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Tag Archive | "Fringe"

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Review: In This House (A Family Breakdown), The Space

Posted on 09 April 2014 by Laura Peatman

In This HouseThere’s a moment in Act One of In This House when, on the witness stand, Vivian Charles succinctly depicts her first sexual encounter with lover Ted: “In the supply cupboard at the office Christmas party”. “Cliché!” roars the counsel for the defence, raising a laugh. Unfortunately, this joke encapsulates the play itself rather too neatly, being a work with plenty of promise in vision and concept that is badly let down by a script littered with clichés.

Performed by the East of England’s Black Balloon theatre company, the show takes its inspirations from cabaret, courtroom drama, Brechtian theatre and the Victorian freak show in its presentation of the trial of teenage murderess Lucy Mason. The concept is strong, using imagery of the circus-esque law courts that is faintly reminiscent of Chicago. However, these varied features all need pushing further to drive this vision home: each element, be it staging, venue, music or dialogue, needs to have strong reasoning behind it and this needs to be communicated to the audience much more clearly. It’s not often I ask for more audience participation – after years of theatre-going it still strikes fear into my heart… – but, with the audience repeatedly addressed as “the jury” and a cabaret set-up, this is a show calling out for more breaks in the fourth wall.

After an attention-grabbing opening, in which Prosecution (Lois Mackie) and Defence (Robert Elkin) wittily set the scene, the script sadly slips into cliché after cliché, giving little scope for characterisation in roles that become predictable – disappointing, given the shocking and complex nature of the issues being examined, which include mental illness and physical and emotional abuse. Perhaps it is this predictability that causes some of the stilted acting, with few performers pushing themselves into high enough peaks and deep enough troughs of emotion. It is difficult to attain such intensity, however, when some lines are so agonisingly stereotypical that there is little to play with that can surprise, move or intrigue an audience.

Overall performances are solid, with Lois Mackie shining as the underused Prosecution, oozing confidence and poise, and Robert Elkin impressing as the Defence. A scene in which Lucy Mason (Grace Chilton) lies unmoving on the table, glassy-eyed and weak after an episode of abuse while her neighbour’s testimony is delivered behind her, is both effective and affecting. Yet elsewhere flashes of something special are few and far between – although mention must go to Karen Hill for spot-on character acting as the comical Vivian – and everything feels far too safe.

Frustratingly, the much-needed boost of energy and excitement comes in the very last moments of the piece, with a nice plot twist and a stirring final speech from Mackie – it is such a shame that this comes so late in the day. Despite these issues, I still believe there is promise in this show. In This House is not living up to expectations in its current state, but an overhaul of Natalie Songer’s script would boost not only the trajectory of the plot, but no doubt the performances themselves. With a fantastic venue – the lofty ceilings and imposing architecture combined with a surprisingly intimate feel are perfect – more focus on the cabaret and ‘freak show’ elements would give In This House more thrill and edge.

In This House (A Family Breakdown) is playing at The Space until 19 April. For tickets and more information, see The Space website.

Laura Peatman

Laura Peatman

Laura is an English graduate, tea drinker and blogger. After spending three years studying and reviewing theatre at Cambridge University, she now runs marketing for an HE dance college and spends as much time as humanly possible at the theatre.

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Feature: Stage One – Funding the future producers

Posted on 08 April 2014 by Harriet Stevens

Stage OneLast month, Stage One, a charity funding body that supports the work of emerging theatre producers, announced the latest recipients of its £50,000 and £25,000 Start-Up Investment Fund.

Stephen McGill and David Hutchinson were the winners (respectively), and these sums will be used for the upcoming productions of The Pyjama Game (West End transfer, co-produced by McGill) and Avenue Q (UK tour, co-produced by Hutchinson).

As, for me at least, the role of the producer is a little elusive, I wanted to find out more about the role in general, what drove McGill and Hutchinson towards a career in producing and how they got to where they are today.

McGill explains his perception of the role of the producer: “I suppose the general perception is of the cigar smoking, Dom-drinking West End Producer – who I follow on Twitter and is hilarious! – but in reality, the producer is responsible for most aspects of a production, from the administrative side (which includes budgeting, financing, negotiating contracts, marketing and press of the production) to the creative side (collaborating with writers, directors, actors, musicians, stage management and technical crew), to create a show which hopefully everyone is proud to be part of.”

