given more than what was offered, because as it is, it failed to create the ‘wonder’ in the ways they tried to dictate. That said, the performances were sensitively executed and varied enough to maintain a certain grace.
Frantic Assembly are known for their projects of combined movement, design and text, having toured and collaborated in countless shows. The Believers is a play by Bryony Lavery and brings two neighbouring families with overtly expressed differences reluctantly together during a flood and ends in a tragic disaster, although it takes over an hour to discover what actually happened.
It begins with a series of odd tableaux structured around a large metal apparatus that eventually becomes representative of the rooms of the house. The performers stand around or lounge on the frame but not in a way that alludes or reveals traits of their character, rather, they all look a touch too serious and overburdened with ominous angst, which would be fine if the whole thing wasn’t a mystery. As an introduction it comes across as quite pretentious, it’s obvious they’re dying to unleash their troubles but have to strut around taking strange poses.
Then they start speaking and it gets a bit worse. Lines are thrown out alluding to ‘the catastrophe’ as they try to re-establish the events with such weight and pained effort that we’re supposed to be drawn in but this kind of clunky exposition is like switching the light off; it’s sudden, certain and we’re just as in the dark as before. It’s structured in parallel sequences, the developing story and the unbearably bad aftermath scenes with the parents of the two families having domestic arguments over and over managing not to drive the story in any direction. It’s the real scenes that redeem it with mostly snappy dialogue, giving the actors lots of material to play with, and three out of four actors are good so it’s watchable (I say ‘redeem’ but it’s full of terrible moments.) With the specific lighting and black background the set is sparse allowing the action to take precedence with a nice eerie electronic music score to help.
But most of the time the two sets of parents annoyingly unpick every detail they hate about each other, with plenty of other-room bitching, which is evident in the actual scenes, so it’s a waste of time. The host parents are pretty contradictory, one minute goody goody born again Christians flapping about the overuse of bad language from their guests, then practicing sinister exorcising rituals, then having a party, taking drugs and drinking too much with a ridiculous “let’s get shit faced!” after all the flapping and wincing because the other dad said “cock.” Credit is given to the plot unravelling that there is a clear nice child and evil child situation, with the rough parents becoming convinced that their child is the devil in such a way that the audience feel that she’s a wrong’un, too. This has a satisfying twist.
Frantic Assembly don’t gain points for using bungee-cords, or even the so-called choreography. For a company that have built a reputation making physically energetic theatre, this show is quite restrained. For example the mise-en-scène is shaken up by staging scenes at 90 degrees as though the audience is above looking down on the characters; perhaps like god, who has been dominating conversation all night; or simply eavesdropping, but it’s not enough to warrant great praise.
Not a lot happens in a play which uses text to build tension and atmosphere and too many elements and performance decisions that spoil it. I wish it was less angsty and more straightforward. While the design helped to strip the play to its barest form the show still contained superfluous action or not enough. The switching back and forth constantly reminded one of the horrible opening bit, and although the performances were conventionally good, to say that Frantic Assembly have created a reputation for so called hybrid performances of physicality with text has put this show at odds.
p.s. I was excited to see an unacknowledged Hollywood Actor tucked away in the audience and wondered what he was doing in Kilburn!
The Believers | Frantic Assembly
Frantic Assembly are known for their projects of combined movement, design and text, having toured and collaborated in countless shows.
This impressive adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s novel, The Testament of Mary, takes the perspective of an altogether different mother of Christ. This Mary, bitter and resentful of the way her son has been deified in the aftermath of the crucifixion, reveals her grievous thoughts and stark attitude to the audience, framed by a visit of two evangelists seeking anecdotes to spin into propaganda. Deborah Warner returns to the Barbican with familiar collaborator Fiona Shaw (and Vulture) but the decision to invite audience on the stage in the soft opening is the most questionable element.
The stage is littered with various objects; props and a live vulture sit alongside a large plastic cube as a kind of micro-exhibition space amid the other curiosities. Audience are invited to explore the environment before being bustled back into their seats. Some reasons are proposed for this: firstly, this is ‘solo’ show rather than a 1-woman show because if you include the text, the set and the audience one is never truly alone: the act of sharing the space directly with the audience is meant to refresh the audience’s relationship to the theatre event. Secondly, the evening is designed to challenge preconceived notions of the story and even the theatrical experience, starting with the entrance and tableaux of a traditional Raphaelite Madonna, immediately quashed at the start of the show. The problem with this is that a) the freedom to take photos just amounts to a series of selfies with a famous Actress on a stage becoming the fashionable ‘must-do’ of the week and b) the crowded mass of people gawking at Shaw and the vulture creates a very messy mise-en-scène disrupting the otherwise excellent design (Tom Pye and Jennifer Tipton). This becomes even more shambolic when the staff need to hurry everyone back to their seats before they’re shut out for the evening, after being urged to take a prop candle off the stage only to have it immediately snatched back… it’s as if the production are being experimental, but it does nothing for the otherwise brilliant show.
Three major moments in Mary’s story are told to us: the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:1-44,) the wedding at Cana and lastly the Crucifixion of Jesus. Mary reveals these episodes with skepticism and doubt, wandering around her home with nervous energy. There is no mistaking how angry she is about the her son and subsequent events of his cult status. The disciples, we learn at the beginning, are simply a group of misfits. Jesus is rather big-headed and Mary slow in realising the large crowds of people are there for her and her son. Two moments are particularly pointed at: firstly, the raising of Lazarus as a story. Jesus waits for his death to reveal God’s glory, but Mary claims he is under pressure from Lazarus’ sisters to raise him at the funeral. Furthermore, Lazarus is barely alive and more like a zombie. The next is the water being turned into wine, where Mary comically suggests that the wine was a trick because she was “amazed at the speed with which the six jars were brought in from the moment he (Jesus) asked for them… certainly the first one WAS filled with water but I don’t know about the others.”
