The Forecast – looking brighter than expected.

Written for Whats On Stage 23/01/10.

WEATHER FORECAST

The Forecast is a darling little ditty of a show that, whilst it may not live up to Marvin and The Cats’ lofty aspirations of dealing with climate change, certainly reaches fabulous heights of charming clowning and daring physical prowess.

Set against a swirling background of Turner-esque green, three moving mannequins take us through the delights of life aboard the cruise ship ‘The Power of The Seas’ in a massive rush of consumerist ecstasy. But amongst the cheesy grins and mind boggling luxuries a darker reality rears its ugly head as these characters are plunged literally out of their depth: a wild storm wrecks their moving pleasure dome and leaves them adrift on a much ‘cosier’ wooden raft, otherwise known as about eight planks of wood.

It is an intense hour that follows as an impressive sense of mental disintegration radiates through these fluid performers and turns their desperation into a tangible nightmare for those watching. At points they seem so wretched that one feels almost voyeuristic as they backtrack their way from sophisticated human beings to primates with cannibalistic intentions. But it’s not all darkness; the whole thing is played out with enjoyable comic élan from this Jacques Lecoq trained company, making it a strangely jolly experience.

Thom Monckton, Tamsin Clarke and Jay Miller (See News, 6 Aug 2009) are grotesque, sweet, sexual, frenzied, frenetic and manic. They deftly deliver complexly cartoonish performances that overflow with a childish exuberance contained within obvious heightened physical control. Moreover, as individualistic as each of these charming turns is, they are brilliantly attuned throughout. Whether it is the entwining of creepy hands and bodies, intricate balancing sequences or moments of synchronisation that echo the shifts and turns of shoals of fish, Sasha Milavic Davies has choreographed their plight with a heart warming humanity mingled with an impressive level of mimetic skill.

The Forecast is not a show on climate change and I think all the better for it; instead it is a piece that focuses with artistry and empathy on three normal human beings. In begging the question of what would happen to us if everything was stripped away, it takes its audience to dark places that somehow resonate for long after the end of this heartfelt performance. Overarching political message or not, The Forecast is definitely a must see.

The Forecast runs until 7th February 2010.

Decade – Theatre503

Decade, Theatre503,  Until 23rd January 2010                                       

Event picture

When we think back over the noughties what is it that we will remember? Ten writers at Theatre 503 are here to help with a short 10 minute piece for each year which act as a series of coat hangers for us to drape our memories on.

Of course there are moments that we will never forget; the twin towers (here shown with breathtaking artistry as a piece of graffiti on the back wall) and the consequent war in Iraq for example. These things changed the world permanently and have made an indelible imprint on a nation’s psyche. But there are also some more gentle nudges that tease out further defining moments of this first decade of the 21st century; a subverted look at The Special Relationship, the still horror of a face being rebuilt whilst dogs growl off stage, a young woman being interrogated for loving her captor, the tragedy of a Tsunami and perhaps a more worldwide pandemic – Facebook.  It is these subtler pieces which really bring the whole ramshackle experience of this past decade together, connecting previously isolated incidences into a coherent line of history.

Unifying both the 503Five, five unproduced playwrights working with Theatre503 this year, and five leading writers the standard is for the most part impressively high.  You soon forget if this is a fledgling or established talent on show.  All ten shorts speak with a unique voice and whilst some are stronger than others, this variety creates a patchwork realisation of our lives over the last ten years, fully embodying the diversity of a nation.  Perhaps more than a single writer, 10 can give a true sense to the multi-cultural, multi-sexual, multi-racial, multi-religious state of our great nation in all its messy beautiful and sometimes dark complexity.  Following on from such works as This Much Is True, which love it or loath it certainly prompted serious political debate, Decade shows that Theatre503 is beginning 2010 in the same full throttle style that it ended 2009.

It’s only on until tomorrow which is a real shame.  If you get the chance this 10 minute, 10 piece quilt is a piece of art that is definitely worth the laborious trip down to the somewhat isolated but increasingly important Theatre503.

Writers: Amy Rosenthal, Beth Steel, Nimer Rashed, David Eldridge, Lou Ramsden, Fraser Grace, April de Angelis, Richard Marsh, Phil Porter, Rex Obano.

Review – Doctor Faustus

Written for What’s On Stage – 19/1/10

Doctor Faustus at Stratford Circus until Saturday 6 February.

Men stand in artfully geometric lines swathed in 50s Macs and stylish trilbys. We could be down on the waterfront but instead we are plunged into a sexy, clubbing version of Christopher Marlowe’s hellish play, Doctor Faustus.

The tale of Faustus selling his soul to the devil, partying like a fiend for four and 20 years and then finally paying the price is one of the best known in the English speaking world. So it is baffling that a production that has such a consummate visual style could get the telling of this epic tale so amiss. And yet it does.

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Will the real ‘self’ please stand up?

Here’s a little something I made earlier.  Written initially in response to Stefan Golaszewski I’ve been sat on it for a while, but after seeing Kim Noble last week it got me thinking about it again and so it seemed a good time to dust it off and let it see the light of internet day…let me know what you think.

The old adage ‘write what you know’ has been prescribed haughtily to young writers for an eternity.  But in spite of its inherent restrictions it makes sense that experience breeds understanding.  For proof of this look no further than Stefan Golaszewski’s double bill at The Bush Theatre. Stefan Golaszewski Speaks About A Girl He Once Loved astutely voices a collective experience within the words of an individual.  The second memory infused Stefan Golaszewski Is A Widower lacks this symbiosis; Golaszewski has clearly been in love, but he hasn’t been old yet and it shows.

