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Review: Compagnie La Meute, Roundhouse

Posted on 31 March 2014 by Ruby-isla Cera-Marle

La Meute

Compagnie La Meute is a group of six acrobats premièring their work for the first time in the UK as part of the Roundhouse’s Circus Fest. Combining humour, music and plenty of gasp-worthy stunts, this sextet’s act mainly revolves around the ‘French Swing’ (an adaptation of the more traditional Russian Swing) – a robust piece of metal apparatus that, when swung at full velocity, can propel members of the company an impressive ten feet into the air. As the programme notes explain, the company’s name translates as “The Wolf Pack”, as their “risk-taking acrobatics rely on trust, solidarity and the ability to read each other’s non-verbal communication, they always know what the other is going to do next, just like a real-life wolf pack”. Although this production is slick and meticulously rehearsed, a real sense of unsettling unpredictability resonates throughout the piece as the audience are on the edge of their seats, never sure what crazy trick Compagnie La Meute will attempt next.

This talented young company of daredevils comprises Julien Auger, Thibaut Brignier, Mathieu Lagaillarde, Sidney Pin, Arnau Serra Vila and Bahoz Temaux – all of whom wear little in the way of costumes apart from white towels, fashioned to look like over-sized nappies, which for me heightens the overall playful nature of the performance. A recurring motif within the work is when one of the group swings ferociously on the French Swing, whilst the rest of the ‘wolf pack’ lie underneath with their faces just inches away from the trajectory of the rapidly approaching swing. With every stunt the tangible tension within the Roundhouse mounts, as each feat appears to be more dangerous than the last. It is not often that you are sitting in an audience where you can hear so many audible winces and gasps.

Alongside their twists and turns in the air, as they hurtle off the French Swing, they also perform some comedic sequences involving a ladder and a plank of wood, which in parts teeter on the verge of being slapstick-esque. That said, I couldn’t help but be impressed by three grown men balancing on each other’s shoulders in a human column formation, whilst striding confidently around the space. Furthermore, nobody could fault Compagnie La Meute for their creative use of the French Swing; it is impressive that they manage to find so many different variations and ways to use just one piece of apparatus, in such a manner that sustains the audience’s interest throughout.

Although the whole evening is a great display of acrobatic skill, I was a little disappointed with their finale. I had hoped it would build towards an impressive jaw-dropping display, but alas it does not. Without revealing any spoilers, let’s just say it ends with more of a whimper than a bang; it is a real shame that the gathering momentum within the work does not culminate in anything more impressive. Nevertheless, if you enjoy watching scantily-clad men performing acrobatic stunts that really do have to be seen to believed, I strongly suggest you purchase a ticket to see Compagnie La Meute at this year’s Circus Fest.

Compagnie La Meute is playing at the Roundhouse as part of Circus Fest until 6 April. For tickets and more information please visit the Roundhouse 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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Feature: The Worst of Scottee – more than a mirror-wank

Posted on 08 February 2014 by Billy Barrett

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I first saw Scottee at Bestival. Through a hungover haze of September rain and heckling revellers, the thickly made up “low-rent Liberace” appeared on the outdoor stage and declared that he refused to use a microphone “because I’m pretentious”. Actually, he’s anything but; his solo show The Worst of Scottee is alternately dazzling and bleak, complex and utterly straightforward. Sick of a culture of relentless positive image management and performers “desperate to sell themselves as an attribute to the arts”, Scottee asked, “what if I anti-sold myself?” The result is the artist bearing his worst bits, intercutting filmed interviews of people he’s wronged in the past with confessional monologue and cabaret numbers. It’s his most self-referential work, and “a bit what I like to call a wank in a mirror”.

Again, this should be taken as a joke – Scottee’s shows are generously audience-driven. “When I’m making my work, I always think, what would my mum think?” he tells me in London a few days before The Worst of Scottee opens at the Roundhouse. “And if at any point she’d be like, ‘what the fuck’s going on?’, I think this is a load of old shit. I don’t want to make work for other artists; I don’t want to preach to the converted.”

