THEATRE ROUND-UP: A GERMAN LIFE, THE SHOW IN WHICH HOPEFULLY NOTHING HAPPENS, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE

THEATRE

A German Life @ Bridge Theatre

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In a concentrated performance that would tax the stamina of the youngest performer (much less an octogenarian national treasure), Dame Maggie Smith serves a masterclass of technique and straightforward charisma. In a 100-minute continuous monologue, each stammer, hesitation and ruminative halt precisely placed, Smith sifts through the troubled memories of Brunhilde Pomsel, ordinary German citizen who rose from humble beginnings through to having a (literal, at one stage) seat at the heart of the Nazi regime when she is assigned as secretary to Joseph Goebbels. While insisting she had no greater knowledge of the catastrophe unfolding around her, Smith reveals the fine fractures of consciousness-if Pomsel is guilty of any sort of collaboration, it was in youthfully genuflecting to a particular glamour, thrill and financial reward of being in the presence of powerfully influential figures, all too easy to engage in a wilfull disregard of the more unsavoury aspects surrounding her service.

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As she continues to justify and rationalise and draw the audience into her confession, imperceptibly the stage moves closer to the crowd, the modest furnishings of her retirement flat receding, Pomsel increasingly caught in a tight, dimming light, possibly damned (as she denounces the diminishments of mortality, for a moment it is impossible to separate performer from character), or at least psychologically trapped (especially in her inescapable betrayals of a Jewish friend from youth and a former employer who treated her well). Arguments collapse into outright evasions. Pointedly, Pomsel mentions with the accumulated and well-documented tragedies of history, such events would be unable to occur today in such scale or fury, a statement which was met with appalled laughter, a recognition that indeed they still ensue, despite a well-informed global culture.

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Pomsel never moves from her armchair, but Smith keeps us mesmerised throughout, reminding us that sometimes “just doing my job” has tremendous moral consequences. A German Life continues through 11 May-the run is entirely sold-out, but day return tickets are available daily

A German Life

The Show In Which Hopefully Nothing Happens @ Unicorn Theatre

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This absurdist hour-long piece conceptualised for children would improbably earn the respect of such existential luminaries as Beckett and Sartre, who would no doubt appreciate its playfully gentle but frank investigations into spiritual, physical and temporal anxieties, the exhaustive, bewildered search for meaning in a swell of nothingness, the alarm that even information may not sufficiently provide answer. An officious, glowering black-suited security guard closes up the stage, informing the audience that nothing will be happening, walking off, daringly leaving the stage silent for a suspended time until a performer eventually attempts to open the locked door, ready to begin his act. His efforts to access the stage become increasingly desperate, motivating the security guard to return to address the disruption, setting into play an antagonistic, ultimately co-operative relationship.

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Conceptually complex philosophies are rampant, dressed up as frantic fun, kids responding on a primal level (the creators generously assume that kids can grapple intellectually with issues without resorting to the pedantic). Stating the impossibility of nothing happening, when there exists a constant possibility of something happening, is the key narrative drive-as the characters get enmeshed in personal, looped agonies of defeat, grief, pity, fear, impatience (lamenting “dead” moments, flailing around waiting for the “next” moment) , the children in the seats encouragingly shout out suggestions and advice, admonishing them to simply get on with it. Unlike the characters on stage, who search for some sense of linearity or purpose, kids are uniquely qualified to see the world as a collection of simultaneously exciting, wicked, revealing, nonsensical moments, a march of stimulating, stupefying ephemera, that seemingly inconsequential actions can have their own mad design. Nigel Barrett is deadpan ominous perfection as the security guard, and Riad L Richie is just the right side of floridly ripe as the serious “artiste”.

