Review: Your Nation Loves You

March 29, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Review: Six Degrees of Separation

January 11, 2010

If this is the start of 2010 for theatre, then I will quite happily enjoy the rest of the year. Six Degrees of Separation at The Old Vic is simply superb, directed by David Grindley and written by John Guare, it is a feisty and wildly funny production.

It takes a few minutes to adjust to the style of Grindley’s direction – the direct address to the audience is a little disconcerting at first. Also the extremely fast and overlapping of text between Lesley Manville as Ouisa Kittredge and Anthony Head as Fran Kittredge takes a moment to tune into. Yet once you begin to relax into this fast paced tale you soon start to find the commentary amusing and absurd.

John Guare’s play is based around the idea that we are only ever six people away from a certain someone. So, we are all through knowing someone who knows someone, etc six people away from everyone and anyone. We all know each other, we are all related and together we make one unit. This is the basis of six degrees of separation.

When Fran Kittredge an art dealer, and his wife Ouisa Kittredge are entertaining their rich friend in the hope of an investment in the latest Cezanne to go on the art market, their night is interrupted by the arrival of Paul played by Obi Alibi who has been mugged and stabbed. Paul is a friend of the Kittredge’s children, who speaks highly about the family and their home, and ends up entertaining them after being cleaned up and given a new shirt. Are things exactly as they seem? Not quite. In the morning Ouisa finds Paul in the middle of a sexual act with another man in the bedroom, who turns out to be a rent boy.

The story unfolds that it would appear that the Kittredge’s were not the only ones to be lured into believing this Paul’s mugging story and invite him inside for safety. Targeting the rich, each of the families involved have a connection through their children… so who is the mystery con artist appearing to be a friend of the family?

The casting in Six Degrees of Separation of Manville and Head as the leading characters is perfect. They play of each other as the rich couple taken a mock by the con artist. They bounce off each other and interject the text amongst themselves in such a vigorous manner that it is almost head spinning. Yet equally this dialogue is delivered in such an absurd manner that the whole thing becomes somewhat of a farce.

Grindley’s direction is snappy, and suits the text of Guare brilliantly in producing a fast paced and action packed drama. At times the direction turns the drama into mockery, yet this is delightfully laugh out loud material. Through repetition, stylised movement and direction Grindley creates a thrilling production.

Hats off to Alibi for his acting in the production, as a recent graduate from RADA he is flawless in his portray of the boy who wants to be something he will never be.

I didn’t think much to the set design by Jonathan Fensom, a simple sofa, small table and odd props – and the moving walls only allowed for exits and entrances. But then Six Degrees of Separation doesn’t need to rely upon a realistic set – it revolves around the fast paced dialogue and storyline.

I can’t remember the last time I laughed so freely during a production. A true delight.

Be warned though, not everyone will appreciate Grindely’s production – I’m certainly not sure what the Old Vic regular audience members will think of this witty drama. If anything, Six Degrees of Separation is bound to keep you on your toes – packed for of surprises including some unexpected nudity – BRILLIANT.

Six Degrees of Separation is running at the Old Vic Theatre until 3rd April 2010, book online on their website.