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Tag Archive | "Backhand Theatre"

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: Tales from Edgar Allan Poe

Posted on 21 August 2012 by Catherine Love

The short stories of Edgar Allan Poe are the stuff that nightmares are made of, so it is fitting that Backhand Theatre have taken an approach to his tales that embraces the Gothic aesthetic of Hollywood horror. Melding together a number of his disturbing narratives into one piece framed within the ominous setting of a secluded lunatic asylum, there is more than a hint of Tim Burton to this dark but visually glittering show.

Backhand Theatre’s Gothic world is slickly rendered, with cleverly designed fragments of wall that wheel smoothly in and out of scenes, neatly incorporated elements of circus, and the obligatory atmospheric dry ice, not to mention an evocative if unsurprising lighting design. The framing narrative is also intelligently crafted: an increasingly doom-laden asylum inspection, presumably inspired by ‘The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether’, that acts as a vehicle to carry other well-known snippets of Poe, including ‘The Raven’ and ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’, fashioned as the tortured obsessions of the inmates.

This is all skilfully done, but Backhand Theatre’s marrying of these stories gleans little new meaning. Much here, in fact, feels a little surplus to the subject matter. Poe’s writing is sinisterly threatening enough by itself, requiring little embellishment, and the imposition of circus skills onto the stories – as beautiful and impressive as they may be – often feels superfluous. Only when two inmates sway precariously from metal rings as feathers scatter through the air does this acrobatic trickery truly enhance the mood of menace, a dangling warning of what awaits for those who enter this world and cannot then escape.

It is a threateningly dreamlike realm that Backhand Theatre have crafted, though its effect fails to fully grasp the visceral thrill it is reaching for. This is well executed, carefully thought through and occasionally gorgeous theatre, but it never makes the heart quicken quite as it should.

*** – 3/5 stars

Tales from Edgar Allan Poe is playing at C venues as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 27 August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.

Catherine Love

Catherine Love

Catherine is a freelance arts journalist, editor and copywriter. She is one of the editors of Exeunt and has written for publications such as The Guardian, The Stage, Time Out and IdeasTap, as well as working with organisations including Fuel.

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Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Icarus, a Story of Flight

Posted on 19 August 2012 by Veronica Aloess

I had a book of Greek myths when I was a child which I loved. Whether you like Icarus – as an adult that is – will depend upon your propensity to believe in stories like these: talking trees, a falling star, and a fire bird. Icarus will take young and old upon the kind of journey you used to take as a child.

The circus element of Icarus adds sophistication to this production. It’s a brilliant idea, the aerial work slotting into the story well, even if there are some awkward transitions at times. This production flows best when the leads are telling a story and others are performing a corresponding act. Otherwise, there is an empty pause whilst the performers stir themselves which detracts from the illusion they’ve built. The aerial acts are exciting, but furthermore just make sense: Icarus flying, the phoenix spinning wildly like a fireball, and the falling star on her silks like the tail trailing behind it. But there is one routine between Icarus (Lewis Davidson) and the Star (Hattie Gregory) which is so elegant, the way in which they mirror and support one another’s bodies is a real metaphor for their love. It’s simply a shame that they cannot aim higher in their limited space and show off their talents on a larger, grander scale in this grand tale.

Icarus, we all know, is the boy who flew too close to the sun which melted his wings. Icarus picks up where he has fallen to earth found by Guy (Gavin Maxwell) a man that was trapped on this deserted island. Both of them dream of flying, and have their reasons; so that Icarus may find the fallen star he fell in love with, and so that Guy may find his lost sister. It is a purposeful story for all the fantasy, and acted convincingly by everyone. Maxwell it must be said is a little forced and fidgety where Davidson is more relaxed and therefore easier to watch. Although they aren’t around for long, I must also say the physicality of the crows is brilliantly accurate and funny. They are complimented by the delightful use of puppetry in this show; a little monkey, a wolf, and other birds roam this island too, and these simple puppets move believably and are an enchanting element for younger audiences.

