Review: Your Nation Loves You

March 29, 2010


Any project taking place in the tunnels under Waterloo Station has an air of excitement and potential to be something truly spectacular. In the past year, tunnel 228, as it is officially known by Network Rail has played host to some of the most captivating performances and art work since Kevin Spacey with the Old Vic begun to weave an air of magic in this forgotten place.

When entering these tunnels, you can not in the slightest forget what you have experienced in the past. Punchdrunk’s Tunnel 228 last year was a remarkable experience for me, and it is ingrained in every wall and tunnel and even in some cases there is still evidence of the project on the ceilings. So much is this work resonant with the experience of these tunnels it takes something completely extordinary to break this – unfortantely Your Nation Loves You doesn’t do it.

A group of 12 people have been chosen by the government, plucked from the streets of London, and placed within a series of tunnels somewhere beneath the city. The reason? A threat of some description on London, that means that if we as a Nation are to survive, only the best will be selected to preserve human life. These strangers have been living for weeks – months attempting to survive with no indication if the threat to London has happened. Their only method of survival comes from the food parcels sent from above, and their own ability to adapt to this new way of life.

The problem with Your Nation Loves You is a sense that it has been developed elsewhere from the space that it now inhabits. It feels as if Delirium: have created this work and attempted to mold it around the tunnels instead of an organic combination, and sadly it doesn’t fit. Whilst the concept is brilliant, it has been poorly executed. You need more than just a great performance space to let a performance win you over.

Delirium: have missed the opportunity to embrace this creative space, instead only half reaching out to it with their storyline that fails to engage completely. The story is clunky, and feels at times as if it is being dragged out for the purpose of the last scene. There is no real progression and nothing is resolved at the end. It feels more like a work in progress than the premier of a new piece by an emerging theatre company.

Sadly the unresolved story is not the only problem with Your Nation Loves You. The elements of physical theatre/dance between some of the characters does little and if anything makes me wonder why it has even been used in the first place. The direct address to the audience, again creates confusion – why is it used? Your Nation Loves You uses far too many elements instead of keeping it simple. The music/soundscape also, whilst is nicely placed against some of the text, often stops before going on repeat again – it doesn’t flow as it should with a piece of this nature.

Your Nation Loves You does however have an unexpected twist, that works remarkably well. I won’t however give away what happens, but it does explain why the story seems to drag, why we are shuffled between certain tunnels backwards and forwards, and lastly some of the main plot holes.

Whilst this revelation made me stop and think, “Ah, yes… very clever”, it wasn’t before long that suddenly the whole experience became somewhat familiar to Shunts work. One of Shunts first pieces in their Bethnal Green railway arch used exactly the same revelation that Delirium: have used for the final scene within the tunnels… I won’t spoil this moment for anyone who is going, but the similarities as a theatrical device within the same sort of settings are questionable.

Don’t get me wrong, it is obvious I did not enjoy this piece, but there are some brilliantly young and talented actors in the cast who do make the experience enjoyable.

Delirium: is a new company, and this piece will be a huge learning curve for them. I won’t be put off by future work, because despite my dislike, they do have an exciting imagination for their work. I only hope that their next work is simpler, more precise, and that they stay away from the use of physical theatre when working in the environment they use.

My advice is to go and see Your Nation Loves You for the experience of something different. It is not the best piece to go in these tunnels, but at least they are being used for a good purpose. Wrap up warm, regardless of the weather as it is breathtakingly cold under there.

Your Nation Loves You is running until 2nd April in the tunnels under Waterloo Station. Tickets can only be brought online and not on the door. Booking in advance is essential: Book here.


Review: Really Old, Like Forty Five

February 25, 2010

The Cottesloe Theatre is steadily becoming one of those spaces that I admire. It has a life of its own, despite being part of the National Theatre. Some people will frown upon the work that comes into it, for it is bold, challenging and often gambling with new work that is a far cry from the NT brand of entertainment for the people. The Cottesloe Theatre for me is almost restoring my faith in the work of the National Theatre, proving at times it can dance the thin line of experiementation and throw caution to the wind at it’s faithful audiences.

