The Consultant @ Theatre 503

Written for http://exeuntmagazine.com

cording to Hydrocracker, in Labour’s last full year in power, the party laid out a cool £1.8 billion of tax payers cash on consultants. Whilst we’re all used to hearing terrible tales of NHS consultancy gone wrong, this is still a staggering truth. In his new play The Consultant, Neil Fleming aims to put this expensive profession under the microscope; just exactly what do these jargon-makers and “Self Help” movers-and-shakers give you for your pound?

At the end of The Consultant we are, somewhat ironically, no nearer to a clear answer. In being unable to avoid cliché, and confounding issues instead of clarifying them, it seems Fleming has fallen into the very trap of the people he is supposed to be exposing.

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Henry Filloux-Bennett on The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) *Phew!*

James McNicholas, Lucy Woolliscroft & Owen Roberts

Written for http://www.whatsonstage.com

Long before the success of Potted Potter, Pirates and Panto, three guys were taking the complete works of William Shakespeare and ramming them into a breakneck 90 minutes. Entitled (strangely enough) The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s hilarious show is still one of the most defining memories of the Bard that I, and many of my peers, have. Running for a legendary nine years at the Criterion it was a staple for theatre goers of the 90’s before closing to tour internationally (currently the Americans are lapping it up).

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A Magic Flute @ The Barbican

Written for Exeunt

Peter Brook has spent a lifetime distilling his theatrical process, a pilgrimage that has resulted in productions of astonishing subtlety. For some his belief in stripping away theatre to its barest bones, in constant honing and sharpening, in the scraping away all that is extraneous from even the most prized texts, is masterful. To others this process of refining is becoming reductive, with not only the superfluous but the essential succumbing to his scalpel.

With 11 and 12, his last piece to be shown in the UK, falling squarely in this latter category within critical opinion, will his ‘unexpected take’ on Mozart convince otherwise?

Infused with deep Masonic undertones (with both Mozart and librettist Emanuel Schikaneder members of this shady fraternity), The Magic Flute is full of symbolism and ritual. When ruler Sarastro steals Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night, a pair of unlikely friends goes on a quest of self enlightenment to rescue her.

In his heavily cut version, A Magic Flute, Brook strips away all of the stage trickery that would have underpinned Mozart’s original Zauberoper, a ‘magic opera’ utilising various moments of theatre wizardry. Here there is only rich colour saturating the stage and a series of moveable bamboo poles which pertain to the cages of the underworld, the fire and brimstone the heroes have to face.

On this bare stage Brook gives us Holy Theatre in its most potent form. Reverence haunts every step of the barefooted cast; this stage may be an empty space but it is also a sacred one and each moment counts. Movement director Marcello Magni (of Théâtre du Complicité fame) ensures that every action is centred and weighted perfectly. The performers’ ease and informality creates a gentle intimacy both with each other and with the audience. This gently playful essence acts as a counterpoint to the opera score, although there is no chaotic Rough Theatre to be found here. A lone pianist delivers each note of the adapted score with delicacy.

Though Mozart’s fragile beauty is much on show here, where is his life affirming, if occasionally embarrassing, vulgarity? For all its purity this evening lacks a sense of passion; when so much is underplayed one cannot help but feel underwhelmed. Even Papageno, by far the silliest character in this fairly worthy tale, is a muted clown. Thomas Dolie does a superb job of drawing every last laugh from his audience with a consummate and charming performance full of grumpy humphs and comedy groans. As Tamino, Adrian Strooper makes a suitably honourable, if limp prince, the hero to Papageno’s comedy sidekick. Jeanne Zaepffel sings sweetly as Pamina but is far too serene to be the proactive heroine of Mozart’s reckonings. Malia Bendi-Merad makes a powerful Queen of the Night, her small stature belaying a thrilling vocal tone and breathtaking precision and she provides one of the only truly transporting moments of the evening.

This production is too eloquent to be joyous and too still to be jubilant, but it is none-the-less a light footed and sprightly Magic Flute. In the hands of narrator/facilitator William Nadylam this simple piece of wood does seem to take on otherworldly properties and although Strooper’s handling of it is not quite as confident, Celio Amino’s training pays off in some quietly impressive slight of hand trickery.

This may not be the full throttled magical experience that Mozart intended, but Brook’s flute still has the power to charm if not completely beguile.

Running at The Barbican until 27th March.

 

I tasted Sprint, and it’s playful.

Written for http://exeuntmagazine.com

The fourteenth Sprint festival at Camden People’s Theatre kicks off with a taster evening which embodies the festival’s lively and playful essence – and while I’d be reluctant to call it a theme, an abundance of childish delight runs through the work in this opening showcase.

The evening begins with Mamoru Iriguchi’s Projector/Conjector. Iriguchi has a projector on his head, while his eponymous heroine has a TV on hers. Projector/Conjector is a low-fi/high tech love story where boy meets girl in a world of deceptively makeshift illustrations of rockets, ponds, ducks, pieces of coral and even the piercing of a still beating heart. Clad in crumpled forensic whites our performers combine po-faced seriousness and physical prowess (some of the crouches they hold would make a yoga instructor jealous) with a wonderfully silly premise and an odd poignancy as Projector creates his own reality and Conjector captures it.

