Review: Above Me The Wide Blue Sky

Written for The Stage

Fevered Sleep’s work defies easy categorisation. The thought-provoking Above Me The Wide Blue Sky, a multi-disciplinary performance that bears witness to the importance of our relationship with nature, is in keeping with their innovative approach.

David Harradine and Sam Butler have curated a delicately balanced installation that is underpinned by the acts of random coincidence only found in nature. Layers of lighting, original composition, film and text intertwine to create a testament to the environment. An ever-changing sky is projected onto large panels set above the banks of chairs that surround the stage. Films of water and fields flicker onto white stone, a nostalgic whirring that brings you in time with the meditative experience to come.

Laura Cubitt enters with a canine companion, Leuca, and begins to speak. She is a primordial storyteller, gathering us close with nuanced looks and inflections as she recites a prose poem constructed from conversations on nature gathered from interviews. Her narrative skates through the centre of this installation just as the Thames weaves a “ribbon of nature” through London.

Poignant yet playful, Above Me The Wide Blue Sky cuts through our urban lives and asks us not only to reassess the role of nature within them, but to confront how impoverished we will become if we continue to distance ourselves from the world around us.

Runs until 28 March. For more information go here

Review: Wild Swans

Written for The Stage

Translated into 36 languages Jung Chang’s autobiographical Wild Swans is a suitably cosmopolitan opening to World Stages London. Sacha Wares’ panoramic production makes an aptly ambitious visual spectacular.

Alexandra Wood’s honed adaptation places the onus on one of the book’s Daughters of China with De-Hong (Chang’s mother) in the spotlight. The message of individual versus communism is occasionally heavy handed but this focus also gives Wood time to place the personal firmly at the heart of the political.

A more overarching historical narrative is provided in Miriam Buether’s cycloramic backdrop which straddles the book’s expansive landscape. This versatile set is transformed by the 17 strong cast who, in true Maoist fashion, show that anything is possible through simple hard work. Peasant dirt fields are swept away to become clinical hospitals while concrete paving slabs are lugged over wet paddy fields as modern China buzzes into life. With each new scene the set expands, just as with each chapter of Chang’s story China’s grasp on the world stage gets ever larger.

In the midst of an earnest ensemble Ka-Ling Cheung and Orion Lee, as Chang’s mother and father respectively, give sharp performances that ask painful questions of themselves and a Western audience.

Runs until 13 May 2012

Exeunt Critics’ Picks of 2011

LOTS of fabulous picks here by some people who really know their stuff including some expected and not so expected pieces. Wish I could have mentioned London Road, wish I could have seen Mission Drift…

Originally published on Exeunt

Of course we are wary of the arbitrary nature of these things, the artificiality of seasons, the ordering of experiences into peaks, the hierarchal maps they reproduce, the dangers of placing Fabulous ones next to Those who have just broken a vase.  However at some point you have to be practical.  Our critics have valiantly seen a metric stage-tonne of theatre this year, so what better to relive with sufficient context their most notable moments? And from here it looks like they have produced a list unrivalled for its scope, depth and surprises.  So without further ado-ing, and in no particular order…

Continue reading

I Am The Wind @ Young Vic

Written for Exeunt

Tom Brooke (The One); Jack Laskey (The Other). Photo by Simon Annand

Jon Fosse’s I Am The Wind is a meditation on acceptance and resistance; an exercise in philosophical manoeuvring around the subject of death. It is also a text which nearly drowns under the weight of its own wordiness. Even in Simon Stephens’ no-frills version the pun is intentional: this play is full of hot air. But, that aside, Patrice Chéreau’s dynamic production isn’t completely sunk; the addictive performances of Tom Brooke and Jack Laskey inject enough life into Fosse’s existential posturing to see you through.

They’re both pretty gaunt, these two men on a boat, both physically and mentally, at the edge of their reason. Brooke’s character (they have no names, they are simply The One and The Other) dallies with the idea of death while Laskey acts as a friendly and increasingly desperation inquisitor. Described by the Young Vic as a ‘contemporary fable’ it’s hard to see what moral lesson is to be learned here; the piece may anthropomorphize the sea and air but it does very little beyond that. “I didn’t quite understand it” a woman in front says, troubled, “That’s OK, I don’t think anyone did,” her friend says comfortably, “that’s not the point”.

