Tag Archive | "A Doll’s House"

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Spotlight On: Pegasus Theatre, Oxford

Posted on 12 October 2011 by Jack Blumenau

“Tread carefully: imaginations running wild. Welcome to Pegasus.”[1]

Rooted to the floor of the foyer of Pegasus Theatre is a giantic metallic tree. Its branches stretch up to the floor above and its roots plunge into the concrete beneath. Like so much at Pegasus, the sculpture is impressive from a distance, but the real beauty and joy is found when you get closer. The individual leaves of the sculpture are, in fact, clear glass roundels, each inscribed with a different message. Some are as well known as Ghandi’s “No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive” and Jimmi Hendrix’s “Knowledge speaks but wisdom listens”. Others have a more personal connection from members of staff, friends and children associated with the theatre and range from “Suspend your disbelief here (you can pick it up again on your way out)” to the touching and poignant “Where the heart and the mind meet is a place called Pegasus ”. As a welcoming image, the tree provides an apt metaphor for the organisation as a whole, reflecting both the theatre’s canopy of arts provision and the structured support that is offered to young artists by the East Oxford theatre.

At the heart of the organisation is the Pegasus Trilogy: a professional event programme; participation projects with young people and the community; and the development of emerging artists. As Yasmin Sidhwa, Head of Creative Learning, makes clear, no area is more important than any other; the power of “the three together is what makes it unique.” This tripod structure evolved from Pegasus’ origin as a youth theatre. Artistic Director and CEO Euton Daley emphasises that ” we actually started as a youth theatre organisation, but then grew professional work” in an inversion of the common model of developing initiatives alongside an established professional programme. For Pegasus, participation and development work are the central foundations of the organisation.

A canopy of arts provision and roots in the community

Despite coming last in Pegasus’ evolution, its professional programme is impressive. Its guiding principle is to focus on the (dis-) equilibrium between those going to the theatre and those represented on stage. “A starting point for me is who consumes art and who is portrayed in any art and culture,” says Daley. “I know that my driving factor in the work that I have done over the years is to actually try and address that balance. If there is an equal pitch between two things and one delivers an area of work or an audience development that you want to pursue then that would take dominance. However, that would not take dominance over the quality of the work.” This principle has resulted in an exciting and eclectic programme. Next season includes a new adaptation of The Jungle Book; a photographic exhibition celebrating Black History Month; a production of A Doll’s House; and a concert with Radiohead drummer Philip Selway. This clearly reflects Daley’s standard that while work should draw from an assortment of different styles and forms of storytelling and be aimed at different audiences, the goal of diversity must be matched by a drive for quality. At Pegasus, these are mutually affirming attributes.

Established in 1962, Pegasus turns 50 this year. In a theatre-rich city like Oxford, such longevity is no small achievement and can be explained, at least in part, by Pegasus’ efforts to engage with non-stereotypical theatregoers. Sidhwa explains, “we’re in the most multicultural area of Oxford, where there is also a mix of socio-economic backgrounds. We want that mix in the building. We want to be part of that community.” Community engagement in general is, on occasion, criticised as thinly-disguised funding chasing, but Daley affirms “that even if we lost funding today it wouldn’t change what we do.” The quality of work they produce is higher because – not in spite –  of the diverse local community.

Support of young people

“The participatory youth and community work we have at Pegasus is absolutely central to the organisation,” says Cathryn Baker, a Youth Arts Leader. “We have a really strong belief that every young person has the ability to be creative. It’s about channelling that creativity and giving an opportunity for any young person to use that creativity.” The theatre runs more than 30 community and youth projects which bring over 500 children and young people to the theatre each week. Courses in drama, dance, puppetry, writing and design give young talent the tools to flourish, and the main stage is used as a platform for young members to gain performance experience. There are also opportunities behind the scenes from marketing and fundraising to set design and even programming. Sidhwa recognises that “it’s not just participation in terms of joining a theatre group, it’s participation in terms of having a voice in decision making in an arts organisation.”

