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Review: The Changeling

Posted on 28 November 2012 by Ryan Ahern

Joe Hill-Gibbons’s production of The Changeling has created an electric atmosphere. But while it definitely packs a punch and creates some superb comedy, I felt it lacked heart.

The Young Vic has once again been transformed, this time into a theatre in the round. Ultz, who is famous for creating the Olivier award-winning set for Jerusalem, with mesh cages and crash mats resting on wooden pallets, has given the space an almost gymnasium-like feel.

Hill-Gibbons’s production is truly innovative and exploratory. There are some brilliant ideas and some good use of the absurd  – who doesn’t love to see someone smooshing jelly into someone else’s face during a lovemaking scene or using trifle as a weapon? This is an exciting piece by an exciting director and part of its absolute strength is the trust that the director has in his ideas and in his ability to create comedy.

However, I do feel that something has been missed. The actors create a beautiful relationship with the audience and the comedy of the piece is utterly accessible but I found it very hard to empathise with any of the characters or be drawn into their world; I felt more like a voyeur that a friend.  I found it especially hard to sympathize with Sinead Matthews as Beatrice-Joanna and felt the nuances that brought about her change of character became lost in the confusion of the piece. Harry Hadden-Paton gives an incredibly strong and charismatic performance as Alsemero but I even found it difficult to emotionally invest in his character as there was so much that seemed to push me away from doing so. Other strong performances included Zubin Varla’s cunning and serpentine De Flores, a performance which sat perfectly with the audience but also created great moments for the other actors on stage, Howard Ward’s Vermandero and Nick Lee’s Tomazo de Piracquo.

The Young Vic has produced some stunning pieces recently. The Changeling aesthetically fits into this mould but it doesn’t have the heart and emotional sophistication that has really drawn me into much of the Young Vic’s work. It is, however, a production with many interesting and exciting elements and will undoubtedly entertain.

The Changeling is running at the Young Vic Theatre until 22 December. For more information, please see the Young Vic‘s website.

 

Ryan Ahern

Ryan Ahern

Ryan trained as an actor at Central School of Speech and Drama and writes for AYT and The Stage. Although mainly an actor, Ryan also works as a director and in musical theatre and dance. He writes about politics, young people in the arts and has recently turned his hand to fiction.

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Extreme Experiences at Edinburgh Fringe

Posted on 12 August 2012 by Annabelle Collins

Any theatre lover who finds themselves in Edinburgh this summer is seriously spoilt for choice. From adaptations of classic literature to shows where the audience decide the content via Facebook, Edinburgh 2012 will satisfy every taste. It is certainly not unusual to come across something slightly out of the ordinary; many will seek out the most cutting edge theatre in town.

Hearts on Fire has been in preparation since July 2011,” explains producer Callum Cheatle, who came across the James Arthur Ray story in a copy of the Guardian. A production of Peculius Stage, Hearts on Fire is based on a true story; 60 devotees of Ray, a motivational speaker, voluntarily follow him on a spiritual retreat in a sweat lodge. Their loyalty never wavered, despite being dangerously close to death and the experience costing them $10,000. This article was the catalyst for Cheatle’s idea. “I saw the potential for a cracking piece of theatre that was emotionally and physically uncomfortable and that carried an urgent message, in a new age of dangerously plausible versions of faith.”  The innovative nature of this show is not unlike Peculius Stage’s past work; they have been awarded ‘Best New Writing’ at the Durham Drama Festival in 2010 and have enjoyed critical acclaim for previous Edinburgh seasons.

Cheatle and the Peculius Stage creative team were clearly intent on presenting a piece of work that forces the audience to question what they would have done differently if they were there. Director Alastair Boag describes how they intended the audience to become part of the historical event. “The audience, like those who signed up for James Arthur Ray’s ‘Spiritual Warrior’ courses, have paid money to experience his message and to be a part of the disaster that occurred in the sweat lodge. In that sense the line between audience and the characters is blurred as they are one group.”  The setting of the claustrophobic sweat lodge strongly influences audience engagement, therefore the construction of the set was integral to the success of this production. Boag, set designer Alex Kennedy and Technical Director Hannah Gregory had a very specific brief to fill when designing the sweat lodge installation. “We needed to create a hugely intense and totally realistic recreation of the actual sweat lodge used in 2009,” explains Alistair. “However it was nice that there was a parallel between our audience size and the devotees involved in the disaster.”

