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.

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If I Ruled The World… A Festival For Young People

March 26, 2010

The Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) are known for their innovative performances. Their commitment to the development of contemporary performance along with taking risks and giving opportunities to those who justly need it have earned them a reputation. This week however they stepped up their antics a little further by hosting a week long festival for young people, by young people, called ‘If I Rule The World… A Festival For Young People’.

It is daring, challenging and above all – it is needed.

The BAC’s work with young people has always been strong, evident in their thriving Young Peoples Theatre (YPT), yet by handing the reigns over to young people to dominate every inch and spare corner possible to young people is outstanding. The BAC has been turned into the place to be, a hotspot for young people to express themselves and be heard.

This festival is even more needed as it is linked directly to the up and coming election, giving young people a creative approach to what would happen if they had the chance to rule the world. There are huge scrolls of paper hanging from the ceiling within the foyer of the BAC. A scroll of thoughts and comments from the participants on the question of “If I Ruled The World I Would…” are splattered across every inch of it and offer an insight into the participants. From ‘Stop the troops in Afghanistan’ to ‘Lower the voting age’ – this scroll is clearly a form of expression, of an often unheard voice.

One of the rooms at the BAC has been turned into the prime ministers office and we are invited to enter, and write a letter to our ‘future Prime Minister’ about what we want, what we need, what we want to see from this man. By the end of the night, I had frantically written a letter declaring a need for less lies, less hiding of the truth, but above all an effort to be more transparent, and to try hard so that I might start to believe the hope that they have given us in their campaigns.

I left my letter proudly on the PM’s desk, and expect him to read it on his return. (Lucky for me, he might actually! All of the letters are to be taken to downing street and given to the new PM. Let’s hope they listen!)

My travels at the festival took me to watching two of the YPT groups perform the pieces that they have been working on with professional theatre makers. The first I bore witness to was the youngest of groups, aged 11-14 perform their piece Je’taime Performance. A look into what makes up a performer and how there are such a vast array of different performance areas that someone can take. The highlights for me had to be a performance artist whose love of eggs goes a little too far and ends cracking it over herself in joy.

The thing I loved most from this age group was a sense of imagination, an openness to the sublime and sheer ridiculous side to performing. From start to finish I had a grin on my face like the Cheshire Cat.

The latter part of my experiences were with the oldest of the YPT groups, ages 16-25. Their Scratch Performances took part in several different locations around the BAC which required walking in the dark depths of corridors and rooms beyond the normal public eye. I watched a mimed performance reministant of black and white films sitting in the foyer. Next taken into a claustrophobic room to watch a sinister and slightly over powering girl direct her fellow performers in a repeated sequence of love, and despair. Ordered to leave the room, I left feeling a slight shudder down my spine… and into another room to watch a game show of cards and distorted characters.

The final experience came in one of the corriders hidden around the back somewhere in the BAC. We were ushered into a completely dark holding bay with doors in front of us, we were instructed that the game would start, and we would watch. A long staircase behind the door with a girl running down and screaming. She throws herself at the door and bangs attempting to get through. We next watch as a figure slowly makes its way down the stairs. We are ushered next to line up against the wall of the stairwell to watch a truly remarkable continuation of the torment of a group of women by their captures.

The work of the YPT groups showed just how valuable they are to the BAC – their imagination and engagement in allowing an audience to step into childs play really put me on edge. Whilst I had full trust in the performers, there is something scary about a dark corridor in a theatre at nearly 10 at night being asked to close your eyes. – What a truly remarkable experience, and all made by young people.

The night becomes a celebration of being young and creative. It is empowering. It is exactly what we should be looking for in theatre. Their attitudes are free, open, expressive and joyful. We often think that young people are naive to the world, they just follow trends and enjoy being young and carefree. What If I Ruled The World… showed that actually young people have a voice, they have formed opinions, an understanding of the world, and a need not only in their political views, but also a need for a platform in theatre and the arts.

Watching Je’taime Performance and seeing the youngest of the Young Peoples Theatre group perform – it became suddenly clear. Their message was clearly shouted to us, repeated and we need to listen: “Who has the power? WE have the power!”

For more information on the festival, see the BAC website here.


