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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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Review: Orpheus, Battersea Arts Centre

Posted on 14 April 2014 by Amy Merrigan

Oprheus

Have you ever seen a jazz clarinet playing Hades? Or a mincing French Hermes? No? Funnily enough, I thought not. To fill that almighty hole in your life, you should get along to the Battersea Arts Centre and see Orpheus. Staged in the art deco depth of this old town hall, Orpheus tells the story of this famous Greek myth re-imagined as a 1930s Parisian music hall.

Little Bulb Theatre’s  production is an all playing, all singing, all dancing, if slightly bizarre and chaotic, wonder. ‘Django Reinhardt’ (who, my programme tells me, is actually a jazz musician born in 1910, so not too sure what is going on there)  plays Orpheus,  the legendary poet and prophet who here is our guitar-wielding, moustached romantic hero. We are hosted for the evening by Yvette Pepin who switches seamlessly between an aged French songstress and the wood nymph Eurydice, wife of Orpheus.

You don’t realise quite how authentic the whole thing is until you get home and have a proper look at your programme. Reinhardt the character is playing Orpheus the role. Through layers of theatre we are transported first into this jazzy music hall underworld, then introduced further into the famous story of Eurydice’s death by snakebite and how Orpheus, armed only with his guitar, journeys into the underworld to save her.

I would not normally be so candid with the plot details here.  However, in this case do not fear spoilers because in true Greek epic style we are given the story outline in the first ten minutes of the show via the prologue. This story is all about the delivery and not the suspense, although this did not stop me being on tenterhooks when it came to crunch time.

The prologue, along with much more of the show, is sung by the genius trio of Claire Beresford, Miriam Gould and Shamira Turner. The leads of Orpheus are truly wonderful but I must admit it was the ensemble who made it for me. They (along with Tony Penn and Alexander Scott) are the band, the chorus and a plethora of gods, monsters and men. Memorably, they create the three-headed dog Cerberus and the most surprisingly moving performance of Persephone (trapped wife of Hades) you could imagine.

The whole thing is a masterclass in comic timing. As well as the cast, hats must go off to the crazy creativity of director, Alexander Scott as well as the whole design and lighting team. Charlie Penn is a delight on the piano and organ, and the music (thanks to musical director Dominic Conway) is a show in itself.

Developed over two years as part of Battersea Arts Centre’s Scratch events, Orpheus seems to have hit perfection. It caused me to snort with laughter, shift to the edge of my seat in suspense, broke my heart a little bit and even made me rather terrified of a puppet snake (yes, really). It is an utter, irreverent joy and should not be missed, even if only for the dancing pig, rabbit, donkey, birds and bear. They are hilarious.

Orpheus is playing at Battersea Arts Center until 17 May. For more information and tickets, see the Battersea Arts Centre website. Photo by John Hunter for Ruler.

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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Review: Minotaur, Polka Theatre

Posted on 13 April 2014 by Camilla Gurtler

Minotaur

All children want their parents to be there for them, to care for them and protect them. But when a parent is deployed and leaves for military service, the balance is disrupted and it’s hard to predict how a child will react in their parent’s absence. Some will cope by defending themselves, distancing themselves from the absent parent, believing themselves to be abandoned; some might create a defence mechanism by living in their own imagination.

Freddy’s dad is fighting a war far away, leaving Freddy and his mum to deal with his absence. One day Freddy receives a mysterious text from his dad who’s in trouble, and only his son can help. Freddy finds himself transported through time to the labyrinth of ancient Minos, on a quest to save the people from the terror of the Minotaur – half-man, half-bull – who is devouring the young boys sent to his labyrinth. With the help of Ariadne, a young girl who can see into the future, he must face the Minotaur and his fears in order to save his father in the mythical world as well as the real one.