Really Old, Like Forty Five is one of those pieces that the National has put their faith in – with a big risk. It is an absurd new play by Tamsin Oglesby, charting the lives of a family as they plod through old age and dementia. This might seem like a conventional play on the surface, but when you throw in a medical company whose aim is to rid the streets of old people, facilitating uthensia and attempting to cure memory loss with the use of a robot nurse that has animastic qualities, you begin to see what an absurd play this really is.

Here lies the problem. This mix of robotic nurses, dementia curing pills, and a focus on a family attempting to fight through memory loss is possibly a little far fetched to comprehend. Or maybe it is novel approach to a hard topic? Either way there is no escaping the fact that this play is absurd, and this of course means that either you will love it, or hate it.

I couldn’t help but to feel Really Old, Like Forty Five is a mix of a Doctor Who episode with characters from The Catherine Tate Show attempting to pull off a NHS advert for dementia.

Oglesby’s play juxtaposes the medical trials against that of the real life, and if you can look beyond the surreal aspects of the play – there is a message that rings loud and clear. At what age do we get old? When is it time to stop pretending we are young?… and how far do the medical trials of new treatments go in order to gain reputation or profit?

Anna Mackin certainly faces the play with a great force in her direction. She tackles the subject matter straight on, switching the action between the various themes and directions of the text effortlessly so that there isn’t a moment for the audience to get lost on the tangent. Her insight into the play even allows her for some slightly surreal moments involving the use of Liz Brotherston’s stage design and video work by Fifty Nine Productions Ltd, which take form of a giant tortoise and a baby flying through the air. Odd aye?

Whilst the play may take an unusual approach to getting a point across, there is no denying that this dark comedy does feature some superb acting from the cast. Judy Parfitt as the steady dementia form of old woman Lyn is one of the key figures in Really Old, Like Forty Five. She shows a harrowing display of emotion during scenes where she believes things that aren’t true because her memory is failing her. Equally her inability to understand what is going on, makes for brilliant one liners allowing for the comedy to arise.

The Olivier Awarded Marcia Warren as the dotty Alice brings such a charm and wit to her acting capturing the heart of growing old and still managing to survive with vigor. Oglesby’s portrayal of these older women are at times immensely sad, yet glowing with warmth and joy. Michela Meazza as Mimi the robotic nurse is beautiful. She moves with such robotic and structured manners that when combined with the sound effects, I quite simply forgot she was even human (is that possible?).

The rest of the cast featuring Lucy May Barker, Paul Bazely, Tanya Franks, Gawn Grainger, Thomas Jordan and Paul Ritter each bring with them the absurd characters of Oglesby’s play to different ends, but still achieving the desired affects.

Really Old, Like Forty Five is a tough play to comprehend. Oglesby’s setting of the play at times outweighs the subject matter of growing old and dementia – yet equally she has managed to create a common worry within the everyday person and completely turn it on it’s head. We often see in the media the use of clinical trials for various drugs, and countless times we have heard of courtroom trials around uthensia, Really Old, Like Forty Five tackles these subjects in an absurd manner. Often hitting the theme with poignant emotion, other times slightly missing the point by the very nature of the play.

The outcome is really down to the spectator. If you’re a regular at the National Theatre, I might suspect that you have a certain idea of what to expect from the play. Well – you won’t quite see what you expected. Really Old, Like Forty Five is a compelling approach to dramatising the worries that we all have, but to be sure – watch some Doctor Who episodes before you go, just to get into the spirit of it!

Really Old, Like Forty Five is playing in the Cottesloe Theatre at the National Theatre until 20th April 2010. Booking in person, over the phone or indeed as always through the National Theatre’s website.


Review: Jake and Cake

February 22, 2010

Clare Chater and Robert Solar in Jake and Cake

Imagination in theatre is a tool that when used effectively can propel a performance forward into new territories, taking the audience to new worlds and warps of life. Equally, imagination can kill a performance, with writers or directors going too far and letting their own imaginations run away from them leaving the audience stranded in their seats with puzzled expressions. Thankfully Jake and Cake, Theatre Centres latest young persons show has just the right amount of imagination without letting loose of the goals.

