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Review: Momo, Polka Theatre

Posted on 16 March 2014 by Jemma Anderson

MomoMomo is an adaptation of Michael Ende’s book of the same name. Presented by Filament Theatre and the Greenwich Theatre, it is currently residing at the Polka Theatre, Wimbledon aimed at audiences 7+.

We follow the story of young Momo, an abandoned child, illiterate and not knowing her age. She is welcomed to the ruins of an amphitheatre by the villagers, who embrace her for her incredible ability to listen to any problems they have. Things take a turn for the worse when the Men in Grey appear, a race that promotes the ideas of ‘time-saving’, urging the residents to bank their time wisely without wasting it. Social activities are considered wasteful, and what transpires is that the cigarettes the Men smoke are made of hour-lilies, which represent time. Since her friends are now overpowered by their time-restricted lives, it is down to Momo to extinguish the cigarettes and save the day.

Director Sabina Netherclift’s vision for the nonsensical story is a strong one, and lovingly played out on stage. It has been crafted with an original score by Osnat Schmool, which is bravely sung a cappella all the way through the two-hour play. It features much tribal influence, minimal instruments and the odd use of Ladino, a language not widely heard today. The use of local school choirs is also a prominent feature, as they help the cast sing songs with the use of sign language.

Annie Siddon’s adaptation for the stage produces a story that does feel slightly laboured in the first act, slow for the ‘action’ to begin – but the second act quickens the pace much better and leads the young audience to the show’s climax effectively.

Netherclift’s programme notes mention that the fantasy world of Momo, in which the characters share so much time with each other, is of utmost importance to today’s young society: time is to be shared with each other physically, and not virtually. I whole-heartedly agree with her values, and it seems to be prominent in the piece. It also suggests to the children the importance of friendship, listening and compassion.

Luisa Guerreiro’s Momo is a loveable character, full of heart and empathy for her fellow characters. Adebayo Bolaji leads the cast with his incredible musical talents, incorporated in the character of songwriter Guido. The rest of the ensemble provide a solid base of characters as well as portraying the Men in Grey, all displaying beautiful harmonies.

If the large groups of school children’s reactions were anything to go by, Momo is a strong adaptation full of true moral and heart, designed to keep children in a fantasy world for an afternoon.

Momo is playing The Polka Theatre, Wimbledon until 22 March. For more information and tickets see the Polka Theatre website.

Jemma Anderson

Jemma is currently studying Drama, Theatre and Performance at Roehampton University. Between studying and reading about theatre, she also watches and reviews as Editor-in-chief of the Drama Department's newspaper, The Call.

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Blog: Theatre vs Life – soul performers

Posted on 06 December 2013 by Julia Wagner

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In the past two months I’ve seen a lot of plays and musicals, a lot of performances, a lot of actors. But there are three actors who stand out from the crowd. I like to call them “Seelendarsteller”, which translates in English as “soul performers”. These three have touched me in a way no one else did. Their performances reached directly for my soul. Having something like this happen is a very special moment. It doesn’t occur often, nor is it possible to explain this feeling to someone. Maybe you could describe it as someone grabbing your heart, you feel it entering into a deeply human territory, that you rather like to keep secured from anyone’s interference. But you can’t help it from happening, and if it does it feels like the most powerful and comfortable emotion you could possibly have, while at the same time your heart aches and tries to catch breath, because there’s a sudden feeling of longing and belonging. If you are brave enough to open yourself up and let your heart take over, you may be lucky to experience moments like these. That’s where these “soul performers” come in. They are the ones that let these moments happen. It’s first and foremost their bravery, their open heart, that is responsible for something like this (yes, in a way) “bonding” to take place. I don’t know how they do it, how they are able to let the character completely take over, while at the same time entirely being true to themselves. It’s a balance that’s extremely challenging to keep and it takes a lot of courage. It’s almost like they open up a channel to let everything come to them – from wherever – and they just allow and trust in this and act upon it. As I said it’s extremely difficult to describe, but if you keep yourself open and experience one of these “soul performances” there is something very special and magical happening – something so intense it more often than not leaves you in tears.

It’s a feeling of two souls meeting on an absolutely non-judgmental, but deeply human, level. It feels personal, it feels like nobody else is there, just those two, free souls – even though you are in a room full of people, even though you are sitting in the auditorium, and he or she is on stage, even though you actually don’t know each other and probably never will.

