Catch Me, Underbelly Southbank

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by guest critic Rebecca JS Nice

The Underbelly Festival Southbank is like a mini Edinburgh Festival where visitors cocoon between pop up bars, fake grass, fairy lights and giant flowerpots have a sense of exclusivity, as they wonder through to enjoy the bars as much as the shows. This vibe will stay all summer and I will no doubt be returning to sip Pimm’s in the sun whether I have show tickets or not. But having seen both currently billed shows twice now, in Edinburgh and London, their quality, popularity and longevity cannot be argued.

Originally from Quebec, Flip FabriQue deliver Attrape Moi; meaning Catch Me; in London as part of an international tour to Tenerife, Edinburgh, the USA and Quebec Canada. For seventy-five minutes, performers Christophe Hamel, Bruno Gagnon, Hugo Ouellet Côté, Jérémie Arsenault, Camila Comin and Yann Leblanc, showcase a range of skills that are, (if a little tenuously at times), threaded together by a loose theme of travelling with friends.

With a set consisting of a wall with three square holes mimicking a house and windows, the depth of the performance space is narrowed and elongated by a fixed vertical scaffold pole. There are three levels: floor, window, roof top and everywhere that the performers fly between. The narrow space combined with the intimacy of the raked seating inside the giant purple cow highlight the little jokes and interactions between performers and audience members which were either lost altogether or felt crass in the huge venue of The Assembly at Edinburgh 2016. Games and jokes such as an ice-lolly eating competition that a chap in the front row contributes a grand effort to set a playful tone but eradicating the childlike voices would improve these sections.

After an unnecessary introduction, five boys and one girl balance on each other’s heads or throw each other into the air to spin and somersault like leaves in a hurricane. After a short juggling and beatbox section, we move on to a diabolo duet. Each diabolo is released into the air, caught and manipulated by string, which becomes interesting when snatching and catching add sharp and staccato dynamics to a circular and undulating pathway and tempo. The musicality and garden chair choreography of a chorus of onlookers in the rest of the ensemble frame this duet well which changes at just the right points to keep you glued to their every move. Eventually juggling four diablos between two strings higher and higher, the control and intricacy of the pathways command attention and delight.

A humble aerial section set to Cinematic Orchestra uses a movement vocabulary that takes the aerialist to the low levels, swooping over the heads of the others as they pour over photographs, sitting in and out of the group on the floor. His relationship with the grounded performers adds a strong alternative to typical aerial choreography. This section is emotive and on the whole, a constant dynamic is maintained, using strength and restraint to prevent interrupting the routine with sudden snaps or jolts in movement.

Acts with a single large ring holding one or two performers as they constantly rotate inside their cyr wheel and Camila Comin in an aerial hoop also appear. As the group don Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses, six exercise balls become new members of the ensemble as they bounce through windows and from floors, weaving between bodies. They are juggled, piled into human pyramids and carefully lined up to form the perfect cushioning for a dive bombing body to hurl across while we all sway to Copacabana. A return to juggling in a richer scene with a guitar solo sees choreography with the balls at a lower level close to the body. Catching the balls with a downwards push or through the legs embellishes the tricks with surprising rhythms and a greater sense of risk. The sleep over scene begins as people fly head first into sleeping bags.

As night time comes, figures magically appear balancing on a head or shoulders of a partner as a sensitive chorus of torch holders both light and shroud each tableaux in darkness. This comes just as I am beginning to tire, the intriguing nocturnal jaunt could replace earlier movement fillers before the show risks going on for too long.

I wait in anticipation for the grand finale, which sees a trampoline rolled onstage. Catch Me draws to a close in a precise and elegantly poised routine of fall and rebound. The team walks walls, fly into windows and float onto the roof. The composition of falling and floating bodies is relentless and methodical, creating an undulating, smooth dynamic without undermining the risk and surprise in each backwards dive and rebound that goes one step further than the other. The precision of the fall, and acute timing make this cosmos of bodies appear as if they are balls being juggled themselves. They bounce to a pole and beyond the ceiling truss, spinning, rolling, flipping and posing in the air, landing in handstands only to fall back down again just as a space is cleared.

