Posts Tagged ‘theatre’

  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.


Jonny Lee Miller as The Creature

Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein

Walking into the Olivier Theatre we were greeted by a sonorous bell clanging harshly above us – on stage, a circular womb moved slowly around the revolve, something unseen shifting slowly inside. Above us, hundreds of light bulbs gently pulsed, growing brighter and dimmer in a gentle rhythm. This is the world Danny Boyle has created, and it’s immediately compelling.

Jonny Lee Millers performance as the Creature is a revelation. His painful entry into the world is nothing short of astonishing as he bursts, completely naked, from his vertical ‘womb’. The following 15 minutes is simply the Creature learning how to use his newfound body. His spastic convulsions, leading slowly to his first, joyous, stuttering steps is incredible to watch. The childlike laugh as he walks proudly around the stage for the first time was replicated by many audience members. We were with him by that point – we saw his innocence, and his childish glee at the beauty of the world around him, and almost dreaded what was to come.

Both actors give an outstanding performance. Having only seen it in this configuration, I cannot comment on Cumberbatch as the Creature, but Miller seemed to fill the role with equal menace and naïvety, while Cumberbatch as Frankenstein was a cold and calculating creation – completely devoid of sentiment or love. Cumberbatch and Miller seem to complement each other perfectly – both creating one warped whole as the servant and the master

I was in the rare position for this show, coming to the show with next to no knowledge of the plot. It was a blind spot I can’t explain – all I knew of Frankenstein was the very basics. Mad doctor creates a monster from spare body parts. I had no idea the story would pack such a punch. Nick Dear’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s story has come under scrutiny in other reviews, with many seeing it as too schmalzy – I agree to a point  (the “what is love?” question did make me wince), but overall I found this script intelligent, witty and humane. My only criticism is that the eponymous Frankenstein wasn’t in it nearly enough. The decision to pursue perfection in the Bride is fascinating, and made me miss the initial creation of the Creature; more focus on Frankenstein’s god complex wouldn’t have been out of place.

As it is, the script suggested that the creature could have represented all that was good in the Doctor, but circumstance warped him into a cruel misrepresentation. Boyle and Dear appear to constantly pose a question to the audience – who is the real monster? The disfigured, frightening creature, or Doctor Frankenstein, who forgoes love and life in favour of creating perfection, or perhaps it is the society that shuns the Creature. The issue is not really resolved – though by the end it doesn’t matter. Boyle created a ‘shiver down the spine’ moment to close on, as the monster, now fully in control of his patched-together body, marches proudly into the snowy wasteland, while Frankenstein, physically and mentally exhausted, crawls slowly behind, chasing him to the bitter end. It is a wonderful change of fortunes, and one that stays with you long after leaving the theatre.


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.