The Factory’s The Seagull: Improvisation is about doing things and Chekhov is essentially about people doing nothing – it’s a recipe for dire theatre

The Factory is a company that do what could literally be described as Flash-mob Theatre.  A facebook update is released on Friday about shows which are played out that Sunday and the precious 50 tickets or so sell with lighting speed because this is a troupe with a fantastic reputation for mixing it up in playfully irreverent but perceptive productions. Their latest production of The Seagull has been popping up around venues (some theatrical, though mostly not) across London for the last few months and it’s had some cracking reviews and great audience feedback.  So why were I and my friends left so non-plussed?

Having tackled Hamlet with great panache, The Factory’s off-the-cuff style, incorporating multi-playing (3 actors toss to see who plays a character each night) props taken from random audience belongings (at one Hamlet performance, a pineapple became Yorick’s skull) and improvised blocking, completely dampened Chekhov’s rapier social commentary.   The whole thing became diffused and by presenting us with a simplified version of the text it was slightly like a bad family drama, and we’ve all had enough Eastenders to last us a life time.  It is easy to feel this way about Chekhov’s work, just ask teachers who battle against bored teenagers year in year out, and indeed on many levels they are ghastly family dramas about mean spirited and self centred individuals. The brilliance comes in his precise and perceptively drawn characters, each of whom are whittled from life with minute detail.  It is in the moments when you absolutely recognise someone you know, or yourself, in these people on stage that Chekhov really pierces you.

Every word counts to get you through the mundane and skin deep unpleasantness of his characters into the painfully acute psychological studies that they are and to give you these moments of recognition. I’m not saying I’m a purist, Katie Mitchell and Martin Crimps’ key-hole surgery version at the National was a precise and minimalist masterpiece of this play, but then they were making it more specific and not less so; as she says ‘The text that emerged…was considerably shorter, leaner and more angular’.  But The Factory have decided to do a different version each night, which here means that it will always be improvised with the actors using their own words.  What has been created through this lack of structure is a convoluted and diffused production of a text that is full of light and shade, in a show which has become a muddy grey through this company’s constant need to ‘keep the ball afloat’.  This desperate need to maintain the base level of energy at all costs is also to the detriment of any detailed character work from these clearly talented performers.  There are no silences, no moments of real tension or pain, everything is slightly too comfortable because they won’t allow it to get dangerous.

The Factory’s anarchic and unabashed approach is to be applauded and encouraged, and Shakespeare’s writing was developed by them in a perfect marriage of text and performance in typically bawdy style.  However I think that Chekhov’s subtleties may be beyond this form of immediate theatre.  Maybe I’m wrong? But to get anywhere near it, they’re going to need to go right back into the text and dig a lot deeper, not discard it for a million and one improvised words.

In conversation with a Shakespearian glam rock lover – Get Over It Productions bring Macbeth to the fringe.

Paula Benson, Artistic Director of Get Over It Productions is interested in two things, the intense and passionate love story between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth that we so often look over in our race to demonize them… and 1970’s glam rock! 

Now one may have thought ‘never the twain shall meet’ but Benson has put the two together in a rather novel version of Macbeth that has large dollops of glittery style and a gender bending leading man (well woman) in a silvery jump suit that would make Bowie proud.

A stylish undertaking then, but it’s not all glitz and glamour for Benson who wistfully talks of the spontaneity of old troupes of traveling players; ‘For me we could just do it in black t-shirts and it should still be good, all the other stuff is an added extra.’  Harking back to the days of family run theatres there is a hint of nostalgia to this company formed as it is from 10 year long friendships, family members and young performers who have grown up with Benson in the rehearsal room. 

Utilizing their training in mime and physical theatre, Get Over It Productions want to create work that is dramatic and entertaining, pushing their boundaries to incorporate not simply a stylised form but a naturalistic and realistic one. 

So far the company have tackled Hamlet and Macbeth, but it’s not for any singular focus on Shakespeare, ‘The writing is just so good’ says Benson simply.  However Benson is intent on doing a modern piece next and is always tirelessly looking, so much so that as we part she says ‘if you read anything good forward it on to me’. This is indicative of the friendly company spirit which permeates Get Over It and as I leave I think ‘You know what, I will’.

