+/-HUMAN: ROUNDHOUSE

EXHIBITION 

With exquisitely (and inadvertently) lucky timing, I happened into this poetic interface with technology overseen by art collective Random International just as its central seven orbs left their respective perches within the hall’s recesses and began their whirring journey into the arena space of the Roundhouse, assembling into group formation above the heads and bodies of the spectators gathered in the open field below-I’ve never before been able to experience this storied space in such a way, unfettered and entirely open to wander the breadth of it. Immediately I had an image of Amy Adams in Arrival and her awed first encounter with an alien species, a linguist attempting to discover a means by which to decipher and understand a foreign tongue. The flicker of wonder at the presence of an exotic creature continually plays on the senses. Even as your intellect rationally resolves the spheres into programmed rubber balls with a series of tiny protuberant fans holding them aloft, the imagination persists in assigning them personality-at times merciless and menacing collectives of gang mentality forming circles that hover low over the audience members (nearly entrapping certain individuals, almost with malicious intent) or suspended in coiled vertical arrangement as if about to strike, at others benevolent and curious creatures that occasionally break off from the flock for a thoughtful mosey-  through the length of the piece you can never be sure of what the spheres are capable, how self-aware they may be, the ways in which they may be tracking individual movement from the viewers. All is choreographed to an ambient soundtrack, itself composed of movements that pulse nimbly between the serene and the perturbable. Encompassing all the complexities and anxieties of a human relationship to technology- the playful and the uncertain, the dread that it will soon be beyond our grasp to comprehend and control-this is a stunning, impressive display of design and imagination, lodging profoundly in the viewer. Bookings are a half-hour in length, although I wasn’t hurried out; spending too long a time may diminish and limit the effect, as a certain repetitiveness in movement is conspicuous the longer you remain-there seems to be only so many variations that can be encoded by the programmers. Friday and Saturday nights feature an original dance piece choreographed by celebrated figure Wayne McGregor, in which his troupe moves amongst and with the globes. +/-Human runs through 28 August

http://www.roundhouse.org.uk/whats-on/2017/wayne-mcgregors-human/

 

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IN THE DARK: WALALA X PLAY AT NOW GALLERY

EXHIBITION 

I believe I may have just experienced the apotheosis of the banality of selfie culture, a work the purpose of which seemingly aspires to be nothing more than an object to photograph, a playground as backdrop for Instagram and Facebook images to invoke the envy of friends and followers. As I walked the colourful corridors of this “immersive” environment I could sense no deeper meaning or impulse than a chance to impress people for the brief time it takes to click through an account. The product of digital print designer Camille Walala, the piece is meant to be an experiment in colour, pattern and scale, the ways in which these design features interact with the senses-pathways open spaciously, or suddenly constrict, others entrap you in a room of reflective mirrors, the floor and walls are wrought in crazy, optically fecund geometric motifs and spills of polka dots . The impact of each, however, is limited and lessened by the placement of the installation against a continuous run of windows, from which the O2 arena plaza may be glimpsed, distracting the attention from the room, offering too much natural light and sense of bigger space around what should feel almost claustrophobic. The height of the walls varies, but never reach high enough to lose sense of the scene outside, although according to the gallery’s website, the way in which one travels throughout the exhibition is meant to mirror the area in which it is set, referencing the Greenwich Peninsula, the Thames and the building which hosts it, which seems a reach to me. Ultimately, the work doesn’t have the scale or significance alluded to in the gallery notes, and perhaps some of its formal qualities and complexities may benefit from a view from above (the mezzanine is open to the public at discretionary times, an offer of which I did not partake), but not much was revealing at ground level, although several visitors seemed to be exuberantly enjoying their time in the space snapping pictures and enthusiastically posing, so many a simple pleasure was to be had. The exhibition has proved so popular that visitors can access it only by booking a date and time online. Walala X Play runs through 24 September 

http://nowgallery.co.uk/exhibitions/walala-x-play/

 