Entering the arts “through the backdoor” himself, Scottee initially found himself spliced between live art and cabaret, which both shunned him. “I was mouthy – I would tell them this is shit, no one wants to be in a room with other people bleeding.” The variety scene, then dominated by burlesque, offered little more than feathery objectification for coked-up city boys; “there’s nothing fascinating about a fascinator, and I was quite vocal about that”. Performing in full makeup, but not identifying as a drag queen (“I just wear nice clothes”), he’s since coined the term “light art” to describe his style, carving a niche that resists easy categorisation and theatrical norms, “because in that middle ground, interesting things can happen”.

Sometimes this means walkouts or shout-outs. At Bestival, quite a few people packed up halfway, and the remaining crowd was unashamedly lairy during even the most sobering section. “I didn’t find that off-putting”, Scottee says, surprised. “I’m used to adapting to an audience – it’s fun. They can get up and leave, get pissed, or just turn their backs to me. I think every performer should go through that because you learn how to handle a room – or a field. I make stuff for pubs and nightclubs, public toilets and photo booths.”

The booth in question is The Worst of Scottee‘s set, an oversized model of Berlin’s Photoautomats that line the streets printing monochrome film strips for nostalgic tourists. Seated in the booth, with his profile to the audience and his face projected onto an external screen, Scottee conjures the perfect image of both solitary honesty and social performativity. If traditional drag is about ‘realness’, The Worst of Scottee‘s camp confessional is steeped in raw, lived reality. “People think they’re going to come and see artifice,” Scottee muses, “and maybe that’s why it works. It starts like that, but by the end there’s none of that left.” He’s right – for light art, it gets pretty damn dark.

With the show now playing five minutes from his home estate, some of Scottee’s interviewees will inevitably crop up. “Two of them are in on opening night, but I can’t have contact with them – they have to decide if they want to contact me.” This is something the team decided early on. “We need to understand that I’ve decided to make this into work and they haven’t. This is real shit for real people, and I don’t want to exploit that – this isn’t Benefits Street. We have a responsibility to be ethical in our practice.” What if he sees them in the bar post-show? “Good question. I can’t imagine we’re going to be like, let’s have a drink! Especially after that show – it’s not the happy-clappy ending everyone wants.”

While The Worst of Scottee may push them to their limit, Scottee says “all of my shows are about my faults – Camp, my variety project, is about me being comfortable with my effeminacy for the first time, and Hamburger Queen is about fat liberation.” The success of these shows has been to tap into concerns beyond the artist’s personal experience; Camp is also a glittery celebration of working class entertainment, queer culture and community – its most recent incarnation, Camp (On the Estate), took place on the North London estate where Scottee grew up, drawing attention to its planned demolition under the government’s HS2 proposals. The annual Hamburger Queen, a “beauty pageant and talent show for fat people”, invites participants to stick two fingers up to body policing while looking fabulous.

Applications are now open for what will be Hamburger Queen‘s final year, due to time constraints and its “artistic contradiction” with Scottee’s next project, “a contemporary dance show using six clinically obese non-dancers to explore fat shame and addiction”, developed with choreographer Lea Anderson. I wonder whether he considers mainstream gay culture to be particularly body-fascist. “Yes, I think it’s completely fucked. It’s very odd that this body culture has emerged from HIV and AIDS; the muscle look was to look ‘healthy’, but now it’s eating itself – it’s become this identity of gay people. It took me a long time to feel comfortable as a fat gay person; there was this whole ‘no fats, no femmes’ thing. But I didn’t feel unattractive – I thought, I’m really fucking beautiful, why don’t people know this shit?”

