Review: Öper Öpis

January 15, 2010

How often can you say you have been to see a show at the theatre, and been completely blown away? Taken somewhere where only the imagination can dream of such things, or perhaps just drawn into a story and then seeing it explode in front of you?

When watching Öper Öpis at the Barbican Centre by Zimmermand and de Perrot I am reminded of the following quote written by Lyn Gardner from The Guardian in her article ‘Theatre Must Chance… Us’:

“When I’m in the theatre, I want to feel as if some kind of risk is taking place, that I might be taken somewhere I find scary – that the performers will surprise me and as a result I will surprise myself.”

Öper Öpis is for me, that moment of being taken somewhere that surprises you – a place you find so compelling and intoxicating that you have to remember to breathe. Öper Öpis is quite literally breath taking.

So what happens when you take 5 circus/physical theatre artists, 1 choreographer and 1 music genius, throw them together in a collaborative melting pot with the aim of producing a piece of theatre? The answer: a night worth remembering! Öper Öpis enthralled my senses, made me gasp and laugh in all the right moments, no wonder it was the opening event for the London International Mime Festival 2010.

There are so many points to make about this performance that it’s hard to know where to begin. There is the stage design, the musical score, the choreography, the circus acts, the energy, the delivery, and on and on the list goes…

Zimmerman and de Perrot

We are met by Zimmerman and de Perrot setting the stage – a collection of odd wooden blocks that they position into place along the front of their tilted stage. Then looping of sound is captured from the falling of the blocks as they get knocked over. Gradually this is combined with music, to create a surreal sound scape that underscores the whole performance. This music is put together masterfully, at times the bass rumbled through the Barbican Theatre as if in a club and coupled with the scratching of records in the loop it’s hard not to get lost in this sound scape alone.

The performers of Öper Öpis are odd, when compared with each other they represent two ends of the specturum, from little to large in weight, to small and ginormous in height. They can only be described as a bit of a freak circus show – yet looking beyond their appearance (which in turn is comic), these performers are skilled beyond belief. They dance, they juggle, they throw themselves around the stage, the jump off each other and perform tricks to integrated with the music that it becomes as one.

Some highlights for me included the slapping of thighs from the largest of performers creating a looping thigh repeated slaps in the music to the areobatics act who suddenly producers a chair instead of the other performer from no where.

It is hard to know where to look during the performance, as the action happens on a stage that tilts with the performers as they move. This design beautifully mirrors the performers in their balancing acts of leadership and contrasts of shape and size. The stage rocks from one side to another never fully settling into place before the performers push it into another direction.

The choreography of the piece is crafted in such a way that the 70 minute performance flies past. No wonder the show won the Swiss Dance and Choreography Award in 2009. It is executed in such a manner that the performers are alive with energy and skill. There is no dialogue but what better language that of the way a body moves in space?

Circus is often an under appreciated art form but Zimmerman and de Perrot have turned it into something much more than just tricks and skill. Their blending of music, dance, circus, and performance creates an inspiring show.

Öper Öpis is part of the London International Mime Festival 2010, and also in association with the Barbican Bite 10 programme. The show is only on until 16th January 2010, but check out Zimmerman and de Perrot’s website for clips and more tour dates.

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Review: The Fahrenheit Twins, Told by an Idiot

November 23, 2009

The Fahrenheit Twins by Told by an Idiot

Told by an Idiot, the collective theatre duo of Hayley Carmichael, and Paul Hunter (not forgetting John Wright dished on the side) are back in full force with a new piece, The Fahrenheit Twins currently playing as part of the Bite programme at the Barbican Pit Theatre. Bringing together their adaptation of Michel Faber’s book of the same name, Told by an Idiot along with director Matthew Dunster have created a surreal landscape of snow, a childs playground.

There is something quite striking about The Fahrenheit Twins when first entering the Pit Theatre. There is no way of missing Naomi Wilkinson’s set design, a circular rotating disc of white fabric and fur, complete with a slide that reaches to the heights of the lighting rig. A wind turbine off to one side that reaches from ground to ceiling. The expanse of fur and white, it’s like something out of a muted Salvador Dali painting. Coupled with Gareth Fry’s frolicking playful music, it’s all something of a winter wonderland.

A slightly surreal moment, the husky experience

I suppose that is exactly how Told by an Idiot want us to view this piece, through the goggles of a surreal storytelling of two twins, Tainto’lilth and Marko’cain who live with their parents deep in the Artic in an exploration station. The twins are played by Carmichael and Hunter, along with every other character. They change swiftly from parents to child, to animal with a slight change of costume and a different voice. The effect is actually quite impressive for something so simple.

There are undoubtedly some poignant moments throughout this piece, but there was something nagging away at me as I watched this. I know that Told by an Idiot are a superb theatre company, with a great track record. The set design and music, along with Philip Gladwell’s lighting design all combined to make for a spectacle of the eyes and ears, so it wasn’t this aspect nagging at me. It was rather, Carmichael and Hunter’s performance itself. Whilst the piece itself is an intriguing tale – its execution didn’t quite live up to what was expected.

