The mad jamboree of ìyà-ilé (the first wife)

Last week I went to see ìyà-ilé (the first wife) the new play by Oladipo Agboluaje at the Soho Theatre.  It was quite an experience to say the least, with the audience not only proactively engaged but proactively involved.  Yelps of excitement and fear, claps whoops and cheers, gasps of worry and actual calls for action from the auditorium peppered the performance (one woman sitting next to me started imploring at the top of her voice for a mother’s sons to defend her and one audience member high fived one of the actors mid scene).  It was all really rather exciting and completely different to the usual sit, watch and be silent mentality which seems to haunt British and particularly London theatre.   The lively performers were strong leaders in this festive spirit and with the shows eclectic jamboree of music, dance, comedy and melodrama the whole thing came together to infuse the entire space.  This atmosphere was taken on by its audience in such a vocal way that the whole thing became the epitome of what theatre is supposed to offer – a truly original night out. 

And so I’d love to know what other people’s experiences of this show were – if you’ve seen it, please let me know. Was it just the press night crowd or does ìyà-ilé (the first wife) really have the power to get a London audience past the point of embarrassment and place them comfortably in a world of exuberant and unique participation?


Find the blue elephant; it is leading the way.

Joanna Lumley has now leapt into the Green Party fray after her admirable win for the Gurkhas.  I wish that this formidable opponent would also bring onto the agenda another much smaller, though clearly still important, issue in her repertoire.  Lumley is a patron of The Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell and surely the woman who charmed a dour Prime Minister can raise the unjustly low profile of this imaginative and daring venue.  


Along with The Camden People’s Theatre (whose new show Sprint: adventurous adventures in theatre could be used to describe both of these spaces’ programming choices) The Blue Elephant Theatre is dedicated to a programme of work which crosses art forms in a mixture of performance art, devised pieces, classical texts, dance and experimental theatre.  Bold choices for two such small players.  But where these choices seem to pay off for The Camden People’s Theatre, its specificity raising it’s profile, The Blue Elephant Theatre is a much lesser known animal.  This seems a real pity because although it is quite hard to get to (Camden is very central – even in the theatre it’s always location, location, location) the work put on there is always unique, questioning and innovative.  


I have seen an intriguing production of The Duchess of Malfi, a modernist performance art revue and am looking forward to the Swedish cabaret I am going to see next WednesdayNow although each of the pieces that I have seen have been flawed, the interest ignited from seeing them drives me to see their newest piece (which, by the way, has had a very credible review in Time Out). Along with their dance programme and young people’s theatre/community projects this is clearly a varied assortment of work and as the theatre world wakes up to the potential of the cross pollination of artistic forms The Blue Elephant Theatre is just the space to lead the charge.  


But first we must all find the elephant, and it is honestly well worth the hunt. 

Blogging and Comments: Gladiator Pits or Discussion Forums?

A recent blog regarding Judi Dench’s rather impassioned response to a negative review from Charles Spencer got me thinking about retaliation to bad press, or indeed retaliation to anything in written form and especially within the new found forum of internet blogging.  


Any form of aggression on paper (or screen) seems to eventually belittle both sides (in this case Dench’s discomfort is obvious but Spencer also comes out in a bad light for revealing this letter).  At the time of the initial burst of fury things can come out of one’s mouth in a diatribe of reasonable or not so reasonable abuse, whether it be in defense or attack.  But the transiency of language means that all this hot air melts away, only to remain in peoples’ rather changeable memories.  But when these angry phrases (Dench was supposed to have written that Spencer was ‘a shit’) are forever encased in ink, they suddenly become an embarrassing cloud that will hang around for a lot longer after.  


Words written in the heat of the moment seems to be something that bloggers should recognise.  Aiming to make the process of arts journalism a less formalised and more immediate act, bloggers write opinion pieces in short bite size chunks – hoping that deeper discussion of their point will be taken up by readers in the comment boxes below.  The desired result is a documented discussion forum where ideas are presented and chewed over with the immediacy of speech and in some threads this is the case.  But what seems to happen more often is that commenters use these moments to write aggressive attack or defense pieces on the original blog and so a gladiatorial lion pit emerges – you better be prepared to defend yourself or get out of the ring (for a particularly virulent example of this, see the scorn heaped on the poor well meaning Adopt A Playwright scheme).

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All sound and fury and no story…

It is currently en vogue to be a ‘physical theatre’ company.  With the work of Kneehigh, Complicite, DV8 and Frantic Assembly (to name but a few) dazzling audiences across Britain, Jean-Louis Barrault’s idea of ‘Total Theatre’ is being actualised in the most dynamic forms possible.  Movement, music, visual image and text are each being fully explored for all their possibilities, with no stone left unturned in the search of a fully holistic way of theatre.  Naturalism has been pushed to its limits, dissolved and reformed in works which sometimes use a script and sometimes a text as a jumping off point, and sometimes no text at all, in a devised process of company work. This form of theatre coined in some areas as ‘physical’ has been used to delight and astound audiences, and has brought a distinctively European feel to the strongly textual British Theatre. Interestingly companies such as this, who could so easily take their inspiration from anywhere, do end up using a textual basis, and often this form is used to incredibly powerful effect to illuminate stories in ways which would otherwise never have been possible. But recently it seems that Barrault’s original idea been pushed so far visually that it has resulted in a shift away from narrative communication to the point where what had been used to reveal, now seems to confuse and befuddle.  


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