Archive for August, 2011

A message from Theatre Punk:

As promised, here is the first review from the only darn professional on this blog! James works primarily in film journalism, but has been torn from his comfortable press screening room into the world of theatre. Keep an eye out for his reviews on here which, no doubt, will be much more insightful than anything we could write!

Over to you James…

24/08/11

Let’s get this out of the way- I am not a ‘theatre guy’. I have been to, and enjoyed, lots of productions in my time, but cannot profess the same passion for this world as others who have written on this site. However, this seems somewhat appropriate, as “Batman Live” is not your traditional type of theatre. For starters, it’s an ‘arena tour’, then there’s the multi-million pound budget, the ‘unprecedented’ (the publicity department’s words, not mine) scale… basically, this is to fringe theatre what a U2 concert is to a gig in the back of a pub.

Two reservations remained, however, as I approached the familiar dome- how will the O2 handle a theatrical production? Even if it is more of a stunt show than a play, can it hold the attention of 20,000 (most of which, no doubt, will be sugar-filled youngsters)? Secondly, the ever-present concern of whether the production will ‘get’ Batman. The world of Gotham is easy to get wrong (exhibit A- 1997’s “Batman & Robin” film), and lest we forget over in Broadway the infamous “Spider-man: Turn Off The Dark” debacle, so how will they balance the dark world of Batman whilst still keeping it family friendly?

The first thing that struck me as we waited for the gates to open was the diverse array of people in the crowd- obviously, the throng of under-10’s charging around in masks and capes, but also groups of teens, young couples, thirty-somethings, businessmen… I even saw a couple that must have been in their seventies eagerly clutching a programme. The appeal of The Dark Knight is clearly wide-reaching, or at least that was the impression before I entered… and found half of an arena. The upper half of the O2’s seating was ‘blacked out’ with curtains, leaving what I assume is just a little over half of the seats available. The website implies this is planned, as they state the show is designed for crowds of 4,000-10,000, however it did give a strange sense of intimacy to a usually vibrant arena.

First impressions of the production however, were mind-blowing. The stage was Gotham, a roughly Manhattan-shaped island with buildings, skyscrapers and at its rear a giant bat-shaped screen which would provide the background. The real marvel was to come when the show opened, and revealed the stage to be a technological marvel- buildings sunk into the stage or revolved, so the combination of this and the screen (which also opened up to accommodate bigger props) could make this stage anything they wanted it to be.

The show begins with a brief origin story of Bruce Wayne’s parents, and how revenge drove him to become Gotham’s savour- Batman. We are then transported- and I mean transported- to Gotham’s circus, complete with streamers, ‘horses’, jugglers and a trapeze show. We are then thrust into the origin story of Dick Grayson, whose parents are killed at the hands of an unknown assailant, and is put in the care of Bruce. The pair conflict with each other as Bruce struggles to keep his identity as Batman a secret, and prevent Dick from trying to seek out revenge. The murder turns out to be a plot by the evil joker, who takes over the circus and hatches a plan to destroy the Caped Crusader, using the future Boy Wonder as bait. Aiding him in this is the full rogue’s gallery, including .

The show is a wonder to look at. Every penny of the bloated budget is there on the stage, with the aesthetics genuinely feeling like a circus, Wayne Manor, Arkham Asylum, and many more locations. We are also treated to spectacular dancing, acrobatics, and props that would make any West End show green with envy- hot air balloons, a giant Joker head, and of course the impressive Batmobile (a modified Formula 1 car). The first act is perhaps less impressive, owing no doubt to the fact that it is trying to appeal to everyone. This act is full of backstory, and that makes for a somewhat slow pace (albeit with the welcome distraction of some wonderful acrobatics). The general tone is a little pulpy, somewhat like a Dick Tracy serial, which will not please fans of the darker Christopher Nolan interpretation (although, to be fair, that would be a tough sell to a crowd of families).