The playground experience of theatre

The peformance of The Fahrenheit Twins didn’t flat line, it wasn’t dead and emotionless, but it lacked some kind of energy. Certain moments became repetitive and at times I didn’t quite understand what or even why this was being shown. Particularly the continual use of the husky masks. Whilst at times comic, during other moments it became over-done. Don’t get me wrong, The Fahrenheit Twins is to some extent an enjoyable piece, but one to stick in my mind for a long time? No, I think not.

Told by an Idiot under the direction of Dunster have created a playful piece, where the performers really do create a winter wonderland out of Wilkinson’s set, which has been designed in a multi-functional way, compartments dotted across the stage hiding most of the props and added surprises.

Sliding across the stage and manipulating fabric into the form of their dead mother, the tale is actually quite heart warming. The twins wanting to find a way to bury their dead mother, head into the Artic with the hope that there will be a sign from somewhere as to what they are meant to do. Throwing themselves against the elements of the Artic weather, their support for each other and their maturity in desperate times is lovingly shown by Carmichael and Hunter.

Hayley Carmichael and Paul Hunter

If you’re looking to see devised theatre that doesn’t quite enter the world of nonsense but equally creates a surreal landscape and story, then The Fahrenheit Twins is certainly for you. In fact, I’d implore anyone who is interested in a different theatre night out to embark on Told by an Idiot’s new piece. I’ve not been put off but excited by what will come next out of this company.

The Fahrenheit Twins by Told by an Idiot is running until 5th December 2009. Check out the Barbican website for details on booking and also Told by an Idiot’s website for past shows and company information.


Review: James Thiérrée, Raoul

October 23, 2009

I loath one man shows, with a passion. It’s like seeing someone you do not wish to see walking along the street and you quickly duck across to the other side of the road just to avoid them. I go to great lengths to avoid having much contact with a show or performance that lacks two people. The reason behind this is that a single person, a ‘one-man show’ just has the huge ability to fall onto its head. There is a defined make or break moment in each one man performance I’ve ever seen. That moment of, “Can this person actually keep me entertained for the whole running time… yes? No.”

With this in mind, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Raul at the Barbican Centre by the notorious James Thiérrée. For those that don’t know who this man is, (and don’t worry, I equally did not know until recently), he happens to be grandson of Charlie Chaplin, and the son of Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée. If anything, there was a lot to live up to in this performance, and I have to say, it was certainly one to catch my imagination.

A one-man show in the Barbican Theatre, that great expanse of a stage, it seemed all too surreal, or quite possibly the start of something I might regret watching. However, upon taking my seat, it became clear that this wasn’t just your average show.

James  Thierree in Roaul

James Thierree in Roaul

Huge white sheets, suspended from the flies, hung, drapped over piping, an odd assortment of shapes and sizes poking out in all directions from the stage that dominated every inch of the immense stage that is the Barbican Theatre. James Thiérrée suddenly appears running through the audience, climbing across seats before making his way up to the expanse of white sheets before him. With momentous music, and a sweeping of his arms, the sheets suddenly retract in a beautiful manner revealing a lead pipe structure. It is at this moment that I let out my first of many “wow”‘s.

Raoul is an odd performance piece, part comedy, part mime, a mixture of trickery of the eye and spectacular visual effects. Raoul is a symphony for the eyes. An oxymoron if you please. It is both spectacular in form as it is precise in concentrated details. Leading the eye to both be marveled in sheer size of visionary images and squint equally at small magical movements.

Admittedly the piece takes a while to get into, not because it is hard to watch, or tiresome. It is more understanding the way that Thiérrée moves around the space, the silent dialogue and clowning elements, it is essentially understanding the language he is using. With Raoul you have to drop all sense of intelligence, and allow yourself to be immersed inside a world of true imagination.

Thiérrée performs with strength and comic ability, but equally there is a thorough form of training and skill that he has with his body. Watching him send ripples around his body is quite fascinating, if a little odd to conceive.

Thiérrée creates a strange, mysterious world to which the spectator has to loose all senses and thought and enjoy a spectacle of epic proportions.

Breath taking stage design

Breath taking stage design

There are moments within Raoul where I was left wondering “How are they doing that?”, especially with the stage design, which is at times breathtaking.

The house made from large piping during the course of the 75 minute performance slowly gets dismantled in explosive creative ways. Towards the start of the piece the front of this structure just falls apart, the large piping narrowly missing those seating in the front row (many a gasp of horror during this moment).

There is another breath taking moment where the back wall of piping seems to explode outwards as it magically gets lifted upwards away from the stage looking like a star that has descended to earth.

The music equally plays a huge part within this performance, it shapes emotions and atmospheres, it booms across the Barbican Theatre, and tinkles in all corners. It is clear that Thiérrée’s piece isn’t just about himself, it is a much larger version of a world he is creating. The sounds that echo through the theatre combined with the stage trickery and imagination makes your head pound with chaotic excitement.