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The kids at the performance I attended were vividly engaged, and the final release of the “happenings” across the stage, so long heaving against the door, was a liberation, an assurance that one may contend with a multitudinous onslaught, break it down into a series of smaller concerns. The Show In Which Hopefully Nothing Happens continues through 28 April at Unicorn Theatre

https://www.unicorntheatre.com/TheShow

Little Miss Sunshine @ Arcola Theatre

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How to reconcile the traditional musical’s need for the effervescent, its insistence on the upbeat (we are not in Sondheim territory here) with the scabrous candour of the acclaimed indie film on which this property is based? By locating and isolating the sweet and sentimental heart that always lay at the centre of the original material, and softening, but not altogether excising, the mordant aspects of character and situation. The main focus is a harried and last-minute family road trip to deliver aspiring daughter Olive to a beauty pageant, a go-for-broke journey around which a battery of personal strife spirals-debt, depression, attempted suicide, sickness, marital discord, dying dreams-all of which are referenced, if not profoundly explored, in this fast-paced, efficient production.

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Stage floor and walls are plastered in a road-atlas pattern, signalling the significance of the voyage in the family’s destiny- a few screens and neon signs are effectively placed on a tight stage to suggest stops along the way, the car a series of chairs upon a trolly that folds in and out of the action. After the character set-up of the first half (in which nearly every family member is granted a brief moment to define him/herself), the second act barrels along on a macabre whimsy that culminates in the comedic frenzy and melodrama of the pageant, situations progressively more and more unhinged while inversely bringing the family closer together.

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Laura Pitt-Pulford, possessing the strongest voice on stage, is the most astutely effective in reaching into the depths of her character’s anguish; Gary Wilmot  is bracingly ribald as unregenerate grandpa; and Imelda Warren-Green is a comic force in two small roles, milking every last humourous ounce out of a constipated hospital bureaucrat and a diva-ish former pageant winner, now over-the-top presenter. The production is certainly colourful, charismatic and full of entertainingly disheveled life, but oftentimes to the detriment of full emotional immersion in the family’s many crises and heartbreaks. Little Miss Sunshine continues through 11 May

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https://www.arcolatheatre.com/event/little-miss-sunshine/

 

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VAULT FESTIVAL WRAP-UP: KINGS OF THE IDLE LAND; BLEACH; I RUN

THEATRE

Kings of the Idle Land

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On a scrappy piece of city park, two teenage boys find brief interludes of refuge from civil unrest and personal crises in 2001 Oldham, the city alight with racial tensions flaring into violence. Michael is white and working class, Hammad Pakistani, and for fleeting moments, removed from the urban conflicts that threaten their growing close friendship, the boys may relax their guard and dare to address potential and possibility. An intimacy neither is willing to quite confess develops beneath their conversation and consciousness, two souls who find it a struggle to locate their positions within the fraught public climate much less than in each other’s company.

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The script has a tendency to overstate its points, already very successfully suggested in  behaviour and gesture of performance. The cavernous space in which the show is staged sometimes works against the close proximity needed to truly commune with the two boys-strands of essential dialogue and expression often get swallowed up in the vastness, but a final leap over the fence signals loudly, clearly, energetically, that the boys may yet find their way, despite the pressures on masculinity and the demand to conform along class lines.

Bleach

Tyler is a sex worker in Soho, plying his trade fairly successfully (enough that he has been able to leave a job in a Chinese restaurant to pursue escorting full time)-Saturday nights especially are booked solid, a spiral of mostly rich clients (and their posh homes) who reward Tyler handsomely for his time and efforts. An encounter that turns suddenly nasty and vicious upends Tyler’s contented, gratified world, his presence at and witness to a violent event shockingly sending him forth (literally bloodied) into a world now bruised and compromised.

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Escaping a provincial past (he relates a visit home to his home town, the parameters limited and dull), Tyler excites at the dark glamours of the big city, its available debauchery and decadence, the sheer variety of sexual possibility, the thrill of his profession’s material benefits (if not its rapid expiration date). He is not beyond sympathy-one of his favourite clients, a lonely older man, wishes only to hold him and spend time in his company. To what degree this experience will ultimately change Tyler (or if it will lead to any alteration of behaviour at all) is not readily apparent in Dan Ireland- Reeves’s performance: he tells the audience an awful lot, but the feeling behind the words is often muted.

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Are the words meant as confession, or as a defiant defence against sensation, a mechanism by which to navigate the potential land mines of his line of work. It doesn’t quite delve comprehensively enough psychologically or sociologically into its material to be truly satisfying, but Ireland-Reeves should be commended for leaping without fear or restraint into this most tricky of topics.