Tóibín creates some characters for the story that fit in nicely, such as Marcus, a cousin of Mary and a Guide of Mary and Martha at the Crucifixion. Marcus acts as a dramatic device and the audience hear as Mary does that she is being watched by sinister figures trying to disseminate the power base of Jesus’ group. He shows up throughout the story but in the last sighting he is in amongst the soldiers by the Cross. The Guide is essentially nothing until the very end of Mary’s account of the crucifixion where he had been totally indifferent, but upon hearing Mary and Martha recount an identical dream of Jesus coming alive (after running in terror from the scene away from the aforementioned sinister character) becomes the pinnacle in the creation of the new religion, as well as the reason Mary is now talking to these men in her house.
This adaptation was very good at registering every moment into a human experience. The description of the wedding could have been any wedding, while there are heavy implications as Mary tries to comprehend the raising of Lazarus, passed from hearsay within a crowd of disciples and grieving family. As a mother she is simply bored by the high-speaking ‘misfits’ in her home and how Jesus acts differently in private. There are often multiple connotations: when at the wedding she warns him to leave as they are being watched he says in a grand way (as he does anything with Glory) “woman, what have I to do with you?” which she interprets as arrogance/indifference (but could it be to protect her?) Lastly, the final words are the most haunting image spoken to her visitors, herself and her audience, having heard details of the execution and trauma experienced, “it WAS NOT WORTH it”. A far cry from the ascension line.
The design was well-implemented, with washes of vibrant contrasts and it was satisfying to watch the actress picking things up and moving furniture around in her varying states. The glass box containing the Madonna image flew away and a some-what more humble woman entered the space. A particularly striking feature was a silvery reflection of the bath on the back-drop, creating a dreamlike appearance with a spot casting her shadow into the reverie which doubled up as her imitating Christ while illustrating him high above her.
With so many positive elements in the show it’s a shame that the pre-show set up was so clunky. In an effort to experiment with audience perceptions of the theatre environment they inadvertently created a hub of gushing fans and camera phone albums at the risk of damaging a certain etiquette of theatre already suffering from those types of viewer that need to check their digital online presence during a show. Knowing that it was generally received very well I imagine those that didn’t endeavor to plod around the set could grasp that this was a brilliant play.
This show is the result of an experiment: is it possible to make a film on a kitchen table and a dance performance using only hands? As featured in other performances using live-feed equipment, most of the apparatus is exposed on the stage. Shelves and storage are placed at the back, various work stations dominate key positions at the front and sides, a track for the primary camera reaches around three sides, a large screen hangs high above the action and a technical desk takes centre stage. This style of theatre, using cameras and cheap props to great effect, has been gathering popularity for a while, and the standard has been set pretty high by the likes of those from the small scale Paper Cinema to fully converged multimedia shows like Frauline Julie by Katie Mitchell with Schaubühne Berlin. Kiss and Cry has been going for years and should be more than capable of impressing in the same way.
The show opens with the company on stage setting up, dressed in black but not entirely uniformed, they come across as puppeteers (which is strangely accurate despite the absence of puppets,) doing hand exercises, one performer almost ritually cleaning her fingers before they become the lead role on screen. The director will be roaming the stage throughout, cueing his performers and whispering notes as they go. Lights, camera, action.
As the dancers are played by hands, pretty much all of the action takes the not-so-big leap of using the middle and forefinger as legs and occasionally the thumb as a hand. Very rarely do they shake up that relationship, which is a disappointment: firstly because it’s child’s-play (who hasn’t run their fingers across a table?) Secondly, because often their mid-naughties cabaret improvisations and other early processes are lazily given long drawn out sequences like the ice-skating dancer; it looked quite pretty but doesn’t deserve such attention for being the least imaginative development at this late stage. Lastly, because when they did break the rule it worked really well: for example a club scene with lights and disco music opens with a cigarette between two fingers and the audience can enjoy that idea of the character, then the hand smoking it itself, jumping from a close up back to hands as people. They included some sex scenes which were both creepy and quite soft.
An effect that warrants attention was an entire Creation montage worthy of Terrence Malick: a shot underwater, to a fist becoming a heart-beat (added sounds and light make it look womb-like) to a creature crawling out of the water and becoming upright from five (finger) legs to just two. It genuinely worked while having the effect of parody. The danced elements were quite boring, repetitive and not particularly contributory to the piece. Furthermore, over-use of music totally gambled with audience impressions, although some of the choices were nice pieces by themselves, overall it made the whole thing angsty (and pretty wank.)
Nor did it succeed in rescuing the storyline, which for some reason comprised an indulgent and melancholic series of flashbacks. Their task was to make a story with hands, so they needed to find ways to tie in their experiments but with an arc that could narratively introduce these elements. Everything starts with a moment on a train when two young strangers accidentally-on-purpose hold ‘HANDS’ and are separated forever by fate and the real world. This made a good plot device for potential material, except that every other scene was a train station (Hornby style and some more customised models) and a tiny model person on a bench. A voice droningly spouts Thomas Gunzig’s pretentious text with ‘cute’ metaphors like “an affair is like an onion… first it’s dry, then it’s tearful, then it’s too hard to digest…” Errr, what?! There was even one about a cheese grater which compliments the grating script (geddit?)
While at the platform the protagonist remembers her 5 key ‘loves’ so they could present the numbers with the ‘FINGERS’. Cue various situations: fighting hands, slow walking hands, hands that disappear, hands that die(?) The puppetry skill was good and sensitively performed, often quite funny, succeeding in portraying a tricky skit of a HAND-made boyfriend farting in bed (I always advocate on behalf of tasteful fart jokes.) A great bit that I’d been hoping they would do was to introduce a FOOT (!) that plays a boyfriend (Although I would have preferred to see a Monty Python Foot squashing the hand.) It was a great reveal but then they ruined it by making it try and sit on sofas etc., like we couldn’t work out that it/he was clunky and oppressive. On the other hand watching the performers running around the stage was entertainment in itself. They decided to include different props and models to represent people which risks an inconsistent representation, from David Gilliver-style set pieces to play mobil (why not Lego and polly pocket while you’re at it?.)
