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Review: Digital Ghosts/Children of the Revolution, Southwark Playhouse

Posted on 21 April 2014 by Laura Peatman

A double bill of new works from Southwark Playhouse Young Company shows a group of young artists with their fingers firmly on the pulse of their generation, whose potential can certainly be developed with some refinement and focus. Both one-act pieces focus on issues of ‘the youth today’, a phrase dismissed so angrily by one of the characters of Children of the Revolution, varying from distrust of the government and the price of education, to addiction to social media and online personae.

Children of the Revolution, performed by the 15-18 Years Company, explores an imagined general election in which the voting age is lowered to 15, leading to a landslide victory by ‘The Future’ party. The social commentary is pretty unsubtle and the ending – an apparently perfect society in which the teenagers in power led the country with ease –  is rather simplified and sentimentalised. However, these young performers present a work that is aware of the pressing issues for their generation, and there is a keen sense of creative buzz. In particular, a strong scene sees characters drawing parallels between the Orwellian Animal Farm commandments and their own school rules, and perhaps gives a suggestion of what The History Boys might be like if it was set in a 2014 high school: the same combination of intellectual spark and teenage rebellion reigns.

With no character list it’s sadly impossible to put names to faces; yet mention must go to some great character acting from a flamboyant Prime Minister David Campbell (ring any bells?) with a love of Whitney Houston. The actor is let down by a script that drags out the comedy beyond its potential, but his comic timing got a rapturous reaction. Elsewhere, perhaps down to nerves, fast delivery and a lack of projection into the space means some chunks of dialogue are completely lost. Yet on the whole, this ensemble use space well, have a strong grasp of character and understand how theatre can be used to dissect the world around us. They should now focus on delivery and exploring this sketched plot further to discover the nuances of their themes – but there’s plenty of good signs for the future.

In the second half, Digital Ghosts – by the 19-25 Years Company – puts another on-trend theme under their microscope, that of social networking and the digital age. There’s a risk that this could already feel outdated, with the novelty of the social media explosion behind us, but the company do an impressive job of maintaining freshness and currency throughout. There is plenty of humour – with a good deal coming from the wickedly accurate mirror it holds up to us all – including a disastrous Skype date and a character who talks largely in hashtags (“#save #Africa #justsayin #Isaid”).

This work is sharper in performance than the first, as you’d expect from a more mature cast, yet its snapshot style needs more focus to create a wholly satisfying piece. While some threads are strong – for example a girl suffering from amnesia who in fact needs her ‘digitial ghost’ to make her memories – others seem rather haphazard. Although it’s one of the funniest scenes of the night, it’s unclear how a conversation about the poverty crisis in Africa is relevant to digital communication. It’s almost as if there’s too much creative material in one work, and with so many interesting trains of thought, it’s worth streamlining and focusing to make sure they are presented as effectively as possible. Once again, director Paul Edwards uses the space of ‘The Little’ intelligently with excellent staging (although I was at times rather blinded by Zoe Spurr’s lighting design…) and this is a short but sparky production that keeps the audience enthused and entertained.

All in all, a successful evening’s work that shows a lot of promise from these ensembles. There are certainly elements that can be streamlined, and areas to work on in delivery, but Southwark Playhouse Young Company are in touch with their audiences, confident in their artistic vision, and able to create rounded characters swiftly that already shows an impressive aptitude for their craft.

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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Review: Anna Karenina, London Coliseum

Posted on 21 April 2014 by Katie Angus

Ana Karenina

Boris Eifman is famous for being controversial. His ballets are highly-charged, highly sexual and hugely psychological. Anna Karenina, based on Tolstoy’s classic novel, delivers Eifman’s bold style with unremitting and unsubtle bolshiness. A dramatic introspection into the turbulent minds of Anna (Natalia Povoroznyuk), her husband Karenin (Oleg Markov) and lover Vronsky (Oleg Gabyshev), the performance is far from subtle in its message as much as its movements.

