Review: Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime

Written for The Stage

Ronald Selwyn Phillips’ much lauded adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s absurd short story is given a disappointing revival in Nadine Hanwell’s flat-footed production.

Wilde’s wit is as sparkling and pointed as ever, although even he seems to become weary of the twists and turns that befall his hero, making each more unreasonable than the last. Selwyn Phillips has done a tidy, if prosaic job, entwining each preposterous thread into a neatly woven narrative.

Hanwell, however, has been unable to tie all these strands together convincingly in a production that lacks plausibility and coherence. Jean Christie as a cut-glass Lady Windermere and Kate Sandison as the sickly Lady Clementina Beauchamp are enjoyable. But on the whole, relationships are presented awkwardly. Diction is a clear problem throughout, particularly for Christian Deal’s Lord Arthur Savile. Even when you can hear what they are saying, the cast do not inhabit their roles or the piece enough to transport an audience.

Review: Play House & Definitely the Bahamas

Written for Time Out

Play House

This double bill places a new play next to a revival and gives writer Martin Crimp his first outing as director. In the delicious ‘Play House’, Crimp puts a young married couple under the microscope. We zip through adoration, lust, annoyance, babies, confusions and true love. Obi Abili and Lily James are compelling sparring partners. But by revealing itself so eagerly ‘Play House’ loses some of its potency.

By contrast ‘Definitely the Bahamas’ (originally a radio play) is a masterclass in understatement. Here a middle-aged couple square their morals with the behaviour of an unscrupulous child. Crimp’s canny decision to stage it on a radio set inherently places adoring Milly (a thrilling Kate Fahy) and impervious Frank’s stories within a dual reality, calling into question each sunny lie.

The emotional violence threatening to engulf ‘Play House’ simmers away painfully in ‘Definitely the Bahamas’, each betrayal all the more blistering. The effect of both together is electric.

Runs until 21st April 2012.

Interview: Jon Cooper on A Lady Of Substance

Written for What’s On Stage

Shortly after graduating Kent University, Jon Cooper won a place on The Old Vic’s New Voices company 2006. Subsequently he was chosen to be part of the Old Vic’s US/UK exchange program. His first full-length play For Once I Was was developed at The Old Vic and then went on to have a run at theTristan Bates Theatre. A Lady of Substance was developed at the Manchester 24/7 Festival with director Matthew Dunsterand is currently receiving its London premiere at the Tristan Bates Theatre.

Talk us through the story of A Lady of Substance

It’s about an older poet, early 40s, who has had a relatively tragic experience happen in her life and is stuck in a cycle of self-destruction. She’s left her flat and then comes back one day to find that this 16 year-old girl has broken in and has been squatting. The two of them together have loves, the young girl of hip-hop and the older woman of poetry. Over the course of a 24-hour period the two of them spend time together talking and sharing and learning and writing, while also dealing with the loses that have happened in their lives and also going on a gigantic bender!

So there are some embarrassing hip-hop and performance poetry moments in it?

Well there are a number because I wrote them all! As a young middle class white man I’ve done a sterling job! No I believe that hip-hop is a continuation of poetry in many respects. Hip-hop is the selection of words and the refinement of the English language with a beat placed underneath it to help accessibility. You can learn as much from early hip-hop about the way a particular society was dealt with by the police and what it wasto live in those social conditions as you can from Keats about love. I thought that that was an important thing to be exploring. Also it’s a nice generational thing to have an older and a younger person who are trying to describe to each other why it is that they love what they love and actually finding that they have some common ground.

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Review: How’s The World Treating You?

Written for The Stage

Written in 1966, Roger Milner’s screwball comedy How’s The World Treating You? makes an amiable comeback at the Union Theatre. It’s an odd play but none the worse for that.

How’s The World Treating You? is full of old fashioned wise-cracking and ribaldry. Milner’s hero Frank More, played with wide-eyed charm by Matthew Carter, is a bit of a twit but an awfully likeable one. Watching him career from one mini-disaster to another in Milner’s surreal world of trouserless majors and errant washing machines is an entertaining, if baffling, ride.