 For more information on Get Over It Productions please go to their myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/getoveritproductions

A grim little gem of a show – Grimms Review

Con Chiaccio are an incredibly charming company formed of 10 graduates from Middlesex University whose macabre vaudevillian charm will win over even the most hardened London spirit.  In this performance 8 white faced goons revel in the dark imagination of the Brothers Grimm in a patchwork quilt of a show incorporating coral speaking, impassioned reenactments of fairy tale journeys and the odd random silent orchestra performance. 

 

Performed entirely within a cleverly constructed soundtrack which flips from Romanian folk to bizarre Renaissance classical strings with just the right dose of the sinister, they take you by the hand down several loopy passages and into a darkly vibrant performance of these classic tales of which Roald Dahl would be proud.  Whether they are the grizzly attacking bear, the brave soldier, the witless Hans, the sweetest house in all the forest or just 8 street urchin clowns, they work as one holistic being made up of 8 definite individuals.    

 

But at the heart of their work is the fact that there is something infinitely enrapturing about plain and truthful storytelling and Grimms is just that.  Delighting in all the theatrical tricks known to them they take each word and phrase from these old stories and play and tumble with them like lion cubs, never afraid to snap and bite at one another but never in danger of hunting alone.  They are children with the forethought of adults and with every sweet word and grin comes a knowing wink and a look of sin (sorry, didn’t mean that to rhyme) so that all the while one sees a bunch of innocents who know far too much about the world.  This makes them delectably attractive to go along with.  Give your soul over to Con Chiaccio for 45 minutes but watch out for it or a nimble devil may just grab it from you before their telling is out.

 

This show was 6th – 8th August at The Roundhouse but find out about future work from the company at www.conghiaccio.com/index.htm

 

Mascha and Vascha – Strange Ladies

Two grotesque old ladies bicker in a small gypsy-esque living room.  Eyes roll and teeth gnash as they rasp their way through their day.  One is a dreamer and the other a doer, one a skinny hunchback and the other comically rotund, but for all their differences they are inherently tied together; being the only thing the other one has left.  Their monotonous life is full of washing and futile attempts to go outside, indeed anything to fill the gaps in the hours, minutes and seconds of each interminable day.

With the heavy ghost of Waiting For Godot hanging over its head, Mascha & Vascha does at times pay a successful homage to Beckett’s masterpiece, with a couple of beautifully existential lines but these are too few and far between.  More often than not this surreal dialogue appears forced in a piece which seems to be trying too hard. 

 Hannah Pyliotis and Lily Sykes are undoubtedly talented performers, creating intensely physical individual caricatures that are punctuated with imaginative ‘gestus’, within a sweet and present friendship that is a delight to watch.  However too often they push their random symbolism too far; at times being uncomfortably over the top and at others too naively ready for a ‘trick’ so that they are never fully convincing clowns. 

This is a first time piece of work which starts in all the right places, but somewhere along the journey loses focus and sadly ends up in all the wrong ones.  But it is also a young company who may have faltered in this show, but are sure to find their feet in future ones.  Onwards and upwards.

 Mascha & Vascha runs at The Camden People’s Theatre until Friday 21 August at 7.45pm

Secondly if they wet your appetite below: Les Chaises – Review

There is something inherently sad about an empty chair, filled as it is with a very real sense of negative space; the space of the sitter who goes with the chair, a sitter who is absent.  Although each is a unique exploration in form, this sense of missing something is inherent in all of the three shorts which make up Les Chaises.  

Clearance by Fiona Whitelaw starts proceedings in a stylish fashion, Sharon Enav’s direction bringing a prickly tension which melts convincingly into a life affirming friendship to the strong but sometimes sentimental text about a daughter facing her father’s ghost personified by his large red chair.  Sue Lenier’s Foreplay is a more acerbic look at a marriage which has gotten stuck, it’s painful humour brought out well by Amy Skilling’s deft direction although it does not always feel entirely comfortable in its own skin.  To complete the trio we have the wonderfully bizarre Attempts on a Missing Chair by Mary Mazzilli which quite frankly defies description except to say that it’s about two old people and a janitor and their self-destructive, strangely mesmerising small existence.  Attempts is performed with great panache by Mark Huhnen, Jennifer Pearcy-Edwards and Alex Kanefksy.

