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

CHURCH 5th bannerHiRez1.jpg

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.

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)

Previous review: A Hundred Words for Snow @ Trafalgar Studios

REVIEW! A Wake in Progress, Fine Mess Theatre @ Vault Festival Cage

Writer: Joel Samuels
Director: Liz Bacon
Producer: Leila Sykes with Fine Mess Theatre
Wednesday 7th – Sunday 10th Feb

A Wake in Progress, VAULT Festival (Courtesy of Ali Ward) (7) Stella Taylor and Amy Fleming.jpg

Stella Taylor and Amy Fleming in A Wake in Progress

The Cage theatre at the Vault festival is a dank and dingy cellar space, where trains rattle overhead at regular intervals and the air is surprisingly hot and muggy for such a subterranean place. It’s somewhere you could imagine stumbling across long-forgotten dead bodies, but that’s about as close as it comes to being funeral-adjacent, let alone a location for a wake party whose subject is still very much alive. And yet, Fine Mess Theatre manage to live up to their name, and transform the Cage into a space for pathos, humour, joy, and a shindig which leaves it strewn with party hats and, brightly coloured decorations, and empty plastic cups of prosecco.

At just over 45 minutes long, A Wake in Progress is both short and (bitter)sweet. It tells the story of a young person diagnosed with a terminal illness, and how they and the people closest to them come to terms with the fact that their time left with them is limited. The five actors play various roles from the protagonist’s life, including lover, sibling, best friend, and funerary celebrant/amateur therapist/narrator (who, played by Stella Taylor, was the standout talent in a talented cast). The audience plays a role in decision-making at several junctures, from naming new characters as they’re introduced, to deciding whether our story’s protagonist decides to buy a dog or go skydiving. On the night I was there I didn’t feel like the cast did the best job of incorporating the audience suggestions in any way deeper than the odd throwaway line, but this was still enough to instill in the audience a sense that we were part of events.

As a result, towards the end (when the titular wake takes place), it felt relatively natural for us to play the role of assorted family and friends – assisting to hand out party hats, pour drinks, pass around sweets, and generally get up and moving and schmoozing. The resultant atmosphere really did feel like a somewhat awkward but overall pleasant soiree – just as it was supposed to be. After all the characters had finished their speeches, we came together to sing In My Life to ukulele accompaniment, sharing pre-printed lyric sheets with the person next to us. With my eyes on the paper in front of me, and my whole concentration on trying to sing along, I didn’t notice a subtle change taking place on stage; when I looked up and noticed what was different, it really did hit me in the guts. This final moment – of loss mingling with a feeling of community and connectedness – was the one which best encapsulated what grief truly feels like, and it stayed with me as I left the theatre.

A Wake in Progress is nicely done little play about life, death, and relationships; yet despite these heavy themes, it manages to stay light and warm-hearted. It is hardly an ambitious project, but with it the artistic team at Fine Mess has achieved a playful, earnest, and amusing piece of theatre which fits snugly with the feeling of the Vault festival.

Gold_Star.svg (1)  Gold_Star.svg (1) Gold_Star.svg (1)  Gold_Star.svg (1)

Previous: REVIEW! Dracula, Creation Theatre @ The London Library

REVIEW! Fight Night by Exit Productions @ the Vaults

Produced by Exit Productions, with help from Nadezhda Zhelyazkova at Full Sail Productions
Directors: Joe Ball & Chris Neels
Fight choreography: Jonathan Holby
Cast: Ben Lydon, Brendan O’Rourke, Edward Linard, Hannah Samuels, Jessica Jeffries, Pete Grimwood & Simon Pothecary
30th January – 17th February 2019

fn

Not everyone is a fan of boxing – the sweet science is not as sportsmanlike as some other popular sports, not as theatrical as some of the other martial arts.

I love boxing – I think it’s like extremely literal chess – but I understand the criticisms levelled against it. Many fighters are injured, some in life altering ways, there’s a lot of corruption, a lot of unsavoury personalities. I find it beautiful because, not in spite, of these flaws – and they’re all on display in this ninety minute show.

Exit Productions have made an ambitious, immersive show that takes you through all the stages of the eponymous night – we see the weigh in, go into the locker rooms, hear the pep talks, cruise the merch table, chat to the bookies and officials – and our contributions impact the outcome of the fight, which is thrilling and beautifully staged.