The physical representation of the story is important if the audience are to leave with questions about a previously accepted reality. This is exactly what Annie Tatton has aimed to do with Milk and Mucus, a show which subverts mainstream fashion. “I’ve tried to bring the catwalk down to earth as it were. Instead of exclusive entry and tiered rows of seating the catwalk is accessible, messy and inclusive.” Tatton explains how she wants the audience to react to Catwalk Performance Fashion’s show: “I’d like people to think about the accepted practices of fashion and the catwalk show and to how could it be different? I’d like them to feel slightly disturbed by what they saw, perhaps not quite comfortable, and to wonder why they feel this way.”

The conservatism of the fashion world was a major source of inspiration for Milk and Mucus. “I became interested in whether there could be a different expression of fashion on the catwalk, for example, how do models’ bodies move when asymmetric conditions are imposed when cutting the heel of one shoe off?” Annie also reveals the significance of the milk bottles which line the stage: ‘This suggests a different relationship with the surface of a typical catwalk. The significance is that this difference translates into a larger expression of women’s work away from the glamour of the beautiful, thin, young model.” Fashion seems to have been eclipsed by the symbolism in this performance, however Tatton says it’s still important. “All the garments are on trend but the fashion has been necessarily altered to create tension as a departure from a normal catwalk show”, illustrating how Catwalk Fashion Performance has evolved from Tatton’s own fashion design catwalks and work in film costume.

Both of these productions are evidently research intensive; without the realism, the impact upon the audience would be significantly less. Writer of Hearts on Fire Adam Usden used a variety of different sources when writing this original piece, as he explains. “The project required a huge amount of research, ranging from eye-witness testimonies of the tragedy, to Ray’s self-help books, to footage of Ray’s on-stage performances, to a woman’s fascinating and slightly disturbing account of being part of Ray’s inner circle, condemning him, while still, very obviously, in thrall to him. But the events of the tragedy were always going to be a jumping-off point – we had to find the drama in the narrative, the play within the story.”

Peculius Stage has enjoyed great success at the Edinburgh festival. “It suits our playing style, which never allows an audience a moment of boredom, and we love the intensity of the fringe,” explains Cheatle. Their work isn’t restricted to a fringe audience, though: “We are currently in discussions regarding touring and transferring the show – so watch this space!” Unlike Peculius Stage, Catwalk Fashion Performance is debuting at Edinburgh this year. Tatton’s production may have been created with the fringe in mind, but “it is not specific to an Edinburgh audience as the essentials of the show can be adapted as required”.

Hearts on Fire and Milk and Mucus are not for the faint hearted, but describing these productions as “extreme”, immersive or innovative barely scrapes the surface. They stand out from the crowd because their content gives their audiences a new perspective and prompts questions about previously accepted truths. Ultimately the unique atmosphere of Edinburgh has enabled these ambitious projects to become reality; it seems that Peculius Stage’s aim of “turning heads, thoughts and voices” will be fulfilled.

Milk and Mucus was at C eca, C venues and Hearts on Fire plays at C nova, C venues, until 27th August. For more information or to book tickets, visit www.edfringe.com or www.cthefestival.com. For more information about the show, visit www.heartsonfire2012.com.

Image credit: Peculius Stage

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Behind the Scenes: TRANSFORM 12

Posted on 21 April 2012 by Jessica Wilson

TRANSFORM 12 is the second festival to be produced by the West Yorkshire Playhouse aiming to make extraordinary work with artists who urge audiences to think differently, not only about theatre making but also about life. Over two weekends in April (19-22 and 26-28) Leeds will play host to one of the UK’s newest theatre festivals, incorporating work by theatre makers from West Yorkshire and beyond in a playful festival.