The pieces are all a bit hit and miss with the red chair in Clearance being the only object imbued with any power, however they are all touching discussions of loss and reconciliation and Attempts especially will blow you out of the water with it’s brave experimentation in form and charismatic performances.

Les Chaises will be coming to the Lion and Unicorn Theatre in September – for full tour details please see below:

http://www.lumenistheatre.co.uk/current/les-chaise/

First Up – Les Chaises: Interview with Lumenis Theatre Company

‘Both Mary and I shy away from the political, it’s very fashionable at the moment and it makes me vomit! I can’t stand being hit over the head with a message and preached at’ Sharon Enav, Lumenis Theatre Company’s forceful Artistic Director, seems clear on this point and co-founder and Literary Director Mary Mazzilli agrees ‘we want the audience to explore the pieces and think about them themselves’.   The company’s aim is to take the audience out of their comfort zone and make us look at the world with fresh eyes.

In 2008 Lumenis brought Mazzilli’s challenging play ‘The Wrong Sleep’ to the Camden Fringe which tackled Muslim sexuality and family betrayal but she thinks the less ‘in-yer-face’ Les Chaises will be just as thought provoking; ‘You can be provocative with experimental styles, three pieces with three different styles, the provocative element of it is more in the style of it.’

Made up of three shorts which were inspired by the idea of ‘the chair’, Clearance, Foreplay and Attempts on a Missing Chair, Les Chaises is like a mini festival within a festival.  Starting in naturalism with Clearance and concluding in the complete abstraction of Mazzilli’s delightfully surreal Attempts on a Missing Chair with Foreplay somewhere in the middle, an array of forms is certainly on offer keeping the audience well and truly on their toes and this is just the way Lumenis wants it.  Enav chuckles whilst describing her mother’s strong and vocal bewilderment after seeing Attempts, saying confidently ‘If it incites a reaction, any strong reaction, even utter confusion! Then it’s succeeded’.  For Lumenis it seems it is the taking up of questions, and not the answers, which really counts.

Edinburgh I love you, but let me flirt with London a little…it’s surprisingly tempting

I wrote this piece when I didn’t know that I was going to be going up to Edinburgh with my lovely friend (and children’s book writer – PLUG!) Louise Beere, but I like it so much that I’m going to post it anyway so read on McDuff and the basic premise is the same – Edinburgh in August is fabulous, but London has revealed itself to be just as wonderful:

Edinburgh is calling to me like a long lost lover.  Loud and clear over the airwaves, newspaper pages and facebook status updates, everywhere I look the presence of the Edinburgh Fringe haunts me with it’s vibrancy, variety, drinking and surprisingly good weather.  Great fun if you’re stuck down in little old London.  But not for me the moping of one whose financially straights have caused this enforced separation, no darkened bedrooms and constant stalking of facebook friends who are up there for a bread crumb of the experience. No! Once more into the theatrical breach dear friends, and blow me down what a delectable breach London has to offer in this holiday month.

So far I’ve seen an appallingly lazy production of Dreams of Violence at the Soho Theatre (boyfriends and girlfriends shouldn’t work together if this half arsed attempt is the result) that was great fun to rip apart, a delightful theatrical ditty in the form of Con Ghiaccio’s Grimms, an insightful production of Tis Pity She’s A Whore and an all woman glam rock version of Macbeth.  Next up is absurdist comedy Mascha and Vascha, a Butoh inspired performance, Down-A and a one woman show about family loss, Twinless.  And all that’s in one week.

There’s just so much choice for a city supposedly put to sleep by the migration of artists to the great Scottish capital and although much of this variety has to do with the punked up Camden Fringe, other great fringe London venues are refusing to be cowed, with the Royal Vauxhall Tavern’s Hot August Fringe naughtily representing the South in its usual fabulous fashion and The Arcola in Dalston with the delightfully trendy Arcola Grimeborn Festival.

So forgive me Edinburgh if I let my hair down a little in this glorious capital of mine and forget to stay with my head under the covers pining for you; you have my heart, but what’s a girl to do in the face of so much theatrical temptation? I’m off to flirt more with a bit of the London theatre scene and over the next couple of days I’ll be posting the bits that I’ve written for The Camden Voyeur and also The Fringe Review because it may be repetition but it’s what I’ve been writing this month and this poor blog oh mine has frankly been looking quite neglected.