LIFE OF THE PARTY: APOLOGIA AT TRAFALGAR STUDIOS

THEATRE 

Despite trafficking in the hoariest of theatrical cliches (the dinner party as catalyst for confrontational confession and revelation), this production of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s arguably uneasy script manages to mostly rise above mediocrity due to sharp, committed performances and the occasional (admittedly sharp and effective) barbed, brittle line delivered with swift and accurate thrust. Former 60’s era political pioneer and social conscious adherent Kristin (a warrior for feminist and civil rights causes), an eminent and formidable art historian celebrating both her birthday and release of a new memoir, awaits the arrival of her two sons and their partners, as well as her fellow protest colleague Hugh, a fairly old-school gay man whose sole function (until a welcome instance late in the second act) is for witty retort. No mention has been made in regards to her sons in the memoir, a point of contention which becomes rawer and more forceful as the play progresses, crescendoing into a critique of nothing less than Kristen’s (failed) role as mother and nurturer. At one stage she must listen to a sobering, woeful tale communicated by her broken son Simon of a night he was taken home by a stranger after being abandoned in a train station (the story precariously perched-somewhat flagrantly-on the precipice of abuse which never, thankfully, arrives). It’s clear that both Simon and his brother Peter, a more nominally secure and established banker, have been majorly distorted and damaged by this absence of the maternal figure. The script veers dangerously close to holding Kristen to some personal and cultural account-a stubborn impulse to punish her for the sin of choosing to fight for higher principles at the cost of her own children. The stage is alit with a mass of cross hatching of self-absorption and smug platitudes from all sides. It’s a highly complex and complicated subject to address, the script of which isn’t always as sophisticated or detailed enough to successfully master the task. Stockard Channing does her best to suggest the internal struggle and despair of Kristen, a woman aware of both the importance of fighting for her own causes, devoting herself to greater ideals, and the fallout of perhaps not giving her children the same attention. Laura Carmichael (leagues away from Downton Abbey’s prim Lady Edith) as Peter’s girlfriend Trudi, an incandescently sunny Christian from Minnesota, initially dim but gradually more and more a simple but smart rival (and ally) to Kristen, and Freema Agyeman as Simon’s vain but self-possessed soap actress partner, exist mostly as foils to Kristen to push conversation and issue, although both actresses transcend the schematic to breathe humanity into the parts, and Joseph Millson, without much noise and frill, successfully inhabits both sons, an odd but winning technical choice, creating an interesting dramatic continuity between the brothers, bonded as they are by their mutual experience. The sad fact is that if the play were about a patriarch who had similarly left his children in his spouse’s care and perhaps selfishly pursued his interests, we wouldn’t even by having the conversation (perhaps his children would indeed be enraged by and resentful of his choices, unresolved in development, but the father’s very role and being would not be questioned or denounced). We leave Kristen in a stricken, suspended state of alarm, which I’m not certain is entirely fair or earned, but sadly common. Apologia continues through 18 November