It’s horribly dated of course and totally lightweight. Women’s roles are cheerfully clear, though impressively any sexism is blatantly tongue in cheek. Laura Hanna particularly sparkles as More’s headstrong, no-nonsense wife.

Director Stephen Glover has understood that this period piece needs to be framed accordingly and starts each act (1940s, 1950s, and 1960s) with a film tailor-made for its corresponding year and location. He’s also told his jolly cast to play their fruity vowels and rolled eyes to the hilt and Ian Barritt, Gilian Cally, Louisa Faye and George Weightman relish each lip-smacking moment of their ensemble multi-casting.

Runs until 7th April 2012.

Interview with Elizabeth LeCompte, The Wooster Group

Written for The Stage

For experimental theatre troupe The Wooster Group, maintaining an up-to-date and relevant online presence is crucial. Artistic director Elizabeth LeCompte talks to Honour Bayes about keeping the company’s internet persona alive and engaging a wider audience via its video ‘dailies’.

On Christmas Day in 1990, Tim Berners-Lee turned an international community into a local one. The internet enabled national companies to have a global reach and theatre companies to communicate with international audiences. Today, the best theatre websites arethere to entertain and communicate identity as well as sell tickets.

Punchdrunk’s site, a panoramic online landscape, perfectly encapsulates its immersive theatrical journeys. While other artistic ventures such as Retz have gone even further, staging ‘networked narratives’ that use the internet as an integral part of the company’s work.

One company whose online persona is particularly alive is experimental theatre troupe The Wooster Group. For the last 40 years, The Wooster Group has been creating innovative work at the forefront of a New York and ‘in the know’ international theatrical community. But only recently has it been able to share its practice regularly with a wider world audience. “It’s been an idea for a long time, but it was too expensive and too difficult and I would always give up,” admits artistic director Elizabeth LeCompte. “It took us a long time even to be able to afford a line coming into the garage.”

Eventually, LeCompte spearheaded funding for a project of video ‘dailies’ which, since their launch in October 2010, have been watched by more than 150,000 people worldwide. But while such sponsor support is vital, her biggest piece of advice for any company wanting to develop their online media presence is that it must be artistically led. “[The person behind it] has to be someone you get in because they want to know something more about you and show how the company works. [For us] it had to be someone who wanted to examine who ‘we’ are.”

Zbigniew Bzymek in troilus cressida this goes in the garbage Video Still: Zbigniew Bzymek

For LeCompte, that person was Zbigniew Bzymek, an associate artist of the company and cinematographer who holds ultimate responsibility for the group’s online vlog. Forming the heart of The Wooster Group’s website, these films act as windows into every nook and cranny of the company’s day-to-day life, as well as a marketing tool when the need arises. A patchwork of content from fragments of rehearsal, a chat with an intern, abstract shots of lighting desks or audience reactions, each video gives the viewer an ever growing history of shared experiences with the troupe.

As with all digital media, it is vital that these are kept up to date. To maintain its 24-hour turnaround, the company spends an hour at the end of each day of rehearsal sitting together going over and discussing Bzymek’s footage in what has become something of a ritual. LeCompte is clear it is important to build this online work into the central fabric of everyday company life.

As well as giving a vivid flavour of the present world of The Wooster Group, the videos are also used to contextualise current work with older pieces. For a company with a large back catalogue, LeCompte believes this is a good way of keeping an archive alive and kicking. “We try to make it work so that if we go to the archive it has something to do with the work we are doing now or something that we’re trying to sell. For instance, we just finished a DVD of To You, The Birdie (Phaedra) that we’re selling, so we tried to work in one of the archive films from that.”

Anyone who has seen one of The Wooster Group’s David Lynch-style adverts will know this is not just about selling, but it is interesting that even for one of the least establishment theatre companies its vlog is capitalised successfully in this way. It is vital, however, to make a website more than just blatant advertising, no one wants to feel like they are watching QVC.

LeCompte believes the personal nature of the films also increases their audience base in the same way a celebrity name would. “So many people now are used to seeing celebrities in the theatre, even I go and see somebody I know from something else in a role.” Just as with a celebrity, “when people come to our theatre they know something about us that they can project on to the performers, a subtext or a meta text that I think is exciting”.