Having moved to Essex from London, the countryside seems like a world apart from the city life that Jake is used to. Leaving behind his friends and having to start anew is a daunting task for any teenager, but the thought of the countryside with the grass that “smells of poo”, and the lack of anything to do, makes the matter a whole lot worst. Of course if you’re Cake who has been brought up in the countryside, it’s a place of adventure and wonder – if you let your imagination take over.

Jake and Cake, by Godfrey Hamilton explores the boundaries of friendships, exploration and the notion of looking forward instead of backwards in life. Hamilton combines the tales of wolves in the forest with Jake and Cakes slowly building friendship. The play shifts from fast paced storytelling to adventures in the forest, all delivered by Clare Chater as Cake and Robert Solar as Jake.

Chater and Solar clearly have built a great energy between them during the rehearsals of Jake and Cake. Their energy collides with the story, and together they create the atmospheric story, weaving together the words of Hamilton with the errie sound effects and music.

What is great about Jake and Cake is that you can clearly see that every aspect of this play has been brought together with great skill. Natalie Wilson as director and artistic director of Theatre Centre, has once again proven that she knows how to engage young people through theatre.

The story is very compelling and inventive, and under the direction of Wilson creates a world in which the audience can get lost within. At times we are left frightened by the clashing of thunder and lighting, other times sad for seeing how these two characters desperately need each other to survive the night but are clouded by their judgment of what friends are.

Jake and Cake is a thought provoking piece – whilst still being completely engaging.

Clare Chater as Cake is a bundle of joy to the story. Her enthusiasm and portrayal of her character is fantastic. Bringing the energy and idea that “everything is a piece of cake” to life through the constant shifting of stories and use of imagination. Equally Robert Solar as Jake shows a sensitive side to the affects of having to leave friends behind, allowing the emotion of the character to sweep across his acting.

Wilson has made Jake and Cake into an enchanting piece of storytelling for young people with a soft message of understanding who you are to understand others. It is another great triumph for Theatre Centre in showing what the imagination of an audience with a gripping story can produce: brilliantly entertaining.

On a small side note, the show is recommended for ages 6+ and whilst I am a little older than this, it is quite a frightening piece! Make sure you have your child near you in case they need a hand held or shoulder to cry on! Otherwise I suggest a pillow to hide behind.

Jake and Cake is Theatre Centre’s latest play, and is on an UK National Tour, see their website for more details.


11 and 12, directed by Peter Brook

February 11, 2010

There are times when you recorgnise that the moment that is unfolding before you will surely last in your memory until the day you die. It sounds hideously cliche when typed, but there is no other way to describe this quite possibly life changing few hours for me. As I attempt to unravel my views on 11 and 12, do excuse my apparent in awe approach, this is largely due to witnessing the post-show discussion with Peter Brook. To say that it has left me in a profound state of inspiration is not an exaggeration.

So what of 11 and 12? It is a subtle piece, that gently taps away at the issues that arise when faiths collide. Rather not faiths, but a difference of 11 and 12 prayers. It may seem like a simple arguement of should someone pray 11 times as originally set out, or the 12 times as time had changed it, yet lying beneath this is reckoning of faith against those who believe their truth, against those who believe in other truth.

Everything about this production is simple, but scratch away at the surface and hidden beneath this stark and minimal piece is hundreds of stories nestled in history and countless years of tradition. Brook brings about his multicultural cast to produce a performance that is stylistically simple but rich with meaning, that recalls conflict of the difference between 11 and 12, right or indeed wrong, and the break down of human contact over differences.

Brook is known for his taking a bare stage and transforming it by the simple direction of someone walking across a stage. Of course 11 and 12 is far from this, but essentially the same principles has been applied. With minimal setting, and the simple transformation of fabric and logs we are transported from the confides of a stage to the tribes of Africa and the politics of France.

Whilst I could go into depth about how I interpreted 11 and 12 and Brooks direction, it seems almost as if I would be naive to even consider myself of the right abilities to ‘review’ this piece… so I’ll leave my thoughts as follows:

Peter Brook is without doubt a man who understands what theatre can do for an audience, he understands the boundaries, the positioning, the power that this ‘art form’ holds. He is a master of theatre, whose life is to be admired and to be inspired from. 11 and 12 is another production that has been brushed with the fate of Brook and his insight to the knowledge he holds.

