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Review: IdeasTap Takeover, Foxy and Husk, Richmix

Posted on 19 February 2014 by Hannah Elsy

The IdeasTap Takeover: Love at Rich Mix is intended (as stated on the fliers) as an “escape from the mush of Valentine’s Day”. The performance artist Fox Solo is a one-night act within the takeover, coming on stage dressed as half yummy mummy, half female fox. She declares her love to her nodding dog Husk in her hour-long show that combines dance, song and kitsch video projections. Foxy and Husk doesn’t cut through the soppiness of Dr Valentine, but adds to it in abundance, as it becomes tragically apparent throughout the show that Husk is her current substitute for a partner, creating the perfect (and mushy) portrait of heartbreak and loneliness.

Foxy breaks the ice at the beginning of the play by handing out shots of milk to the most attentive audience members, and encouraging communal catharsis as she gets us all to drink to loves past and present. Her direct interaction with the audience (particularly as she is dressed in a bizarre fox outfit!) is a device that should be developed further throughout the performance, and is a missed opportunity to “escape from the mush” and address the very personal issue of the love in the room.

After making us all drink, she speaks of the various men she has dated, lip-syncing to a pre-recorded posh and displaced voice that is reminiscent of the Queen’s Christmas address. Her anecdotes about the assorted men in her life are humorous and touching, but provide us with nothing more than nostalgic sentiment to chew over. Her video recording of a ‘romantic’ beach date with Husk is a parody of a thousand poor YouTube and Facebook ‘Look Back’ videos: funny for about a minute, but tedious as the third round of sepia-filtered frames are paraded across the screen.

The form in which Foxy and Husk is presented is genuinely interesting. Foxy’s lip-synced dialogue is a real experiment with the audience’s awareness of sound. She has also chosen to heighten the sounds of the milk (a huge presence on stage from the beginning) to the same volume as her speech as it is poured and drunk. Playing with sound seems to be a current trend in theatre practice, with the live creation of the sounds of money in the National Theatre’s From Morning To Midnight being a large feature of the experimental side of the performance. Foxy certainly develops this to add an extra sensory dimension to the way that the audience receive the performance.

The emphasised sound of the milk calls the audience’s attention to the phrase “there’s no use crying over spilt milk”, repeated often by Foxy as it is used to describe her numerous heartbreaks. A huge part of her set design is pints and pints of fresh milk on stage and, under the lights, it takes on a viscous and impenetrable quality. It is a highly engaging medium to watch because of its opacity, as Foxy pours it from glass bottles to basins, tipping the basins over so that the liquid spills over the table making a huge, white milky patch over the floor of the stage. The fluidity of the liquid around the stage creates wonderful and relaxing visuals, but does not actually contribute to the quality of the performance, which, although energised, is confused and lacks linearity.

This piece of performance art is fantastic for its experimentation in form, but not its content. Foxy’s use of on-stage liquid and sound creates a set of simple yet engaging stimuli in the small black box space in Rich Mix. However, it does not allow you to “escape the mush” of Valentine’s Day, unfortunately.

The IdeasTap Takeover at Rich Mix played until 16 Feburary. For more information please visit the IdeasTap website.

Hannah Elsy

Hannah Elsy

Alongside reading English at King's College London, Hannah runs around the capital watching and performing in as much theatre as physically possible. She enjoys creating new work, and is currently workshopping new ideas with the National Theatre's Young Studio. Hannah has worked as an arts journalist for the Fierce Festival of live art and Bristol's In Between Time Festival.

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Feature: Fall for the arts this Valentine’s Day

Posted on 11 February 2014 by Caitlin Clark

WEB_Image_by_Doug888881DD7A0F

If romantic candlelit dinners and soppy love letters aren’t your thing, or you are merely fed up of the over-commercialised holiday and looking for an activity somewhat nonconformist come Valentine’s Day, then head to Rich Mix, Bethnal Green for IdeasTap Takeover: Love, a free five-day festival celebrating the alternative, slightly quirky, side of romance. IdeasTap, the charitable organisation devoted to supporting young creatives, is hosting Takeover: Love from 12-16 February, taking over Rich Mix in its entirety. The multidisciplinary arts festival will host a delightfully eclectic range of performance, from rehearsed readings, theatre premieres and comic storytelling, to film screenings, live music and spoken word, all revolving around the theme of love. The motif might be clichéd and well-worn, but with this unconventional spin on it, IdeasTap is bringing us something new.

