Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Week in Performing Arts - 28/3/12

Latitude Festival’s theatre line-up has been announced, and includes theatrical greats such as Paines Plough, last year’s Fringe hit Translunar Paradise, and Complicite, who will be producing a new production called X&Y with company Twin Primes, based on their previous show A Disappearing Number. Pleasance will offer work that is set to run at the Fringe, Forest Fringe returns with a preview of some of its kooky Fringe acts, and other renowned companies such as nabokov, Les Enfants Terribles, Rash Dash and Actors Touring Company are also on the line-up.

Mike Daisey, the man behind The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (which The Yorker first spoke about here), has recently got under fire as the truth behind his monologue is questioned. Daisey rains down criticism upon the poor working conditions of Apple’s labour force, and has been described as the Michael Moore of the theatre world. However, a recent news article raised suspicions, causing a scandal that trended worldwide on Twitter over the veracity of Daisey’s claims. High Tide Theatre Festival scored the play on their line-up, but since the bad publicity, artistic director Steve Atkinson has made the decision not to retract the space but has spoken out about the furore: "Mike Daisey has chosen of his own accord to remove any content that he cannot verify. […] I don't believe that he set out to purposefully mislead the public to his own ends. […] We need to discuss how truth is positioned on stage from now on. Unfortunately, Mike has become a cautionary tale. He might not have a career after this."

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s new Artistic Director has been named. Gregory Doran will be replacing Michael Boyd, and will formally take up the post in September this year. Doran is currently the Chief Associate Director, but has been in the RSC family for 25 years, having originally joined as an actor.

Patrick Marber’s After Miss Julie at the Young Vic is the most eco-friendly play in the West End. With rentable programmes, no flyers, tickets or press releases and recycled props and set, the paper output of the production is only 2kg, rather than a West End’s production usual 130kg. In fact, it is more environmentally friendly to go out to this play than it is to stay at home and use up energy – a triumph for arts environment consultancy Julie’s Bicycle and the London Theatre Consortium.

There seems to be no love lost between the lyricist Tim Rice and musical theatre overlord Andrew Lloyd Webber – Rice recently confirmed that he and Lloyd Webber would not work together again. Despite having spawned some of the most successful musicals of the last 40 years, such as Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Rice remarked that, ‘We’re not relevant as a team any more’.

Roberto Fonseca, a Cuban jazz musician, has been mentioned in this week’s Guardian Cultural Highlights, and is currently touring in Yorkshire. You can see him tonight at York Theatre Royal.

©York Theatre Royal

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Shared Experience's Mary Shelley

Shared Experience are a company with a colourful and varied body of work behind them, including several plays that have literary roots: last year’s Brontë drew on the story behind the Brontë sisters and their turbulent family life. Mary Shelley is another biographical play that similarly focuses on the emotional life of the titular character, and follows her from the age of sixteen, when she meets the passionate and charismatic Percy Bysshe Shelley, through her pregnancies, love life and scandalous literary circles, and up to her imminent success as a writer with her novel Frankenstein.

For anyone who’s seen a Shared Experience production before, this fits right at home with their style, using as it does a mixture of physical theatre and dream sequences integrated into the text. Helen Edmundson’s work is often an adaptation from a novel, or literary-based, at least, and the research that went into this piece was evident. As someone who has always been a fan of Mary Shelley, I was interested to see what they did with the piece, and was not disappointed. Edmundson’s script certainly packs a lot in: Shelley’s life was one of scandal, and provides the perfect basis for a play. The death of her child, her father’s disowning of her, her elopement with the already-married Percy Bysshe Shelley, and her mother’s death were packed into the production, but these tragic situations were lightened throughout with humour weaved into the play. Mr Godwin, Mary’s father, (excellently played by William Chubb) is presented as a rigid, intelligent man with an extremely dry sense of humour, and often the comedic moments of the play stem from him. One notable line is when he turns to his insufferable wife (imagine a Mrs Bennet character, if not ruder and more irritating) after she wails dramatically that he should do something otherwise she could die, and says, completely straight-faced, ‘Yes, Mrs Godwin. You have been tantalizing us with the promise of your demise for several months now and yet here you are, large as life’.