Greg McLaren

The immensely likeable Francesca Millican-Slater presents I Promise To Swim The Channel (or the story of how I might); a lovely piece of personal passion on stage. With poetic fluidity and a healthy dose of science and history, Millican-Slater takes us through each stage of her training so far, cheerfully highlighting each exhausting obstacle. Armed only with some goose fat, bowls of water and a whistle, this self-deprecating adventurer is as brave as the first channel swimmer Captain Matthew Webb and as witty as one of the most famous, David Walliams. At the end, in a brilliantly simple act of complicity, you can formalise your belief in Millican-Slater by signing an agreement stating you believe that she will achieve her mission – and I’m sure that she will.

Clad in a distinctive Chinese bomber jacket, Greg McLaren (above) combines a palpable sense of bombast with a trembling vulnerability.  Doris Day Can Fuck Off he tells us, or rather, as this is a one-man opera, he sings it to us, in a pleasantly melodic voice. A bundle of contradictions, McLaren’s silly endeavour to sing everything he would usually speak (a task he’s been accomplishing for the last few weeks) seems to have left a rather dark mark on him and his wonderfully funny mash-ups of befuddled traffic wardens and passers-by are tinged with the loneliness of an outsider.

No such darkness infects The Balloon Gardener, a children’s circus act combining tremendous skill with a touch of idiocy. Set against a hip-wiggling soundtrack of 60s TV music and performed with boundless energy, Danny the Wild Balloon-Tamer performs a series of tricks with the tacky flare of a children’s party entertainer. He manipulates brightly coloured latex shapes into a piece of artistic horticulture that won’t fail to put a smile on your face.

Patchwork

Physical prowess and a sense of mindless fun merge into a hundred-words-a-minute with The Honourable Society of Faster Craftswomen’s (right) mega-monologue Patchwork. This spoken word extravaganza has a throbbing punk backing-track and a thrusting energy that leaves the audience breathless. Guileless (but one suspects highly-skilled) animations fill the screen behind the performer. Enthroned on a high-backed chair and clad in a wild-thing suit with requisite ears, this is one cool chick.

This high-octane and razor sharp performance make for an exhausting but exhilarating end to an evening that’s often been punctuated with giggles. Perhaps the most resounding feeling is one of warmth, a sense of welcoming towards all this strange and wonderful work. It is sensation that may well embolden and encourage even those alarmed by the prospect of performance art.

Sprint runs at CPT from the 1st to the 27th March 2011. For a full line-up of events, visit: Camden People’s Theatre

Blue Fence @ Pleasance Islington

Blue Fence

Written for http://exeuntmagazine.com

Heather O’Shea’s new play, Blue Fence, is a funny and intelligent, if a little clunky, piece of writing, a new perspective on the prejudice and marginalisation so prevalent within our deceptively equal world. What’s tricky here is the actualisation of this promising blue-print. Much like the Olympics, which her play concerns, what we are sold and what we get are not the same thing; a Britain currently spending millions on a building site that has forcefully relocated many and sucked valuable resources from most, knows this feeling only too well.

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Sprint @ Camden People’s Theatre: Matt Ball

Written for http://www.whatsonstage.com

Chatting to Matt Ball about the 14th Sprint Festival it suddenly hits me that Camden People’s Theatre are the Grandaddy of the current contemporary art festival scene. Fourteen years is quite a legacy and this longevity must be encouraging for newer endeavours like Forest Fringe and the Fierce Festival. “That’s a nice way to look at it,” Ball quietly says, “if you look at everyone who’s been through the building, it does seem to be a Who’s Who of contemporary performance.”

Set up in 1994, CPT has long been working at blending the boundaries between theatre and live art. In 1997 Sprint was established out of a desire to widen the audience base for innovative performances with short runs. “If we put it in a festival and we package it that way, more people will see it,” Ball explains.

Running throughout March it’s an eclectic programme and one not driven by a personal taste or agenda, “this year we’ve got everything from a children’s contemporary clown show to someone suspended by their hair in space.” A quick look at the programme certainly seems to reveal a vibrant mixture of challenging and easier to swallow pieces including a one man opera, a travelling sound library, a chance to enact your own kitchen sink drama and a performance encountered entirely in pitch black.

This variety comes from a truly democratic selection process of three strands. Along with work that CPT has had a hand in developing, and work selected during the year (both from London and nationally), they also have an open submission process to the programme. “The open submission allows us to encounter emerging artists we may not have heard about. As an artist I first encountered Sprint this way and it was incredibly helpful to my development.”

That Ball himself is one of CPT’s Sprint successes is a testament to the festival’s encouragement of new artists. This year Starting Blocks has taken this ethos one step further; a peer-supported group of five artists and companies have been given a ten-week period, moulding, shaping and creating new pieces of work together – they will be featured in Sprint in a day of work-in-progress sharings on 13 March. “It’s very much a pilot year for it,” Ball says cautiously, “we’re trying it out and it’s producing some really interesting work. It’s very much not about producing finished pieces for the festival, it’s trying to support people, give them more opportunities to make work and space and time.”

I’m sure he must love all his artists equally, but who particularly is Ball looking forward to most from this year’s Sprint Festival? He laughs Analogue’s Lecture Notes on a Death Scene… they are a really good young company starting to get the recognition they deserve touring nationally and internationally.”

He thinks for a moment and then speaks as though almost to himself “Michael Pinchbeck’s The End, it’s the last piece of solo work he’s going to make so it’s going to be quite strange for me.” He recollects himself firmly, “I’ve seen all of his work, so to see it finish… will be nice to have him do that here.”

Sprint Festival – 2011 runs from 1 March to 27 March 2011. Click here for full listing details for the 2011 festival.