KlangHaus: 800 Breaths, Southbank Centre

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by guest critic Archie Whyld

A dozen or so of us were led to the roof of the Royal Festival Hall where we were told to expect: ‘A multi-sensory encounter of shifting sound, colour and light, which reinvents the gig-going experience as a site-responsive close-up standing performance.’ Whatever that is.

The roof space of the building has a boiler room, pipes and generators claustrophobic submarine feel and we were gently led through it by the actor, performer, musicians The Neutrinos and visual artist Sal Pitman. The guitarist checked his pulse, and then he checked mine, and then he gave me a nod of reassurance.

What was going on? The live music alternated between industrial electronic noise jazz and hypnotic acoustic, haunting lullabies. The projections and colour-scape, provided at points by an old fashioned slide projector, combined with the music and submarine architecture, to create a dreamlike and otherworldly experience. There was no narrative to speak of, other than the mention of breaths – 800 of them. Is this the number of breaths we take in an hour, the length of the performance?

Proceedings culminated with a projection of a cloudscape on the ceiling and the audience being led outside on to the roof of the building to be exposed to the air and the beautiful summer London skies. This is a beautiful moment. Is it theatre, though?

Depends on your definition. Post-dramatic theatre probably, in that there were no discernible characters, nor was there an apparent plot. It favoured feeling and mood rather than action, and in this respect it was hugely successful.

KlangHause: 800 Breaths runs through 23 July.

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Hamlet, Harold Pinter Theatre

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Hamlet may or may not be Shakespeare’s magnum opus, but the Dane is unquestionably one of the greatest roles in the English language. Theatre’s pop star Robert Icke, what with his reputation for hot takes on the classics, no doubt found the play’s allure irresistible. This Hamlet, freshly transferred to the West End from the Almeida, is a slick, beast of a production surpassing three hours. Undeniably contemporary, it does its best to smash the restrictions of the proscenium arch with a celebrity cast and achingly cool, Scandi/corporate design. His casting of Andrew Scott in the title role and subsequent character choices makes this a Hamlet for cool young people on the hunt for profundity, depth of meaning and instagrammable aesthetics.

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Dirty Work (The Late Shift), Battersea Arts Centre

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by guest critic Rebecca JS Nice

Esteemed company Forced Entertainment fill the council chamber of Battersea’s old town hall with an enthused audience who laugh and snigger at the text presented to them. The performers are framed by a false, red curtained, proscenium arch that forms, like the show itself a facade: a description of something without being either of itself or the thing it describes. An hour and fifteen minutes runs with Robin Arthur and Cathy Naden taking turns to speak.

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The Passion of the Playboy Riots, Hen & Chickens Theatre

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by guest critic Maeve Campbell

Backstage during three momentous Abbey Theatre productions, W.B Yeats’ Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), J.M Synge’s Playboy of the Western World (1907) and Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars (1926), Yeats and Lady Gregory ponder the state of the Irish nation, and are every time interrupted by future revolutionary Patrick Pearse. An interesting idea, but not fully realised in Neil Weatherall’s The Passion of the Playboy Riots.

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Double Double Act, Unicorn Theatre

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What happens when two experimental performance artists join forces with a few kids to make a kids’ show? Utterly delightful, if messy, madness. 1990s Nickelodeon is a clear influence, as are fart jokes, poo, time bending and parallel universes. An attempt at education intrudes near the end, but otherwise the script is a joyful, jokey celebration of all things silly and gross. There are moments, particularly in the beginning, that are a touch too self-serving for a show pitched to children, but there’s plenty of slapsticky fun for adults and young people alike.

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Liza’s Back (is broken), Underbelly

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by guest critic Maeve Campbell

Liza Minnelli should have starred in the original Sound of Music, Gypsy and Les Miserables, but somehow things got in her way. That’s Trevor Ashley’s vision, and he is giving her some of those classic Broadway moments in this hour and a half show. Direct from rehab, Ashley’s Liza is suitably glittery, lispy and pant-suited. This is not a subtle impersonation, but the receptive London audience certainly don’t want that.

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