HOMOS, OR EVERYONE IN AMERICA@FINBOROUGH THEATRE

THEATRE 

Credit What’s on Stage

 

As soon as the central characters, abstractly identified only as the Writer and the Academic, begin their conversational interaction, it’s clear that we are firmly in the New York intellectual vernacular of a Tony Kushner (Angels in America) or Larry Kramer (The Normal Heart). Dialogue is hyper-articulate and obsessively, sensationally self-absorbed and theoretical-the couple speak at, through and over each other in a heat of verbiage.  Credit actors Tyrone Huntley and Harry McIntyre for locating the human beings inside the loquacious and fulsome spillage of words, often suggesting the torrent of combative words as protective shields from having to stand naked and vulnerable in front of one another, deflecting the candid glare of simple honesty.

Credit The Art’s Desk

Something truthful in the relationship, perhaps what is revealed in bodily behaviour and glance, speaks more directly than the dazzlingly distracting and disorienting wordplay. By the closing moments of this one hour and forty-five minute production (without interval) detailing five fraught years in the relationship between these two men, from initial meeting to flowering connection to deep intimacy to eventual break-up, and finally tender reconciliation, there exists a real potent poignancy in the encounters (and McIntyre delivers a real emotional belter on the sales floor of a Lush shop, the ample bath bombs of which occupy three wooden units on stage, contributing a cloyingly heady scent to the room).

Credit What’s on Stage

The characters enact a fragmented, constantly time-shifting structural exploration of the relationship, key moments circulating, deepening as more information and history is accrued and revealed, as affairs both public and personal rage around them (many of which are catalyst for major arguments-race, politics, gentrification, media studies, art, gay rights, drugs, sexual experimentation). The device of “rewinding” backwards and forwards, the actors shifting like tape loops, is not always the sharpest transitional choice. The audience is sat in the round, in very close proximity to the performers (occasionally, one of the characters may suddenly occupy space right next to you), for a proper intimate connection to this particularly insular pairing.

Credit Finborough Theatre

Action takes place on a stretch of sand, a charged metaphor for the uneven and slippery surface upon which the relationship is found, the warp and weave of personal anxiety and paranoia continually destabilising the concrete, the solid. Apparently, and with brazen-at times unwieldy-ambition, playwright Jordan Seavey seems to want to declare his work as a bold, big statement of the American character, encompassing the pressures and stresses upon love and life-cultural, social, political-of the last few decades, a responsibility that at times is unfair to ask of this brief and small-scaled piece.

Credit Evening Standard

But he must be admired for the effort, and for the amount of time he draws close to his intentions, robust and arresting ideas spinning out continuously line after line. Yet crucially, the performers tame the dialogue, preventing it from freezing over into the purely analytical. Homos, or Everyone in America continues through 1 September

https://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2018/homos.php?spektrix_bounce=true

 

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TELLING TALES-GDIF 2018

THEATRE/PERFORMANCE 

This showcase of street theatre (staged over the course of two weekends, the first in Greenwich with the stunning backdrop of the Cutty Sark and the Old Royal Naval College, the second amongst the concrete canyons of Canary Wharf) continues to be one of my most anticipated events of the year, never failing to ignite my senses. Although this year collectively the pieces didn’t register as strongly in either narrative or artistic content, the overall skill of the performers remains peerless, and there were plenty of highlights. The consummate act of this year’s programme was the Finnish trio Race Horse Company, whose Motosikai is a marvel of acrobatic clowning that builds thrillingly to ever-more outrageous and jaw-dropping antics, utilising such props as axes, bowling balls, skis and stone planks, as well as being a complex of potentially dangerous feats of tumbling and jumping, in which the physical boundaries of the performers’ bodies are pushed to the limit. Sorriso, a sweet, wistful, beautifully costumed tale of a love transcending the grave, performed on stilts (which grants movement an apropos otherworld quality) squanders much of its poignancy on ill-advised audience participation which detracts from the essential intimacy of the central couple. La Belle Escabelle is a lighthearted bit of choreography between two men and a series of stepladders, each move one of escalating intricacy and daring that eventually challenges the core strength of one performer in a climactic, bravura sequence.

