How To Survive A Post-Truth Apocalypse @ Battersea Arts Centre

Written and performed by Francesca Beard
17th to 19th May, 2018, then touring the UK

Francesca Beard is not a shaman, or a storyteller, or a hero; she is a poet, and she is a liar.

Post-Truth Apocalypse 03 credit Claire Haigh_preview

Images courtesy of Claire Haigh

I tend to go into shows with no preconceptions or expectations. I’d like to pretend that this is a conscious decision with the aim of maintaining my unbiased integrity as a reviewer, but honestly? I’m usually just too lazy to do any research beforehand. Whew, that was an exercise in truth-telling – as is much of this one-woman show which is currently wending its way throughout the UK. Anyway, as I was saying, I didn’t know what I was expecting to happen when the show started, but it certainly wasn’t for a woman wearing an explorer’s jumpsuit and felt goggles to dramatically emerge, shrouded in smoke and lights, booming ominous/prophetic/cultish mumbo jumbo… And then to undercut all this by shrugging off the mask and awkwardly introducing herself with a goofy smile as Francesca, our guide.

This mix of high melodrama and mild self-deprecation, serious introspection and gentle meta-humour, came to define much of this 70-minute show. It was evident in the aural landscape we travelled through, which ranged from exquisite soundscapes (think birdsong and wind chimes) to freakish otherworldly laughter to an out-of-tune ditty about awkward/nasty truths. It was evident in the dramatic contrast between the slick projection art which set the magical scene, and the gaudy, tacky props and costumes worn by creatures who inhabited this land (press-ganged audience members). It was evident when Beard guided us from (intentionally) lame gags into raw spoken-word poetry about loneliness and reckless behaviour bordering on self-harm. In an echo of its theme, the production moved from fiction to reality and through the grey spaces inbetween; it was a lot to navigate on the meagre rations of a single goji berry.

The supposed plot of this piece was that we were on a heroes’ journey to find The Truth to save humanity from the post-truth era we find ourselves in. Less political commentary and more faux-fantasy saga, we trekked through the Forests of Desire, the Obsidian Cliffs, the Lava Mountain (?) and a number of similarly named locations. Each one required us adventurers to pass a test, complete a ritual, or reenact a myth. With the help of her Shaman Manual (not sure why Shamanual wasn’t punned, but oh well), various props and scrolls, and some of the braver front-row audience members, we finally made our way to the Oracles of Truth, on a journey which sometimes lagged and foundered, but was mainly quite enjoyable. I won’t reveal what we found there – you’ll have to go on your own post-truth odyssey.

Post-Truth Apocalypse 01 credit Claire Haigh_preview

Images courtesy of Claire Haigh

The strengths of this production lay in Beard’s endearing charm, the lovely set design (dual projectors shining through haze, Pixar-esque anthropomorphic lamps crowded around artifacts, love poetry comically dropping from the ceiling on a string), and the audience interaction, which was always inclusive without being pushy or intimidating, funny and bantery without ever being mocking or disrespectful. Beard touched on some interesting concepts around the topic of truth and artifice, but never really teased out any viewpoints which were particularly complex or original, and the substance suffered from a lack of specificity or subtlety. Despite (or perhaps because of) the through-thread of the Quest plot, many segments of spoken-word poetry or musing stream of thought seemed disjointed, as if they didn’t really belong, like the adolescent Francesca at her boarding school. That said, the spoken word poetry was clearly the artistic heart of this project, and it provoked images and emotions which stirred and shone in my mind.

How To Survive A Post-Truth Apocalypse didn’t leave me feeling any better equipped to deal with a world of fake news, or even sure whether lies are a good or bad thing (good? I think? Sometimes? Depends if you’re Hitler or going on a first date?), but it provided me with some gorgeous mental and visual imagery, and over an hour of gentle entertainment which made me smile but not laugh, sigh but not weep, and check my watch but only once or twice. In a theatre climate which is full of very dense, challenging, depressing, and at times pretentious art, it was nice to see something light, self-aware, and kind-hearted for a change. Believe me.

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P, Soup-Stained Arts @ Wandsworth Fringe

19th-20th May 2018

Written, directed and performed by Leila Herandi
Wandsworth Arts Fringe Festival

Finding a job is hard. Keeping one is harder… well, for her it is anyway. Our [protagonist/antagonist] (delete as appropriate) is an eternal optimist who can’t see the world crashing around her for the rose-tinted glasses she doesn’t realise she’s wearing, as she naively bumbles her way through life.