For Hutchinson, “essentially the producer brings everyone together. It’s their original idea and they conceive of how it could all work as a whole production. They’re the risk taker. They have to have the belief from the beginning.” Hutchinson explains how “risk is a big word in theatre at the moment. I hear it at conferences and in arts discussions all the time.” Hutchinson describes the types of risks that producer is taking as being both financial and creative, as not only are they playing with huge amounts of money but “it only takes one flop to put theatres off your work; one bad show, one project that is under par…” As Hutchinson will be using his Stage One funding to finance a regional tour of the puppetry musical Avenue Q he tells me how, particularly in recent years, there is even more risk associated with regional theatre: “Regional theatre is in crisis. The only way we can rebuild it is with funding people [like Stage One] who are taking these kind of risks”.

Both McGill and Hutchinson agree that the funding provided by Stage One is a vital support network for emerging or early-career theatre producers, and both are thrilled to have received the funding for their individual projects. McGill tells me that “Stage One has been crucial to my development as a producer. As well as nurturing and developing my skills through the New Producers Workshops, the advice and support of established producers is there to ensure the next generation can come through and hopefully continue the success.” And it would appear that Hutchinson is also grateful to Stage One for more than just the financial support as he explains how, aside from the monetary boost, Stage One adds a level of credibility to the project which Hutchinson calls the, “second wave” of securing funding, where the backing of Stage One “really makes everything more concrete as now, as we’re applying for more funding, we already have the cast and have started with rehearsals, as well as having secured some tour dates”.

Although both are now well stuck into their producinf careers, neither McGill nor Hutchinson came to the world of performing arts with this intention, as both initially trained as actors. McGill explains how he came to producing when, “during a particularly long ‘dry spell’ between acting work I was fortunate to work as a production assistant on the transfer of Jersey Boys into the West End. It was so exciting being part of a big production from the first rehearsal – which was my first day on the job – through to previews, opening night and beyond. I learned a huge amount in regards to the work that goes on behind the scenes to get such a big musical on stage and it was as rewarding, if not more so, to be part of the production side of the show.”

Hutchinson tells me how, whilst he was training at LIPA, “we had what they called ‘management classes,’ and they were the first lesson the morning after the weekly ‘£1-double-vodka-red-bull student night’ and everyone would sit there, head in hands, but I was completely fascinated. I graduated knowing that I wanted to produce. But I consider the actor training as a tool. I think it’s important to know how to talk to other creatives and I know that I can speak to actors on a level. It’s a tough career and I respect that; I don’t think that some producers have that understanding.”

Hutchinson believes that the best way to learn is by doing things yourself and that, specifically with a producer, this comes from initially working on small scale or fringe shows where, due to budgeting, there really is no choice other than to take on a vast number of different production roles. But all this experience will eventually pay of as, as Hutchinson puts it, “you realise after doing all of these things yourself that you need to build a team where you can find someone who specialised in all these different areas, but then when you are working on this kind of larger-scale production and you need to speak to a technician and want to use the right vocab, or you’re asking someone to design a lighting plot, you can – because you’ve done it before.”

Hutchinson assures me, however, that even further up the career ladder, the job of the producer isn’t necessarily all glitz and glamour, and those intending to shoot for a career in producing should be prepared for a difficult journey. “We all want to dive in straight at the West End, but you have to start small and then you can up-scale. It’s a real slog. I’ve had five years of battling ‘no’s. I’ve been driving vans down motorways at midnight, washing and ironing costumes because the stage manager’s off sick, so don’t think it’s going to be glamorous!”

But it seems that at the end of the blood, sweat and tears that a producer has to put into realising that initial vision that they had for a show, all the work can pay off when the show is performed to an audience, as McGill expressed: “for me, the best part is seeing the production you’ve worked on for months – or maybe years – on stage in front of an audience for the first time. I love the journey a show takes from page to stage and it’s so exciting to finally be able to share it with an audience.

 

Stage One supports new theatre producers with industry-led training workshops, bursaries, apprenticeships, start-Up investment, mentoring and advice. For more information see the Stage One website.

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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Feature: Preview of the VAULT Festival – more than the sum of its parts

Posted on 03 February 2014 by Tom Powell

fearandloathing

It’s easy to lose of track of what’s happening in a city as frenetically busy as London, where any space is a potential theatre. It’s easy to miss out on the next big thing, or not have time to embark on a crazy adventure. And they could both be right underneath your feet.

The VAULT festival 2014 takes place in the tangle of tunnels underneath Waterloo – the vaults of the old train station. It’s a sprawling, messy, underground and potentially damp space – it’s got all the ingredients for a great night out or a horror film. For the six weeks until 8 March, Heritage Arts Company has taken over these tunnels and filled them with a vast array of theatre, visual arts, live music, and, well, anything.