Canary Wharf offered more traditional dance, the pinnacle of which was Nomadis, featuring a sinuously hypnotic fluency of movement between its two performers, in flawless sync with one another, two strangers drawn magnetically into the other’s orbit. Bolero stressed the strain and intensity of the central couple’s exertions, the physical exhaustion and grave focus, the grind and demand. Consequencies, with its manic motion, dancers colliding and falling-and occasionally walking over one another-jovially explored being out of step. Gibbon’s dancer/juggler duo suffered a bit in the afternoon heat, sweaty hands defeating precision, but their good nature and easy camaraderie softened the imperfection, and they were able to create moments of poetic movement despite setback (the heightened ambition of many of the manoeuvres is so mind-boggling that achievement of even half of them is still impressive). 

Even the works that are not entirely successful will most likely offer a memorable moment or image-such is the breadth of what is on view. Bring on next year!

Please visit my Instagram account for video footage from the event-still images, of course, can’t quite provide the proper perspective.

https://festival.org/gdif-2018/whats-on/

TOXIC: THEATRE REVIEWS

THEATRE

Mood Music @ The Old Vic 

Credit thestage

Under a canopy of microphones, like an omnipotent garden of confessional devices, an unscrupulous record producer and his new protege (a young female singer with whom he has collaborated on a wildly successful single) descend into rancour and antipathy over intellectual property rights and psychological abuse. Structured as a series of three simultaneous conversations-legal, therapeutic, personal, occasionally overlapping-the play explores, somewhat schematically, the nature of the artist (the ways in which narcissism shading off into sociopathy may be excused due to talent), deceptive legal manoeuvrings, the politics of ownership of a shared piece of work , the pressures and liabilities of partnership, venomous power dynamics cut along gender and generational lines.

Credit the stage

Ben Chaplin is charismatically  dissolute and grungy as the wholly self-absorbed producer, coasting on a nonchalant egomania that helplessly pulls otherwise smart, savvy people into its vortex, and Seana  Kerslake is emotionally raw and wounded as the young artist experiencing her first professional betrayal (reeling still from her father’s early passing).

Credit oldvictheatre

The other actors (the respective lawyers and therapists) unfortunately exist only as sounding boards and contrivances to pose the script’s conceptual inquiries, not allowed to exist much beyond the surface-if writer Joe Penhall had found a way to dramatise the issues solely as an  assiduous byproduct of the argumentative, calloused relationship between the two leads, had them battle through their words and actions, the play would have really crackled and felt much more immediate, shaking off the rather stodgy approach, which continually interrupts the vigour with a lethargic, staid sense of the academic. Mood Music continues through 16 June

https://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2018/mood-music/cast

Teddy @ The Vaults Waterloo 

Credit londontheatre

This original musical details the youth rebellion (and revolution) following the austerity and deprivation of World War II, whereupon the dark and damaged facade of Britain rose a new generation full of swagger and cool (the Teddys) with their own lexicon, their own rituals of wardrobe and behaviour-as in America, here was the start of the rock-‘n-roll era. Writer Tristan Bernays isn’t interested in presenting his material as a history lesson, instead revealing the parameters of this burgeoning lifestyle in the blooming love affair between the lead boy and girl, following them from their respective preparations for a night out on the town, their strategies for negotiating their way around disapproving parents, their troubled acquisitions of funds, their furtive movements around neighbourhoods where police prowl and enemies lay in wait and, finally, in a club where they first notice one another, revealing  their mutual passion for the American teen idol Johnny Valentine, playing a secret gig at a grotty club in Elephant & Castle that very evening.