Soup Stained Arts on their website say, ‘Creating an important dialogue doesn’t need to be a serious task’.

Which is beautiful and couldn’t more relate to what I saw on stage this evening.

Penned and performed by Leila Herandi, seamlessly moving from storyteller, ‘P’ (the character) and moving back to Leila, she brought such electricity to the small, under the arches space in Putney.

It was the story of a young woman, quite different and out of place in this world; navigating finding a job, being a young person (however strange) and falling in love in the strangest of ways. Shall I say strange again for strangeness’ sake?

This was an excellent and very different version of storytelling.

We made a vow as audience members at the start. Including to turn off our mobile phones.

One of the audience members was roped in to tick off the sequence of the story.

There were flashbacks.

An overhead projector from primary school days.

And halfway through a snack break.

Leila Herandi relished and rejoiced in the difference of ‘P’, the difference in this piece and the technical difficulties that occurred.

She brought perfection to the imperfections.

The story itself, was different and bizarre yet completely relatable to your own failings in love, life and growing up.

For me this is the best of fringe theatre, I had a little giddy moment where I smiled gleefully thinking ‘This is what I bloody love!’

It still feels like a work in development; which is a joyous thing and I’m excited to see how this show continues, grows and develops.

Look out for where this show, company and performer go next. You will not regret heeding my recommendation.

 

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Click for details of future shows.

 

 

Unexploded Ordnances (UXO), Split Britches (Tour)

15 – 19 May, 2018 @ The Barbican

by Lois Weaver, Peggy Shaw, & Hannah Maxwell
Directed by Lois Weaver

More dates in Glasgow, Battersea and more – click here for details

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Photography by Theo Cote

 

 

American duo Split Britches bring their unique exploration of anxiety to our shores. UXO is a conversation about calamity, built heavily around the themes and imagery of Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).

The production is not your usual theatre piece, but rather a public discussion using theatrical elements. Audience members are invited onto the stage to form a ‘Council of Elders’ in a perfectly designed Dr. Strangelove Situation Room.

It’s an interesting show. It’s a look at that feeling of inescapable dread that seems to permeate everything nowadays. Cleverly, it uses the metaphor of unexploded ordinances as both symbol of the hidden dread around us, and of unexplored desires waiting to burst forth. Doom and hope.

The characters, inspired by George C. Scott’s General Turgidson and Peter Sellers’ President Muffley, are hilariously performed. Played by Weaver and Shaw, the pair give worthy tribute to some of the film’s iconic moments. They are wonderfully comic performers.

Lois Weaver duels as the night’s MC and head panellist to the ‘Council of Elders’. She leads the discussion, talking to the Council about their desires and fears (with social media being the overwhelmingly main concern tonight. As a non-elder I can’t help but feel our generations receive our existential dreads from vastly different places, but I digress…)

They provoked some interesting discussion, but as the show relies on its Council for its content, it’s at the mercy of those audience members to provide the meat of the show. It’s the audience that ultimately provides the biggest laughs and the most moving moments.

One problem with this is that not every audience member is created equal in the oratory department, and though managed well, not every audience member necessarily opens the lid on an issue with the same nuance. It also means that the discussion lacks a single direction therefore can’t go particularly deep.

On the other hand, some of the anecdotes and human moments that were brought to the stage tonight were often funny and really touching, and the mission to discuss these fears; to have an open public sharing of anxieties and attempt to find creative solutions, is an important one.

So yes, an interesting and thought-provoking show, though not one that gets the heart pounding.

 

 

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Tickets / www.barbican.org.uk/

Grotty, Damsel Productions @ The Bunker

1 – 26 May 2018
By Izzy Tennyson
Directed by Hannah Hauer-King

Grotty, The Bunker - Courtesy of The Other Richard (4) Rebekah Hinds, Izzy Tennyson and Anita-Joy UwaJeh.jpg

Rebekah Hinds, Izzy Tennyson, and Anita-Joy Uwajah in Grotty. Images courtesy of The Other Richard

Grotty is a semi-autobiographical work by Izzy Tennyson (who also plays the lead role as a younger, fictionalised version of herself, “Rigby”).

