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Tag Archive | "Kate Sawyer"

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Review: The Robbers, New Diorama Theatre

Posted on 01 February 2014 by Hannah Tookey

It’s been quite a while since a play has held me as captivated and enraptured from start to finish as Faction Theatre’s The Robbers did. Updated from Schiller’s classic German text to a modern setting, every element of it has been undoubtedly stamped with their trademark dark and grungy aesthetic.

There are many spine-tingling moments that send chills up the audience’s backs, either for the callous and unabashed content of the scene, or for their raw and affecting emotion. Act One in particular builds to a tense and touching climax with Alexander Guiney and Kate Sawyer breathing pain, desperation and longing into every line of the two long-lost lovers, Max Von Moor and Amalia.

Alongside these two, the rest of the ensemble are so tightly gelled together that they rebound off of one another’s energy almost instinctively. Cary Crankson in particular commands attention as the self-absorbed orator, Spiegelberg, who attempts to overthrow the ‘Captain’ of the gang, Max. He spits out every line with the same conviction as his persuasive character. Elsewhere, Andrew Chevalier brings a sickening malice to Franza Von Moor, whose disregard and contempt for his own father and his estranged brother is loathsome. Amongst the cruelty and cynicism, however, are welcome moments of comedy, with Jeryl Burgess delivering many of these as Daniella.

There is possibly the hint of some well-meaning logic in the gang’s crimes, suggesting that underneath the surface they are not as corrupt and malevolent as their heinous actions propose. Guiney is outstanding at balancing the deep-seated injustice that Max feels with his caring self – underneath he is just a hurt boy deeply seeking approval and love. Schiller doesn’t allow anyone to escape that easily though, as he hones in on the addictive and compelling nature of a gang.

The Robbers is startling both because of its many, highly-unexpected plot twists and because of its sharp and seamless direction by Mark Leipacher. The minimalist stage is framed beautifully, with Leipacher making full use of every inch, with varying levels of height, width and depth. Lighting – designed by Matt Graham and Chris Withers – is subtle yet key to creating swift and unanticipated changes in tone.

A series of chalk marks provide a stark and constant reminder of the perpetual gang culture. They are as foreboding as the weight on Max’s shoulders, and their constant presence exacerbates the tension as this stellar cast sends the play hurtling along from one dramatic scene to the next.

This is a remarkably understated production, but one that is sure to leave an impression – go and see it!

The Robbers is playing at the New Diorama Theatre until 22 February. For more information and tickets, see the New Diorama Theatre website.

Hannah Tookey

Hannah Tookey

Hannah is a freelance theatre and film producer with a slightly worrying addiction to coffee and travel. A graduate of Warwick University, she's worked with the RSC, NYT, and Many Rivers Productions, amongst others.

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Review: Three Sisters

Posted on 17 January 2013 by Alice Longhurst

Three Sisters - New Diorama Theatre

It seems no season is complete without a clutch of Seagulls, a Cherry Orchard or two, or an Uncle Vanya, and there’s no doubt Chekov’s current popularity would blow the imagination of the nineteenth century doctor-turned-writer. All of this, though, prompts the question: can we have too much of a good thing? Some directors resort to drastic measures to stand out from the crowd, forcing the plays into bizarre settings or pushing the characters beyond the text; others stick closely to the “original”, building clunky, realistic sets and using period dress.

This version by The Faction, a company that prides itself on its repertoire of classical plays, is somewhere between the two, refusing to take any big risks and instead focusing on small, comical adjustments which focus on the gap between the text and the modern context of the production. The samovar, Chebutikin’s name-day gift to Irina, becomes a boxed electric kettle, while Natasha, the local woman destined to become Andrei’s wife, turns up to the birthday dinner in a short sequined bodycon dress and birthday sash as if ready for a hen party. These minor innovations are entertaining, but it’s clear that the text is meant to speak for itself, and thus there’s little to distract from the sense of déjá-vu, or at worst boredom, even if this was Chekov’s favourite theme.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the production is poor. The acting is very sound throughout, with highlights in Laura Freeman’s bossy, tasteless Natasha scheming to gain domestic control, Kate Sawyer’s constantly-stressed teacher Olga, and her work-driven sister, Irina (Elizabeth Twells). Jonny McPherson’s Vershinin, the army officer from Moscow, is a living-room philosopher whose shiny enthusiasm for his ideas suggests a subtle sense of sarcasm or disbelief in the magnificent future to come. Touches like filling the stage with chairs are clever; their emptiness and unused potential seems to reflect the emptiness of the sisters, as is the boredom marked out by the spinning top, another of Irina’s gifts.