The technical construction of the piece was a pure marvel. Incredibly cheap effects had great results while everything was supported by extremely detailed camera work which became a sort of choreography in itself. Design proved invaluable with little tricks and gadgets: a camera attached to a prop model living room is rotated and the loose furniture climb the walls and ceiling as a technician simply rolls it about, the image being the characters’ mind in turmoil. The list is endless, prop water becomes real water, during a domestic scene the camera focuses on a tiny tv and the audience are drawn to action within the action.
The story could have been anything but they chose tedious narrative content filled with clichés and angsty existential drivel. The best bits were when they treated the action comically and with parody which is obvious material when they want to stage a dance with hands. Paper Cinema’s Odyssey was light-hearted enough to demonstrate the darker bits of the story, and Frauline Julie is heavy but the treatment did not follow the original narrative of the play and it was more restrained and dreamlike. Kiss and Cryis a masterpiece of this genre and a joy to watch, in terms of puppetry, performers, technical virtuosity and lighting (which catered for both tiny sets and the main stage) but certain choices disappointed. Besides, Charlie Chaplin was dancing the ‘table ballet’ 90 years ago. There was a standing ovation which traditionally means people loved it, so Charleroi Danses have certainly created something worth catching.
*I must add that cultural differences can really change the nuances in this piece, a desert of figures that represent characters in our memories slowly disappearing has much more sinister connotations for audiences in places like Chile where people disappearing is much less a metaphor. My disagreement with narrative choices does not make this piece less poignant for others, but I retain my view on the script.
Kiss and Cry | Charleroi Danses
This show is the result of an experiment: is it possible to make a film on a kitchen table and a dance performance using only hands?
Forced Entertainment were recently back at their London home, Battersea Arts Centre, for the UK Premiere of their latest work The Notebook. Based on Kristof’s stunning text, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this, arguably Forced Entertainment’s most narrative driven work to date. Once again, I was not let down.
Fitting then, that this is my most linear written review to date, and my first full review for Postdramatic. Settle in; it’s lengthy (but I think they’d like that). Basically, it’s a story. Two brothers, battling for survival in a war-torn Central Europe, all the while on a voyage of discovery of their own morality. From here, I’m not going to talk too much about the story, other than to support my observations of Forced Entertainment’s expertly crafted production.
Let’s start with the treatment of the text. It is obviously the most central element to this production. Like so many FE productions, notably Spectacular and Tomorrow’s Parties, the arc from beginning to end beautifully frames the production. The rhythm and shaping of Kristof’s text tells a story of its own; one of a maturing youth, of accumulating knowledge and experience, mirroring the words themselves. At the beginning, the rhythmic structure and delivery reminds me of a child learning to read. The pauses, the intonations and intakes of breath are not always in the right places. This brings a distinct naivety. Slowly, over the course of the 2 hours, this begins to dissipate, in favour of a more natural, age-acquired understanding of natural reading/speaking rhythms. Aurally this ages the performer; at the beginning of the performance they could be mistaken for 6-, 7-, 8-year-olds. By the time we reach the concluding chapters this innocence turns to wisdom; maturity. Robin Arthur and Richard Lowdon articulate this so expertly; they have the audience (except two, which we’ll come to…) hanging on every word; sublime storytelling. This text isn’t easy. At points it is comic, playful; at others it goes to the darkest places. Director Tim Etchells and the company have cared for this text, respected it, and presented it, clean (though not simply) for us, the willing spectator.
I want to talk about the performers for a minute. Often when I see Forced Entertainment’s work I’m so taken aback by the concepts/ideas of the performance that I don’t fully appreciate the performers. This production is a prime example of a company reaping the rewards of 30 years working in each other’s pockets. The complicit energy between Arthur and Lowdon is mega (I know, great adjective). They both know instinctively exactly what the other will do. It is rare to see such good choral speaking, and over such an extended period. That’s the most a lot of people will say about it. But it takes so much concentration. And you can see how much they’ve worked to get to that level; there’s a moment before each chapter, where they gather, connect, and go. It reminds me of one of Meyerhold’s signature exercises, the Dactyl (look it up if you don’t know, it’s great). During one of these moments, the aforementioned couple in the audience decided to leave. Arthur and Lowdon pause. Wait. Wait. (They finally reach the top of the stairs). Wait. We loved it, as an audience. It is a superb example of the humility of Forced Entertainment’s performance practice; they understand and respect their direct relationship with audiences, and are not afraid to share this moment of unexpected joy with us. They revel in it.
There’s also something I don’t think any of us will ever understand, because we haven’t been there, working with them for 30 years. I’m referring to the energy between the performers. It is mesmerising. Everytime I see them I think ‘man, they’re so cool!’. That’s not because they look cool, but because they know exactly how to find that same place (headspace?), whenever, wherever they perform. *That last bit probably doesn’t make sense to anyone but me. And perhaps them?*
Now the bit that most other reviewers haven’t really talked about at all, but what makes this such a sophisticated, educated performance. I refer of course to the stage, the lights, the space (movement).
The lighting is very familiar. I think most of the shows I’ve seen (Forced Entertainment is older than me, so granted it’s not comprehensive) have used 6 booms, 3 either side of the stage, lighting in a horizontal plane. It’s unusual, creating at the same time both a feeling of natural light (combined with other sources, it ‘fills the room’ like the sun, or a bare bulb) and unnerving, supernatural light (casting eerie shadows). What’s clever is the subtlety with which lighting is used; you’d barely notice unless you were looking, as the light moves from warm to cold, dim to bright, sometimes representing the physical passing of seasons, but also changes in the state of tension, emotion. Also note everything is mirrored. And not just in the lighting.