Credit mytheatremates

Molly Chesworth and George Parker work furiously in the lead roles, Chesworth all hard edges and grand detachment, Parker confident and cocksure, both vulnerable beneath the bluff (and each inhabiting a host of supporting characters skilfully). By the end of the show, both are drenched in sweat at the effort. From the moment an audience member walks into the space, Max Dorey’s set design is already registering, the whole of the theatre resembling a bombed-out area, full of detritus and crumbled material, dense fog lingering. A quartet of spirited and lively musicians, each with a distinct character arc, portray Johnny and his band, essentially playing an ongoing gig throughout the length of the play (a mix of original tunes in the style of the 50’s and a few standards).

Credit britishtheatre

Bernays has his lead characters speak in rhyming couplets much of the play, mostly in their private musings, which is a poetic device that doesn’t always work seamlessly (oftentimes it calls too much attention to itself), and there are a few unfortunate developments, the material trending darker as the play progresses, that aren’t in keeping with the generally upbeat nature of the majority of the show (the storylines feel ill-suited and inconsistent). There’s a curious punitive nature to the closing moments, a rather peevish adult confirmation of youth being abandoned to vice and criminality, their sum total of choices and conduct ruinous.

Credit londontheatre

That the audience is asked to jump onstage following curtain call for a dance and jive with the musicians is a bit immodest considering where we have just left the protagonists. Teddy has now concluded its run

https://www.thevaults.london/teddy

 

 

 

FROZEN: NIGHTFALL @ THE BRIDGE

THEATRE 

On the grounds of a rather ill-at-ease Hampshire farm (weathered, chipped, broken, worn-down land and furnishings), a family quietly but trenchantly succumbs to the depravities of grief, engendered by the death of the patriarchal figure and their inability to confront or process the information. All three surviving members (mother, son, daughter) suffer a state of suspension, enmeshed in personal (perhaps pathological, possibly misplaced) networks of duty, responsibility and expectation-it’s clear that the farm is no longer productive enough to provide monetarily for the household, yet stubbornly the family endures in its activities, lorded over, with formidable passive-aggressiveness, by Claire Skinner’s Jenny. A staggering (and monopolising) oil pipeline runs through the yard in designer Rae Smith’s haggard, arid set, a tremendous metaphorical symbol of the concessions the family has had to make to corporate interests and encroachments just to be able to remain afloat (the product of which son Ryan and friend Pete have begun to siphon off). Pete is both agent of hope (his rekindled relationship with daughter Lou offers a lifeline of escape and retreat) and victim (he shares a complicated, entangled past with this family, having spent a spell in prison for something for which he was not directly responsible, another character on stage moreso). Time has collapsed to such a degree that progression is practically non-existent, past and present and future troublingly crushed together. Jenny masterfully manipulates her children (playwright Barney Norris provides her with some awe-striking arias of blistering, near-comic cruelty), infantilising them into crippling destabilised psychological states, assured to never abandon her. A plaintive, minimalist music score registers each tremor of desolation and discord. The oppositions and conflicts between the family members is given effective emphasis in sharp triangular and circular patterns of blocking. Sion Daniel Young as Ryan registers the strongest of the ensemble, in some ways the most fragile and sensitive person on stage-open, wounded, passive, charting stars-not quite able to declare himself, paralysed by obligation; Ophelia Lovibond tremulously gathers force of resistance and courage in confronting her mother and the meaning and sense of their rural existence; Skinner, distorted and embittered, may not even recognise the ways in which disappointment and anger have shaped her into a form of monster (I only wish that Norris and Skinner had found a way to better suggest the transition of her character, Skinner never quite convincing that she ever was the sleeves-up, dirt-encrusted kind in the first place that she would hold the farm and its continuance in such sacred trust and esteem). The final moment bestows upon her a redemption, a confession which she is only able to speak to the wider cosmos (although witnessed by the ever watchful Ryan, who offers consolation). A muddied sound system rendered the very earliest dialogue difficult to comprehend, quickly remedied, but I wonder if, overall, the intimate structure of the relationships would be better served in a smaller space. Along with Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem and Peter Gill’s The York Realist, there is a real movement to push outside the urban centre into a mythic and pastoral realm, exploring the outer reaches of British identity, giving voice to the disaffected and the forgotten-nothing like a surprise in this anxious age of Brexit and political discontent, a crisis of cultural selfhood.