http://www.atgtickets.com/venues/trafalgar-studios/

WAKE UP CALL: DREAMERS AWAKE

EXHIBITION 

I had to visit this current show at White Cube Bermondsey for a second time just to find my bearings: featuring the work of over 50 artists (somewhere in the vicinity of 170 pieces situated throughout the gallery) in a variety of mediums-painting, video, sculpture, collage, photography-and even more variety in approach and style, an initial walk amongst the exhibition can be a fairly exhausting and dizzyingly assaultive experience. Perhaps a bit broadly structured under the rubric of surrealism, the material is exclusively that of female artists, spanning a great swathe of art history (the earliest work heralds from the 30’s and continues well into present day), including groundbreaking figures such as Lee Miller, Leonora Carrington and Claude Cahun (whose black and white photo studies of gender identity put the lie to this being a modern phenomena) to more contemporary landmarks as Tracy Emin (here represented by a series of pencil and paint drawings regarding a perilous, ambivalent relationship with the opposite sex, and facing the anxiety of pregnancy), Sarah Lucas and Mona Hatoum. Clearly it is the freedoms inherent in the surrealist discipline, the liberation of the unconscious that is so central a tenet of the movement, that is the impetus behind the particular moniker of this exhibition. In any case, the artists confront (sometimes abrasively, sometimes angrily, sometimes playfully, sometimes thoughtfully) the reductive quality of the male gaze-that fetishised attempt to break the whole into a simplistic set of parts (breast, genitalia), binding helplessly in a libidinously unfair objectivity-and seek to cultivate their own consciousness. An entire room is devoted to works trying to wrest back this enervating identity imagery and reclaim it powerfully (Mona Hatoum’s blunt Jardin Pubic, Helen Chadwick’s candid revelation of the urgent sexual underpinnings of matrimony in I Thee Wed, a wry use of bronzed cucumbers and fur rings to lay bare the reality, with one lone holdout). Louise Bourgeois’s dangerously keen, castrating blade is both rebuke and warning to perceived male domination. Kelly Akashi’s Well(-)Hung offers a series of bronzed hands gripping a ceiling-to-floor rope, impossible to determine whether smoothly ascending or trapped and permanently immobile. Shana Moulton’s My Life as an INFJ is a video projection of a woman who is temporarily confined within a shelving unit, for a brief spell assuming space as yet another inanimate bauble or decorative feature, while a spill of the objects (including her body parts) rains down in peaceful motion on an accompanying screen, all the objects in the projection also fully real and physically arranged on the gallery floor like artefacts, a personal excavation. Rachel Kneebone’s sculptures have an almost malefic thrust, a miasma of limbs and tortured tumescence, orgiastic distorted devastations. The slumped figures of Berlinde de Bruyckere speak to years of beleaguered and crushing condemnation, an open and vulnerable shell, all protective layer stripped away. But there’s hope and flush in the conspiratorial figures of Iraqi artist Hayv Kahraman (although the material is based in the horrors of honour killings and war displacement), the sense of women defying the forces that seek to break them down, cultivating ways in which to keep connected despite hostile exterior strife, and Japanese artist Tomoko Kashiki’s delicate, usually lone female figures (delivered in manga style) set against psychically barren, possibly treacherous landscapes manage to locate a spill of colour within their environment, an inviting, secret (forbidden) intrusion of life and energy into an imprisoned state. The exhibition may ultimately resist resolving itself into any sort of consistency or linearity, but it is well worth a visit: it is wide-ranging and all-encompassing enough that each viewer will find something of value or delight within it, and will no doubt discover a new favourite, and for this it performs a great service. Dreamers Awake continues at White Cube Bermondsey through 17 September

http://whitecube.com/exhibitions/dreamers_awake_bermondsey_2017/

 

TRUANCY: OUR LADIES OF PERPETUAL SUCCOUR

THEATRE 

A sextet of schoolgirls strides onto stage (in their school uniform best) and launch into a transformative choral piece by Felix Mendelssohn, soulful, pure; at its conclusion, with quite abrupt transfer of gears, the girls disencumber themselves of all social poise and grace, their conversation a torrent of expletives and candid sex references, their behaviour generally recalcitrant and rebellious (lighting up cigarettes, shifting into more revealing dress)- a maelstrom of teenage gobbiness. In Edinburgh overnight for a choir competition, the six young ladies, on the cusp of adulthood, are determined to go on the lash to experience the full dimension of freedom and independence, a sensibility the actresses attack with a full-throttle vibrancy and vividness with sustained energy through the course of the next hour and 45 minutes, an astonishing display of focus and intensity. With the exception of a three-piece band which accompanies the many moments of music performance, the actresses assume all other characters with whom they interact, including dubiously motivated middle-aged men, stern and matronly authority figures, sensitive boys, centering attention solely (and appropriately) on the core group of actresses. More personal interludes between the girls in which confessions are made and issues are discussed are gradually introduced as the play progresses, and although delivered as honestly as possible by the performers, narratively they feel more assigned than inhabited, a fairly generic assemblage of conditions and struggles that don’t dig deep enough into detail or substance to come specifically alive. The intention is to reach for the masses, thus a move towards a more authentic grit or danger in the material is eschewed, but forgivable. An older audience may know these familiar tropes, but for a contingent of audience perhaps new to theatre, enticed into a seat, this will be a revelation, to see the self embodied on stage, to witness female energy celebrated and unfettered-this could be the flashpoint at which theatre came alive as a medium, a lifetime commitment made, the moment cited later in life as the reason one fell in love with the possibilities of live theatre- certainly not an experience to be discounted to any degree. The frenetic may outweigh, ultimately, the more serene and thoughtful moments-on more than one occasion I felt the material drifted abrasively into the shrill-but it wisely and satisfactorily concludes with the most poignant, authentic and substantial moment of the entire play, a collective choral piece, a lovely, tenderly mournful rendition of Jimmy Cliff’s “One More River to Cross”, which manages to speak to both the passing of the youngsters’ childhood and the beautiful possibilities (and struggles) to come with the onset of adulthood, the girls held gently aloft on the delicate hovering melody, the audience similarly held in a shimmering melancholic thrall. Lee Hall (of Billy Elliott) fame adapted Alan Warner’s 1988 novel “The Sopranos” for this stage version-be prepared for curious choral renditions of several ELO standards, which the actresses tear into with guttural gusto and elan, kicking up quite a swell of spirit and bite. Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour books through 2 September at Duke of York’s

