Review: 4.48 Psychosis

March 24, 2010


I was left frozen to my chair, a few feet away from the stage, tears in my eyes and a sense of emptiness, a barren existence in my stomach, and a need to pack away my emotions, my mental state, and keep them under lock and key. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Sarah Kane’s finest play, 4.48 Psychosis in a truly harrowing production by TR Warszawa.

Kane’s work entered my reading material a few years back. I was possibly too young at the time to truly understand the true affect that Kane had with her poetic language. Whatever it was that I got from it, was a sense of freedom… a sense that Kane was writing everything I wanted to say. She uses the most vulgar language, she explodes apart linear narrative, and expects a series of numbers to form a body of dialogue/text – and I happily bathed in the words.

Then my dissertation came around, and once again Kane reared her epic plays before me, by that overused term ‘In-Yer-Face Theatre’. Yet during all of this time I had only seen student productions of the text, with little design and little outcome. Having missed Blasted when it was shown at the Barbican a few years back, it was time I settled my deal with Kane – this time, 4.48 Psychosis in a Polish version.

Everything about this production is exquisitely created, formed and unleashed upon the audience with devastating power and conviction.

Grzegorz Jarzyna has finely squeezed Kanes text through a translation by Klaudyna Rozhin, almost distilled the essence of disorder, crumbling insanity, and a desire to kill yourself and laid it upon a stage. Everything is exposed, and as an audience member you really get a feeling that Jarzyna wants the whole performance to be painfully uncomfortable.

As the centre piece to Jarzyna’s production is Magdalena Cieleka who throws herself about the stage, swallowing pill after pill, cutting her wrists and displaying extreme forms of delusion, paranoia and a lack of mental stability. She is completely engrossing to watch, yet equally disturbing. Cieleka stares out across the audience with accusing eyes, she screams at us – she pleads for freedom and acceptance – and as an audience we become voyeurs to break down.

Cieleka is without a doubt, remarkable.

There is a strong clinical affect from the stage design by Małgorzata Szczęśniak – the wipe clean floors and rows of sinks add this medical instinct. With a lighting design by Felice Ross that brutally cuts apart the stage, and at times the actors – the action is centred, trapped, imprisoned like the words that are spoken. Together they bring about the force and power that the text can justly deliver.

4.48 Psychosis is about tearing apart the mental state of a lost figure or narrator. In TR Warszawa’s version it displays fragmented moments, memories of this woman who clearly is not well. Oddly, the production does make sense in narrative form, each scene is interjected by a prolonged black out, as if we are inside this woman’s head experiencing moments of black outs of memory. The use of a projected number sequence to both countdown the performance and increase with the number of varying drugs being given as treatment escalates to a climax that sent shivers down my spine and an overwhelming desire to shout ‘stop it’. Yet I was powerless.

TR Warszawa manage to get beneath the text, draw upon the key themes and get to the heart of it’s audience. It potrays a split personality, the use of a child and older woman adds depth to the already fragmented character/voice that Cieleka plays by giving a history, a future of this person. Despite being obvious to use, they represent so much.

I could go on and list detail after detail that was executed with perfection, but that gives away the experience.

For me, this was uncateogrically the best and most haunting piece of theatre this year.

4.48 Psychosis is at the Barbican Theatre until the 27th March. More details on their website. Also see TR Warszawa’s website for more shows (the site is also in English).

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Review: Circa

March 10, 2010


Circus is a difficult art form when it comes to the exploration of work and in its attempts at raising the profile of this technical art. Circa’s new work of the same name, attempts to explore the boundaries of what circus can be, although somewhere along the line its artistic director Yaron Lifschitz seems to equally have gotten lost in the boundaries.

Circa is an 80 minute piece exploring the companies work into circus, acrobatic, and physical work. It shifts from subtle mini explorations of the body, to large aerial work, yet somehow I am not convinced by the outcome. The performers are impressive, their skills are above the level of standard I have seen in recent months when it comes to both ability and energy. They deliver their acts with brilliant percission and skill. They are trained to perfection.

The problem with this performance is Lifschitz attempts are breaking apart the boundaries of the performance of circus work, with the exploration of the companies work – it’s research and development. It almost feels like Circa is a showcase of the companies work, a ‘look what we can do with our bodies’ style which leaves no room for performance narrative or substance.

Of course any performance relating to circus and acrobatic work can do without a narrative nor spoken dialogue – yet Circa needs this to piece together the various ‘acts’ together. The companies explorations of their body is fascinating, with their deep understanding of small movements of hands, muscles, limps but in the greater context of the piece, much is lost and not found.

The highlight of the night has to come from a daredevil moment between a female and male performer. The female in question wears bright red high heel shoes, and proceeds to stand and balance on her partner. This act continues as she moves around his body, standing on his legs, chest, shoulders – whilst the man shifts balance with skill and sheer muscle strength. The subtle undertones of sexual relationships between them spoke volumes – this work is clearly pushing the boundaries, giving shock and delight to its audiences. It is just a shame that the rest of the piece doesn’t work in this manner.

Circa may have proved that their skills are finely trained, but their artistic approach to a performance leaves little to be desired.

Circa is part of the Bite 10 Season at the Barbican Theatre and is performing from 9th – 14th March. Tickets available through the website.


