REVIEW! Crisis? What Crisis? @ COLAB Factory

Presented by Parabolic Theatre
Written by Tom Black
Directed by Owen Kingston
Featuring Jaya Baldwin, Tom Black, Zoe Flint, Beth Jay, Owen Kingston, Chloe Mashiter, Christopher Styles, and Angus Woodward
16 November – 8 December 2019

It is the Winter of 1979, or, as the journalists are calling it (to your chagrin), the Winter of Discontent, and the Labour government of which you are a small but essential component is teetering on a knife’s edge; a vote of no-confidence is looming, one that, if lost, will propel That Woman to Downing Street, workers across the country are in uproar, and you have only minutes to prepare for a meeting with George Deakin, one of the country’s most powerful unionists, in an attempt to stem the tide of disastrous industrial action that threatens to sweep your government away.

Crisis What Crisis, Courtesy of Russell Cobb (3)

Image courtesy of Russell Cobb

This is the high stakes pitch at the start of Parabolic Theatre’s latest offering, Crisis? What Crisis? at the Colab Theatre, and the start of a thrilling evening of interactive theatre, live gaming, and bureaucratic insanity.

As you enter the space (a charmingly convincing shabby office, replete with period furnishings, charts and maps galore, and a miniscule television looping historical news footage), you are given your Labour party membership card and it becomes very easy to forget that you are in the back rooms of the Colab Theatre circa 2019. As the experience commences you are adroitly introduced to the world and its dangers; the core areas of engagement are with the Economy, Civil Unrest, and Politics, and it is up to you to decide which you want to tackle. In my journey I started off in Civil Unrest, where I was responsible for brokering our first deal with the unions, and eventually found my way over to the politics area where I spent most of the remainder of the night brokering deals with MPs on both sides of the aisle to ensure their loyalty or defection in the upcoming vote of no confidence. The one I barely touched was Economics, but the its influence was felt keenly in every area as we had to double check any major decisions against the Treasury Index and the looming spectre of spiralling inflation.

Crisis, What Crisis, The Colab Factory, Courtesy of Owen Kingston (2).JPG

Image courtesy of Russell Cobb

If that brief summary sounds confusing and baffling then I have in some part succeeded in communicating the experience of Crisis? What Crisis? to you. There is an awful lot going on in the course of the evening, and you’re likely to only ever catch a small vignette of if, indeed these types of experiences often live as much in the retelling as they do in the moment. Every decision you make sets a line of dominoes falling, and every decision another attendant makes does the same. My understanding is that the crew are in large part administering a monolithic spreadsheet that tracks the various interactions between different parts of the world, all of which they manage to do while also answering countless phone calls and chopping and changing between dozens of different characters. Special mention must go out to all of the performers who do so much to create and define the world, managing to be helpful and informative fixtures without dominating, and infuse a twinkle of humour to every interaction.

Crisis? What Crisis? is not a passive experience, and if you go into the evening with the mindset of your typical West End theatre-goer you are unlikely to get much out of it. As with all such creations, you tend to get out of it what you choose to put in. So jump in the deep end, volunteer for leadership positions, choose something to care about and carve out a niche that you can thrive in. Go in knowing that, as is always the case in such events, those with the most social confidence, self-assuredness, or simply the loudest voices will often come to dominate proceedings; that said, if you do not thrive in high-intensity social interaction or manufactured stress, there are still enjoyable interactions available in quieter corners of the room, and a designated do-not-bother-me sofa space for audience members who feel overwhelmed.

Crisis, What Crisis, The Colab Factory, Courtesy of Owen Kingston (6)

Image courtesy of Russell Cobb

If, however, the brief summary I have been able to give sounds intriguing to you, then I cannot recommend Crisis? What Crisis? highly enough. The experience is tight and engaging, and no two performances will ever be the same (without giving too much away, some friends went to a performance two nights later and had fumbled their way into a much darker timeline than we did). Once again Parabolic Theatre have shown themselves to be among the premier innovators in the hard-to-define world that they inhabit, so avoid a personal crisis and book tickets now.

