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Tag Archive | "Barbican Theatre"

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Review: As the Flames Rose we Danced to the Sirens, the Sirens

Posted on 14 November 2012 by Jake Orr

Iara Solano Arana stands in a black dress and dons a blonde wig. Lit from the side she is bathed in a yellow hue as she presses her lips against the microphone that crackles and sparks at the contact. Oozing sexiness, Arana begins to describe women depicted in flickering black and white movies – the women of grainy old love songs – and in time she offers herself to us: “I’ll be whatever you want me to be”,  she says.  As the Flames Rose we Danced to the Sirens, the Sirens is both beautiful and tragic in its simplicity and Arana’s performance is endearing. Like a warm embrace, the piece envelops the audience, seducing them into the darkness of the performance space.

Sleepwalk Collective, which has grown in the past two years, has won a Total Theatre Award and is a BE Festival First Place and Best Performance winner, and its members are now performing in the Barbican Pit Theatre. The journey from fledgling company emerging from Rose Bruford College to award-winning and Barbican-performing has been watched closely by this reviewer having first seen their work in 2006. Some six years later and the captivating allure of their work still sees me wide-eyed and mouth ajar.

…the Sirens is a solo performance piece that looks at women in pop culture with all their fakery and false smiles, the sort of smiles that crack and fade with time. Arana, with microphone in hand, weaves a poetic but fractured commentary on the desires caught in black and white films: the desires to be kissed, loved by a man and loved by an audience. She caresses the microphone across her body and sips wine, enacting different visions of love and lust. She is a man trying to seduce a woman to bed, a solider drinking his last drink and a woman in hysterics. The interplay between the real and imagined worlds is engaging.

Sammy Metcalfe’s direction sees representations of women in their most helpless states, being tied up and abandoned on train tracks, for instance, with no hero to rescue the damsel in distress. It’s in the mocking presentation – the toy train set that doesn’t crush the women but drives into her mouth; the magician’s assistant forced to cut her own body using a tiny saw – that makes …the Sirens both comedic and tragic. Desperate to become part of the projection of black and white film, Arana covers herself in powder and dances until the characters form on her body, but she’ll never be part of the grainy footage. She is a woman destined to be in the present tense: the here, not the then.

In the darkness of the Barbican Pit Theatre Sleepwalk Collective’s compelling storytelling, together with original music by Esme Squalor which underscores the piece, makes for a captivating show. Sleepwalk Collective brings something tangible and thrilling to the London stage.

As the Flames Rose we Danced to the Sirens, the Sirens is playing at the Barbican Pit Theatre until 17 November. For more information and tickets, see the Barbican 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.

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Review: Forests

Posted on 08 November 2012 by Francesca Roberts

The play begins with normal looking people scattered in freeze across the stage, a folk singer who looks liked she’s turned up to the wrong gig, and bewilderingly early costume changes. A disparate cast recites random snippets of Shakespeare.  It is clear from the outset that this adaptation is going to make the audience work. Director Calixto Bieto has plucked almost every passionate, heart-wrenching moment from Shakespeare’s collection and moulded, distorted and recreated a story, if I can call it that, of birth, childhood, love, fear and loss.

The Catalan, which is adopted by the bilingual cast sporadically throughout, seems to make love sing louder and pain cry out more. There is something about hearing Iago’s howling cries of “I would drown myself for love” repeated in Catalan that strikes right to the core.

Forests is a wild tour of Shakespeare’s highs and lows, dragging us backwards through proverbial forests, occasionally letting us breathe with musical interludes. Musician Maika Makovski is our Puck figure that takes us floating through the narrative with soft melodies. She then picks up the (at times indulgent) pace with hearty folk songs – beautiful and emotive interludes, if a little American.

The narrative is unclear – I’m sure deliberately. It doesn’t seem meant for a linear mind. It plays impishly and sometimes aggressively with genders; tearing the women’s clothes off and swapping them with the men’s, tying up a cross-dressed man and making him incessantly climb up and down a wall with a bucket on his head unable to break free of his torturous routine. For anyone who isn’t well versed in Shakespeare’s works, this production, I imagine, would be a minefield of meaning. For those that know his works there are constant rewards strewn throughout where your ears prick up and you can ground yourself in text, and therefore story and meaning. These moments of clarity are a little obscure as you realise the two women rolling on the floor in front of you kissing are actually acting the “Make me a willow cabin at your gate” scene between Olivia and Viola in Twelfth Night.

Bieito tries to encompass life in all its forms, not in a linear way but in a circular one where “old fools are babes again”. This play is playful, in a childish but masochistic way. It’s brave and experimental and not for the faint-hearted; the nudity lost a few audience members. But those that stuck it out saw the versatile and visceral nature of Shakespeare’s words channelled through vigorous and passionate performances.

Forests is playing at the Barbican Theatre until 10 November. For more information and tickets, see the Barbican Theatre website.

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Review: Nosferatu

Posted on 04 November 2012 by Jake Orr

In 2010, contemporary Polish theatre company TR Warszawa brought to the Barbican Centre their version of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis, a gripping, emotional piece that had me rooted in my seat. This year they bring Nosferatu, FW Murnau’s 1922 German expressionist film based upon Bram Stoker’s Dracula (although for copyright reasons, the Count is named Nosferatu). Much as the vampire connects his body to his victim’s, Director Grzegorz Jarzyna creates a monstrous fusing of Stoker’s Dracula and Murnau’s Nosferatu. Rather than rejuvenating the creature, though, this fusing will leave fans of Nosferatu and Dracula feeling something has been lost.