 Perhaps the scene that sums up the production’s issues is Batman’s rooftop fight with Catwoman, which is an exercise in ambition versus practicality. The way it is done feels jarring and unclear, with the scale making for a confusing set piece. Basically, it looks great but doesn’t really get you anywhere. The second half is far more entertaining, thanks almost entirely to the presence of The Joker- played by a wonderfully maniacal Mark Frost. Equal parts humorous and menacing, it’s the stand-out performance of the night. We are then treated to what we came for- fights, explosions, big props, and a frankly terrifying climactic scene (complete with hanging corpses) in Arkham Asylum.

Overall, this is a crowd pleaser, a fun family night out that tries to give everyone something to be excited about (there are darker moments that will no doubt please fans of the comics), but really is a big bucket-load of Hollywood glitter thrown in your face. A cross between a west end show and the ‘live spectaculars’ that you might find in a theme park, there’s very few that won’t find this hugely entertaining, and children will be absolutely entranced.

Length: Approx. 2 hours inc. interval (Act one: 50 mins; Act two: 45 Mins).

Programme Price: £15. (capes and masks sold separately!).

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 Shakespeare For Breakfast

 Shakespeare for Breakfast

Shakespeare For Breakfast has become a staple of my Fringe experience; putting aside the free coffee and croissant you get with your ticket, the show is really just a great way to wake yourself up if you’re feeling a bit show-fatigued. This year’s production is Macbeth, but filtered through some High School movie clichés, and, as always, it’s fast-paced, funny and rather well written.

At Castle High School, Duncan is head boy and favourite of the overbearing and glory-hunting PE teacher, Mr Macduff. Meanwhile Macbeth (Joseph Morpurgo) is visited by three Goths, one of whom is hilariously portrayed a glove puppet, who predict his rise to be head of Cawdor House and ultimately head boy. When his ambitious cheerleader girlfriend, Beth, (Felicity Russell) hears of this, she schemes to embarrass Duncan and install Macbeth as head boy.

This year’s production is much better than it has been in previous years, and i really enjoyed previous years!  The writing is slick and treads that line between traditional and more topical jokes really well – the acting is also well above the normal standard. Tomas Wolstenholme is just outstanding as Mr Macduff, and his comic timing worthy of a much much larger audience. The rest of the cast are great too, though perhaps outshone slightly by Wolstenholme’s performance.

This is essentially a Fringe panto. There is audience participation, jokes about the tiny cast, a musical number, and a few blue jokes thrown in for good measure. It’s probably not going to win awards, it may not be innovative and life changing, but it’s incredibly good fun, and will set you in good stead for a day of Fringe fun. Highly recommended. 

Little Matter

 The River People: Little Matter

I feel this review needs some explanation. When I stepped into the tiny theatre set around a beautiful wagon, I first registered the delightful folk music filling the space, then I inhaled and my heart sank. The River People had, I suppose in an attempt to engage all senses, filled the air with inscense. Unfortunately for me, I am violently allergic to inscence and air fresheners, so was immediately dreading the following hour. I understand that not everyone had this problem, but I was immediately put off. I noticed quite a lot of other people coughing too – and spotted one mother subtly trying to give her son his inhaler in the middle of the show. Perhaps a sign or something similar outside the tent would help to warn people?

Anyway, I was understandably a little distracted during the performance as my arms broke out in hives and my eyes started streaming, but I struggled on as, despite my whinging, I really am a big fan of The River People.

Tucked away in a car park off Chambers Street, The River People present their usual blend of puppetry, music and storytelling, telling the story of a young man who feels he has not reached his full potential, wrapping this tale in magic and myth.

