Goats, Royal Court

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by guest critic Gregory Forrest

You have goat to be kidding me: the Royal Court’s latest experiment is a tonally-confused take on the Syrian conflict, fake news, and livestock management.

The bleating heart of Liwaa Yazji’s narrative is fascinating. For every son martyred in the ongoing war, local government will provide their grieving family with a goat. Children replaced by milk-laden mammals – it is a compensation scheme of twisted proportions. Local party leader Abu al-Tayyib goes as far as to declare ‘Our vision is for every house in the nation to have its own goat.’

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The Kid Stays in the Picture, Royal Court

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By guest critic Willa O’Brian

The American dream is a tantalising thing. Even the grubbiest kid from New York, the son of a nobody dentist, can become a film star and producer. This is Robert Evans’ story, the man responsible for pictures like ‘The Godfather’. Complicité’s Simon McBurney adapted the show from Evans’ autobiography, which paints a picture from a better time: when movies were pictures and hard boiled men tacked “see?” on the ends of sentences wreathed in cigarette smoke. It is visually sumptuous and the cast of eight are a constantly churning ensemble that whip the story into a froth and delivery a sensory overload of American tropes and history and multi-media tricks. Given the subject matter, the desire to incorporate all of these elements makes sense.

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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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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.

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.

Macbeth: without words, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Shakespeare without words. What’s left? In Ludens Ensemble’s Macbeth: without words, plenty. Drawing on the aesthetic of silent films and Victorian gothic with the near-constant use of live sound mixing, a trio of performers playing all roles conveys the story effectively through movement and subtitles. This spooky adaption taps into the heavy darkness and supernatural elements of the story in an easy to follow and visually compelling production.

The design is the most striking element of the show. Greyscale, sexless costumes are the base for elements of victoriana – waspies, a skeletal skirt, capes and papery crowns. Large screens and dust sheets host an array of productions, from silent movie captions to abstract splodges of colour. Haze is used liberally, but it actually feels appropriate to this production to create fog over the heath. The dust sheets are also cleverly used to create ghostly apparitions and shadows, though these could be used more often as a design motif. Two microphones and prerecorded sounds are mixed live to create rich soundscape of suspense and violence, though silence is used to highlight powerful moments of suspense.

The two men and one women are strong physical performers evidently influenced by theatrical clowning and animal work. Their focus and intensity are unwavering, especially as Macbeth’s torment grows. Expressed outwardly, this becomes the centre of the story.

Though there are a few extracts of text, stage directions and summaries projected, Macbeth: without words would be hard to follow without knowing the story already. A freesheet with a plot summary would go a long way to ensure all audience members are catered for. Some of the scenes could use lengthening to reflect their importance to the story, particularly the banquet scene.

This is a visually stunning adaptation of Shakespeare’s play that in no way underserves the original by stripping away the text. Ludens Ensemble create a vocabulary of movement, images and sound that feels just as rich as Shakespeare’s.

Macbeth: without words 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.