Circus Sampler, Somerset House

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by Rebecca JS Nice

The Circus Sampler at Somerset House, two weekends of events focusing on circus with an emphasis on introducing skills to first timers, opens with a demonstration of hula-hoop skills and an opportunity to try it out with the Majorettes. Far From the Norm perform Union Black, a hip-hop battle incorporating two Chinese poles, a tight rope and a cyr wheel, on the first weekend. A lack-lustre exhibition inside Somerset House, under researched and cheaply displayed, gives a snapshot of different circus styles and companies over time. Gandini Juggling Company bring the week of community events and performances to a close with a site responsive choreography, sophisticated in form and silly in performance.

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The End of History, St Giles in the Field

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Paul (Chris Polick) is a London property developer. He’s a smooth talker and wears impeccably cut, expensive looking suits. He goes to exclusive chillouts where he takes pills and fucks men he doesn’t know. He’s waiting for the clinic to phone.

Wendy’s (Sarah Malin) an art therapist for a few different charities. She’s a liberal activist, and works with homeless people when budgets allow. She and her boyfriend Dave have just split up so moved out and has no where to go. With luggage in tow and work in the morning, she’s reached the end of the line.

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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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DRINKS, Safehouse 1

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Tucked between the hipster heaven that is the Bussey Building and south London armpit Peckham bus depot, Basic Space Festival has taken up a brief residency at Safehouse 1, one of a collection of formerly derelict properties managed by Maverick Projects. Sophie Andrea Mitchell’s DRINKS, one of the site-responsive festival productions, is a sitcom-ish, millennial comedy on reconciling friendship with growing up.

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Electric Eden, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Tommy Eden, a pensioner with a love for street performing since he retired, is dead. Local entrepreneur Alexander Sheldon’s security guards are responsible. Sheldon didn’t like Tommy performing outside his high end spa and leisure centre, but when the guards manhandled him off his patch, Tommy’s 87-year-old body couldn’t take it. Local young people, angry at the rapid gentrification of their town and the death of a local treasure, organise a protest/party in the abandoned club across the road, and everyone’s invited.

Not Too Tame’s Electric Eden doesn’t manage to deliver much of a party, though. Shouty political slogans and several under-developed subplots give a vague picture of a bigger problem, and staging choices fight against the attempted audience immersion. The concept promises a dynamic execution, but the delivery disappoints.

Seven characters at the party are featured, including organiser Greg (Andrew Butler) and Tommy Eden’s granddaughter, Grace (Louise Haggerty). Their stories, as well as those of the other five characters, are gradually presented through disconnected scenes in between dance numbers and party games. The audience are sometimes invited to join the dancing, other songs are tightly choreographed.

An exposition of protest rhetoric delivered down a mic, petition signing and ordering drinks from the bar is too long. Each of the characters’ individual stories only gets a couple of scenes, so they come across as generic snapshots of character types rather than real people.

The audience are provided with chairs so even though director Jimmy Fairhurst wants to create a party atmosphere, inevitably the majority of the audience end up sitting and watching for the entire performance. Choosing a club as a venue adds little with such a clear distinction between the actors and the audience, and the continuous reiteration that this is a party comes across as forced and false.

The performances are fine and there’s some tight choreography, though this also feels out of place with the attempts to create an anarchic/punk atmosphere. Electric Eden tries to be both a genuine party and a play, but the two aesthetics are so diametrically opposed that neither ends up working within the piece.

The whole experience is frustratingly flat, though it shows such promise on paper. With a script overhaul and a clear vision as to what Electric Eden wants to achieve, it would be a stronger piece. As is, it comes across as a confused and undeveloped piece.

Electric Eden 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.

Foiled, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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It’s a big day at Bleach for the Stars. The Welsh salon has been nominated salon of the year by Clip Advisor, and dim-but-enthusiastic manageress Sabrina has a lot to do to prepare, like fill out the form to nominate the salon for the award and find money to pay the administration fee. Fed up junior stylist Tanisha does her best to pander to Sabrina’s whims and half-truths, but as the end-of-day deadline for the application looms and a last minute “celebrity” client arrives, Sabrina struggles to keep the business running to the standard that her dad, the owner, expects.

Foiled takes place after hours in a working hair salon, adding a genuine site-specific element to a script that draws on several styles of text-based comedy to entertain its audience. Puns, slapstick, one-liners and Sabrina’s regular misspeaking keep the laughs coming, and two scenarios that raise the stakes drive the action forward. There’s a token sprinkling of musical theatre numbers that feel a bit out of place, but help break up the action nicely.

The intertwining sitcom-esque scenarios hover on the verge of messiness, but writers Beth Granville (who also plays Sabrina) and David Charles keep just enough order in the story for it to not get lost. Staging is a challenge here with the actors racing up and down the narrow salon and sightlines oaccasionally blocked, but the salon is small enough that it’s always easy to hear the dialogue.

Though insubstantial and silly on the surface, Foiled makes pretty powerful comments on social mobility, class and privilege. Tanisha and Sabrina come from very different backgrounds and financial situations which, combined with the two primary plot threads manage to to not feel crowbarred. Foiled is a good laugh, well performed and has a lot to say.

Foiled 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.