The show even features a large elephant, a strange fish that swims across the stage and a large puppet bird. The various materials and devices used is endless, and brilliantly done.

James Thiérrée

James Thiérrée

A one-man show by James Thiérrée is not exactly what I expected, that is for sure. Thiérrée is talented, and rightly so, given his upbringing around circuses and learning the tricks of the trade from his family. He is a spectacle himself, who manages to so easily switch between the clowning elements to the sheer physical ability of his body. He appears to have no limits. Throwing himself across the stage, onto piping, and even at one point flies across the stage and out into the audience.

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed myself in this performance, it did take me a while to get actively engaged in this. It’s bizarre. Certainly is not for everyone. Yet equally it is challenging and works wonders for the eyes. But Thiérrée still has a way to go before I will gladly give him a standing ovation such as the one that occurred on the night I saw Raoul, but that is a pet hate of mine.

Raoul is spectacular, but how far does it go to keep us engaged?

Raoul is on at the Barbican Centre until the 24th October. See their website for more details.


Review: The Gospels of Childhood

October 2, 2009

The Barbican Centre is an odd place, I have come to realise. It is somewhat of a community built within itself and it’s concrete walls. There is a housing estate, cinema, shops, bars, theatres, music halls, and even a church. Whilst I may get lost every time I venture to his strange centre, I always leave filled to the brim with theatre joy. Enter stage left, Teatr ZAR.

Teatr ZAR with Gospels of Childhood

Teatr ZAR with Gospels of Childhood

Teatr ZAR are a multinational group formed in Worclaw who are collaborating with the Growtowski Institute. This perhaps will set a certain standard for this theatre company, a certain method of working, especially when being so closely linked to the work of Growtoski, one of the worlds most notable theatre directors/experimenters. This comment is quite fair to state, especially after watching their debut performance of The Gospel of Childhood.

As audiences we are instructed via email to meet outside St Giles church, a rather odd location set within the heart of the Barbican Centre, surrounded by water, and modern built buildings. The church is a beautiful venue, no doubt about it. But what happens within the church and of the performance itself is something far beyond beautiful, it is captivating, entrancing, emotional and heartbreaking all at once.

Concentrating on the voice as a tool to lead and establish a form of theatre, Teatr ZAR create a whirl wind of choral chanting and rhythmic voice combined with various repetitive physical actions. The themes explored are that of the circle of life, from birth to death. The vocal ability of this group is extraordinary, where their songs and chanting lead the spectator into an emotional state. This is not surprising considering the word ZAR comes from the name of funeral songs performed by the Svaneti tribe in North-West Georgia.

Lamentation has always fascinated me, it’s something which is truly emotional and really piercing to listen to. The Gospel of Childhood features multiple layers of repetitive chanting, wailing, lamenting – full of harmonies, dissonance and melodies bursting with mournful life.

Teatr ZAR are true masters of the voice.

Gospels of Childhood

Gospels of Childhood

St Giles church is perhaps the perfect setting for this performance. The use of candles through the performance sets a certain ritualistic style for the chanting. The use of hanging pipes that are played mimic the sound of church bells adding to the events that unfold. In true European manner there is an uncertainty as to when each section of the performance ends. No clapping, no obvious crescendo, but instead silence.

Whilst The Gospel of Childhood is beautiful to listen to, and to ultimately experience (I find it hard to truly define this performance as anything but an experience) – there are flaws to the work. The vocal aspect of this is flawless. They are, as I’ve said, masters of the voice. But this isn’t purely a piece to listen to, there has to be an element of seeing the physical side of performance too.

There lacks a certain movement, or physicality, or even something beyond this. I can’t quite place my finger on it. You get so wrapped up in the atmosphere and the music, the chanting – the shapes of the body and the odd spoken english lines that you forget at times that this is a piece of theatre where there is meant to be some form of movement. Whilst this isn’t a static piece, it is slightly obvious that the musical element of the performance is the core of the piece, with the physical overlapped. It doesn’t take away from the performance, but it does leave it behind from a well rounded performance.

Gospels of Childhood2

Glass, Wine, Lamentation

The middle part of the Triptych of The Gospels of Childhood is within the Barbican’s Pit Theatre. The style is completely different and kind of tilts the whole performance in a completely different direction to the ritual aspects delivered in the church. The design element here is crucial, the use of broken glass, shattering of glass, glass chips slicing the stage apart, the spilling of wine, the spilling of blood all links beautifully with the song and instruments used. The suicidal aspects used within this middle section are not needed and take away from the performance itself, making this middle section rather weak compared to the church parts one and two.

However, do not for a moment be put off by this slightly odd affair of a performance. It is challenging. I can’t say I understood what was happening from moment to moment. The questions it raised though, along with the beautiful, yes that cliche word of beautiful (but how else to sum up the experience I had?) voices left me stunned into silence.

It’s not often you’ll get to see theatre of this nature without stepping into Poland, so my advice is to brace the slightly cold night to queue for returns for this production, as unfortunately it is now completely sold out. If anything, A MUST SEE.