by guest critic Liam Rees
Grid Iron and the Traverse Theatre’s new co-production Jury Play is a play of two halves with rather mixed results. Based on Dr Jenny Scott’s research into jury members’ experiences and how to improve them, director Ben Harrison and writer, Dr Jenny Scott, have decided that the best way to bring these issues to life is to cast the audience as the jury in a fictional murder trial.
An actor stands on stage. They are handed a script they have never read before. A frank look at suicide, choice and learned behaviour unfolds after a menagerie of animal impressions.
An actor stands on stage. They are handed a script they have never read before. An hour of hilarious and revealing Mad Libs ensues.
An actor stands on stage. They are handed a script they have never read before. It’s a recipe that the actor must prepare whilst reflecting on the cultural importance and ritual of food.
An actor stands on stage. On the screen behind them, a script is projected they have never read before. Then there’s a live feed, a language lesson and a tender reflection on the meaning of home.
by guest critic Rebecca JS Nice
Pickled Image Theatre work with John Nicholson to produce and write Coulrophobia, which has been touring on and off for seven months. Coulrophobia – Two Clowns Trapped In A Cardboard World is performed by Dik Downey (company director) and Adam Blake. The tragic twosome pull out a series of cardboard puppets as they frolic about a set full, but not quite full enough, of cardboard boxes.
by guest critic Alistair Wilkinson
The spectators are cast as the TV studio audience; a flashing sign above our head encourages us to applaud. Unfortunately there isn’t much to celebrate in this production set around two-out-of date performers trying to re-launch their career. The initial impression of the set is one of excitement and exuberance, but Emily Bestow’s design leaves the stage cluttered and incredibly busy. The actors must awkwardly navigate their way through whilst juggling a quick costume change, and avoiding being hit by a colourful disc of some sort. It’s a shame you can’t see the band through this disorientating mess.
A self-described modern rep company, Merely Theatre is addressing Shakespeare’s gender problem with 50/50 casting. Five male/female pairs each learn a set of characters in two plays, then on the night it’s decided who will perform. The result is a focus on clear storytelling rather than unimportant details such as the appearance or gender if individual characters. It’s a great device, and partnered with simple staging and a pace that doesn’t hang about, artistic director Scott Ellis has created a distinctive style of performance honouring the historical aesthetics of travelling players, though there’s a lack of nuance dissatisfying to modern audiences.
By an anonymous guest critic
Interactive theatre is hard work. Horror theatre is also palpably difficult to get right. In this case, the combination of the two proves too much for this able company of actors. Oneohone – a company specialising in interactive pieces – showcase a series of six shows, and I can only imagine that the other pieces were more successful than the piece that I see, which was at times a stilted, awkward affair.
Though there was likely to have been a level of improvisation in Shakespeare, Impromptu Shakespeare creates a whole new, short play every performance inspired by Shakespeare’s style and language. Though quality will vary from show to show, it remains an impressive display of skill in long form improvisation. This is obviously not a polished performance of a play or a script worthy of development, but the source material is evident and consistent comedy ensure plenty of laughs.
To compile a suitable stimulus on which to ground their piece, each audience member is given ping pong balls with thematic words on them. From the barrage of balls that are soon tossed around the room, several are chosen and written down. An audience member provides his/her name and a location, and off they go.
Today, the English are preparing for war against the Welsh and Cornish. King Matthew of England’s beautiful daughter (played by a man) wants to fight the forces of the Welsh bishop, but the Celtic nations are strong and brutal. Who will win? Will the single bishop find a companion? Will the princess be allowed to fight? The play becomes a rough draft of an unpublished Shakespeare history play that is more talk that action, but still delightfully funny.
The main issue with this format is sustaining any sort pace as the performers think on their feet and deliver lines they make up on the spot. There may be a format that the company follows to ensure some sort of story develops, but there are inevitable loose ends and undeveloped subplots.
Even with a slow pace and a story that doesn’t quite live up to the quality of Shakespeare’s writing, laughs are plentiful in this entertaining display of skill.
Impromptu Shakespeare runs through 28th August.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.