I Run

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A grief stricken father, reeling from the recent loss of  his 6-year-old daughter to cancer, takes up running as a form of therapy (and bulwark against the overwhelming tumult and chaos left in the immediate wake of the death). In the exhaustive and annihilating physical exertion, he may be searching for a form of absolution, a way to reassert a degree of control. This hour-long piece is a physically strenuous exercise for its lead actor (Max Keeble) as he perpetually maintains a variable pace upon a treadmill throughout the length, his flow of words and thoughts repetitively echoing the iterations of running, a device of intermittent success (sometimes landing with a lyrical force, at other times with manic hysteria).

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Daringly, Danish playwright Line Morkeby’s script suggests that grief may be intrinsically linked to ego and self-pity, as the primal wounded pride of this man (not being able to properly protect his offspring) prevents him from seeing outside his own indulgence (as his wife needs to remind him at one stage that he does have another daughter to attend). A digital readout skilfully moves the audience back and forth in time, from idyllic family outings, halcyon days of ordinary activity, anxious appointments with doctors, the protracted decline, the dark days of mourning through to the practice for a marathon, Keeble ably guiding us through all the convolutions. Only in the final moments, in an instance of communion with his departed daughter, does the father stop his motion, and finally reckon with his reality. He may have been, in fact, not running toward but from something essential.

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TO THE THEATRE: ALYS, ALWAYS; ADMISSIONS; CIRCA; MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON

THEATRE

Alys, Always @ the Bridge Theatre

Meek, mousy Frances, a nest of anxiety, toils as a lowly sub-editor in the arts department of a commercially fading magazine bleeding readers and relevance, tasked mostly with coffee runs and package deliveries. Regularly, she must suffer the fatuous tales of her pampered, well-connected colleague’s nights out on the literary social scene, all the while being continually, chronically overlooked  by her editor. One chance night, on a darkened, misty road, Frances’s fortunes take a wildly unexpected turn when, the only person onsite of a deadly crash, she spends the last few moments with the female victim-who turns out to be the wife of a celebrated, charismatic author who is about to release a new novel and is eagerly courted by the staff of the magazine.

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The family requests to see and speak with the one human being who spent the last few moments with their loved one-and thus Frances is ushered onstage and in to the good graces of the rich and famous, becoming confidante to spoiled daughter and, eventually, lover of the unsavoury paterfamilias, overall  a quite needy, dysfunctional clan. It’s increasingly apparent that Frances is skilled in her “reading” of various family members, very assuredly and determinably writing each chapter in her unfolding story-and taking  every professional advantage of changing perceptions of her worth and use in proximity to such abundant wealth and influence.

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Clearly, there is a wily sting in the tail of this erstwhile timid creature, Frances proving herself the equal, if not superior, viper, all in the name of self-declaration, a transition that Joanne Froggatt (of Downton Abbey fame) beautifully expresses without reliance on broad dramatic gestures, just a subtle accretion of confident, poised assertion and quietly venomous drive, a maestro of monstrous orchestration and negotiation.

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The staging is a similarly slick and sinuous arrangement of hydraulics. “Luck is the equation of preparation plus opportunity,” Frances is told-whether conscious of it or not, Frances has indeed been long ruthlessly preparing.  Alys, Always runs through 30 March

https://bridgetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/alys-always/

Admissions @ Trafalgar Studios

Sherri, head of admissions at a progressive New Hampshire school, works tirelessly to increase the percentage of diversity within the student body, boasting (perhaps hubristically) that her efforts have resulted in an 18% rise in “people of colour”. Much comic mileage is made from her pained interactions with an older member of staff over the visual content of  the school’s prospectus, its racial balance, the baffled colleague from an era long before the politically correct (or modern) lurching from one extreme to the other in imagery.