Jarzyna’s Nosferatu is a slow, methodical piece of theatre. Episodic and split with repeated blackouts, there is a rough and flickering cinematic quality to the work. Magdalena Maciejewska’s design sees the stage looking somewhat stretched, like a strangely-proportioned landscape painting or a picture stuck in widescreen on a television. The stage is devoid of structure, with different rooms subtly indicated by different colours, and as in any vampire story, mirrors and windows with billowing curtains are dotted across the walls. We feel that we are watching not so much a coherent story as a series of tableaux, or a camera shutter capturing a long exposure. The sparse narrative is loosely threaded through the piece and at times suspended for what feels like minutes at a time. Figures become distorted, lights blur and the audience are either transfixed or bored senseless. Thankfully, for me it was the former, but given the slow applause and remarks from audiences afterwards, for the majority it didn’t translate well.

As with TR Warszawa’s previous pieces, the creativity of Nosferatu and the company’s commitment to the contemporary portrayal of existing works is commendable. It takes a certain daring and skill to be able to translate Nosferatu, seen as one of the leading German expressionist films of its time, into a successful stage production. As a well known story, are certain expectations from the audience: vampires, blood sucking, and spine-tingling scenes with virgin girls on beds in the dead of night. In Jarzyna’s interpretation, Lucy’s transformation into a vampire seems secondary to the effect Nosferatu has on the other characters. One of the stronger narrative threads is that of Van Helsing’s desperation to prove his theory of the living dead – a need that ultimately overcomes his chance of destroying Nosferatu.

There are a number of strong performances. The presence of German actor Wolfgang Michael, who plays Nosferatu, is more grounded than the piece itself. Jan Frycz as Van Helsing is also transformative in his journey of character, adding a real weight to the piece. There’s not a lot to say about Sandra Korzeniak’s Lucy, who seems to exist purely to tempt the men around her, but this is perhaps more due to Jarzyna’s direction than any failing on Korzeniak’s part.

Overall, the rhyhmn of Nosferatu seemed to reflect the endless time that Nosferatu endures as one of the living dead. Whilst this is an interesting parallel, the lack of narrative thread and subtitles that struggled to keep up the action made the 110-minute production feel far longer. Despite this, I never found the production dull – but, although I felt the concept triumphed, in practice it just wasn’t enough to fully engage the audience.

Nosferatu played at the Barbican Theatre. For more shows in the Barbican 2012 season see their 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.

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Review: The Master and Margarita

Posted on 22 March 2012 by Jake Orr

Mikhall Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, an epic novel which tells of the Devil visiting Moscow and interacting with its inhabitants, is considered to be one of the best novels of the twentieth century. This perhaps makes it a daunting task for any theatre director to grapple with, but in the hands of Complicite and Simon McBurney, Bulgakov’s masterpiece is brought to the Barbican’s stage with force and artistic intensity.

McBurney’s creation is rich with visual spectacle and draws committed performances from its cast. Working with video designer Finn Ross and 3D animator Luke Halls, McBurney’s The Master and Margarita is a triumph of combining acting with video projection that floods and fills every expanse of Es Devlin’s set design. Not only does it transform the Barbican Theatre into Soviet Russia, but it also distorts and twists the perspectives of its audience through projections on walls and floors. The slickness and artistry of projection in performance has informed Complicite’s work for many years but clearly McBurney is in his element – and astounds his audience.

There are countless outstanding performances throughout the evening, although I was particularly drawn to Paul Rhys’s Master and Sinead Matthews’s Margarita. The characters of Master and Margarita became the central point for the audience to hold on to as the city shook and crumbled before our eyes. They might be helpless, and we might know this, but Rhys and Matthews made a formidable duo. Against such strong visual imagery, where at one point Margarita seems to resemble Lady Gaga, the commitment to character was particularly impressive.

As with previous Complicite productions, the heart of the piece lies within the commitment and dedication from the ensemble as a whole. The continual shifting of characters, props and set was fluid. However, it has to be said Blind Summit’s contribution in the form of Behemoth, the Devil’s cat, was particularly disappointing. The whole character of Behemoth, which was operated as a larger-than-life cat puppet, didn’t work amongst the other aesthetic qualities within The Master and Margarita.

The visual style of Complicite’s work drove the production forward. The images of Christ in the form of Yeshua Na-Notsri (Cescar Sorachu) were hauntingly projected against the floor-to-ceiling back wall of the Barbican Theatre. Whilst it is hard to fault the visual elements of the production, it is a show that is difficult to engage with on an emotional level. At no point do we feel completely connected to the story or journey of the characters, and in many respects it is a cold production; we laugh, we spectate, but we never truly invest in the world. This didn’t bother me as such, but with a story this size which shifts in narrative and perspective, some audiences may find it difficult to connect with the characters.

Billed as 195 minutes long you might think that the piece would become tiresome, but aside from a slightly less engaging first half The Master and Margarita slips by with ease. I couldn’t help but feel comfortable whilst watching it, a certain familiarity settled within me. Yet Bulgakov’s story, in its vastness, reminded me of Peter Brook’s 11 and 12, not in its spiritual element but in the way in which Brook took his audience through the story. I remember feeling a calmness and understanding of the work, and this was echoed last night as I watched Complicite’s offering. Perhaps that speaks of our inabilities to see a stage or theatre as a blank canvas that a company or director fills with their own imagery and stories, or perhaps it was just me feeling the rhythm of McBurney’s direction.

It’s a bold adaptation, which at times presents its audience with the messages of Bulgakov’s text in a contemporary and provoking manner, especially when direct address and the house lights and projection showed the audience as impassive spectators. Whilst it’s not without its flaws, The Master and Margarita is an impressive visual spectacle which brings life to Bulgakov’s novel with energy and commitment from its cast and creative team. Certainly a piece of theatre worth attending.

The Master and Margarita is playing at the Barbican Theatre until 7 April. For more information and tickets, see the Barbican 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.

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