This Beautiful Future, Yard Theatre

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by guest critic Nastazja Somers

France 1944. A young French girl Elodike runs to meet her lover, a German soldier Otto. Their love is innocent and pure, the exact opposite of the world around them. This is a place that has been torn by war, despair and hunger. Yet the young pair of lovers find time and space to make love, talk about their family and friends, and most importantly connect – despite their differences.

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Joy, Theatre Royal Stratford East

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An increase in conversations on diversity indicates that people are starting to come round to the importance of more than a token few woman and people of colour on our stages. White male dominance in theatre is increasingly being called out, with some small and mid-sized venues and companies leading the way on diversifying their work. But physical disability draws less attention in the diversity debate, and learning disability even less so.

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Nuclear War, Royal Court

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In his introduction to the Nuclear War text, Simon Stephens explains that as a playwright, he does not want directors and performers to revere him. Rather, he wants them to see his scripts as a starting point for their own creativity. The third line of the stage directions is, ‘a series of suggestions for a piece of theatre’; from these suggestions, choreographer-director Imogen Knight shapes a haunting landscape of physicalised despair.

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One Last Thing (For Now), Old Red Lion

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Families separated by war and conflict have kept in touch one way or another for time immemorial. Recently giving way to skype, texts and emails, letter writing is now largely neglected – but surviving relics betray heartache, fear and longing. International theatre company Althea Theatre draw on choral physical theatre and the intimate communications between family members from a range of global conflicts to create a moving tribute to love and patriotism.

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This Must Be the Place, VAULT Festival

by guest critic Nastazja Somers

“Home, is where I want to be / Pick me up and turn around / I feel numb, born with a week heart/ I guess I must be having fun”

David Byrne’s lyrics to ‘This Must Be the Place’, one of the biggest hits from Talking Heads, can be easily seen as the inspiration for the production of This Must Be the Place which, after playing at the Latitude Festival, is now at VAULT Festival. Acclaimed playwrights Brad Birch and Kenneth Emson target the themes of loneliness and belonging in a moving and captivating way. However, whilst the piece is also beautifully acted and directed, it lacks a certain precision in conveying its message.

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Lines, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Every Londoner has strong feelings about the tube. They love it, hate it, love to hate it, depend on it, avoid it, sometimes all at once. In Lines, Rose Bruford students pay homage to the underground by extracting individuals from the millions of faces that blur through stations each day. A collage of movement, narration and dialogue captures the diversity of the city with a lovely affection, but the tangled, underdeveloped plot threads that emerge aren’t followed through.

Writer Ian Horgan has numerous lovely ideas but none of them, even the fictional disaster that has the power to unite passengers, is chosen as the narrative spine. Whilst this adds to the montage effect of individual moments, it’s a format that only works for short periods of time. There are certainly some great stories of individual characters and any of them could be short plays in and of themselves, but here they are unsatisfying. The sections of spoken word vary in the quality of delivery, but this is a style that Horgan uses inconsistently. The use of live music is much more regular, and a great contribution to the piece.

There are some great performances, as should be expected from drama school students. No one stands out as a weak link and their time training together has formed a seamless ensemble. Lines also has the distinction of one of the more ethnically diverse productions of the fringe, which in and of itself is hugely commendable.

Though this affectionate tribute to London transport has plenty of potential, it falls short of true excitement or innovation in its current form.

Lines runs through 15th 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.

Human Animals, Royal Court

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I adore animals, certainly more than I like humans, and I think I missed my calling to be a zookeeper or conservationist. I can’t bear any depiction of animals being harmed on stage or film; even mentions of animal abuse is hugely upsetting. So, I found Stef Smith’s Human Animals a pretty horrible ordeal. Smith’s frantic, apocalyptic story captures society’s instinctive, “Must. Destroy. Everything.” response to the natural world threatening contemporary human sovereignty. As the government wreaks havoc on the natural world in the name of security, half a dozen civilians have a range of reactions to the animal population’s invasion of their homes. This visceral, destabilising drama blasts the audience with 75 minutes of shocking, reactive action as the infection spreads across species, but with the fast pace and constant suspense, it’s difficult to relate to any of the characters. Canny design avoids much mess and graphic depictions of the described carnage, but the narrated horror is all too easy enough to imagine from most modern nations, and his highly disturbing on several levels.

Lisa (Lisa McGrills) and Jamie (Ashley Zhangazha) are a young couple supposedly very much in love, though lacking chemistry. Lisa doesn’t like animals much, so isn’t fazed when the government starts killing off the wild ones who are trying to invade people’s homes. She’s had enough of birds smashing into her windows and either dying or injuring themselves. Jamie can’t handle the ruthless killing; his collapse is well written and convincingly performed. Lisa’s boss Si (Sargon Yelda) is one of “them”, a vile, slimy little man profiting from the disaster. Young activist Alex (Natalie Dew) has just returned from travelling abroad, but mum Nancy (Stella Gonet) still tries to treat her as a child. There’s a lot of gorgeous intimacy and tension between them, often diffused by their genial family friend John (Ian Gelder), who clashes with Si regularly in the local boozer. Otherwise, there is little contact between these conflicting personalities, but the reactions from each character to the growing destruction are heartfelt and saddening.

Smith’s best writing is her conflict scenes between the characters. The rest certainly isn’t bad at all, but the storyline requires either depicting the violent extermination of animals or copious narration. Her choice is understandable and, though well incorporated into natural dialogue, there’s a lot of describing. The design team (Camilla Clarke, Lizzie Powell and Mark Melville) work with director Hamish Pirie to break up the text effectively, with sound, lighting, projection and jets of paint constantly interrupting and surprising/startling the audience. Being constantly kept on edge for over an hour is exhausting, with the story causing additional trauma. As horrible as it is, the whole effect is intricately constructed and totes a powerful message.

Also of note is the set design. The cast and audience are inside a zoo-style animal enclosure, disempowering the characters and trivialising their problems because the outside world is dominant and ever watching. Though the set does not literally indicate the characters’ world and gives no hints of the government-ordered extermination and arson that they describe, its tranquillity is calmly sinister.

The production elements and dialogue are excellent, through the relentlessness of Human Animals can alienate – but that’s the point. It’s terrible, clever commentary on contemporary environmentalism, fear of social disorder and individuals’ reactions to what is effectively a civil war and its strong effect will be long remembered by this animal lover.

Human Animals runs through 18 June.

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.