There are echoes of their previous production Lilly Through The Dark here as The River People once again examine the light and dark in all of us. However, where Lilly was driven by a fantastic story, Little Matter lacks this. The music, atmosphere and tehcnical skill are all there, but the story is not. The narrative is muddled and often appeared incomplete. What started as a tale of a man who did not live up to his potential became a confusing and convoluted trip into the subconscious; encountering potential children and dark characters along the way. And then, seemingly from nowhere, the whole thing was blamed upon an absent parent. I really wanted to like this, The River People are one of my favourite companies at the moment and they have bags of potential, but this one just doesn’t match up to the very high bar they have previously set.

Saying that there were some lovely moments of storytelling and puppetry, most notable the ogre of a boss with glowing green eyes. The music was also beautifully executed, and the design was great (though the lighting a little low for intricate puppetry). All four actors were brilliant actor/musicians, and there is something incredibly endearing about seeing such talented people appear so humble.

I am confident that with some polishing this show could be just as great as their previous productions. I wonder if the wagon signals a swing towards rural touring, because The River People would no doubt bring a lot of joy to smaller communities. 

Street Dreams

 Street Dreams

It appears I am on something of a puppetry binge this Festival. Street Dreams was the only time flyering actually worked on me, as it was handed to me while I was queueing for Swamp Juice, and as I had a gap I thought I’d give it a go. This is puppetry at its simple and glorious best.

The story is a simple one. A little hobo tries desperately to read his book in peace, but is distracted by his rubbish dump companions. Because of this, he decides to emigrate to the grassy land he spotted just a short umbrella ride away. When there, he realises that home really is where the heart is, and travels back to be with his old friends.

A silent and simple puppet show, Little Cauliflower use bits of scrap and things from the rubbish bin to create a rich and engaging world. The birds are made from carrier bags, his rubbish dump friends a rubber glove and old banana skins. It’s lovely to see the young company breathe life into these ordinary objects.

The main puppet, that of the hobo, could perhaps be a little more expressive – his movements weren’t immediately clear, and took some guesswork to figure out his intent, but you were willing to make that effort, as the company had instilled in this little puppet a warm and child-like personality.

I am unaware of Little Cauliflower’s work until now, but this show shows some promise. The music and puppetry is delicate, if not totally accomplished, and the story is really quite touching.  It’s a very sweet play, and I’m sure this would be particularly great for children, though may not have the universal appeal I have seen in other puppet shows.

And The Birds Fell From the Sky

 

Sitting in a darkened and dirty waiting room, watching a broken TV relaying newsreels of a freak occurrence in America, I wondered what I had let myself in for. I had no idea what Birds Fell was when I bough the ticket, but, like most things at the Fringe, a friend had recommended it, so I had to give it a go.

Performed every 15 minutes for only 2 people, its worth seeing this piece if only for the technological innovation involved. The show takes place on some video goggles, while you and your companion are drawn, both physically and mentally into this world taking place before your eyes.

The smells and sensations around you completely match up with what you are experiencing visually – a clown spits alcohol over you and you feel it hit your skin, smelling the pungent alcohol smell in your nostrils. Objects are placed in your hands, and you are seated in a car and taken on a wild ride.

The difficulty with this show is the story itself. If there was a story, I was so disoriented by the style that I found it impossible to follow, and even if I were completely nonplussed by the goggles, it would still have been incredibly difficult to understand. As a piece of art it was certainly interesting. The car full of clowns was a powerful image, but they overcomplicated the story for the audience who are new to this style.

Those niggles aside, this is a nicely innovative show that stays with you for some time. I particularly enjoyed all the small touches that made the show that bit more special: a phone number you can call afterwards, a keepsake that unravels to become a tarot reading, and a parish newsletter in the waiting room. This appears to be the start of something new. It covers ground that Alma Mater tackles a little more delicately, but the intent is the same. This is the next level of immersive theatre – first person theatre, if you will.

Swamp Juice

Swamp Juice

What an unexpected delight. Scamp’s reputation precedes them, but my only experience of them was the beautifully crafted Private Peaceful (also at the Fringe this year – though I saw it in 2009) – I wasn’t expecting the puppet menagerie awaiting me.

