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Review: Ladybird

Posted on 07 December 2012 by Geri Silver

For many, young adulthood is a period of hard-hitting reality, in which we must face the realisation that our long-held dreams have somehow dissipated into a purgatory with no obvious direction. Vassily Sigarev’s Russian play Ladybird, translated into English by Sasha Dugdale and currently playing at the New Diorama Theatre, tells the compelling story of young adults coping with their own personal dystopias. The play is performed by a newly formed theatre ensemble called secret/heart, a group that consists entirely of recent graduates of UK drama schools.

Set in the 1990s in a provincial Russian city still suffering from the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Ladybird centres on young Dima, who is spending his last night at home before leaving for the army.  He’s kept company by Slavik, a drug-addicted burnout; Lera, whose unremitting and unrealistic plans for a better future are bordering on manic; and Yulka, whose privileged lifestyle and college education make her stand out sharply against the rest of the gritty bunch. As new characters are introduced and tensions rise, it doesn’t take long for the evening to turn into a series of escalating dramas. These successfully grasp the audience’s attention, but sometimes feel contrived.

Dima (Charlie Archer) and Lera (Bethan Cullinane) provide the most interesting and dynamic relationship in Sigarev’s play. Lera’s desperate optimism and Dima’s defeated cynicism are constantly clashing, but the two end up sharing the most powerful connection. Archer and Cullinane both master their complex roles with a combination of humour and tragedy, and have a natural chemistry that builds throughout the night.  But while these two are strong, the script often fails to provide the supporting characters with substance. Lera’s cousin Yulka, despite being well acted by Molly Gromadzki, is particularly problematic, with a shocking personality shift in the second act that adds a heightened drama at the expense of the character’s believability.

Seb Harcombe’s direction keeps the play moving at a steady pace and with a natural flow. Nicolai Hart Hansen’s design of the dilapidated flat enhances the atmosphere of emptiness and discomfort that is felt throughout the play. Against the back wall is a large print of a forest with beams of light shining through, and although the symbolism of this wasn’t clear, it provides an attractive contrast to its intentionally ugly surroundings.

Regardless of the flaws in the material, Ladybird remains consistently captivating. The moments of dark humour, unpredictable plot developments, well-written dialogue, great performances and thoughtful direction greatly outweigh the play’s problems. Secret/heart’s production excellently showcases young British talent while delivering a story that is both entertaining and relevant, and ultimately provides a refreshing night at the theatre.

Ladybird is playing at the New Diorama Theatre until 22 December. For tickets and more information, visit the New Diorama Theatre’s website.


Geri Silver

Geri Silver

Geri is an American student currently pursuing a MA in Media and Communications at City University London. Between the theatre scene and Galaxy chocolate, she is convinced that London is the best city in the world.

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Review: The Rest Is Silence

Posted on 15 June 2012 by Jake Orr

Dreamthinkspeak, the immersive and installation-based theatre makers under the direction of Tristan Sharpe, present a stripped and reconfigured version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in The Rest Is Silence, as part of London International Festival of Theatre and The World Shakespeare Festival. In the words of Sharpe, the the production’s “structural forms are collapsed and reconfigured, divisions between scenes are dissolved; speeches are deconstructed and reassembled. Time itself is skewed, stretched or suddenly truncated.” Quite an undertaking with such a text, but of course Sharpe is not the first and certainly won’t be the last to play with the text in this manner. The Rest Is Silence condenses Shakespeare’s text to 90 minutes, interspersed with projections and cinematic qualities. Has  Sharpe managed to retain the same qualities of madness, revenge, death and despair that ooze from the original? I’m not so sure.

The audience in dreamthinkspeak’s The Rest Is Silence are invited into one of the Riverside Studio’s performance spaces via an outside entrance. Ushered into a large but enclosed space, the feeling of claustrophobia begins to seep in as we wait. The action takes places around us through paneled windows, and we become the voyeurs to the rotten state of Denmark. The large perspex windows contain luxurious rooms, each a character’s dwelling space, be it bedroom, office or side room. One wall is made up entirely of a large neutral living space that acts as the corridor, or a court room, or, in the later parts of the show, as the place of the duel. Designed by Robin Don and Sharpe, the feeling of wealth and luxury is undeniable and there is  a certain pristine clinical quality. The company moves around the rooms, and we are directed to various scenes at given times through lighting or projection.

Whilst the set-up is intriguing, there is also the question of what Sharpe’s enclosing of his audience actually achieves. There are some nice reveals and the projection work is at times quite fitting, a particular instance being Ophelia’s drowning as we are plunged underwater with her before she floats above our heads, but it never feels justified. Perhaps like the disseminating of the text itself, Sharpe wants us to feel fractured in our viewing, especially when scenes are overlaid on opposite sides of the enclosure. There are some interesting use of text dynamics which sees Hamlet’s “‘to be, or not to be” soliloquy read by all the characters who somehow or other find the text. These moments offer a glimpse into the process of chopping and reconfiguring, which ultimately help to generate a sense of madness within Hamlet’s character. The problems arise when, interesting as it may be, this dynamic doesn’t really offer anything new to the work of Shakespeare. A good concept executed without a hitch, but what is relayed to the audience isn’t a sense of freshness. It carries more weight, a certain bleakness, but I do miss the poetry that the full text contains.

There is a certain mixed reaction to the casting of The Rest Is Silence. Edward Hogg’s Hamlet is a rather bleak character, limp and lifeless (although this isn’t a bad thing given Sharpe’s direction of Hamlet as a pathetic character). Hogg’s portrayal is thrown up against the rather buoyant Bethan Cullinane as Ophelia who really didn’t capture the subtly of madness. A fair portrayal is given by Philip Edgerley (Claudius) and Ruth Lass (Gertrude) but it is Michael Bryher and Stewart Heffernan’s Roseencrantz and Guildenstern who offer the most satisfaction with their comical mannerisms.

In all, whilst attempting to challenge perspectives on Hamlet and break apart the text, I worry that dreamthinkspeak’s The Rest In Silence is too fractured to hold real strength. With characters’ conflicts shortened, scenes eradicated and the poetry stiffened, if it wasn’t for the playful design element watching the various rooms around you, this 90 minute production might be a little on the weak side. Strong concept, but poorly executed.

The Rest Is Silence is playing at the Riverside Studios as part of LIFT until 23 June. For more information and tickets, see the Riverside Studios 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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