Saturday, 19 December 2009

PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Cinderella

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Cinderella

Jacksons Lane, Highgate

It may be easy to presume that you know the story of Cinderella and find it hard to believe that you could be surprised by a production of it. But then you obviously haven’t been along to Jacksons Lane to see their contemporary version of the classic fairytale complete with a Dr Martins wearing heroine.

Sending the damsel in distress hurtling forward in time, we are presented with Cinderella as a schoolgirl not scrubbing floors for a wicked step mother but trying desperately to fit into a school full of talented acrobats and magicians. Dr Kane is the resident Mr Nasty, headmaster of the school with a Cowell-esque disregard for anyone who he doesn’t feel has talent. And, unfortunately for Cinders, she is one of these.

Cinderella is a fun and impressive production that is perfectly pitched at children of all ages without talking down or patronising them. Jam packed with bright colours, fast music and impressive stunts, it manages to keep the predominately young audience entertained for the 90 minute duration while giving a nod to the accompanying adults with satirical digs at Britain’s obsession with reality TV/telephone voting shows. Stacha Hicks’ Cinderella is adorably na├»ve as she tries to find her way while pursuing Victor (Christian Lee), the Prince Charming star pupil whose ingenious magic tricks are spell bounding.

Largely deviating from the original plot, key elements are retained making the central plot recognisable. Kaveh Rahnama and Lauren Hendry, who make up So & So Circus on the side, are a male-female ugly sisters whose acrobatic and clowning routines draw gasps from the assembled crowd.

Cinderella isn’t rocket science and it isn’t going to create an Osborne style revolution in British theatre. It is, however, thoroughly exciting and entertaining which is exactly what you want at Christmas.


Phil Burt

Cinderella runs at Jacksons Lane until 3rd January 2010

Sunday, 13 December 2009

PERFORMANCE REVIEW: A Christmas Carol

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A Christmas Carol

Southwark Playhouse, London Bridge

Trying to pick your way through the large amount of turkey that appears on the Christmas stages can be difficult. Skipping between nonsensical pantos and classical ballets, it may seem hard to find a middle ground and a theatrical experience that avoids conventions and stereotypes. That’s why it’s great to have the Southwark Playhouse and productions like A Christmas Carol, which provides us with a real Christmas treat.

Symbiotically placing Neil Bartlett’s Dickensian adaptation within the atmospheric setting of the London vaults, director Ellie Jones creates a promenade performance where audience members pick their way through the dank spaces experiencing the sensations of Victorian London. Sensible footwear and warm jackets are a must as we follow Ebenezer Scrooge on his night time journey with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. Throughout the journey we are surprised with strange characters and inventive uses of props as desks double up to become cupboards and wardrobes, beds reveal hidden pathways and ghosts emerge through an array of household furniture.

While audience participation is often both feared and actively avoided, particularly in the uber-sensitive world of contemporary London, the cast of A Christmas Carol interact in a manner that makes the collected audience want to join in and become part of the story, whether it be joining the Cratchit’s for supper or creating decorations and dancing with Scrooge at Christmas parties past. And it’s this audience participation that brings life to the production and pulls all deeper into the heart of the story. Spontaneous eruptions of singing coupled with bursts of Christmas music re-awaken the feelings of joyous times spent with friends and family around a warm fire, and it’s not long before we start to empathise towards the menacing Scrooge, played superbly by David Fielder with an array of facial and corporeal expressions perfectly conveying the bitterness and eventual excitement of his character. Fielder is supported with strong performances from Steve Hansell as the put-upon Bob Cratchit, Sarah Paul playing his wife, and their children, who make one look forward to the impending happy ending.

By subverting the traditions and breaking the conventions, the Southwark Playhouse offer up a wonderfully alternative production of the classic tale that doesn’t involve a cinema screen and Jim Carrey. A perfect way to get you in the mood for the yuletide season.

Alex Wilshire

A Christmas Carol runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 9th January

Saturday, 12 December 2009

PREVIEW: Shows for the Kids This Christmas

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It’s sad to say but Christmas really is a time for the kids. As much as watching Home Alone for the hundredth time and wandering around London watching drunken office workers fall out of bars is fun, the true magic and excitement of the Yuletide season pretty much dies once you hit 13. The same sentiment is reflected in the theatre as suburban venues are taken over by a host of half-recognisable has-beens camping it up more than Boy George at Pride.

