Review: A Woman of No Importance…Or Somewhat Little Importance Anyhow

Written for The Stage

nspired by the cut glass wit of Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward, this play is a modern comedy of manners. Rodden is Lauren, a ‘resting’ actress, with nothing but her Coward plays and bottles of cheap plonk for company, which – apart from the work situation – is just how she likes it. But soon she is swamped by her feuding adolescent parents and a war of fruity vowels begins.

Highly crafted and with plenty of lovingly researched detail, Katherine Rodden’s play is an enjoyable, contemporary nod to a bygone era. However, there are times when it enters sitcom territory as subtext becomes text and too much is revealed. Coward would have undoubtedly found this vulgar and a good deal – including an under-baked subplot involving two suitors – could be shaved off.

But the actors clearly relish all the horsing around and the energy on stage is high. Rodden does a neat line in self-obsessed actresses, while Alan Booty as her philandering father is reminiscent of Stephen Fry. When he and his wife – Rachel Dobell – reconcile they do so without bells and whistles, cutting through the froth to provide a flicker of genuine feeling.

Runs until 23 February 2013. For more information go here 

The Stage: Fringe Focus

As 2013 begins afresh here are a collection of my 2012 Fringe Focus blogs to get you warmed up for those to come.

Catch a rising star

masterclass-offies

Recently, I was asked what I thought of The Off West End Awards (or the ‘Offies’ as they are affectionately known). The person in question had issues with their validity, suggesting that to score one thing against another was unavoidably reductive. But while I could see their point – having a love/hate relationship to awards myself – for Off-West End venues they can be essential. To read more.

Is this theatre’s ‘new’ new writing?

The Bush Theatre announced its new writing policy last week. To do so during the first season without a new play in the theatre’s 41 year history was brave. Sure enough voices of dissent were soon heard, none more frankly than original Artistic Director Mike Bradwell, who wrote – on a social networking site that shall not be named

“THIS IS NEW BUSH THEATRE NEW WRITING POLICY AND IT IS UTTER…”

- well you can imagine the rest. His reaction has elicited more than 80 responses with people anxious not only about the restricted application time but also the workshop and seed funding processes that will follow. To read more

The dramatic appliance of science.

As Nick Payne’s dazzling Constellations or Katie Mitchell’s disquieting Ten Billion shows there are a million and one ways to dramatise science. The Barbican’s exciting collaboration with the Wellcome Trust  and FUEL’s partnership with the UCL Ear Institute continue to explore how art can open up the complicated DNA of physics, biology and chemistry for an audience to experience and enjoy. To read more

We can learn from panto – oh, yes we can!

The cast of Snow White at His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen parody this year's favourite cultural reference Gangnam Style. Photo: Donald Stewart

For some people pantomime is only bearable because it encourages families who never go to the theatre into it, and for others it’s not even bearable then. But I’ve always been rather fond of the “He’s behind you!” hoopla.

I enjoy the silly antics and clever pop culture references (if there’s a pantomime on the planet this year without a Gangnam Style pastiche I’ll run around the stage with bloomers on my head). Most of all I get a thrill about being part of an audience so involved in their own entertainment, proactively working with the performers to ensure a good night out. To read more

 

Review: But I cld only whisper

Written for The Stage

A popular contemporary subject, combat stress has never been placed so clearly within a societal context as in Kristiana Colon’s moving play but I cd only whisper.

It’s the 1970s and black veteran Beau Willie Brown returns from Vietnam haunted and brutal. As he is questioned over a troubling crime, Colon explores racial tensions, domestic abuse and combat trauma through the story of a man who has been fighting all his life.

Colon gives voice to each side of Beau’s broken persona – the abused mother of his children, his bullish commanding officer, the friend who could have easily done it too and his spoilt white mistress. She interlaces them, providing a cacophony of explanations in a poetic piece of social commentary.

Nadia Latif’s staging and Imogen Knight’s choreography mirror Colon’s lyricism, with characters physically weaving in and out of the action, just as their stories come in and out of Beau’s head. Wendy Short’s projections evoke the feeling of a country and a man on the brink of explosion.

Adetomiwa Edun’s Beau is a cracked prism full of flaws and broken dreams. As Crystal, the woman he beats, Emanuella Cole gives a raw and compelling performance that ignites uncomfortable feelings of voyeurism even as it is impossible to look away.

Runs until 1st December. For more information go here.

Review: The Duchess of Malfi

ImageWritten for Time Out

As their last show at the Greenwich Playhouse, ‘The Duchess of Malfi’ is a poignant swansong for producer/director team Alice de Sousa and Bruce Jamieson. But this self-indulgent production will frustrate and irritate everyone else.

In Webster’s Jacobean drama, the Duchess chooses to marry her male secretary, Antonio. Marriage was power back then and her controlling brothers are not best pleased. De Sousa, who also plays the lead, is feisty, but Jamieson’s bizarrely sadomasochistic production is clearly a smoke screen for something else.

Bubbling beneath John Webster’s tale of incest and bloodshed is a more modern tale of woe; and it’s not that of Malfi and her Antonio. A landlord is kicking the company out, and Galleon Theatre is taking no prisoners.

