Archive for August 18th, 2010

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The Museum of Us

Wednesday, 18 August, 2010

Recollections of Childhood

The Rosemary Branch Theatre, 14th August. 9pm (75 mins)

Childhood memories

The audience is led up the backstairs of the rustic pub to the c 80 seater theatre. Rows of comfortable cushioned seats line each side of the descending steps, the bottom of which is in line with the stage. This is an ideal layout for a theatre. Except when much of the action takes place when the actors are sitting down, which unfortunately means that the audience members in the back rows may have their view of the actors obscured by audience members in the front rows.

The stage is set with many props including large cardboard boxes and all sorts of other items which one may find stacked in an attic or cluttered room. At the back of the set is a hanging white sheet whose relevance becomes immediately evident as the c 10 – 15 minutes reel is projected onto it. The reel is made up of a series of photographs, drawings and film clips all set against a story being told by an old man’s voice and some music, the effect of which recalls fairytales of youth.

The three actresses pop out of boxes or from behind sheets once the scene has been set by the old man and film reel. The remainder of the play is set in this cluttered room over the 12 or so hours before the funeral of the fourth member of the childhood gang. The girls were childhood friends who have since gone their separate ways, and suddenly find themselves reunited by tragedy. Confining the girls to the room in which much of their childhood’s were played out results in much reminiscence and reversion to childhood.

The interactive nature of the performance continues throughout the play with much use being made of the projector, lighting and soundbytes, not without some technical issues. Audio clips from popular 90’s TV shows, films and music are used, perhaps excessively, many of which involve mimes being performed by the actresses using props plucked from the set. There is a fine line between theatrical or entertainment value in watching adults play children’s games and simply watching adults play star wars with torches. The concept is effective and entertaining, however perhaps slightly more moderation could have been employed.

Some themes bordered on cliché, covering abandonment as a child, dissatisfaction with adult life etc. The latter is somewhat rendered less effective by virtue of the fact that the girls appear to be in their 20’s and so arguably they cannot have too much to regret so early into adulthood

There was an element of audience interaction in that the audience was asked to fill in some sections of a scrapbook for use as a prop during the show. Additionally the audience were asked to wear illuminating star-shaped badges. This interaction is novel however not always necessary.

The idea behind the play is poignant and can be related to by most adults. Memories of childhood are strong and there is a natural tendency to revert particularly through sad occasions. This is played out well in the script and on stage. The acting from each of the three actresses is very strong. The jumping from laughter to grief is well portrayed and will ring true with any audience member who has experienced a funeral.

This young theatre company is inventive and refreshing in it’s advancement of interactive theatre. Integration of modern technology with the traditional art of storytelling through good scripts and strong, believable characters is not an easy marriage. This company will no doubt continue to produce interesting productions in future.

Cast: Madeleine Scott Cree – Roz. Helena Johnson – Harriet.  Kelly Russell – Lisa

Cast credits: Teresa Burns – Director.  Writers – Teresa Burns and Madeleine Scott Cree.  Producer – Jennifer Longdon.  Lighting – Sheena Khanna.  Sound – Stuart Mason.

www.onyourmarkstheatrecompany.com

(c) Leanne O’Loughlin 2010

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Jacobite Country, by Henry Adam

Wednesday, 18 August, 2010

Skilful, honest, amusing

Edinburgh ‘10 – Cow Barn, Udderbelly,  5th -30th   August, (15.50)

Jacobite Country

This new comedy drama production by Dogstar Theatre from Inverness deserves a large audience. The performing company of four very talented young women are a credit to theatre in Scotland.  The actresses bring this play to life with vigour. Energetically reaching into the auditorium without need for microphones or expensive staging, they co-create a strange world of cracked beings struggling to be recognised in the modern world. Are they patients or staff in a mental hospital? Are they living in their imaginations or telling us the truth about life, as they experience it?  The surreal and dingy set, effectively representing the various unkempt places the characters inhabit, will easily transfer to any village or town hall in Scotland.

Sarah Haworth, as Haggis McSporran is a joy to watch, exploring the edges of sanity necessary to become a Highland Comedian from ‘Jacobite Country’, rehearsing his stand –up act and engaging in rapid-fire conversation with a variety of ‘odd’ people who define his daily life. His comedy is anchored in the daily frustrations of being a person whose life experience is almost incomprehensible to “folk from the South “.