Pegasus has taken this further still by inviting young people to serve on the theatre board. Baker explains that those who do have “gone through a path of being part of the theatre company, being part of Pegasus, so contributing to the decision-making process and the board is the next step. It’s not out of nowhere. They know it’s not token; they understand and know that their voice is valued.” In a natural extension of their involvement with and loyalty to the theatre, young people are able to contribute meaningfully to the running of the theatre and play a key role in its development as they themselves develop their own interests and ambitions. “Part of working with young people is about the long term engagement with them and it’s only over the course of that long term engagement that you see real change,” notes Daley. “You’ll find a lot of young people here who have been associated with the theatre for 13 or 14 years.” Young people’s projects at Pegasus last for a minimum of five months, and many come back numerous times to work on different projects, and in different areas of the organisation. This dedication and supportive ethos is mirrored in the Pegasus Supported Artists programme, which offers free rehearsal space and marketing assistance to new and emerging artists.

Youth participation is woven into the fabric of Pegasus, which allows meaningful, long-lasting support for young practitioners and artists to thrive alongside a vibrant professional programme. The Pegasus catechism, then? Baker explains, “we create theatre with, by and for young people. But the for came as the last one of that trio rather than the first. Our work with young people and by young people was first, and then it was for.” And this remains true after 50 years. Shining a spotlight on Pegasus highlights its arts provision for young people, but also reveals how this is supported by the growth of creativity and development with those young people. A reminder, perhaps, that whilst the eye-catching blossom is important, it is the roots and the trunk of the tree that allow those leaves to flourish.

[1] A motto written on the wall as you enter Pegasus Theatre via the Stage Door.

For more information on the theatre, visit its website here.

Photography by David Fisher © David Fisher and Pegasus Theatre

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Review: A Dolls House

Posted on 26 July 2011 by Jake Orr

Henrik Ibsen’s A Dolls House is a triumph of dramatic work from one of the finest writers that we have ever had. Space Productions, under the direction of Alex Crampton, has successfully brought  Ibsen’s work to life at the Arcola Theatre. There is much to be admired, and it is certainly an intense and alluring production that – even within its closing moments – keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. It’s great to see a classic brought to life once more.

The intriguing thing about Crampton’s direction, especially the character portrayals of Nora (Gina Abolins) and Torvold Helmer (Dominik Golding), is that I whole-heartedly disliked the extremities that they were pushed to. Torvold becomes a sexist, slimy character who can’t help but disregard the intelligence of his wife, whilst  Nora at first seems protected and loved, but quickly descends into disastrously tragic. Yet whilst I disliked these approaches, they work strangely well within Crampton’s overal direction, and certainly both Golding and Abolins give dedicated performances with a wondrous skill. Perhaps these two extremities of character work so well because ultimately they can not understand each other.

Whilst Nora and Torvold are seen as the central characters here, there are exceptionally grounded portrayals of Kristine Linde by Emma Deegan and Doctor Rank by Tim Blackwell. Crampton’s directional choices within these minor characters make for a solid plot thickening, and both Deegan and Blackwell should be commended for their outstanding performances – wholly believable and natural within the characters. Whilst Crampton triumphs with some directional choices, in others I can’t help but to feel that she has tried too hard, with notable standouts being that of the ‘three Noras’ ensemble (who apparently represent a Greek Chorus and also the past, present and future), and the use of puppetry to present Nora’s children. These choices sadly do not wash with me; they continually distract from what is otherwise a gripping piece of theatre. I can understand the desire to break conventions and wanting to add a new layer with physical and puppetry work, but when it feels more of a hindrance than an aid, I worry it compromises an otherwise enjoyable production.

Irina Borisova’s set design for A Dolls House is wonderfully conceived, allowing fragments of china and keys to descend from the rigging of the Arcola Studio 2 space. Coupled with Anna Sobokou’s lighting, there is a really nice quality to the visuals. The space is still functional, but continues to allow for the imaginative qualities too.

As a whole this is a commendable piece of work, that offers a chance to explore Ibsen’s work in some deeply rooted character work and an adventurous (if a little confusing) number of devices. There are some exceptional performances, that allow for the 2 hours and 30 minutes of the production to pass by with ease, which for a classical text is often hard to achieve. Crampton delivers a challenging use of direction, and whilst I didn’t enjoy all of her choices, it is clear that work has gone into developing the characters and inner struggles within the story. A Dolls House isn’t on for much longer at the Arcola Theatre, but it is most certainly worth a look for an enjoyable evening.

A Dolls House is playing at the Arcola Theatre until 30th July. Tickets can be brought from the Arcola Theatre website.

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Review: A Doll’s House

Posted on 02 February 2011 by Tiffany Stoneman

A Doll’s House, by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, shocked the late nineteenth century world and had to be given an alternative ending for its German audiences. The story of the ‘perfect’ marriage and the objectification of women in the late 1800s has been masterfully re-imagined by Sophie Reynolds (adaptor) and Frances Loy (director) in Theatre Delicatessen’s malleable space at Picton Place.