Set in the eponymous swamp, Jeff Achtem fills the story with creatures in various forms, but the main story follows the journey of one little man’s determined pursuit of Birdie, his Roadrunner styled nemesis who is always one step ahead of him.

The apppeal of this show is its simplicity – it’s a very basic story performed incredibly well by a supremely talented actor. Achtem is superb – bumbling, shy and instantly endearing, he effortlessly brings his shadow puppets to life with breathtaking realism, despite being made from cardboard and bits of scrap. His adorable performance style means that, even in the shows darker moments, no child is frightened as Achtem draws them into his world as though a child himself. (“That took me a week!” he exclaims proudly, pointing to one of his puppet creations)

At various stages he involves the audience in creating his beautiful shadow world, inducing squeals of delight from adults and kids alike, and as we reach the end he adds another fantastic element as we all don those familiar red and blue glasses and the shadows become 3D! “Avatar, eat your heart out,” says Jeff – I have to agree!

This show is perfect fringe fodder, and deserves to be seen by a much wider audience. I doubt you will ever see shadow puppets so lifelike and full of character – and you’ll find yourself thinking “Here Birdie Birdie Birdie” long after you’ve left the theatre.

 
Translunar Paradise

I went to this show on the recommendation of my twitter feed and thank goodness I did. Theatre Ad Infinitum tell the story of a man who is lost following the death of his wife. Lonely and mourning, he copes by reliving treasured memories of his wife and their life together, from meeting and courtship, through to sadder memories of heartbreak and loss.

Told entirely without words, with only an accordion/singer for accompaniment, this show could very easily have slipped into schmaltz, but instead this show packs an emotional punch I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before in a theatre.
The masks used to portray the elderly couple force meaning into the simplest of gesture. A tapping finger, a glance to the left – all create a full and moving picture of a man bereft of his life partner. The lack of words was heartbreaking – there was no weeping or wailing, no beating of the chest – instead there was an unspoken sense of loss that needed no words.

The man and his wife’s older selves are played using handheld masks that are pulled away when they play the younger versions of themselves. The effect is extraordinarily poignant, their whole bodies becoming younger and more full of life. George Mann and Deborah Pugh delicately portray these scenes of the younger couple – the movements suggesting snapshots of utter happiness. Even an argument between the couple becomes just another expression of love.

Perhaps the moment that will remains with me longest is that of our elderly friend distracting himself from his loneliness by making a cup of tea – only to absent-mindedly pick up two cups from the cupboard. As I describe this I realise I am making it sound like a maudlin and depressing tale, when that couldn’t be further from the truth. For each moment of sadness there is another of joy as we celebrate their incredible life together.

I rarely give praise without fault, but I fell completely in love with this show. I, like most of the sell-out audience, wept unashamedly as Theatre Ad Infinitum taught us that death isn’t really the end, so long as we keep the memory of loved ones alive. See this show. Bring tissues and tell your friends, such a sublime and beautiful piece of theatre should be seen by as many people as possible. It’s astounding how much you can say without words, and this company says it perfectly. 

Comedian Dies in the Middle of Joke

cditmoj image

            Forest Fringe is, in my opinion, the greatest venue the fringe has to offer. With free tickets and a bohemian style, the place seems to encapsulate exactly what the Fringe is all about. This fun little show is set in the middle of a comedians failing comedy set, and as if his day couldn’t get any worse, he’s going to be shot at the end of the set.

Written by Ross Sutherland Comedian Dies In The Middle Of Joke is an interactive play for small groups, where audience members take it in turns to play the various parts on offer. There’s the sycophantic agent, the party table, the insulted soldier and many more, and a fortunate few even get a chance to be the comedian. The reason everyone changes around so much is that our eponymous comedian is stuck in a 6 minute time loop – and no matter what happens, he’s going to die at the end of that 6 minutes.

