Posts Tagged ‘Oxford Playhouse’

08/09/11

I don’t normally review shows that I see at my place of work due to previously stepping on a few toes with an ill-timed review, but as this show has now, sadly, left our studio for greener pastures, I simply could not contain myself any longer. I must tell you about this show.

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer has won critical praise around the world, most recently in Edinburgh when it was a complete sell-out. Try as I might, I couldn’t get tickets for it – I am reliably informed that one intrepid theatre-goer even attempted bribery in an attempt to get in to see the last show, to no avail. And it is fresh from this success that Alvin Sputnik arrived in the Burton Taylor Studio. 

One-man storyteller Tim Watts tells the tale of a post-apocalyptic world. Nature’s “Menopausal rage” has melted the ice caps, and only a few humans remain on earth, living atop skyscrapers to escape the rising ocean. Alvin Sputnik lives a quiet life with his wife, Elena, until she passes away in his arms. Alvin, with nothing left to lose and nothing to live for, decides to dive to the bottom of the ocean to search for her soul.

Watt’s has created theatrical magic here. Alvin is a triumph in puppetry – ingeniously portrayed by a white glove and a ball of foam. Watt’s breathes life into his creation (well…his hand.) in such a way that you just fall in love with Alvin. He is sweet, loving, kind and very very funny. Watt’s has also cleverly combined the live action scenes and puppetry with animation, music and film using a large circular screen with which he interacts throughout as Alvin explores the deep. The effect is completely original, and left the audience gasping in delight at times.

There is a child-like wonder to everything Watt’s has created; he is energetic, playful and charming, but also restrained when necessary. Nothing is overdone here, instead Watts allows the beautiful story to tell itself in a deceptively simple way. And that is the joy of this show – the story is funny, and heart-warming, but is also full of loss and grief, creating lots of lump-in-throat moments and some all-out heart-breakers. (I am particularly reminded of the sad and joyful cry of “I love you!” towards the end of the show.)

This show is worth every single word of praise it has already received; this is a show that kids will enjoy, but adults will probably enjoy more. To quote my boyfriend, who emerged from this show just as excited as I was, it’s almost impossibly sweet.  Wonderful, beautiful, heart-warming and tear jerking, Alvin is a story about quiet heroism and enduring love: is there anything more you could want from a trip to the theatre?

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Yesterday I got my programme for Edinburgh Fringe.

Edinburgh is quite simply my favourite time in the entire theatrical calendar – a time when the little companies that normally work throughout the country, touring alone or fleetingly visiting cities, all converge within the space of one tiny street. The Royal Mile is a piece of theatre in itself, with companies vying for your attention by any means necessary – there is performance art, offers of free food, free drink, anything to get you to see their show. What is normally a little sub-culture, where everyone knows everyone, suddenly becomes a massive international event, and everyone wants to join our club!

My first trip to the Fringe was in 2008. During that time I worked at C Venues, working anything from 9 to 16 hour days for barely any pay. I worked night shifts, wired up emergency lighting for an entire 5 storey building despite having no experience whatsoever, I painted, mopped, chopped, sawed, stapled, gaffa’d, tied, swept and wept for 3 weeks, and that was before the fringe even began. But when the fringe begins it’s all worthwhile. It was the post-graduation impetus I needed to make sure I stayed in theatre. It’s the main reason I’m so passionate about innovative theatre, and it introduced me to some of the best companies working in theatre today.

 Receiving the Fringe programme is incredibly exciting; partly just to allow you to plan the visit you’ve been looking forward to all year, but also to give you an idea of where the industry is at this year. What companies have chosen to make the perilous journey up north? Because it certainly is perilous. It is considered a success at the fringe if you break even – and it’s a rare company indeed that goes up there making a huge profit, despite spending thousands on venue hire, living costs and accommodation.

There is an art to reading the Fringe Programme, and it’s very much a ‘How do you eat yours’ dilemma. Obviously, like any sane individual, I jump straight to the theatre section. I then pore over each page, reading the company names first to see if anyone exciting is up. Once the favourite companies have been noted, I’ll go through to find some hidden gems from lesser-known companies – it’s all about the blurb in this part. And then I’ll go through children’s/musical/comedy sections and do the same thing.

 So with that in mind, it’s time to celebrate the wonderful world of theatre, and highlight some of my Fringe Picks meticulously selected from my first few sweeps of the brochure.

 Clockheart Boy -Dumbshow Theatre

Saw this when it was up in 2008 and fell in love with it. Heartbreakingly beautiful – magical, joyous, everything you could want for a fringe piece. Miss it at your peril.