Polka Theatre is famous for creating world-class children’s theatre, and they certainly don’t disappoint with Minotaur. It’s an action-packed, energised and beautifully designed production with a very talented cast, who understand the difficulty of connecting with a young audience and who carry a piece all the way through without losing any of the children in the auditorium. Ben Stott brings fantastic energy, youth and commitment to Freddy, who as the young Theseus of ancient Greece has to endure trials and quests in order to save his dad. Carla Langley is a sweet and feisty Ariadne, and the rest of the cast double impressively as characters from both worlds encountering Freddy/Theseus in the fight against the Minotaur and his longing for his dad.

Using puppetry, Tim Lutkin’s brilliant lighting design and Lily Arnold’s magical set and costumes, which fit the age group perfectly, director Michael Fentiman shows that he doesn’t just master complexity, but that his story-telling skills are clear and engaging with one of the hardest targets: children, who need clarity and stimulating visuals in order to not get bored. Kevin Dyer’s script is touching and exhilarating, and writing about children’s experiences of a parent going to war using ancient Greek myths is a genius combination that you would hope to see more of in the future.

Minotaur is a great show for children, but adults will find themselves just as entertained and moved by the story.

Minotaur is playing at the Polka Theatre until 24 May. For more information and tickets, see the Polka 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: Shellshock, Waterloo East Theatre

Posted on 13 April 2014 by Ruby-isla Cera-Marle

Shellshock Waterloo East Theatre

The musical Shellshock opens with a talkative young girl called Emily (Ana Martin) fit to burst with excitement at the prospect of her father, a soldier, returning from the front-line in Dhofar, Oman. However, when her father Mark (Peter Willoughby) arrives home he is irritable, short-tempered and clearly traumatised by the brutalities of war that he has witnessed first-hand. The musical charts a family’s struggle to adjust to way that shell-shock can alter a person’s nature as they learn to acknowledge that the father and husband that they once knew has now been replaced by a shadow of his former self.

From the opening number the character of Emily is quickly defined as a chatterbox who enjoys singing, dancing and generally being the centre of her parents’ attention at all times. Emily’s general need to cause a racket clashes with her shell-shocked father’s constant request for quiet. Martin embodies Emily’s precocious nature well and sustains a high energy and extremely externalised performance throughout the piece. At only 14-years-old Martin is clearly a young talent with a strong singing voice, yet as her character lacked any real depth she was unfortunately limited by the material that Tim Thomas had created.

Mark, the other protagonist within the work, was also frustratingly one-dimensional and consequently difficult to connect with emotionally. As with any emotional state I had expected the portrayal of shell-shock to be multifaceted, but instead it was stripped back and Mark appeared to be in a perpetual state of rage throughout the performance. This lack of any character development or range was particularly apparent during his main song during which he simplistically described his emotional state as “too much makes me mad/too much makes me sad”. Considering that shell-shock was the show’s central theme I was disappointed that its depiction lacked any light and shade, and consequently I didn’t feel that deepened my understanding of said topic in any way.

Alongside the main storyline a subplot runs parallel wherein an elderly grandmother recounts her memories of the First World War to her grandson. She reveals the shocking secret that her husband, who suffered from undiagnosed shell-shock, was shot for being a deserter. Personally, I found this narrative thread and the grandmother Ada (who was played brilliantly by Maggie Robson), more intriguing than the main storyline and it was a shame that it was not explored further.

The score contained 14 original songs, of these Robson performed a memorable number entitled ‘I Fell for a Boy in the Band’. Musically the melody was reminiscent of the wartime era and this worked well, but I couldn’t help but feel if Thomas had stuck to this genre throughout the rest of songs would have sounded less like a homogenous mass.

In short Shellshock was a simplistic portrayal of the aftermath of war that left me feeling underwhelmed. Although the concept showed promise, I was left disappointed.

Shellshock is playing at Waterloo East Theatre until 19 April. For tickets and more information please visit the Waterloo East Theatre website.

Ruby-isla Cera-Marle

Ruby-isla Cera-Marle

Ruby isla Cera Marle recently graduated from Royal Holloway University of London where she studied Spanish and European Literature and Cultural Studies. Currently Ruby is working as Press and Marketing Assistant at Rambert Dance Company..

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