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Tag Archive | "Edinburgh Festival"

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Feature: Caligula’s Alibi – just do it

Posted on 08 February 2014 by Harriet Stevens

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Times are tough for young theatre companies. Getting your work seen, let alone funded, can be a constant battle – particularly if the work you’re producing strays from the commercial norm and requires your audience to take a risk and try something new. I met with Jonnie Bayfield and Will Cowell, founding members and Co-Artistic Directors of Caligula’s Alibi Theatre Company, to talk about a new wave of surrealist and absurdist theatre.

Telling me about the group’s artistic intentions, Bayfield explains how they often find contemporary theatre “quite dull”, or at least, not particularly along the themes that they enjoy, and, “like the ‘decadent’ Roman emperor Caligula, we want to see if we can’t adapt that. We tend to delve into the surreal, the absurd, the slightly more ‘maladjusted’ routes”. Cowell continues, “we like to hark back to things gone by. To look at them, to mess with them, change them, learn from them. We like the old as much as we like the new, so we’re always referencing and looking back. Harking. We like to hark. We do a lot of harking.”

Clearly a big motivation for the duo is a desire to stand out in the world of contemporary theatre. “We’re trying to offer something different. We don’t think there’s a lot of work out there that’s quite like ours. We don’t have a tag, which can be more difficult commercially, but we don’t have that because we choose to dwell in the gaps between the labels. But it’s where we belong,” Cowell laughs. “We call it a gutter.”

If they were to have a label, they would go with “contemporary absurdism”, yet equally they hope to produce what Bayfield describes as “something that has emotion and heart, and humour and humanity, and that sense of naturalism at the core. Then it all clashes together to make something which is a bit peculiar!” “We call it a ‘maladjusted reality’,” Cowell explains. “Everything is partially recognisable but we’ve just tweaked it into a world that is somewhat distant from our own.”

As Caligula’s Alibi endeavours to deliver theatre that is new and exciting it finds itself with an all too familiar problem when trying to pitch work to theatres and audiences. In the two years it has been operating as a company, Caligula’s Alibi has found that “there’s a danger in doing something a bit peculiar, as the mass will tend to go towards work which is more commercial”. However, “as soon as we find people who like it then they keep coming back. We have a bit of a ‘cult’ following starting up now. And because the shows are often based around improvisation, people enjoy seeing the same show again and again. It’s great when we find the people who like it,” Bayfield enthuses. “They find us, or we find them; the other gutter dwellers…”

Yet the company feels a sense of frustration at the apparent reluctance of theatre audiences to see shows with a less conventional selling point. As Cowell points out, “lots of people have less money and who wants to risk a tenner if you’re going to end up wasting it and seeing something shit? I think that getting audiences to part with that £10 is a much bigger ask than it ever was before. And the theatres know that about their audiences so everyone is much less willing to take that risk.”

This is an unfortunate sign of recent times and they speculate about how the greats of surrealism, comedia or absurdism would cope as new writers in today’s climate. Despite the struggle to crack wary audiences, both press and public responses to their work has been “overwhelmingly” positive and they seem optimistic about their “gutter in the marketplace”. They clearly have confidence in their work and their bravery in setting up their own company – particularly one that is exploring less conventional forms of theatre – has to be admired.

The company met at East 15 drama school and took its first show to the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Since graduating in 2013 it has survived a second year on the Fringe and has been managing the logistics of running the company ever since. “The production side is great,” Bayfield explains, “because you have complete creative control; I write, Will directs, and then me and Stu are in the show. So you’re completely self-sufficient. We’re like River Cottage in a theatre company!”

Cowell continues, “we’re really happy with where we are at the moment, happy to keep working our way up, me and Jonnie do most of the paperwork, and that’s lovely! What we hope we’ll be able to do in the future is allow ourselves to be paid for this kind of production work as well as performance, that’d be the dream – because we actually quite like writing silly emails to theatres or producers, and handling that side of things as well.”