©Shared Experience; Image Credit: Robert Day
The use of set was inventive, with one long, sturdy wooden table in the middle of the stage having multiple uses: one thing that Shared Experience does, and does well, is use the audience’s imagination to add detail to a scene. If they want to stand on top of a table and pretend it’s a horse and cart, a pier, or Mary Wollstonecraft’s grave, then so be it, because it is done with such finesse and absolute belief that any audience will just swallow it up. Lighting was also used effectively, segmenting the stage so that one end of the table became an entirely different room in the Shelley household, or highlighting dream sequences at strategic points in the play.

Kristin Atherton as the title role was, from the get-go, a vibrant centre of the action. Her energy onstage was unfailing, and the audience’s sympathies were always with her. My only criticism is that sometimes her impassioned speeches could be a little overwrought, but not so much as to be irritating: the play reduced me to tears at one point, so she can’t have been doing much wrong. Ben Lamb’s Percy Bysshe Shelley was one that I had to warm up to. Shelley was a charismatic, intelligent man with an incredible capacity for wooing women wherever he went, and yet Lamb’s portrayal was initially unremarkable. The sighs and overbearing attentions laid on him by the women of the play made his effect on women quite clear, but in my opinion he wasn’t particularly charming, although he did seem to ease into the character more as the play went on.

Shelley’s shocking and eventful life is a lot to pack into a play, but the script keeps the action moving forward without seeming rushed, and the small cast are a tightly-knit ensemble with no weak links. Shared Experience have triumphed yet again with this fascinating new play, and I urge you to go and see it.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Travelling Light review

Following on from its run at the National Theatre earlier this year, Nicholas Hytner’s production of Travelling Light is touring up the country, and is currently playing at the Leeds Grand. Travelling Light tells the story of Motl Mendl, a young man living in a remote village in Eastern Europe who inherits his late father’s cinematograph. And so begins his fascination with film, which will eventually lead him to Hollywood and to renown as an American film director. The play is told in two time frames: that of Mendl in his village, painstakingly trying to realize his creative ambition surrounded by a group of colourful townsfolk, and that of Maurice Montgomery (Mendl’s assumed American name in later life), looking back on his life and rise to fame.

©National Theatre; Image Credit: Johann Persson
The play begins with a slow reel of film, scratchy and lightspotted, projected against the wooden wall of a house in the village. A figure in darkness turns the lever of the cinematograph, which is placed prominently centre stage throughout the play, while Maurice Montgomery (Paul Jesson) explains that it was with this poor-quality reel of waves crashing silently against a beach that his love of film began. A play so steeped in the history of film must incorporate the medium, and Hytner’s production does this well, with a huge screen upstage, drawing the eye and dominating the set of humble houses in the foreground. The set in the first half shows the shetl (small Eastern European village) where Mendl lived, a cluster of wooden houses or huts that appear Borrower-like, conveying the modest living conditions of the poor townsfolk. This sense of humble beginnings is exacerbated later in the play when almost the entire cast are onstage, squeezed into the kitchen of Mendl’s aunt’s house. The camaraderie amongst the townspeople is something from which Mendl will always be separate: his ambition, his modernity, and his passion for his art all mark him out as different and unused to the narrow-mindedness of the Jewish community in which he was brought up, and this theme of family dysfunction is poignantly manifested most clearly in a dream-sequence scene at the end of the play when Maurice Montgomery comes back to the village and partakes in a small, traditional Jewish celebration with his aunt.

The young Mendl is played by Damien Molony, a recently trained young actor who carries the central character with sensitivity and pathos. His growing love for his assistant, Anna Mazowiecka (Lauren O’Neil), is beautifully realized in a visually captivating scene where the two characters are working together on a film for the village. O’Neil presents Anna as a resourceful and intelligent worker, often proposing the best ideas (such as cutting the film to link two scenes filmed separately – an obvious idea to us now, but a eureka moment onstage) whilst struggling to express her feelings for the talented Mendl. They eventually act on their mutual affection, after a long build-up in which the sexual tension is unbearable, and the scene ends with a striking image: as the cinematograph plays in the background, their kiss is silhouetted against the grainy black-and-white film, until, unnoticed by them, the reel starts to pop and burn inside the cinematograph. Much of the play is presented in real-time, and takes place in exactly the same setting, which although is a strangely honest way of relating the story, has the effect of making it drag. The script here is at fault: Hytner’s direction makes adequate use of any possible rise in tension or tempo, but the pace unfortunately remains the same throughout, and for a long play at two and a half hours, this is no small criticism.