            If nothing else, this show was really great fun. There was something really engaging about coming up with various lines and barbs depending on the character you were playing, and the ‘6 minute loop’ repetition was quite effective as we witnessed our comedian struggling to overcome the inevitable. It was also a very social event – I went in alone, but I emerged chatting animatedly about the show and agreeing to meet my fellow audience members for a drink.

            Saying that, this show isn’t going to change lives. It has a powerful ending, and the repetition is very effective, but when you boil this show down, it’s really just a very clever parlour game. However, this was a parlour game I was more than happy to play.

Crunch

 

Another Forest Fringe show (I told you I love that venue!), Crunch is pretty unique for fringe shows. Part lecture, part sales pitch, part motivational life coaching, Crunch examines the worlds over-reliance on money, and asks us to question this once in a while.

            In his sharp suit and slicked back hair style, Gary McNair presents his lecture on the money, explaining its history, and presenting it to us for what it really is, just a belief system like any other. He asks us to enter his five-step programme to rid ourselves of the tyranny of money and take back control. After all, he explains, we are the ones who really decide the value of that bit of paper with £10 printed on it.

McNair is honest and charming, and uses various techniques to show audiences the true value of money. There is an auction for a sealed envelope containing an unknown sum of money, and as he attempts to purchase a bag from an audience member he offers things that, perhaps, have more worth – building your flat pack furniture for example, or cooking you a meal.

However, what most people will be talking about when they leave is the moment when Mcnair, like a faith healer or preacher, invites people up onto the stage to be ‘cured’ of their obsession with money. He then unveils a shredder and asks for volunteers to take the money from their wallets and shred it. What is fascinating is the amount of people that queue up to do it. They laugh in delight as their money is shredded before their eyes and take away the tiny pieces as a souvenir. Some throw them in the air like confetti, some take them grinning back to their seats, but all look happy and satisfied with their decision to do it.

            Crunch, oddly, leaves you feeling quite good about yourself. McNair isn’t telling anyone to live without money, that would be impossible, but he is asking his audience to see it for what it is – unimportant in the grand scheme of things. It’s a refreshing message, and while I didn’t get up there to shred my hard-earned cash, I did leave with a much lighter view of my financial situation: after all, it’s only money.

My only previous experience of Edinburgh Fringe Festival was when I happened to come for a visit with my family a number of years ago. This year nothing has changed, sat in the car with my parents and instead of my siblings, a friend of mine who I work with on the bar in the Oxford Playhouse. The difference being this year is that although I was still a super fan of performance during my last visit, this trip is cushioned by a new wealth of knowledge and experience gained from the past few years.

 Sadly, we are only hitting the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for two fleeting visits, one of sixteen hours and the other a week later, of 24 hours. This raises the issue of priority viewing, and with friends performing, reviews, recommendations and favourite companies, the lists have been long and constantly changeable. So it was with great excitement, and a meagre understanding of how best to construct our day, that the two of us reached the Royal Mile to begin our day of theatrical adventure.

 The first show we attended was Il Pixel Rosso’s And The Birds Fell From the Sky. Recommended to us by a variety of different sources, this was top of the to-do list, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. An intense and totally immersive piece of theatre, where the viewers go in two at a time and are fully kitted out with blindfolds, goggles, and a headset; the smells, the sounds and the touches create an entirely different world.

As you leave the performance you can’t help but wonder whether everything around you is real. It was wonderful to go accompanied as it gave us the chance to discuss what we had experienced, something I never usually do, preferring to make sense of my own experience before I share with those with me.

 A clever reference to the irrelevance of time made at the start bears relevance to the rest of the show; when walking away from such a clever experience, you wonder whether what just happened really was only over a duration of 17 minutes?

            Later on, after having wandered up the Mile again and seen a highly entertaining street performance of Charlie Chaplin, we headed for Zoo Roxy to watch Idle Motion’s The Seagull Effect. This was the only show we had planned and ensured would fit into our day, desperate to show my parents what magical things the young people of Oxford get up to.