All in all, The Faction’s take on Chekov is rather like Christmas pudding at this time of year; if you’ve seen a lot of it recently you won’t find anything particularly appetising here and there’s little to distinguish it from any other of its kind. Three Sisters is, though, a thoroughly decent production which would make an ideal introduction to the play, and one that might even sparkle if there weren’t so many other Chekovs hanging around.

Three Sisters is at the New Diorama Theatre until 23 February, although performance dates and times vary. For exact dates and more information visit the New Diorama website.

Alice Longhurst

Alice Longhurst

Alice studies Liberal Arts at Kings College London with a focus on literature, history and Spanish. She has notions of entering the vicious world of journalism when her heady university days are over, although she would much rather prefer to find a way to make ends meet as an arts critic and writer of fiction.

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Spotlight On: The Faction Theatre Company

Posted on 29 January 2012 by Ellen Carr

The Faction Theatre Company is definitely doing something right. This year it has won a Peter Brook Empty Space Award (Equity Best Ensemble) and is currently reviving REP at the New Diorama Theatre, where it is also company in residence. Artistic Director Mark Leipacher and Executive Producer and performer in the season Kate Sawyer talk all things ensemble, REP and their dreams for a permanent London home.

The current season sees the company performing Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Schiller’s Mary Stuart and Strindberg’s Miss Julie. It represents the work of the company since its inception in 2008 and is a step towards helping them realise its dream of having “a permanent home and a permanent ensemble” with a rolling repertoire. Being resident at the New Diorama, Sawyer claims she currently has more of her possessions there than she does at home. But there is always the dream of more – of a building that is permanently theirs.

This ambition is inspired by a desire to work as a European company does, to become international not only in style but in working practice. The Faction is heavily influenced by the work of Schaubühne Berlin and knowing this, the highly physical, visual and contemporary performance style of the company begins to make sense.

The artistic aim of The Faction is to perform “classical texts with a contemporary aesthetic”. The company was created out of Leipacher’s passion for classical theatre, and its inaugural production of Richard III had audiences awed by the 25-strong ensemble’s ability to create an entire world with only bodies on stage – no set at all. The work is created from as blank a canvas as possible, and Leipacher states that the form of performance is “ideally the actor, the text and the space”. Only additions that are absolutely necessary to the telling of the story will be permitted.

Rehearsals always start by going straight to the text and from here, the world of the play is created. They are, notes Leipacher, quite strict with themselves in ensuring that no preconceptions regarding the text influence the initial reading; a fairly hard task when working with classical texts such as Shakespeare. The play is read “under the assumption that we haven’t read it before” and evidence is then accumulated in order to create a world with “its own rules and conventions”. As with a devised work or new writing with no performance history, everything that happens on stage is born out of the ensemble. It’s a fresh approach to take to the classics, a group of texts that normally carry so much baggage.

Both Sawyer and Leipacher are quick to state that they do also work with new writing. Favourite productions for both have been the many works of Friedrich Schiller that have been produced, and these are new translations written by the company. Mary Stuart is playing in the current season and previous productions have been The Robbers and Intrigue/Love. They do, however, feel that there is something lacking in a lot of new writing that is prevalent in classics that have stood the test of time.

As Leipacher rightly points out, these texts survived for a reason. “They [not only] allow this scope for huge productions, bombastic ideas and interesting visual expanse, [they contain] really big universal ideas that still hold true”. Such an epic scale and scope is why Leipacher believes Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem has enjoyed such success, but it’s something that occurs “very seldom” in pieces of new writing. Writers take heed: there is something to learn from the classics.