Daniel Jackson and Kent Barrett in 'FUTURE REAL MOMENTS (screen tests)' Video Still: Zbigniew Bzymek

Perhaps most importantly, the vlog enables LeCompte to fully realise an underlining working practice of hers, that of a totally open process. “[Rehearsals are] always open to whoever wants to come as long as you have room and [the blog] makes it much easier because we have a tiny rehearsal space and can only really accommodate about five people usually.”

The Wooster Group’s online video blog embodies its real life ethos exactly. This is why this artistic digital project is so successful in communicating the company’s spirit to an ever expanding international audience. And this is only the beginning. For Troilus and Cressida, their World Shakespeare Festival collaboration with the RSC, LeCompte plans to live stream rehearsals with a narrator, telling viewers what is happening as it appears.

Will this be a performance in itself or just a source of information? “I’m hoping it will be both, to elucidate the process without it being academic. I’m hoping people will be able to see and experience it and at the same time it will be entertaining for them, because sometimes the process is very boring,” LeCompte laughs, “and I don’t feature showing anything really boring, ever.” Great advice, it seems, online or not.

The Wooster Group Video Dailies (Troilus & Cressida)

Made In China: On consumption, collaboration and the rules of creation.

Written for Exeunt

Made In China’s Tim Cowbury and Jessica Latowicki share their sentences in the same way they are hungrily sharing a piece of quiche during the get-in for We Hope That You’re Happy (Why Would We Lie?) at the Battersea Arts Centre. That is, seamlessly and efficiently. Their work is “like a tennis match” a bubbly Latowicki explains, “where we’re just shooting the balls back at each other.”

Since 2009, when the pair were thrown together at Goldsmiths College, Cowbury and Latowicki have been making shows that are at the ‘juncture of playwriting and live art’. Whilst the initiative was a bold move on Goldsmiths part, this successful partnership was the result of a lucky and unique alchemy. “All of the playwrights had to collaborate with all of the performance makers from two different MA courses” Cowbury says while looking wryly at Latowicki “and I think we are the only ones in the history of, however many years that it’s been happening, that’s ended well. Because I think playwrights tend to be scared shitless of the performance artists…” He pauses and Latowicki continues with a laugh: “and the performance artists don’t want other people writing their words down for them. There’s a big fear that if you don’t write your own words it’s not your work anymore. But I was like ‘Oh look! Someone who writes better than I do! Useful.’”

Their relationship works so well because they do not adhere to these prejudices and concerns, instead finding a freedom in the fluidity of their collaboration. Their ability to defy expectation is perhaps one of their strongest talents; it’s interesting how quickly I find myself falling into the standard idea of how their creative backgrounds will define the roles they play within the company; I automatically assume that the structured nature of their work comes from Cowbury’s playwriting background. In actuality nothing could be further from the truth: “It comes more from Jess as a performance artist actually.” “Me!” Latowicki breaks in, “I really like structure. I think that by having a clear structure you can get away with things.”

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Review: Someone To Blame

Written for Time Out

Sam Hallam has spent the last seven a years in prison serving life for murder he (backed by a number of witnesses) claims he didn’t commit. ‘Someone to Blame’ is the newest facet of his family’s campaign as they battle against this alleged miscarriage of justice.

Tess Berry-Hart has trawled through hours of cold transcripts to give us a highly charged, sharply crafted verbatim soap opera. Cloudy witness statements create a cacophony of whispers that turn into cold hard ‘facts’ in the courtroom.

The injustice of what are here presented as inconsistencies genuinely prickles, but Berry-Hart has overplayed her cards and ‘Someone to Blame’ begins to feel more like propaganda, while her lack of objectivity removes some of the power of Hallam’s protest.

David Mercatali’s staging opens up the narrow King’s Head, placing the voices judging Hallam all around and putting us at the centre. Robin Crouch as the imprisoned 24-year-old is a compelling eye of the storm.

This is moving drama but just as we are asked to draw our own conclusions, the echoes of the ‘correct’ ones posited by Berry-Hart hang manipulatively in the air.

Running until 31st March 2012