KlangHaus: 800 Breaths, Southbank Centre

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by guest critic Archie Whyld

A dozen or so of us were led to the roof of the Royal Festival Hall where we were told to expect: ‘A multi-sensory encounter of shifting sound, colour and light, which reinvents the gig-going experience as a site-responsive close-up standing performance.’ Whatever that is.

The roof space of the building has a boiler room, pipes and generators claustrophobic submarine feel and we were gently led through it by the actor, performer, musicians The Neutrinos and visual artist Sal Pitman. The guitarist checked his pulse, and then he checked mine, and then he gave me a nod of reassurance.

What was going on? The live music alternated between industrial electronic noise jazz and hypnotic acoustic, haunting lullabies. The projections and colour-scape, provided at points by an old fashioned slide projector, combined with the music and submarine architecture, to create a dreamlike and otherworldly experience. There was no narrative to speak of, other than the mention of breaths – 800 of them. Is this the number of breaths we take in an hour, the length of the performance?

Proceedings culminated with a projection of a cloudscape on the ceiling and the audience being led outside on to the roof of the building to be exposed to the air and the beautiful summer London skies. This is a beautiful moment. Is it theatre, though?

Depends on your definition. Post-dramatic theatre probably, in that there were no discernible characters, nor was there an apparent plot. It favoured feeling and mood rather than action, and in this respect it was hugely successful.

KlangHause: 800 Breaths runs through 23 July.

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.

Dirty Work (The Late Shift), Battersea Arts Centre

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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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Day Two at Buzzcut Festival

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Part of the reason I wanted to come to Buzzcut is that I find it hard to write about live art. I don’t dislike it, far from it – I have a broad but uninformed appreciation of it. But my theatrical home is built from Shakespeare, text-based narratives and the great American playwrights. I’m no Megan Vaughan or Rosie Curtis – I see performance art every now and again, but not nearly enough as I should. So the goal is to see a lot of live art, and write about. The range in styles and approaches is vast and the festival draws live artists from around the country, so it’s a great place to experience this form of performance.

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Day One at Buzzcut Festival

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Actually, it’s the second day of the live art festival at the Pearce Institute in Glasgow but due to work, I couldn’t make the opening day. So in order to save travel time, I lost by Megabus Gold virginity and took the overnight sleeper coach. Unceremoniously dumped in Buchanan bus station at 6:30 am after an intermittent night’s sleep, I chugged a coffee (after being laughed at for attempting to order a flat white) in the station caf before heading to my digs, then navigating an unfamiliar city’s public transport across town to the Pearce Institute.

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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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Narcissistic Nativity, Fucking Little Elf Bitch, Rosemary Branch

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After 20 years running the Rosemary Branch, Cecilia Darker and Cleo Sylvestre moved on to pastures new in June this year. Unattended Items, a company with a focus on interactive theatre and design-led work, took over and have been busy programming work that has similar practices to their own.

Their Christmas bill of adults-only shows is no different. Urban Foxes Collective’s Narcissistic Nativity is a feminist, live art piece fighting against the patriarchy; Mammalian’s Fucking Little Elf Bitch is a one-woman show on the perils of working in a grotto. Both break down the fourth wall and use non-linear structures, and both need some tweaking for the sake of clarity, but this pair effectively balance current issues and laughs.

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The People Show 124: Fallout, Toynbee Studios

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Making devised work for the past 50 years, People Show are nothing less than prolific. Their multidisciplinary works are numbered as part of the title; the company’s works now number 132. To celebrate their anniversary, the company’s taken over Toynbee Studios for three days, filling the venue with performances, films and an exhibition celebrating their half a century of work.

People Show 124: Fallout, first performed in 2013, is resurrected here. The piece deconstructs speeches by public figures and adds light, sound and film; the overall effect is one of provocative absurdity – isolated soundbites lose all meaning, even in a world that’s said to be falling apart. This short piece drives its point home quickly and efficiently and stimulates the senses, but with its message emphasising meaninglessness, it soon becomes repetitive.

Everything in the room is white, even the padded floor is powdered with talc to add an additional layer of frost. Pillows attached to the walls evoke a soothing dreamscape. But soon, pulsing colours disturb the peace as the cast of four fiercely deliver snippets of text. The lights are often so bright they are uncomfortable, even though the colours are childlike and fun. The juxtaposition is clever and sharp, and the switch from austere to saturated is an effective one.

The actors’ tone ranges from gentle to antagonistic, with a decidedly post-apocalyptic bent to the text. Projections of sweeping desert landscapes back up the promises of nuclear fallout, though the dreamy atmosphere from the beginning still lingers – what is real, and what is the product of our subconscious? The disconnect from reality diminishes any potential meaning, making the outcome decidedly absurd, even though the intention seems to want to carry more weight.

This colourful world enhanced with gorgeous projections, bright lights and music is integrated  with the text, though there is a lack of development in the core idea of the piece. If real life is has no purpose and we’re better off in a dream because the world is hellbent on destroying us, that’s fine – but a performance telling us that is not an easy thing to execute and in this case, not done fully effectively.

People Show 124: Fallout 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.