Thursday, 27 August 2009
It is one of the most unlikely places to find a theatre company. Driving through the village of Glaisdale, perched on the side of a hill in the heart of the North York Moors, my dad drives past the ‘theatre’ twice before finally noticing it. I, on the other hand, find all of this familiar and can’t wait to get through the doors of the village hall and take my seat for what I know will be a satisfying experience.
Almost a year and a half ago, I wrote to Esk Valley Theatre asking if they would take on a prospective Drama student for work experience during their annual summer performance. I had no idea what their shows were like, having only ever seen advertisements for their plays stuck into the grass verges of the moor roads whilst driving to Whitby. It was a huge leap into the unknown but I had chosen the best possible people to ask.
Founded in 2005 by actor Mark Stratton and choreographer Sheila Carter, EVT brings professional theatre to the North York Moors. This is not the kind of ramshackle but striving outfit which often shuffles on stage at village halls but a sharp, crisp theatre company, professional to its core. EVT is an integral part of the community which fiercely and rightly regard it as ‘their’ theatre.
For two months in the summer of 2008, I made tea for everyone in sight, sat at the back of rehearsals generally overawed by it all, and once the run began, sold ice creams and programmes like there was no tomorrow. I watched countless audience members come out bowled over after watching Vacuum by new writer Deborah McAndrew - a sharp, funny, deeply unsettling and absolutely mesmerising thriller.
This summer I returned, this time as an audience member for John Godber’s April in Paris, directed by Stratton himself. Another two-hander, it lacks the bite of the previous year’s production, but in no way falls short as entertainment. Yorkshire couple Bet and Al live in a monotonous, stifling world. Al has been unemployed for six months and Bet, his working wife, keeps her hopes alive by entering magazine competitions. When she actually wins a romantic break to Paris, the couple are catapulted abroad for the first time, stripped of all that’s familiar and have to find their way back to each other before returning home.
As ever with Godber, it’s achingly funny and with an overwhelmingly Yorkshire audience, the humour is spot on and thoroughly engages the 100-strong spectators. Stratton’s subtle direction ensures that Eamonn Fleming and Fiona Wass put in absorbing performances as Al and Bet. Both have worked previously with Godber’s company Hull Truck, as have Stratton and the rest of the production team. They are perfectly placed to make the most of the play and do so, giving an energetic and true performance. Fleming’s Al is beautifully revealed: edgy, frustrated, his self-belief undermined by the futility of unemployment, but with ambitions to become a painter. The scene in the Louvre when he begins identifying the painters with pride and joy, is one of the most sincere and touching moments. Fiona Wass fills Bet full of genuine hopes and dreams, and the audience can easily identify with her longing to escape her grey home life and to slide seamlessly into the glamour of Paris. Between them, they truthfully recreate the bickering of a long established couple who know just how to hurt each other, although at times the relentless pace needs more pathos to be really effective.
Another highlight of the show is the set design. Pip Leckenby, who works frequently with Alan Ayckbourn and Hull Truck, has created a simple but very evocative set which beautifully compliments the direction. Cream with printed images of crosswords and newspapers, which are then flipped to reveal colour paintings of Parisian landmarks, it captures the buoyant mood of Bet and Al. Mood and location are also brilliantly created through the sole use of two chairs and clever lighting design by Graham Kirk.
For the month of August the village hall is completely taken over, a seating and lighting rake is brought in, and local volunteers staff the bar and ticket desk. EVT produce theatre of the finest quality, generating a real feeling of pride and excitement in the community. We read time and time again in the press how the theatre industry is trying to engage new audiences and find ways of making theatre matter in today’s world. I suggest that they look no further than the tiny village of Glaisdale. It’s an obvious way forward and I’m glad I had chance to be part of it.
Sunday, 23 August 2009
Down-a - In Beween Butoh Dance Company
Camden People's Theatre, Euston
Agile, ethereal and completely disturbing; don't go home alone after watching Down-a. This butoh performance involves two performers who simultaneously physicalise the 'guilt of the human soul'. The show opens with white noise and a woman (Flavia Ghisalberti) straining backwards against a wooden chair, evoking the experience of ECT. Initially this seems slightly ludicrous, but, as with the rest of the performance, the image is so intense that our prolonged exposure to it makes it feel utterly real. As Ezio Tangini enters, repeatedly popping his shoulder out of joint, this visceral performance takes on an obscene quality.
