Party Game, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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by guest critic Tom Brocklehurst

WARNING: SPOILERS (but you probably won’t want to see it anyway after reading what I have to say).

I have reservations as soon as I walk into bluemouth’s new immersive party show at the Wee Red Bar. Primarily because there aren’t many people there – never a good sign for a party.

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Den, Shoreditch Town Hall

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by guest critic Rebecca JS Nice

After working on Tristan Sharps’ Absent at The Shoreditch Town Hall in 2015, I have been given an education in the building’s rich maze of ballrooms and basements, shiny bars and crusty corridors, peeling paint and underground nooks and crannies that both delight and disorientate in equal measure. Dream Think Speak Company did just that, honouring the architecture of the building in a site specific work that set a precedent for work to come. As the evening of May 4th unfolds it seems that Cass Arts are unaware of their sophisticated forbears when they claim to produce “site-specific performances and installations on the themes of secrecy and disguise” in Den. As contemporary immersive theatre expands from the spectacle of Punch Drunk to the intimacy of Sheila Ghelani, Cass Arts have widely missed the context in which they have placed themselves.

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The Lock In, VAULT Festival

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It’s St Patrick’s Day at an Irish pub in London. We’ve been there for awhile, but the night is young. There’s a five-strong band more focused on arguing the facts of Irish history than playing music. This becomes the story – drunken frontman Eamonn (Ian Horgan) attempts to tell us the story of the venerable saint. Numerous diversions, interaction, songs and plenty of banter follows a convoluted path through the power of storytelling, national identity and the veracity of history.

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Ionesco/Dinner at the Smiths’, Latvian House

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By guest critic Archie Whyld

On arriving at the front door of Latvian House I am by a very smart, besuited Italian butler who refuses to let me in and won’t really give me a clear reason as to why. Had the performance begun? He suggests I get a drink at the bar in the basement but won’t allow me to take the most obvious and direct route to said bar; instead I use the tradesman’s outdoor, wrought iron steps entrance. The bar seems to be in Riga, Latvia, what with all its eastern Europe chic. I stand at the bar waiting to order. No one comes. Meanwhile Latvian drinkers enjoy interesting looking beers, chat in hushed tones and completely ignore me. I stand, thirsty, with multi-coloured disco ball lights streaking across my face. Is this all part of the performance? Or am I in a dream?

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Hotel Europe, The Green Rooms

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As populism rises and fascists are tightening national borders with physical walls and stricter immigration regulations, the revolution is gaining speed. Protests and rallies are the most prominent forms of activism, but there is a growing movement in DIY and small actions.

Theatre isn’t standing by, either. In five of the bedrooms at the recently opened hotel for artists The Green Rooms, Isley Lynn and Philipp Ehmann have installed binaural radio drama performances telling stories of migration. With each story by a different writer, solo listeners are treated to intimate, personal accounts of characters impacted by migration. Quietly subversive, each story snapshots a changing world and the vulnerable people affected by the right wing’s knee-jerk, xenophobic reaction.

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We Are Ian, VAULT Festival

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by guest critic Martin Pettitt

We enter into a long damp and dingy chamber, in the distance there is a flashing screen with 3 sets of legs beneath, feet bedecked in shoes with multi-coloured lights, gyrating and popping to the pronounced beat of the music. The screen blinks with various versions of the words: We Are Ian. In terms of stage set, that was it apart from a bulb hanging from the ceiling and a vast amount of digestive biscuits.

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Howl, Rosemary Branch Theatre

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With Halloween becoming more and more popular this side of the pond, horror theatre and live events are proliferating. The London Horror Festival is bigger than ever, new scare attractions appear all over the country every year and independent events like Frissonic’s Howl expand the otherworldly and terrifying offers for thrill seekers this time of year. A site specific, immersive performance for an audience of six, Howl is a considered, effective performance that induces plenty of jumps. Though the story of a disappeared sister and mysterious voices is patchy, it is well delivered, and combines audience manipulation with technology to create a delightfully creepy event.

The choice of a small audience generates fear from the beginning – there is less protection with fewer people, particularly when paranormal investigator Rory places us on isolated chairs around a large, long-abandoned storage room. We are there to help Rory look into a something he heard when he was recently alone in the theatre, and we use sound to try evoke it again. Wireless headphones, increasing pace and anxiety, and customised audio content create heavy tension and uncertainly ripe for scares.

The ending in a different room is too rushed and betrayed by the lack of a full blackout. Though there is a clear resolution, the reasoning leading up to that point is never fully explained. How does this voice connect to Rory’s sister who disappeared all those years ago? How did we find him and decide we want to help? Rory is very much a character of the present, but frustratingly little of his past is revealed.

Frissonic nail the scares in Howl with their tech and small-audience approach, but adding flesh to the skeletal story will hugely improve it. Currently running at 40 minutes, another 15 or 20 minutes of text will make this feel more theatrical and less reliant on the scares.

Howl runs through 31 October.

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