Tickets

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Previous review: The Play at Eight: The Monkey’s Paw by Storyfleas @ The Space Theatre

REVIEW! Red Palace by Shotgun Carousel @ The Vaults

Concept & Creative Producer: Laura Drake Chambers
Director: Celine Lowenthal
Writer: Cressida Peever
24th September 2019 – 12th January 2020

 

Images courtesy of Nic Kane Photography

A new immersive theatre/dining experience has taken over the labyrinthine Vaults Theatre for the rest of 2019: welcome to the Red Palace, a world of gothic delights and fanciful frights. Right now there’s a popular trend of re-imagining and remixing classic fairy-tales and fables, and Red Palace is an excellent example of this genre. Throughout the duration of an evening, your favourite childhood stories collide with snippets of more obscure folklore, their characters weaving together to play with and subvert assumptions and tropes. At the centre of it all is the Prince, your host in the palace – and the subject of an ominous prophecy…

I love cabaret, I love modern reinventions of fairy-tales, I love immersive theatre, and I love fancy dress, so in attending this show (and dragging two friends along with me) I was very much aware that I’d set myself up to be disappointed… and was pleasantly surprised not to be! It really was magical to explore the various chambers and meet their weird and wonderful inhabitants. Characters included Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf, Baba Yaga, Hansel and Gretel, and others I don’t want to give away (judging by the cast list, there were also a number whom I didn’t encounter, so perhaps I’ll have to go back for them during the run). These are not the folks you remember from childhood storybooks, however, they’ve grown up and had a makeover for 2019; Hansel is running a bar, Gretel is a cabaret performer, Snow White seems straight off TOWIE, and Little Red is basically a cross between Katniss Everdeen and a GoT wildling (with some serious childhood trauma). The cast multi-roles throughout the run so you may see very different versions of these characters to the ones I did, but I would like to make particular mention of a few performers:

  • Emer Dineen as Gretel, who effortlessly embodied the roles of barmaid, compere, cabaret performer, landlord, and palace gossip. She made us chuckle, gasp, whistle, cheer, and damn near cry when at dark secret was uncovered… Excellent displays of bravado, vulnerability, and sexiness, in all the right places.
  • Alice Morgan-Richards as Snow, who welcomed us into her “boudoir” for a pyjama party extraordinaire, complete with girl talk, a lesson in dance choreography, oodles of the colour pink, and a mystery party-crasher… Morgan-Richards absolutely threw herself into the role with joyful abandon, utterly shamelessly embracing the caricature and ensuring a fun time for all involved.
  • Joanna Vymeris as Cat, whose every movement evoked the supple and sinewy flexibility of a feline, and who managed to be both alluring and creepy at the same time.
  • Ella Prendergast as a character I shan’t name, who somehow has the act of awkward bumbling middle-aged male inventor down pat, despite being a very attractive young woman. In a cameo appearance in another character’s episode, she also went on to win hearts as a desperately hopeless Hugh Grant-esque would-be lover.

Images courtesy of Nic Kane Photography

The rest of the cast (all women and non-binary performers, what’s more) were also fabulous, whether holding court in their own domains or weaving through others’ stories to tie the overarching plot together. It must have been difficult to balance these performances with the logistical responsibilities of chivying groups of audience members along to their next destinations, but they remained confident and commanding at all times. The costume and set designer, Maeve Black, also deserves the highest of kudos not only for her magnificent costumes, but also for her bewitching transformation of these Vault spaces (which go by names such as “The Bricky One”, “The Long Wet One”, “The Short Wet One”, etc) into sets such as a fortune-teller’s tent, a bathhouse, a dark and dank forest, a prison cell, and more. Such vision and attention to detail is particularly crucial in immersive theatre, and doubly so when the show is centred around such sumptuous decadence and sensuality as Red Palace!