Catch Me works best when it isn’t taking itself too seriously. The odd filler section, choreographed to tell a story does not always work and slows the pace by the nature of its content. Every five minutes I am thrilled by a new trick, taken to its extreme with greater and greater risk which dulls the senses to some of the partner work, acro-balance, and physical theatre. Cutting these sections would make a tight ship of sixty minutes of pure thrill, leaving me little time to get my critical nose in. Having said this, the performers only have to pick up a ball to get gasps out of tonight’s audience who love every minute of it.

Flip FabriQue pack in an array of circus skills into one show that is accessible, silly and fast paced. It is the perfect opener for Underbelly’s summer festival on the Southbank by introducing circus in a clear and careful structure. Those who enjoy this show should make Head First Acrobat’s Elixir their next choice who deliver their clowning and narrative with a little more silliness and sexiness added to the mix.

Catch Me runs through 9 July.

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The Color Purple in Concert, Cadogan Hall

By guest critic Alistair Wilkinson

Thunderous applause from the audience welcomes the cast as they take their starting positions. It is evident that I am in the company of committed fans and, being a show that I have been enamoured of three times on Broadway, I was eagerly awaiting what was to come.

Tyrone Huntley as Harpo is the real star of the show. His entrance brings a needed energy shift after a weak start, and totally ignites the stage. The youthful passion he conveys shows a desire to always give his best performance. In years to come, Huntley will be one of those names up there with the musical theatre greats; his charisma and charm perfectly blend with his gorgeous tone and wide vocal range. It’s a shame that he is let down a bit by his co-star who seems to not have the sass required to play Sofia. Her lack of strength is disappointing and leads to an uninteresting performance.
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Richard III, Arcola Theatre

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As the audience enters, Richard sits at a pub table on an otherwise bare stage. It’s impossible not to watch him until the house lights dim, and this opening sets the tone for the two and a half hours to come. With generically modern costume and no clear concept, Mehmet Ergen’s interpretation employs a light touch on the design elements. However his focus on the text and story is on point, making this an easy to follow and engaging production. Staged in the Arcola’s main house where the audience closes in on three sides of the stage, this is the sort of space that brings out the best in Shakespeare’s energy and language.

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Manwatching, Royal Court

An anonymous woman frankly monologues about taboo sexual fantasies, abortion, orgasms and what turns her on. It’s honest, personal and as a fellow woman, easy to relate to. But rather than a woman performing the text, Funmbi Omotayo is given the script onstage having never read it before. The experiment to explore the effects of a man delivering a woman’s words on female sexuality has good intentions, but it doesn’t work. Most of the content is common female experience, and there is no primary narrative thread. The reading is often clumsy and flat and with little to look at, the piece lacks much of a dynamic.

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Love in Idleness, Apollo Theatre

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by guest critic Tom Brocklehurst

This is Trevor Nunn’s third production of a Rattigan play, and in his programme notes he calls it ‘a masterpiece’. On reading the plot synopsis, one might have trouble imagining this play as such.

It’s the 1940s. Olivia Brown awaits the return of her 18-year-old son Michael, whom she has not seen for four years. Whilst he’s been away, his father has died and Olivia has found love with a successful arms manufacturer, Sir John Fletcher. When Michael comes back with new-found left-wing ideas, he is horrified at the opulence of his mother’s new lifestyle, and disgusted with the man making his millions from warfare. It’s a fairly simple plot, in which Rattigan preempts a whole host of classic teenage-angst dramas, whilst happily throwing in comic references to Hamlet and Oedipus for fun.

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The Cardinal, Southwark Playhouse

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Within 50 years of Shakespeare’s death, playwriting was changing quickly. Less flowery language and more powerful female characters are prominent in James Shirley’s rarely-staged The Cardinal, written in 1641. The plot is more streamlined, but some of the outdoor playhouse performance conventions linger along with the grandness of the king’s court. The story proudly flaunts influence from earlier revenge tragedies and is no less bloody, but easier to follow than some of those on stage a few decades or so earlier. In Southwark Playhouse’s smaller space with historical costumes, Justin Audibert’s production evokes the intimate atmosphere of indoor playhouses that were beginning to take over towards the end of Shakespeare’s career.

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Disconnect, Ugly Duck

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Imagine a production of Waiting for Godot with more characters, set in space, where the audience chooses the outcome of the story. What you are picturing is probably gloriously weird and kitschy. But now add clumsy dialogue, some poor performances and a loosely applied Brexit analogy, performed on a set that looks like it’s built of cardboard and/or they ran out of paint. If your mind’s eye makes a different picture now, it be more accurate.

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