Generating new thoughts in the mind of the audience is an obvious prerogative for many shows, and making them feel uncomfortable is one way to achieve this. However, staring into the eyes of those who have invested money to come and watch your performance, whilst whispering without words, is invasive and unnecessarily accusatory. Watching this engenders a feeling of self-loathing, as the performers unload their disgust onto you.
If fear is something you crave, then Down-a will more than satisfy you. Ghisalberti at one point becomes a possessed puppet, with quivering, half closed eyes. In the tiny space of Camden People's Theatre, this is terrifying. In yet another amazing physical feat, Tangini riles, flails and bangs his head on the floor repeatedly. As he moves towards a light, the audience is reminded of its own hubris and the denigration of The Fall. Although well executed at every point, the audience leaves this piece self-flagellating, but not quite sure why. We are overwhelmed by our senses and an immense, incomprehensible guilt floods our reason.
Helena S. Rampley
Down-a runs as part of the Camden Fringe until Monday 24th August
Friday, 21 August 2009
No Way Out (Huis Clos)
Southwark Playhouse, London Bridge
Latecomers are annoying. No matter how much they try to make themselves invisible by sneaking in all hunched over and squeaky shoed, they can be seen and do manage to cause a disturbance. Tonight, the entrance of two rather dishevelled, embarrassed looking slow-pokes comes on cue as Garcin, padding the cell he has just been locked in, calls for someone to open the door. In walk Benny and June No Watch not necessarily answering his calls but certainly distracting all from the rising tension.
Tonight we are at the Southwark Playhouse for No Way Out (Huis Clos), John Paul Sartre’s black comedy that is offered here in a translation by Frank Hauser. The action begins with Garcin (Miguel Oyarzun) entering the prison like space of the transformed playhouse with the door bolted behind him. It soon transpires that he is to be confined to this sinister Orwellian feeling room - where he expects to meet torturers, racks and burning flames – until the end of time. He is then joined, not by the two sneaky squeakers, but first by the flame haired Elisa de Grey’s Ines and then the glamorous Estelle, played by Alexis Terry. We soon realise that they are not in some form of 1950s interrogation room, but in Hell and that they will be each others interrogators as we uncover why they have been sent to the burning depths.
The premise of the play is a highly evocative one. Three characters, trapped in a room in Hell simultaneously becoming each others confidants and persecutors. And the play starts on fine form placing one foot in the comic, with the other sitting comfortably in the tragic. However, the undulating tempo moving from high frequency screaming to down beat soul searching soon becomes rather predictable and repetitive. Oyarzun is successfully brooding, progressing from distinguished gent to almost sadistic brute as the heat in the room goes up and his clothes begin to come off. Likewise, Terry’s poised elegance is soon cast aside as her actions become increasingly manic and she is exposed for being an attention-seeking nymphomaniac. Unfortunately Elisa de Grey’s performance jars with the rest as her over-excessive facial expressions and spiky accusational tone make her seem like the precocious younger child who craves love and attention.
The dark, almost dank feel of the Southwark Playhouse lends itself beautifully to Sartre’s play and I can’t help but feel that had Luke Kernaghan followed through some of his directorial ideas more fully – the recurring image of the Tango seems disjointed with the action and its only when reading about Kernaghan’s interest in the Argentinian war that it becomes clear – this could have been a truly exciting play.
No Way Out (Huis Clos) runs until 12th September
Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Mascha and Vascha – Strange Ladies
Camden People’s Theatre, Euston
Old people can often seem rather eccentric. Whether it’s the choice to wander around with a freshly set purple barnet, the sporadic – and highly offensive – racist/sexist/homophobic comment, or simply the unnecessary obsession with cats, there’s a lot about the older generation that we just don’t understand. But you’d be hard pushed to find an odder pair of 90-year-old women than the two on offer at the Camden People’s Theatre tonight presented by the aptly named Paris-based performance duo Strange Ladies.