So, why didn’t this piece get the elusive five-star rating from me? Well, in short, it suffers from the teething problems which plague all immersive theatre productions, as it’s impossible to really know what works and what doesn’t until you start getting audiences through. Areas for improvement include:

  •  The “escape room” element of the prison cell. It was just far too easy! I already had the answer from moments after we stepped in thanks to some telltale dialogue, and had to bite my tongue to stop myself from giving it away too early.
  • The justification for it being a masquerade. This wasn’t woven into the plot quite convincingly enough, and as a result felt like quite a hollow pretext for an aesthetic choice. I think the “prophecy” could easily be expanded by a few words in order to give the Prince a clearer reason for demanding masks on all guests.
  • The audience interaction. Again, this is a common bugbear for immersive theatre: how do you involve the audience, while still remaining in control? Some audience involvement in Red Palace did successfully toe that line (for example, the “party trick” bit in the Gingerbread House), but when asked by one character to deliver a message to another, it became very obvious that our doing so did not actually have any effect on events. Perhaps a few additional mini-scenes could be written as character responses to such code words, or small items or tokens given to audience members, to achieve more of a feeling of having influenced the scene? As it is, it feels more like promenade theatre in a random order. Which brings me to…
  • The logistics of moving from scene to scene. This often involved queuing in front of stage spaces, with an usher ready to let us in at the allotted time, and somewhat disrupted the immersion. I have to compare this unfavourably to the smoothness of the Great Gatsby immersive experience, though I understand the mechanics were different there, as the scenes progressed through a plot rather than simply resetting.

Images courtesy of Nic Kane Photography

 

It’s also worth mentioning that Red Palace also offers a dining experience, which starts an hour earlier than the rest of the show and includes a three-course meal by Annie McKenzie of Masterchef fame, a complimentary glass of bubbly, and exclusive seating and performances. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it in time for this dinner, but I did see some poisonous green toffee apples on their way to being served, and they looked pretty appealing, not to mention apropos!

I realise I’ve hit 1000 words with this review already and risk a telling-off from the Theatre Box site manager, so I’ll have to skip dissecting the meta-plot and its themes, as well as aesthetic references to Poe and Atwood. The last point I really want to make is this: tickets for Red Palace start at £18, and if that’s not a bargain, then I don’t know what it is. London, this is your chance to experience some magical theatre and have a ball while doing it (pun intended). Don’t wait until the clock strikes twelve!

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Tickets and more information here.

Previous review: Baby @ Bread and Roses Theatre, Clapham Fringe

 

REVIEW! Libertalia by Gary Lockley @ The Golden Hinde

Written and directed by Gary Lockley
Presented by the Golden Hinde
Featuring Nathalia Campbell-Smith, Patrick Strain, DK Ugonna, and David West
Thursday 15th August – 5th September 2019

If you’ve spent much time in London at all, chances are you’ve wandered past The Golden Hinde, a reconstruction of Francis Drake’s sixteenth century galleon, now moored on the South Bank and a popular tourist attraction. Perhaps you’ve even surrendered a fiver to step on board, and viewed the ship’s compartments and faux-historical furnishings. But have you ever taken part in a pirate summit deep in the bowls of the ship, and investigated its cabins and crew to uncover dark secrets and dastardly deeds?

Probably not, but starting this week there will be an opportunity to do just that, as the Hinde will be commandeered out of hours by the immersive theatre show Libertalia. Inspired by Captain Charles Johnson’s “A general history of pyrates”, the TV show Black Sails, and video game Uncharted, this story takes place during the Golden Age of Sail and the height of New World colonialism and mercantilism. Upon boarding the ship, audience members are sorted into four “crews”, each with an allegiance to a different pirate captains. These captains are played by the show’s four actors, each based on a real historical pirate. We have all been summoned here, we are told, by the revered Captain Tew, who wishes to tell us about his plans to found a free pirate colony called Libertalia – but who will lead this colony? And are the sails the only things on this ship that are rigged?

