Alien Land, VAULT Festival

by Laura Kressly

Saeed is a Bedouin Palestinian refugee, currently in prison. With no one to speak to, his imagination conjures all sorts of beings and memories. He tells the walls his family history and remembers an old man, a donkey, and and a faceless alien. But this disjointed piece takes too long to come together, and the chosen style confuses and disorientates rather than fully rallies the audience to his side.

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Changelings, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Mowgli, a ferocious boy-child raised by wolves in the jungle, has been kicked out of the pack. He’s trying to figure out what to do next when he meets a mysterious creature from another world – or rather, another story. Puck has been watching Mowgli with unusually keen interest, so the two might be able to help each other out.

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Dirty Work (The Late Shift), Battersea Arts Centre

by guest critic Rebecca JS Nice

Esteemed company Forced Entertainment fill the council chamber of Battersea’s old town hall with an enthused audience who laugh and snigger at the text presented to them. The performers are framed by a false, red curtained, proscenium arch that forms, like the show itself a facade: a description of something without being either of itself or the thing it describes. An hour and fifteen minutes runs with Robin Arthur and Cathy Naden taking turns to speak.

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Hamlet Fool, Lion & Unicorn Theatre

A lesson: always read press releases in full. Why? Because you might turn up to a show and discover it’s performed in Russian (when you don’t speak Russian). At least in this instance knowing the source material for Hamlet Fool, a one-woman street performance style retelling Shakespeare’s classic, provides a base knowledge.

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Chinglish, Park Theatre

Since the Print Room came under fire for whitewashing a Howard Barker play set in China earlier this year, three notable productions featuring East Asian actors graced UK stages. At different venues and produced by different companies, they were too close in time to the Print Room’s racism and to each other to be a deliberate, unified challenge. Instead, they optimistically indicate a sea change in on-stage visibility of East Asian actors. Perhaps they will no longer be relegated to silent maids, martial artists and geeky mathematicians; instead they will take on leading roles that showcase the diverse talent of British theatre.

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The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, Finborough Theatre


In the first part of Tony Harrison’s The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, Victorian archaeologist Grenfell struts and frets around a group of silent Egyptians sifting through scraps of papyrus. He maniacally monologues on his quest to find Sophocles’ lost plays and works himself into such a frenzy that he begins to hallucinate. This triggers an inexplicable leap to ancient Greece where a satyr play is acted out and cloth phalluses abound, then another transition to a modern day street populated by homeless men.

Though there is some thematic consistency, the three stories are otherwise unrelated by plot and style. What initially appears to be a play-within-a-play turns out to be a disjointed and disappointing triptych, much like the fragments of papyrus that litter the stage.

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The Master Builder, The Old Vic

Halvard Solness is afraid. He’s afraid of young people displacing him, and heights. But he is revered as the master builder of his town, a self-made man with luck on his side. The middle aged, unwell Halvard is surrounded by similarly unwell people: a wife who never recovered from past losses, a dying employee and a lovesick clerk. When a young woman he met ten years before arrives on his doorstep and disrupts his routine, the Everyman’s life goes into free fall. This dense, wordy production of Ibsen’s late work is a tightly coiled spring with exquisite design, but David Hare’s adaptation could use a good trim.

Luckily, Ralph Fiennes’ stage presence has been found some time between now and his Prospero at The Haymarket several years ago; Master Builder Halvard Solness flits around the edge of exploding for for nearly three hours and makes for captivating viewing. His tension isn’t alone, though. Linda Emond plays his wife Aline, a woman haunted by traumatic events in her past. Their cold, loveless marriage adds to the despair that hangs over the play. Even with bright spark Hilde Wangel (Sarah Snook), the foreboding and gloom still lurks on the edge of their existence.

Despite the grand performances, the set steals the show. Rob Howell’s design is grand and imposing, with symbolic elements that complement the play’s mood and tone. Curves and lines blend to create contemporary forms, but with a weight and scale that implies the architecture is not of this era. Hugh Vanstone’s lighting adds atmosphere and shadow, further emphasising plot points, but it could be used more often to create more visual variation. Though there are changes in both of the two intervals, the dominant elements remain until the climactic final moments; the sudden disintegration proves more surprising than the characters’ actions in the story itself.

Hare doesn’t skimp on language, but even though the two intervals prevent this production from feeling like its two hours and forty-five minutes, some of the scenes begin to lose momentum. Hare doesn’t attempt to make the language contemporary and maintains the script’s intellect, but neither is it hard to follow. There are just a lot of words, more than are actually needed. Snook uses her physicality most effectively, but the rest of the cast stick to the constraints of the text when extracting characterisation. Fiennes’ Halvard visibly relaxes in the presence of a younger woman, but outside of these infrequent moments, it’s all about the words.

Despite Matthew Warchus’ modern update of the Old Vic’s interior, this production of The Master Builder is firmly rooted in old fashioned realism. It’s a real treat for the senses with wonderful performances and a huge scope for interpretation – a most excellent production of a classic, despite its length.

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