All events are free to attend, and an exciting performance, be it comic, poetic or even scientific, will be taking place almost constantly throughout. North London based theatre-maker Hannah Pierce is transforming her personal blog on her failures and successes of online dating into the one woman show Hannah27 – Valiant Adventures in Online Dating. Additionally, Invertigo theatre, the HighTide Takeover and Top Up Fund Festival winner and a hotly-tipped emerging company, is also bringing something inventive and original. Its one-on-one interactive speed-dating piece on love through the ages, Miscellany, will mean you could meet all sorts of characters, from different centuries, continents and cultures. These are just two examples of a vast range of performance, with something to interest everyone. After a chat with the festival’s producer, Ellie Browning, it is clear there’s the opportunity to see some very current and adventurous work.

So, Ellie, this is the first year of IdeasTap Takeover: Love, what are your ambitions for the future of the festival?
I’d love the Takeover to become an annual event, and I think if it’s a success then it will be. Some of our acts are referring to it as a mini-Edinburgh. It’s much more financially friendly than Edinburgh as all our artists are being paid a fee to present their work, and all events are free to attend. If it were to become an annual event we’d change the theme each time to shake it up a little.

What was your inspiration for producing this festival? How did the theme of love come about?
I am a member of IdeasTap, and have received funding and support through them over the years. I wanted to be a part of something that was showcasing the work they do. They offer an incredible service to young creatives, and this festival will show off the quality and diversity of the work they support. The theme of love was simply because we had programmed the event across Valentine’s weekend and we decided to give the festival a theme to unite all of the work, and to give the artists a mutual stimulus.

There is some very eclectic performance being showcased, all by those who have been supported by IdeasTap. How important was it for you to assist these companies, and to give them the platform to be so adventurous and innovative?
IdeasTap is excited by ideas – they are less interested in the individual’s background, education, experience – as a lot of opportunities are. In my opinion this is so important, and I wanted to make sure their commitment to this was reflected in the programming. Also, these are artists that know IdeasTap well, and therefore there is a mutual understanding of what is expected. We programmed acts that we know are top quality, and they are exploring work that they know we will be excited to represent.

What do you hope audiences will take away with them?
I mostly want them to be entertained – it’s Valentine’s weekend and we want everyone to have a nice time! I’d like audiences to experience an artform that they wouldn’t normally. For example, if they have come to see a theatre show, they may stay around and watch some short films and find a gem they weren’t necessarily looking for.

Rich Mix, much like IdeasTap, is a charitable organisation invested in the arts and young people’s engagement with performance. What elements of Rich Mix made it the right location for the festival?
The answer’s in the question! That’s a huge reason why Rich Mix is a good fit. The venue is also able to accommodate all art forms we want to represent – with the main space having the capacity for a large audience with cabaret style seating and a bar – perfect for our poetry, spoken word, and mass participation events. Also, the cinema for screenings, as well as the studios for theatre and readings.

Takeover’s programme looks extremely exciting! What are you looking forward to seeing in particular?
I can’t wait for Hannah Sullivan’s Echo Beach on Friday evening, where she “dances like everyone she knows”, Sabrina Mahfouz’s I Heart Poetry event on Friday and Scottee’s Fraff – A Night of Spoken Word for Drunk People. But that’s just a few highlights, having programmed the festival I’m excited about all of it. There’s a really eclectic mix, but what stands out for me is the quality of the artists across the four days. Overall, I’m really looking forward to just being in the venue, and soaking up the atmosphere of the festival.

So, why not fall in love with art this Valentine’s weekend and allow yourself to be thoroughly seduced by Takeover:Love?

IdeasTap Takeover: Love is at Rich Mix from 12-16 February. For more information and tickets, visit the Rich Mix website

Caitlin Clark

Caitlin Clark

Caitlin is a recent drama graduate currently working as a Marketing Intern for Lincoln Performing Arts Centre. One day she would love to move to London to be able to work within large scale theatres and theatre companies.

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Review: Human:Resources

Posted on 05 June 2013 by Jemma Anderson

In the very intimate lounge of the Leicester Square Theatre, there is a new comedy in town. Human:Resources is an offering from director and writer David J. Collyer which explores four major themes: love, work, jobs and sex.