Dev J. Danzig’s set design uses the curious, stony space of the Vaults well – from the luxurious ringside VIP section to the dodgy blackjack table to the cramped lockers, the place feels authentically like an underground boxing show. The cast immediately establish themselves as clear, distinctive characters, all with motivations, secrets and means.

HfLcOlk2

The whole audience can get as involved as they like – some people are picked to have specific roles, such as medical assistant or valet, but we all get stacks of chips with which to bet, bribe or purchase merchandise. The actors were engaged and engaging – I spent a lot of time with a slimy promoter, an indebted doctor and an impassioned trainer, who each gave me information and opportunities to alter the outcome of the fight. We discussed head injuries, performance enhancing drugs, female boxers and risking your life for the chance of a pay off. As a judge, chosen on the basis of literally nothing, I then got to sit down and call the outcome of each round – though I and the other judges had been bribed to ensure a certain outcome.

Every audience member might have a particular favourite fighter they want to win – both the insecure loud mouth show-boater Joe Williams and the polite professional with a temper Bam Bam Bradshaw were very likable, though they hated each other. What makes the show so fascinating it that it’s impossible to tell who will be victorious until the final bell. And what does it mean to be victorious? Is it better to take a second round fall, survive to live another day or to fight through the pain and likely concussion? No two punters will have the same experience and no two performances will be the same. In that way, it is exactly like a boxing match.

Like real boxing, I loved it, but I know it may not be for everyone. If you prefer a theatre experience that lets you sit down and not make any choices, Exit Productions probably isn’t for you. If you like to get involved and do some exploring, if you enjoy some uncertainty and anticipation, this is the perfect show.

Gold_Star.svg (1)  Gold_Star.svg (1)  Gold_Star.svg (1) Gold_Star.svg (1)  Gold_Star.svg (1)

Tickets

Previous: REVIEW! Cuzco by Víctor Sánchez Rodríguez @ Theatre503

Das Fest @ The Vaults

28 February – 4 March, 2018

Created and performed by ‘Vienna’s Master Illusionist’ Phillip Oberlohr

Philipp Oberlohr's Das Fest at VAULT Festival (courtesy Daniel Haingartner) (7).JPG

Photography by Daniel Haingartner

The Vault Festival is a very cool place. If you haven’t been yet, you need to go.

Last night I attended Das Fest by Philipp Oberlohr and I have to say it’s one of my highlights of the festival so far. On a snowy winter’s night, I went out in the cold to make my way to the show. I’m a sceptical person and I must admit I felt a little unsure about the prospect of going to a mind reading show. It’s all a trick surely? However, when I left the theatre an hour later, I felt happier, slightly confused and my mind was pulsing with questions like ‘How did he do that?’ and I felt very glad I had come to the show that evening.

Das Fest is the sequel to Das Spiel which was awarded the People’s choice award in 2016. I was excited and curious to see what was going to happen in this new show. The atmosphere was buzzing when I walked into the room, the audience were waiting, slightly nervously too see what was in store for them.

Now, the best thing about Das Fest is the surprise element. I don’t want to ruin it so I’m not going to write about what is going to happen to the audience in the show. However, what I can say was that Philipp Oberlohr is a charming performer. He is captivating, likeable and trustworthy. Despite the underlying fear the audience felt like they could talk to him, with one audience member staying on stage for most of the show! There was some wonderful imagery created in the show, my particular favourite involving a white umbrella and a black umbrella. The images created on stage were beautiful.

I thoroughly enjoyed Das Fest and would recommend seeing it for an entertaining evening. The physical theatre elements used in the show were excellent, as was the imagery and the performance. Go to the show, take some friends with you and then enjoy the ‘But how did he do that?!’ conversation which will inevitably happen in the bar afterwards.

 

 

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)

Tickets

Be Prepared, Ian Bonar/Rob Watt @ The Vaults

7 – 11 February, 2018

Written & Performed by Ian Bonar
Directed by Rob Watt

 

Be Prepared - Edinburgh Fringe 2016 (Photo by The Other Richard) 6

Photos courtesy of The Other Richard

 

A heart-breaking but hilarious play about one man struggling to remember while another finds himself unable to forget.