Festival Co-Director Mat Burt is adamant that “it’s the largest arts festival central London’s ever had”. His Co-Director, Tim Wilson, echoes that, “the whole point is accessibility – I think our average price is cheaper than the Edinburgh fringe price. Anyone can just come into the venue and have a drink. Tuesday, Wednesday, there’s live music – the great joy of the festival is that you can wander in and see one show or wander in and see something you didn’t expect to see at the Vaults.”

When selecting shows for the festival, Burt and Wilson had two things in mind: cooking a steamy broth full of ingredients audiences might not otherwise encounter, and providing a platform where the next generation of exciting young artists can cook for themselves. There was an open application procedure, and the line-up were chosen from around 200 applications. Two-thirds of the selected companies haven’t worked with Burt or Wilson before.

Burt informs me it’s an “exponentially larger” version of the festival, which ran in 2012. Festival curators of the future, take note: “the last VAULT festival came about from a desire to get something into the amazing space that we stumbled across”. Opportunism, an eye for unusual venues and sheer dogged determination are all you need to get it started, although having a hefty contact book can’t hurt when curating a festival on a massive scale with two salacious headliners.

The headline acts for Vault 2014 are Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Lou Stein’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s drug-fuelled masterpiece of gonzo journalism, and The Cement Garden, FallOut Theatre’s adaptation of Ian McEwan’s dark and playful coming-of-age tale. These play for the festival’s entire six-week run, while other shows come and go on a weekly basis. I caught up with Nina Smith, an ensemble member of Fear and Loathing. Smith says, “It’s the journey of two men in search of the American dream in Las Vegas”, on a combination of narcotics strong enough to make a mule wince. It’s got the cartoonish aesthetic of a fever dream, and has been adapted and directed by Lou Stein – the founder of the Gate theatre and a friend of the late Hunter S. Thompson.

There’s more to it than just a crazy drugs trip, though. Smith feels that “bigger issues bleed into it”. She sees a contemporary resonance, with a “youth culture that is riled up and driven by what’s going on at the time – a conservative and controlling state.” It’s an “anti-authority play”, one where “we all basically morph into lizards at one point.” It sounds anarchic, fun and devil-may-care. Her comedy partner, Libby (together they make up Twisted Loaf, winner of the 2013 Funny Women Award) is also part of the ensemble. “Libby plays Lucy, who is taken to a hotel room by Gonzo, and ends up having sex all over the place.”

thecementgarden

The other headliner is also an adaptation of controversial and acclaimed literary work; The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan. It’s been adapted by FallOut Theatre’s David Aula and Jimmy Osborne, whose play Meat was at Theatre 503. Speaking to Aula about the four orphans’ struggle to keep their family together, he’s keen to emphasise what it provokes – “it asks the audience what it is to be normal, and to remember what it’s like to be a child, that feeling of invulnerability”. The stage adaptation has been six or seven years in gestation, since he performed a version of it as an undergraduate, and no corners are being cut in its presentation. But some ceilings are. “Yeah, we chopped through to create a Mezzanine level”, Aula reveals, as he talks about the need to create a split-level space for the orphans’ house, where the festering corpse of their mother lies encased in cement in the basement.

McEwan saw a staged reading of the play during its development, and gave them his blessing to do anything they liked. There’s a strange parallel: McEwan was the same age Aula is now when he wrote it – they were both artists starting out. It sounds like they have very similar ideas for how the piece should affect people, too: “first and foremost, I want it to be a visceral emotional experience, rather than an intellectual one. I hope the audience disagree with each other.” The shocking content of the play and the intimacy of its setting mean it’s likely to fulfil those aims in devastating theatrical style.

Aside from the headliners, VAULT festival offers a veritable panoply of delights, and there are two shows with a limited run that particularly caught my eye. The first is SPARK by Dissolve theatre, running 4 – 8 February. It is a one woman show with music, magic and a hint of madness. Dissolve describes it as, “On the surface, it’s a play about a woman who elopes with her long-absent partner and the increasingly strange journey they go on. At its heart, it’s about someone reaching the most lonely point possible, but using magic and music to explore that in a beautiful and striking way.” They’ve been developing the piece since first seeing the Vaults in November, and the space has had its own effect on the work: “the gothic tone of the story has definitely been heightened in response to the Vaults, since the space can create such a brilliantly eerie and unsettling feeling.”

