Babushka: Troupe Theatre

Thursday, 8 September, 2011

50 minute storytelling masterclass

Babushka begins with the company playing an amateur group making a halting start. The leader of the band that accompanies the next hour’s performance (who goes by the name Justine, played by Jeff Carpenter), has just cast shadows through a screen backed by a projector whilst flailing and writhing with perfect Kate Bush flair to a recording of her bubbling, playful surreal tale of a woman’s jealousy, Babushka. The musicians settle into an ongoing soundtrack of folk music played on violin, cello and piano that wavers between whimsical and compelling. There is quick-paced narrative action to a sombre lullaby of heartbreak, and at those moments of heartbreak that the story reveals, this work is far from that of amateurs.

The set is comprised of seemingly useless bits and bobs which get thrown into convenience when the storyline demands it. This gives the impression of something cobbled together, with whimsical creativity. This approach did  not only add to the richly textured aesthetic  helped along by costume, lighting and colour design, but it also added perspective to the deprived social situation of Babushka. Her house is a simple wooden frame with a window seat, the flickering of a fire marked by Lucie Shorthouse’s fingers dancing before a footlight.

The four narrators, played by Katherine Jack, George Potts, Deli Segal and Lucie Shorthouse step up and begin to tell the tale of Babushka. They are bold and warm, bringing out with exquisite emotional depth the old woman’s situation. The ensemble’s narration never ventures to the sentimental side of storytelling nor do these young performers assume a detached role. In a piece of storytelling such as this it is the narration that can either enthral an audience or leave them high and dry and confused. Troupe Theatre executed the perfect balance of  storytelling  technique with performances that do the engaging tale all the justice in the world. No stone is left unturned when it comes to setting the scene with effortless aplomb. Not only are these four narrators well rehearsed and seamlessly choreographed, they express moments of great intuition. If a prop is dropped or a skirt caught they are there to react, either vocally or physically with all the skill of a bunch of naturals.

Sophie Crawford cuts an impressive figure as the ageing Babushka; she rarely speaks and when she does it is in lilting Russian accent tinged with the yearning and sadness that surround her character.  Sophie Crawford managed to embody all the physicality of this old Muscovite, as she arches her back and hobbles through the museum where she works, yet lends an energy and earnest quality to the role that only helps her audience follow her plight with such emotional investment.

Troupe Theatre have provided a flawless master class in storytelling in fifty minutes that seem to fly by. This is genre that is proving ever popular amongst the performing community of the Fringe but is by no means easily achieved. This is slick narration and a sparkling, unique story with characters that could have been plucked from a Nikolai Gogol short story. This devised piece  assumes a capricious, humble charm that by no means condescends or sneers, instead beckoning its audience into an extraordinary word that makes for essential viewing and listening.

Performed By Sophie Crawford, Katherine Jack, George Potts, Deli Segal, Lucie Shorthouse, Jeff Carpenter

Directed by Andrew Brock; Assistant Director – Tamara Astor; Musical Director and Composer – Jeff Carpenter; Producers and Stage Managers – Katie Lam and Hannah Laurence; Technical Director – Matt Jarvis.  Devised by Troupe Theatre Company with  Associate Writer – Phoebe Biddulph

(c) Alexandra Kavanagh 2011



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