The Drill, Battersea Arts Centre

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by Laura Kressly

‘See it. Say it. Sorted.’

Every Londoner knows this slogan from the British Transport Police encouraging us to be vigilant as we go about our days. Be alert, and if you see something suspicious, report it.

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Freak, VAULT Festival

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A thing wot I learnt from theatre: there are people in the world that have a genetic disorder which gives them super stretchy skin. Whilst this is a great/horrifying party trick, historically it meant that people with this condition could join a travelling sideshow.

Nathan Penlington could be called a freak by those inclined to use such dated, derogatory language. He has a rare genetic disorder that, in him, manifests as hypermobility and chronic pain. But in other people it can make their skin stretch excessively. Penlington’s long-running fascination with sideshows combined with his own health issues, led him on a journey to a town in Florida with a unique history. His findings in the States, his research into sideshow culture and history, and a dash of disability rights combine to make solo performance/TED Talk work-in-progress Freak.

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Mule, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Orla and her sister are close. Even when Orla decided to move from their small Irish town to Ibiza for a summer of working and partying, they still texted everyday. After a sudden cessation in her messages and silence that stretches to ten days, her family starts to worry. A social media campaign turns up a few dead ends and the police are about to launch a full investigation when there’s a phone call.

It’s Orla. She’s in jail with another young woman called Shannon. In Lima.

Based on the real-life Peru Two, Mule fictionalises the pair of young women arrested for drug trafficking in 2013. Using two actors to play all the roles, Mule centres on Orla’s story. A sweet, young woman with little life experience who trusts too easily and struggles to say no, she gets swept up into the Ibiza culture and when she loses her job, she makes some terrible choices. This pacy script by Kat Woods gives a fairly well-rounded picture of the women’s circumstances, but the execution is so rushed that the story is hard to follow.

Scenes are short and snappy, lending an urgency and tension to the story. There are some unexplained gaps in the plot, though – like how they got this job to begin with. Orla and Shannon plan their coverup story early on, but the objective truth is never discussed. Constant character changes give a wide perspective on the story, but the use of voice and physicality as sole signifier of character at the speed and length they maintain isn’t always enough. By the time it becomes clear which character is talking, they have already moved onto another.

Mule is more of a narrative character study than a deeper exploration a chain of events where objective truth is clearly defined. Though the story has a lot packed in – including prison conditions, exploitation, drug use and gender disparity – none of them are fully explored. It has the feel of a documentary, but the character of Orla is the only consistent thread.

It’s a story that has plenty of potential for exploration, but Mule doesn’t go far enough or takes a strong angle, nor does it give enough detail to deem it documentary theatre. The actors’ performances are good and there are some excellent scenes, but Mule feels like it still a work in progress.

Mule runs through 29th August.

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Film Review: Muse of Fire

https://i0.wp.com/www.shakespearemagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/muse-of-fire-dan-giles-e1444408963909.jpegBaz Luhrmann’s 1996 film Romeo + Juliet transformed a young generation into Shakespeare fans. Dan Poole and Giles Terera were training at Mountview at the time of the film’s release. They previously weren’t keen on Shakespeare’s plays what with their difficult language and having to read them at school. But, Romeo + Juliet changed all that. These avid Shakespeare buffs joined forces to make a documentary that explores why people don’t like Shakespeare, and to make the Bard more accessible to those ruling him out as boring or irrelevant. Over four years, Terera and Poole travelled around the world and interviewed prominent actors, audience members, people on the street and passionate theatre makers about their attitudes towards Shakespeare. Funny and relaxed, Muse of Fire feels more like a goofy road trip with your mates rather than a dry, academic film as the passion and love for Shakespeare’s work always shines through.

A mix of untreated, shaky home video and professionally shot interviews provides a good balance between the lighthearted and the more serious moments. There’s still a sense that a lot of time passes, and the four years was not all sunshine and roses for the pair. At one point when desperately low on cash, Poole takes on some building work to pay the bills. Then the car breaks down on their way to interview Dame Judi Dench. On the other hand, they travel to Germany to watch pioneering Shakespeare work with convicts, meet the great and the good from UK theatre and beyond, and make it to LA to interview the man that converted them to Shakespeare to begin with. It’s a feel-good film with a few overly sentimental moments, but these are forgivable what with their boundless, puppy-like enthusiasm.

The highlights of the 80-odd minutes are definitely the anecdotes and insight from actors like Dench, Tom Hiddleston, Ben Kingsley, Fiona Shaw, Christopher Eccleston, Ian McKellen and many others. Unfortunately, it feels like more of these prominent theatre makers are male than female (though I’d have to watch it again to count those who made it past the final edit). Audience interviews seem more balanced. Their opinions vary as to how to approach a script, deal with iambic pentameter and why they feel the plays are still relevant today but the range of views presented should reach even the most hardened skeptics.

Muse of Fire is a true joy to watch, particularly if you love Shakespeare and the work of some of the best, most established performers in the UK and abroad. Over an hour of extras also back up Poole and Terera’s goal of Shakespeare appealing to everyone, regardless of language, nationality and background.


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