The playwright walks the boundaries of truth and bigotry with great elegance, giving Haggis McSporran a splendid comedy set which Sarah Haworth delivers with brio. She creates pathos by committing to Haggis’s enthusiasms and ingenuous questioning of his fellows when trying to work out what is truth and what is not.

Fiona Morrison plays Craitur Face with equal style and grace, physical agility and high speed delivery. This character is the philosopher in the mix, playing with notions of spiritual reality, freedom and positive thinking while bouncing around the set “ out of it “ on what-ever is available. The conversations between Haggis and Craitur Face are enormously energetic and engaging, humorous and full of meaningful content, appropriate to the condition of young people all over our country in rural areas.

Mairi Morrison is splendid in all her characters, playing Vernon, Eddy and Granny with a fine seriousness and comic talent. She creates lovely cameos moving in different rhythms, to counter-point the manic pair, giving them apparently solid outside reference points with which to relate as the story unfolds.

As Uncle Angus, Annie Grace is ever present upon the stage, once allowed out of the cupboard! Uncle Angus plays the Ulian Pipes from a wheelchair. Annie maintains a splendid stillness, plays beautifully and when Angus finally speaks many of the layers of mystery are woven together with great sanity, making us question any false conclusions to which we might have leapt.

The voices in this play are authentically Highland. If you are a Scot the high speed delivery will thrill you, since no quarter is given to those who ‘ cannot understand the accent’. Should you have little capacity for understanding Scottish voices you might be a little lost from time to time but the powerful physicality of the performances, the music and the surreal nature of the piece make this a minor difficulty to which you will soon adjust, swept along by the enthusiastic, skilful creation of a  world which defies solid definition.

Cast Credits: Annie Grace Actor, Fiona Morrison Actor, Mairi Morrison Actor, Sarah Haworth Actor

Company Credits: Artistic Director – Matthew Zajac, Artistic Director – Hamish MacDonald, Director Mathew Zajac, Assistant Director – Iain MacDonald, Playwright-Henry Adam, Technical Stage Manager- John Gordon, Sound design -Timothy Brinkhurst, Set and Costume Designer – Ulla Karisson, Lighting designer – John Gordon, Step Dance Instructor – Hugh Nicol, Live Music Arrangement – Annie Grace, Producer – Matthew Zajac, Production Manager – Shottto Bruce, Assistant Designer – Peggy Jones, Set Construction- Angus Dunn, General Manager – Catherine MacNeil, Press and Marketing- Liz Smith, Production Photography – Colin Campbell, Rehearsal Photography- Paul Campbell, Publicity Photography- Lawrence Winram, Publicity Design- Emma Quinn www.dogstartheatre.co.uk / www.edfringe.com/venues/udderbelly-s-pasture

( c ) Lilian Kennedy Brzoska 2010

reviewed Sunday 15th August ’10

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Stand-Up Showcase at the Hive

Wednesday, 18 August, 2010

Free Laughs

Edinburgh 2010 – Laughing Horse @ The Hive – 6-29 August – 20.45 (1.00)

The free comedy night takes place at The Hive – a multi-chambered venue which resides deep within the vaults under North Bridge and has now been converted into its present state as a bar/comedy club.  The show is an entirely free standup comedy night featuring a daily set list of performers.  The comedians perform a ten minute set each and are then given the opportunity to modestly plug their own full length shows.  The event is both organized as well presented by the charming, geek chic sporting Charlie Duncan.  He opened the show with what essentially was a pleasant little chat with the audience, offering them the chance to chat about their own shows.  After all, it is the fringe – a surreal event where you are never more than a stones throw away from at least twenty performers.  This does however open up a golden opportunity to all those intoxicated, attention-seeking individuals who regularly attend comedy nights.  The ones who sit right at the front, arms folded, staring down any performer foolish enough to attempt to entertain them.  Why do these people come to comedy nights if they don’t want to enjoy themselves?

As to be expected, the peanut gallery did not take long before making itself known.  The first guest performer Laura Carr didn’t even manage to get more than ten words out before getting heckled.  She handled it like a professional though and continued with her set, the majority of which consisted of adolescent anecdotes about her mother being a naturist.  A topic which starts off amusingly but unfortunately becomes quite tiresome rather quickly.  She then proceeded to ramble through a series of underdeveloped jokes which included defecating in Starbucks and masturbating to skins.  Now crudeness can be funny, but the majority of it unfortunately came across as crude for crudeness sake.