Rigby is socially awkward, depressed, anxious, indecisive, sometimes nasty, insecure, superficial, and annoying; she has problems with drugs, alcohol, sex, her relationships, self-image, family, and existentialism; she lies to, manipulates, and displays an enormous lack of respect for herself and everyone else on the planet. All of this is entirely self-aware, but that doesn’t always make it more palatable. Tennyson plays her character to be “grotesque”, with an over-exaggerated hunch, screwed-up face, jutting lower jaw, messy hair, scowl, open mouth, and twisting hands. She speaks so fast that I could barely understand her. She doesn’t seem to display any sort of character development throughout the period of the play, despite coming oh-so-close at the end to admitting to her therapist that all her problems are of her own making. She is constantly slagging off everyone around her, but reserves some of the worst bitterness as ammunition against herself.

There is a moment when Rigby, in conversation with her straight friend Kate, dismisses the suggestion that she find herself a “nice girl” by asserting that nice lesbians don’t exist (echoing her friend Josie’s declaration that “women are bitches, mate”). Kate responds, straight-faced (sorry), with “that’s a bit homophobic, Rigby.” Cue a comedic pause as Rigby raises her eyebrows at the audience – the punchline, of course, is I’m the lesbian here, I can’t be homophobic! The thing is, Kate was absolutely on the money.  Women can be misogynistic (most characters in this all-woman cast are), people defying gender norms can still reinforce them (every lesbian character’s cruelty about Toad’s weight), and members of the LGBTQ community can still be transphobic, biphobic, or homophobic (Rigby and her lovers/friends are all of these!). I know, I know, these are not “nice girls” and the criticism of their behaviours and opinions is implicit in the tone of the play, but when subtle digs like these are woven throughout the play and never really criticised, let alone outright condemned, it normalises it.

In one particularly sickening scene, Rigby and Josie effectively date-rape a “bicurious” Russian woman. This is an act which is admittedly not portrayed sympathetically, but Rigby shows no regret or guilt about it, it has no repercussions, and is never alluded to again. This was merely the most violent manifestation of a through-thread of vitriol towards bisexual women, described variously as attention-seeking, “fucking scum”, and “breeders”, who don’t belong in queer spaces, which should be “safe” for gold-star lesbians. As I said, I realise that this entire play was intended to be a portrayal of the human tendency to respond to disenfranchisement by paying the cruelty forward, but as a bisexual woman in what I had thought would be a queer safe space, I felt betrayed and alienated. Although I am a firm believer that comedy should always punch up, I could perhaps forgive a play that punches inwards – as Grotty mainly tends to – but punching down, or sideways, while you’re at it? I’m not so sure.

To give the play its due, there were some moments which were genuinely insightful and powerful. These included when Rigby reveals that she was assessed as being ineligible for Phase 2 of NHS mental health treatment (“suicidal but not suicidal enough… Next time, I’ll come back in a body bag!”), the observations that the lesbian community is relegated to the fringes of queer society by the louder, more flamboyant gay men and drag queens scene, and the guilt Rigby feels at being selfishly glad that her mother with cancer had been taken to hospital and was no longer in the house. Tennyson’s writing is beautiful stylistically, revealing her spoken word poetry background and a knack for making her audience laugh. The problem was, the play touched on so many complex and heavy topics – mental health, grief, love, sex, sexuality, gender roles, inter-generational conflict, addiction, trauma, etc etc – that it could not do proper justice to any of them. As a result, it felt thematically both crowded and overwhelmingly negative.

The cast of supporting members – in particular Rebekah Hinds (Toad/Kate), Grace Chilton (Witch/Elliot), and Anita-Joy Uwajeh (Natty/Josie) – shone in their various and varied roles. Often on the peripherals of the stage, seated in armchairs positioned amongst the front rows of the audience, they played Rigby’s memories of characters rather than the actual characters herself, summoned from the periphery of her consciousness when narrative required it. The contrast between the characters of Witch (older, abusive, psychopathic, fetishist) and Elliot (young, vulnerable, insecure, questioning her sexuality) meant that Chilton in particular had the opportunity to display her versatility. I was especially impressed by the variation in her vocal tones – as Witch, her voice was lower, more clipped, flatter, and almost robotic, even in the scene in which she revealed her one emotional weakness (superbly done – this character was such an unambiguous, almost cartoonish villain, and yet I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her in this monologue), whereas Elliot was oozing hurt and desperation for love with every awkward word she said.

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Grace Chilton as Elliot and Izzy Tennyson as Rigby. Images courtesy of The Other Richard.