Finally, I ask if they have any advice for those thinking about starting their own company. “I think the best advice I could give would be the advice of my lovely father,” says Cowell. “He says: JFDI.” Here Cowell looks to Bayfield and they both recite; “Just fucking do it.”

“If you’ve got something that you want to do, an idea, just do it,” concurs Bayfield. “Show your colours. It happens to me, even though I like to think I’ve worked out who I am as a writer or a performer, there are still moments where I think, ‘hmmm, maybe I should write that knife crime play…’ just because it might get picked up, but no, you’re playing the long game, and I might have to stay in my gutter for 20 years before someone picks up one of my plays and says, ‘hang on this is great’. But whatever happens you should stay true to yourself.”

It’s encouraging to hear that Caligula’s Alibi is sticking to its artistic guns and striving to offer something new to the London theatre scene. However, it is not just the job of theatre companies to risk it all on doing something different; in order for groups to produce experimental work, audiences have to be just as adventurous in what they’re willing to see.

Caligula’s Alibi is performing its latest show, Bygone, at the VAULT festival from 11-15 February. 

 

 

Harriet Stevens

Harriet Stevens

Harriet is an applied theatre practitioner working with young people in London, and a recent MA graduate of Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. She is hugely passionate about theatre and live arts, and spends much of her free time seeing as much theatre as possible.

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Review: Nish Kumar is a Comedian, Soho Theatre

Posted on 14 December 2013 by Amina Bhuiyan

Nish KumarOver the next two weeks in the heart of Soho, Nish Kumar is being funny. Humbly inspiring affection from the audience and, more remarkably, his critics, Kumar speaks about being “ethnically ambiguous” and his experience of online identity theft. The thieves have not stolen his details for monetary gain as you would expect, in fact it is simply his face which they have used to represent the term “confused Muslim” in the world of the web. Indeed, when you search the term, memes with his face plastered on them appear with amusing and often offensive slogans.

Kumar is offended not only because he has not permitted this use of his face, but also because he is not a Muslim. Its not that he finds being regarded as a Muslim offensive he says, its just that he’s not. And he has the foreskin to prove it – thankfully he only tells us this part.

Kumar identifies himself as British Asian and though some of his comedy centres around this, not all of his cleverly structured skits do. Originally of Indian origin, Kumar experiences racism. However, it is not the predictable slurs he finds himself on the end of. Being ethnically ambiguous (a term he has coined, which begs the question of why it isn’t more widely used – it is exactly this type of concise truthfulness that makes his show funny), Kumar often finds himself on the receiving end of insults for pretty much any race that isn’t white, resulting in quite peculiar reactions.

Reference to current events make for a relevant show. Scattered with his astute and well put observations, which vary between great mirth and grave seriousness, his set moves at a well measured pace.

Having had a critically acclaimed run this year at the Edinburgh festival, he now brings Nish Kumar Is a Comedian to Soho. Kumar is clearly on his way to mainstream success. Perhaps it is because he isn’t quite there yet that, unusually for a comedian, he seems like a very affable, regular man with a wonderfully quirky world view.  I would warn you not to be misled by this demeanour though, as he put some latecomers in their seats very quickly with some sharp quips and the best of swear words!

I would advise you to go and see him quickly because he is funny, genuine and we need more variety in the current face of British stand up. But mainly because he is really funny.

Nish Kumar is a Comedian is running until 21 Dec at the Soho Upstairs For tickets and more information go to the Soho Theatre website.

Amina Bhuiyan

Amina Bhuiyan

By day Amina works for an accountancy firm in the city. By night she writes about theatre. She has worked with numerous organisations including RADA, The National Youth Theatre and Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She has also studied Drama & Theatre studies and English Language & Literature. Aside from theatre, she also likes a number of things - including but not limited to - food. And then writing about that as well.

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Edinburgh International Festival Review: The Tragedy of Coriolanus

Posted on 28 August 2013 by Liam Harrison

The Tragedy of Coriolanus

The bard enters the battle of the bands in The Tragedy of Coriolanus, an international adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic text with a unique musical accompaniment.

