Made in India, Soho Theatre

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@hannahnicklin: Since reading this I keep on thinking in quiet moments ‘women are raped nightly so I can have tomatoes in winter’

We know we exploit foreign workers for cheap goods, because we’re liberal and aware. But does that stop us? Largely, no – because we can’t afford to. I buy my clothes from Primark and my fruit and veg from the stalls that line Peckham Rye because I work in the arts and I’m poor. I don’t give any thought to where they come from in the transactional moment, but am righteously moved by articles like the one above that Hannah Nicklin tweeted. Sure, this makes me a hypocrite. But I need only to look at the other people also shopping on Sunday mornings to reinforce that I am far from alone. Most of my fellow “liberal elites” (educated, urban and left leaning) are the same, and centuries of imperialism (obviously white, male and western-led) have established the systems that the whole of society (including the liberal factions) implicitly condones through consumerism.

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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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Celebration, Florida, The Albany

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by guest critic Tom Brocklehurst

Shows incorporating technology have become more and more common recently. This experimental show, Celebration, Florida, features two unrehearsed performers wearing headphones. Greg Wohead, the creator of the show gives them instructions, dictates to them what to say and where to stand, and what accent to speak in. Most of the time they are speaking as him – they have to imitate his American accent (badly) and ask us to picture them as him, standing in his hotel room in his pants, thinking up ideas for this show.

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World Without Us, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Imagine the world if the entire human population disappeared suddenly, without a trace. What would it look like after a day, a month, a century, an era? A lone performer from Belgian company Ontroerend Goed methodically describes how the theatre space we sit in would change as a focal point within the wider world’s transformation. Delivered in a near monotone on a stage bare except for a grey obelisk, World Without Us is a meditative account of our solar system’s lifespan, and humanity’s inconsequence in the great scheme of planetary existence.

Karolien De Bleser quietly narrates this epoch-spanning journey of our planet with matter of fact coolness. What she describes really is remarkable in its compressed state, but the almost total lack of inflection makes the text pedestrian even in its most dramatic moments. Her movement around the space is relaxed and random, to look for meaning in it feels silly what with the story she tells.

With the ability to focus on the story without the mind drifting to topics such as what to have for lunch, the overall effect is a sense of calm acceptance that our lives, whilst impacting the planet immediately, really don’t matter. Our absence has little effect other than the gradual decay and burial of the artefacts we leave behind. Even in periods of environmental turmoil such as we see in the planet’s history, the impact is meaningless.

Even though the sun eventually swells and engulfs the Earth before it dies, all is not lost. Lightyears away, a single human artefact remains with a friendly but assumptive purpose. Its contents are, depending on one’s world view, absurd or incredibly beautiful. Perhaps they are both.The whimsy of human invention is particularly poignant at this moment.

World Without Us is a lovely, contemplative piece of performance and would work particularly well as an audio recording. As theatre, it could come across as flat, or upsetting or remarkable, depending each individual’s world view. Calmly provocative, it is wonderfully wide open to interpretation and effect.

World Without Us is now closed.

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.

 

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.

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.

William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged), Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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When I was a teenager, I discovered the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). My love for Shakespeare had already started to grow, and I thought the script was brilliantly funny and clever. I never saw a professional production of it, or any of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s subsequent plays, until their newest, William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged).

I found it hugely disappointing. The humour I found so witty and topical in the mid-90s, though updated, is bound in hackneyed and punny dialogue. The lack of fourth wall is great, but the panto-esque delivery feels cheesy, dated and over long. The script is fine in concept, but its execution is muddy. My tastes have clearly changed over the last twenty years and the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s work is no longer has the impact it once did.

However, the packed house laugh plenty so their style and concept are clearly still popular. Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor’s play is a mashup of most, if not all, of Shakespeare’s plays in one. Found in a Leicester carpark with a pile of bones, this is the never before seen script where Shakespeare tries to fit all his ideas in one in a totally nonsensical story.

Martin, Tichenor and Teddy Spencer are the three performers who play all roles. Their quick changes and timing are most impressive, though they rely on stale stereotypes and basic jokes to generate characters. Ariel from The Tempest becomes the mermaid, a handful of characters are inexplicably gay, and there’s even a joke about Viagra. (Are Viagra jokes even funny anymore?)

The show and the company are still popular after all these years, in spite of shallow, unsophisticated humour. Though the format clearly has staying power and wide appeal, it’s distinctive style in one for those with a penchant for comedy.

William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) runs through 29th August, then tours.

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.

Counting Sheep, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Just over two years ago, a revolution in Kiev ushered in the downfall of the Ukranian government. Protests against the government’s refusal to sign pro-EU legislation lasting months had several violent outbursts that saw hundred of people injured and 780 killed. Toronto-based Ukrainian musician Marichka Kudriavtseva, in Kiev for work at the time, joined the protesters where she met Mark Marczyk, also based in Canada.

When the two returned from the Ukraine, they teamed up with Marczyk’s Lemon Bucket Orkestra to create Counting Sheep, an immersive “guerrilla folk opera”. A celebration of solidarity and the power of a collective voice, it also mourns those who died in the protests. Told from the perspective of the protesters, little is shared from the other side – but this rallying performance is fitting homage to not just the Ukranian protesters, but those fighting government tyranny around the world.

Some audience sit around a huge table, whilst others sit on the sides of the space and still others up in a balcony. Klezmer or folk music is playing as the audience enters; there is a convivial atmosphere as the show formally starts. This is a party, or a wedding, or some other huge gathering, until the three screens display news reports of riots and police enter. The tone abruptly shifts, and the world that has been established is dismantled. It’s a wonderful, unsettling surprise.

The space is consistently reformed and redrawn using movement, and the audience is physically moved in the wake of the protesters’ gains and losses. They are willing and unquestioning, the sheep of the title. Though the numbers here obviously pale to those at the actual protest, but incorporating the audience in acts such a building barricades and lobbing bricks at police fosters unity from disparate dozens. There is a hint of the solidarity and aggression found in protests, and joy and celebration from the audience who are keen to play. Being served food is also an important enabler that solidifies the unity the show aims to create.

Counting Sheep is hugely effective in its emotional manipulation, and also it’s storytelling through music, movement and projections. Choosing sheep as a metaphor is a curious choice, though. The benign but rather dumb livestock aren’t known for thinking for themselves and are susceptible to herding – otherwise, they wander around unproductively, getting lost and eaten by predators. Whilst the performers are the herders here, they are also in sheep masks, unempowered. Who then are the herders? The government? Unseen forces of political and social unrest? Whatever it is, us human beings are hugely susceptible to it when motivated enough, even if the metaphor isn’t totally clear.

Though sung completely in Ukranian, there is a clear storyline conveyed through projections and movement. There is little nuance in this piece, but it a playground for the sweeping emotions of popular theatre. It provides at least a hint of the experience that the Ukranian protesters endured, and powerfully unites the audience through the humanity of collective experience for a common goal. An excellent piece of theatre.

Counting Sheep runs through 29th 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.