Mascha and Vascha finds the two title characters in the later stage of their lives with a simple wish to go outside for a walk. However, things are not as they seem in this world as runaway chickens, mountains of washing and full-blown wrestling matches all manage to stop them from fulfilling their dream. Splicing together moments of absurd hilarity with touching everyday humanity, Hanna Pyliotis and Lily Sykes – the Strange Ladies themselves – show their audience a day in the life of these two friends; a day that manages to be heart-warming yet frightening in a relationship at times reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s The Twits.
The influence of absurdist theatrical tradition is clearly evident throughout the performance with constantly alternating tempos, seemingly nonsensical utterances and exchanges, and sporadic flits between the concrete everyday and the abstract world of the imagination. The sense of a never-ending wait to go outside, which never materialises, echoes the inaction of Waiting For Godot’s Didi and Gogo who also wait for something that never happens. Like Beckett’s duo, Mascha and Vascha fill their day with mundane domestic chores – such as Pyliotis dramatically hanging out washing and repeatedly peeling onions causing even the audience’s eyes to water – to stave off the empty void of the inactivity forced upon them by old age and isolation
Sykes and Pyliotis are at once charming and sinister in their roles as the two life long friends. With eases of movement and astute comic timing, they inhabit the roles of the elderly women without ever looking awkward or out of place. The commanding presence of Sykes makes you at once fear her and fear for her as she struggles to come to terms with the losses she has suffered, while the clown-like physical movements of Pyliotis make you empathise with her as the put upon friend.
In the post-ironic, post-League of Gentlemen age we live in, Mascha and Vascha, at time seems a little out of date and clumsy, yet this still manages to be a confusing, baffling and thoroughly entertaining piece of theatre. After all, where else can you see two women fight it out like Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior with a little Benny Hill thrown in for good measure?
Mascha and Vascha runs at the Camden People’s Theatre 21st August
Tuesday, 4 August 2009
Flavio, Medium de los Muertos
Royal Vauxhall Tavern, Kennington Lane
I see dead people. Well not really, but there were a number of lifeless faces on Friday night, as Mike Okarma fails to crack a smile at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.
Okarma makes his Camden Fringe debut with the bizarre one-man show Flavio, Medium de los Muertos, in which he parades a succession of obscure characters before an increasingly bemused audience. The premise - a comedy séance - is a thinly-disguised vehicle for Okarma to showcase his impressionist talent. Throughout the evening he is ‘inhabited’ by a range of clichés, from the Jewish grandmother distressed by her godson’s homosexuality, to Tapioca, the tough-talking Detroit gospel singer. Unfortunately, despite his gift for accents and character observation, Okarma’s creations lack any kind of charisma, and he has to resort to a Chippendales stripping routine in order to get a cheap laugh.
Although Flavio is brimming with bravado, Okarma himself is an uncomfortable figure on the stage. He appears to lack confidence, grasping for lines and displaying an awkward desperation when interacting with the audience. The modest crowd at the RVT are friendly and encouraging, trying hard to find something to laugh at, but they are left disappointed as Okarma struts and squawks his way through yet another tired American stereotype.
Possibly the most peculiar part of Flavio is Okarma’s decision to insert motivational messages into each of his characters’ rambling stories. As the audience are urged to “live their lives to the full, each and every day”, the whole evening begins to feel like an extended ‘Final Thought’ from Jerry Springer. It’s difficult to tell whether these sugary sentiments are supposed to be the punchline in this strange creation, but if so, they fail to strike a chord with this reviewer.
Amy Jane Clewes
Flavio, Medium de los Muertos will run as part of the Camden Fringe Festival until 7th August
Senza Lamento (Without Lament)
Roundhouse Theatre Studio, Chalk Farm
The Roundhouse is no stranger to large-scale spectacular shows. The epic size of the circular space has housed everything from tribal balladeer Bat for Lashes, Cirque de Soleil's trampolining French men and perhaps the bloodiest renditions of Shakespeare's Histories plays. But one thing most people don't know is that the iconic venue also plays host to a much smaller, more intimate studio. And this studio is set to play a vital role in the current Camden Fringe Festival.