Through a series of four characters performing interlocking monologues, the show highlights several themes. Emily (Genna Foden), who works for the large energy company PDL, tells us about her first boyfriend, a writer, and her need to find her place in the world, be it by joining a fight club (which it turns out “isn’t really a thing”) or by settling down. She finds herself in the midst of a selfish relationship with boss Joel, played by Irwin Sparkes, who is best known for fronting British band The Hoosiers. Sparkes gives us a smarmy, impish character that seems to be having a mid-life crisis, and goes through a string of girlfriends to make him feel young again.

Meanwhile in a separate workplace, characters Alec and Tally are drawn together due to Alec’s (Daniel Curshen) desire to write poetry inspired by a girlfriend, which in reality is not quite the romantic gesture it seems. Tally (Bernice Pike) is a 23-year-old, naïve waitress on the hunt for an older man who, according to Japanese culture, would be a perfect match. The two find themselves thrown together, but due to restrictions on dating colleagues, one has to go in search of a new job: cue all four lives intertwining in a series of events.

The play is full of witty one-liners and each monologue is delivered with some great comic timing; Sparkes in particular delivers some rather sexist comments, which knock the audience into nervous laughter, but Foden too has some hilarious moments in the quest to find her niche.

With extremely minimal props and lighting, designer Ev Sekkides heaps the focus onto the well-delivered monologues; although maybe it is because of the intense, small space that the production changes are barely noticeable.

This is David Collyer’s second play after Modern Love and once again he has managed to produce some great (if slightly eccentric) characters and a script that is witty, although sometimes feels a little bit slow. However it is soon brought back to speed with a new scene or dynamic change, and overall the small company of four manage to deliver the material with great conviction, which helps in making it all the more funny. If you fancy a bit of a giggle with hints of sex and romance, this 90-minute play could be the one for you.

Human: Resources is playing at the Leicester Square Theatre Lounge until 30 June. For more information and tickets, see The Leicester Square 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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London Wall is revived at St James Theatre

Posted on 30 April 2013 by Becky Brewis

11 London Wall-Pat & Miss J 2

Following a highly acclaimed, sell-out run at the Finborough Theatre, the Two’s Company production of London Wall, by John Van Druten, transfers to the St. James Theatre next week. AYT’s Becky Brewis called in on Maia Alexander and Alix Dunmore in rehearsals. They talk about money, men and marriage…

Tell me a bit about the play

Dunmore: London Wall is essentially about what it was like to be a woman in the work place in the late 20s/early 30s, and how rubbish it was, frankly. All these women were dashing about, taking dictation, typing things, while the men were taking really long lunches and just sending them all over the place. If you weren’t born into money or a flirt (like Miss Bufton in the play) then your option was to get married as soon as possible in order to get out of work, because work was a complete drudge: you couldn’t earn enough money to buy your own property or anything like that.

My character is a senior secretary. She’s been there for 10 years and she’s earning three pounds a week which is the equivalent today of £150. In terms of spending power it was a bit more back then but still, given that she was there for 10 years, it was really not enough – especially given that she was basically running the joint.

What kind of relationship do your characters have?

Alexander: Miss Janus is like my guardian angel really, in the office. Both when I am there and when I’m not there she’s trying to steer my life so that it doesn’t replicate her life.

This production has been brilliantly received by critics and audiences, but how was the play received in 1931?

Dunmore: I think it went down really well. It was a bit of a staple – one of those plays that was always done for about five years but then disappeared off the radar. It’s interesting because it’s quite rare to find a play that’s got so many strong female characters in it and that it was written by a man, in 1931, is quite extraordinary.

Alexander: It’s interesting that people evidently wanted to come along in 1931 and watch a play about women  essentially being abused in the workplace, not just sexually abused but abused in terms of their rights and their pay.

Do you think London Wall still speaks to audiences in the same way it would have done originally, or is it enjoyed now more as a period piece?

Dunmore: A lot of people coming to see it have said “it’s terrible that we haven’t moved on as much as we should have” and “I’m listening to these women from 1931 speak and I have the same issues.” Yes, some bits are very dated but others are still so relevant to today.