I cannot fault Hauer-King’s direction of this piece, and her use of the unique stage space that is The Bunker. Characters make use of every inch of available space, as well as backstage, so that the performance bleeds into the audience, feeling raw and immediate. The set and props are minimalistic – nine black boxes which can be manoeuvered into a bed, a table and chairs, a dancefloor, and much more, as well as a bench at the back of the stage resting against a jumble of mirrors, representing the fractured nature of Rigby’s world. Props are used sparingly and suggestively – there is a hat, a dog collar, a ball gag, a blanket, a number of plastic cups, some white powder, and not much more. The economy of materials means that each item is used to great effect, and nothing onstage is unnecessary or distracting.

Damsel Productions are, according to the programme, committed to “the crucial movement addressing both the misrepresentation and under-representation of women in theatre”. Ultimately, increasing the amount of (stage)space given to women in the industry can only be a good thing, as can widening the sorts of roles and narratives which women are able to portray. Women in theatre should be able to be not just beautiful or strong or likeable, but also messy, nasty, dysfunctional, ugly, grotesque, annoying, rude, and every other point on the human spectrum. It is absolutely possible to write an unsympathetic, repellent female character in a play that is also insightful, clever, affecting, or funny. However, Grotty feels like it aimed for shock factor rather than anything meaningful, and unfortunately, being edgy is not the same as being deep.

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The Bekkrell Effect, Groupe Bekkrell @ Roundhouse

Images courtesy of Massao Mascaro

When I saw the description of this show – French riot-grrrl feminist circus with an all-female cast, inspired by punk and nuclear physics – I had already decided that I was going to love it. Further cementing my confidence that this would be a wonderful night was the fact that I greatly enjoyed the last Circus Fest show I saw at the Roundhouse, RUHM. However, as much as I wanted to love this show, I ultimately left feeling underwhelmed.

The first act was slow to warm up, and consisted mainly of the four performers marching around the stage in stuffy tweed business suits. Parody of masculinity was quickly established as a running theme for the show, with the performers acting out displays of machismo, violence, and dominance with props such as swinging pulleys for genitals (pictured below) and mouthguards to transform their speech into ape-like grunting. The second act was the most interesting, as it contained the most of the show’s actual circussy, acrobatic elements, making creative and often slapstick use of a teeterboard, pole, tightrope, and simple yet effective pulley rope system. The small child in the row behind me giggled his way through this act, which is exactly the delighted response such clowning ought to elicit. However, he was very silent in the third act, which was much more abstract and conceptual, and included moments such as all four performers gathered around a hanging noose-like rope, asking it apparently nonsensical existential questions. The disjointed chaos of this act meant that it tended to drag, and I could feel my own attention wavering at around the same time that the child behind started getting restless and fidgety.

Images courtesy of Massao Mascaro

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the feminist theory behind this show. Circus is one of the performing arts in which roles for women are still sadly limited and one-note, usually centred around graceful, beautiful feats of aerial acrobatics, and featuring petite, pretty women in tight if not outright provocative costume, whereas their male counterparts get the lion’s share of clowning and comedic roles. Seeing Groupe Bekkrell take a stand against this was wonderful. When one performer had a very no-nonsense costume change onstage (no sensual stripping, just completely utilitarian clothes removal and replacement), a male audience member in the front row had the gall to wolf-whistle her; she and her stagemates whipped their heads around to glare at the offender and if looks could kill… In any case, he didn’t do it twice. The acrobatic feats the performers engaged in were similarly desexualised, and it was refreshing to see the women displaying their impressive physical skills without any veneer of performance for the male gaze.

However, the problem was that the show needed to do more than just challenge gender roles to be entertaining, and unfortunately it just didn’t have the substance necessary. We caught glimpses of the performers’ formidable acrobatic skills, but I couldn’t help but feel that they were holding back from properly exhibiting these talents or challenging themselves (and us) in any way except perhaps intellectually. It was too niche and conceptually obscure for a huge, classic circus venue such as the Roundhouse. And I didn’t see much evidence of the promised punk or radioactivity.

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For King and Country @ The Colab Factory

8th April – 10th June 2018

Directed by Owen Kingston

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It’s December 1940 and a German invasion force has landed on the south coast of England.

For several weeks the invaders have been building up their forces on the coast, while the mighty Luftwaffe have pounded the RAF into submission. As the invasion force prepares to strike north and capture London, King Edward VIII refuses the resignation of British Prime Minister Lord Halifax, triggering a constitutional crisis. It is Britain’s darkest hour.