Despite its brashness, or perhaps as a result of it, Anna Karenina remains the most technically brilliant dance performance I have seen on stage this year. From the outset, the sheer talent of the principal dancers is overwhelmingly apparent. Eifman’s choreography intends to display the physical and emotional destruction of Anna Karenina – of a lover and a mother who falls into a spiral of loss and grief leading eventually to her death, and in this he succeeds. As the trials become increasingly turbulent, alternating duets between Anna and her lovers heighten in dramatic intensity. The choreography in these scenes is intricate: movements falls in and out of symmetry, disrupting and disturbing synchronisation with deliberate force. The psychological strains are apparent through the visual, powerful lifts suddenly turning to jarring convulsions.

The culminating scenes of the second act leading to Anna’s death are a frenzy of emotion and electricity. Dancers’ bodies contort maniacally, blurring the distinction between limbs in scenes that are at once both mechanical and visceral. Reducing Tolstoy’s novel to the love story that encircles the main three protagonists, Eifman is able to concentrate on developing Anna’s psyche. However, in doing so, the story is unavoidably simplified, becoming a wholly internalised battle, unaffected by the pressures and influences of an outside society.

With costumes that alternate between modern and traditional, Eifman’s choreography in Anna Karenina arguably does the same. Combinations of modernist dance and music slide into madness alongside the dancers, with clever and frequent interaction with limited props.

Anna Karenina is certainly a spectacle and with the loss of all the subtleties of Tolstoy’s novel, the story gains dynamism from sheer physical energy. Its forcefulness is impressive, yet the story still feels lacking; the complexities of the psyche, and of the love story between Anna and Vronsky, are intensified but simplified.

Anna Karenina played at the London Coliseum until 19 April. For more information, please see the English National Opera website.


Katie Angus

Katie Angus

Katie Angus is an undergraduate currently in her final year studying English at the University of Nottingham. She loves reviewing theatre productions in her spare time, works at her local theatre and will talk endlessly about the theatre to anyone who cares to listen!

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Review: The Malcontent, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Posted on 17 April 2014 by Camilla Gurtler

The Malcontent

In September 2013 the Globe held auditions for their Globe Young Players, a new initiative aimed at giving new young talent a once in a lifetime opportunity to train with the theatre’s professionals, nurturing the next generation of actors in the UK and working towards a performance of early modern drama, in this case The Malcontent by John Marston.

Consisting of some of the finest young actors in the UK aged between 12 to 16-years-old, the Globe Young Players end the Globe’s first winter season in the newly constructed Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, a beautiful new space only lit by candlelight, enchanting its audience with an authentic 15th century charm. Originally performed by a company of child actors, this performance will mark the first time The Malcontent is staged by young actors in the UK in 400 years since its premiere with the Children of the Chapel at Blackfriars Playhouse.

Altofronto, the rightful duke of Genoa, has been banished by his brother Pietro and is left in exile. Determined to win back his title he disguises himself as a ‘malcontent’, a sarcastic jester named Malevole. At court he learns that Mendoza, the power behind the throne, has committed adultery with Pietro’s wife and plots to dispose of the Duke and take the kingdom himself. Malevole, sent by Mendoza to kill Pietro, instead reveals the plot to the Duke and together they plan to take the power back from Mendoza and expose him and his crimes at a masque for everyone to see.

The Malcontent is a funny, epic masterpiece that suits the intimate Sam Wanamaker Playhouse perfectly, atmospherically half-lit, making it a space for intrigue, passion and play. The play suits the Globe’s programming beautifully and the Young Players take on the massive challenge with professionalism, sincerity and bravery. All the young actors are incredibly talented, skilled in verse and text as trained adults, and they take you back to a time where Jacobean plays were as relevant to children as adults and accessible to both. Joseph Marshall has charm, wit and an engaging stage presence as Malevole, Sam Hird is a comical natural as the snobbish, ageing Maquerelle, and Ben Lynn delightfully naïve as Duke Pietro. However it is Guy Amos’s venomous and scheming Mendoza that steals the show. His presence is impressively professional, he holds the audience in a firm but cunning grip and like a young Iago he controls and manipulates fellow actors as well as the audience. He is intriguing to watch and will no doubt go very far in this industry.