Be Prepared is a return of Ian Bonar’s first play, first shown at the Edinburgh Fringe 2016. An alumnus from the acclaimed Royal Court Writers group, Be Prepared is very well written and you can appreciate the language and the text as an audience member.

An equally talented performer, Bonar is engaging and sensitive on stage and  takes the audience on a whirlwind emotional journey. The performance is gripping through a majority of the piece, only suffering from an occasional hiccup in pacing. Despite this, Be Prepared keeps the audience on their toes with some very funny and unexpected surprises throughout the play.

The concept of ‘one wrong digit can change a person’s life forever’ could have been clearer in the piece; however I would recommend this show for its brilliant script, storytelling, and a hilarious and engaging performance from Ian Bonar. It’s definitely a show not to be missed at the Vault Theatre Festival.

 

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)

Tickets

Think of England, AIAWTC @ The Vaults

Wednesday 7th – Sunday 11th, 2018

by Madeline Gould
Directed by Tilly Branson

Leila Sykes and Matthew Biddulph in Think of England, credit of Ali Wright

Photography by Ali Wright

 

Based on a real-life WW2 scandal, audiences become part of a crowd sheltering from the Blitz and meet a pair of women who set up a tea dance to raise moral. When some Canadian pilots join the fun, they threaten to uncover some dangerous secrets.

This show is brilliant. It’s delightful and charming, and oh boy it is fun! A powerful and moving drama, with playful characters and joyful air, it entertains and scandalises.

The cast are just wonderful. Special mentions to the boisterous and irreverent Madeline Gould (Vera), who welcomes you into the world of the show with a roguish smile and a sly wink, and to the utterly lovable and lovelorn Stefan Menaul as Cpl. Frank Lamb – whom you spent most of the show trying not to run up and cuddle.

Leila Sykes gives a subtle and heartfelt Bette across from the slime-ball that is Pip Brignall’s Lt. Tom Gagnon, who makes a wonderful and cynical antagonist, vying with Matthew Biddulph’s charismatic Lt. Bill Dunne to be top dog.

They’re deeply empathetic characters, perfectly portrayed and wittily written. A big congrats to the cast, they really bring this show alive.

Leila Sykes and Madeline Gould in Think of England, credit of Ali Wright (2)
It really is superbly playful, and hearing bombs drop and giggling together at the repartee and love triangles, I began to feel an odd sense of community with my fellow patrons, as we all smiled sheepishly at each other in an impromptu jive lesson and take part in the raffle where you stand the chance of winning the luxurious prize of two fresh eggs.

This is all wonderfully balanced with the well-acted and fiery drama that unfolds before you.

The Vaults is a perfect venue. Though the acoustics occasionally aren’t kind and some of the pacing could be tighter, the cavernous and dripping hall sucks you into the world of the play before spiting you out the other side touched and grinning from ear to ear.

 

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)

Tickets

Monster, Worklight Theatre @ The Vaults

24 – 28 January, 2018

Written & performed by Joe Sellman-Leavas
Directed by Yaz Al-Shaater

Joe-Sellman-Leava-Monster-Supporting-Image-06-1917x1280

 

Worklight Theatre are an internationally acclaimed theatre company formed in 2011 who focus on contemporary social issues. The company rose to success with there previous show Labels, a show exploring identity which won the VAULT Festival 2017 award.

Worklight’s latest show Monster explores violence and masculinity and questions what happens when the monster that lies within us escapes. Performed and written by Joe Sellman Leava and directed by Yaz Al-Shaanter.

Joe Sellman-Leava is a captivating performer, his intelligent energy is infectious. A very good storyteller, he has a unique style in the way which he tells emotional and personal stories. Sellman-Leava has incredible charisma, the audience like him and feel empathy for his character.

The performer multi-roled the different characters in the story, which created some funny moments. However, there wasn’t much physical change between the characters which would have added to the performance.

A unique show well-worth seeing at the VAULT Festival or catching on tour later this year. The audience left with the curious line: ‘some of the story is true and some of it isn’t and I’m not going to tell you which is which’, leaving us to questioning which is which.