What follows this initial scene-setting induction is two hours of high seas intrigue and scandal, as audience members are encouraged to explore the ship and follow the actors around to witness snippets of dialogue which gradually reveal that something fishy is going on. Is there more than meets the “aye” to these pirate captains?

Libertalia is creator Gary Lockley’s first foray into writing site-specific interactive theatre, and he set the bar high for himself by securing such an impressive and evocative venue. Unfortunately, it’s a difficult genre of performance to master, filled with volatile elements and delicate lines to tread, and despite some excellent moments, it quickly became clear that this piece could have done with guidance from someone more experienced in the field. I (and other audience members, as we discussed abovedecks after the show) often found ourselves searching for depths and details which were simply not there: a diary left unguarded in the captain’s quarters turned out to be disappointingly empty, two audience members told me of how they riffled through an entire trunk of blankets only to find that it was just that, and though our captains gave us the vague directions to mingle with other crews to “find out information”, it quickly became clear that none of us had actually been given any tidbits to guard. In the age of Sleep No More and other rich, multi-layered immersive experiences, this felt somewhat underdeveloped.

That said, there were some wonderful moments of immersion and interaction. Finding a coded message and banding together with rival audience members to decode it – hunched over ragged bits of parchment, scrawling out messages and discovering plot twists together – was excellent, as was singing a sea shanty with these newfound comrades later on. Interacting with the actors was great fun; I especially loved talking to Nathalia Campbell-Smith as Anne Bonny, and hearing about the woes and escapades of this real historical woman (more of this in future, please!). The cast had great chemistry with each other, and all the actors were animated, funny, and commanded attention and interest, as well as being able to improvise well with each other and the audience. Lastly, but most obviously, the ship herself was both stage and star of this show, and the undeniable coolness of pretending to be a pirate in an actual (reproduction) pirate’s ship was more than worth all the bumps to the head.

Without wanting to spoil the story’s ending, I do have to note that it quickly became clear that as the audience, our actions – our subterfuge and investigations and conspiring – had no real impact on the plot. While it’s absolutely possible to have great immersive theatre which provides the illusion of agency but whose story is ultimately pre-determined (the Gatsby immersive experience is a successful example), that illusion is key. Otherwise, all the audience’s efforts begin to feel like meaningless busy-ness, a filler between watching actors perform rehearsed scenes. This was the case in Libertalia, and resulted in a lot of dead time where we ended up making real-life small talk with strangers, or filling our (hour)glasses at the below-decks bar. This could be remedied by including more sub-plots, even if they don’t lead anywhere, deeper world- and character-building, and more active parts and activities for the audience to undertake; again, see Gatsby for examples of all this.

When the final scene played out, it was unsurprising to all of us who had put together the pieces much earlier on in the evening, but nevertheless a fun bit of drama. This was watered down somewhat by a parting monologue which aimed for rousing but landed on emptily didactic, full of vague platitudes about freedom and unity that could equally have been denouncing Brexit or supporting it (and what with the historical setting, and inclusion of a freed slave character as well as colonial privateers, there was so much more potential for meaningful exploration of complex themes). At the journey’s end, I disembarked the ship having had fun, but feeling that Libertalia’s maiden voyage left quite a bit to be desired. Hopefully the show will continue to evolve and adapt, as it could become something truly special.

Could also do with a talking parrot.