            Beginning somewhat surprisingly, a woman stands and engages the audience, going on to tell us about her experience of the great storm of 1987, and suddenly the audience are whisked up into the tale.  The opening sequence (which, as I write this, is giving me goosebumps) is spectacular, and had me welling up in the front seats from the pure beauty and ingenuity of it all.

             Idle Motion are renowned for their use of props, projection and voice over, which is second to none, and used to wonderful effect as they create two stories around each other, intertwining beautifully.

            The parallel storyline running through the show this year seemed somewhat weaker than previous productions, which was a shame. However the ability to whip up an entire backdrop for a scene from what appears to be nothing, I have yet to see from any other physical theatre company. None of their actions are done simply to impress. Everything fits with what’s happening and only enhances the show, rather than detracting attention away from what’s being said. This is a strong skill to hold, ensuring the audience doesn’t get lost in the whirlwind of the story. If anyone is interested in physical theatre, this is a must-see performance from an outstandingly creative and incredibly tight knit company of young artists.

            At entirely the other end of the physical theatre spectrum,  the next performance I pottered through the rain to see was not so impressive. Selling itself as an “emotionally charged physical theatre adaptation of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, Headlock Theatre’s The Tragedy of Titus was badly directed, poorly performed and a majority of physical theatre they did employ made absolutely no sense in keeping with the piece.

The opening fight scene was well choreographed, and Matthew Stevensas Titus did his best to carry the piece, assisted part of the way by Emma Belam as Tamora, but the rest of the characters lacked conviction.

            A shame, as this piece had the potential to be an exciting piece of performance; the lack of external direction (it would seem that this piece had been entirely devised, choreographed and directed by the actors themselves) was clear. With a cast of nine, it is difficult to construct an outside view of what the play is looking like from the audience perspective.

            The stresses of Shakespeare’s text were placed on strange syllables, which meant the words didn’t sit quite right on the ear, and the manner of speech during one or two of the scenes seemed entirely backwards. Most notably, when Titus was informed of the finding of his daughter Lavinia, who had been ravaged and her hands and tongue removed, and comforted his son Lucius despite Lavinia herself being stood (I certainly wouldn’t be able to stand after such an ordeal) in the corner making unnecessary noises.

 A couple of lines were delivered as though for a film, meaning words were lost, and people at the back had to struggle to hear what was going on. There is a lesson here about the difference between stage and screen acting.

            Not the most impressive production I’ve seen, however I’m glad I went. Though, as my mother said five minutes into the show; “I’m glad we didn’t have to pay for this”.

After food time where we swapped a tired father with a much younger friend, and took a brief trip to the fabulous Ukelele Cabaret tent, we headed off to see Dead Cat Bounce, at the Pleasance. Once again, it was on recommendation that we went to watch them, with some idea of what was in store; “it’s a little Flight of the Concords-y”.

 What a fantastic night! The perfect mix of highly entertaining lyrics, fantastic musical ability and wonderous banter in between songs. Each band member has taken on the role of the member of a highly successful rock band member and play the parts brilliantly.

 An incredibly entertaining way to spend an hour, the audience were rolling about in their seats and singing along to their intelligent lyrics.

Last but not least, was a production of The One Man Show.  As it says on the tin, this is a solo performance by Nigel Barrett, one of the creatives of Shunt, which looks at the role of “The Actor”.Though not entirely sure what exactly this piece sets out to accomplish, it was an interesting look into the purpose of the actor, his versatility and intentions.

            A particularly entertaining moment was when Barrett donned a surgical mask and through the use of mouth projections and voiceovers, spoke of what it is these people who call themselves “actors” are like. Slightly stereotypical and perhaps a little harsh, it amused me to think of many actors I have met during my time in the theatre (one in particular) and listen to how relevant parts of the description were; “I will ask you about you, but am waiting to steer the conversation back to myself”.