Billed as “Heavy Metal meets Shakespeare” the Beijing People’s Art Theatre may have orchestrated the most mismatched theatrical blind date of all time. From the very outset, the music and verse are utterly disjointed, each song falling into place with an audible thunk. It’s as if an aggressively loud Black Sabbath ringtone were reverberating around the stalls whilst the cast continued their exchange of monologues unabated.

During extended speeches, the band stand in their small musicians’ pen uncertain of what to do in the interim. They slump and stare morosely around the gilded space feeling their metal credentials drain away with every passing second, mourning the death of their rock n’ roll lifestyle.

Behind the band, an ornate framework laces the back of the stage and great siege ladders cut down from the rafters. It’s dim amidst the jutting struts and shadow play upon the wall. The backdrop gives the space an industrial, expansive feel that’s more than slightly sinister. Yi Liming’s design is as beautifully stagnant as the rest of the production. Observed in immobility the display is stunning but it is clearly two-dimensional in the extreme.

The absence of a fight choreographer is embarrassingly evident. You’d find more convincing combat in a production of The Pirates of Penzance. With the achingly slow clashing of blades, the battle sequences find themselves in a theatrical grey. Too over-elaborate to be symbolic, too agonisingly dull to be realistic. The bloody skirmishes are reduced to hosts of extras half-heartedly clattering their sticks like a troupe of demoralised Morris dancers.

Meanwhile Martius is engaged in an intense duel for his very survival. The spectacle might have carried more dramatic weight if it weren’t occurring in what appeared to be acutely sluggish slow-motion. After the dust settles Martius, now with the given name Coriolanus, is asked to display his dreadful battle scars. It would be a surprise if he left that pre-teen tussle with anything more grievous than a sprained ankle.

The real killing blow to this already fatally wounded production is its ill-conceived subtitle system. Mounted in the boxes to the right and left of the stage these comparatively tiny digital displays flicker frantically to keep up with the reams of text. The audience are left staring, transfixed, as if the bard himself were sitting there frantically attempting to communicate the convoluted events of the play through semaphore. All the physicality that would make the complex piece even mildly diverting is lost as the audience’s focus ricochets back and forth like a linguistic tennis match.

A dramatic and bloody tale brought to its knees by playground style fight sequences and user-hostile subtitles, The Tragedy of Coriolanus is as disastrous as its title would suggest.

The Tragedy of Coriolanus is playing at Edinburgh Playhouse as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. For more information please see to the Edinburgh International Festival Website.

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: The Hawke Papers

Posted on 24 August 2013 by John Hewitt Jones

The Hawke Papers

Star Rating:
(4/5 Stars)

The queue for this show snakes a fair way along the side of the pub where it’s being performed – one of Edinburgh’s cosier upstairs establishments that has a distinctly Victorian ambiance. The Hawke Papers begins with a dapper young man ushering audience members inside, explaining that his uncle has been murdered and that they must help unmask the perpetrator of the crime. In the atmospheric, oak-panelled surroundings this interactive show resonates with  Edinburgh’s dark medical history – think Burke and Hare, or Jekyll and Hyde.

What’s particularly impressive is the considerable dexterity required from the actors to make this kind of immersive theatre work. The cast have to negotiate the environs of a small pub and verbally cajole audience members in the right direction. In this case it really comes off. Interjections and interventions arrive just in time, moving the plot forwards and providing the audience with prompts that lead them to discover certain objects and bring them closer to the truth.

Strength of character, of which there’s plenty, is central to the show’s momentum. There are plenty of engaging stereotypes, from the well-spoken lawyer to the drunken old miser. The defensive policemen and the snarling old drunk are played with particular aplomb.

Although the denouement of the show is a bit flat – a risk of allowing the plot to evolve in response to audience reaction – the crowd of budding detectives is herded towards the final scene in a sophisticated fashion. This late morning show is a lot of fun, and the money flowing from audience members’ pockets supports the notion that the Free Fringe is the way to go.

The Hawke Papers is playing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 25th August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.

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