Alexander: It’s funny because people were very split. A lot of people said exactly that, that it’s awful, but then a lot of people laugh at some of Miss Janus’s lines, like when she says “I’m 35!” as if to imply that she’s completely at the end of the road. People laugh at that kind of thing but I think a lot of the – dare I say it – the men in the audience tended to feel it was dated, whereas the women felt like it was very current and similar to their own situation, and their frustrations. 

How did you go about preparing for these parts?

Alexander: When I first read the play, my character just came across on the page as almost unbelievably naïve. I just couldn’t understand how somebody could be this naïve. So really it was a matter of  grounding her into what she really wanted and why she really wanted it. She’s an orphan, so I think a lot of what she wants comes from a real need for guidance, which is something that she gets from Miss Janus, and she just looks to this big authority figures as sort of parental figures.

Dunmore: Yeah. When we first rehearsed this we were all given assignments, to look at different aspects of the times, like film and theatre, makeup and hair, and how people lived. I looked into the money aspect and decided to immerse myself in the literature of the period, because I read a lot, so I read lots of Aldous Huxley, Virginia Woolf and Evelyn Waugh. And I found Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (which I’d never read before, to my shame) just – well if Miss Janus had had the money Virginia Woolf had, she’d have written that book, because Miss Janus is a fiercely intelligent person trapped in circumstances that are completely unfair, and Virginia Woolf sees all that, and questions why no one else is saying anything like this, and why women in universities have these terrible conditions, while the men are having steak for breakfast.

But these characters are written so well that it becomes easy. You just have to look at the text really to understand that person. It’s not like a Noël Coward play where you’ve got a lot of women that are cyphers for men, these are definitely women, so maybe Van Druton just had lots of strong women friends. 

Do you think it’s important for plays like this to be revived – to be performing old plays?

Alexander: Oh absolutely, and the success of the Finborough production speaks for itself. It is shocking to people in a way that, if it had been a play written about 1931 it wouldn’t be. But because it was written then, it shows how these issues were glaringly obvious even at the time.

Dunmore: The Orange Tree theatre pretty much constantly does plays of around this period and revives things that haven’t been done for a long time, and they get packed out, so there is a huge audience for it. And me personally as an actor, it’s definitely my period, ’30s and ’40s, I absolutely love it. I founded a theatre company called the Fitzrovia Radio Hour, where we are pretending we are a 1940s radio show, and make all the sound effects with props and stuff like that so yes, I can barely do a modern play now!

Do you think this could have been differently interpreted? Is this production quite true to how the play would originally have been performed?

Alexander: I think we have tried to make it as modern a thing as possible. I mean, Tricia [Thorns] didn’t want anyone doing old accents.

Dunmore: Yes, no really heightened RP, like Brief Encounter. We do it with a nod to the period but not so we alienate the audience.

Alexander: My character’s relationship with the office cad is very much like a kind of Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, who only has to touch Vivien Lee and she turns into wilted spinach. So in terms of my interpretation of the character, it was really important to give her backbone, real backbone. She doesn’t wilt. None of them wilt. I think they would have wanted to see that back in the ’30s whereas I think that if any of us did that today we would lose the audience’s respect and interest.

Has being in London Wall affected how you feel about marriage?

Dunmore: Pah, marriage! Are you getting married dear? Because I’m not. No, we’ve both split up with our boyfriends since the show. It ends relationships this play. I never wanted to get married, and still don’t.

Alexander: Yeah, and I have been thinking a lot recently that I don’t.

Dunmore: We’re all the single ladies, all the single ladies.

Alexander: I don’t think it’s right for people to make promises they can’t keep.

Dunmore: Exactly.

Alexander: But unfortunately I don’t think the message of the play is, you don’t need to get married.

Dunmore: Well, I don’t know. It might be slightly…

London Wall plays at St. James Theatre from 7th May until 1 June. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk/events/london-wall/.

Image credit: Graham Cowley

Becky Brewis

Becky Brewis

Becky Brewis is Commissioning Editor of AYT. She is a freelance writer and editor and has written for Huffington Post UK and IdeasTap and reviews theatre for Broadway World and One Stop Arts. Sub-editing includes IdeasTap, Nick Hern Books and fashion and art magazines Nowness and Wonderland. She has worked for theatres and arts organisations including the Finborough, the Pleasance, the Southbank Centre, Cecil Sharp House and the Barbican Centre.

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