Symmetry: it is charming, pleasing to the eye, and yet haunting and unsettling. The protagonist twins cannot escape one another. They, and their chairs are constantly (bar one brief moment- what does it mean?!) mirrored, spatially. They even had symmetrical haircuts, one parted to the left, the other to the right; just another ‘tick’ for attention to small, small details. All this enabled us as a listener, a viewer, to impart upon the space our own image, constantly reminded of the insufferable, unjust, charming, insignificant, terrifying reality of these boys and those around them.
I’ve seen a number now (relative to my time on this earth) of Forced Entertainment’s productions. I think this might have pipped Spectacular and The Thrill of it All to the top of my faves…
Post-Thought: I’d have loved to see this in Riverside Studios… maybe they’ll go back?
Resident Company to the Barbican Centre, Cheek By Jowl, gain access to the main stage for this attempt at a difficult text from an absurd writer and credited pre-cursor to the surrealists. My companion, James Hodgson (abstract performance artist and under-the-radar critic), and I couldn’t agree on this production: I thought it was a wasted opportunity to bring a founding text of scandalous theatre to a mainstream audience and it was a miserable failure; he thought it was an absolute disgrace.
The character of Pére Ubu was created by school children aiming to lampoon their teacher as a general figure of authority and bourgeois sensibilities. Subsequently three plays (by the now slightly older and drug abusing Jarry) were written, but Ubu Roi [King Turd] was the only piece performed. As the Theatre programme announced, the show was deliberately antagonistic and designed to be scandalous. Jarry allegedly collected bad reviews and rebuffed positive ones, writing letters of thanks to the critics that despised his work. Ironically Cheek by Jowl’s (un-modest £4) programme is overflowing with positive reviews and self-congratulations.
Furthermore, what is designed to be a howling critique of bourgeois society became an extremely tame piece of clean theatre for a £30 a ticket mainstream stage like the Barbican. While hosting LIFT shows like The Shipment, Testament (German group She She Pop) and Dmitry Krymov Lab, Cheek by Jowl remain a totally conventional and unchallenging programming choice.
A clear issue was the treatment of the two worlds in the play, between the bourgeois dinner and the violent imagination of Ubu’s teenage son (which at least slightly covers the whole teenage element in its origin.) Beginning with the son initiating the switch, which works to illustrate a certain angle of savagery in retaliation to his parents’ canoodling before guests arrive, this structure falls apart later when seemingly anything can cause this turn, such as a cue from a light state change. This show was not for the audience in Jarry’s sense; it was just another Cheek by Jowl audience. We were annoyed, not because it was controversial, but because it was conceptually misconceived… [oh, James is taking my laptop to rant:]
It was supposed to be controversial, but it was one of the safest shows I’ve seen recently (except when the young amateur threw a cushion onto a stage light, because of the inaccuracy of the direction/plotting).
Why would you create a structure, and then completely disregard it after the first episode (unless the director forgot)
For God’s sake, if you are going to use surtitles at the Barbican, have the decency to proofread them.
The set was an absolute waste of money. I think they intended it to compensate for the acting/direction’s inability to provide context. Unfortunately, the disregard for and misuse of the settings and props meant that this context was fragmented at best. Case in point: at the beginning, when they are trying to act ‘perfect’ in front of their guests (before they throw food around) whilst they manage to straighten up all the pictures and cutlery, they failed to notice the Ma Ubu had flung her shawl in a heap on the floor. Furthermore, the cushion on the floor light breaks the illusion indefinitely while threatening to burn us all.
For some reason, a live feed on stage was introduced, consisting a yawnful opening sequence trailing through a house presumably behind the visible set on stage. I hope to god Cheek By Jowl didn’t waste their money on building this set, and it was rather pre-recorded. It was used once. This device was then forgotten about (much like the structure/framing device I discussed earlier) and brought back in the final scene. I fail, however to see the intention and purpose of it; perhaps something about multimedia is written into their Arts Council funding conditions?
The overall structure of the piece was… actually it’s not worth wasting my breath…
The entrance of the Russians was marked (and subsequently a reused device, kudos for the first consistency in the piece) by a weird projection of snow, and a snow machine, and a Russian mink fur hat. Racist/Climatist?
The Mint Card advert nose made an appearance.
It felt a little bit like watching an incompetent cast of Allo! Allo! The three ‘chorus’ actors, playing multiple roles revelled in hamming up every conceivable moment. Unfortunately I didn’t share this revelry, unlike some of our overenthusiastic audience counterparts (I can only assume they were a panto-going audience).
Don’t paint lines on the walls with ketchup if it’s going to look crap; Miro would be turning in his grave. So would Jarry as a matter of fact. (Miro was inspired enough to put Ubu in his own play.)
It was a disgrace, and frankly the creators need to go away and seriously think about what the direction this and other Cheek by Jowl productions are taking; I get the impression they believe they are still ‘cutting edge’ and addressing current socio-/economic/political trends. They are not.
What angers more than any of this, however, is that Cheek by Jowl have absolutely no excuse for the lack of skill and level of execution presented. As a very simple example of this, two performers are required to perform a ‘waltz’ at one point in the performance. It would have taken relatively little, both in terms of time and expense to train these two performers in learning a very simple, yet precise and elegant waltz. Instead, someone clearly had a go at playing choreographer, meaning this moment which could have at least been aesthetically pleasing was clunky, clumsy, and totally meaningless. Inaccuracies were littered throughout the whole performance. In my opinion, that is unacceptable for a company as established as this.
I feel I’ve been done a great injustice, missing one piece of French brilliance in the World Cup in place of this; a travesty of French language drama… Sacrebleu!
