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.


Review: Made In Russia, Sacred Festival

October 26, 2009

Sacred FestivalThe Sacred Festival is in full swing now at the Chelsea Theatre, and as mentioned in my previous article here, it is one not to be missed. Bursting with contemporary practitioners, and theatre pieces from across Europe, there is hidden in the depths of Chelsea, a creative oasis.

What happens when you take two Russians, heavily involved in dance, and allow them to collaborate together on a theatre piece that both explores their own identity as performers but also interweaves a narrative of past experiences? Made In Russia is the outcome. A slightly surreal and bizarre post-modern theatre piece created, conceived and performed by Andrei Andrianov and Oled Soulimenko.

It’s hard to place my thoughts on this piece. I felt slightly disengaged by the performance at first. A purposeful detachment made by the performers stating how they wanted to start the piece with notable famous characters but failed to get them due to money. They start again. The performers stating how they wanted to start the piece with… they start again. It is repetitive, yet it is slightly addictive, the English subtitles playing comically behind the two exposed performers.

The piece shifts between small narratives delivered into a microphone, to varying styles of dance and further disengaging through recorded speech and the use of a television screen. Soulimnko and Andianov reveal small pieces of information about their lives, their careers and their various engagements with dance. They move between comic persona and expressive pieces of dance.

They speak of their relationship with Maya Plisetskaya and Jean-Luc Godard. It’s a focus point, a place that the narratives seem to always return to. Yet equally Made In Russia allows for the spectator to get lost in movements, the rolling images on the television screen and the speaking voices from the boom box. It blurs the boundaries between a dance piece and a post-modern theatre piece.

Made In Russia is a fragmented dance piece of captivating moments, of images, songs, lights, images.

It’s a body moving in space to robot styled music and a monotone voice delivering a letter to a lost friend, a lost collaborator.

It’s a moment in time expressed in a body transcended into a theatrical black box.

It is a metaphor.

It is a performance piece I do not quite understand but can appreciate.

The piece in both Russian and English also expresses the performers concerns with taking this very same piece of dance theatre to an English audience. “We must speak in English”, because apparently it is more accessible when spoken in English, yet equally the Russian language becomes slightly magical.

An hour later, as the performances draws to an end I struggle to comprehend how this dance theatre piece has managed to draw me into the depths of Russian culture and how I feel slightly compassionate towards these two Russian dancing men. I feel touched and actually proud to know that I’ve witnessed a Russian contemporary piece of theatre, that I was a witness to this happening.

The Sacred Festival of Contemporary Theatre and Performance is currently on at the Chelsea Theatre, see their website for a full listing of events.


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.


Sacred Festival – Chelsea Theatre

October 19, 2009

Sacred FestivalLondon is most certainly a buzzing place, bursting full of life and events, so much so that it can sometimes be a bit difficult to focus on what might be worth a trip to and what just gets buried under the heap of other things that happening. Shamefully, theatre is one of those things that easily saturated with new shows, events and even festivals, meaning a lot gets missed.

Festivals, bringing together artists, shows, discussions, and generally speaking a whole excitement of culture are not to be missed. Especially that of Theatre Festivals, so let me draw your attention to the Sacred Festival being held next week at the Chelsea Theatre. It’s well worth a look.

The Sacred Festival has been running since 2006 at the Chelsea Theatre and has magically passed under my radar each year. However with the sort of line up within this years festival, I struggle to see how it’s not the talk of the town… yet. The festival focuses on Contemporary Theatre and whilst this is quite a broad spectrum, 2009 see’s the Chelsea Theatre linked with leading Austrian venue, Brut in Vienna and a whole host of leading and well known contemporary theatre practitioners.

The festival has so many promising events and shows that its hard to know where to begin, but here are a few highlights that should be noted in your diaries:

The Merry Widow by Cezary Tomaszewski

The Merry Widow by Cezary Tomaszewski

First comes Cezary Tomaszewski’s new production, an operetta called The Merry Widow. What is most intriguing about Tomaszewski’s production is that it uses four real-life Polish cleaning ladies. Taking the piece into quite an interesting dimension which promises to “free the genre from the dusts of simplicity and naivety and succeeds in placing into the centre of attention those who are otherwise almost wholly excluded from cultural creative processes.”

I'm Thinking Of Your (Version 2) by Franco B

I'm Thinking Of Your (Version 2) by Franco B

Franco B, a well known performance artist for using his body as a canvas for performance will be presenting his new show, I’m Thinking Of You (Version 2). Seeking to “present a surreal, dreamlike image… a romantic vision of childhood fantasy and abandon. The body is central, but we are also presented with objects and music, which converge to take the viewer through a contemplative, personal experience.” It will most certainly be one of the highlights of the festival for me, having heard of Franco B through many methods.