It’s a funny way to go. Webster’s play is full of passion and female fury but Jamieson has manhandled it into a vulgar stage show of presentational misogyny. Gimps act as manservants and there’s too much pained Christian cumming. It is a muddled and wearisome end to a fringe institution.

Runs until 18th March 2012

The Ballad of the Unbeatable Hearts

Written for FEST.

The Ballad of the Unbeatable Hearts is that unusual mix, an unpolished spoken word performance as raw as the bleeding heart on its Romeo and Juliet-inspired poster. So what if it’s also as romanticised and a little bit sickly sweet? Richard Fry’s compact poetry occasionally sounds like a self help book but he’s not afraid to pull his punches: “I’d take your cancer if you took my gay, because at least that’s fucking treatable, it might go away.” Ouch.

Suited and booted like a crumpled Plan B, Fry is a chunky yet soft presence. He switches from taking on the role of his hero John Wayne (not that one) and a storyteller who reads from a book, nonchalantly skipping forward pages as time passes. These switches of perspective from emotional to cool, from subject to object make for a strangely off kilter sense of reality. Is this story true? Would it matter more if it were? As he waxes ever more lyrically about a utopian ideal of a world where people are nice to each other, sadly you begin to think no. But if it is just a parable, is it any worse for that?

Because Fry’s on a mission. The Ballad of the Unbeatable Hearts has moments of palpable quasi-religious passion in his belief in the need to highlight the issue of gay suicide. It’s refreshing to see a spoken word performer reveal this much of himself personally and be a bit dangerous. Fry’s fervour transforms this otherwise standard fairytale into something that feels important.

For more information go here

AfterLight, Sadler’s Wells

Russell Maliphant’s AfterLight is inspired by the swirling postures of Vaslav Nijinsky. Capturing the dancer’s fawning quality, the piece is an undulating hour of 21st century modernity. Diaphanous projections and striking lighting create an environment that not only frames these solos and duets, but at times consumes them. Maliphant’s piece is a muted expression of Nijinsky’s work, romantic and fluid but at points so drowsy it’s almost horizontal; where are Nijinsky’s famous leaps? Where is his renowned athleticism? If AfterLight is an extension of the powerful photographs that immortalised Nijinsky, it does not reach far enough.

In its full-length form AfterLight is an extension of a short solo piece originally commissioned by Sadler’s Wells for their 2009 Spirit of Diaghilev season; if Nijinsky’s alchemy is to be found anywhere it is in this transporting original solo. Performed here with immense feeling by Daniel Proietto the piece begins with a silent figure revolving and twisting on a spot to strains of Erik Satie’s silvery Gnossiennes 1-4.

Maliphant’s opening choreography is stunning in its simplicity and deceptively powerful, reminiscent of a jewellery-box ballerina. Michael Hull’s shifting pool of light moves around Proietto, caressing him, tempting and teasing him into a duet that feels challenging and raw as well as soft and nubile.

There is a tension present in this first piece that later dissipates; without this tension the magic of Nijinsky’s dancing never feels fully acknowledged.  In the next duet (the opening piece has a dual quality so it feels like a natural progression) two nymphs swoon on the floor; their longing is palpable and fills the stage. Olga Cobos and Silvina Cortes’ symmetry is beautiful, each perfectly synchronised movement underscored with the idiosyncrasies of the individual. But after a while their swooping arms begin to pale and when Proietto comes in, their resultant preening and flirting is underwhelming.

Until the ecstatic finale, the remaining duets, solos and trios maintain this slightly pedestrian pace. But a jolt of energy is injected into the whole evening through Hull’s innovative lighting. Maliphant and Hull’s collaboration is genuinely exciting and it’s fascinating to behold such a symbiotic two-way relationship on stage. The projections provide the strength that the choreography occasionally lacks and lends the entire mise-en-scène a greater sense of depth via a dream-like play of perspectives.

Andy Cowton’s original score pulls threads from each of Satie’s delicate notes, spiralling out into a million tiny variations of ambient sound. Cowton also pays homage to the oriental mysticism surrounding Nijinsky and Les Ballets Russes in a score that playfully skips from external references to internal impressionism with great ease and skill.

Maliphant’s connection with his collaborators is clear in every aspect of this holistic performance. The strength of AfterLight comes in its leaps forward into the potential of movement, lighting and sound to form a synergy of expression. But apart from the complex and transcendent opening it lacks Nijinsky’s fire.

Review: The Wind In The Willows

Just as the sour Mary Lennox finds her heart softened by the magic of her secret garden in the children’s book of the same name, so any hardened Londoner will be won over by the beautiful and hidden away Actor’s Church garden in the centre of a bustling metropolitan piazza.  Based at St Paul’s Iris Theatre Company wowed last year with a vibrant and impressively polished promenade performance of Romeo & Juliet that showed that director Daniel Winder knew exactly what a special setting he was in.  This year’s partner show, The Wind In The Willows, only goes on to further prove his understanding of this best of all gentile spaces. 

Continue reading