But never fear. If you do want to give some children an entry point into the world of live performance but can’t face Melinda Messenger doing her best Barbara Windsor impression, this year there are some child-friendly productions that don’t necessitate group shouting, don’t patronise the audience and don’t turn sweets into sinister missles.

Normally associated with controversial reworkings of canonical plays, Katie Mitchell shows her lighter side with the stage version of Dr Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat. Taking over the National’s Cottlesloe Theatre, Mitchell brings life to the much-loved American classic offering what promises to be a lively and engaging theatre experience for 3-6 year olds.

Across town another modernisation is taking place as circus and physical theatre venue Jackson’s Lane update the much-loved fairy tale Cinderella. Playing with elements of contemporary life - reality TV shows, space hoppers and the like – the rags to riches tale is brought hurtling into the twenty-first century complete with acrobatic stunts and magic tricks.

A similar array of tricks and stunts is on offer at the Barbican as site-specific performance artists Lone Twin create a cabaret spectacular specifically aimed at children. Cabaret Simon brings together a host of acts including flamenco dervish Samantha Quy, Mr Melon the world’s clumsiest circus performer and the mind-bending experimenter Little Professor Walton. Word of warning – there’s a strict no entry policy for unaccompanied adults.

If you’re more into the classics and are keen to induct some under 5s into the dance culture preparing them for the work of George Balanchine at a later date, Sadler’s Wells is bringing back the balletic adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman. Exciting children for years, this production continues to be a firm family favourite and a perfect way to celebrate the festive season with all the family.

The Cat in the Hat runs at the Cottlesloe Theatre until 18th January when it transfers to the Young Vic

Cinderella runs at Jackson’s Lane Theatre until 3rd January

Cabaret Simon runs at the Barbican Pit until 31st December

The Snowman runs at Sadler’s Wells Peacock Theatre until 10th January

Sunday, 6 December 2009

PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Mrs Klein

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Mrs Klein

The Almeida, Islington

Few plays these days can claim to be tight-knit, well-made and plausible. Mrs Klein, however, is both traditional and fresh. Its conventional form and presentation may initially appear unimaginative, but their real import is exposed as they gradually reveal Mrs Klein's dysfunction. As it wriggles and squirms against the boundaries of acceptability, she attempts to sustain herself as an acceptable woman.

Tim Hatley's set provides a backdrop of oppressive red opulence. This narrows and constricts the space and works well in tandem with the obsessive self-focus of Mrs Klein, her daughter Melitta and - although for a time cleverly disguised - her assistant Paula.

Clare Higgins is a superb and intricate Mrs Klein; every avenue of character is thoroughly considered and we feel as though a more fully rounded performance could not be demanded. Likewise, Nicola Walker's Melitta and Zoe Waites' Paula are dually frustrating and sympathetic.

Mrs Klein, based on the real psychoanalyst Melanie Klein (who died in 1960), is both wise and incredibly naive. Her attempts to factualise fantasy via analysis, and her fixation with 'getting somewhere' prove to be her downfall, and ultimately more important than confronting her responsibilities to her daughter. Thea Sharrock's production is a very fine realisation of a play with characters blighted by their addictions to truth, analogy and love. For the most part, the plot falls into place very naturally, yet it’s ending seems more like a coda than an ending completely integrated with what precedes it.

Helena S. Rampley

Read Helena's interview with Mrs Klein playwright Nicholas Wright HERE

Monday, 23 November 2009

PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Money

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Money
– Shunt Theatre Company
42-44 Bermondsey Street, London Bridge

Since settling in their home in the labyrinthian vaults under London Bridge, Shunt has successfully established themselves as a unique collective who continually produce experimental work. Having now been turfed out of the hallowed space of the Shunt Lounge – along with a large number of Londoners trying to make the trendy bar their local watering hole – it is now left to the group to make the move to the new space as seamless as possible.

Money is Shunt's third production since the company formed in 1998, and their first since 2006, taking for it’s theme the speculation in Emile Zola's novel L'Argent. And here the collective place the action inside a disused tobacco factory off Bermondsey Road in South London. A giant piece of machinery occupies the centre of the warehouse, and according to the company, the purpose of this machine is unknown.