Parliament is recalled, and with all the members of both houses meeting in Westminster, a small group of backbench MPs and their families – designated survivors – are taken to a secure location south of the river Thames. They are completely unaware of the imminent events that will thrust them into the limelight and put the fate of the nation in their hands.

You are among those designated survivors. Your decisions will shape the course of history. Can you save the British people from the invading forces, or will the war be over by Christmas?

 

 

‘Another WW2 Immersive Experience?’ I hear you ask.

Why yes indeed and ENTIRELY different.

For the tacticians or secret logistic experts or people who just love a jolly good debate, this show will be entirely for you.

On arrival, myself and my companion were greeted by Douglas Remington-Hobbs and handed identity cards stating our position or whether we were ‘just’ a plus one’. Mr Remington-Hobbs would be running the evenings events and guiding us as group.

We were walked down into the space and asked whether we wanted to exchange our new-fangled modern money for shillings in order to spend said shillings at the bar.

I really liked this element as it gave us as audience members a chance to shed off our modern identities and step into a new space and the world of the piece.

We were then briefed on the situation in a type of war cabinet style space and the plus ones (myself being one of them) were escorted out of the ‘war cabinet’ as we would not be participating. Rather ironically, we were both women. We discussed with the female character who had escorted us about our right to vote and she encouraged that we speak up for ourselves.

Which we did. The first call of debate however was whether we should.

This got the ball rolling and connected us as a group participating in the further and more increasingly difficult choices at hand.

As a group we had to vote for a prime minister, deputy prime minister, foreign secretary, war minister and propaganda minister.

We then had the chance to go into different parts of the space getting involved in different activities, projects, and further choices, then coming back together again for renewed debate based on what we’d done.

I made the choice to wander round overhearing pockets of conversation, different interactions with characters and the various war missions. You could however devote yourself to one or many depending on your role or general temperament.

Without giving too much away as I really encourage this as a show to be experienced blindly, various things are revealed, and you can invest and investigate as much as your heart should desire.

Each show will be entirely different based on your choices as audience members and the way the show is constructed.

Each character is entirely engaging and interesting and a lot of time and devotion has been put into making them real, believable and people that you want to connect with.

I loved that the group I was a part of was a real eclectic mix of people, not just artsy theatre types. A group of ladies, a few young couples and an older pair dressed like they were from WW2.

For my taste, and it was possibly because I chose to actively stand back and watch others rather than entirely engage, there wasn’t enough variety in activities in the show and the stakes didn’t nearly feel high enough until the last moment. I discussed this with my companion and he entirely disagreed which I feel is important to state.

A very engaging and lively evening and another success for Colab Theatre.

More immersive experiences please and thank you.

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Bismillah! (An ISIS Tragicomedy), Wound Up Theatre @ Pleasance Theatre

24th Apr – 13th May 2018
By Matthew Greenhough
Directed by Jonny Kelly

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The Downstairs theatre space at Pleasance Theatre is a temporary structure, and walking into it feels like entering a shipping container, or perhaps a bunker, which sets the mood well for this play which takes place in an ISIS interrogation cell. The thrust stage is mainly empty (vaguely wartime-looking debris littered around the edges) except for a man in ripped and stained Army-ish attire, handcuffed to a pole, with a black bag over his head. He is dancing along to Queen.

The audience settles in, chattering over the blaring music, only watching the pathetically dancing figure from the corners of our eyes. We cycle through a few tracks, and when the opening chords to I Wanna Break Free play, my friend chortles, “appropriate!” Then the actor starts to manically sing along. We discover there is a reason he’s in comedic theatre rather than musical.

The music is dramatically cut short, and the other actor enters: a glowering Middle Eastern man in guerilla combatwear, brandishing a pistol and some basic rations. The play proper begins, and the next 75 minutes are the best of my week, as I am expertly guided between laughter, sombre socio-political reflection, fear, tension, and emotional investment in the characters and their fates.