“My friend always says to me, one day you’ll make a show where you give yourself a cuddle,” Scottee smiles. In some ways, that’s what The Worst of Scottee is – he readily admits it’s been a form of public therapy. Has it worked? “Yes! Because I feel no guilt or shame attached to any of the show’s stories anymore.” He’s clear that it’s not about self-flagellation and redemption, or even saying sorry. “We’ve all done fucked up shit like this,” he says. “Audiences have a very weird reaction: people cry, or attack me after the show and say ‘I’ve done this too, and I want to tell you’.” Does it ever make people feel better, because they’ve never been so bad themselves? “No. They will be, if not now then in years to come. It’s by default that we fuck up: we manipulate people, we can be horrible and nasty. Because we can, and sometimes that’s fun. I guess that’s what I’m saying with this: we can all be major dickheads.”

The Worst of Scottee is at the Roundhouse until 15 February. For more information and tickets, visit the Roundhouse’s website.

Billy Barrett

Billy Barrett

Billy currently studies English and Theatre at Warwick University. Between reviewing and reading for his course, Billy writes, directs and acts in theatre. He tries to see everything in London, Warwick and beyond!

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Review: Fuerzabruta, Roundhouse

Posted on 11 January 2014 by Briony Rawle

Fuerabruta roundhouse

“I’M SOAKING WET AND I WANT TO GO CLUBBING”, I texted to my boyfriend after leaving Fuerzabruta last night. I was so exhilarated I didn’t know what to do with myself. So I ran to the tube, just because running made more sense at that moment than walking. Trying to contain myself when I got into the quiet tube carriage was almost torturous, and I turned into that weird girl in the carriage who can’t stop tapping to her iPod and always seems to sit next to you.

Here I had better add the caveat that while I was in this frenzied state towards the climax of the show, I could still tell that there was a divide between those who, like me, couldn’t resist the euphoric carnival of the thing, and others who were happy to simply bop along at the sides, hoping the artificial rain hadn’t ruined their phone. But I’m fairly sure that appreciation of the pure spectacle of the show was universal.

The show comprises several impressive set-pieces which, though not coming together in any meaningful harmony, are individually stunning. Clever use of a large treadmill gives us a man who pelts his way through walls of cardboard boxes; two performers scramble across opposite sides of an enormous spinning wall; performers run and tumble around the walls of the perfectly-chosen Roundhouse venue on harnesses, suspended from the rig; six girls swoosh mesmerisingly around in transparent pools of shallow water, metres and then inches above the audience’s heads, transfixing us with their spontaneous, unpractised play. There is something wonderfully fresh about seeing their natural shapes throughout the show, rather than accepted poises and toe-pointing choreography. The biggest asset to the show is the amount of fun the performers seem to be having throughout, as if they only get to do this this once instead of 100 times during this run.

There is no attempt to dress the show up as anything more thoughtful or emotive than simply a parade of awesome spectacle and a really brilliant time, accompanied by multisensory stimulation from thumping music, strobe lighting, wind machines and water spray. But then no-one needs a political statement or a heart-warming tale when they’re at Mardi Gras.

If you plan to see the show during its run at the Roundhouse, follow this advice:

  • Go with your funnest, wildest, partyest mate, or better yet, a whole bunch of them.
  • Don’t bring anything except £2 to put your coat in the cloakroom. I lugged my Mary Poppins handbag around the auditorium with me and it seriously impeded my jumping about and waving capability.
  • Go on a weekend and find a club nearby to go to afterwards. Whatever you do, don’t get stuck on a train or a bus less than an hour after the end of the show – it feels like going cold turkey at a relative’s funeral.
  • Don’t go if you’re claustrophobic (at one point the audience is encased in a giant plastic sheet), and don’t go if you have neck ache and can’t look up. Most of it is up.

And if you happen to get stuck next to the weird tapping girl on a tube near Chalk Farm at any time in the near future, don’t judge her too harshly. She may be going Fuerza cold turkey.

Fuerzabruta is playing at the Roundhouse until 2 March. For more information and tickets, see the Roundhouse website.

Briony Rawle

Briony Rawle

Briony studied English Literature at Warwick University, then an MA in acting at Drama Centre London. She is an actor currently living just outside London, and is a founding member of Threepenny Theatre.