Little Matter – The River People

These are one of my favourite companies working today, and this looks to continue the success of ‘Lilly Through the Dark’ – keeping their home at Bedlam, The River People have their own wagon for this. that’s good enough for me!

 Audience – Ontroerend Goed

After the disturbing, beautiful and slightly baffling ‘Internal’, I’m interested in anything this company has to offer. From the sounds of it, this will, once again, put the audience at the heart of the show.

The Boy James – Belt Up Theatre

Darlings of the Fringe scene, Belt Up, appear to have listened to criticism and scaled down for this fringe. Taking only three actors with them, their season is a muted affair (for them, anyway!) with only three shows in C Soco. I haven’t seen The Boy James yet, so will be favouring that over their two new shows, Outland and Twenty to Nine, which I am certain will arrive in London at some point.

I, Malvolio – Tim Crouch

Having been introduced to Tim with his production of ‘My Arm’, I am continually fascinated by his process and writing choices. Going by past experience, this seems to be about as normal as he gets, so I’m intrigued to see what he does with the character of Malvolio.

What Remains – Grid Iron Theatre

You may have read earlier in this blog, that ‘Decky Does a Bronco’ was one of my highlights of 2010 – and it solely for this reason that I’m going to see ‘What Remains’. They’re a great company, and some of the nicest I’ve worked with when they toured to Oxford last year.

Oedipus – Stephen Berkoff

Something tells me this is going to be the hot ticket this year. You get where this is going, Oedipus seen through the ungouged eyes of Berkoff – what isn’t there to like?

The Wright Brothers – Oxford Playhouse

 Okay, I admit it; I’m a company girl. The people that pay me a lot of money every month are taking their show up this year. Having seen the preview of this already, I’m really interested in how it’s changed, and how a Fringe audience receives it. If the previews were anything to go by, I think this may be an unexpected hit

 Assorted Forest Fringe

At the time of writing, the Forest Fringe programme has not yet been released, but rest assured, I have blocked off many hours to fill with whatever they have to offer. Action Hero are a particular draw for me, but I trust the Forest to provide something interesting no matter what.

 

Notable Absences

Little Bulb Theatre- Though I have been assured by them that they will be appearing BAC Summer Hall at some point – so keep an eye on their schedule!

Dancing Brick – hot on the heels of Thomas Eccleshare’s recent award, it would have been lovely to see them at the Fringe again. One can only assume they’re continuing their international success elsewhere!

Pappys Fun Club – genuinely upset about their absence, and can only hope they’ll be back next year.

 

And that should do it for now. There are many many many more shows I’ll be seeing this year, but that’s just a little taster of what I’m certain will be a spectacular programme. Hope you will all be visiting the ‘Burgh this year – see you up there!

  What's on: Paper Birds Theatre's Company's Others

Using the company’s trademark mix of verbatim, movement and storytelling, Others is a piece about women, and the ill-informed assumptions we make about those around us.

Paper Birds tell the story of three women, filtering their tales through movement, comedy and pathos. The principle is that the company write to women all over the world in order to better understand their life. The questions range from the mundane (what TV do you enjoy?), through to deeper questions about the women’s life and history. The result is a poetic, often moving insight into these three women’s lives. Paper Birds deconstruct the stories and voices of these women, revealing secrets, self-portraits,

The Iranian theatre-maker speaks with eloquence of pride in her culture, and the company use her letter to highlight how little we really know about the women of Iran. This is the highlight of the show – the language is beautiful and the movement sequence, as the girls spill out their various inaccurate perceptions of Iranian culture, walks the line between comedy and pathos with ease. The prisoner speaks eagerly about her life, though the more she speaks, the more heartbreaking her story becomes. And then there is the celebrity. Our celebrity never speaks – she is noticeable in her lack of response to the company’s letters, and it is this that the company use to tell her story.

The movement and use of poetic language in this piece is captivating, and there is a subtlety to the piece that is quite refreshing. I enjoyed the way it engaged the audience, and encouraged them to make their own minds up about these women. I should explain that I saw this piece based solely on my regard for the company – I watched In a Thousand Pieces with tears rolling down my cheeks, and hoped for a similar experience in Others.

Unfortunately, Others did not impress me quite as much as their previous offering, and I was left feeling as though the piece lacked coherence. There seemed to be an attempt at deeper themes of perception, but this was not explored enough to be fully understood by an audience. The assertion that the Iranian theatre-maker was not their ‘Other’ suggests there was an attempt to find their equivalent in another woman, but this is an idea that is brushed away as quickly as it arrives. It feels a little like a wasted opportunity, as the theme we are left with, that we should cast judgement on those around us just because of their circumstances, is a somewhat muddy one considering the amount of themes and ideas that have been thrown at us.