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Previous review: Naked People Waking Up @ Etcetera Theatre, Camden Fringe

REVIEW! Lovers Anonymous @ The Space

Presented by Encompass Theatre Collective
9th – 19th July 2019

Open entering the re-purposed church that is The Space Theatre, it really did feel like walking into a meeting of AA, or some other self-help workshop run by professional “love coaches”. The raised stage was being used only as a platform for tea and coffee dispensation, and where pews once stood, plastic chairs were arranged in a ring. Arriving alone (which was a shame, because I feel this experience would absolutely have been enhanced by the presence of a partner), I hesitated in taking a seat, which was how I had my first interaction with “Sandra” and “Mike”, who would be running the workshop under the guise of the (not-so) perfect couple. They greeted me warmly, but with a certain artificial friendliness suggesting that these workshops were more of a money spinner than truly community spirited. I found myself in a seat next to a nice stranger called Helen, and soon enough, the show began.

From the start, Mike and Sandra (Edward Kaye and Becky Gibbs) played a slick role, bouncing plasticky enthusiasm and smiles back and forth as they bantered through an introduction. Their dynamic was an old one – she’s business-like, cool, and bossy, he’s goofy, overly affectionate, and oblivious – but tropes become tropes for a reason, and this fraught relationship provided an opportunity to explore the perks and pitfalls of a long-term relationship.

Rehearsal images for Lovers Anonymous

Though they’d obviously made an effort to be gender- and sexually-neutral in their dating advice,  the whole thing did have a bit of a “women are from Venus, men are from Mars” sort of vibe to it. The male actors / audience plants were almost all either creepy in a funny way, socially inept, comically geeky, or a combination of these, whereas the one woman “audience” actor was more of a quirky MPDG type. These men all had issues treating women like people, and the woman… existed basically to challenge unhealthy attitudes from the men? I don’t remember her having a story of her own, unlike the others.

The one audience actor whose role defied these trends was playing a man who had lost his partner in a tragic accident, moments after having a fight with him. This sudden death was hinted at through a frozen-time flashback at the beginning of the show, but this apparent trauma was left a mystery until near the the end. The effect was a neat bit of ground-laying with effective emotional payoff later, and though again this character’s story and it message were not exactly original, they did provide a certain amount of earnestness sincerity which contrasted nicely with the silliness and melodrama of the rest of the show.

The show blurb promises a wide range of love-related discussion topics: “from sexuality to sex, tinder thrills to online spills, everything is welcome”. Did it deliver? Well, there was a lot of ground covered: there was a very humourous section on online dating, some cringey stories about awkward first dates, a debate on the morality of pornography, an exercise about working through conflict, exploration of the familiarity/banality of sharing a life with someone, and much more. None were explored in much depth, but there were certainly some interesting moments of introspection and examination of societal norms. I think that in 2019, perhaps more types of “non-traditional” relationships could be explored – as it is, the show is mainly quite blandly heterosexual, except for mentions of homo/bisexuality thrown in for shock twist value rather than being examined in any meaningful way.

Rehearsal images for Lovers Anonymous

Likewise, the audience interaction was played very safe, and honestly other than myself and one other audience member, I don’t think anyone really actively participated except the audience plants. It’s difficult in immersive theatre to challenge audience members and draw them into the show as active members without making them uncomfortable, but Lover Anonymous definitely stopped shy of either of those outcomes. This made it a little tame for me, but certainly much more welcoming for theatregoers who are not as used to audience interaction. For future iterations, I would advise some segments where audience members are split into smaller groups (perhaps with one actor planted in each, to guide things along) for activities that allow them to interact with the material and one another without being put on the spot. This would be easy to do without losing the workshop/seminar feeling of the piece, and make it more hands-on. The rhino/porcupine exercise was a good start towards this sort of dynamic – keep heading along that path!

All in all, Lovers Anonymous has the potential to be further developed into a really interesting and fun show: it already has a beautifully playful and welcoming atmosphere to it, some excellent comedic moments, good snippets of physical theatre, and a number of tightly written and executed scenes. With increased audience involvement and a more daring foray into meatier love-related topics, this could become the kind of show that would make anybody swipe right.