https://ourladiestheplay.co.uk/

 

CUE THE TRAGEDY: THE FERRYMAN

THEATRE 

No one can accuse playwright Jez Butterworth of a dearth of ambition; not content with the critical appraisal of his previous work Jerusalem as an era-defining play, he now labours to address the entire 20th century of Irish history in one family’s struggle. Despite this mammoth purview, this lengthy drama (3 and a half hours long) manages to keep its focus startlingly intimate, almost exclusively setting itself in the open kitchen space of a farmhouse in Armagh in 1981, the inhabitants locked in an unsteady peace as forces from both within and without gather force and drive to exploit and unleash buried conflicts and secrets. Before the eruption, a beautiful sense of the rough noise and clamour of extended familial life, the incessant energy and motion of several generations in perpetual flux, is precisely evoked. Patriarch Quinn Carney (portrayed by Paddy Considine as a tough, but tender, figure, still haunted by the disappearance of a brother years ago almost likely to be politically motivated) has taken in his sister-in-law Caitlin, a lively, forthright woman and her son, setting off an explosive reaction in his wife, an increasingly recessive figure in the household, constipated with resentment and hurt (there’s a scene near the start where the audience would be forgiven for misconstruing the relationship between Considine and Laura Donnelly as Caitlin, which Butterworth obviously intends). Grandma Maggie Far Away, in her luminous moments of lucidity, regales the children with spun tales of lost love and past glory, otherwise given over to sensing, with oracle-like agility, something dark stalking the horizon, crouching ever closer to the house. The announcement that a body has been recovered from the bog releases all manner of latent rage, violence and anger; young male members of the family begin a courtship with disruptive political factions, and Quinn is asked to pursue justice for his slain sibling-much ugliness will be coaxed out of many a person. Even given the march towards chaos, Butterworth is certain to splash a certain raucous and brittle humour into the mix, speaking to the character of the people and an indomitable spirit (who ever tires of the surprise and strange satisfaction of hearing a string of expletives tumble out of the mouth of babes and the elderly?). He is generous in scope, most of the actors on stage granted a moment in the spotlight, given quick and efficient dimension (a late scene between Quinn and his wife, all defences down, with a naked and precarious honesty in tow, is devastating in its regard of the sad moment of spousal demise). It’s bracing to see a show that is unafraid of hearkening back to the masters of complex, comprehensive theatre, the times of O’Neill, Miller, Williams, Ibsen, stalwarts of the unsparing, unspooling epic, works grappling with social issues and cultural upheavals. Butterworth suggests that when it came to the “troubles”, no family was safe, all were embroiled at some stage in its sweeping vortex, not one soul untouched. Its reverberations, distortions and sorrows continue to the present day, an enormous legacy of guilt and recrimination. This work embraces the lot of it. The Ferryman is booking until 8 January 2018

http://www.gielgudtheatre.co.uk/