Adventures in Audio Part 1: HighTide

Honour sees bucolic cutting-edge at Hightide

Exeunt Magazine.    HighTide Festival Theatre

I was recently given a Zoom. They are wonderous things with many mics and the ability to record in such high quality that it took me an entire day to transfer this file to the lovely Daniel B Yates (that or my computer’s as slow as I’ve always suspected). ANWAY. Scroll down on the Exeunt main page and you’ll see little old me. Have a listen. What do you think?

Exeunt Magazine

Elevator Repair Service: Gatz

Written for Total Theatre

Elevator Repair Service, Gatz | Photo: Paula Court

If I love a book I devour it as quickly as possible. I’ve spent days reading when I should be eating, sleeping or working. I don’t think I’m alone in this; it’s the absolute absorption in such occurrences that appeals to us, to be able to turn our backs on this world and leap into another. In such circumstances eight hours seems paltry. Even so I could not have expected the extraordinary adventure that Elevator Repair Service’s uncut version of The Great Gatsby turns out to be.

Scott Shepherd is a white collar worker stuck in the tedious monotony that marks all dingy office environments. This one is particularly dank, with designer Louisa Thompson going out of her way to create a shabby counterpoint to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s glittering universe. Whilst waiting for his ancient computer to whir into life, Shepherd finds a thumbed copy of The Great Gatsby on his desk and begins to read. This action begins a transformation in both him and his co-workers, who gradually take on the roles in Fitzgerald’s book for a word-for-word retelling.

Elevator Repair Service cleverly set up and entwine two very separate worlds with subtle ease. Colleagues wonder what Shepherd is doing just as they are subconsciously syncing into the story; they pick up telephones on cue or interrupt our increasingly surprised narrator to speak for the characters that have possessed them. In the midst of all this Shepherd’s descriptive interludes slide into the dialogue as naturally as a bootlegger into 1920s high society. It’s sophisticated but ever so simple.

Even so I expect it to take me a while to sink into the rhythm of this performance, but from the off I am hooked. As the flash of a neighbour’s watch-face cheekily tells me the first section is almost up, I realise two hours have disappeared. After a discombobulating break in the outside world, I return to the darkened space and kick off my shoes, letting the warmth of Shepherd’s voice lull me back into a place of attentive meditation. How quickly the reality on stage has become mine. The childish nostalgia of being read to rushes over me. It’s been far too long since I allowed myself, or was offered, such a pleasure.

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Tanztheater Wuppertal / Pina Bausch: …como el musguito en la piedra, ay si si si…

Written for Total Theatre

Tanztheater Wuppertal, ...como el musguito en la piedra | Photo: Aydin Herwegh

As part of the World Cities 2012 series Tanztheater Wuppertal’s response to Chile is infused with a lightness of spirit. Even the name, ‘…como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si…’, seems to mischievously wink at you. Take a look at a picture of ‘el muguito’ and you’ll see what I mean. Whilst the English translation ‘like moss on a stone’ may bring up rather soporific images of a carpet of green, this Chilean moss shoots off from the rock with the audacity of a punk’s Mohican; an optimistic flurry of life perched on the contours of a wasteland.

It’s a fitting image. The final World Cities piece that Pina Bausch completed before her death, this 2 hour 40 minute piece is a gloriously alive monument to the choreographer.

In this unbridled celebration of movement Bausch provides us with a vivid carousel of physical mini narratives. Whilst in keeping with her usual style of mixing dance, speech and autobiographical storytelling, what gives this piece its exuberance is the sheer level of dancing Bausch unleashes onto the stage.

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Review: The Physicists

Written for Time Out

The Physicists

Swiss epic theatre writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s intriguing 1962 play, ‘The Physicists’, is both an impassioned argument against nuclear war and an absurd comedy involving the farcical murders of three female nurses. The result is like the awkward lovechild of Joe Orton’s ‘What the Butler Saw’ and Robert Wilson’s ‘Einstein on the Beach’. But, in Jack Thorne’s sharp and sophisticated new version, this strange Cold War tragi-comedy emerges as a moving argument for humanism over unethical progress.

Three physicists, Herbert Georg Beutler, Ernst Heinrich Ernesti and Johann Wilhelm Möbius, are in a mental asylum. Beulter and Ernesti appear to believe they are, respectively, Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, while Möbius is regularly visited by King Solomon. But as conditions in the asylum worsen and Möbius, like his fellow inmates before him, is moved to murder his nurse, all three men are forced to reveal their sanity.