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A personal crisis of conscience erupts when Charlie, Sherri’s son, is deferred from his Ivy League university choice and his best childhood friend (biracial, but who identifies as black) is accepted-a true test of the limits of both Sherri’s and her husband Bill’s liberal largesse. Playwright Joshua Harmon is fearless, bold and brave in his script, unafraid to wade into some very uncomfortable truths and unsympathetic behaviour, gleefully treading through conceptual land mines. Charlie, hurt and sore, lashes out in a minutes-long tirade, an aria against the idea of “positive discrimination” which may just keenly border on white privileged rage. His parents scramble, quite uncivilly, to use every available connection to orchestrate his seat back at the table (“ You don’t have to understand,” Sherri inscrutably screams at her incredulous son at one stage, another parent gone a bit mad over her offspring’s educational opportunities).

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The drama plays out mostly within the confines of  the couple’s beautifully appointed, immaculately groomed, stately kitchen, a broad staircase rising just to the side, a promise of the unseen stature and wealth that inhabit the rest of this residence, the benignly smug comforts of their lifestyle. Resentful Charlie claims that he will opt for community college and bequest his college fund to a  disadvantaged student (read:non-white) less as an act of righteous indignation than as a way to punish his parents and to expose their hypocrisy. Much of the dialogue is gasp-inducing (Harmon has a line in bracing wit), scorching in its unflinching relentlessness.

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The emphasis is entirely on the skewering of white pieties and assumptions, so the lack of any viewpoint outside the central characters (although possibly problematic) is understandable. Within this restricted frame, Harmon allows for lots of perspectives, moment to moment shifting the audience’s allegiance and opinion. Everyone on stage has a voice, and all are allowed to speak-Harmon’s primary belief is that as complicated and uneasy as the exchange around this topic may be, as unresolvable as the discussion may be, we have to engage in the conversation regardless. Admissions runs through 25 May

https://trafalgarentertainment.com/shows/admissions/

Circa @ Old Red Lion Theatre

Over the course of its 100-minute running time, Tom Ratcliffe’s work ambitiously charts the 30-year odyssey of a young gay man, from tremulous youth to melancholic middle age, embodied by a trio of fine actors who extract every brief tremor of happiness, humour, wariness and heartbreak out of the material, poignantly mapping the arc of a curious, thoughtful individual, not always comfortable or confident of self.

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Devised as a series of sketches delineating key moments of his life, each actor has to work with great skill and detail to suggest the enormity and significance of each sequence, how each upheaval and encounter will reverberate into the next stage, define behaviour and opinion in later acts, an agile game of throw and catch between the central trio. Referred to only as “the Man”, Ratcliffe allows for broad engagement-this is Everystory, easily accessible by a wide audience. “The Man” struggles to define himself and what he wants against societal demands and assumptions, loving and losing along the way (a particular conflict here is the expanse of possibilities for a gay man in contemporary society, a pride of freedom vs monogamy and marriage).

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A late scene involving a chance meeting amongst the man and a former lover, which leads to an evening spent in soft reminiscence, tenderly aches with unresolved feelings and missed opportunity, a sense of shared, intimate history effortlessly suggested (Daniel Abelson is especially effective in the middle passages, a core of quivering confusion, indecision, anxiety-a gentle soul steadily losing his way). As his younger self, Thomas Flynn has a wicked, candid assertiveness, the easy deportment of youth, a grand unawareness of the ways in which life will eventually grind him gently but purposefully down.

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Antony Gabriel is a bit shortchanged as he only has one scene as the senior version of the Man, but the sequence does bring a rhyming close with the opening scene-the Man has come full circle, a compromised man staring at a younger version of himself, the cycle about to be repeated, one generation to the next. Circa runs through 30 March

https://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/circa.html

My Name Is Lucy Barton @ Bridge Theatre

Bored, agitated, impatient, Lucy Barton addresses the audience from her hospital room, suffering a nine-week internment due to an unspecified illness in 1980’s New York. In and out of consciousness, Lucy awakes one morning to find her estranged mother in a chair at the foot of her bed-somehow she has made her way from the small town in Illinois from which a conflicted Lucy has long-ago escaped an impoverished, derelict childhood (in both material and spiritual sense).