Panned as subversive theatre aimed to trick gullible audiences with metaphorical crap, Cheek by Jowl instead succeed in tricking gullible audiences that this crap is metaphorical and subversive. One has to wonder whether the play, despite its fantastic text, was meant to be performed commercially because it’s entirely anti-theatrical. Like Duchamp’s Fountain, some art is designed to break conventions and in that respect becomes valued artistically against its real worth. This show has taken that and toured without apparently grasping that its significance to art outweighs the necessity to perform it while inexcusably executing it badly.
To conclude on our earlier disagreement I have discovered a suitable compromise, it’s a miserable failure AND a bloody disgrace! So that’s what we saw. ‘Tis Pity ‘bout the score: Ripped-Off Audience 1-0 Culture
Ubu Roi | Cheek by Jowl
Resident Company to the Barbican Centre, Cheek By Jowl, gain access to the main stage for this attempt at a difficult text from an absurd writer and credited pre-cursor to the surrealists.
I have never had the chance to see Adrian Jackson’s work (founder-director of Cardboard Citizens) in the UK, so I was intrigued to go to a performance directed by him here in Hong Kong (he is credited as Director/Advisor in the programme). I should make clear that this was one of two ‘preview’ shows in which Adrian would be acting as Joker (the facilitator in the context of forum theatre). Sorry…
I remember the first time I was going to create a performance in a theatre with a revolve. We spent several months working with all of the latest revolve techniques, and hired a revolve designer and a group of donkeys who could rotate the revolve at a variety of different speeds – some faster and more nauseating than anyone had ever before witnessed – to create different moods and atmospheres. With only one week to go before the performance, we realised that we had accidentally failed to create any material to perform on this, it must be said, gloriously rotating platform. We did what any group of experienced theatre artists would do in such a situation, and hired two dancers to make up some contact impro on the revolve (as it rotated beautifully) so that the audience would know where to look. The revolve work was outstandingly accurate, with at least four different speeds of rotation. Afterwards when the donkeys and their handlers came out on stage they received a standing ovation, and we took our rightful place at the forefront of contemporary theatre technology.
Seventh Sense is the kind of show that it might be possible to enjoy if you have never seen projection mapping used with motion tracking before. If you haven’t, just watch some on YouTube. Anarchy Dance Theatre’s write -up claims that the audience is able to interact with the projections, which would have been great! Unfortunately, it is not true, and the whole basis of their advertising and claim to ‘artistic’ vision is an outright lie. The ‘audience’ on stage is comprised of what appear to be a few students from the arts school they are performing at, who have been drilled beforehand in exactly what to do (they do it with a great deal of embarrassment, but it is clear they are dance students).
I would also say that calling themselves ‘dance theatre’ is more than a little bit of a stretch. This 30 minute multimedia presentation has no development, no arc of narrative, rhythm or structure. It could perhaps pass as a music video, if the music were at all compelling. As it is they manage to make 30 minutes seem like an hour, perhaps to make people feel as though they got their money’s worth.
The two dancers doing contact impro are perfectly capable – things had the potential to become interesting right at the start, when only the two of them were onstage, ‘experimenting’ with the projections. Each had a different coloured ‘bubble’ following them, which would stretch as they stretched out towards one another. Unfortunately at this point the awkward dance students were ushered on stage, and began to pretend to experiment in the same way, in an artless mess of projected bubbles. This continued for some time, accompanied by the theatre’s ‘house rules’ (Cantonese, Putonghua, English) as well as some specific announcements for this performance – hilariously and unironically referred to as ‘the art work’ throughout.
Things improved temporarily when the fake audience sat down around the edges and their bubbles were turned off. The dancers continued with some animalistic movement. However, when one of them got too near the edge, the fake audience would be picked up again by the infrared, and a bubble would appear around them. Inevitably they would shuffle self-consciously sideways in surprise, drawing even more attention as the operators struggled to get the focus back on the the right person. This continued roughly every thirty seconds for the duration of the show. I guess if it weren’t for this problem then the three operators (who also came out for their bow at the end) would have been out of a job.
The projections themselves were quite accurately mapped, with six different effects: bubbles, spotlights, rotating lines, a grid of nausea-inducing rising columns, some green tentacles (not reactive), and a green outline with red rotating sticks around it. I would guess they’re using Isadora - one of the effects is identical to something I’ve seen before, so I guess they haven’t exactly programmed this themselves. The bubbles are the most effective, having some potential to add to the dancers performance rather than merely decorating it. It seemed that they were also trying to make them sound-reactive, though without a great deal of skill, and this would definitely be a good direction for them to take things in future. Some genuine audience interaction could also improve things, rather than sitting people in a proscenium auditorium to watch some students naively demonstrate what an audience is, perhaps they could risk having the audience on the stage for real.
For over 20 years Gandini Juggling has been experimenting and innovating contemporary circus with a background in juggling, mathematics, rhythmic gymnastics and inspired-by-Pina-Bausch. It’s not just about what they juggle – it’s how they do it, what rhythms and detailed movements they adopt, what games they play and how they test themselves. Smashed! is a series of vignettes of nine performers and loads of apples. And a tea set.
Juggling has proved to be an exceptional device in ensemble training and Smashed! gloriously demonstrates this through concentration, tension, clowning, structures and chaos, alternating dynamic and static moments that are all present and the audience are drawn into endless mathematical patterns and games. I would confidently use Gandini Juggling as an example of Lecoq’s complicité or Meyerhold’s essential rhythm, which he believed was the most important element of theatre and created it from the very beginning with the mise-en-scène. Having argued that complicité can’t come spontaneously (despite many a teacher’s claims to the contrary), there had to be a structure and established rhythm. Skipping was the best example, at least over endless exercises with partners trying to compel one other to do something, with complicité, from nothing – until now. The audience also feel this hyper-awareness and the show is all the more compelling for it. Old-fashioned popular music is used throughout (seemingly to echo the point about Meyerhold) and the cast did very well to continue while a low flying helicopter decided to linger over Southbank covering all the sound for a few minutes (the show was also forced to share the venue with a considerably less professional band elsewhere in the tent.)