Antony Sher as the endearing and illiterate Jacob Bindel alleviates the lack of pace with his inimitable stage presence. Jacob is the producer for the young Mendl, and bankrolls his ventures. The two clash, and Mendl memorably cries (much to the knowing laughter of the audience) that he can’t wait to work in Hollywood, without Jacob interfering and without anyone nagging him about budget, because “There’s no one like that there!” Karl Theobald plays Itzak, the accountant for Mendl’s films, and his portrayal of the abacus-wielding, methodical, kindly man is spot-on: his awkwardness acts as a foil to Molony’s energy and direction on stage, and he offers well-timed humour at crucial moments. Molony, Theobald and Sher are the major presences in this cast, and their talent and animation on stage make up for the weaknesses in the script.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

toro, toro

York is sunny and gorgeous, I've just spent an amazing few days in Leeds and have nearly finished one essay. I'm alone in the house and am sitting out in the garden in a bikini with a gin & tonic and enjoying the weather, writing alternately: this, my review of Shared Experience's Mary Shelley, a job application and my diary.

I went to Yorkshire Sculpture Park on Thursday, specifically to see the Joan Miró exhibition. I know very little about Miró, although slightly more now, and loved his work. If you've tracked my taste in art through this blog, you'll realise it's all about photography and, in painting, bold brush strokes and heavy on the colour. I know very little about sculpture so wouldn't really say that I have a defined taste in that yet, although am starting to learn a little more about what I like. And I can say that I like Miró's sculptures, but that sounds like a bit of a sheep thing to say if I'm unable to compare it to those of other artists.

The colour of his work is incredible, and it's that which appeals to me. Walking through the exhibition was so evocative of Spain and particularly Pamplona. It was a sunny day and the exhibition is in a small building built with light yellow stone and yellow wood. The conservatory-effect of the tall windows, the watery late afternoon light heating the inside of the walls and the bright colours of the paintings and sculptures made me feel like I was a tourist in some gallery in Valencia after a day's walking, ready to go out and get some tapas, an ice cream, a cool jug of agua de Valencia.

We looked for the repetition of symbols in his work - my friend said that a teardrop kept recurring in his paintings and sculptures; I noticed a sickle shape, like a bull's horns. 

Compare - posters advertising the Fiesta del Toro in Pamplona, and Miró's paintings.

It was a lovely day, and has sent me craving Spain and watching Spanish films and making Spanish food and planning Spanish holidays. Looking forward to Sónar Festival in the summer, a three-day city festival the week of my birthday in Barcelona. Can you think of a better birthday present to myself?

And as promised, my review of Stomp, although the delay in posting means that the link to ticket booking is somewhat redundant, but they're touring so you can check them out on their website.

Stomp - 19th March 2012, York Opera House

Let’s just get one thing straight. I have two left feet. I have no sense of rhythm. I couldn’t even clap in time to John Cage’s 4’33”. And I never particularly minded about not having those skills. Until now. Now – oh yes - now all I want to do is wander around the house making my housemates steadily more irate by dropping cool beats with upturned mugs, run rampage down the street on rubbish day by playing with everyone’s dustbins, sit in the library around finals flicking pages in a nonchalant and rhythmical fashion. This is my dream. And I will clutch this dream to me until that tragic realization, once again, that I was not destined to be a percussive person. At all.

So what, or who, could have torn and replaced the dreams of a little girl who always wanted to be an astronaut?

It was Stomp.

Stomp is a percussive and dance show that has swept the world. There are up to three companies touring and performing in the UK and two American casts touring as well. They’ve even collaborated with The Muppets. Yep. That’s how big they are. Although the show describes itself as physical theatre, on their website they reassure you that Stomp isn’t about music taste, but about rhythm, and that ‘everyone knows rhythm, if only from the beating of their own heart’. (They clearly haven't met me).