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The women chatter, gossip, reminisce, cast withering judgements on people and institutions, circling but never quite confronting the tangled, coarse and difficult love between them (the tough stoicism of the American Midwest resides deeply within Lucy’s mother’s soul, frills and niceties scraped free). Some of this spirit claims Lucy still, despite her years living in New York-much is unresolved from those troubled times. A commanding Laura Linney prowls the minimalist stage, effortlessly conjuring multiple environments just from her speech (aided greatly by the verbal dexterity of Rona Munro’s script, based upon Elizabeth Strout’s best-selling novel).

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She’s calm, cool and riveting in her extended reverie, woozy, rambling, trying to work some mystery out. Mom may be merely a hallucination, a phantom from which Lucy needs a pardon or pass-or a ghost that Lucy must set to rest. From the humble, narrow beginnings, Lucy has struggled to write and live her way out of them, to spread free of their confines and see a more expansive world-she can declare, at conclusion, that the world is astonishing, bursting with amazement. She is seized with it. My Name Is Lucy Barton closed its second run on 16 February 2019

https://bridgetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/my-name-is-lucy-barton/

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TELL-ALL: OPEN @ VAULT FESTIVAL

THEATRE 

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With startling candour and near-forensic detail, real life couple Christopher Adams (primarily a writer-and 2011/12 US Fulbright scholar) and Timothy Allsop (primarily an actor) investigate/interrogate their choice to live in an open relationship and the consequences (seen and unforeseen) thereof. Playfully, and with disarming alacrity, the two men canvass the crowd for participation, handing over transcripts of Grindr chats and personal email correspondence for audience members to read out (Chris is fond of Excel spreadsheets indexing his sexual conquests). They pore over verbatim conversations from key moments in their partnership, unsparing in their brutal, confrontational honesty: a strong foundation is a given, in that the two men have withstood the travails of such inexorable frankness whereas many would have tumbled (within these parameters, Chris and Tim have acknowledged their devotion through civil partnership and, eventually,  marriage).

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The key success of this hour-long confessional is that, with great cheer and light-hearted aplomb, the couple convincingly legitimises their personal choice, all the while never ignoring probable pitfalls and minefields that lay in wait, nor all the potential dangers (any one of the cardboard boxes that litter the stage-simple symbols of all that is being unpacked- could be a Pandora’s Box of credible threat or catastrophe). Sober recollections of harassment gone unreported, STD’s caught, ugly arguments had, unflattering disclosures from bedmates, and unintended emotional connections with hook-ups are divulged.  Clear heads must prevail, and neither Chris nor Tim for a moment denies that it takes great vigilance and focus to maintain clarity. Even with such directness, as Tim explains in a closing statement, there are still fascinating dimensions of the relationship unknown or unrevealed to us, as it should be-covenants and arrangements between two people comprehended only by them. Open ran from 23-27 January as part of Vault festival 

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https://vaultfestival.com/whats-on/open/?spektrix_bounce=true

 

CITY SYMPHONIES: THE WEDDING & THE CAPITAL: LONDON MIME FESTIVAL

THEATRE/PERFORMANCE

A troubling disconnect between concept and execution ran through all three productions I saw this year at the Mime Festival, all the more vexing for how daring, haunting and awestriking previous productions have been, many of them still firmly, deeply lodged cellularly in the pleasure centres of memory. Each of this year’s shows felt a few polished drafts away from being finished, distressingly.

The Wedding @ Barbican 

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Acclaimed physical theatre company Gecko’s latest production is an ambitiously (over)scaled canvas investigating the interaction of citizen and state, incorporating the capitalist mechanisms that underpin society, coercive conformity within that structure, migrant crises and the struggle (impossibility, as Gecko would have you believe) of individual rebellion-a wildy unsubtle overreach that muddies and simplifies message. Although consistently sophisticated visually, the narrative suffers from a wilfull naivety, a reductive pessimism.

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One by one, company members emerge from a chute, clutching teddy bears that must be relinquished onto a crowded symbolic heap of discarded childhood and move straight into responsible adulthood, hastily issued wedding dresses by an officious coterie of facilitators, who then quickly usher each individual into their position within a corporate environment, all the while the overlords (on occasion) are glimpsed as gloating baroque figures lasciviously consuming prodigiously profligate portions of food, feasting on profits, indifferent to personal adversity. A migrant family emerges wittily from within the Tardis-like confines of a suitcase, performing tricks for scraps of food or money, the husband dreaming of entrance into the working world, the aspiration a gulf away from reality.