You might ask who these three actors, these “soul performances” actually were, who “provoked” my “meeting of souls” in the lasts months. To be honest, it’s (in a way) difficult for me to share. Do you know that feeling when you like something so much that on one hand you want to tell everyone about it, but on the other hand are afraid of sharing because you feel that it’s “only yours” and you would be very vulnerable if you revealed it and you don’t want to get hurt? It’s like this for me. But I will share them with you, because I want you to know, even though you might not feel like I did seeing them perform, because everyone is different…

The first one was Michael Vinsen who played Peter in Bare: the rock musical at Greenwich Theatre. You could feel his incredibly deep connection with his character, his surrender to something beyond himself. There are no words to describe what he made “happen” on stage, within himself, within me as a spectator. It was – and this refers to the other two as well – a “total act”, using a term coined by Jerzy Grotowski.

The second “soul performance” was by Colin Morgan in Mojo, a play that first and foremost works because of the fine acting of everyone in the cast. But Morgan had a special aura and although the other actors played on a very high level it was him that made this “bond” happen. He completely immersed himself in the role of Skinny Luke. Even adopting quirks and specific gestures in such a subtle way that you could feel the soul of the character, feel the vulnerability, feel the wounds. You could see him think just by looking into his eyes.

And finally, Declan Bennett as the Guy in Once. Have you heard him sing? He has a voice that reaches directly for your heart. I immediately have to surrender, because it just touches me on a very deep and personal level. There is no way out. It’s special and wonderful, it’s comforting and gives me hope, but it is hurtful as well, because you get vulnerable, you heart is out it the open and that scares you in a way. Go and see him perform his own songs or hear him sing these beautiful music from Once and let his performance resonate in you. At a small gig last Sunday, Bennett mentioned that in Once he is basically playing himself with an Irish accent, joking that that’s easy, but soon after correcting himself by honestly saying that it’s the most difficult thing to do.

Being oneself is exactly what this “meeting of souls”, these “soul performances” are about. It means opening yourself up and being vulnerable. You have to be brave to do that, but even though it’s scary and at times really difficult, I guess, in the end it is what counts.

Photo by Flickr user Nelo Hotsuma under a Creative Commons Licence.

Julia Wagner

Julia Wagner

Born and raised in Vienna, Austria, Julia studied Journalism and Theatre Studies. She is currently living in London doing her Master’s Degree at Goldsmiths and tries to get as much out of the experience of living in this city as possible.

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Review: Jennifer Skylark and the Seagull’s Handbook

Posted on 07 August 2013 by Samuel Sims

Jennifer Skylark and the Seagull’s HandbookI like adventures very much, probably, in fact, just as much as any child whose thirst for knowledge has only just begun. I’m also a big fan of new discoveries or at least feeling as though something is a new discovery – a secret you might say. Travelling to see Jennifer Skylark and the Seagull’s Handbook on the Thames Clipper felt like one big, secretive adventure, ready to be ploughed through hungrily by myself and my fellow voyagers.

Though this whole experience may start off on a boat, the show actually takes place on Trinity Buoy Wharf, a location just a stone’s throw away from the O2 and East India Quay in East London. The Clipper takes approximately three seconds to get to the destination and immediately upon arriving you feel as though you are in a place abandoned by sailors many years ago, with an old fashioned diner plonked in the middle and beautiful warehouses scattered about in an old-time movie type way. There is so much character here that one can’t help but wonder how more people aren’t aware of it. The show starts in one of these buildings and as we are led to a series of stools, all facing a long empty, bright space, I wonder what I have let myself in for.

It is evident from start to finish that Jennifer Skylark and the Seagull’s Handbook is a production for children, what with its overtly informative narrative content and structure, however this will not stop those over the age of five from having an absolutely great time. The story looks to show what it was like for children who were ripped from their homes during the first three post-war years and up until 1970, sent to countries within the Commonwealth to start new lives, often never seeing their families again. Jennifer Skylark is one such child who is taken away from her uncle after her parents die and sent on a ship to Australia. Here is where much of the adventure takes place as the stubborn and confused Jennifer must face beastly teacher, Ms Critchley, and the downright hilarious and good natured Captain, as well as a pair of Vikings who must be seen to be believed.

