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Tag Archive | "Contemporary Theatre"

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Review: A Taste of Catalan Contemporary Theatre; The Audition and Against Democracy

Posted on 20 May 2013 by Ed Theakston

Catalan Festival ArcolaCatalonia is an autonomous community in northern Spain; its capital city is Barcelona and it has a population of just over 7.5 million. Now, thanks to Bots & Barrals Theatre Company, Londoners can get a glimpse of the burgeoning Catalan contemporary theatre scene at the Arcola Tent, in a double bill of fascinating, award-winning plays.

The evening opens with Rodolf Sirera’s short play The Audition. It tells the story of a famous actor who is invited to the house of an admirer, a Marquis. All is not what it seems, however, and through a series of mind-games, deceits and tense exchanges, the meeting turns into a risky theatrical experiment. The Marquis contends that theatre should not be fiction or artifice, but should in fact be a truthful emotional experience, with both the audience and actor really feeling. The Marquis puts these theories to the test, using his guest as an unwitting subject, and soon the twisted experiment becomes a matter of life and death.

Sirera’s play twists and turns until the audience no longer know what the truth is. It is a thrilling exploration of what theatre is and could be. The actors did not always seem to be entirely comfortable with the text, occasionally stumbling over lines. That said, both Tom Marshall as the underhand, manipulative Marquis and Corin Stuart as the famous actor give convincing performances. John London’s translation is commendable for making the dialogue feel so natural in a different language from the original.

In London, this play doesn’t feel hugely controversial in the context of the experimental work of companies like Punchdrunk and You Me Bum Bum Train. That said, it articulates well an ongoing theatrical debate about ‘truth’. Yet it is also a somewhat safe production, which seems unfortunate considering the content of the play talks about breaking conventions and transgressing established forms.

None of that in the second of the two plays though. Esteve Soler’s Against Democracy presents seven sketches inspired by the French genre of Grand Guignol. The sketches are linked by the themes of consumerism, capitalism, inevitability and power, and the thought that capitalism is incompatible with democracy. They are individually brilliant and collectively profound. The sketches range from a married couple caught in a spider’s web, as the woman gives birth to a huge spider that proceeds to consume them, to a portrayal of a tyrant who has destroyed an entire city on a whim. Production designer Robin Jackson has done well to making seven rapidly-changing sets mainly out of cardboard and Jordi Pérez’s lighting, although simple, is very intelligent. This trash aesthetic is very effective in what becomes a stark, haunting vision of the near future.

Clare Fraenkel plays a variety of wives, girlfriends and barmaids, giving a great performance. Lee Ranns is also strong, while Mark Knightley brings a good helping of humour, even if his characters are a little too mannered at times. Mike Buck’s translation is praiseworthy: Against Democracy is universally relevant and bitingly critical of governments around the world. At times tongue-in-cheek and at times brimming with real frustration and anger, it is political theatre at its best.

Silvia Ayguadé’s productions are fiercely inventive; both are intriguing and fantastically entertaining. It is wonderful and admirable that Ayguadé is giving London the opportunity to experience theatre from another culture. You don’t want to miss out.

The Audition and Against Democracy are playing at the Arcola Theatre until Saturday 25 May. For more information and tickets, see the Arcola Theatre website.

Ed Theakston

Ed Theakston

Ed has worked as an actor, director, lighting designer, and writer for a number of years. He is currently training at East 15 Acting School. He has a keen and diverse interest in theatre and has gained experience working in many different styles, from musical theatre to Stanislavski to devising. This year Ed has started writing reviews regularly for Fourthwall Magazine, and his blog ‘Into Training’ is available to read on the Fourthwall website.

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Mind over matter: Theatre and the big questions: What do you do when you can’t bear it?

Posted on 21 February 2012 by Katey Warran

Crimes of the Heart at the Bridewell Theatre

Contemporary theatre has a tendency to consider life’s big questions. Especially if a play has a political motive, theatre can seek to confront the state of our society and express something about it, to provoke thought and discussion. I have left theatres after watching experimental theatre just about ready to grab the next passerby and relay all of my thoughts on religion, current affairs or some other weighty topic… However, leaving the auditorium at the Oxford Playhouse this week, the big questions I wanted to ask were of a different nature – they were more personal.

“What do you do when you can’t bear it anymore?… How did your mum do it? When she couldn’t stand it anymore?” shouts Becky, a secondary school student in Matthew Dunster’s Mogadishu, a play by Vivienne Franzmann. Primarily a consequence of the trauma caused by her father’s suicide, Becky confesses in her rage that she self-harms when she can’t cope. Jason never responds to her question but it is evident that Jason expresses his inner struggle through violence, anger, lying, cheating, swearing, and generally being a very difficult student.