Though the production is flawed,, I still enjoyed its gentle nature – and loved the way this company really seems to have carved out a signature style for themselves. Their fluidity as a group is intriguing, and I would like to see another of their pieces, as I really think this company has something relevant to say.

26/02/11

After a successful run in the West End in 2007, David Grindley has revived his Olivier-nominated, Tony and Drama Desk award winning production production of Journey’s End for a 9 month UK tour.

Written by R.C. Sherriff in 1928, Journey’s End is an honest and heartbreaking story of life in the trenches based on Sherriff’s own experiences during the First World War. The story follows the young officer Raleigh, newly arrived on the front line in the days leading up to the last great German offensive of the First World War. Eager to please his fellow officers and new comrades, he meets Osborne, Hibbert, and his childhood friend and hero Stanhope. After three years on the front, and having lost everyone he knew during that time, Stanhope is teetering on the edge of a breakdown.

This production was impeccable. The set and lighting allow the audience to be sucked into what life was like for these men. The one room we saw was kitted out to the exact dimensions of an officers trench, while the lighting was dim, flickering, and gloomy. The sound, something so easily ignored under normal circumstances, provided moments of theatrical wonder as we heard the dull thud of bombs above us, followed by the distant patter of gunfire. This constant but distant presence was an incredible feat, and meant the louder more dramatic moments came as even more of a shock.

The acting was the real star of the show here. R C Sherriff has created a fascinating dynamic between the characters, brought vividly to life by this incredible cast. I could go into detail about each performance in this show, but there is little point. Suffice to say that each member of the cast gives an incredible performance. Truly incredible. The juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy is as gripping as it is realistic, and there isn’t a single weak link in the cast, however there were two stand outs. Dominic Mafham’s Osborne is portrayed with quiet dignity, and provides moments of wonderful pathos – most notably when speaking with Stanhope in the hours leading up to suicidal raid on the enemy trench. Even in this, the moment of is inevitable death, his main thoughts lie with his new comrade, the 18 year old Raleigh “There’s no need to tell him, it’s murder.” he says almost genially. It sends a shiver down the spine.

I cannot talk about this show, however, without singling out James Norton. His Captain Stanhope teeters on the brink of sanity in a way I just hadn’t imagined when reading the play (something I have done many, many times.) Clinging to the vaguest sense of himself, Stanhope struggles with his demons with a quiet intensity that is almost painful to watch. The whiskey he drinks is now the only thing that makes his existence tolerable, and as he tries desperately to appear unaffected to his comrades, we see heartbreaking moments of revelation as Stanhope cannot help but show how much three years of war has affected him. It is a stunning and beautiful performance, and one that will stay with me for a very long time.

 Those who know the script will know the heart-breaking and tragic end to this play, but David Grindley’s vision gives the final scene a raw intensity that will leave audience members stunned. I have never experienced leaving a theatre, with six-hundred people around me, in complete silence, every person stunned and awed by what they had seen.

The script is still as relevant as it ever was and, sadly, still has a valid message about the futility of war. If you only see one production this year, make it this one.

15/02/11

You could be fooled into thinking that Uninvited Guests piece is simply an exercise in tugging at the heartstrings, but within a few minutes of taking your seat, it becomes clear that this is not the case.

Uninvited Guest’s concept is one so basic you will marvel that no one has done it before. We are given a glass of sparkling wine and a seated around a large party table. Our hosts, seated at either end of this table, then proceed to play song after song as they read out anonymous dedications from the audience. Love Letters is unashamedly sentimental, and in this world, it is always Valentines Day.

At one point Jess Hoffman recreates the exhilaration and excitement of her first love. Richard Dufty then expresses his love for his girlfriend through interpretive dance, and the audience are asked to throw flowers over reconciled lovers, cradling one another in the centre of our party. But despite these gloriously theatrical moments. the real star of this show is the audience.

Even the most stoic audience member would shed a tear at some of the beautiful moments that were created for us. Each dedication becomes a brief glimpse into the lives of those seated around you. Some are so beautifully written they become a form of poetry, while some are shorter though by no means less moving.  There are toasts to lovers, to absent friends, and moments of silence for those who have passed.

The anonymity of these dedications allow a certain freedom amongst the group. In a way it doesn’t matter who the songs are for –you begin to feel like you are in a room full of friends as these stories about life, love and loss are played out through music. By the end of the show the emotion in the room is palpable, and it is nigh on impossible to remain unmoved.

This show, for me, is exactly what theatre should be. It is honest, beautiful, heartbreaking, and joyous. I cannot praise it highly enough, and I urge anyone and everyone to see it. Send in a dedication, bring a friend and a box of tissues, and enjoy an evening of music and stories.