I can imagine that people will see this production and find it dull, for it is thick of thought out years worth of detail, but to witness Brooks work is something to be seen in your lifetime. Forget everything you believed you knew of narrative, plot, characters, set and props and take a moment to immerse yourself in a space that Brook has made for you, for us.

Find and enjoy the silence, the coming together or spectator and actor in the space of the theatre to become one.

Thank you Peter Brook.


Review: The Cat in the Hat

February 10, 2010

The Cat in the Hat

Based on the books by Dr Seuss, Katie Mitchel directs The Cat in the Hat in an action packed adventure of a naughty cat who comes to play with two children who are bored one rainy day. This childrens show is simply superb in its entertainment for children and adults alike, delivering a fast paced bouncing and eye popping performance.

There are so many parts of Mitchel’s production that can be praised. Firstly it delivers pure entertainment for children in a short but sweet burst of 35 minutes (I’m sure that some people would relish more). Secondly it has a design that fits so perfectly with the original book that it makes me wonder if the illustrations hadn’t come to life themselves to perform. Thirdly, the sound and music is cheeky and brilliantly executed.

Mitchel has brought together a team of creatives who deserve the sell out shows that The Cat in the Hat is receiving from their National Theatre to Young Vic transfer. Vicki Mortimer’s design takes on a cartoon effect that is portrayed in all the props and costume. Paul Clark and Gareth Fry’s Music/Sound Design combined puts the piece in a world of it’s own. Coupled with the wacky direction from Katie Mitchel, The Cat in the Hat is stunning.

Thing 1, and Thing 2

The production borders on extreme chaos and something of a nightmare, which would explain why children love it, (and in some cases leave crying!). It is completely absurd and without a doubt wacky, but this only makes it more enjoyable.

The cast manage to keep up with this fast paced piece, hitting all the humour that the show needs. They are equally receptive to the younger audiences, playing upon their interjections and laughter. Angus Wright as the Cat in the Hat is seductive and humorous in his portrayal of the mischievous cat. Luisa and Sandra Guerreiro are brilliantly freakish as Thing 1 and Thing 2. There is nothing more frightful than an energetic pair of twins wearing red jump suits and blue wigs.

It’s good to see a production that has followed completely with a theme, that is reflected in all aspects – design, sound, direction and acting. Children’s theatre needs to be bold, engaging and above all enjoyable for those little spectators. The Cat in the Hat ticks all the right boxes, and includes some real mouth opening moments, especially during a balancing act of a fish, umbrella, plates, cups, books, milk tray, little red ship all balancing whilst the cat stands proudly on a ball. Brilliant!

The Cat in the Hat is another great example at showing how imaginative and engaging childrens theatre can be, even for those of us who aren’t quite children anymore.

The Cat in the Hat is playing at the Young Vic until 13th March. Tickets are very limited so queuing for returns is the best way of getting tickets. See the website for more details.


Review: Waiting For Godot

February 8, 2010

Sir Ian McKellen and Roger Rees

Waiting For Godot is a difficult play to comprehend. Written by the profound writer Samuel Beckett, it depicts two men at a side of a road waiting for a man called Godot. They can not go anywhere, for of course they are waiting for Godot. They ponder their existence, they question life and the daily struggles of the nothing of their lives. Essentially nothing happens in Waiting For Godot, yet the play is so rich with imagery, foolery and thought provoking comments that you need not dig deep to understand Becketts slightly absurd play.

This production has returned from its sell out run at the Theatre Royal Haymarket back in 2009, with a slight cast change. I wasn’t fortunate to get to catch it with the formidable duo of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart but we are blessed with McKellen returning to the play and joined by Roger Rees (let’s not forget the cast now boasts Matthew Kelly too).

Whilst the play states that the action takes place at the side of a row beneath a tree, the design by Stephen Brimson Lewis transports the action inside a derelict theatre with the tree bursting out of the floor boards. It is imaginatively designed and reflects in the absurd writing of Beckett whilst portraying a sense of age and decay that the characters themselves show.

Sean Mathias direction of the play is deeply enjoyable, playing upon the strengths of his actors to deliver an impeccable performance. Mathias picks upon McKellens foolery of comedic timing and delivery to keep a light hearted approach to the Beckett classic. This allows for Rees to be the more grounded character out of the two, yet their ability to play off each other and sending the audience in tight circles of repetition through the lines creates a surreal experience.