Black out. Heavy grinding and hissing sounds. Black out again. The prelude is ominous. Once ushered into the 'machine' by the invigilators dressed as doomsday motorcyclists, the audience find themselves in an enclosed space waiting to be transported in a whirlwind of total darkness.

Slowly the audience are able to piece together elements of the fragmentary narrative as we sequentially are introduced to Aristide Saccard, asking for a loan from the financier whose office the audience now find themselves in. They’re introduced to his, at times, savage girlfriend as well as the moneyman in question while the space continually shifts with floors dissolving, ceilings disappearing and doors banging. More than just a theme park simulator, the audience is then invited to go upstairs to drink and play, becoming part of the action themselves.

The only way to experience Shunt's ingenuity is physically. The experience of being in an alternative site outside the realms of the traditional theatrical space is one of the company's motifs in making theatre and in this instance the content of the show is deliberately vague and fractured allowing the staging to be centralised. A spectacle indeed. I only wonder whether they needed Zola's story to achieve it.

Ingrid Hu

Money runs at Shunt until 22nd December

Sunday, 22 November 2009

PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Cock

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Cock

Royal Court: Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Sloane Square

The tradition that has evolved in the last ten years of forming a title out of expletives no doubt contributed in part to the ticket sell-out for Cock. However, unlike the trend it points to, Cock is far removed from the superficial and the sensational. It is in fact, quite against my expectations, shockingly provocative and moving. If the title gets people through the doors then no matter; this play deserves to have a full house.

A stark, empty stage is transformed and embodied by an exceptional cast of four. Strip lighting above a circular green stage set in the round allows seamless scene changes, and the absence of all props removes any fussiness. What this demands of the actors is flawlessly achieved: incredible stamina combined with intense character knowledge and evocation. Anthony Scott as M is utterly gripping. M's whimsical ironising of every situation is shown to be the outward sign of his deep-set insecurities and need for affection. Although he initially seems caricature, M becomes frustrating and lovable at the same time. Scott is breathtakingly moving.

With no visual distractions, Cock relies and thrives on compelling character work and complex, engaging subject matter. Bartlett's head-on confrontational approach to societal pigeonholing is revealing and emotionally fuelled. Gay, straight, bi: why do we assume that these words are definitions of a person, that they constitute a person's identity? Such terminology has left John (Ben Whishaw) in the mess we see him in.

Fresh, funny and more thoughtful than I ever anticipated, Cock is both satisfying and bewildering.

Helena S. Rampley

Cock runs at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs until 19th December

Friday, 13 November 2009

PERFORMANCE REVIEW: The Trial

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The Trial
- Belt Up Theatre
Southwark Playhouse, London Bridge

Think of a theatre, and you think of rows of creaking seats. Think of a play about to start, and you think of shuffling, of “excuse me’s”, and politeness. Think of the house lights going down, and you think of the stage slowly being lit. These may all be common accessories to theatre, but they by no means constitute it. In fact, after seeing The Trial, they seem to be more unwanted distractions than desirable elements. Being robbed of sight, sense and seats heightens every sensation. Discomfort has never been this enticing.

Belt Up Theatre plunge the audience, one by one, into a bewildering and boundless darkness. Alert to each command that is given, we are utterly in the hands of sinister pierrots, dressed in black. Josef K is the only fathomable being, and thus we become him, as we follow his flailing for an answer, through the vaulted tunnels of dark and light under London Bridge.

Puppets to our raw reactions, every sense is stimulated. A piano is hauntingly played in the distance as we become aware of someone behind us, making a vomiting sound into our ears. Cold, smoky air fills the Vaults with a haze, and your own space is not your own as you are pushed, shoved, and constantly forced to move.

The incomprehensibly large space is made even more incomprehensible by the scenes that are in-set into the previously impenetrable walls. Although nothing in the production is as terrifying or disorientating as our initial entrance, we are left constantly clinging to the light and to the visibility of others, as we become aware that
both can, and will be, inexplicably and suddenly stolen again.

Helena S. Rampley

The Trial runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 28th November