The next comic, Sy Thomas, started off slow as well.  He quickly found his footing however and warmed right up with jokes about the endlessly entertaining topic of public toilet tomfoolery.  Moving swiftly on, the show reached its peak by the time Rik Moore leapt onstage.  His material was slick and well rehearsed, and he fed the audience plenty of ever popular American jokes.

The show was closed by Nick Sun – a man who resembled Genghis Khan’s younger brother and spoke with a confusing Australian-Canadian accent, all of which he effectively uses to his benefit.  He continuously ridicules himself, adding a beautiful technique to the art of self deprecation.  His jokes, all of which seem to pertain to a somewhat depressing nature, are full of topical antidotes which successfully attempt to thrash you while you’re down…in the funniest way possible.

An entertaining hour of free comedy on the whole.  You’ll most definitely get your moneys worth.

Performance Credits: Charlie Duncan – (MC). Laura Carr – (Comedian). Sy Thomas – (Comedian). Rik Moore – (Comedian). Nick Sun – (Comedian).

(c) Carl Livesay

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You’re Not Like The Other Girls, Chrissy

Wednesday, 18 August, 2010

Courage under Fire

Edinburgh 10 – Pleasance Courtyard – 5-30 August­­ 2010 – 12.45 (1:00)

Caroline Horton as Chrissy

You’re Not Like The Other Girls Chrissy is a one-woman play which tugs on the heartstrings while telling a remarkable story of courage under fire.

Under the guise of the indomitable Chrissy, Caroline Horton recounts her beguiling tale of a Parisian who meets the love of her life during a trip to England in the 1930s.  She tells the story as she queues for a train ticket at the Gard Du Nord, a place which is to be pivotal at several points during the weaving plot.

A chance encounter at, of all places, Cheadle tennis club leads to a return visit to a festive Paris and, ultimately, a proposal of marriage from the lovestruck Cyril.  But when war is declared, the couple are forced apart.  Left to follow their own separate destinies, at times it seems that they are fated to never find true happiness.  A dramatic and daring return to Nazi-occupied Paris, following a period of voluntary exile as a governess, gives Chrissy renewed hope that her dream of a married life in England could still come true.

The production, which takes place in front of a large French flag, is simply staged but makes use of a number of intricate dioramas contained in suitcases carried by Chrissy at the start of the performance.  These self-contained worlds communicate everything from the Paris skyline to a BBC wartime radio studio and add an extra visual twist to the play.

Caroline Horton gives a tour de force performance as Chrissy, shifting through several emotional gears throughout the monologue.  With not a word out of place or a single hesitation she navigates the complex plot and a range of accents effortlessly.

The first third of the play, before the war, is played in a lightly comic way, with much of the humour stemming from Chrissy’s slightly confused English.  She describes herself “like a hot cat on a tin roof” or as “the cat with the cream and the knees of the bees”.  Her quite singular pursuit of her beloved Cyril is also rich with comic potential, in particular her courting of the slightly uptight English teacher in passionate Paris.

But the tone of the piece, and of Chrissy, quickly changes as France and Britain enter the war against the Nazis.  The description of life under enemy occupation is both affecting and fascinating and, while she remains sweet and likeable, she also develops a steely edge.  She is driven on through misfortune and hard times by the love she feels and a determination that all will be well in the end.  Every tarot card reading, telegram or item of news is seized upon as some cast-iron omen from the gods.

The end, when it comes, is given added resonance with a key revelation by the performer, putting everything that went before into sharp context.

Cast Credits: Caroline Horton – Chrissy.

Company Credits: Writer – Caroline Horton.  Producer – Ed Collier.  Co-directors – Omar Elerian and Daniel Goldman.  Dramaturg/Assistant Director – Clare Betney.  Lighting Designer – Ben Pacey.  Commissioned by: China Plate/Warwick Arts Centre/mac.

(c) David Hepburn 2010

Reviewed Thursday 12 August / Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, UK

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Consequences, by Duncan Battman

Wednesday, 18 August, 2010

Jigsaw puzzle murder

Edinburgh 10 – Sweet Grassmarket – 5-15 August­­ 2010 – 14.35 (1:10)

Consequences is an intriguing and thought-provoking play from writer Duncan Battman which stubbornly refuses to yield its secrets.

The occasionally darkly-comic drama opens with two policemen arriving at a house to discover the rotting body of an elderly man.  The younger policeman, Danny (Mark Butt), finds a suicide note in the fridge confessing to the murder of a prostitute – a crime which was attributed to a local man who later committed suicide in jail.  Alan (Martin Pritchard), Danny’s sergeant, was involved in the original case but insists that the procedure of the day was followed, much to the disgust of his younger colleague.