Before entering, I had some reservations about Bismillah! (An ISIS Tragicomedy). Making light of topics such as extremism, Islam, the war in Iraq, and West vs East is a risky business, and when written by and starring a white Englishman, I was concerned that the perspectives could be reductive and one-sided, punching down rather than up. These concerns proved to be completely unfounded. The play’s two characters laugh at each other and themselves in equal measure, and while both are clearly pining for home in England, at no point is the West held up as being inherently superior to the East. The distinction between radical Islam and actual, everyday Islam is made subtly but firmly. “Danny’s” experiences of racism and disenfranchisement in the UK are realistic and affecting, as are Dean’s feelings of economic insecurity and individual powerlessness in the 21st century world. A number of complex socio-political debates are touched upon with sensitivity and nuance, even between the dick jokes and pop culture references, and this play does not profess to hold all the answers, but it examines various perspectives with honesty and nuance. I had brought along a Northener friend as my plus one/cultural guide, who afterwards explained to me a number of the local references and insults which had gone over my Aussie head. In the end, my friend and I agreed that our only criticism of the show would be of the quality of its sound effects, but even that was very minor.

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Both actors shone in this production, especially writer-performer Matthew Greenhough. Ricocheting between comedy and tragedy, bants and terror, compassion and anger, the portrait he painted of an unrefined but good-hearted English lad was compelling and believable. At first I wasn’t totally convinced by Elliot Liburd’s portrayal of Danny – I thought his acting was somewhat overdone, and his constant frenetic energy came off as nervous – but as the play progressed and we learnt more about his character, I realised that these were probably conscious choices which meant that later when Danny’s mask began to drop, his vulnerability was all the more affecting. Liburd’s comedic skills, especially his facial acting, were excellent, veering just close enough to ridiculousness without being too absurd for the genre.

Watching Bismillah, I was forcibly reminded of a classic Australian play from the 60s called Norm and Ahmed, by New Wave playwright Alex Buzo. I think Buzo would agree with me that Bismillah is the 21st-century, English version of this same play, in terms of genre and format (back-and-forth between two men who are cultural and political opposites, but who find shared ground in common human experiences), a shocking ending (no spoilers!), and racial and political commentary. The main ideological difference is that Bismillah is about two young men: they are of the generation with the chance to define the future. The strains of terror, humanity, violence, anger, compassion, insecurity, and hilarity all intertwine with one of hope. Hope, for Dean’s survival and escape, Danny’s redemption, and for the future of the Earth and its warring inhabitants. Is this hope ill-placed? Is it too late for Dean, Danny, and for us? You’ll have to make your way to the Pleasance Theatre before Bismillah’s run is over to find out.

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The Nature of Forgetting, Theatre Re @ Shoreditch Town Hall

Review by Lauren Russell

24 – 28 April, 2018

by Theatre Re
Conceived & directed by Guillaume Pigé

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Photography by Danilo Moroni

Tonight, at Shoreditch Town Hall, I watched one of the most tremendously moving pieces of theatre I have ever seen. ‘Theatre Re’ has hit the nail on the head with this physically astounding show ‘The nature of forgetting’.

A likeable, agile, committed cast of 4 performers, one of which conceived and directed this phenomenon; Guillaume Pigé, took the stage by storm and filled the space with contagious energy. They explored the raw essence of what it is to be human by delving into the mind of 55 year old Tom who has dementia. His memories vividly played out before us, from his mother prepping him for school, to his first kiss, his first love, his first loss.

Due to the play being utterly captivating throughout it is difficult to pin point the highlights as the energy never once dropped. However I particularly like the use of the bicycle, which comes when Tom remembers riding to school, and the way he and Isabelle (whom was played by the amiable Louise Wilcox), as school children, innocently play with one another. Their pure enjoyment on stage was certainly mirrored by the audience.

It has to be said, ‘The Nature of Forgetting’ had one of the greatest live soundtracks I have heard accompany such talented performers, composed by Alex Judd it was satisfyingly brilliant, and without such music the piece would not hold the same weight. Complicité was achieved through the perfectly organic connections from actors to the choreography to props to music to lighting. The complex mime sequences throughout were clear enough to understand regarding the storyline, yet were also wonderfully open to an individuals emotional interpretation (So glad there was no spoon-feeding malarkey).

Ultimately, this is not to be missed. I could have watched this show a thousand times over and still noticed something new. The whole audience was inspired; the young were motivated to create the greatest of memories, the old were reminded of their fondest moments. An incredible achievement to create something so physically intricate yet simply beautiful. ‘Theatre Re’ are certainly worth watching, and ‘The Nature of Forgetting’ is absolutely unforgettable.