But what is the point? Apart from some truly committed performances and some cool, calculated direction, the point of the piece is hard to see. Fosse’s text may scream but it never goes beyond anything other than amateur psychology. As such it feels pretentious and worse, slightly preachy.

Richard Peduzzi’s industrial design turns the sea into a muddy pool which is initially inviting as you watch the sodden splendour of the two duelling companions. After a while it comes not to seem so harmless and after their boat emerges you feel increasingly glad to be sat safely in the auditorium with dry socks on. There is something epic about watching Brooke and Laskey cling to and gamble about on the sophisticated hydraulic platform which represents their vessel; at times you feel quite off balance. Chéreau’s direction allows these two performers to flex their muscles and the stage positively heaves with a tension that almost makes you forget about the measured pauses that dog the script. Brooke fights a valiant battle, playing a character one just wants to slap, and giving him a down-to-earth practicality. Laskey’s slow descent into desperation is also beautifully played; he never overdoes his building hysteria and it adds a genuine bite of anguish to the piece.

Éric Neveux’s score creates an emotionally suggestive landscape which attempts to manipulate its audience into responses that the piece perhaps does not deserve. It’s a pity Chereau simply didn’t leave things be, and let the sound of rippling water, the characters’ laboured breathing and the slow heaving of the hydraulics speak for themselves.

Troubled theatrical waters then, but Chéreau steers a none-the-less compelling ship. It is strangely upsetting watching Laskey trying to both make sense of and save his increasingly cracked friend; it’s a struggle which stays with you despite the self-importance of the ending and even after you have emerged from the gloom.

Runs until 21st May

Review: No Idea

No IdeaWith a pop up hat, waistcoat and knowingly jaunty wink, Lisa Hammond dances around the stage belting out the annoyingly catchy lyrics to “Cheeky Face”.

It’s a Dickensian song and dance number and a direct response to people’s attitudes towards Hammond as a disabled and restricted growth actor. Wacky and at points hilarious, “Cheeky Face” is the perfect marker of a show which explores attitudes towards disability whilst being steeped in Hammond and friend and collaborator Rachel Spence’s dry humour.

With a desire to work together on a show but a drought of inspiration, Hammond and Spence asked the general public what kind of play they would put them in. The answers, here mimicked with magnificent comic flare by the two whilst listening to the actual interviews on iPods, form the basis of No Idea – an exploration of both disability and friendship.

Continue reading

The PULSE Festival: Ipswich

The PULSE Festival is 10 this year and from the promising programme it’s boasting it seems to only be improving with age.  Peppered around the city in a variety of venues from pubs and hotels to studio theatres and town halls, performances in all shapes and forms are popping up in front of an eclectic Ipswich audience.  It is an audience that is encouragingly full of not only theatre fans, but families too and even, whisper it with me now, some curious locals. 

Festival Director, Steve Freeman wisely opens with shows from local practitioners and companies as well as international artists.  Over the years he has successfully steered PULSE as a festival which pays homage to its roots whilst placing itself firmly both on the national and international stage. It is also a place of discovery; strong ties to the excellent Escalator East programme facilitating that scratch performances get to sit alongside more established pieces.  Known hits such as Ontroerend Goed’s Internal and Dafydd James and Ben Lewis’ gorgeously surreal My Name Is Sue mingle comfortably with rehearsed readings from playwrights Jack Thorne, Tena Stivicic and local boy Andrew Burton.   Meanwhile companies Tin Horse Theatre and Analogue are creating new immersive experiences for us to dip our toes into, Leo Kay and Ross Sutherland are at the forefront of a wave of spoken word performances and 6.0’s poignant and inventive show How Heap And Pebble Took On The World is just one of a cavalcade of whimsical, devised pieces.  Oh and there’s work from Transport, Hydrocracker, Pilot Theatre, Tangram Theatre Company, Fanshen, Paines Plough, Nabokov, Young Vic, Theatre Ad Infinitum and You Need Me. So quite a lot then.

Continue reading