            Despite the entertainment value, and although I was pleased to have attended, this performance is not necessarily one that will sit in the forefront of my mind over time, unlike one or two shows from earlier on in the day.

 All in all, a tremendously entertaining day, and I have finally learned how to go about making the most of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For the most part of this coming week, I’ll be re-writing the schedules over and over again in preparation for my next 24 hour stint amidst of the hub of creativity and story-telling.

A Note from your regular TheatrePunk Lauren…

The theatre world is simply too large for one person to handle, so from now on I shall be sharing the limelight with our new reviewer, Punkette (aka Eliza) – keep an eye out for her reviews dotted throughout the blog from this point on.

Yours Punkishly,

TheatrePunk (aka Lauren)

 

It’s not often that I go to the theatre and find myself escorted entirely into another world, but those behind Bristol Old Vic’s production of Treasure Island managed to achieve just that. Before the performance begins, the BOV front of house plays host to jolly sea shanties, and pirate hats galore. Indeed, many young (and a significant number of older) audience members made a concerted effort with friends and relatives to come to the theatre in pirate hats, brandishing swords and cutlasses. As I was queuing to present my ticket, I heard a man turn to his friend and ask in an accusatory manner; “So, why did we not come in costume?”

Soon enough, we took our seats in front of the impressive temporary ship that’s been constructed outside, and from the moment I first heard the rumble of sound, slowly growing in volume as a crew of pirates jumped through the windows of the theatre to stand menacingly aboard the deck, my body tingled with excitement and anticipation.

The cast succeed undeniably in bringing Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale to life in front of our eyes, following young Jim Hawkins on his maiden voyage from Bristol and across the seas, aboard a ship inhabited by the gentry and a crew of dangerous pirates, captained by the infamous Long John Silver.

Watching Tristan Sturrock, who takes the role of Long John Silver, is a class in movement, as he bounds with outstanding agility across the stage, using a crutch to replace his missing leg. A difficult part to play, aside from the physical challenges, demanding a mixture of comic ability and emotional vulnerability; I was concerned that LJS would strongly resemble the similarly entertaining and commanding character of Pirates of the Caribbean’s Captain Jack Sparrow, however Sturrock’s creation holds a subtle sense of instability, both morally and mentally, which forms a deeper character and encourages sympathy from the audience, despite his merciless and brutal actions (acknowledged by Sturrock himself as he turns to the audience, having just impressively killed four attackers with his crutch, to say “That’s right, applaud my casual murders”). LJS may be intended as a more ruthless and unsavoury man, but by softening the tone and endearing the character to the audience, it makes his intentions seem ever questionable and intriguing.

The cast all bring a youthful enthusiasm to the production, never more clear than when they take to singing. Benji Bowers’ compositions fit the piece wonderfully, but the vocals by the cast members can be less that pitch perfect. Some moments more notable than others, yet hardly detracting from the atmosphere, I still swayed and tapped my feet; grinning inanely … I can never resist a singsong. The versatility of the actors, and indeed the set was very impressive, with character, costume, scene and location transitions being executed seamlessly, not allowing the audience to feel lost as to where we were in the story. A memorable example of this being when the crew moved, in an instant, from being on board the Hispaniola to the sandy shore of Treasure Island by simply turning to look at the ship anchored offshore.

The opening of the second half held less impact than the first, and indeed the rest of the act seemed slightly slower (although I’m not entirely sure that it wasn’t my mind that had slowed, thanks to the large pie I’d consumed in the interval). This wasn’t an issue however, as it allowed the performers to chew over their words a little more than in act one, where during one of the beginning scenes a couple of Howard Coggins’ lines were a little rushed and sadly missed.

As another charming singsong brought the performance to a close, I looked around to see many members of the audience, both young and old, singing and tapping along, firmly under the spell of the actors.