The first TRANSFORM festival in 2011 developed relationships with artists who work in diverse ways. This year’s festival aims to sustain and build upon these collaborations, as well as creating new ones with the artists programmed for TRANSFORM 12. Associate Producer Amy Letman maintains that regional producing houses, such as the West Yorkshire Playhouse, are a dying breed, so she aims to emphasise the Playhouse’s presence as a producing theatre, programming unique work through TRANSFORM 12. A number of collaborations are taking place with many different artists, highlighting their work through the association with a regional producing house.

The programme of work has stimulated numerous events for audiences to engage with throughout the theatre space, giving those who will attend a role in making the festival what it is. Letman talks of the adventure of reinventing the West Yorkshire Playhouse through the sheer variety of theatre makers programmed to present their work and provide spectators with new experiences. The Playhouse’s ethos is one of community engagement with the local population; consequently TRANSFORM 12 can be seen as a reflection of the Playhouse itself as it looks to programme novel work through its relationships with theatre makers across the country.

In championing the festival, Letman focuses on one invitation specifically: Chris Goode & Company. Following the creation of Open House last year for TRANSFORM 2011, Chris Goode & Company has been commissioned to create and develop a new piece of work especially for the festival. As a continuation of this relationship with the West Yorkshire Playhouse, TRANSFORM 12 will see Chris Goode & Company present 9 featuring local participants from across Yorkshire, taking a leap into the unknown to perform on the Courtyard stage. Working closely with directors Chris Goode, Kirsty Housley and Jamie Wood, alongside designers and the Playhouse’s technical teams, nine non-performers with little or no theatrical experience have created nine highly personal, expressive solo performance portraits. This collaboration between the West Yorkshire Playhouse and Chris Goode & Company is one which Letman clearly cherishes, combining the new and experimental with tradition and stature.

Chris Goode & Company received 120 applicants for the creation of 9, invited 56 to audition and eventually selected the final participants to collaborate with. After three months of creative process, 9 illustrates the transformative potential of theatre for participants and audiences alike. The journeys of nine regular people culminate in one show. In this piece, the traditional finished product joins with the ethos of Chris Goode & Company, which relishes the theatrical abandonment of the company and genuine collaboration with the nine would-be artists. Letman asserts that maintaining relationships of this kind is vital for the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s future as a successful and daring producing house – in terms of regional theatre – for the arts sector.

The “Company” part of the Chris Goode title refers to whoever the company works with, which, by extension, includes the audience and whoever is involved in the theatre making at that particular moment in time. Chris Goode & Company aims to reach out to as many people as it can, creating relationships to give its work a sense of transformation and renewal; a microcosm of the spirit of TRANSFORM 12. The festival is therefore part of a process of change for the Playhouse and other regional theatres, encouraging them to embrace alternative work, thereby increasing their “mainstream” capacity. Audiences are able to try the new experiences provided for them by TRANSFORM 12 and other experimental festivals like it, with so many meaningful pieces on offer across the two weekends. Letman describes the sheer variety of work which will be part of the festival, such as that which is still being developed, finished productions, and even those where TRANSFORM 12 will be the only opportunity for the audience to see them.

Alongside commissioned pieces of performance sits a festival programme brimming with energetic work by some of the UK’s most original and inventive theatre artists. For Letman, the Playhouse has been seen to marry the flinging open of its doors with the crafted, finished pieces it is recognised for, now strengthening its relationships with theatre makers and continuing to create new experiences for audiences. The traditions of the Playhouse have been revitalised through both TRANSFORM festivals, taking over the West Yorkshire Playhouse as a progression of the exciting foundations laid by TRANSFORM of 2011. As for 2013, watch this space.

TRANSFORM 12 is at the West Yorkshire Playhouse this weekend and next. For more details and to book tickets, visit the theatre’s website.

For an exclusive look at what TRANSFORM has to offer, visit www.youtube.com/user/WYPlayhouse to watch videos of the making of some of the shows, and the programme’s trailer.

Image credit: 12 Proposals for a Better Europe, Nicolai Khalezin and Chris Thorpe

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