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Previous review: Spitfire Sisters @ The Space Theatre

REVIEW! Church of the Sturdy Virgin @ Vault

Presented by Dank Parish
Unit 9, the Vault Festival
Part of Let’s Talk @ VAULT Festival
6 – 7 March

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I don’t know why there’s something funny about the word “sturdy” – there just is. Combine it with the concept of divinity and even virginity, and you have a ready-made aesthetic for your interactive theatre show. This flavour of mock seriousness mixed with absurdity, religious satire, and just plain silliness typifies the Church of the Sturdy Virgin which is currently taking place at the Vault Festival as I type.

The piece started with an irreverent funeral procession along the grungy Leake Street, led by gothicky black-clad actors, the audience standing in for mourners. Upon entering Unit 9 – which with its high ceilings, shadowy spaces, and air that distinctly tastes of damp, really does feel like a ‘dank parish’ – we stepped into a wacky and slightly sinister hallowed ground. A winding path into the church proper took us past various nooks and rooms, half-hidden from view, populated by actors being weird and creepy in various ways. The best way to describe the aesthetic of the set design is that it reminded me strongly and favourably of the recent Sabrina reboot: mixed skulls and flowers, leather-bound books, old chalices, sinister-looking curiosities, tattered scrolls… there was even a graveyard section, complete with mounds of dirt, from which bones shone dirty white. I really have to hand it to the set designer, they really impressed me with their creative touches, sourcing of props, and commitment to detail. Despite being small-scale production with, no doubt, an even smaller budget, the set designer created a high-quality backdrop for the show’s action which perfectly supported and enhanced the experience.

Unfortunately, the contents of the play didn’t quite measure up to its set design. In fairness, I did go on a very early night in the run, and with interactive theatre the nature of the beast is that you can’t properly improve and perfect it until you have an audience, so no doubt it is running more smoothly and tightly now than when I saw it, but… there was definitely a fair bit of room for improvement.

Perhaps the biggest problem was that they had a clear structure for the beginning and ending of the piece (ie, introduction to the church and a funeral, respectively), but the momentum of the show got lost somewhere in the middle. We were rushed through the various scenes and activities in a way that felt both frenetic and time-stressed, but also like improvised filler material. Audience interaction was rife, but only ever in a limited or truncated fashion. Despite the fact that we were given secret missions in the past – for example, to discredit the recently deceased, or eke out some scandalous secrets from the disciples/actors – there was never really time or opportunity to act on these. At times there was a tinge of desperation to the actors’ performances, like they were in uncharted territory – which makes sense, if the show was still in the process of being reworked. This meant that often there was a lot of rambling improvisation. Unfortunately, genuinely interesting ruminations on society’s relationship with death, or satirisations of the same, were often lost amongst seas of quirkiness for quirkiness’ sake. 

Criticism aside, there were moments where the show really did work. Three stood out to me in particular, and each made me feel a different way:

  • Mass sing-alongs of classic pop hits as ‘hymns’, the congregation clapping and singing, as the church’s disciples led the performance with perfect poker faces and expression of religious exultation. This sense of incongruity, absurdity, subversion, and hilarity was exactly what Dank Parish was trying to achieve throughout the show.
  • A ritual to exorcise a room (and a woman) of a disturbing spiritual presence. For this rite, four of us (our “family”, which we were allocated at the beginning) needed to take a corner of the room each, in which a small stool displayed a number of items each representing a different “element”. We were told to conjure a memory of connection to our particular element, and to hold onto that as we chanted lines of power and used these elements to purify the space. I honestly did feel like I was connecting to magical forces in that moment! A genuinely mystic episode amongst all the absurdity.
  • The opportunity to write some words of wisdom in the congregational tome. I chose the last words said to me by a loved one right before I died, which I genuinely do try to keep with me and live my life by. Writing them in the book, I saw others’ contributions – most of which were incredibly silly, hamburger hamburger hamburger ha for example – and this juxtaposition made me smile and reflect on the myriad ways that we, as humans, cope with the senselessness of our world.