https://bridgetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/nightfall/

 

 

ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT HARD ENOUGH: VAULT FESTIVAL

THEATRE 

A boy. A girl. Chance encounters on the Tube, in the queue at Caffè Nero, interest stirred, a concentration and attention paid to small personal details, a tentative and bold step towards first words and communication-with breathless brevity, writer (and actor) Cordelia O’Neill sharply limns the arc of a relationship from its burgeoning start through to its eventual capsize on eruptive grounds of circumstance and sad, supreme indifference of the universe. An omniscient narrator orbits around the main characters, a suggestion of some greater (cosmic?) force acting beyond the couple to construct an alliance, the two heedlessly and helplessly in its grip, foolishly following its template, not for once believing that there is anything other than the traditional trajectory in place. Small quibbles with in-laws, friends, preferences, each other’s personality traits and characteristics gently trouble the surface, but remain benign in threat, until a truly tragic turn severely, and with sweeping suddenness, wholly destabilises and breaks connection-with sanity, with comprehension, with sense, with basic belief in a benevolent universe, and ultimately with one another. O’Neill makes the audience keenly feel the sting of this piercing event, the gulf it creates, the intractable grief that consumes, hardens and exiles especially one individual. The audience is just as beguiled as the central couple, so breezing along on the heady tumult of a relationship in progress that when the ground is abruptly altered, it’s left as scalded and bereft and unmoored as the characters. O’Neill also does something very skilful with the narrator, who almost imperceptively shifts into an aspect with a much more personal stake in the story, so subtle you long to go back over preceding moments, now armed with the knowledge, to witness how she may have been all along building it into the script. This piece is emblematic of the opportunities a festival such as Vault provides: a forum and space to develop and produce work by forcefully talented emerging artists, with bold voices and fearless style. Vault continues through 18 March-in addition to the list of arts events, the venue also hosts a restaurant, cafe and bar, plenty of areas to gather for an evening’s full, satisfying entertainment.

ALL IS NOISE: COTTON @ VAULT FESTIVAL

THEATRE 

A stark stage is strewn with the detritus of technology: a visual cacophony of cast off modems, keyboards, consoles; gratingly brutal bursts of discordant modern jazz punctuates scene changes, sometimes overwhelming the pitiable stabs at conversation and communication between the characters. This manic hour-long piece invites the audience into the spiralling world of three intense gamers , one of whom spectacularly flames out (by overdose of Adderall) from competition (staged to resemble the aggressive push of a trading floor) , forcing the retreat of the trio from this insulated and consuming environment into the unforgiving parameters of the “real” world, requiring a state of being and clarity for which all three are woefully lacking. What is profoundly cynical and disturbing in writer Alex Benjamin’s accelerated debut script (not always particularly subtle or nuanced) is that the supposed saner, more rational world of conventional responsibility and behaviour hasn’t much to offer, here a sum total of unsuccessful job interviews, eviction notices, monetary insecurity, dysfunctional relationships, unrequited love and abandonment, and all the space one needs to tremendously drift off-to become completely lost and unmoored. In an overeliance on technology (and an inability to feel valuable or complete without some online presence), the most severely troubled character, Kieran, exiles himself to his bedroom to spend the bulk of his time on a live-feed, accruing a league of followers, mostly to watch him sleep. It is he who poses the theory that perhaps the world could be constructed from not concrete (definitive, strong, unyielding) but cotton, a substance at once more fragile, but also supportive and pliable (a needed cushion)- he then goes even more drastic, proposing it be built from the certainty and compactness of code.  The acting, for the most part, is earnest, if not a bit erratic (with an odd bit of casting for the father, the performer of which doesn’t appear very much older than the two actors portraying his sons-it’s a young company, so this may be forgiven in terms of dramatic suspension). The tone is one of continual attack (perhaps mimicking the tenor of millennial ADHD angst), but over the course of the running time, and unregulated, grows somewhat wearisome and frustrating. A final sequence, borne of a thoughtful and loving gesture on part of father to son, is a quietly powerful kick of nostalgia, in the son’s hands the now-primitive (and innocent) device which started his love of the potentials of gaming and its access to consuming and palliative realms of fantasy and escape, before a curdle into obsession-on the precipice, with an adulthood looming, will he choose to succumb wholly once again, or devise a way in which to incorporate it into a wider life? I fear for him, as the dialogue of his two colleagues, sat on benches behind him in the dark, recedes further and further away from audibility, and from his consciousness.

