Archive for August 5th, 2010

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It Is Rocket Science

Thursday, 5 August, 2010

Verdict: Onward to Mars

London – Etcetera Theatre – 3 August 2010 – 21.00 (1:00)

Helen Keen with some of her props

Helen Keen is an engaging character, a self-deprecating thirty-something who lives in a converted garage in Ruislip, she’s not quite living the 21st Century, city bachelorette lifestyle that she might have imagined for herself. Nothing too dramatically different there perhaps, but her show, called It Is Rocket Science allows her to talk – very entertainingly – about herself and her background, as well as about her fascination with space and space exploration.

It has to be done with a certain style of course, and this tour of the universe takes place with a number of charming, but not too polished props that allow her to demonstrate the quirkiness of this area of scientific endeavour.

Perhaps every area of science has its weirdnesses, but the fact that America finally put a man on the moon owing largely to an uneasy collaboration between a Nazi and a satanist is just one of the facts that Helen Keen brings into the open.

There are a lot of other such coincidences and accidents of fate along the way.

For this show to succeed, it needs some audience participation and Helen Keen certainly got a lot of it (perhaps a little too much?), the audience fully engaging with a need for someone to adopt the character of Patrick Moore (and to read nuggets of wisdom from one of his books on space), as well as to take on new characters and nationalities for their part in this light-hearted evening.

One of the key props is a tinfoil-covered rocket shape, which includes a screen through which Miriam (no second name given) projects some simple but wonderful shadow-shapes in the best tradition of children’s television or perhaps the booth at the village fete. It is all very charming and gently funny.

There’s also a lot about the pioneers who first envisaged, then calculated, then made a reality of space travel. She brings their stories to life in a fusion of stand-up comedy and light-hearted descriptions of the characters and accidents that surround man’s attempt to break free from the planet.

Cast Credits: Performer – Helen Keen; Shadow puppets – Miriam

Reviewed 3 August 2010

(c) Michael Spring

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The Twenty-Minute Policy

Thursday, 5 August, 2010

Verdict: Divergent views

London – Etcetera Theatre – 3 August 2010 – 19:30 (1:00)

There are three tables and three chairs. It’s reminiscent of the exam room at school, but it’s not. This play is set in a nameless institution where two women, deprived of liberty, are awaiting the arrival of their visitors.

Tess and Lisa

Strangers meet in The Twenty Minute Policy

World-weary Tess (Charlotte Sutherland) sits at an adjacent table to the passive, slightly bovine Lisa (Gigi Burdorf). Tess is as taut as piano strings, playing a frenetic spoilt brat (her visitor, her father is never late, she tells us) with a gift for irony. Lisa who wants nothing more than to have a chat and get on with people,  is awaiting the arrival of her sister.

The unseen presence throughout the play however, is ‘The Book’. The Book contains the rules of the institution, which include (of course), the twenty-minute policy that gives the play its title. Something though, seems to have gone wrong, The Book and its rules and regulations seem not to be working. And so Tess (who is determined to push the rules to the limit) and Lisa (whose existence almost depends on the rules) each try to undermine each other’s comfort zone.

There are some sharp lines and clever writing here, and the thing is played fast, Tess often clipping over Lisa’s responses. There’s a lot of wit on show too, but it often hovers around the sitcom level, rather than really probing deeper.

Even when the hapless Andrew (David Swain) arrives, an employee of the institution looking for somewhere quiet to eat his lunch, things don’t get too much clearer. The rules aren’t quite rules, it seems. It’s almost as though writer Trent Burton is telling us that nothing ever does get resolved, no prejudices can quite be undermined by argument. We believe what we want to believe.

Having said all that, this was an enjoyable production, marked by some concentrated performances from the chief protagonists and directed with some wit by Melinda Burton. David Swain too, wrings every ounce of presence out of his diffident and put-upon character. Tiffany Hudson, responsible for sound and lighting, will have had a busy night – every so often mysterious doors clang shut somewhere and a choir sings. More mystery, never quite resolved.

Reason and belief, rules and logic are the subjects of this play, which often flirts with territory that might well have yielded more momentous and thought-provoking conclusions. Instead, it opts for comedy, rather than anything darker, despite the potential of some well-drawn characters.

Cast Credits: Lisa – Gigi Burdorf; Tess – Charlotte Sutherland; Andrew – David Swain

Company Credits: Writer/producer – Trent Burton. Director – Melinda Burton. Sound and lighting – Tiffany Hudson.

Reviewed 3 August 2010

(c) Michael Spring