Overall, I feel that Church of the Sturdy Virgin has the potential to be a really interesting piece of immersive theatre, with some workshopping, tweaking, and tightening of structure. The aesthetic design is already top-notch, the actors were clearly enthusiastic about the project, and some of the concepts were very effective. After a bit of work, this piece could truly become sturdy, and stay sturdy.

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Previous review: A Hundred Words for Snow @ Trafalgar Studios

Frankenstein, Tea Break Theatre @ Sutton House

Read the interview with writer/director Katharine Armitage.

Written and Directed by Katharine Armitage
Featuring Jeff Scott, Molly Small, Jennifer Tyler, Chris Dobson, Katy Helps. 
17 October – 3 November 2018

Frankenstein, Sutton House - Courtesy of John Wilson (4)200 years after it was first published by a teenage girl writing under a pseudonym, Frankenstein finally gets the women it deserves.

The show in many ways feels like what Peter Jackson is going for with his recent project of colourising and dubbing WW1 footage. Mary Shelley’s novel finds new life, colour and dimension in this innovative immersive, in-situ production.

The gothic tale begins with pop-rock streaming from a tinny cassette player, welcoming us to the world of the real-life squatters who occupied Sutton House during the 1980s. Clever scripting weaves together the three layers of stories – that of the squatters, of Mary Shelley, and of Frankenstein – and before you know it you’re in the story.

By ‘in the story’, I do mean in the story. The immersive elements embed the audience not just in the house, but within the home of the Frankensteins. Never allowed to become too comfortable, each audience group follows different actors around the house, and like the characters themselves we only see windows into the world. Despite some ‘dead time’ (forgive the pun) created by this, it felt like an orchestra in which you get to know the flute player as a human rather than just an instrument.

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The biggest ‘pop’ of reality, however, comes from what director Katharine Armitage calls “finding the women”. Commendations must go to Katy Helps (Justine) and Jennifer Tyler (Elizabeth) for rescuing the female characters from the constraints of the 19th century, and to Molly Small (The Creature) for a performance that carried the extra burden of a gender layer to the questions raised about monstrosity, creation and destruction.

Although occasionally unsubtle in its delivery, this production of Frankenstein is nonetheless a wonderful and innovative adaptation that is recommended to everyone from the life-long Frankenstein fans to those whose only pre-existing image is of a green man with a bolt through his neck.

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Lamplighters, Rogue Productions @ The Old Red Lion Theatre

24 July – 18 August 2018

Created by Neil Connolly and Dean Rodgers
Rogue Productions

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Winner of the London’s VAULT Festival 2018’s People’s Choice Award, Lamplighters is a hard-to-forget night out. Neil Connolly plays host in a part spy-thriller, part improv-comedy farse that sees it’s audience moonlight as secret agents with hysterical results.

The show takes you through a very familiar spy adventure plot with clandestine meetings and high-pressure heists. The catch is that Connoly himself only hosts, every shady character, corpse, location, mission objective and piece of musical score, is plucked from the audience.

It’s just a ton of fun. No other way to put it. Even if you don’t want to participate, this show will have you in stitches.

Connoly is a magnetic and very charismatic host. the mechanics of the show’s gameplay is very clever, the lights and props and staging work wonderfully to enhance and create all sorts of comedic effects, which are entirely participatory in the shows descending chaos.

As with all improv comedy, I imagine it’s very dependant on the audience on the night. I was lucky enough to be in a group who revelled in the experience as much as Neil himself did, and who happened to be hilarious in their own right. It was a big bonus for me, but I can guess that even on a bad night this will be a show that leaves you grinning from ear-to-ear.

If you are looking for a good night out with a mate, look no further.

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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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Hidden Figures: WW2, Party Geek @ CoLab Factory

29th March – 15th April 2018

Directed by Zoe Flint

Written by Paul King

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Hidden Figures: WW2 is billed as a WW2 immersive experience at CoLab Factory, the only London venue specializing in Immersive Adventures. Having been a theatregoer for 20 years, I have never been to an immersive theatrical experience. This. Did. Not. Disappoint.