You are immediately taken into a world of back-handedness, as a man in a Mac hands out moustaches on sticks; a gentleman’s bar allows no admittance for the fairer sex without a fuzzy upper lip. The members of HalfCut who provide such interactive productions are inspirational and a fantastic representation of non-conventional theatre, not to mention extremely friendly front of house. From the bar you are sent to sit by a traverse stage – something I haven’t seen since the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and completely unrecognisable from the fly-on-the-wall experience I had at Mercury Fur at this venue last year. The design is innovative and transformed the setting into a subtle world of sexism; the spray-painted ‘Man Up!’ slogans in the toilets almost go unnoticed till you venture to leave. What I love is the fact that Theatre Delicatessen welcomes people into its space and allows them to explore – more than once I saw audience members wander unknowingly through the open door of one of the dressing rooms (though I’m sure this was intentionally accessible).

The use of space was fascinating – not only with the open dressing room enhancing the way in which Nora was objectified by the men in her life, but the use of mesh walls showing her conflict between the two men, her husband and her money-lender, make the audience feel that they too are trapped in her world and are being observed by those more powerful.

An emotive movement sequence at the beginning set the scene, showing the five actresses in corsets/bandages and silk shorts. It established which sex the actresses were playing whilst explaining through non-verbal means the different ways people are shown in modern day – flirting women and brash men but who are, ultimately, battling to discover who they really are.

The all-female cast shed new light on Ibsen’s text, and all credit goes to them as they tackled some difficult themes with the complexity of cross-gender casting extremely well.

I take my hat off to Margaret-Ann Bain, whose Torvald Helmer was incredibly believable – so much so that at times my theatre-going companion and I had to remind ourselves that she was actually a woman! Bain provided a fantastic portrayal of a man very much in love, but as enamoured with his work as with his wife. The constant reminder that this Torvald was in fact female highlighted the treatment of Nora incredibly well, without pantomime explicitness. Bain switched between an easy-going married man to one desperate to preserve his honour with fluidity, and also managed to hint at real heartache.

Nora (Polly Eachus) was classic and stereotypical, which is just the kind of woman Ibsen conjured up in the script. She flew around the corridor-like stage like a trapped songbird, but balanced her flirtatious manner with enviable determination when faced with Krogstad (Rhoda Ofori-Attah). Eachus visibly grew up throughout the production and the audience followed her from childlike, to an almost teenage episode of self-discovery, ending with an innocent maturity enhanced by the stylistic touch of transforming Nora into a 21st Century woman in jeans and boots who abandons her life, exiting through the side of the traverse and breaking free from the confines of her marriage. The character of Nora is not a superficial wife, but rather subject to the way men perceive her, and Eachus explored the more complex sides of her nature beautifully.

Ofori-Attah’s Krogstad was far more desperate than I had imagined him when I studied A Doll’s House, but this is by no means a criticism. Unlike the harsh, cold-hearted man people often see, this Krogstad was a simple man who faced bad luck that destroyed him and his family. Alongside Zimmy Ryan (Linde), he was a man frustrated and weary, but ultimately good-natured. Ryan’s Linde was also far less bitter than I’d anticipated, but again just looking for a way out. She became rather motherly onstage, to Nora and Krogstad, though her reunion with the latter was just as heart-warming as a romance novel, and their embrace was not encumbered by the politics of same-sex casting.

A character slightly less known but no less important is Dr. Rank. He was portrayed in a sympathetic and tender way by Melissa Woodbridge, who took hold of Rank’s person and delved into the real psyche of a dying man’s emotions. Whether intentional or not, I picked up on something almost sinister about the way both Rank and Torvald appeared to constantly flick their eyes over Nora’s frame, further plugging of her role as their ‘plaything’.

The direction, staging, style and acting brought A Doll’s House to life in a new way that was both true to its original message and had resonance with today’s audience. For those looking for something less than conventional when it comes to the stage, Theatre Delicatessen is a prime example of experimental and successful productions. It is almost impossible to put into words the full impact which A Doll’s House had upon me – it is definitely one to be experienced.

A Doll’s House by Theatre Delicatessen is now sold out. More information on future shows can be found on their website here.

Comments (0)

Advertise Here
Advertise Here

Join our E-Newsletter

Exclusive offers, opportunities and updates from AYT.