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.

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Hamlet, Harold Pinter Theatre

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Hamlet may or may not be Shakespeare’s magnum opus, but the Dane is unquestionably one of the greatest roles in the English language. Theatre’s pop star Robert Icke, what with his reputation for hot takes on the classics, no doubt found the play’s allure irresistible. This Hamlet, freshly transferred to the West End from the Almeida, is a slick, beast of a production surpassing three hours. Undeniably contemporary, it does its best to smash the restrictions of the proscenium arch with a celebrity cast and achingly cool, Scandi/corporate design. His casting of Andrew Scott in the title role and subsequent character choices makes this a Hamlet for cool young people on the hunt for profundity, depth of meaning and instagrammable aesthetics.

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The Misanthrope, Drayton Arms

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Exchange Theatre sets The Misanthrope in a contemporary newsroom full of gossip, affairs, backstabbing and cocaine-fueled all-nighters. Alceste loathes the way his colleagues behave, but fancies the flirtatious Celimene in spite of his prejudices. His jealousy and inability to be polite to his colleagues causes a litany of issues that play out over their broadcasts, eventually leading to his lonely downfall.

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Disconnect, Ugly Duck

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Imagine a production of Waiting for Godot with more characters, set in space, where the audience chooses the outcome of the story. What you are picturing is probably gloriously weird and kitschy. But now add clumsy dialogue, some poor performances and a loosely applied Brexit analogy, performed on a set that looks like it’s built of cardboard and/or they ran out of paint. If your mind’s eye makes a different picture now, it be more accurate.

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The Pulverised, Arcola Theatre

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Does anyone really win under capitalism? Alexandra Badea’s The Pulverised doesn’t think so. Even though those near the top of the pyramid living jetsetting lifestyles and rolling in cash might live comfortable lives, they are still left feeling broken and hollow. The french play, here translated into English by Lucy Phelps, is a pacy account of four victims of globalisation on different levels of the supply chain.

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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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