Why Everything Matters

February 26, 2010

When working in theatre, we tend to be very selfish people. We get caught in our creative bubbles, in the joy of our performance or show and rarely do we see it in any other light than that of good. Excellence of the highest praise! Of course this is naturally to be expected.

Someone has spent many hours going over the words, finding the right pace of dialogue and just the right adjective to make an audience fall about laughing. A strong figure has sort about directing the piece, and the actors have spent many a night learning their line and ensuring they don’t perspire too much in the costume that has been made for them.

Yet, despite all of the effort that has gone into a show. Sometimes we, the audience, won’t like it.

That’s not to say we can’t appreciate the effort that has gone into it, the fact we are there in the first place shows some kind of commitment that we wanted to go and enjoy ourselves. We have duly paid our money, and arrived in our seat to watch, but that doesn’t mean we will enjoy what we see.

The problem may not even be the play itself, for as audiences we are naturally humans, and with this strange concept comes emotion, desires, day dreams, inabilities and a long list of faults and natural qualities. This is to say – sometimes things affect us before we even make it to the theatre which can determine the whole outcome of a show, regardless of time, effort and love put into it.

It’s a sad fact to be made. If we are held up by traffic, as Mark Shenton reported this week for a show, and only just manage to slip into your seat before the show starts – this could knock the whole show into the woes for you. Equally, not managing to get your favourite seat in the theatre as Lyn Gardner spoke of her fond memories in her blog last week. These all play a part on our perspectives on the show.

That is to say, if in the course of leaving our homes or work, we have travelled a terrible journey, had trouble collecting our tickets as we don’t have the right card with us – we find the drinks over priced, the programme lacking in anything but advertisements and our seat anything but comfy – we might just not enjoy the show.

Of course I would hope that the show I am attending would have the ability to knock me sideways, bring me out of my gloom and blow away the cob webs of regret. Yet we all know that sometimes that sensational theatre experience isn’t to be had every time we go to the theatre.

So to the producers, the actors, the directors, and everyone involved in theatre. Let it be clear: as audiences we are human, and with this comes the ability for our moods and sensitivities to every little detail in our night at the theatre to affect the way we see your show.

So don’t be offended when we don’t enjoy it – sometimes, it’s just not our day for theatre. Oh, and everything, every little thing we encounter on route to our seat matters, even if it happens outside of the building.


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.


News: Playing Shakespeare

February 15, 2010

Some of the young audience members at Playing Shakespeare

The very thought of Shakespeare at school sent shivers down my spine. I use to complain and moan when we would have to brandish ourselves with the work of the Bard. Why, and more to the point how do we know that this Shakespeare line is meant to mean this? The answer of “because it is”, never really filled me with much joy.

Of course, now a few years down the line and a wider knowledge of theatre has led me to believe that actually Shakespeare and his works is not only important for us to know of as British citizens but also vital in understanding how theatre has developed. A part of this undertaking of accepting the work of Shakespeare as a pleasure rather than pain seems to be a prominent feature of the work from The Globe Theatre.

Enter Stage Left: Playing Shakespeare

Back in 2006 The Globe Theatre embarked on a challenge to change perspectives of young people towards Shakespeare in education by actively engaging them in the core of the theatres work. Some 4 years down the line and the Education work of the Globe Theatre is immense, and possibly unknown to most people.

In March 2010 The Globe Theatre will once again be bringing their Playing Shakespeare programme to the hearts of students and young people aged 11 to 14 by giving away 14,000 free tickets to their production of Macbeth, along with other free tickets for members of the public on special open performances.

Not only are they providing the opportunity to engage with the work directly through their free ticketing scheme but the resources available for the participants is both impressive and huge. There are in-depth and interactive web resources (what a better way to engage with young people these days!), professional developement days for teachers and even in-school workshops.

Shakespeare is finally open to our younger generations through a means that doesn’t throw scene after scene down their necks expecting them to understand the meaning. The online resources allow for discussions, insights into the characters and plot in a method that younger people understand and already engage with.

To get an idea of the sort of engagement that the Globe Theatre are portraying check out their Playing Shakespeare website at www.playingshakespeare.org which will shortly be bursting to life in the coming months.

A big thumbs up to the Educational department at the Globe Theatre for continuing to get rid of that horrible feeling that Shakespeare is not accessible, the truth: It is.

For more information see the Globe Education website on www.globe-education.org


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.