My friend and I made our way to our seats in the Grand Opera House – he’d seen it before and had jumped at the chance to see it again - whilst I eyed the set. ‘The set is full of what look like very hittable things’, I wrote knowingly in my notepad. And then the show began, and I gradually forgot to write things down. From the first scene, which starts slowly and then builds, one could discern the mood of the show. One guy comes on stage, idly sweeping and desultorily marking out a rhythm with his broom. He is joined by someone else with a broom, and then someone else, and someone else, until the stage is filled with sweepers, each creating their own rhythm that ties in perfectly with the whole. And the result is not a cacophony, but an electric sound that somehow keeps you on the edge of your seat as you wait for the unused beats, for the drop, for the sudden change in note, for the final, exultant clash. The tempo at which the performers move is incredible: it is a tightly choreographed dance show that creates something new and inventive with each scene, from the most basic starting points. The objects that they create scenes out of include huge metal sinks (complete with marigolds) hanging from around their necks, basketballs, a bin bag full of rubbish including polystyrene cups, plastic bins, mops, sand… the list is endless. And for a 100 minute show without a narrative or any speaking, they need to be inventive to keep the audience’s attention.

The show was very slick in that the different choreographies rolled right into one another, and often incorporated a clean-up from the previous scene’s mess. I would have liked to have seen different characters portrayed with each scene, but instead the audience learned early on which member of the cast would forever play the clown for audience laughs, which guy was the leader of the group and was used as the audience mediator, and which guy was the ‘fit one’ of the group who could impress with his break-dancing skills. The development of character early on was a device that held the show together with a kind of linearity, but it meant that it seemed halfway to becoming a narrative without actually going the extra mile to do so. Aural humour was plentiful, as one would imagine, but the lack of speech in the show meant that the cast relied too much on slapstick and innuendo to provoke laughs. A scene with long rubber tubes as the instrument was obviously bookended by penis humour, in an infantile episode of tube-length comparison. I felt that some of the ‘comedic’ scenes were predictable and overworn, often resulting in my rolling my eyes rather than laughing, and this detracted from – on the other end of the scale – the clever and original choreography.

The choreography is stunning, the rhythmic melodies created sound faultless (to an untrained ear, at least), and the overall visual effect is very impressive. The aesthetic of the show is one of urban decay: the set is comprised of scratched street signs, old bins and saucepans and other aforementioned hittable things, all with a rubbish-tip air to them. The costumes are grey-hued, perhaps slightly ripped, and covered in paint. Everyone looks like a cooler, younger and probably more percussively talented version of the builder that your mum hired to paint the kitchen.

Although I felt that the lack of a narrative really was a lack (and needn’t have been), Stomp was a show that just oozed with talent, and some really spectacular scenes of physical skill. It will be at the Grand Opera House until the 24th March, and you can book tickets here. And now, please excuse me, while I go and annoy my housemates by bashing the crockery.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

pilot - the week in performing arts

As mentioned previously, I've been considering uploading some of my articles to this blog. So. This week's installment of The Week in Performing Arts. The webpage can be found here. Click on my name on The Yorker to see other articles I've written. There will be some reviews coming soon - I saw Stomp at the Grand Opera House York on Monday, the National's touring production of Travelling Light at the Leeds Grand yesterday evening, and have a press night at West Yorkshire Playhouse tonight for Shared Experience's Mary Shelley. It's a lovely theatrical week this week.

The Week in Performing Arts - 21/3/12

Sweeney Todd, a Stephen Sondheim musical, has opened in the West End to rapturous reviews. Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball hold the two main roles, playing Mrs Lovett and Sweeney Todd respectively. Apparently the cast and artistic team are making the show as grisly as possible, and Ball commented on the applause from audience at crucial moments of gore: "Tonight for the first time they clapped when I killed the judge”. The Daily Mail’s theatre reviewer Quentin Letts said ominously, “Sweeney Todd is a dark night”.

©Guardian Ltd.; Image Credit: Tristram Kenton
The National Theatre of Northern Greece has decided to address the economic problems of the country with a new scheme implemented for its upcoming six-week season. Theatregoers are encouraged not to pay for their tickets using cash, but by bringing food. The food will then be distributed around various welfare charities in Thessaloniki. Giannis Rigas, who is the deputy artistic director of the theatre company behind the idea, Social Theatreshop, states, “It's a fair exchange: food for theatre”. Those working on the project will not be paid.

Simon McBurney, artistic director of acclaimed theatre group Complicite, is in the final stretch of his latest project: taking on Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. Bulgakov’s work has developed a reputation for being impossible to adapt, but McBurney says that nothing is impossible to adapt, and “In this case, the really tough part is finding Bulgakov's voice”. Andrew Lloyd-Webber ditched plans to make a musical out of the novel, saying darkly, "It's un-do-able. It's just too difficult for an audience to contemplate."

