Fringe Focus: As one stage door closes, another opens

Written for The Stage

Paul Rattray and Sam Hazeldine in Ditch at Old Vic Tunnels. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Paul Rattray and Sam Hazeldine in Ditch at Old Vic Tunnels. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Fans of cross-cultural venues were given a shock this month when the closures of Stoke Newington International Airport (STK) and the Old Vic Tunnels were announced within days of each other.

These two organisations have fed a demand for eclectic programming in unexpected locations and for those of us who like their culture adventurous and off the beaten track, the news seemed like a major blow. But is our bemoaning of the end simply indicative of a lack of confidence on our part about what may take their place in the future? To read more go here

 

Fringe Focus:

Written for The Stage

The Faction – Andrew Chevalier, Gary Crankson, Richard Delaney, Gareth Fordred, Alexander Guiney, Mark Leipacher, Lachlan McCall, Jonny McPherson, Derval Mellett, Daniel Millar, Jonathan Plummer, Tom Radford, Kate Sawyer, Isobel Smith, Rachel Valentine Smith.

The Faction

Within the fringe an exciting trend for repertory and ensemble work is appearing. Against tough economic odds, two companies are pioneering sustainable fringe models for genuine ensemble, while others are successfully bringing American ideas of repertory to fringe stages.

First up The Faction are coming to the end of their second repertory season at the New Diorama. An ensemble of 15 performers has presented three plays in rotation. Rehearsing during the day and performing at night it is a gruelling schedule – as you can see from their refreshingly honest blog. But the trust built up within this tight-knit group has enabled them to delve deeper into each piece resulting in an insightful and fresh season that has garnered much critical praise. To read more go here.

Review: Consumed

Written for The Stage

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Border Crossings’ new show explores the role of technology in our understanding of reality alongside the experiences of two Chinese generations  – from those who grew up within the Cultural Revolution to those within the internet one.

Questions of communication, both between East and West and old China and new, haunt this opaque show and it works best in the less obvious and more abstract moments rather than in the slightly stilted expressions of narrative. The stillness in each cast member lends an edge to the performances which is hypnotic, but the overt emotionalism occasionally feels stilted.

With delicate video work from Dori Deng and enough live video streaming to keep Katie Mitchell happy, Consumed is a multimedia feast. An atmospheric score by Dave Carey is evocative of the urban melding of East and West personified in Blade Runner.

Chapter titles frame each scene in an effect that is both Brechtian and reminiscent of Martin Crimp’s Attempts On Her Life. But Consumed is not derivative. In a piece that blends the future with the past, Michael Walling and his cast have devised a show that is distinctly Chinese and for many Western eyes promises to be alien and utterly unique.

For information of the tour go here

Review: The Tailors’ Last Stand

Written for The Stage

Ian Buckley’s gently humorous new offering is a touching testament to 20th century British socialism. Based on his father’s accounts of retired tailors’ trade union meetings, The Tailors’ Last Stand is full of antiquated language and disappointed dreams. But the sentiments of these faded ‘comrades’ also chime potently with the hopes of modern ‘brothers and sisters’ such as Occupy, thus contextualising contemporary struggles.

This cast wouldn’t look out of place in Dad’s Army and although they appear a bit shaky on their legs and lines they are a watchable and likeable bunch. As the mischievous Tom, Richard Ward is a warm mediator to Terry Jermyn’s zany George and the emotionalism exploding between old love foes Edmund Dehn – as the officious Max – and Tony Parkin’s querulous Barney.

Cleo Harris-Seaton’s lemon-walled NHS waiting room design gives a potent sense of faded grandeur, while the Labour leaders who adorn the walls do a nice job of reminding us what the party meant before Tony Blair. Buckley cleverly ties in the struggles of communism as a global concept with the personal struggles of these retired communists and, apart from a contrived piece of business around a doctor, this is a sharply written piece.

For more information go here.

Review: Gay’s The Word

Written for Time Out

Gay's the Word

Staging ‘Gay’s The Word’ in February  is a canny move for the Jermyn Street Theatre: the gloomy weather provides just enough external misery to lift our appreciation of Ivor Novello’s ultra frothy backstage musical. But in this clunky production, even clever programming cannot save Novello’s flimsiest of efforts.

After producing a flop, musical comedy star Gay Daventry (a spunky Sophie-Louise Dann) tries to recoup her losses by starting an acting academy. Through a series of misadventures she and her students realise that the quality they need to succeed is ‘vitality’ – aptly the title of the show’s most famous number.

But vitality seems a long way off as Alan Melville’s songs – themselves long-winded – are performed with gumption but no zing. What actually succeeds is ‘grannies doing jazz hands’, with the house nearly coming down when four of  the academy’s elderly teachers do just that.

A musical cannot live on cheap gags alone however and while there are enough theatrical winks and nudges to keep the audience tittering, director Stewart Nicholls doesn’t have much to work with. For this, his last operetta, Novello descended into the bawdy world of music hall and it doesn’t suit his delicate upper class wit.

Nicholls is unable to add coherence to this mêlée and his choreography is simplistic. The cast are hampered by awkwardness and only Dunn and the dynamic Myra Sands as deportment tutor Margaret Fallowfield really sparkle.

For more information go here

Interview: David Greig

Written for The Stage

David Greig. Photo: K Ribbe

“I really believe that theatre is encoded into the human DNA.” Playwright David Greig’s has been talking in this vein for about 20 minutes and his enthusiasm is infectious – the kind of voice all theatremakers should want on their side right now. It feels hackneyed to say someone is inspiring but if that tag applies to anyone it’s this passionate playwright who gets carried away with his own sentences and uses more adjectives than an overwrought critic.

A prolific writer, Greig’s career has spanned straight plays (Europe), arty pieces (Whatever Gets You Through The Night), sequels to Shakespeare (Dunsinane), ‘plays with songs’ (Midsummer among others), and pub evenings inspired by Border Ballads (The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart). He is now working with director Sam Mendes on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. To read more go here

Review: Desolate Heaven

Written for The Stage

Desolate Heaven is a potent coming of age story. Two girls burdened with caring for their parents run away together. On their travels they meet three strange women – played with rather discombobulating relish by Tony Award-winner Brid Brennan – who help them.

Opaque references to the early 20th century poet WB Yeats are everywhere, from the story that each woman tells the girls – The Lazy Beauty and Her Aunts, which appeared in a collection he edited – to the poem the play ends on – The Stolen Child. But the meaning behind these references is unclear and they cloud the affecting story of love and betrayal between Orlaith and Sive.

Carla Langley as the frank Orlaith is as brittle as glass but breaks just as easily, while as the gentler Sive Evelyn Lockley infuses the stage with a warm but fragile tenderness. Their relationship is utterly compelling and these two actresses have a great understanding of each other’s roles.

Paul Robinson’s imaginative direction and Steve Kirkham’s movement work make this a dynamic production. But for all their effort Desolate Heaven is eventually weighed down by its own Yeatsian mystique.

Runs until 2nd March 2013. For more information go here