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Citizen, Suitcase Civilians @ The Space

April 24 – May 5, 2018
Written by Sepy Baghaei & The Company
Directed by Sepy Baghaei

CITIZEN 1

The 25th of March is ANZAC Day, when Australia commemorates its fallen Defense members in past and present wars. This was my first ANZAC Day in London, and I spent the evening watching a documentary about Austrian Jewish children who escaped the Holocaust by fleeing to London and Australia. Their stories were harrowing, and the film ended with these survivors entreating future generations never to let similar atrocities occur. Fast forward to the following night, and I am sitting in the audience at The Space, about to watch a play about dual citizenship and the real, ongoing experiences of persecuted Iranians, including one being held in an Australian detention centre for no reason other than (legally) seeking asylum.

It was the story of this man, Behrouz Boochani’s, which resonated most with me, in this play which weaves between the experiences of a number of Iranian immigrants interviewed by the playwright, the suffering of unjustly incarcerated Iranians such as Boochani and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and more abstract scenes including a social scene between two Iranian women which the third actor commentated David Attenborough-style, as though it were a wildlife documentary about exotic wild animals. This was not verbatim theatre for the main part, however it seemed to draw quite directly at times from real people’s experiences, and was dedicated to telling their stories. As such, there was no real plot to follow, and at times the action onstage lost momentum somewhat, but overall the various segments flowed together well. This was because they were united by a common theme: the Iranian immigrant experience, with all its grief, humour, passion, and fear on display.

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It was a pleasure to go on this journey with the three actors, whose magnetic appeal and versatility of talent guided us in the audience through laughter, tears, anger, shame, and political/ethical quandaries. I was particularly bowled over by Nalân Burgess and her grace and poise, flawless accent work (I thought at first that she genuinely was Australian, then English, then Iranian, then American, then I gave up trying to guess), nightingale singing voice, perfectly nuanced comedic acting, and the sheer amount of stage presence which emanated from her small frame.  David Djemal was almost equally impressive, both in comedic scenes such as the “how to make an Iranian” cooking show segment, and when delivering the sombre, powerful words of Boochani. During these segments I couldn’t help but hear echoes of another man’s story: that of Freddie Knoller, who as a child barely survived Auschwitz and had been interviewed for the documentary I’d seen the previous night. Hunger, humiliation, dehumanisation, and physical and psychological torture – is this going to be Australia’s legacy in the 21st century, as was Austria’s in the 20th?

Many of the perspectives related in this play were those which have been explored countless times before in art about displaced peoples, diasporic culture, and immigrant ethnic identity. However, the way it presents them, interspersed throughout personal stories, comedic skits, political commentary, and beautiful celebrations of Iranian culture and tradition (beautiful and delicious – shoutout to David for rescuing my cup of tea when I nearly dropped it, fumbling after the dates he was offering around the audience) felt fresh and unique. The choice of venue – in a converted church – was also the perfect setting for a play about Islamic people seeking sanctuary in Western countries and having to sacrifice a portion of their cultural identity in exchange. (However, the impressive old building clearly has its drawbacks as a theatre space – technical issues with lighting meant that the show got off to a false start, and needed to reset and begin again from the top about ten minutes in.)

This piece was a wonderfully moving, intelligent, fascinating, confronting, entertaining, and overall multifaceted piece of art. Upon leaving it, I was galvanised into action, emailing and calling my MP in Australia, signing online petitions, and sharing articles about some of the issues referenced in the play. This, to me, is what theatre is at its best: a way to better understand our fellow humans, and also a powerful call to action. Please, make sure you catch it before it ends its run in a week’s time.

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Free Solo @ The Drayton Arms Theatre

17 April – 3 May, 2018

by Jack Godfrey & Celine Snippe
Produced by Alice Greening

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Free Solo is a fantastic new musical written by Jack Godfrey and Celine Snippe, directed by Nick Leos and musically directed by Flora Leo. It follows the story of the Robinson Family in the lead up to John Robinson’s daredevil Free Solo Rick climb. Based on the true story we watch as, eleven years on, Robinson’s daughter Hazel reflects on the events that led up to her father’s climb.

Set to a folk-rock score, this new musical is sensitive, with fantastic movement and really human moments. Cecily Redmann was delightful as Hazel Robinson. Her voice was strong, and she safely navigated the changes between young and old Hazel. Simone Leonardi was an absolute stand out as the infamous John Robinson. His voice beautifully conveyed the sensitivity behind the music and gave a fantastic, human approach to the character.

Despite a few technical hitches, this musical was a thoroughly enjoyable watch, highlighting the importance of family and raising questions about responsibility and identity.

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