Monday, 23 November 2009
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.
Money runs at Shunt until 22nd December
Sunday, 22 November 2009
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
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
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
My Baby Just Cares For Me – Full Beam Visual Theatre
Jackson's Lane, Highgate
Tonight, Jackson’s Lane presents a sensitive and thought provoking tale about the deterioration of an aging father. The play focuses on his changing relationship with the daughter who commits to cares for him and overcoming the problems that the pair ensue. Full Beam Visual Theatre here succinctly comment on the current decay in the care system questioning the levels of support that are on offer for both the elderly and, more importantly, their carers.
The decline of the father is cleverly, yet subtly, portrayed through the distinctive alterations in the puppet and astutely observed mannerisms commanded by puppeteer Adam Fuller. The intervention of projected images of the past and atmospheric sound track serve as reminders to a past that holds many cherished memories.
The lack of communication between the two characters is a poignant indication of how the issue of aging is rarely spoken or even considered. Through text messages the daughter is frequently reminded of her other responsibilities as she is committed to balancing her life and caring for her father. Unfortunately, this element is never fully explored and often feels confusing and distracting.
The anxiety and frustration of the daughter is evident as the story progresses but she remains predominantly silent throughout, which at times seems unnecessary and awkward.
With little exchange between the characters, the performance does, at times, begin to drag and could certain parts could have been cut and trimmed without damaging the whole. An insightful and unconventional approach to a subject that is rarely discussed, however it would have benefited from more dialogue and less dramatisation.
Sunday, 8 November 2009
Misterioso: A Journey Into The Silence of Thelonious Monk - Theatralia
Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
Vibrantly silent and delicately loud, Misterioso is a sensitive and intriguing exploration of the curious life of Thelonious Monk. A five piece jazz band form the focal point of the show, punctuated by narrative interludes from Monk's close friend, Baroness Pannonica played by Tamsin Shasha. Written by David Walter Hall, Pannonica's speeches are both deftly crafted and emotively delivered.
The musical core of the piece, with its impressive bass slapping and choreography, is captivatingly frenetic, yet also intuitively crisp. This is complemented by the often frenzied digital projection and text - designed by SDNA - that encompasses the entire back wall of the stage. A sense of ordered chaos is created, and of being on the edge of understanding.
The action that takes place within this sound world is varied and stimulating. It is at times hedonistic, as Shasha distributes wine to the cabaret style tables at the front of the stage. It is at times wild, as members of the audience are encouraged to dance and absorb the jazz club atmosphere. Yet it is also at times contemplative, as both Shasha and Christina Oshunniyi (who plays both Monk's wife, Nellie, and Billie Holiday) take a back seat and allow the music to reign supreme.
Misterioso moves between the extravagant and impetuous, and the subdued and almost bewildering. Although there could perhaps be a little more of Monk's life told through story, Shasha's subtly incorporated aerial work at the end of the piece reflects the way that music, and indeed silence, has the power to transcend words.
Helena S. Rampley
Monday, 2 November 2009
Fish Clay Perspex – FaultyOptic
Jackson’s Lane – 30th October 2009
The streets of Highgate may fast becoming populated with masked faces and Dracula-a-like party goers, but there’s something much scarier and more exciting going on inside the North London gem that is Jackson’s Lane. And here FaultyOptic offer up something that will leave a stronger impression than a pair of plastic pointy teeth.
Presenting the first of the Suspense triptych, FaultyOptic’s Fish Clay Perspex follows three brief bittersweet stories of trials, tribulations and an examination of three bizarre and rather confused characters. The performance begins with a solitary old man picking up stones on a beach who soon finds himself with an over-sized fish stuck to his head. Next up, a seemingly psychotic potter who penchant for avant-garde sculpting that finds him slicing up an Elizabeth II resembling bust. Finally we see two ‘Pointy Pants’ men, stuck behind a Perspex sheet continually trapped by the ever-moving marker pens and masking tape. Hence the title, Fish Clay Perspex. Tying all three tales together is a simple piece of cotton wool that, taking on a variety of personas, draws each character from their world and re-presents them as a collected trio in what appears to be the afterlife.
The skill of FaultyOptic lies in the fact that while you can clearly see the puppeteers controlling their subject, they soon become almost invisible as life is seamlessly recreated before our eyes. Watching strong work like this Edward Gordon Craig’s theories about the value of the marionette over the actor become much more plausible. Because while it is good to watch an autonomous actor trippingly recite the lines of Shakespeare, the puppet show is much more effective and energising as we, the audience, are the ones complicit in making the action come to life.
We suspend our disbelief, we allow our imagination to take over and we believe that the inanimate object presented to us has a life and a will of its very own. And that is why this group is so haunting, so compelling and need to be seen.