The ensemble created short games while quickly establishing rules. Sometimes the men were trying to impress the women, other times performers were trying to outdo each other; it was always clear what the task was and how it failed. There was plenty of politics that often became brutal, sex politics and punishment routines were some of many. One specific game was for Gandini himself to distract the others as they juggled 5 apples in a hilarious and destructive anti-juggling moment, hitting their heads, whacking their genitals or simply batting the apples across the space were some his methods. Another impressive feat was a queue of jugglers that kept three apples in a static position going by stepping in at the right moment.
Weaving arms, carefully choreographed steps and perfect rhythm made this a great show to watch, but it was the savage U-turn that consolidated its brilliance. Finally the crockery is brought out and chaos ensues. Some of it is juggled in the air, some of it laid out precariously, but the rest of it is just brutally thrown around with large clusters flying into the audience. There is a total breakdown with the formalities as well, screaming and mocking at each other while sarcastically commenting on the action before such as a hilariously belittling “look! a FEMALE juggler, la de da!” and “what is this crap, this is Arts Council-funded!” This self-effacing post modern twist violently tears apart the previous work and everything is wrecked. Apples, having far more expression than plain juggling balls are crushed, splattered, torn apart and in a great final episode, juggled and simultaneously eaten as they go. I left the venue feeling extremely anxious and unnerved by the danger and audacity of this show, but it was a visceral and incredible experience. Keep your eye out for this company because they’ll certainly take your preconceptions of juggling and shatter them.
Smashed! | Gandini Juggling
For over 20 years Gandini Juggling has been experimenting and innovating contemporary circus with a background in juggling, mathematics, rhythmic gymnastics and inspired-by-Pina-Bausch.
The biggest decision made in this otherwise true-to-book adaptation is the inclusion of a post-1984 historical debate. In dystopian London, Winston Smith commits thought-crime and begins a diary, an act which frames the novel and inevitably leads to his demise. Within the novel Orwell alludes to no future after Winston, only that totalitarian fascists remain stamping on liberty and freedom of thought in perpetual domination, but creators Duncan Macmillan and Robert Icke propose that it’s the inclusion of The Principles of Newspeak Appendix that structurally redefines the book and any further reading thereof.
The appendix is a footnote not written by Smith, who is unconcerned with such details, so the reader is confronting the text alongside someone from Winston’s future. To demonstrate this the play offers some scenes of these future historians disseminating the diary, anticipating and responding as they read. Unfortunately it’s staged like an annoying book group and it comes across as a clunky summing up themes and situations as if the audience couldn’t do it for themselves. This is reminiscent of the epilogue in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale which is thematically similar to Nineteen Eighty-Four from the perspective of a woman-turned-childbearing slave; stained by such an approach. On the other hand it’s a clever device: staging thus shakes up the scenes, acting to disorientate the audience within Smith’s dreamlike episodic consciousness of his environment and is then a theatrical Doublethink of contrary interpretation. Icke citing the appendix which supports his view, suggests three dimensions; this group could be looking at the text to write the Appendix, or disseminating the diary/Orwell’s novel, or what Winston imagines when he starts the diary.
The unravelling of the play nicely structures in repetition and choppy back and forths, such as when illustrating the purging of party members. Winston vacantly gazes while his work colleagues converse. We see an identical scene with one fewer colleague and so on, with each detail carried out with a new impetus, and his lost gaze becomes weighted with insight. Likewise the performances are all strong with the frustratingly compliant co-workers and Smith’s almost schizophrenic paranoia. The scenes are well-selected, apart from the future references that remain undecided in this review.
The screens surrounding and looming over the space were effectively used, fulfilling the role as poster/master/spy on the inhabitants of Airstrip One; the audience too are bombarded with propaganda. The use of a live-feed from a backstage set helps create varying levels of voyeurism: as audience, through the characters and then as the ominous ‘Big Brother’ and the faceless authority. The torture scene sensitively avoided actual violence, casting us into darkness “Teeth!” then revealing a brutally maimed Winston (contrary to the constant surveillance we’ve experienced so far) but retains the sense of horror.
The deconstruction of Goldstein’s Book, which was uncreatively ‘read’ out loud was a disappointment. One was reminded of how Blind Summit (2009/10) had executed this task with an absurd and grotesque lecture directly to the audience with pop up slogans, images and lots of energy. Headlong seemed happy enough to have a few selected lines read in Mark Arends’ droning voice presented on a screen. A few other moments were lost, such as major dramatic elements which failed to have much significance for the characters. There is a classic moment in the story when Winston is lazily doing the morning routine with the TV when the screen suddenly barks at him to try harder; an early signpost for the reader establishing the extent of the intrusion on privacy (1940s society recognising this as a nightmare, too.) The audience seemed to anticipate this because there was a chuckle, but the performance failed to play up this episode. Likewise when O’Brien turns his screen off, an act never seen by the central characters who don’t have that privilege, they vacantly comment “you can switch it off?”. However, Orwell’s text rightly plays more into awe and envy, at least with the benefit of internal narrative. During the same scene Winston tries wine for the first time; which turns out to be a false deal that turns into a trap (it’s wasted on him anyway from years of cheap gin) but this is shrugged off by the text and the actors with no allusion to it.
Designer Chloe Lamford discusses the bland and historically vague set, but it was strangely homely in comparison to the action. When one reads the novel, the environment and set of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or Richard Ayoade’s The Double seem more appropriate to Winston’s also using thematic similarities that the protagonists are alone in their observations about the absurdity of their world. It was only when the action breaks from the office to the Ministry of Love which is harshly clinical with hostile white walls that the design becomes interesting. That said, the costumes worked as generic and timeless with different styles from the blandest of decades leading to 1984.