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)

Tickets

Becoming Shades, Chivaree Circus/Upstage Creative @ The Vaults

24 January – 18 March, 2018

Directed by Laurane Marchive

Becoming Shades at VAULT Festival 2018 (courtesy Maximilian Webster) 2

Photography by Maximilian Webster

 

In the echoing bowls of the Vaults, with dripping walls and shadowy figures, the memory of the Goddess Persephone lives on in flashes of retelling. Chivaree Circus and Upstage Creative have created an incredible evening of entertainment.

If you’ve never been to the Vaults or it’s festival, I thoroughly recommend this show as a first experience of it, and hope it leads you to the other shows this extraordinary venue has to offer.

There’s almost no dialogue. It’s a retelling of the Persephone & Hades myth story through circus, movement and music. The show is all about atmosphere and is a showcase for the unbelievable talent of the performers.

The aerials and pole dance are just stunning to watch, and oh my god they are good. The grace of the performers is hard to overstate. You watch in open-mouthed wonderment, in awe of the human body and what it’s capable of.

The music by Sam West performed with Becks Johnstone is haunting and gorgeous, and I wish there was a full album available for purchase, so I could tell you to buy it.

On the subject of atmosphere, the design is wonderful. Lights, music, costume and performance are pitch perfect. Charon, the ferryman to the underworld looks like if something from Star Wars read H.P. Lovecraft. It’s creepy and engrossing, and it transports you.

The immersive elements of the piece are more to enhance atmosphere that to provide actual interaction with the characters and events in the play. Still, it works, and the use of the space is clever and dynamic.

A major downfall is that it’s not the clearest retelling of Persephone. The individual acts are connected more my theme and setting than the plot. Some of my fellow audience members were baffled as to what was going on, though still awed and entertained. It’s not particularly kind in leading one through the events of the narrative, and the lack of dialogue doesn’t help.  So, if you don’t know the myth, I’d recommend this as some prior reading.

In a show like this, the plot isn’t really the point though. The point is having your mind blown. So, grab a ticket, and go get your mind blown.

 

 

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star HALF 2

Tickets

 

The Crystal Egg, Old Lamp Entertainment @ The Vaults

6 – 13 January

Based on a story by H. G. Wells
Directed by Elif Knight
Adapted by Mike Archer
Produced by Luisa Guerreiro, Rebekah Harvey, Mike Archer & Old Lamp Entertainment

Miryana Ivanova 1

Photos by Miryana Ivanova

In this chilling adaption of the H. G. Wells’ short story, the author is confronted by a man with a strange story to tell, a tragic and twisted tale that spawns from the inheritance of a seemingly innocent crystal egg.

The short story from the mind behind The War of the Worlds and the Invisible Man is a brilliant one, and the adaption is wonderfully staged. Walking down the long corridor entrance in the Vaults is like strolling back in time, suddenly you’re being jovially greeted by a plodding copper or being bustled by woman in a 19th century dress, and from there you’re seamlessly plunged down the rabbit hole. The immersive elements are wonderful, you’re beckoned into their world and the actors do a fantastic job in making you feel involved.

Alas, this lasts all too briefly and as more of an introduction to the main meat of the show which is more classically staged, albeit with incredibly elaborate set and multimedia design work. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the elaborate set and design work, but it felt like a missed opportunity after the ensemble was so well introduced to have them so thoroughly snatched away.

The show was still immensely entertaining, the story is gripping vintage sci-fi, and the performers are an utter pleasure to watch. Desmond Carney (the woe-begotten Charley Wace), Edwin Flay (H. G. Wells), and Mark Parsons (Mr Cave) all bring powerful, characterful and earnest performances.

The same can be said about Jessica Boyde (Mrs Cave) and Carolina Main (Ann-Jacoby), while Vincent La Torre gives a particularly memorable and charismatic performance as the mysterious foreigner Bosso-Kuni.

The shows intensity is a problem. It occasionally encounters the trap that most dark work has, and the unrelenting grimness can lose its edge and become a grind. As Cave’s madness grows we are given little respite or change in dynamic within the slow decent. Parsons’ performance is convincing, nuanced and likable (at least at first). However, the madness began to drag for me. I found myself impatient for the next plot point, perhaps a problem that might be expected when expanding a short story to a full-length show.

It didn’t help that the chair I sat on was not kind to me. To future viewers, see if you can find one with a cushion!

All in all though, I thought it was bloody terrific.

A wonderful first show of my 2018, and worth seeing!

 

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)

Tickets