The Vault Festival continues through 18 March, and has a full schedule of theatre, music, comedy and cabaret events from which to choose, as well as several options for food and drink.

https://vaultfestival.com/

BE STILL, MY HEART:THE YORK REALIST @ DONMAR WAREHOUSE

THEATRE 

This gentle, unemphatic production puts the lie to the principle that theatrical convention must favour confrontation and hysteria and heightened reality to be successful. Its virtue lies in its tremendous ability to evince storms and spirals of feeling and sensation without ever once disrupting the calm, polite surface of its cast of characters, as taciturn and pastoral  as the Yorkshire landscape that holds them (a large screen, an image of the vast and spacious moors, is situated imposingly above the set). Gruff, reticent George (Ben Batt), sharing a cosy home with his aging mother, joins a troupe staging the York Mystery Plays (catching the eye of a director’s assistant, wide-eyed and anxiously analytical urban boy John, played by Jonathan Bailey, in from London); when George  suddenly stops attending rehearsals, curious (in all aspects) John makes a pilgrimage to George’s front door, and steps  into his life. The attraction between the two men, although almost never physically overt (except for one thrilling moment with a tentative, affectionate and secret hand on back) is marvellously suggested through body language and look-something positively liquid flows between the actors, quivers of fear, lust, possibilities. For me, the two lead performances were revelatory, as I know both actors from television work, personas quite fixed (Batt as a tough, criminally minded sort; Bailey the glib, smug, ruthlessly aspirant careerist)-here, both reveal heretofore unknown reserves of yearning vulnerability and tenderness. I don’t know how Batt does it, but his posture, a particular slouch that somehow communicates a steady backing away from life and conflict, indicates the sadder, melancholy man he will be when older.  The impediments to a successful relationship in this scenario is not the scorn or repugnance of the wider public (given this takes place in the early sixties, it wouldn’t be a great leap to expect this), but the limitations and fallibilities of both men, frailties of confidence and potential (although George, as in all facets of his life, is very matter-of-fact regarding his sexuality).  The script explores the enormous claim that land and place has on a soul, how unlikely it would be for George to thrive in the metropolis of London, even if he were to share it with his beloved (and how equally difficult it would be for John to relocate to the scale of the rural ). Batt is quite happy to remain in his composed, known parameters, a domicile happily set in period detail, not shift too radically, even if it costs him a degree of personal fulfilment. Temporally, past and present co-exist, happier, carefree moments of discovery and companionship for the two men, and the sorrowful consequences of impasse and time passing; never in doubt, though, is the profound way in which George honours and remains devoted to John even in his absence (the care with which he retains an otherwise obsolete appliance only because John cherished it, albeit in a fetishised way).

For John, comprehending the custom and ritual of Yorkshire is the true mystery. The supporting cast all provide compassionate performances, the script extending them respect and understanding (Lesley Nicol’s careworn mother; Lucy Black’s knowing sister; Katie West’s enduring Doreen, her fidelity to George never to be reciprocated; Brian Fletcher’s callow, bored Jack), a resilient, loyal network of community. The final image, George in the kitchen alone, reciting lines, as the pool of stage light recedes, is one of twilight and exile. This unhurried, understated work (perfect in the intimate confines of the Donmar) manages to speak louder of matters of the heart and hearth than the bombast and noise of most any other production. The York Realist continues through 24 March

https://www.donmarwarehouse.com/production/6395/the-york-realist/