When Becky shouted those words, it got me thinking about how different people deal with pain and the things that we do to find comfort in times of distress. We spend our lives trying to find ways of coping – ways to communicate what we cannot express in words – and for Becky the only way to do this is through her body. She stands at the kitchen table laying out all of the sharp knives in the kitchen, rolling up her sleeves to display cuts from previous episodes of self-injury, and is only prevented from cutting in this instance by her mother, Amanda, who silently enters the room and cradles her daughter in her arms. They cannot stand it anymore.

This element of Mogadishu – its ability to connect memories and past tragedy to how we respond to our present lives – reminded me of a production that I recently worked on with Tower Theatre Company at the Bridewell Theatre. Crimes of the Heart is a play about three sisters (Babe, Meg and Lenny) who had a difficult childhood, and who have to deal with things they thought were in the past when Babe is charged with the attempted murder of her husband (a crime which she committed). It conveys what happens when life forces us to confront past traumas and the lengths that one will go to when trying to find ways to deal with them. Reminiscing on their childhood, Babe tells Lenny how Meg coped in the years following finding their mother after she had committed suicide – forcing herself to look at pictures of people with horrific diseases and crippled children whilst eating ice cream to convince herself that she was not a weak person and that she could “stand it”. She tries to become numb to these graphic images and consequently to the reality of life.

Theatre often connects with an audience on a personal level, much of it is modelled on real-life events after all, and it is the sign of a good director if a piece stirs the emotions. If I watch a play and see part of my own life in it, part of myself, the characters start to feel real and I feel part of the whole. Like listening to a piece of music which could have been written for me because the poetry of the lyrics feel concurrent with my life, when you begin to see truth in a performance it starts to feel like you are more than just a spectator – you grow with the play and partake in the experience with the characters. Mogadishu stares the audience in the eyes and forces us to question what motivates us to feel self-destructive – what do I do when I can’t bear it? This entails thinking about not only the individual, but the collective – why do people lie, self-harm, or commit suicide? What do we do when we can’t bear life anymore, and why do we do it?

Image credit: Alexander Knapp

Katey Warran

Katey Warran

Katey is Marketing and Communications Officer of A Younger Theatre and is Marketing Officer at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. She does freelance marketing including working for the New Actors Company, loves all things digital and has a passion for Applied and Community Theatre. Katey also has an interest in philosophy, enjoys singing and country music, and is a tea addict.

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Review: Made In Russia, Sacred Festival

Posted on 26 October 2009 by Jake Orr

Sacred FestivalThe Sacred Festival is in full swing now at the Chelsea Theatre, and as mentioned in my previous article here, it is one not to be missed. Bursting with contemporary practitioners, and theatre pieces from across Europe, there is hidden in the depths of Chelsea, a creative oasis.

What happens when you take two Russians, heavily involved in dance, and allow them to collaborate together on a theatre piece that both explores their own identity as performers but also interweaves a narrative of past experiences? Made In Russia is the outcome. A slightly surreal and bizarre post-modern theatre piece created, conceived and performed by Andrei Andrianov and Oled Soulimenko.

It’s hard to place my thoughts on this piece. I felt slightly disengaged by the performance at first. A purposeful detachment made by the performers stating how they wanted to start the piece with notable famous characters but failed to get them due to money. They start again. The performers stating how they wanted to start the piece with… they start again. It is repetitive, yet it is slightly addictive, the English subtitles playing comically behind the two exposed performers.

The piece shifts between small narratives delivered into a microphone, to varying styles of dance and further disengaging through recorded speech and the use of a television screen. Soulimnko and Andianov reveal small pieces of information about their lives, their careers and their various engagements with dance. They move between comic persona and expressive pieces of dance.

They speak of their relationship with Maya Plisetskaya and Jean-Luc Godard. It’s a focus point, a place that the narratives seem to always return to. Yet equally Made In Russia allows for the spectator to get lost in movements, the rolling images on the television screen and the speaking voices from the boom box. It blurs the boundaries between a dance piece and a post-modern theatre piece.

Made In Russia is a fragmented dance piece of captivating moments, of images, songs, lights, images.

It’s a body moving in space to robot styled music and a monotone voice delivering a letter to a lost friend, a lost collaborator.

It’s a moment in time expressed in a body transcended into a theatrical black box.

It is a metaphor.

It is a performance piece I do not quite understand but can appreciate.

The piece in both Russian and English also expresses the performers concerns with taking this very same piece of dance theatre to an English audience. “We must speak in English”, because apparently it is more accessible when spoken in English, yet equally the Russian language becomes slightly magical.

An hour later, as the performances draws to an end I struggle to comprehend how this dance theatre piece has managed to draw me into the depths of Russian culture and how I feel slightly compassionate towards these two Russian dancing men. I feel touched and actually proud to know that I’ve witnessed a Russian contemporary piece of theatre, that I was a witness to this happening.

The Sacred Festival of Contemporary Theatre and Performance is currently on at the Chelsea Theatre, see their website for a full listing of events.

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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