Tag Archive | "soundscape"

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Gecko: the decaying soul and a swift punch in the stomach

Posted on 23 March 2012 by Sophie Shorland

I’m ushered through the breeze-block warren of tunnels under Warwick Arts Centre to emerge, eyes unadjusted, onto a darkened stage filled with two separate worlds. One is the home of Lily, a woman whose soul is decaying, the other is a doctor-cum-scientist’s realm that looks like a lair for a twenty-first century Dr Faustus, complete with eerie flashing lights and a giant X-ray machine. A man is wandering around above my head brandishing some puppets. Forget the performance, the tech rehearsal is already challenging my sense of place and time.

This is Missing, a play devised and performed by physical theatre company Gecko, which uses dance, puppetry and theatre in a stimulating combination, and which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. Originating from a lecture seen in the US by Missing’s Director (and Co-Founder of Gecko) Amit Lahav on the science of the soul, Missing is sure to delve into the more problematic aspects of what it is to be human.

Belief in a soul is one of the few shared beliefs spanning all human cultures. To play around with this idea onstage and presumably question our inability to see what’s ‘missing’ in our lives can only set off some profound questions. It’s no wonder Ellie Hartwell, General Manager of Gecko, describes Missing as “probably our most ambitious show”.

Physical theatre is a good choice of medium for putting across such ambitious ideas; Hartwell believes that it “allows you to be slightly more abstract,” adding more layers of meaning and nuance than is possible with traditional spoken word theatre. For concepts like a decaying soul, getting a bodily reaction from the audience is perhaps more important than getting an intellectual one. Hartwell compares Gecko’s brand of theatre to dance; there is a “guttural reaction to it” and it’s perhaps this visceral way of performing that allows Gecko to reimagine beliefs and get us to experience them in a new way.

“A physical reaction rather than a clear understanding” is the heart of Gecko’s ethos. Being more instinctual, according to Hartwell, is the best thing about physical theatre: “It’s so dynamic, it allows the audience to interpret in their own way. You don’t ascribe an idea to someone, you allow them to react to it quite instinctively.” Gecko is aiming right at your gut, for a primal reaction, and when you think about it there are few concepts more primal and instinctual than the idea of a soul.

According to Lahav, all of his plays are “driven by powerful music” and Missing is definitely no exception. Music is by Dave Price who has composed for Regina Spektor and Aqualung, and has also recently been nominated for an Off West End Award for his work. His frequently eerie soundscapes are a necessity for that primal punch. Even director Lahav doesn’t know exactly what his work is until an audience sees it, describing the play as a “leap of the imagination,” qualified only by an audience. Hartwell agrees: “That’s one of the things Gecko does; it allows people to go on their own journey.” According to Hartwell, you could go and see Missing at the first tour stop in Newcastle, and the show would be a different beast entirely to what is performed on its last stop in Plymouth. Its last show, The Overcoat (based on the short story of the same name by Gogol), which has been touring non-stop for two years, is, incredibly, still changing.

Gecko’s work, then, is always a kind of evolution. Beginning two years ago in a science lecture, the devised work has involved periods of research, a very lengthy thought process (including about a year to “sit and bubble” in Amit’s head) and intense rehearsals. After these epic two years it’s still evolving, growing with its actors, directors and dancers. Just on the brink of their first performance, Hartwell describes this phase of development as “the most exciting moment. We’re bringing together all those elements that we’ve been working on for two years and they’re now finally in the same room.” This play is still being created, and even though as we talk it’s only six days until the first performance, Hartwell is right: anything seems to be possible for Missing.

The fact that it’s still changing is shown by Lahav, who, while I’m in the theatre, has been onstage for over ten minutes deciding on the exact positioning of a light. He’s not done by the time I leave. This play, clearly, is a labour of love, and each component part is tweaked and tested to give the audience that punch in the gut angled just right to make them sit up and think about what they’re seeing.

