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.

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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


Review: Begin/End

February 13, 2010

Begin/End is the Halfmoon Theatre’s new play for teenagers and young adults written by David Lane. Set in the distilled thoughts and memories of Lili, a young teen girl making her way through school and swimming classes like every normal teenager, until she spots Yaz, another young teen girl on her estate… and things aren’t quite the same again.

David Lane’s play is a fast, often head spinning experience. The dialogue is snappy and poetic, creating an ever climaxing narrative. The text is relentlessly spoken between Lili and Yaz, bouncing back and forth between them, twisting imagery together until you’re completely caught in a web of tangled thoughts and emotions.

Of course, a look back at any teenage years and the dialogue reflects this confusing time, jumping from moment to moment, never landing for pause or reflection. Whilst this is engaging (demonstrated by the school group also watching in hushed silence) it does leave your head numb after 25 minutes of action packed dialogue, fearing the audience might be drowning with Lili in the swimming pool of memories before there is a pause in the text.

What is clear though is the amount of time and energy that has been taken in perfecting Lanes dialogue. 3 years in development, consulting young people in the use of words and dialogue clearly shows. Begin/End isn’t trying to be an adults idea of how teenagers communicate, it is how they talk. From slang, and swearing, the dialogue is written to perfection.

Naturally the dialogue wouldn’t be the same without the outstanding acting of Amy Costello (Lili) and Rachel McKenzie (Yaz) whose energy and portrayal of teenagers is perfection. They allow younger audiences to easily relate to these teenage figures, by expressing the dilemmas that amount during these difficult years in effective manners. Both Costello and McKenzie cope admirably with the demands of Lanes dialogue and even go as far to seem at ease with it.

McKenzie brings about a certain ‘street’-like quality to her acting, whilst Costello juggles the frantic rambling text with great enthusiasm, that creates deeper meaning to the words and themes.

Relationships are fragile things to grasp and hold onto. Lili’s and Yaz’s is your typical teenager friendship from girls who seem drawn to each other from a force of nature. Lili’s feelings though are more than just friendship, they delve deeper than this, a longing, a desire, a love ever so rich. For Lili is gay, and whilst she might not fully realise it, for she has not acted upon it, the emotions and feelings she feels for Yaz can not be disregarded. Whilst the LGBT issues is an area explored in Begin/End, the depth of this is only skin deep which lets the play down slightly.

The play can easily be portrayed that being gay is something that can be seen as a negative thing, and can bring about troubles and issues. Whilst of course this is true (troubles and issues that is), I’m sure this message is not quite what Lane intended. However as this is a piece for young adults the production includes post show discussions, resource packs and activities around these issues that can be addressed in schools and youth groups. The Halfmoon Theatre encourage the use of these services as a tool to engage with these often difficult topics.

Begin/End is a remarkable piece of young peoples theatre, from one of Londons best theatres dedicated to younger generations. It is great to see a production so engaging to a younger audience, and judging from the response of the school group I watched the play with, it truly relates to this often unheard voice and age.

Whilst the subject of abuse and sexuality is slightly muted the overwhelming themes of loving someone you can’t have resounds in every teenager. If you’re gay or straight the message is clear. We love, we lose, but we keep going.

Begin/End is now on tour around the UK, check out the Halfmoon Theatre’s website to see where you can catch it next.


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.