Other performances I’m eager to see include Action Hero‘s contemporary version of A Western, who are turning into a well known company on the contemporary theatre circuit. Originally from the depths of Bristol, I first heard of Action Hero last year during May Fest and since then the likes of Lyn Gardener regularly praises them. Including in the must see performances are Gob Squads show Live Long and Prosper, although a video instillation it will certainly prove to be just has fun, whacky and promising as their earlier work.

Sacred Festival isn’t just about performances though. There are a number of post show discussions with the various artists who are performing, which are completely free. Also there are several workshops that you can attend with some of the practitioners including ‘Writing for performance’ by Lone Twin, and ‘Art, Sex and Politics’ by Franco B.

For more information on the festival, see the Chelsea Theatre website… and if anything, get yourself down to see some of Europes best artists in a small but delightful theatre.

The Sacred Festival runs at the Chelsea Theatre from 21st October to 22nd November 2009


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.


Thoughts of a Drama School Boy No More

July 9, 2009

I have just come to an end of my drama school life. 3 years passed me by within a blink of an eye. So, it got me thinking about what I’ve learnt over this period of time, the sort of words of wisdom that I now hold. Of course I am a lot more maturer now than I ever was when I first started at the ripe age of 18, where I was eager to absorb everything I could as an actor. Interesting enough, I wouldn’t call myself an actor now by a long shot… I am somewhere between a performer [a vast difference than actor], a maker, a director, a writer, a… theatre maker or artist.

I’m pretty sure that some people are frowning at the term “theatre maker“, I remember a friend saying how ‘stuck up’ that sounds and how it’s far better to be called a theatre artist. No matter what labels you apply to yourself it is what you feel or want that matters. So all the same, my distinctions as to what I am in the theatre world is somewhat blurred, but there is nothing wrong with that.

Whilst I was at Drama School, it should be noted that I wasn’t on an acting course as such. I was ‘training’ in European Theatre Arts. The difference being that whilst we did train in acting methods and ideals, they were all born from European thinkers, practitioners and playwrights. Automatically the mindset of myself in terms of thinking as an actor/performer is slightly different from that of the ‘straight’ acting courses deep in method acting, I have a more European mindset.

My course took a more physical and contemporary look at theatre. We often engaged in lessons where we  would run around the room for an hour or so, before following another hour of rolling on the floor, without even speaking a line of text. What good does this do I hear you ask? It’s about training your body, to understand your body and to feel your body.

Again, it all sounds rather ‘airy fairy’ but for a actor/performer to have an understanding of their body is essential. To know where your body is in relation to everyone else in the class easily translates to when you are performing and being acutely aware of the distances between each of your fellow actors without needing to look.

You begin to learn an awareness and the essence of the ensemble.

Performers, Critics, and general theatre-going people are very quick to throw this idea of ‘the ensemble’ around. I can’t help but to think that there is a distinct lack of understanding as to what an ensemble actually is and does. For me, an ensemble are a group of performers who work together, extensively together in order to produce a form of theatre. They are a unit, a single body, and a team. Ensemble can be seen in the way that a Greek Chorus work with each other to build the dramatic action within a performance. From my learning, one of the easiest ways of creating theatre is as a collective, as this ensemble.

You learn to trust the ensemble, you gain support from the ensemble and you work together to form the ensemble.

This quickly can lead onto another fundamental idea that I learnt. Whilst there is an ensemble collectively working together to produce work, the role of the director as God, is dead. This might seem dramatic, but I have been trained that the time of when the director who rules over everyone, making all decisions and choices for a performance – this can no longer take place.

We are in the golden age of collaboration. We as performers are directors, or we are working with directors. What I am trying to get across is that the notion that the director and performer working together, collaboratively is what theatre is moving towards. By joining minds, you join together different perspectives of the creative work, and thus giving a broader outlook upon a piece of theatre. Collaboration also is found with designers too, where every element is brought together as a whole. Instead of one ruling person overseeing a production.

Some people might take delight in the fact that whilst I seem to be very critically minded through the articles I post on ‘A Younger Theatre’, my experiences come directly from being a performer myself. My course has built a variety of skills within me to work with companies in creating something which I completely throw my life into.

If I have learnt anything, it is a deep, deep, passion for an art form that I am willing to dedicate my life to. So maybe watch this space…?