The story is taken up by the apparent murderer, a librarian called Norman (Tony Broughton), who appears on stage in a spotlight – an apparent ghost – who explains how he ingeniously hid the body and his need to “attempt to put things right” with his confession.

He is joined by the spirit of Cilla (Sarah Roberts), the dead prostitute, and they tell how the unlikely pair met when Cilla found refuge in Norman’s library, hiding from the drug dealers she owed money to.  Norman agrees to let her stay at his house, where he lives alone following his mother’s death a decade earlier, and their friendship begins to grow.  It is only whent they start to become close that the possible reasons behind Cilla’s grisly end begin to become apparent.

As this tale is told the action occasionally flits back to the policeman arguing over the morality of destroying the confession and the multiple victims of the crime.  Stark contrast is made between the modern police force and the way suspects were treated in the good/bad old days.

The writing is sparky and effortlessly moves between the two plots without ever becoming confusing.  Duncan Battman shows a fine ear for language, with natural and unforced making all the characters three-dimensional and absolutely believable.  There is not an ounce of flab in the whole performance – with each line advancing the story or the ongoing moral battles taking place withing the minds of the protagonists.

The cast are uniformly exemplary, but Tony Broughton stands out, instilling the spirit of Norman with great dignity, undertones of sadness and the occasional spark of menace.

The set is a simple affair, mocking up a kitchen where all the action takes place, while lighting is cleverly utilised to switch between the two levels of the story.

The conclusion of the play is somewhat sudden and leaves much unresolved but is no less satisfying for that. It is a jigsaw puzzle of a performance and it is satisfying to try to piece together all the possible conclusions.

Cast Credits: Tony Broughton – Norman.  Mark Butt – Danny.  Martin Pritchard – Alan.  Sarah Roberts – Cilla.

Company Credits: Writer – Duncan Battman.  Director – Mark Butt.  Assistant Director – Val Watkinson.

(c) David Hepburn 2010

Reviewed Friday 15 August / Sweet Grassmarket, Edinburgh, UK

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I Would that Your Dark Eyes Were Upon Me

Wednesday, 18 August, 2010

Ruthless, engaging, stylish

The Lion and Unicorn, 16 – 18 August, 9.30 (20 min)

Elina Akhmetova in an amazing piece of theatre

This physical theatre piece is set amongst some chairs in the simplest space possible. And yet in terms of impact, it is eerily – and wonderfully – effective. This could be the show of Camden Fringe this year. It was a privilege to witness such a committed performance.

The fact that it begins in total silence says something about intent. The fact that the first two characters to enter glide across the stage as though melded together says more. But is this intimidation or attraction? It seems to be both, and also part of a power struggle between the two, which has as one marker point in its development a place where the man is seized by the woman and carried away, upside down.

Gradually, a third character joins the man and the woman. The development of their elliptical relationship, to the point where she literally joins the two, to become a new kind of being, is the subject of the second part of this short but intense experience.

The silence is broken sometimes by brief snatches of song, by a heartbeat soundtrack and eventually and quite shockingly by voices.

But the effect of the piece of a whole is dramatic in every sense. The dancers flow into positions which never seem to be forced, and they demonstrate amazing capabilities – as when the man makes the woman fly – and if that implies that this is some kind of circus, it’s not – it’s compelling physical theatre.

The other members of the company are Kyoungee An and Hadleigh Harrison.

Apparently, this was a very late addition to the Camden Fringe programme (it just made it to the Camden Fringe website) and the organisers were worried about fitting a show as short as this one into the schedule. As it is, tickets were just a fiver (as opposed to the standard £7.50 price), but this was one of those shows where you just couldn’t equate the impact to the time spent delivering it. The whole thing was probably frighteningly energetic for the performers. Probably, beyond 20 minutes their ability to keep up the pace would have gone into sharp decline.

But the overall impression is one of style and impact; this could be the most intense twenty minutes you’ll ever spend in a theatre.

Performers: Elina Akhmetova, Kyounghee An, Hadleigh Harrison. Choreography – Elina Akhmetova; Lighting – Mikkel Svak

reviewed 17 August

(c) Michael Spring

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The Sharp Sisters

Wednesday, 18 August, 2010

A Museum of Curious Revelations

Etcetera Theatre, 16th-18th August 2010 (1 hour)

The Sharp Sisters

The Sharp Sisters are Alice Parsloe and Lesley Cook. They are joined by Romy Tennant and together, they present us with many curious characters.