Sawyer emphasises that the company is an ensemble “both in the sense of the way that we run and the way that we perform on stage”. Everything, from production to set design, is done by the performers in the company. This, teamed with the fact that they’re reviving REP and looking to the classics for performance material, suggests the company’s success lies in its ability to look to the practices of the past to inform its contemporary work. It’s certainly an approach that seems to be working, as both Sawyer and Leipacher exude an air of complete determination and absolute clarity as to the direction of the company.

So what is the next step towards achieving their dream of the permanent ensemble? The answer is more REP. The current season has been, as Leipacher puts it, “an absolute dream”. It is an effective way to “bond a unit of people together so you can get higher levels of work quicker”. Even eight weeks into the process, Leipacher enthusiastically states that “every moment there seems to be a new experience happening”. He and Sawyer both agree that they have “never been more excited creatively”. It seems, too, to be a more economically viable option for a company wanting to continually be producing work, and appears it may be the secret to a strong ensemble.

As for the very near future, Leipacher has confirmed the return of Mary Stuart to the New Diorama in September, and the company’s annual summer outing to Brockwell Park. Their advice for aspiring theatre makers? “Keep working constantly … don’t stop”. Which is precisely what The Faction has been doing for the past three years and it’s worked for them. With a series of ambitious shows behind and in front of them, one can only wonder what exciting new projects it might pursue should it get its dream of its very own building.

The Faction’s REP season of Twelfth Night, Mary Stuart and Miss Julie plays at the New Diorama Theatre until 18 February 2012. For more information on specific performances and to book tickets, please visit the theatre’s website here.

Ellen Carr

Ellen Carr

Ellen is Artistic Director of Witness Theatre, a company she established after graduating from the University of Sussex in 2011. Ellen writes, directs and produces for Witness Theatre and spends the rest of her time doing more writing. She is currently writing her own blog witnesstoexperience daily, contributes regular features to One Stop Arts and can also be found writing the occasional screenplay.

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Review: Miss Julie

Posted on 28 January 2012 by Ryan Sullivan

Expectations are dangerous things. Walking into the New Diorama again to see another part of The Faction’s rep season, I was greeted by revellers humming the conga. The party was in full swing, we were invited to take our seats and wait our turn. I should have instead been looking at the pious Kristin (Kate Sawyer) as she cooked the kidney she plucked from her master’s veal. Her dour demeanour was a truer indication of what lay ahead.

Miss Julie is a thought-provoking and powerfully performed piece of theatre. It is virtually a two-hander, as Jean (Cary Crankson) and Miss Julie (Leonie Hill) flirt and feud and fret through the 90-minute run time.

I was never quite sure where the script would go next. It begins with Kristin doting on the charming Jean as he regales her with stories. We learn that Kristin and Jean are engaged, or as near enough as they can be on meagre servant’s wages.

No sooner has Jean promised Kristin the next dance that the tipsy and mischievous Miss Julie saunters in and orders the return of her favoured dance partner, Jean. Kristin sits the dance out and goes to sleep. No sooner has she closed her eyes than some first rate flirting fires up between the two leads.

I thoroughly enjoyed this half of the play. The teasing, the secrecy, the taboo. I was mesmerised as Jean was caught by the barbs of temptation. But the second half didn’t match up. The intensity only increased from there on in. The situation grew darker with each thorny remark and exposed deceit. The two actors gave everything they had with grief marked on their cheeks. I cannot fault their talent but the story left me cold.

The sympathy held for these characters was eroded bit by bit until I felt that they deserved each other and their unhappiness. The charm was merely a pretence and status was won by a whore’s trick. I didn’t like what I was seeing simply because I didn’t want it to be true.

The end of the play began to dip into lunacy as the characters felt it preferable to reality. Had I been prepared for it I could have really enjoyed this turn, but I found it strange. Where was the party I wanted to be a part of? Where were the revellers?

My notions got in the way of my fully enjoying this well acted play. I urge you to go expecting the unexpected for many secrets lie buried below Miss Julie’s home. The Faction are an inventive and strong ensemble – I anticipate great things from them in the future.

Miss Julie is being performed as part of the REP Season by Faction Theatre at New Diorama Theatre. For more information and tickets, see the New Diorama Theatre’s website.

Ryan Sullivan

Ryan Sullivan

Ryan is a writer and director interested in every medium that will have him: working on everything from sitcoms to comic books. Moonlights as an office worker.

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