Angela Davies’s design is traditional, inventive and suits the space, and composer Olly Fox creates a score that both drives and supports the text and action. Director Caitlin McLeod has taken this very challenging idea of The Malcontent played by young actors and shaped it into something very grown-up, professional and exciting. However, that might be the play’s problem too – it’s very grown up, and funny as it is it does contain adultery and sexual puns en masse. Played by young adults – some 12 and looking even younger, it does jar a bit and it feels like the children on stage are trying to be too grown-up too soon and not celebrating what they do have – youth, innocence and energy that could have been explored even more in a play not about sex and politics.

That said they do live up to it as actors, and hats off to the Globe for doing such a great initiative fuelling the next generation of great actors in this country. Hopefully we’ll see more projects like this in the future. 

The Malcontent is playing at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe until 19 April. For more information and tickets, see the Globe Theatre website.

Camilla Gurtler

Camilla Gurtler

Camilla is currently training as a director on the Young Directors’ Programme with StoneCrabs Theatre Company. Camilla has worked as a director, actress and writer in Denmark and London, and loves Shakespeare, greek tragedies and children’s theatre. She’s obsessed with coffee, dislikes ranting on stage and hates the colour yellow. Especially mustard-yellow.

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Review: Secret Cinema 21, Secret Location

Posted on 15 April 2014 by Amy Merrigan

Secret Cinema 21

Secret Cinema events are, as my friend commented “quite the strangest evening” you can imagine. This is the second Secret Cinema event I have been to, and I have to say they do kind of puzzle me. The whole thing, as you may guess,  is a great secret, so I don’t want to tell you too much, but let me set the scene. My friend and I arrived at an undisclosed location and were split up; I lucked out and was directed to a private underground jazz bar, while she was taken in for interrogation at the police headquarters.

At this point I began to rather worry that this might be the last I’d see of her all evening; in accordance with Secret Cinema’s policy we had handed over our phones on entry so I suddenly realised we had absolutely no way of reconvening. Hey, kind of like actually being in the 1920s! Crazy!

However, we found each other surprisingly quickly, which was a relief because I was envisioning an evening of searching around the many corridors of this American city council building, and there certainly was a lot of it to explore. Secret Cinema events are strange but they certainly do it properly. I find that with a great deal of immersive theatre I just want to curl into a ball and cringe, as it’s too easy to see the cracks: the actors falter, you’re clearly being spoon fed an experience, but Secret Cinema 21 is quite a cut above.

The building is unnervingly authentic  – the design team have clearly done a cracking job.  The actors (with the exception of one or two slightly dodgy accents) slipped into the night seamlessly. There were moments when I literally could not work out if some were actors or audience.

At the past Secret Cinema event I went to I felt that I got bored at the tail end,  but here more was going on. It felt like in every room you’re likely to run into some other unique experience – there was a greater performance element. At one point I felt like I was in an American law drama and at another my heart was in my mouth as someone got shot right next to me. Seriously. I got blood on my dress and that is certainly not something I’ve ever been able to say before.

It’s very strange to go to an event with no idea what to expect, what film you’re going to watch, what your evening is going to be like at all. It’s also exciting to get off the tube, notice the hordes of others dressed in 1920s attire and join the throng. I can’t tell you what the film of the night is, but it is certainly worth a watch. However, the attraction of the evening has to be everything that goes before it.

So, I think I’ve realised the point. Have you ever felt so entirely enthralled by a film that you just want to be inside its world? Well, that’s what Secret Cinema does. If you fancy time travelling, this is an evening for you.

Secret Cinema 21 is playing at an undisclosed location until 25 May For more information and tickets, see the Secret Cinema website. Photo by Hanson Leatherby.

Amy Merrigan

Amy Merrigan

Amy is a 17 year old Londoner who has just finished her A-levels. She is looking forward to a gap year of theatre trips, some teaching in Malawi and trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life.

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