Another potential treat is The Collision of Things, a show that deals with getting smashed and spilling secrets, about the intimacies you reveal when you least expect to. It’s brought by Move to Stand, an international touring theatre company, whose award-winning work promises to delight in the cramped confines of the Vault studio. They couldn’t be more excited – “I love the way it’s like a secret world beneath the streets of London – and feel like The Collision of Things is a show that is all about going through those surprising doorways.” [Move to Stand is also bring The Collision of Things  to AYT's INCOMING Festival in May.]

All of this and more is happening a stone’s throw from the South Bank. Burt and Wilson are keen to present it as a festival that’s different to most theatrical activity in London – it’s inclusive, anarchic and has its own ethos. Wilson sees it as a festival with integrity: “It’s a push towards a democracy – I hate that elitist West End stuff, the blandness of it and the idiocy of half of what goes on. If you can touch people with a thing that’s made truthfully by a group of artists, rather than a single artist, I think it’s way more powerful than the sum of its parts.” It’s an environment that supports artists, nurtures collaboration, and has a financial model that makes it accessible for emerging companies. Burt thinks this is key to the art that goes on, “we want to provide the platform where people can do things they might not be able to do elsewhere. With the Vault festival, they’re in a safer place. Obviously there’s still the possibility that it fails. But if it fails, we all fail together.”

So if you’re in Waterloo and catch a strange noise leaking from the pavement under your feet, head on down to the Vault festival , and make sure that they don’t fail.

SPARK is showing at Vault Festival from 4-8 Feb. The Collision of Things is showing at Vault Festival from 4-8 Mar. Twisted Loaf performs Half Baked at the Leicester Square Comedy Club 9 and 16 February at 9pm. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas runs from Tuesday 28 January – Saturday 8 March 2014. The Cement Garden runs from Tuesday 28 January – Saturday 8 March 2014.

Tom Powell

Tom Powell

Tom's dramatic writing has won the National Radio Drama Award, and the Cambridge Footlights' Harry Porter Prize. He is a co-founder of PinchVanishProductions and an Associate Director of Dippermouth. He is currently enrolled in the Writing for Performance MA at Goldsmiths.

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Review: Changing Rooms, The Drayton Theatre

Posted on 03 December 2013 by Senne Vercouteren

Changing Rooms, Drayton Theatre

There is lots of fun to be had discovering the London fringe and its plethora of tucked-away venues in back rooms, alleyways and indeed above pubs. The Drayton Theatre is one such pub attic, and seats perhaps fifty people in a simple but pleasant environment – a noisy ventilator reminding you that this is not the National. Yet it is venturing into the smaller spaces that affords a sense of exclusivity and intimacy not to be enjoyed in the more prominent venues.

Changing Rooms is a farce written by Marc Camoletti, the French playwright known for comic works like Boeing-Boeing, which ran in the West End for seven years in the sixties. Changing Rooms is not nearly as well-known, and centres around high-flyers Bernard (Kevin Marchant) and Jacqueline (Maria de Lima), a married couple who one weekend both want the house to themselves to entertain their lovers. The ensuing myriad of lies and deception is orchestrated by housekeeper Nana (Jill Stanford), who knows all but tries to keep the truth from either of her employers, collecting plenty of bribe money along the way.

In this version, directed by Anna Ostergren, the farcical element is played up in several ways, some obvious and some less so: Changing Rooms being set in 1970s Paris, the anachronistic boxers worn by toy boy Robert (Milan Alexander) elicit a smile. More conspicuous is the coquettish acting throughout, which makes the two hours that the show lasts a little tiresome. Going over the top is naturally a part of a light comedy like this one, but to do so all the time might not have been the best decision. Many of the jokes that the script contains are lost, as all the lines are delivered with insurmountable energy – nearly absurdly so – and there is little room for the dynamics of the story. When Bernard discovers that Nana knows about his affair, the reaction is equally as loud and forceful as when, in the first scene, they quarrel about dinner.

Visually it is more accomplished, with costumes and set proving that you can do a lot with a little. The choreographed entrances and exits – husband and wife often nearly bumping into each other – are well done, although once or twice the timing was a bit off. A lot falls upon the actors to tease out the funny in the play. Occasionally this happens, but the script offers more than what has been extracted in this production. However, if you like this kind of comedy, go and see it if only for Camoletti’s story, which stands its ground despite the flaws in its treatment.

Changing Rooms is playing at The Drayton Theatre until 21 December . For more information and tickets, see the Drayton Theatre website.

Senne Vercouteren

Senne Vercouteren

Senne Vercouteren graduated from the Courtauld Institute in 2013 and is now an emerging theatre producer, currently working on the MACP at Birkbeck. He is passionate about theatre, Kanye West and fast cars. @SenneVercoutere

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