Ian McKellen as Estragon

There is no doubting McKellens acting, he is back in full force and showing what a man of 70 can bring to the theatre. He is witty, hilariously funny and equally deeply emotional. We can’t help but to pity him as the character of Estragon, where he portrays a figure who appears to be slipping into dementia whilst clinging onto his comedic side. McKellen is the star for the performance, outshining his age and proving he deserves the critical acclaim over the years.

Whilst Waiting For Godot is an enjoyable night for any Beckett and theatre fan, there are flaws in this production which holds it back. Paul Pyant’s lighting design does nothing for the play and at times becomes a distraction, something any lighting designer should not be doing, – the text itself is often hard to follow without bad lighting.

Matthew Kelly is a bit of a sore thumb in this production. He lacks the raw connection that Rees and McKellen have in their character, their sense that all is not what it seems. Kelly has a rounded character that jars against the action, maybe it is a classic case of me not liking him as Pozzo, or just him as a person. Whatever the cause of my dislike it didn’t take away from the production, but more something to be considered. If anything Kelly is an interesting choice for Mathias to take in casting.

Waiting For Godot is a hard text, but when directed with the right cast the outcome can be astonishing. Whilst Mathias production didn’t leave me dumbfounded it certainly proved entertaining. Catch the performance if you want to get lost in a rambling text of waiting for an elusive character called Godot. (Nice to see that Mathias doesn’t make out of the character of Godot as a reglious ‘godlike’ character as I’ve often seen him as).

Waiting For Godot is playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 3rd April 2010. Tickets available through the official website.


Review: My Stories, Your Emails

February 5, 2010

Ursula Martinez is an internet phenomena, after her magic striptease act got leaked onto the internet. Her magic consists of a single red hanky, that vanishes before the audiences eyes. The twist is she repeats this trick between interludes of stripping. The finale is Martinez completely naked, and still managing to vanish the red hanky… but can anyone guess where she pulls it out of? Don’t imagine too hard, there really isn’t many places to hide it…

In My Stories, Your Emails, Martinez tells the audience what happened after the act got leaked onto the internet. She woke to find hundreds of emails from all over the world from people who had seen the video. Hundreds turned to thousands, and the responses she receives aren’t always the most pleasant of experiences to read. This led to her one woman show performing at the Barbican Theatre as part of the Bite 10 Festival.

My Stories, Your Emails is split into two halfs, the first, stories from Martinez own life, these are the representation of herself from her own point of view. They feature what family have said to her, things she remembers, essentially those stories that we all have inside of us.

The middle of the show consists of the infamous video that brought about the fan emails and the show.

Lastly we are taken into Martinez’ world of fan emails, from the bizarre, the charming, and the down right disgusting.

Martinez has a direct approach to the piece, her bluntness is cutting but hilariously funny. Her stories are comedic snapshots of her life, moments from her Spanish mother, her sister, her father, and most importantly from herself. They offer an insight into her world before the show on the internet. At times it is not Martinez’s stories that are funny but her reaction between them. Staring blankly out to the audience – her expression reads “What the F**k?” again, and again.

Your Emails part of the performance gives a glimpse into the disgusting attraction of men and their sexual desires towards her. Included with these emails are photos of the writers. The responses to her act, are nearly all described in a sexual manner. They portray her act as a sexual, nudity, magic act. Whilst for the best part these emails are disturbingly funny, there is a harrowing message that we take from it:

The portrayal of an ‘ordinary person’, Martinez, who happens to do a magician act whilst stripping doesn’t mean she should be placed in line of sexual forwards by men. Repeatedly the emails from fans ask to meet her, discuss fantasies and propose marriage to her.

The world of the internet has a seedy, and disturbing side that Martinez’s inbox has to endure.

My Stories, Your Emails, is a witty and funny piece for the audience. She equally blends a stand up routine, with her ‘performance’ to create an entertaining night at the Barbican. Oh and those of you who are wanting to perv on Martinez, fear not – she even gets naked at the end.

My Stories, Your Emails is running at the Barbican Pit Theatre as part of the Bite 10 Festival until 13th February, booking via their website