Missing opens at Northern Stage, Newcastle, on 8 March and tours the UK until May. For dates, visit

Image credit: Robert Golden

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Review: Thirsty

Posted on 19 March 2012 by Laura Turner

Girls tasting their first illicit sip of vodka in the backroom of a smoky club or house party; young women getting tipsy with their friends, celebrating birthdays, hen nights, anniversaries; mothers nursing a glass of wine after a stressful day; couples sharing a bottle to relax and reconnect after a busy week; grandmas sipping a glass of sherry before Sunday lunch: these arethe stories The Paper Birds wanted to tell in its immersive verbatim theatre show, Thirsty. These are the real stories of how the women I know drink, socialise and have fun. But for all its intentions, these were not the stories The Paper Birds told.

This two-women show blurs the boundaries between fiction and reality through the rapport of performers Jemma McDonnell and Kyle Walsh, who draw the audience in by adopting the personas of Juicy Jemma and Kinky Kylie celebrating a hen night. Their continual references to their “real life” friendship grow a little waring but do provide a suitable framework to the verbatim nature of the production, based on material drawn from a blog, questionnaire and phoneline set up by The Paper Birds to invite women (and men) to share their tales of why women drink.

Trying to go beyond the statistics surrounding such a hot media topic was always going to be difficult, but Thirsty begins with an intriguingly fresh and honest look at the types of women who drink, and how drinking changes as the generations pass. However, the setting in the cubicles of the ladies’ toilets evokes a certain type of drinking culture, and it isn’t long before we’re watching the familiar story of a young fresher at university out partying to avoid the loneliness and confusion of her new life away from home. She is not the “ladette” of the tabloids, but there is still something distinctly stereotypical about her, making us question whether those stereotypes are in fact more true to life than we would like to think. Bound by the constraints of verbatim theatre, this story best reflected the majority of binge drinking experiences The Paper Birds recorded. Nonetheless, the constant refrain of “This isn’t the story we wanted to tell” made it difficult to engage with this girl, and her story was subsequently surrounded with an atmosphere of reluctance.

There are some clever conceits in the storytelling, with McDonnell and Walsh drinking (and later dousing themselves with) the contents of countless glasses of “alcohol” lined up around the front of the stage, and taking photos of the audience and their on-stage exploits to recreate the “girls’ night out” vibe. McDonnell and Walsh throw themselves energetically around the stage to the faultlessly frenetic, mellow and moving soundscape provided by Shane Durrant, but their reliance on these two effects eventually distracted from the heroine’s descent into vulnerability and desperation as dresses became drenched and make up smeared.

An admirable and unfailingly enthusiastic effort to challange our perceptions of women who drink, Thirsty feels constrained by the real life material that inspired it as The Paper Birds respect the source material. It succeeded, however, in offering a conflicting and confusing message of both glamorising and problematising female drinking culture. An accurate portrayal of a familiar Friday night scene in any university city perhaps, I couldn’t help but wonder about all those other women who were so tantalisingly mentioned at the start. What was their story? Why do they drink? Do we judge them in the same way? With too many questions unanswered, it was a rather troubling and one-dimensional take on the vast array of female experiences of drinking.

Thirsty was at the Lincoln Drill Hall and continues its tour of the UK until 2nd April. For all tour dates and information, visit The Paper Birds’ website.

Image credit: Paper Birds

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura trained as a writer with Hull Truck Theatre, BBC New Talent and the Royal Court Theatre. She has worked extensively with touring theatre company Chapterhouse, where she is currently Writer in Residence. Laura has previously written for BBC EastEnders: E20 and her adaptation of Jane Eyre toured theatres with Hull Truck Theatre Company at the start of 2013. She is now working on an original play for the theatre, as well as projects with Bolton Octagon, Middle Child Theatre and The Ashton Group, Cumbria. She has been long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting and the Adrienne Benham Award.

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