This is a production which has left spectators divided, I’d say avoid it if you can’t believe in flying men and singing trees without an explanation. This is a magical myth for big imaginations.

**** – 4/5 stars

Icarus: A Story of Flight is playing at C eca until 27 August as part of the Edinburgh Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess is an aspiring arts journalist and playwright, who trained at Arts Educational School London and is currently studying towards a BA in English with Creative Writing at Brunel University. She is co-founder of Don't Make Me Angry Productions which is dedicated to original writing and innovative performance.

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: The Velveteen Rabbit

Posted on 19 August 2012 by Veronica Aloess

The Velveteen Rabbit is one of those old children’s books that aren’t loved and cherished by children today as they were by the generation before. Children identify with the characters on television a lot nowadays, so it’s brilliant that theatre is an alternative way to bring these characters to life. The Velveteen Rabbit is an engaging, interactive piece of theatre adapted brilliantly by Jake Linzey .

The thing about The Velveteen Rabbit is its a proper story. It isn’t a silly little tale where a woodland creature learns it’s alphabet or how to peel a banana. It’s a play about a little boy who loves his toy rabbit so much, he thinks he’s real. When, as with all toys, the little rabbit is eventually thrown out (a genuinely sad moment), the toy rabbit suddenly becomes a living, breathing real rabbit. These characters – the velveteen rabbit, the silk horse, the nursery fairy – are all represented by absolutely charming puppets created by Jake Linzey. They are made of materials and move in ways that reflect that they are toys, while the set is a colourful representation of what a nursery would actually look like, with a simplicity  that makes it easy to adapt for this or that setting. The moles are a little less imaginative as sock puppets, but this is only disappointing because sometimes the actors’ mouths are moving when their hands aren’t, which isn’t a problem with the rest of the puppets.

The company of Backhand Theatre all inhabit big characters which have the right degree of animation for a children’s show. Jonathan Ashby-Rock is very sweet and absolutely like a stroppy little boy, and Katie Don-Hughes has a gentle, bright tone as the rabbit. Guiding the audience through it all, Shereen Roushbaiani’s expressions are big and smiley, perfect for children’s theatre. Her interaction with the audience can be a little pantomime-like, but when she comes into the audience it is obviously exciting for the children and a lovely touch, even if it can be hard to get the desired response without a large audience, as the children can be shy.

The Velveteen Rabbit is very much a show for kids, although a lot of adults will know the story. And call me a big kid but I found it very enjoyable myself, and could appreciate its maturity as well as its cuteness.

*** – 3 Stars

The Velveteen Rabbit is playing at C eca until 27 August as part of the Edinburgh Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess is an aspiring arts journalist and playwright, who trained at Arts Educational School London and is currently studying towards a BA in English with Creative Writing at Brunel University. She is co-founder of Don't Make Me Angry Productions which is dedicated to original writing and innovative performance.

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Spotlight On: Backhand Theatre

Posted on 09 August 2012 by Annabelle Collins

Many of us grew up hearing the tragic tale of Icarus, the imprisoned craftsman’s son who flew too close to the sun. Although there are elements of the macabre within this Greek myth, the wonder at a human flying with wings undoubtedly sparked the imagination of many a young listener. Backhand Theatre has taken this myth a step further and picks up the story after Icarus has fallen. Seizing the opportunity to use stunning aerial stunts, Backhand has created a visually beautiful, family friendly show.

Founded in 2010 by Jake Linzey and Nicola Buys, Backhand established itself as a circus theatre company. However, according to Linzey, none of the actors in Icarus, a Story of Flight are originally professional circus performers. “Our cast members are trained from scratch to do the circus skills which is incredibly rewarding, as we are constantly learning and mastering new skills. Everyone looks out for each other, so it is a really safe environment to learn in.”

