Posts Tagged ‘Theatre Ad Infinitum’

And so another year draws to a close, and it’s time to look back on another theatrical year. Here are the TheatrePunk awards!

So, in no particular order, here are the top ten. These represent the most fun I have had in a theatre this year. They may not be the best things to be staged in Britain this year, but they are the shows that gave me the most pleasure. The shows that I recommended to friends, sometimes saw twice, or the ones that really gave me something to think about. In summary, they are my favourites of the year…

Matilda (RSC)

Just an absolute joy from beginning to end. Intelligent, moving, funny and with a soundtrack that sticks with you and for two hours turns you into a child again. It was one of the best musicals I’ve seen in years, and I’m absolutely delighted that, having already had its sell-out run extended, it appears to be settling down for a long West End residency.

Frankenstein (National Theatre)

Probably the theatrical event of the year, and I’m sure it’s a show that will be appearing in many ‘best of the year’ pieces. Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller were incredible in Danny Boyle’s return to the UK theatre scene. I saw this with Jonny Lee Miller as Frankenstein’s monster and Benedict Cumberbatch as the doctor. They both shone, and perhaps because of that, the piece marked another triumph for the NT Live screenings, which allowed people to watch the cast in their alternate roles.

Journey’s End (Touring Consortium)

As a fan of anything related to the First World War, I was really looking forward to seeing this show. I certainly didn’t expect it to be as brilliant as it was. It was just spectacular. A masterclass in acting superbly staged and sensitively tackled. It was one of those shows that played on my mind for a long time afterwards, and remains one of the best adaptations I have ever seen.

Operation Greenfield (Little Bulb Theatre)

One of the few shows I saw twice this year. I was simply too good to only see once. Little Bulb have been quietly bubbling away for a while now, creating fun fringe pieces which challenge audiences and demonstrate the supreme talents of the small company. All actor-musicians.  The music in this piece is the thing you will take away with you more than anything. ‘Summer Flowers’ was a classic, ‘I am the True Vine’ was another, but ‘Zachariah in the Temple’, Operation Greenfield’s final triumph is the song that left you wanting to leap for joy.

Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer (Weeping Spoon)

If this were a list from ten to one, then there is a very good chance that Alvin Sputnik would top that list. It is, to put it simply, my play of the year. I can’ do justice to it’s brilliance in a paragraph, so I’ll sum up. It is a one man show about a man who dives to the bottom of the sea in pursuit of the soul of Elena, his wife. The story was perfectly executed using a circular screen in centre stage, a wonderful moustache, and one of the best puppets I’ve ever seen. Alvin Sputnik was a white glove and a white foam ball. It was theatre at its very finest and something every theatre fan should see.

Translunar Paradise (Theatre Ad Infinitum)

Sometimes I am so grateful for twitter, as without the buzz I saw on there I would never have spotted this little gem. Theatre Ad Infinitum have created a beautiful little show which certainly gets my ‘Best Show at the Fringe’ award this year. A simple story about an elderly man mourning his wife, it used masks and an accordion so effectively that every single person in the audience was crying by the end. I believe the show is now on tour so is definitely worth a trip – though bring tissues. Many tissues.

One Man Two Guvnors (National Theatre)

It’s about to transfer to Broadway following an extended run at the National and a transfer to the West End, which demonstrates just how popular this show has been. James Corden shines in this traditional farce, and demonstrates that he’s not just ‘Smithy’. Richard Bean’s script is tight, with jokes packed into every single moment. The dialogue is funny, but the physical comedy and slapstick is even funnier. Using traditional Commedia set ups gives the whole thing a structure and clarity that is rarely seen in comedy. Certainly worth the hype it has received.

Othello (Crucible Theatre)

This is my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays, which means I’m hyper-critical and very difficult to please when it comes to new productions of it. As the first paragraph of my review demonstrates, I hold a grudge. So I was delighted to find that the Crucible’s adaptation of Othello was brilliant. It was performed in a traditional style, allowing Shakespeare’s language to do the majority of the work. Dominic West was the best Iago I have seen, revelling in the maliciousness of the character without ever becoming repellent, a difficult task indeed!

Dunsinane (RSC)

I think this was too quickly dismissed by many. In my view, this represents one of the best scripts I’ve read this year. The writing was really sharp, with relevant points and a pace that made the whole thing trip along quite nicely, despite the strong subject matter. Jonny Phillips was also brilliant in the role of Siward – every time I see him he’s great, which makes me think that anything he’s in next year is probably worth a look.

Wastwater (Royal Court)

As a fan of new writing (though looking over this list, you wouldn’t know it) I am a massive fan of Simon Stephens. This trilogy of tales were all really strong, in my opinion, and provided a lot of food for thought  about relevant issues and social situations. I loved the scenes in the hotel room, and the way in which what was being left unsaid was much more important than what was being presented. It was a really strong piece, and the script has given me many joyous hours of reading and rereading.

If this were a top fifteen, the next five would be…

The Wild Bride (Kneehigh Theatre)

The Heart of Robin Hood (RSC)

Richard III (Old Vic)

Our Private Life (Royal Court)

Frisky and Mannish: Pop Centre Plus (Frisky and Mannish)

The Theatre Punk Special Awards 2011

Best Tearjerker

Honourable mentions must go to Alvin Sputnik, and Love Letters Straight from the Heart, but the winner for this has to be Translunar Paradise by Theatre Ad Infinitum. A play so sad that I ran out of tissues, because I was sharing them with the two people sitting next to me. The term ‘not a dry eye in the house’ is used too often these days. Translunar Paradise demonstrates that sometimes that’s really true. Every single person in that audience was crying.

Annoyed that I paid the ticket price award

13 at the National. Annoying because I had an inkling it wasn’t going to be brilliant, but I like Mike Bartlett and keep ignoring the times he disappoints me. I’d like to think it won’t happen again, but…

Numb Bum Award

Richard III at the Old Vic. Kevin Spacey was spectacular, the show was brilliant. But did it really need to be three and a half hours long?!

Daily Mail baiting award

Marat/Sade at the RSC. Over the din of the anal rape you could still hear Quentin Letts grinding his teeth in fury.

Up and Comers award

Curious Directive. Your Last Breath at the fringe showed real promise , and a style that was reminiscent of Complicite. Definitely a company to watch next year.

 Worst of the Year

This is the one everyone really wants to know, right? Well my award goes to Woyzeck on the Highveld by Handspring Puppet Company. Just dreadful from beginning to end. Badly written, poorly structured, and perhaps the most surprising of all, the puppetry was fairly slapdash. Simply had no redeemable features.

Happy Christmas fellow Theatre Punks, and we’ll see you in the new year!

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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.