2 reviews and the promise of an interview…

Further to my post on the Blue Elephant last week, I was fortunate enough to interview Jasmine Cullingford who runs the space and will be posting this interview over the next couple of days…please watch this space.

But now reviews and views on a bizarrely brilliant Swedish cabaret and a sparkling outdoor Much Ado….

Take Me To Hollywood!  http://scandimaniacs.googlepages.com/

In their new show, Take Me To Hollywood, Emil Lager and Sara Lewerth manage to skate across the surface of two very different planes; on the one hand they are beautiful statuesque playmates, beckoning to you to come and join them in their childish walks of fantasy, on the other they are alert predators ready at any moment to pounce and devour you whole.  It is as though two assassins have entered Eurovision and whilst this makes for a slightly unsettling evening, it also means that you are completely at the mercy of these undeniably compelling performers in an event which defies anything predictable to remain throughout a veritable feast of surprise.

They helter skelter through an eclectic mix of songs including a sexy number about stupid politicians, a promiscuous love ballad inspired by Ingmar Bergman and a wonderfully make shift parody of that cheesiest of all Celine Dion songs ‘I will go on’ utilising a small plastic boat and a lot of very silly and impressive improvisation.  They delight in trying to trip each other up as they play off one another with glee in a relationship which rather resembles that of two very virtuoso monkey siblings; ‘come and play with us’ they demand quite forcefully, but only so that no one feels left out you understand.  

For all this energetic clowning, there is strangely a lot of silence in this piece, in the middle of the whirlwind Lager and Lewerth are confident just to look and wait when they want to, piercing gazes questioning just before they leap once again into entertaining action.  This is one indicator of the razor sharp focus which cuts through their performance with an intense poise and particularity meaning that however made up on the spot some of this show is it is never messy; this fierce control reassures us into following them down into their anarchic rabbit hole and emerge safely on the other side however off kilter we may feel on the way.  

Clever, ironic, passionate and with a hint of indescribable genius, Scandimanics will make you feel like a fly caught in a spider web, only for them to advance in for the kill and at the last minute pull out an ice cream to give to you instead.

Sadly this show has now finished it’s run but look out for the Scandimaniacs on their website for future dates.

(Originally posted on the Fringe Review website http://www.fringereview.co.uk/)

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
Director: Timothy Sheader

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is possibly the most beautiful space to be in London on a balmy summer’s evening. Reminiscent of a Greek Amphitheatre the gently sloping auditorium and circular stage are framed by an azure sky and towering trees, all the world, it would seem, truly is a stage this evening. Performed against a backdrop of humming bees and the gentle whisper of the wind Timothy Sheader’s charming production of Much Ado About Nothing delicately succeeds in winding its audience around its little finger.

Don Pedro, the Prince of Aragon, returns from war with his men, including Claudio and Benedict, to the delight of the household of Leonato, father of Hero and uncle of Beatrice. Hero and Claudio fall in love and are to be married in a week, but in the meantime there is mischief to be had with the staunchly bachelor Benedict and Beatrice. As Don Pedro conspires to match make these two, his bastard brother, Don John, plots to destroy this merry company with a false accusation that nearly destroys them all.

Although his bonny production sporadically passes over the plays more significant textual moments, Sheader’s light direction brings out Shakespeare’s funniest lines and exchanges with a good dollop of jovial slapstick and some very smooth stage play. It careers along at a cracking pace, bringing the text to life with a merry wiggle and a jaunty wink.

Underneath this revelry, Sheader handles the inherent misogyny within the play with a strong understanding of modern feminist perspectives; a pertinent point is exquisitely made whilst Hero is dressed for her wedding in a metal bodice and skirt hoops which poignantly resemble chains. But it is clear that Sheader’s ‘hero’ is not this young impressionable girl, but the bold older cousin whose rejection of the male status quo is realised through a biting verbal wit. Comedy has always been used to subvert the establishment and so it is in the feisty and powerful Beatrice portrayed here with gusto by Samantha Spiro. When she incites Benedict to challenge the fickle and emotionally juvenile Claudio (a suitably boyish Ben Mansfield) Spiro becomes the avenging angel that all woman in the audience long to see wreak justice on the so called ‘good’ men of Messina.

Spiro’s Beatrice and Sean Campion’s buccaneering Benedict perhaps lack the disenchanted wisdom that is so rarely brought out to the full in these two mature lovers, but they dally with each other very prettily; the scenes of their entrapment into love being the highlights of the show, twinkling with quips and hocking a pretty hefty feel good punch Only equal to the levity of these scenes are the marvellous performances of Antony O’Donnell as Dogberry and Simon Gregor’s hilariously fawning Verges; never over-the-top these two adorable buffoons channel such greats as Laurel and Hardy, making one feel that slapstick has truly come home.

The costumes and set are pleasing if a little inconsequential, letting the performances and natural back drop take centre stage in a crowd pleasing production which makes up for it’s lack of focus with fruity cheek. The music was a bit too dainty for my tastes, and the absence of live music was sorely missed (the recorded soundtrack seeming incongruous when faced with all this natural beauty) but on the whole this is an engaging Much Ado which succeeds in the deceptively hard task of making a Shakespearian comedy laugh out loud funny.

 Much Ado runs until 27th June

(Originally posted on The Public Reviews Website http://thepublicreviews.blogspot.com/)

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