Backhand Theatre certainly enjoys what they do, but they take children’s theatre seriously. Linzey explains the importance of this. “Unlike some productions, ours is not a gimmick. We have a genuine passion for producing children’s theatre which is not patronising and has a value in it.” This ethos shines through in other Backhand Productions, which will also be appearing at Edinburgh this year. Greek Myths for Kids and The Velveteen Rabbit are also incredibly visually impressive; the story is brought to life for the young audience using realistic puppetry. The aim is to encourage children to participate in the production; although agreeing they can be less withdrawn than adults, Linzey emphasises the importance of planning ahead. “Children find very different things scary to adults, so we have to take things sensibly but still allow room for them to suspend their beliefs within the performance.” Previously critically acclaimed Edinburgh Festival shows, Greek Myths for Kids and The Velveteen Rabbit enable Backhand Theatre to showcase their unique brand of children’s theatre and charm audiences of old and young alike.

Alongside the family orientated shows in Backhand Theatre’s Edinburgh 2012 programme, Tales from Edgar Allan Poe certainly gives their line-up an edge. Demonstrating the versatility of the company, this production is set in an asylum, which suggests that the audience should expect a dark and complex production. Linzey agrees that there are sinister aspects to Tales from Edgar Allan Poe, but also discloses that it is not entirely deadly serious. “Although we have tried to steer away from the Dracula clichés, a nod to it evokes humour in the production.” Linzey goes on to explain how this production has evolved from last year with the assistance of South Hill Park Arts Centre, in Bracknell. “We took the show back to the table and had a research and development week, resulting in a subtle production with darker undertones beneath the nicer surface.” Furthermore, Linzey describes how the character of the unnamed visitor in the asylum asks questions that the audience would want to know. It appears that Tales of Edgar Allan Poe is designed to be highly engaging for the audience.

An accumulation of four different Edgar Allan Poe stories, this production uses the circus and aerial skills that have played a huge part in Backhand Theatre’s past work. “Our approach to this has been generally organic and we have tried to tie in the essential aspects of the different tales,” explains Linzey. “However I think we have also approached it academically; we have forever been improving Tales from Edgar Allan Poe.The Raven, arguably one of Poe’s most famous tales, is to feature within this production and features Derek Jacobi. “He recorded the voice for the raven. Going to his house to record it was a fantastic experience; he was genuinely charming and told us some lovely stories.” It is clear that the redevelopment of the original production has resulted in a visually spectacular show, yet with the same level of complexity.

The support given to Backhand Theatre by South Hill Park Arts Centre has played a huge role in the development of the company. “We are now based at South Hill Park in Bracknell; they really care about developing theatre and have given us much support along the way.” The development of this relationship has clearly been crucial in allowing Backhand Theatre to redevelop their work. Linzey explains how Edinburgh provides an unrivalled opportunity to network. “A lot of people underestimate how much networking can be done at Edinburgh and in terms of showcasing work there is nothing better. You won’t find the same atmosphere anywhere else and it is undoubtedly the heart and soul of the theatre year.”

The Edinburgh Festival is clearly highly valued by Backhand Theatre as an opportunity to showcase their work and forge important relationships. Despite this, the daring aerial stunts which make their productions so unique would not happen without funding. The Arts Council Grant awarded to Backhand Theatre has allowed the company to invest in circus and aerial gear, allowing their innovative and visually breath-taking work to continue.

Backhand Theatre may be a young company, but the quality of their 2012 Edinburgh season does not reflect this; their work suggests experience and a true understanding of their audience. It is certainly unusual to see children’s theatre produced alongside an unnerving interpretation of Edgar Allen Poe, but this highlights the diverse material Backhand Theatre are capable of producing. The passion they have for their art shines through in their ability to learn the new circus skills that make this company so unique; the audience are not the only ones taken on a remarkable journey.

Backhand Theatre will be performing their four shows at C Venues – C Eca until 27th August. For more information or to book tickets, visit www.edfringe.com or www.backhandtheatre.com.

Image credit: Backhand Theatre

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