London International Mime Festival Review: The Cardinals

Written for The Stage

Three Cardinals come together in prayer as their stage manager intones “All Cardinals to the stage please, this is the five-minute call”. They are about to embark on a retelling of the Christian faith on a stage intended for puppets not people. It is a silly but touching moment with this religious act mirroring secular pre-theatrical rituals, just as their faith stands in direct counterpoint to the theatrical rule of make-believe.

Performed with an endearing focus and seriousness, Stan’s Cafe’s The Cardinals is certainly as zealous as any evangelical endeavour. Infused with imagery that nods to religious painting and Monty Python, it is irreverent but knowledgeable and visually delicious. A ‘play-within-a-play’, The Cardinals is full of backstage in-jokes that keep theatre followers giggling while the effort involved in such a prop-heavy show is a sweet reminder of how much work belief takes.

But for all its mischievousness – or perhaps because of it – it goes on for too long and cannot fully explain its point. Its cardinal sin is that it doesn’t go anywhere – simply repeating its message of satirical comedy instead of building on the potentially fascinating interplay between theatrical and spiritual endeavour that marks their initial moment of prayer.

Playing AE Harris Building Birming, January 29-February 2

Review: Tuning Out With Radio Z

Written for What’s On StageTuning Out with Radio Z

In a the middle of a hamstrung nation the calming voices of Craig and Amanda sooth us through three hours of bleak twilight before dawn breaks on a brave new world. Tuning Out With Radio Z is a prolonged and diaphanous experience which eerily looks at loss; a diluted journey where occasional items of improvised and crafted brilliance spring out of the dullness of waiting. Intrigued in this monotony Stan’s Cafe include no interval in their marathon instead providing wristbands enabling you to take breaks, wittily stemming modern panic.

Our presenters fluctuate between super smooth harbingers of radio cliches to squabbling siblings, their comic rivalry masking an inherent connection and vulnerability; ‘Don’t leave us’ whisper the voices in our ear, ‘It’s scary here in the dark’. Talk radio bleeds into loosely enacted episodes where victims in this post apocalyptic world shimmer movingly into life.

A varied combination of rehearsed and improvised material alongside live audience contributions offered up through text message or email, it is remarkably easy to say tuned in to Radio Z. Our contributions could be utilised more fully, currently feeling slightly under-baked and there are periods of unfocused superfluity but Craig and Amanda always pull us back; you care about them and will leave with palpable stains of their plight etched in your mind. As ever with Stan’s Cafe, you might not know what to think, but you will be thinking something.

National Tour – dates below:

Warwick Arts Centre – Coventry
14 October 2010 to 16 October 2010

The Tobacco Factory – Bristol
04 November 2010 to 06 November 2010

The ShowRoom – Chichester
18 November 2010 to 18 November 2010

Review: The Black Maze & Revolutionary Steps

The first thing you notice when you approach The Black Maze is that it’s a lot smaller than you may have been led to believe a ‘lorry’ would be. But don’t let that fool you it’s still a pitch-black labyrinth in there. An air of mystery surrounds this experience; the calming gentleman who explains the instructions is as slippery as a politician when it comes to describing what we’ve got coming and people’s reactions as they exit vary from fury (in teenage terms) and befuddled smiling to genuine fear.

In actuality it is all these things (except maybe the fury, not sure what that girl experienced). Stan’s Café have placed just the right amount of external treats and tricks to keep you on your toes throughout your journey, teetering between excitement and nervous palpitations. It may not be a ghost train but there are strong carnivalesque and Victorian overtones to this Black Maze, along with distinct echoes of submarines and some CCTV star gazing. But there’s nothing to fear except fear itself and really the only thing you confront in this maze is yourself (and some glorious trompe l’oeil illusionism).

Revolutionary Steps takes the strict foyer spaces of the National Theatre and turns them into an improvisational playpen. Cheerfully coloured vinyl footprints and speech bubbles wink out at you from stairs, lift doors and window frames depicting 13 scenes in a simplified version of Danton’s Death.

If The Black Maze is best done alone, Revolutionary Steps has to be done in a group. It is a piece which lives or dies by how much you put into it, as you are the performers and (if there are too many of you to perform or some don’t want to) the audience. And you need balls, because these are spaces full of the theatre going public and they will watch you. But the bravery pays off and it does feel as though Danton’s Death is leaking out of its theatrical constraints.  In a sweet twist there is a cracking monologue at the end like a jewel in the crown “I’ll scream so everything will stand still in shock” Camille cries. You feel that if someone actually does, the whole of the National actually will.

The Black Maze runs until 8th August

Revolutionary Steps runs until 30th August.

Written for What’s On Stage

Craig Stephens On … Stan’s Café at the National Theatre

A house of mirrors in The Black Maze

On Stan’s Café’s website they mischievously proclaim “Forget ‘1-on-1′ Theatre, here’s ‘Just You (and maybe your mate) Theatre.’” It’s a teaser to The Black Maze, one of the shows coming to the National Theatre’s Watch This Space festival this August. They have every right to make such a cheeky statement with their 1998 project It’s Your Film sitting like the Godfather at the BAC’s One-on-One Festival last month. Remarkably prescient this Victorian illusion piece for an audience of one, gave this newish art form a historical context. Associate Director Craig Stephens laughs, “In a way it’s a nice little period piece… no one in the film has mobile phone because when we were creating it no one had one!”

The Black Maze follows on from It’s Your Film in that it places the audience at the centre of the experience. A solo trip through a series of pitch-black corridors encased in a lorry, The Black Maze sends your senses into overdrive through external stimuli (it would be cheating to reveal what these are but suffice it to say they sound exhilarating) with each story and adventure being uniquely forged by us.

Continue reading

Review: One-on-One Festival at BAC

The One-on-One Festival is all about you. In every nook and cranny at the Battersea Arts Centre, performances are happening with only you in mind, intimate experiences for an audience of one. It sounds like a daunting prospect, to be the centre of so much artistic attention, but it’s not at all. It’s a warm environment where you are constantly taken care of and cradled (in some cases literally); there’s nothing to be scared of here.

Continue reading