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: 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


Review: Trilogy

January 27, 2010

Trilogy is not an easy piece to digest. It is however the most liberating and exhilarating piece I have ever witnessed in my life.

As a man watching a piece about women and feminism I struggle to have the depth and understand that I should. As a gay man however, I understand the struggling against the freedom of who you are and the under appreciation you can get for being that person. I understand the feeling of being lost in a wave of oppression and feeling as if I don’t belong – no identity. This I guess, became my appreciation for Trilogy, that whilst I am not a woman, I have an understanding of what the piece stands for.

Trilogy is a post-modern, feminist, part dance, part video, part physical theatre, part audience participation, part liberation movement for woman. It’s a lot to throw into a single piece, especially over two hours, yet somehow Nic Green as director has done so in such a manner that the piece slips through the three parts (hence the title Trilogy) effortlessly.

What makes Trilogy so special, or rather what makes it so inspiring – so talked about, has to be the nudity. There is no way of avoiding it. It’s used in not a shock factor, nor a sexual expression of freedom, it is used in its purest form, that underneath all the clothes we are all the same – all naked, all women. (Unless of course, you are a man, then you are a naked man)

The Barbican stage is full of woman, all shapes and sizes, all naked, all moving in synchronised movement. There are bits and pieces bouncing up and down, there are woman screaming with joy and chanting. There are around 100-120 women bearing all – it is a sight that I will never witness again, but for those 7 minutes – I am in a state of shock. This is crazy, I tell myself. I can’t quite believe it… the Barbican stage is literally a mass of moving naked bodies.

End of Part One.

The audience erupts into spontaneous laughter and discussion – there is an energy in the theatre which I’ve never felt before. A sense of unison in saying that we just saw something that is mind blowing.

The rest of Trilogy combines a mixture of dance movements, with video projects from a feminist discussion back in the 60’s – to directly addressing the audience and challenging them to create their own female stories, or rather herstories. It’s clear that whilst this piece is about standing up and believing in being who you are, it is also clearly not a protest or overhauling what is in place – it is about expressing a desire for women to be shown more, to be appreciated more.

Trilogy is funny, witty, clever and has a heart felt message.

Possibly one of the most important things I take from Trilogy is the impact it had upon the audience. The ending of the show culminates in Green inviting members of the audience (female only) to come up onto the stage and bare all whilst we all sing Jerusalem. On the night I was there some 50 audiences members, maybe more, bounded up to the stage to take part.

These aren’t company members, they aren’t friends or family members of the cast – these are real women, who feel overwhelmed by the performance. They too become part of the story.

Have I ever seen a performance that has empowered the audience so much that they felt compelled to get naked in front of a huge auditorium on a sold out night? No. Will I ever see a performance like this again? I doubt it. – So let’s celebrate with what Trilogy does.

It gives hope, it gives excitement, freedom, liberation, and most of all, it gives a thoroughly entertaining night.

Never has a standing ovation been so justified.

Trilogy is now on tour around the UK, be sure to look out for it. This performance was part of the Barbican’s Bite 10.


Review: Kefar Nahum

January 22, 2010

There is complete darkness in The Pit Theatre at the Barbican. A strange and alluring soundscape fills the dark. Then somewhere ahead in this darkness, shapes emerge. A caterpillar, an old man, a plume of smoke drifting upwards. In fact, it is just a white sheet being manipulated in the darkness. My imagination is at work here, and I honestly believe that this sheet is the form of two characters sitting on a wall, their dialogue echoed in the atmospheric sounds behind.

This is the work of Belgium based Compagnie Mossoux-Bonté the collaboration between Nicole Mossoux and Patrick Bonté. Their work fuses together the crossroads of theatre and dance, but in Kefar Nahum they explore the manipulation of objects through puppetry and animation.

Kefar Nahum is a dark piece blending the creation of life in objects and material to their destruction through violence of objects. Another feature at the Barbican Theatre in association with the International Mime Festival

It is quite astonishing the way in which the mind works during this performance. It is not that the material is questioning something deep or philosophical but rather our imagination suddenly engages and gets to work. As the object manipulation takes place, narratives are formed – but not through dialogue but through voices inside the mind. There might be a watering can being moved on the stage, but to me, this is the last of the great birds of the south, finding it all rather surprising to come across another person – in this case, the puppeteer.

Whilst Kefar Nahum is a great stimulation of the mind, the ever changing scenes, the fluttering of moments between objects and narratives leaves little for through lines, and fails to completely engage me as an audience member.

Perhaps we’re not even meant to connect with the piece, for other than the puppeteer herself, everything else used are nothing more than inanimate objects, scattered items that have to be brought to life. How can we connect with something that once hands move away from it, they fall off the front of the stage onto the floor – as is the case throughout the whole performance.

If anything this makes me wonder if the piece is for an exclusive audience, and how accessible it is for a larger audience. Whilst there is no narration, and the language is formed through the movement of objects, this object manipulation isn’t for everyone. Unless you’re willing to get lost in shapes and forms that appear in the curves and folds of fabric or disused objects you won’t find much in Kefar Nahum.

It is a shame that once again we have a sinister puppetry show for adults – where are all the simple adult puppetry that don’t deal with the themes of violence and manipulation of being?

Kefar Nahum is part of the International Mime Festival and also part of the Bite 10 Festival at the Barbican Centre. The show finishes on the 23rd January 2010.


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.