The team behind this show should be proud of themselves. Their ability to give the young audience members an evening of excitement and magic, while at the same time, pulling some of the older members back into a fantasy world of childhood memories of adventure, is a difficult task, and is rarely achieved.

The exuberant nature of the production literally ‘Shivered me timbers’, and it wasn’t until I left the pirate ship with a large grin on my face, and a heart full of excitement, did I recognise the dull ache in my back from desperately straining in my seat to take part in this wonderful adventure. I’m sure I wasn’t alone.

 

A note from your regular Theatre Punk, Lauren…

I’ll admit it. Pinter is one of those playwrights that I simply cannot sit through. It may be seeing one too many dreadful student adpatations, it may be that 4500 word essay I had to write on the the Homecoming during my time at university, or maybe he’s just not really my style. Whatever the reason, despite a fair amount of buzz, the prospect of seeing Betrayal at the Comedy Theatre left me in a cold sweat with a feeling of dread consuming me. Pinter himself could not convince me to part with my hard-earned cash, so instead of dragging myself out and writing an incredibly biased review, I present to you my fellow TheatrePunk Eliza, who isn’t nearly as bile-filled and hateful, and has very kindly written up her thoughts on the show! Over to you, Eliza…

03/08/11

I had the extreme fortune on Wednesday (thanks to a wonderful and spontaneous aunt), to get a chance to see Pinter’s Betrayal at the Comedy Theatre, starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Douglas Henshall and Ben Miles, with a brief, but entertaining appearance from John Guerrasio as an italian waiter. The run ends on 20th August, and with an imminent trip to Scotland coming up, I was afraid I was going to have to let it pass me by. 

I have been an embarrassingly late fan of Scott Thomas since “Keeping Mum”, however cannot profess to having dug out all her past work, and was well aware of the responses from this production. With this in mind, the excitement I felt was coupled (as tends to happen with expectation) with the fear of let-down and disappointment, but I needn’t have feared. From the opening scene, which radiates awkwardness and unforgotten intricate memories, the three main actors retain a startling level of intensity throughout, not allowing it to drop even a fraction during the perfectly timed comic reactions. 

Playing out backwards over the years, the play is inspired by Pinter’s affair with Joan Bakewell, the BBC Television presenter, and delves into the lusts, joys and losses of three people stuck in a marriage of deceit and convenience, as they cheat, lie and hide secrets from one another. 
 
Scott Thomas shows what she’s made of as Emma; wife of Robert (Miles) and lover of his “Oldest friend and best man”, Jerry (Henshall). She transforms before our eyes as the years roll back, Emma becoming more lively and clearly in the throes of a dangerous and exciting relationship.
 
Henshall’s portrayal of Jerry, as a quieter and more subtle force, with his lilting scottish accent, stands beautifully next to Scott Thomas’ more outward character, who’s movement, and reactions to the two men, showcase her emotions which are never too far from the surface. Shown to great effect in the fourth scene, Emma is cradled by husband Robert, who Miles plays with fantastic enthusiasm. With brilliant comic timing, and a powerful voice to match, Miles creates a very different character to that of Henshall’s. His brash, rude and sarcastic manner is used to great effect in hiding the emotional difficulty of the reality of their marital situation. He appears to be an independent man, however unable to extricate himself from the web of his marriage. The ongoing and inevitable emotional turmoil these three characters are cursed with, make for moments of heartbreaking viewing as they each discover moments of unknown vulnerability and bear the knowledge of being betrayed by those closest to them.
 
The final scene falls at the beginning of the affair, at a party. Emma is young, vibrant and desirable. As the curtain falls, Jerry grabs hold of his lover’s hand and Scott Thomas gives a disarmingly knowing smile, as though aware of what is to come.
 
This is an outstanding production, with stellar performances from all cast members. All I can say is, thank goodness I had the chance to get a ticket!