The production as a whole is phenomenally professional, and so much care and effort has been made to make it as close to perfect as possible. It is wonderfully nice to hear original songs, especially within a small production and team, and more so to have them done with such enthusiasm and belief by the entire cast. The set too, created by Designer Bryan Woltjen, flows brilliantly and looks spectacular. Special mention really, has to go to every performer here. Catriona Mackenzie does an excellent job of playing the young Jennifer, convincing us with every word she utters and every single facial expression. Andrew Hayler (Captain), Matt Ian Kelly (Ms Critchley) and Tomas Gisby (Uncle Jack/ Cook) all bring something special and unique to the table with a blend of puppetry, humour and a (huge) dose of camp. Wonderful.

Sure, this is aimed at young children but the subject is interestingly and unknown enough to appeal to adults. It is also hard not to appreciate something when so much has obviously been put in, and it shows.

Jennifer Skylark and the Seagull’s Handbook is playing at the Trinity Buoy Wharf until 11 August 2013. For more information and tickets, see Greenwich Theatre.

Samuel Sims

Sam is Reviews Co-ordinator for A Younger Theatre as well as a freelance writer and editor who hails from Hull, though he has been in London for roughly 300 years. He enjoys multi-coloured socks, eating sausage rolls and seeing as much theatre as humanly possible.

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Review: Ghosts

Posted on 01 May 2013 by Simon Holton

Ibsen’s paradoxical reputation as the fearless experimenter and driver of social change of his day, and as a writer of somewhat fusty GCSE drama texts, makes him a risky choice for a small theatre company, particularly one like Sell A Door with a commitment to bringing young people to the theatre. Yet what better play to explore Ibsen’s troubled legacy than Ghosts, directed by Anna Fox at the Greenwich Theatre; a play about old ideals and dead ideas which are nevertheless insidiously prevalent.

On entering the theatre one is met with the sound of the howling wind as one surveys a stage that is traditionally naturalistic with a twist. It is sparsely populated with tastefully, though somehow haphazardly, arranged period furniture. Rather than the usual cramped box, the auditorium is gratifyingly spacious, the stage bordered on three sides by a fabric backdrop hanging from a metal rail. This backdrop is painted almost childishly with what may be a Norwegian fjord or a Scottish loch; it gives the play an ethereal quality, foregrounding notions of interiority and exteriority, reality and artifice. The openness of the space provides a welcome counterpoint to the usual stifling claustrophobia of Ibsen.

The small cast is strong: the characters are precisely and quaintly drawn, but are occasionally at risk of descending into cartoonish archetypes. Tamaryn Payne, (of Hollyoaks fame) delivers a competent Regina, a maid with delusions of grandeur which are, in Payne’s case, perhaps a little too convincing; she stands prim and proper in a spotless white blouse and navy skirt, proclaiming in an exaggerated and affected RP, occasionally giving a bell or a table top a cursory wipe with a lace handkerchief. Her mistress Mrs Alving, played by Deborah Blake, makes a grand entrance to the stage, flamboyantly dressed, with a calm and comfortably refined surface concealing tempestuous depths. The male characters are appropriately impotent and ridiculous, though perhaps lacking some of the complexity of the female characters. Liam Smith’s Engstrand is an almost lovable alcoholic rogue who brings a touch of humour to the piece, while Robert Gill’s Pastor Manders is almost effeminate at times in his shrill and sanctimonious social outrage, but remains a powerful and accurate portrayal of the voice of male-dominated religious conservatism. Jason Langley creates a charismatically tortured Oswald, who is, like much of the piece, too restrained to fully connect.

The blurb states that although Ghosts was “penned in 1881, it is not hard for us to see the parallels in our own society”. If this were indeed the intention, not enough is done to highlight this. Ghosts has all the classic Ibsenian tropes of a runaway wife, a fallen woman, suppression, repression, and financial ruin precipitated by greed and carelessness; yet the play remains too faithful to the text and form of the play for any of its scandalous original impact to be felt. What remains, however, is a subtle yet powerful play deftly staged and performed, raising questions relevant to us all. Can we escape our past or our past selves? What solace can life and one’s family provide in the face of irreparable trauma? How does one find the “joy of life” in this “vale of tears”? As you may guess from these questions the play is not exactly laugh-a-minute, but neither is it, as a woman in the bar damningly sighed, “heavy”. It is a thoughtful, accomplished production, which may even leave you wanting more.

Ghosts is playing at Greenwich Theatre until Sunday 5 May. For more information and tickets, see the Greenwich Theatre website.

Simon Holton

Simon Holton

Since returning to the UK after sojourns in the German-speaking world, Simon has plunged himself headfirst into the world of theatre, as both a creator and consumer. Actor-in-training and self-confessed Germanophile, Simon is pursuing diverse interests in experimental and fringe theatre.

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