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: The Worst of Scottee

Posted on 18 August 2013 by Devawn Wilkinson

The Worst of Scottee

Star Rating:
(3/5 stars)

Scottee sits in a photo booth, a box within the box space where we sit patiently, waiting for him to look at us. He is looking at us, or at least, we can choose to believe so. In the booth – Big Brother Diary Room meets church confessional – he stares into the camera and a video screen on the exterior wall shows us a man more like a painted portrait, a Leigh Bowery-esque goth-glamorous cartoon. His face is unreadable, but perhaps that’s just the fault of  the glossy, globular dark glasses and black lipstick replacing all expressive features with three black holes – more like three oil wells, really, because black holes don’t have that particular sheen that reflects only the light, as if we don’t exist. Then he smiles. White teeth and a bright flash as the photo booth takes a snap, a big showy half-snarl that says “welcome to the Scottee show.”

Yet, when he faces us, peeking out from his own particular sort of red curtain with the exact look of mingled dread and hope you’d find on a child looking for his parents on the night of the school play, his mouth trembles. It’s uncertain whether he is about to laugh, cry or vomit. In fact, he sings the jazz standard ‘Cry Me a River’. And wow, does he cry. Black liquid rivers, in fact, as if he really is bleeding or melting, and even in his rich baritone, all the ferocity of the song disintegrates into desperation, his voice has a mournful quality that suggests crying rivers is routine procedure. Still, it’s only showmanship, right? A bit of gorgeous and gory melodrama. When he cries a sort of sobbing jazz scat, we laugh, of course and, like any disgruntled diva, he fires us a furious look, all adolescent affront.

What a sharp and jolting contrast, then, when the song ends and he retreats back into the booth. He pulls off his sunglasses without a touch of theatricality, plucks out the system of tubes from under his shirt, pulling apart that luxuriously lurid image he just gave us. When he tears out the liquid pouch that sourced his tears, he gives a wince of discomfort, a noise of pain – it’s like he’s manhandling his own heart. Perhaps that’s a telling simile, because Scottee or simply Scott as he becomes in this performance, offers us unflinching honesties and, most poignantly, not always with a sense of easy reconciliation with those truths. A naturally absorbing and refreshingly unaffected storyteller, he speaks to the camera (but he likes to check our reactions whenever he says something potentially controversial). He says “bless you” when someone in the audience sneezes. We appreciate, are awed by his candour, so we listen. From white lies to darkest secrets, stories spool out, punctuated by volatile bursts of song and dance.

So how do you rate someone’s heart? How do you put a value judgement on someone’s most exposing truth? Whatever, for me, was missing from the show – a sense of active urgency, I think, of any real demand upon me as a part of this experience – was no doubt something that Scottee and director Chris Goode chose to leave out. That’s the beauty and the difficulty of this show, it knows exactly what it is, what it wants to be, and it seems content with that. Its creators shouldn’t have to apologise for not ‘delivering’ the emotional cataclysm I anticipated, but for me, that what’s makes The Worst of Scottee recommended, but not necessary, viewing. Yes, Scottee takes off his make-up, but something’s still curtailed by the use of the camera. Whilst the final story he tells is an extraordinarily brave, undeniably touching admission, I still can’t quite connect. Even though he has come out to face us in these last moments, it’s almost too late. I must stress, there is no manipulative artifice here, in fact, in its brutal and unrelenting honesty, it is a trial to listen to; I almost wanted to say, “stop, you don’t have tell it, you don’t have to suffer it again for us!” Perhaps that’s the uncomfortable tension in our transaction with him – we end up seeing not the worst of Scottee, but the worst of other people that he has endured. He is a victim, undoubtedly, but we can only witness that trauma, mute and helpless as those who let him down. A show that stuns, yes (do go and see it) but one that doesn’t quite leave a bruise.

The Worst of Scottee is playing at Assembly George Square Box until 24 August. For more information and tickets, please see the Edinburgh Fringe Website.

Devawn Wilkinson

Devawn Wilkinson

Devawn is a London-based writer, performance poet and aspiring theatre-maker. As a reviewer, she has written for A Younger Theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East and Exeunt Magazine.

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