The evening begins with the unveiling (literally) of the lady, who (for reasons which are to become obvious) would never allow her betrothed to kiss anything more than her hand. She’s followed by Rippling Rhona, who, despite her small stature, can rip books apart. (Just be sure not to make her angry!)

So far, it’s all amusing, but fairly standard stuff, and since the only props on the stage are a couple of curtains strung across dress racks and some additional clothes, you wonder how the evening is going to move on. But then, very suddenly and quite stylishly too, we’re behind the scenes, and all is not well in the Museum.

Threatened by political correctness, will the Museum survive? Will the new and slightly more raunchy acts secure the future of the freak show under another name? Can Rippling Rhona get to university? And will the lady with the cleaning fetish manage to impose order on her world?

These – and others – are the stories that gradually unravel throughout this fast-paced show with its myriad of costume changes, some dance, a very funny flash of neo-puppetry and some clever tricks of stagecraft. The players have a lot of presence throughout and have to cope with the fact that often just a change of hat and accent marks one character out from another, but that too is done with panache. Each character manages to appear as fairly sharply delineated, which itself is a testimony to the collective performers.

This is a production which has clearly been worked over for some time. It is played with a lot of energy and, despite the small space and the limited time available for costume changes, it is very slick indeed.

As for the comedy, it more often consists of gentle smile stuff, rather than things to laugh out loud at, but its impossible not to feel some genuine affection for these characters and the players who bring them to life.

http://shambolic.weebly.com/

Cast: Lesley Cook – Ethel Sharp/Rhona/Deirdre; Alice Parsloe – Sybil Sharp/Domestic Goddess/Tessa/ Protestor; Romy Tennant – Wilma/Bernie/Bloody Mary

Crew: Artistic consultants – Clare Lindsay and Sarah Marks; Lighting – Heather Rose; Sound – Jayne Allen; Stage Manager – Kate Reaney

reviewed 17 August

(c) Michael Spring 2010

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Teakshow’s Twisted Sketches

Wednesday, 18 August, 2010

A frenetic 45 minutes

Leicester Square Theatre, 28 and 29 July, 16 and 17th August

It is always good to watch comedians who know what they’re doing. Teakshow’s Twisted Sketches at the Leicester Square Theatre as part of the London Fringe Festival is a lesson in competence, professionalism comic timing and how to make an audience laugh out loud at things that they just shouldn’t.

Jackie Stirling and Johnny Hansler

In a frenetic forty five minutes, Jonathan Hansler and Jackie Stirling take every single cliché in the book, from bird fanciers (literally) to incompetent policemen through to characters stuck in a Noel Coward limbo and robot love machines, and they make them funny.  From the moment they scream Cockney insults at each other then swan on stage announcing sweetly  ‘Hello we’re Londoners,’ you know you’re in for a good time. Taking as their starting point the ‘inner nutter,’ they reel through a variety of sketches with minimal props and maximum energy, sometimes becoming near hysterical in their attempt to woo the audience, but without ever losing pace or focus.

With her deep voice and corkscrew curls, Jackie Stirling comes alive as a hairdresser obsessed with bald patches, cheerfully molesting one particularly verbose audience member and silencing him with her chest. Jonathan Hansler likewise delves amongst the spectators to find himself a girlfriend, to dance on chairs and to wave his flashing dingle. His Bill Sykes, demanding if anyone has seen a ‘fictional Victorian dog’ and explaining how he had to kill Nancy because of her singing, is balanced by the Hampstead policeman who refuses to go to any proper crime and an aristocrat of the 1930s who longs to say rude words. When his cigarette holder disappears, he cheerfully replaces it with a screwdriver as Stirling peers wistfully into the distance.

‘This isn’t porn, it’s an avian snuff movie,’ cries a guilt ridden owl lover.

‘I listen to you, I’ve got tits, I even bought you a drink,’ wails a woman desperate for a boyfriend.

Lines such as these could so easily fall flat. Here they simply don’t, thanks to the mad yet beautifully controlled delivery of the performers.

It’s silly, straight to the point and well executed humour with not a dull moment in sight.

Performers: Jonathan Hansler, Jackie Stirling

Directed by Maggie Inchley

Writers: Jules Bower, Stuart Cooper, Stephen Dinsdale, Chris Perera, Jane Perrin, Griff Phillips, Dan Sweryt, Peter Vincent

Reviewed 16th August 2010

(c) Philippa Tatham 2010