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The office denizens drink recklessly after shifts, collapse into argument or resentment at home with partners, generally slowly go mad and grow sour with the sheer exhausting repetition. The script has made up its mind that this is the fixed destiny of any individual, that the fate of the will and spirit is to be crushed and broken, that no way to cultivate a private rebellion or existence outside of this is possible, or that society hasn’t found sympathetic channels to assist the less fortunate-an irksome disingenuous reflex. Society has evolved to such a degree that numerous options are available to any one who may wish to quietly revolt-only a failure of imagination or passion could prevent one from finding consolation.

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Something profound within me reacted strongly against the production’s dogmatic, soft-headed approach to the material, sanctimoniously convinced of  its crude philosophical world view. The piece does end on a defiantly rhythmic and transporting percussive moment, the troupe assembled on stage in a synchronised choreography of vocalisation, clapping and stomping, a simple, straightforward feat of collective creative rebellion that puts the lie to the insistent agitprop that precedes it. The Wedding ran from 24-26 January as part of London Mime Festival 

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https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2019/event/gecko-the-wedding

The Capital @ Jackson’s Lane 

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Birmingham’s Stan’s Cafe attempts a mosaic of urban interaction and experience with this piece played out along two counter-motion conveyer belts, the diverse quintet of performers assuming a kaleidoscope of characters and situations in constant kinetic movement, a continual forward thrust that very rarely allows for reflection or rest as lives spin out forcefully.

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Although certain individual stories and persons recur, there is not one central character whose story arc acts as a through-line (an immigrant woman who arrives via the airport, left to make her way uncertainly to the gaping anonymity of the big city and new life, is seemingly introduced as this central focus, but is soon dropped, subsumed into the greater flux). The greatest design flaw is that an internal logic overall is lacking-no proper build exists to the material, no core of musicality.

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It lurches from moment to moment quite clumsily, without visionary intention, and only fitfully exploits the tremendous potential of the psychological and emotional possibilities of the moving floors, and much of what is on display is rather pedestrian in action and gesture with too much mugging from the performers. The use of the conveyer belts demands (or promises) more physically agile, acrobatic staging, detail revealed more by dance than pantomime.

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And the whole needs to accelerate to a crescendo of significance or note, a pointed statement-which never arrives (the backdrop falls in the final instant to reveal the sheer total of props used for the production and what must have been a comprehensive exertion of cast and crew in a relatively cramped space-itself an image of the teeming pace, bare mechanics and demands of the city?). An overextended opening sequence of chairs situated along the belts, initially sequenced in tidy, ordered placement gradually devolving into slight misalignment, then absolute chaos (overturned, stacked atop one another) quickly informs an audience that matters of timing and structure are out of place-what could be a light, witty statement of what is about to come is already overworked. Nina West’s sound design and music contribute tremendously to whatever verve and energy the production generates. The Capital ran from 31 January-3 February 

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https://www.jacksonslane.org.uk/whats-on/the-capital

 

 

 

 

PARTICLE THEORY: KOMPROMAT @ VAULT FESTIVAL

Theatre 

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Does art owe anything to real life? Must it be entirely responsible in its representation of events and individuals? These questions disquietingly preyed upon my mind as I watched this hour-long speculative one -act play written by David Thame that takes as its source material the still-unsolved 2010 murder of MI6 employee Gareth Williams in his Pimlico apartment, found naked and foetally stuffed inside a sports bag (BBC2 used, very loosely, aspects of the story in their 2015 mini-series London Spy).

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Intention is very sober and serious, and Thame soon spins off his contemplation from the fundamental plot into more expansive realms of relationship theory and destiny, but would the lack of exploitation be enough to salve the distress, say, of a long-grieving family member or friend who may have to withstand the existence of this work (or indeed experience it). Thame posits one potential possibility of the forces which came into play to create the specific conditions and conclusions of this case, studying the central relationship through the prism of quantum mechanics, an apt reference given Williams’s position as data technician/mathematician for the GCHQ.