I’d been a fan of Golaszewski since 2008 when his first piece hit the Edinburgh Festival with an aura of the ‘genuine article’ about it; it had been pegged as revealing autobiography.  Write what you know had been gazumped by ‘write what you are’ and the excitement was palpable; as was the betrayal upon realizing that it had all been a big hum dinging lie. Golaszewski had made most of the detail up; it was a marketing ploy that we fell for hook line and sinker.

Why would they do this and why would I care so much upon realizing it wasn’t true? There is a frisson of excitement about truth in theatre because by its very nature it is a medium that demands a suspension of disbelief.  In 2009 critics are still bowled over by Golaszewski’s ‘emotional integrity’; it would appear even as we are told it is fiction we still long to believe it as fact.

I don’t believe that Tim Fountain’s hit 2004 show Sex Addict (where each night the audience pick a random man for him to sleep with and then hear about his previous night’s exploits) would have been such a success if it hadn’t been true.  If he had lied about his sexual adventures, we would have been less interested.

Since Spalding Gray dazzled audiences in 1980s New York with his minimalistic autobiographical monologues, our ‘selves’ have taken centre stage. But who exactly is the ‘self’? Artists such as Bobby Baker and Tim Miller use their own lives as the basis for their work; flickering between their ‘real’ and ‘performance’ selves with no overtly external indication.  It is sometimes impossible to know what is true and what isn’t: will the real Bobby Baker please stand up?

Frantic Assembly’s early work also begged this question of the audience.  Using their real names and speaking in such naturalistic dialogue that audiences thought their pieces were unscripted, it became increasingly hard to distinguish between performer and person, between character and actor.

In work such as this the most interesting moments come in the space between the truth and fiction, as the audience attempts to define what or rather who they are watching. But even as we accept the blurring of selves it cannot be denied that whilst writing what you know is good, the promise of exploring who you are is more titillating, and something that in theatre, we all fall for.

The Best Of The Rest 2010

We all know the big un’s to watch out for in the first few months of 2010; Red, currently running at the Donmar Warehouse, the West End transfers of Enron and Jerusalem, Peter Brook at The Barbican which also houses the eclectic Bite Season for 2010 and work by the legendary Pina Bausch, Trilogy at The BAC and of course the London International Mime Festival.

But what about the smaller venues – not just the BAC’s or The Riverside Studios’ who consistently punch above their weight, but the truly off-piste theatres – The Blue Elephant Theatre, The Royal Vauxhall Tavern and The Cock Tavern to name but a few.  Unlike the big theatres these small houses can only programme up to 3-6 months so no need to book miles in advance – these are things you can see in the very near future so check your pre-planned nature at the door and get a little trigger happy.

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Hello! And the first review of 2010

So….you kinda know what I’m going to say – there was no ‘The Best of 2009′ which in a way is sad because it means I didn’t get to mention It Felt Like A Kiss, Mother Courage, Found In The Ground, Kristen Schall and Kurt Braunohler, Spring Awakening or Cat On A Hat Tin Roof.  But on the other hand it’s always nice to start with something new – and so along with a preview of the New Year and a deeply heartfelt blog on identity in theatre – here is the first review of 2010.  A suitably tub thumping endeavour, LADS is a very pleasant way to start the New Year.

Written for What’s On Stage 09/01/10

In the land of fair Wetherspoons, four rowdy Knights of the Pub Table share their stories of beautiful (if a bit drunken) maidens and battles between (brawling) brothers. Flying under the stylistic banner of the distinctive Steven Berkoff, their tale is a full on ‘wham bam thank you mam’ production, with grotesque physicalization taking centre stage.

Jobless, Actless, Faithless and Dependable, otherwise known as Nick, Jimmy, Paul and Rich are four disparate youths bound inextricably together through the ties of friendship. Whilst heading out for a night on the tiles, they encounter all of the usual obnoxious suspects whilst embarking on a huge amount of drinking – so a standard night out in London then.

But this is not to say that this is a standard piece. Raucous and bombastic LADS is an exhilarating ride, not to mention hugely funny. Writer and director James Kermack’s spot on observations are extended into sharply crafted and theatricalised moments of chorography. The energy of his direction carries you away on the whirlwind of affectionately mundane excitement that everyone feels at the promise of a night out on the town with your pals.

Our four lads are played with great verve by Geoff Breton, Drummond Bowskill, Josh Boyd Rochford and Danny John Noonan. As they embody the rabble that these boys encounter we see greasy bosses and nasal gaggles of girls float caustically in front of our eyes. As they banter with one another the brotherly bond that ties these four Knights together is tangibly there.

Of the four it is Bowskill who steals scenes however, giving a comedy performance that would rival that of all the great buffoons. Infinitely charming Bowskill seems to sit more within a Commedia Dell Arte tradition than the Berkoff that surrounds him.

As with the autocratic Mr Berkoff however, in the midst of all this revelry it all gets a bit much. This company are forcefully leading their audience by the hand instead of inviting us to follow them and awkwardly, at points, it feels a little like an edition of Nuts with the agony aunt page at the end.

But even if Kermack falls down in the more naturalistic scenes, LADS is still a textured and confident piece of theatre which shows the emergence of a strong talent. Shakespeare it’s not, but for pure balls out entertainment, LADS is guaranteed to blow away the January doldrums.

Runs until 23rd January 2010. For more details go to the Canal Cafe Theatre