Headlong’s 1984 is still very good, their third major show (second adaptation) at the Almeida and moving to the West End has been well received among critics, students and scholars in their efforts to satisfy all three. However perhaps such acclaim is generous: live-feeds are the limit of their experimentation, and the detail and structure of this well-loved text takes second place to the company’s ambition to dramaturgically redefine the novel’s treatment of space and time.
Wait Until Dark is a new Cantonese-language version of the play by Frederick Knott, translated for the casual theatre audience as 《盲女驚魂》 – something like ‘blind woman: scary’. Strangely the author fails to get a mention on their website, unlike Audrey Hepburn. In fact, they seem to be implying that this is an ‘original stage version’ of the film version?
This makes very little difference, as the performance is a dreary attempt at 1960s drawing room realism, whose only claim to ‘originality’ is the change in language. The setting makes no concession to the actors, attempting something enthusiastically London-esque from the 1960s. The set is indeed fantastically detailed, and as an installation piece this would be an impressive work of art, spoiled only by a few key elements obviously impossible to acquire in Hong Kong – most notably a rotary dial telephone and a Western-style sink.
The actors wear their fluffy wigs and sideburns with great aplomb; a moustache is employed with seriousness and dedication. Unfortunately, while the audience occasionally finds humour in the melodrama, the actors seem not to have been let in on the joke. Chan Kiu as Mike is perhaps the most wooden and uninspired performance, especially as his character is perhaps the only one with any kind of arc in the story. It is not the fault of the actors that there is little or no character development in the play, which centres around the unique dramatic possibilities of having a blind character in the main role. Wong Wai Chi does a convincing job as a blind woman, apart from unaccountably wearing high heels in her own home. Kwok Ching Man as Gloria also performs her character well, and is the only one to find any humour in the text.
While the performance clearly had high production values and in most cases reasonable and experienced acting performances, it is hard for me to find a reason to justify its existence as a piece of theatre. It might have been produced for TV with very little change to the set or performances. The lighting and sound only departed from realism in the moments just before and after the bizarre extended blackouts. In these moments, the lighting was dramatic, and could potentially have ‘framed’ theatrical tableaux in these moments. However, there were no such tableaux to frame, and the fragments of sound during the blackout so resembled incidental lift music that any tension was immediately lost.
I have to congratulate the Hong Kong Repertory theatre for providing surtitles in English as well as Standard Chinese – as far as I know, they are perhaps the only group in Hong Kong to do this consistently. They also have audio-description, and described surtitles for accessible performances. There is a positive message to be found in the play as well, about the treatment of visually impaired people, and this is backed up by the technically accessible form of their performances.
They have successfully recreated the play in order for it to be enjoyed by a Cantonese-speaking audience, but they seem to lack the ambition to do anything more than that.
Wait Until Dark | Hong Kong Rep
Wait Until Dark is a new Cantonese-language version of the play by Frederick Knott, translated for the casual theatre audience as 《盲女驚魂》 - something like ‘blind woman: scary’.
More shots from Theatre Noir’s My Daddy Long Legs. Image design/makeup etc. for the characters was by Image: Victor J. Tong. It wasn’t actually part of my brief to shoot these, but I set up a one light style ghetto studio backstage, cajoling the cast into coming for portraits when they were free (some before the dress, at the interval, some after). I’m particularly grateful to Kenneth (Hei Chiu), one of the chorus who helped me out a lot by holding the reflector and gathering people for their portraits. These aren’t edited or photoshopped (since I wasn’t exmployed to produce them), and I would have preferred to do them without the mics but time was tight, and costume, makeup and mics were all happening simultaneously.
The set up is really simple – a single flash camera left with a shoot through umbrella, with a reflector below for fill. The light to focus by is coming from above and behind the camera – a single flood that was left on backstage (the backstage area is massive in Yuen Long). The background is a black gate, but it’s very big and far away so it just appears black. 85mm lens, not much else to say – I had at most three or four shots of each person, so it was a challenge to get something cool out of them in that short time.
In my fit of internetting, I redesigned the site for my own theatre company too (resembles the Gardzienice one somewhat admittedly, I borrowed some of the stuff I’d already done, but they’ll diverge a bit more from now on).
I’ve been working for Gardzienice for a while as an actor - and recently I ended up rewriting their website for them too. Easily done. Anyway, here it is - some feedback or suggestions would be lovely, as it’s still very much a work in progress.
Having lived in Prague for four months, the idea of a Czech pub/circus had a great deal of nostalgic attraction for me. I was not disappointed, as the laid back atmosphere and casual attitude to the consumption of alcohol, along with a very Czech sense of quietly absurd humour pervaded even the most spectacular sequences. We begin with the barman staring lovingly into the bubbles of his beer for the full length of the audience’s extended (the house is nearly full) entrance before downing it and noticing us as the other patrons gradually wake up. He then tries to convince the audience to go home as he’s finished serving, but ends up serving beer regardless, to audience and performers alike.
The barman/clown works brilliantly to tie routines together without falling into stereotypes of drunkenness or relying on the spectacular nature of their execution. The live band perform well, and are incorporated well into the atmosphere and general absurdity - the singer deserves a special mention, using a couple of mics with different effects, seemingly improvising and burbling along like a saxophone when necessary, or breaking into rhythmicall trills to support more high energy scenes.
While almost all of the routines are theatrically well constructed, the trampoline that takes up the entire back of the stage can seem too much like a simple set of circus tricks, done for the spectacle only. A couple of brief wushu-style sequences don’t come off so well, and the puppetry is hilarious rather than particularly skillful, but these are all saved by the antics and reactions of the ensemble. This is a very witty and theatrical circus, and while they could afford to lose the trampoline act in favour of more acts grounded in the pub’s atmosphere, the whole thing comes off brilliantly. My favourite piece of the fringe so far.