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Zac, a rent-boy fast approaching his sell-by date (a furiously focussed and darkly charismatic verbal performance from Max Rinehart, increasingly tortured and conflicted with his mission as he comes to know his victim), is tasked by his Hungarian handler to blackmail poor mark Tom through a charade of desire (socially awkward, tremulously high-strung, Tom is tenderly portrayed by Guy William-Thomas with arrestingly fluid sexuality ) into using his influence to acquire passports for use by Russian “operatives” interested in expanding their business opportunities.

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That Zac is seen as a disposable asset (or pawn) by a powerful criminal concerned with keeping himself distant from any possible consequence exposes the tenuous and fragile underpinnings of Zac’s supposed enviable life (really a mere gilded cage, lived overseas and across a series of stunning villas and cities), linking him closer to Tom than he is comfortably willing to acknowledge. The quantum theory as applicable to any human relation is fascinating in display, as Tom’s final monologue damns him and Zac to forever be connected in the final brutal act, both of their probabilities altered in an uneasy, inextricable intimacy.

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In this matter, data collection and risk assessment is defeated by simple aching human want and enforced servitude, two disparate, marked particles entangled in a fateful, propulsive pas de deux. The script may spin one too many times around the principal concept, but the actors’ nervy, sweaty energy and the sheer lingual momentum guarantee the excitement never ceases to abate. And yet  somewhere in the back of my conscience a tiny, sympathetic voice spoke on behalf of a family wounded in perpetuity.  Kompromat, originally scheduled to run through 27 January as part of the terrific excess of the Vault Festival, offering over 400 works over its eight-week residency, has been extended to 3 February due to popular demand

https://vaultfestival.com/

 

SCARRED: THE UNRETURNING @ STRATFORD EAST

THEATRE/PERFORMANCE 

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Three soldiers representing three time periods and conflicts each speak with great sensual detail about returning to hearth and home, their dominant motivation a desperately soulful and tactile need to commune with the myth and reassurance of the land and people. Of course, the reality is anything but simple-the men arrive to bewilderment, impatience, indifference, hostility, communities and loved ones ill-equipped to comprehend or assist with the damage (psychological as well as physical) borne within them.

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The stories play out amongst and upon a constantly revolving shipping container which visually supports the restlessness and destabilisation of the men and narratively underscores the transitory and impermanent state of mind they each suffer, all debris adrift. Cultural temperaments and behaviours may adjust slightly over time, but essential human yearnings and desire will remain constant-the tripartite structure poignantly addresses this point.

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The first soldier, barely a man, returns to his sweetheart from the Western Front, trying his best to slip back into the easy comforts, but continually capsizes on the jagged shards of nightmarish wartime experiences; the second, staggering with blemished machismo, arrives from Afghanistan with dishonour, the disgraced star of a YouTube video in which he brutalises and kills a civilian in testosterone frenzy, the end result of being bred as a killing machine; rather bizarrely, the third figure is on a fraught journey home from some obscure future crisis in 2026, returning to a Britain despoiled by checkpoints, closed borders and civil unrest, the result of some catastrophic ravage from Brexit, perhaps-this speculative section, although confirming that the cycle of war will continue to spin, is the weakest link, its political grasp incongruous to the more emotionally personal resonance of the other tales.

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Jared Garfield brings a bruised and wounded tenderness to 1918 skittish Joe, and Joe Layton sympathetically reveals the confusion and pain behind the bravado of  2013 officer Frank (he also, in a fluid, poised gender switch -without any guile-portrays Joe’s baffled homefront wife).

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The central container set piece is utilised with tremendous, manifold imaginative verve, the four performers in kinetic concert with it, with slides and turns effortlessly suggesting shifting eras and locations (offices, corridors, homes, processing centres, and, when the actors scale its heights, a ship), aided momentously by the lighting and production design. Lives merge and diverge in intimate mosaics. War is hell in any time frame, and its participants casualties, the legacy in every which way life-long and shadowy, a condition this slick and showy, if sometimes overly busy production, illustrates skilfully. The Unreturning runs through 2 February 

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http://www.stratfordeast.com/whats-on/all-shows/the-unreturning