The Royal Ballet are soon to open a new triple bill of shows, including two new works and a revival of Polyphonia. Spoken of as a ‘radical departure for the company’, the work will involve a fusion of pop music (provided and played by Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt of Miike Snow. Three of the songs are orchestrated by Rufus Wainwright), modern club fashions, and Jungian theory. The Royal Ballet are keeping their cards close to their chest with this one, and speculation abounds, but it’s good to see that they are still promoting their £3 tickets to encourage young people to come.

Dominic Cooke will step down as artistic director of The Royal Court in April 2013 but is planning to start the handover to his successor a year early, so the top theatre is currently sorting through applications. Watch this space for an announcement very soon, we hope… The RSC’s Artistic Director Michael Boyd is stepping down this year, around much conjecture over the identity of his successor. Perhaps Cooke will be taking a trip to Stratford? Executive Director of the Royal Court, Kate Horton, will be leaving and taking up the post of deputy Executive Director at the National Theatre.

Audrey Niffenegger, novelist of best-selling novel The Time Traveller’s Wife (which was then made into a film with Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams), will be picking up her pen for The Royal Ballet next season. She will collaborate on ‘Raven Girl’ - a “modern twist on a fairytale”, according to Kevin O’Hare – with the company’s in-house choreographer, Wayne McGregor.

Saturday, 17 March 2012


Am toying with the idea of whether to put any journalism of mine up on this blog. For instance, I write a 'Week in Performing Arts' round-up style article for the campus newspaper I'm a part of every Wednesday. I'd like another store for my articles, another way of showcasing them, and it would provide a history for them. But I don't want this to become a theatre blog. I want to write about sex, and nice underwear, and travelling, and books I've read and things I've seen, and PR, and people I've met, and plans for the future. And I want to post nudey photos.

And at the minute, my plans for the future? Without saying too much (I'm not superstitious, but I'll admit that I tend to avoid jinxing stuff, a bit pathetically), I've had a few phone interviews, a few assessment days, a few emails winging back and forth, and a lot of polite handshakes and salutations. Fingers crossed something will come of it, and who knows? Maybe this time next year I'll be working in London in a PR office somewhere. Or maybe I'll be leaning out of the back of a truck in South America, yelling and whooping my head off, with a bottle of tequila in one hand and a novel by Jorge Luis Borges in the other. Who knows.

It's that time of year again when you start planning your summer. I'd love to go back to work in C venues in Edinburgh; it's been one of the best things I've ever done. But I'm loathe to repeat the same experiences, however amazing, because somewhere there is something new that I could be doing. Also I think it may have been one of those summers where everything falls into place: the fact that the people I worked with happened to be incredible, generous, talented people; the fact that I was single (and with that, a sense of freedom); the fact that I met some great contacts while I was there, that I had learnt from my past Edinburgh experience and used it to make this time round so much better. So many good things happened whilst I was there, and so many good things came out of it. I was very lucky with the people I met, and will forever be grateful to a certain few for making that summer what it was.

Speaking of people I met last summer: I'm trying to keep in contact with the two Americans who I couchsurfed with when I was travelling in Pamplona in September. I've been thinking about this for a while: my graduation present to myself will be San Fermin. I have always, always wanted to see the bull run (probably ever since reading Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises), and it's a great festival and there's a lot of merrymaking and happy drunkenness. I want to go alone, although hopefully either couchsurfing again with my American friends or at least meeting up with them, and see who I meet and just experience the festival as only a twenty-one year old can. Cos I'm twenty-one this year. Isn't that the age of invincibility or something?

I guess general news about me: TakeOver Festival 2012, the theatre festival on which I am working at the moment at York Theatre Royal, and which will take place from 21 May to 9 June, is really starting to pick up pace. I constructed a general press release for the festival and have sent it out to all of the local and national press. Now starting to plan press nights with the Events Officer and with the companies, plus constantly reworking and adding content to our website. I'm in charge of the Twitter and Facebook accounts, and seem to be having a whale of a time by myself, tweeting stupid puns into the void. Have a look at some point, just to make that void slightly less void-like. Other news is that I've somehow acquired a boyfriend, heaven forbid. He's absolutely gorgeous. And that's all I shall say on the matter.

Term's finished, I'm prattling away on blogspot rather than doing, oooh, I don't know, ANY of the three essays I need to do over Easter, and I'm gently nursing a hangover with Vitamin C tablets and a lot of household chores. I think I'm going to go to work now.