Thorne’s funny but earnest script gives coherence to Dürrenmatt’s difficult balance of mad humour in the first act and catharsis in the second. Robert Jones’s mischievous set, where light bulbs become brandy glasses, also cleverly marries lunacy and lucidity. Although she never falls off, director Josie Rourke does not always seem comfortable on this tightrope.

Of her cast, grotesquely skilful actress Sophie Thompson succeeds in making hunchbacked sanatorium head Dr Mathilde von Zahnd both character and caricature. But Justin Salinger (Beulter) and Paul Bhattacharjee (Ernesti) initially appear unable to humanise their mad personas. But as Dürrenmatt’s dialectic settles into a straightforward argument, Rourke and co produce an emotionally compelling second act.

Once something is learned it cannot be unlearned, we are forcefully told. It’s a potent lesson, even for a modern audience less in the shadow of the mushroom cloud.

Runs until for more information go here

Review: Romeo and Juliet

Written for The Stage

Romeo and Juliet production photos!

Entering the Rose Theatre is usually atmospheric enough, but this is thoroughly romantic as you are seduced with the smell of sweet incense and the sight of delicate candles flickering in jars. The setting of Martin Parr’s production of Romeo and Juliet feels as light to the touch as his quicksilver direction does.

Parr has cut Shakespeare’s story of woe to a swift 90 minutes. It’s a whistlestop tour of all the best bits with famous quotes dropping like jewels from this speedy cast. With the production moving as quickly as Romeo and Juliet do, there is a palpable sense of their haste in love.

The cast juggle their roles with the bravado of street performers, with character changes reliant on shifts in posture and a handy array of scarves. Their control in this circus is impressive although it is only really Jennifer Higham’s girlish Juliet and Isabel Pollen’s warm Friar Lawrence whose performances are particularly moving.

This is because the brevity also strips the major moments of their emotional power; Mercutio dies too quickly, as do our star-crossed lovers, leaving us as cold as their bodies. Ultimately, though, we know each event is coming, we would just like a little more time to wallow in our grief.

Runs until 30 June – more information here

Review: Boys

Written for Time Out

Boys will be boys. Not since ‘Men Behaving Badly’ has a situation comedy so delighted in the old adage. Ella Hickson’s ‘Boys’ is as funny as the ITV/BBC kidult classic. But it is also a wounded look at a generation who feel the world owes them and know it isn’t going to deliver; a plea for old heroic values in a society run by villains.

Final exams are done and the lease is up on Benny, Mack, Timp and Cam’s flat. But before they go they’re throwing one more drug-fuelled party to launch them into the aggressive adult world. Chloe Lamford’s design creates the perfect conditions for a group teetering on the edge of an explosion. A leaning tower of pizza boxes and months of dirty dishes pile up against see-through Perspex walls with banks of lights behind; this room is both student kitchen and human pressure cooker.

Robert Icke’s cool direction and his cast’s fearless emotional immediacy and tight comic timing add a level of sophistication to this riotous sitcom. Like all the best parties, ‘Boys’ goes on too long. After a spectacular bin bag bust-up the last 20 minutes feel like a drag, tipping into easy sentimentality. Still, don’t let this downer spoil a quality production that will leave you with laughter lines and troubled thoughts.

Runs until 16 June.

Review: Touched…Like a Virgin

Written for Exeunt

After playing the character of Lesley in Touched For The Very First Time three years ago Sadie Frost returns as the Madonna obsessive and Manchester socialite. Back then the Queen of Pop published a disclaimer claiming no responsibility for the content of writer Zoe Lewis’ play. God knows what she would make of this second outing; this is a character that surely had everything that was vaguely interesting about her explored the first time around.

Lesley has grown up since then; the things that concern her now are not just the loss of her virginity but having a baby and living in a feminist world as a determinedly non-feminist girl. But Lewis’ faltering attempts at social commentary on female freedom and the legacy of the suffragettes merely calls to mind an episode of Sex and the City. We’ve heard all about being strong independent ladies before and from more engaging women than this.

Frost turns in an endearing performance as Lesley but strains for her words on occasion and often looks like a rabbit in the headlights, tentative in front of the somewhat raucous and talkative audience. But she has a fragile charm which is undeniable, and you find yourself willing her through this. As a celebrity friend of Madonna, Frost seems aware of the postmodern aspect of her performance as a woman who longs to hang out with the legendary pop star. But these nods to real life are never taken far enough and this extra layer of understanding feels like an opportunity wasted.

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