State of the Arts Conference 2012 Live Blog

Rather excitingly I’m one of the live bloggers for the State of the Arts Conference Live Blog (the clue’s in the name I probably didn’t need to state my role at the beginning, I’m going to stop talking now) and there’s some jolly good stuff going up daily so I thought I’d put a link to it here as well, just in case you fabulous people haven’t seen it yet.

State of the Arts Live Blog




Review: Translunar Paradise

Written for Exeunt

An accordion wheezes in and out as an old woman takes her last breaths, the musician reacting to each of the performer’s movements with amazing perceptiveness. The woman’s death is simple and gentle; a quiet celebration of her life. But watching this, I was left oddly cold; astonished at the technical skill of both the actress and the musician, but distanced from the piece and unable to feel any emotional connection with this moment of intimacy.

It’s a feeling I couldn’t entirely shake off throughout Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Translunar Paradise. The piece is a soft look at one man’s memories of his wife and is intricately crocheted together with immense skill, but its physical eloquence belies a thin narrative. The story feels slight, a lightweight metal coat hanger on which to drape a beautiful garment: man meets woman, man marries woman, they live together, she works, he does too, she gets old, he does too, she dies (he doesn’t). Maybe I’m being too pithy. But then that’s really all that happens.

Written and directed by George Mann, the piece was created in part as a response to the death of his father so perhaps this singular focus is understandable. He wanted to tell a story that would reflect his own experiences, and there is a clear correlation to be made. Life is a thing of beautiful whimsy which should be feted, even in death. End of story.

But even for those, like me, whose hearts are clearly hardened, it is impossible not to be awed and impressed with the physical dexterity of the performers and the evident care and skill that has gone into the making of this show. Mann and Deborah Pugh embody their creations utterly, skipping from old age to youthful exuberance in the blink of an eye – or in an intake of accordion breath – as they place masks of aged faces, all drooping skin and neck wattle, over their own. Each change from youth to age feels enormous though it is often achieved through something as simple as a shifting of posture or a tiny movement in the angle of the head. The fluidity with which they dance around one another is glorious to watch. Hours of painstaking effort have clearly gone into the piece resulting in performances of total ease.

The accompanying accordion music is supplied by Kim Heron, one of the most empathic on-stage musicians I have ever seen. She follows the action like a hawk, feeding the story with her music in a way that not only supports each moment but nurtures it. She cradles this couple with her rousing whistles and melancholic arias. She is as much midwife as musician as she brings this tale to life.

Belief walks in from the wings.

Written for the Church Times

In the spotlight: Messianic John (Trystan Gravelle), centre, with Stephen (Danny Webb) and Ruth (Geral­dine James) in the National Theatre production of 13  NATIONAL THEATRE/MARC BRENNER

“I HAVE always thought that the theatre is a kind of surrogate reli­gion,” The Guardian’s longest-standing theatre critic, Michael Billing­ton, says. “It has its disciples and its adherents.” He’s laughing, but we both know that there is some truth in this.

Western theatre is rooted in the miracle and morality plays of the 13th century; so religion and the stage have long been entwined. Billing­ton, per­haps one of theatre’s most devoted disciples, is not alone in seeing paral­lels between the rituals and roles of church and theatre.

For the new incoming artistic dir­ector of the Donmar Warehouse, in Covent Garden, London, Josie Rourke, her love of theatre was fuelled by her Roman Catholic up­bringing. “[It] is born from hours and hours spent in church. . . I read in church as a child, and the act of reading out loud and listening to others read out loud pro­foundly influenced me.” Her journey into storytelling began with perhaps the greatest story of all, that in the Bible.

Interpreting faith: right, left to right: William Tyndale (Stephen Boxer) and Lancelot Andrewes (Oliver Forde Davies) wrestle with the Bible in Written on the Heart

This influence works both ways; some find that their love of theatre develops into an appreciation of the rites of faith. This was certainly the case for my father, who started out training as a theatre director and ended up as the Bishop of Hertford.

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Review: Frankland & Sons

Written for Whats On Stage

There’s a striking resemblance in the younger man to the elder standing next to him. As father and son one would expect this, but surprisingly it’s quite a jolt; a visceral reminder of the depth of the relationship between these two performers. It’s a powerful initial impression for Frankland and Sons, a sketchy personal biography about parents, siblings and hidden truths.

When John was left a box of his parent’s correspondence, he asked Tom to help him muddle through these letters of love and practicality. Out of this exploration a show was born. “It’s either marriage or the Bank of England” is a typical quote thrown out in this softly humorous look at relationships and times gone by, ending up in a life changing revelation for John.

The affection for their subjects is palpable in Frankland and Sons and though the secret at its centre is vast, recriminations are admirably absent. Emotion is thick on stage however with John and Tom aiming to pull at the heart strings very deliberately and sometimes even physically (the set consisting of a timeline of red strings with balloon hearts indicating years skating above). Whilst they are deeply likeable a lot is asked of their audience that they haven’t quite won and the regular attempts to draw our own secrets out feel slightly forced.

There’s a determinedly bumbling feel to the music hall style of the piece. It’s a sweet if slightly shabby rendition and on the opening night it felt too fragile to truly fly. But given some breathing space I believe Frankland and Sons will relax into the tender and effecting sharing that it could so easily be.

Runs until 28th January 2012, Camden People’s Theatre