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: 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).

Review: Hedda Gabler

March 18, 2010

Hedda Gabler at the Richmond Theatre is a poignant piece. One of Henrik Ibsen’s finest and most celebrated works, it depicts the crowded and claustrophobic life of the once Hedda Gabler, the now married Hedda Tesman.

Ibsen’s work has stood defiantly against the test of time, and in this production directed by Adrian Noble, it shows that Hedda Gabler is still standing strong. Nobel’s production is simple in it’s naturalistic form, yet the characters he has manipulated show a much more complex system at work.

Rosamund Pike takes centre stage as Hedda, who is truly fantastic. As the play draws its path through the events surrounding Hedda, Pike twists and turns the character, sparing fleeting moments on tenderness, anger, oppression and defiance. By the end of the play it is as if Pike wants to tear off her corset and break free of her restraints, to burst out of the drawing room to which she has been imprisoned. Of course anyone who knows the play will know how she finally escapes – but even this inevitable outcome left me somewhat surprised.

Whilst Nobel’s direction is naturalistic it is the subtle character traits that he has assigned to the actors that leave you with a slight edge.

Pike drifts around the stage as if automated, then suddenly she drops to a sofa, lays out, strewn in despair – in boredom, before jumping up and proceeding her solemn walking.

Robert Glenister as Tesman has a repeated hand gesture, and eludes a sense of child naivety about him, whilst Tim McInnerny as Judge Black is stern, slightly camp and a joy to watch.

Mention has to be made of Zoe Waites as Mrs Elvstead who for me, was truly remarkable. She was every bit of how I see the character, and not for a moment did she stray beyond my expectations. A fine example of acting that doesn’t become a  farce nor melodramatic, but rather blooming marvellous. (Watch out for Zoe Waites, she is certainly one to keep an eye on).

As a whole Hedda Gabler sits between being not quite spectacular, and neither  falling into average theatre. It is funny, charming, slightly shocking and works beautifully on the stage of the historic Richmond Theatre. Nobel has managed to make the most of Ibsen’s text, drawing the audience slowly in with subtle advances, whilst exploring the characters and producing a quality piece of theatre.

On a production side both Anthony Wards scenic design and Mark Hendersons lighting design are quite simply flawless. They work in completely harmony with Nobels direction working particularly well on drawing out a sense of oppression and madness of Hedda Gabler as a character through the darkened lighting of Henderson.

The only form of criticism I can give to this production is the length of the scene changes, something just didn’t quite fit right with them. I wanted the action to be worked through, instead of having to pause. Alas, a small price to pay for a brilliant night out!

Hedda Gabler is at the Richmond Theatre until 20th March. For more information on this Theatre Royal Bath Production or for it’s run at the Richmond Theatre see the theatres website here.

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.

Review: Moonfleece

March 8, 2010

Philip Ridley’s new play Moonfleece, isn’t so much new but rather updated. First shown as a Connection play for young people at the National Theatre, Ridley has since worked the text and brought a new life to his East London play set in derelict council block.

Moonfleece is a play bursting with ideas, metaphors and themes that are current for a society in which we are readily facing. Dealing with fascism, murder, race, equality, sexuality – you’d think that a play so full of messages that somewhere the dramatic action would get lost. This is hardly the case. Ridley has woven this tale of deception and brotherhood with characters that come across as amazingly real.

What fascinated me about this production is the sheer number of characters who are present. An 11 strong cast – who are all new young professionals – manage to both dominate the small space of the Rich Mix studio, but still allow for the action and dialogue to interject between them without hesitation. I can’t remember the last time I saw a cast so fluid in their lines and delivery. Nor can I remember seeing a show for a long time with such a strong young ensemble that isn’t a musical.

Moonfleece covers multiple issues within the confides of Ridley’s story. It doesn’t aim to solve any of the prejudices which is raised, but certainly raises a creative frown at for example the steady increased popularity of the BNP in recent years. Ridley creates a family who see’s the local community as an all white society, spreading their fascists views in their same tailored suits and ties, with their all white slogans.

Cleverly Ridley ties the main story of a dead brother who actually turns out to have been banished from ‘the kingdom’ by the ‘step-father’ due to his sexuality with issues of acceptance of sexual orientation in societies and culture. Ridley’s message isn’t forced on the audience, but subtly revealed across two hours of the show.

There are few things to criticise about this production. The stage design is effective by William Reynolds, and whilst the sound at times slightly distracts from the action, the howling of the dogs repeated throughout create a tense atmosphere. Ridley’s text allows for a sense of humour to be evoked from some of the characters, which allows for space within this heavily loaded script.

Conclusion: A cast who are young, but there is no denying that whilst none of them stood out as leading characters nor driving the piece, together they worked brilliantly in delivering this gripping text. Covering issues that are relevant in todays society it brings a fresh approach to dealing with these issues, and is perfect for it’s current venue in the heart of East London.

Recommended for young people as well as adults. David Marcatlai direction of the piece is commendable allowing for the action to be fast paced, engaging and before we know it, 2 hours are up and the play is done. Considering Moonfleece has no interval it certainly has the ability to grab us and not let go until it is finished – something so few productions can achieve.

Moonfleece is currently showing at Rich Mix before it goes an on extensive national tour. To view dates see the official Moonfleece website here.

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.

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.