We arrived at the carpet factory in Borough and gained entry through coded conversation.

From the moment we arrived, we were in the world of WW2. From the themed bar, to the characters that greeted us. We were put into a small group of strangers and navigated our way through the maze that had been created. Each of us was given a character to take on, so as we met several different WW2 real life characters, solving puzzles together, we found out more and more about ourselves and them.

Also there is alcohol involved in this production. As theatrebox readers should know by now, you always receive bonus points from me if your play features gin. Which it did. Huzzah!

Every character we met was very different and entirely real. Every room we entered, the atmosphere changed. Every puzzle or interaction with a character was so beautifully and cleverly crafted. I could have spent hours down in that maze. This production excited and enthralled me throughout.

Without giving too much away, what was really fantastic about this, was discovering more about our characters and the truth behind all of these people.

My one issue with this production would be that although they executed very well the light and dark of WW2 and made it rip-roaringly fun; for my taste, I feel like they could have embraced the dark a bit more. Those moments of pain and truth could have been elevated, so much like a Martin McDonagh play, we could have been punched in the gut with the reality of this horrendous time.

This production is a production for every type of Londoner. The theatregoer, the non theatregoer, the historian, the partygoer, the clubber, the logistics specialist, the city boy etc etc..

This is exactly the production to bring more people and interest more people in diversity and difference in story telling and theatre.

I’ve been seduced into immersive experiences, and am now planning my next one and I’m sure this will seduce you too.

So grab a friend NOW, book your ticket and prepare yourself for a truly special evening.

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Tickets

Madhouse re:exit, Access All Areas @ Shoreditch Town Hall

13 – 28 of March

Created by Access all Areas
Directed by Nick Llewellyn

MADHOUSE reexit, Shoreditch Town Hall, credit of Helen Murray (8)

Photography by Helen Murray

Everybody needs to see this show.

It is an outstanding piece of political theatre. Interesting, captivating, and heartbreaking.

MadHouse is created by Access All Areas, an award-winning theatre company who work with artists with learning disabilities. The show is an immersive show performed in Shoreditch Town Hall.

When I got to the venue, there was an interesting exhibition on Haperbury Hospital, an ex-hospital for people with learning disabilities. The facts and pictures were shocking, and it does raise questions as to why this history isn’t taught in schools. I was also given a leaflet to ‘Paradise Fields’, a new corporate care facility, some pages were scarily relevant to the modern world.

The audience were going on a tour of ‘Paradise Fields’. I have to admit I felt slightly scared going down to tour this care home, there was a very eerie atmosphere but a feeling of curiosity within the audience. As the audience were toured around the care home we were exposed to the glossy, creepy staff and rooms in the modern day care home. It all felt too good to be true and the audience were expecting and waiting to see what happened next. As the tour went on the audience were taken away from the tour guides by ‘The Escapist’ played by David Munns to be given a different tour of the shocking truths behind ‘Paradise Fields.’

As we continued to move around the space, we met five characters who all told there own stories about living in the care home and the stories also linked to the modern society we live in. These five characters were all captivating actors and the scenes were interesting, all very different and heart-breaking. All the different scenes were devised by the cast members based on the research for the play and there own experiences as learning disabled artists. My particular favourite were ‘The Goddess’ played by Imogen Roberts and ‘The Eater’ played by Dayo Koleosho. Both these scenes had an incredible concept and set design behind them which was very unique. The performers were also captivating and relatable.

There were some  pacing hiccups however. There were times when the audience were waiting for two minutes to be moved on. I felt that these needed to be faster so that the audience could stay in the world the show created.

Do not miss this show.

The immersive world the company has created is brilliant, as are the performances. The show makes the audience question England’s current society but also makes you question your own perceptions of people with learning disabilities.

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