TRICKY: BABY REINDEER @ BUSH THEATRE

THEATRE/PERFORMANCE

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Unsparing, unflinching, this 70-minute monologue by performer Richard Gadd about his experience with a female stalker operates almost continually at a fevered pitch of hysteria and intensity, an attempt each night at exorcism of an exhaustively troublesome and emotionally draining situation. Gadd acknowledges his own collusion in creating this circumstance: a particular boredom in his bartending gig between theatre work, a performer’s need for and indulgence in attention, his own vanity and libido, all conspired in an initial flirtation with an older woman one evening who seemed in distress, Gadd’s sympathy and compassion (which were no doubt genuine and a part of the dynamic)  taken out of proportion, encouraging a dysfunctional attraction.

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Naively, perhaps callously, Gadd did not recognise a damaged individual until too late. Martha, as she is called (Gadd fluidly uses a chair to represent her onstage) mounts a spiralling campaign of sexualised communication, from emails to voicemails to personal encounters. When finally rebuffed by Gadd, a true vocal and verbal assault commences, leading to police involvement. Gadd’s parents and partner become collateral damage, subject to their own unwarranted interactions with Martha. The ubiquity of Martha’s harassment is made discordantly and distressingly clear by the sound and visual design, which crescendo to create an aural and visual crush, very nearly driving each member of the audience from their seat in nervous dread (over a three-year period, Martha left 41,000 emails in Gadd’s inbox).

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In the material is a ruthless honesty and candour, Gadd very willingly exposing his own failings and weaknesses, the run of bad choices that may have exacerbated the state of affairs (Gadd’s previous show explored his grooming and sexual abuse by an older male, so he clearly mines the uncomfortable, uncompromising facts of his own life). Sweaty, breathless, conflicted, this confessional unfolds almost as therapy session, the audience riveted and alarmed. So immediate and raw is the feeling, Martha still out there, that resolution and healing still seem long out of reach-Gadd brings the reality close and straight into the theatre, Martha’s presence felt.

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The only aspect left unexplored is what does Gadd owe Martha now that he has made her the subject of a personal work, from which he is generating income? Does she have a right to share in profits? After (and despite) all the monstrous behaviour exhibited by Martha, the sheer ungenerous feelings she eventually unleashes in Gadd, a brief moment near the conclusion (involving the childhood toy from which the title of the piece is derived, also the endearment given to Gadd), brings to Martha a full, convulsive, devastatingly poignant humanity, exposing long-standing,  profoundly vulnerable unhappiness and despair that struck me to my core. Baby Reindeer runs through 9 November

Baby Reindeer

 

 

UNSOUND: COLONY SOUND-JONAH FREEMAN & JUSTIN LOWE @ MARLBOROUGH GALLERY

EXHIBITION

If you were to go strictly by the press release offered, this astonishingly detailed and mesmerisingly immersive piece, which takes a spectator through the eerie abandoned rooms of what appears to be a defunct research facility, the chilly and forbiddingly conceptual language might put all but the most ambitious off. Those who persevere will be treated to an environment evocatively pulsing with mystery and sheer strangeness, a low-level but sure sense of molecular dread beating at its heart. Painstakingly precise packaging at an inaugural storefront room promises gilded lifestyles for the users of the products, a clear capitalist link of self and worth to consumerism. Once inside the reception area, crossing into the bunker-like surroundings, time placement goes askew, a gloriously disorienting amalgamation of 70’s decor features and appliances, 3D printers, strip-lit, starkly dystopic sci-fi medical labs, a retro futurist melee, cries across centuries (a few images and objects recur through the spaces, useful as continuity). A traditional recording studio has suffered the debilitating effects of a fire, a dormitory bedroom is a nightmarish teenaged chaos of posters and cuttings and rumpled ephemera, a head shop for the inhabitants boasts narcotic supplements, crystals have colonised desktop computers and nearly every surface, a copper-plated room is devised to repel electromagnetic waves, a single machine remains ominously operative, sending and receiving data (or signals, perhaps?).As you move from room to room, troubling questions continually arise: was the evacuation of this center determined by its occupants’ own volition or mandatory due to external conditions? Was some research set loose within the walls leading to human extinction? A sinister, demonstrative event has most definitively come to pass. Was technology taken too far? If you peer closely enough, there are signs of distress in the structure’s ceiling and walls. It is possible to feel as if you are a later iteration of humankind who has happened upon an ancient, haunted institution. Freeman and Lowe work on the scale and scope of a film production, and this project is an absolutely transformative use of a space (if you have ever attended an exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery, you will be most shocked at the thorough modification), neo- writ large, a speculative distortion of mind. Colony Sound closed on 19 October

https://www.marlboroughgallery.com/exhibitions/colony-sound

TALES TOLD: TWO LADIES @ BRIDGE THEATRE & A VERY EXPENSIVE POISON @ OLD VIC

THEATRE

Two Ladies

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There are myriad interesting places for this study of two First Ladies sectioned to a drab conference room while their husbands argue a proper response to an act of aggression to go, yet not a one of them is exploited in the wan script provided by playwright Nancy Harris. The development that is offered is quite bizarrely melodramatic and, at first, self-defeating, leaving the two hard-working actors on stage to attempt to make credible the outrageous (yet even the tactic taken is not pursued with enough venomously feasible absurdity or black humour to justify its choice).

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Both characters (as well as a distracting and overbearing advisor) are given their speeches and reasons for their aggrieved states, all of which fall hollow on the ear with a bland convention and dearth of imagination. Much silly business with potential poison hidden behind a frivolous facade ensues, diverting attention from the much more interesting and complicated emotional crisis of two very capable and intelligent women sidelined by the powerful positions of their spouses, their voices unheard. The two women are clearly modelled on Brigitte Macron and Melania Trump, but only superficially so. Two Ladies continues at the Bridge through 26 Oct

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Two Ladies

A Very Expensive Poison

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Masterfully harnessing the breadth of conceptual and visual vocabulary uniquely available to theatre, this stark, almost forensic study of the Alexander Litvinenko radioactive poisoning murder pushes the material into the realm of the surreal, an acknowledgement of the absurd parameters and astonishing  madness of the real-life source material. Characters violate the fourth wall to directly address the audience or break out into song; large-scale puppets crash into scenes, a Putin facsimile camps it up as cartoon villain, madly stage-managing from the stalls; there is an imaginative use of accent to indicate differences between native tongue and second language. Elements of music hall, Punch-and-Judy, shadow play, pantomime, Brecht, Pinter, Sartre create a swirling, exciting theatrical mix.

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Amidst the confident affectation, Tom Brooke and Myanna Buring manage to create and sustain a gentle, human connection, suggesting a rich history of love and loyalty with economical means-without this clear emotional grounding, the approach (while stunningly designed and mounted-scene changes are especially, remarkably, efficient and impressive in expression of space) may have risked alienating attention. A goodly amount of recent Russian history is dispensed, the horrid fable of running afoul of an authoritarian regime, the deadly consequences for principled people who may seek to defy government decree, still relevant to this very moment (and beyond, no doubt). Anything but a dry history lesson, this is vital, explosive, engaged, instructive, politically angry (Britain-Theresa May, in particular-is not spared vitriol), firing on all levels-playwright Lucy Prebble works the potential of theatre to its very core. A Very Expensive Poison closed on 5 October

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