La Putyka is on from 19-27th August, 20.35, at Zoo Southside.
Within Range is supposedly ‘political theatre meets explosive physicality’, based on the events of 1989 and the fall of the Berlin wall. I was initially concerned that I would not be able to offer an incicive review on the piece, as this is a period of history which I haven’t studied in any great detail. Fortunately for my analysis, it seems neither have they.
The piece begins with a slideshow cylcing through images of various famous historical dictators, from Julius Caesar to Stalin, accompanied by “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”. A funny idea, and indeed the couple sat behind me find it hysterical for the full three or four minutes. When this is over, the audience space is briefly used well, with some translation to and fro in passable German, and a gag with a faux-cyrillic vending machine to create a dictator works nicely.
Inexplicably we are then treated to an extended sequence of secret agent stereotype waddling in macs, along with some obnoxious music. While this is obviously closely choreographed, working with repetition and patterns of gestures between the characters and their actions and crossings, it seems devoid of any purpose beyond the choreography. I would say the same of some of the other choreographed sequences - that they are strong as pieces of dance for its own sake, though some performers and sections are noticably less polished than others, and the music is consistently irritating.
The one or two moments of humour are dragged out and killed almost immediately after their appearance (the couple behind me laugh dutifully all the way through - perhaps friends of the cast?). The multimedia projection is patronising and superfluous throughout, as well as being inexplicably small, such that I can only just read it in the front row. The set is mobile, which is occasionally put to good use, but at other times seems to be moved only to justify its mobility. The occasional decorations of faux-cyrillic text (by which I mean English with some letters reversed) which appear randomly in German contexts are a slightly baffling oddity. While the advertised ‘political’ aspect of the performance gives the impression of having been devised by a confused teenager, the elements of physical theatre have the potential to be powerful if given the right context. Perhaps the piece would benefit from having a director as well as a choreographer.
Within Range, 6-20 August @ 6.10pm (70mins) ZOO Southside 117 Nicholson Street.
Emergence is a new show created and performed by The Pachamamas; their first at Edinburgh Fringe. The director is one of my former tutors at Rose Bruford, Lorraine Sutherland. This makes it quite difficult to write about while avoiding bias, as well a trying not to worry about what impression it might make were she to read it. However, I’ve decided to try and review the shows I see, so here goes regardless. These are my own personal views - they don’t represent the views of any theatre company I may direct or perform for. I am not a professional or even a very good reviewer, but it seems any idiot with a computer can do it these days, so here goes.
The performance opens with the narrator figure’s charmingly awkward attempts to get the audience on side. However, the delivery is a little too performed, with no space given for any genuine audience response to gain more than sympathy for the performer. She recovers well after about the ten minute mark with some beautifully delivered little stories and comments, but could have made a much stronger first impression by taking her time.
On reading about the show afterwards I find that it boasts ‘a capella singing’ (along with physical theatre, story telling and cabaret). This presumably describes the two or three moments in which the narrator sings without the backing track. Misguided marketing rather than a fault with the production, but perhaps there is something in the frail and genuine a capella singing that fits a Kantorian construction of memory much better than a recording of ABBA or Ievan Polkka.
The cluttered set, while it may be replete with symbolic references/memories, seems only to restrict the potential for the space to exist in more than one reality - something the performers clearly have the potential to portray physically without the need for so many props - an unused telephone gets only a brief reference in the dialogue, for example.
The relationship between the mother and daughter of the piece was set up well, and stayed true to the company’s intention to avoid presenting a ‘perfected narrative’, prefering a presentation after the disjointed nature of memory. While each section evoked something that seemed genuine and well-observed or remembered, some were more theatrically successful than others (the young girl playing nurse with her right hand taking the role of “asistente” is brilliantly exectued, but less so when repeated for the roles mother/hypothetical son), and the lack of conventional pacing to this (re)telling is what other reviewers seem to have picked on as the main flaw in the piece. While it is clearly not the company’s aim to create a dramatically paced narrative, I do think that the narrator figure could have been used more successfully to shape the performance into something with a theatrical arc, or even give more of a cabaret structure. I would have enjoyed seeing much more of her mask work with the penguin head.
Emergence remains a touching and intelligent presentation of a relationship between mother and daughter, containing some moments of brilliance. It defies any expectations of narrative theatre in exploring such a theme, and while it may not always work, it is certainly worth it when it does.
Emergence is on at Underbelly’s Belly Button, 56 Cowgate Edinburgh EH1 1EG. 4th-28th August at 11.20am.
So, I’ve attempted to add Google +1, Twitter follow and Facebook like buttons to http://www.avoidjars.com/ - would anyone like to test them out for me? (Not just shameless self-promotion, I genuinely wonder if they work)
After two solid days of computer nonsense, I finally have a stable version of XP x64 running on my desktop, with Photoshop and Premiere. It even has stereo sound, which is a great improvement over the previous install. Sadly, any attempt at reinstating the drivers for sound and video cards, or updating windows, results in BSoD, 0x00000050…
I’ve taken out half the memory in the process, and am quite hesitant to put it back. I’ve also ended up booting from a 16gb FAT32 partition. It’s been a few years since I built the thing and I’m not quite the geek I once was, so I’ve no idea what to do about it really. Any ideas?
I have been neglecting the whole conceit of this blog’s title by failing to post about what I eat. To remedy this, I just ate some porridge.
Using a small pan, I poured in roughly a cup and a half of oats, and covered with full milk until all oats were afloat. I then put the heat on, and stirred occasionally until achieving the desired texture, finally covering with a small aquantity of honey (small only because I’ve just run out.