This afternoon, its the turn of Maria Rita Slavi and Nicole Pschetz with their physical-theatre production Senza Lamento (Without Lament), which has just finished its short stint at Merton Abbey Wells as part of 2009's Abbeyfest. Originally created as a site-specific piece in an abandoned house in Italy, the work has been recently adapted for stage and follows an imaginary encounter between two images of the same person; one past and one present. Nicole plays Woman in Dark Blue, a figure who has seemingly lost her sense of identity in the busy city in which she lives. She then meets Woman in Green, Maria, herself in a past form and the two embark on a journey of discovering, punishing and consoling one another.
From the outset, the movement of each performer contains an elegant poise that is at times breathtaking. The piece begins with Woman in Black entering and performing a mournful dance accompanied only by an umbrella, a suitcase and the occasional glimpse of Woman in Green. Nicole manipulates the two props with the utmost ease meaning that they no longer represent simple everyday objects but instead become significant harbourers of memories. The strength and dynamic tension of her body is shown as she wrestles with said umbrella, changing the tempo of her movements in order to make the section appear, at times, as if it is taking place in slow motion. The whole sequence echoes the work of artists such as Charlie Chaplin, Jacques Lecoq or, more recently, James Thierree, an influence that was clearly established during the pair’s training in Corporeal Mime.
There are also traces of Pina Bausch throughout the piece: as the pair repeatedly gag and pull at one another before dropping to the floor, one is distinctly reminded of the danger and risk undertaken by a Bausch performer. The formal dress of both dancers recalls the attire worn in Kontakthof while if the plastic cups Woman in Green frantically moves around towards the performance’s close were replaced by chairs, it would appear as a scene taken straight out of Café Müller.
While there is a sense that this performance was perhaps more powerful in its original form as a site specific work, it still has charm in the close space of the Roundhouse Theatre Studio. And though it is at times confusing with regards to the exact relationship between the two performers, the beauty of the fluid shapes and lines they create on stage means that any ambiguity just adds to the appeal.
Sunday, 2 August 2009
Hooked: The Musical
Theatre 503, Battersea
I'm not going to lie to you, my favourite musical is Joseph & His Technicolour Dreamcoat. So, as I arrive at the Latchmere 503 - secretly hoping to catch a glimpse of Lee Mead in a loin cloth - and I'm faced with an altogether more contemporary production, I realise things are going to be quite different. Drugs! Lap Dancers! Sex! I'm beginning starting to miss those seven fat cows. Yes this is indeed one modern musical, and, according to a recent interview, loosely based on the real life experiences of producer Matthew James.
The story (if a little predictable) commences with a cabaret number with all three excellent dancing ladies - Manal El-Feitury as Odette, Lucy Smethurst as Monique and underused Laura Bailey as Angel - that will have many an eye popping out. We are then informed by the drug addicted PR ace Ben (Jason Langley) that he has experienced an overdose in a lap dancing club and we are to witness the reason for this event through a series of flashbacks.
Ben happens to be having an affair with Smethurst's gorgeous lap dancer Monique, a Romanian aspiring singer who has been brought over to the UK by the club owner Parnell - Terry Burns - to work in his club and to perform other 'tasks'. The two actors beautifully compliment each other in their shared scenes as Monique's evident vulnerability is contrasted with the manipulative side of the club owning pimp, easily conveyed by Burns.
Jessica Sherman, playing Ben's stay at home wife Emma, is rather clumsily a complete contrast to Monique: Emma in her white linens while Monique parades around in heels and burlesque outfit. She too has some good solo numbers, my favourite being 'Patience' when she finally dumps her cheating husband in a relationship counsellor's office ending with a declamatory "Fuck You". However, certain strong numbers, such as 'Dont Let Me Down' excellently sung by Smethurst and Langley, sit a odds with the flow of the production, and would be better standing alone as simple pop songs.
After much soul searching, and a few more solo numbers, Ben and Emma are reunited in time for their troubles conceiving a child to disappear as they are conveniently donated a baby by the now drug addicted Monique. Phew! This is true soap opera stuff with shiny beautiful people, like an episode of Hollyoaks mixed with Chicago and X Factor. Sometimes you just can't help but be addicted.
Hooked: The Musical runs at the Theatre 503 at 7.30pm 31st July - 2nd August before transferring to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It will run at the G2, George Sq. from 7th - 30th August, nightly at 11.15pm.