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Tag Archive | "space"

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Review: Moon Project, Ovalhouse Theatre

Posted on 10 November 2013 by Izzie Leach

MOON PROJECT

An ethereal blue light greets you as you walk into the Ovalhouse theatre. In the pool of darkness, a single table and two chairs are illuminated. It’s almost cinematic. The atmosphere is dreamlike and the mood is set. Space. An infinity of discovery and the unknown. Inspired by space travel and radical shifts in perspective, Moon Project is written by Rachel Blackman and produced by the Stillpoint Theatre Company.

Leila (Blackman), an aeronautical engineer, and Shahab (Jules Munns), a film maker, tell the story of themselves and their lives, all centred around the day they meet in a hit-and-run car crash. What strikes you first is the ambience. The unity of the light and the music create an aura of energy. Coupled with the dynamic performances of Blackman and Munns, Moon Project is visually captivating. Second, it’s the characters. Blackman’s performance as Leila is overwhelmingly real. There is a very honest quality to her acting. Much of the same goes for Munns’s performance as Shahab, which is funny and engaging. Together, they create a thoughtful, energetic and enthralling performance.

The way they tell their stories is refreshing, which is probably the third thing you notice. There are presentations, inner-monologues, music sequences and flashbacks. The chronology jumps about as well, which is at times difficult to follow but allows the story to develop so much further, and controls the amount shared with the audiences so that we can think alongside the characters and become much more invested in them and their stories.

Yet throughout it all, the underlying focus on the collision of these two people and the effect this has on their lives is what’s fascinating. Drawing on astronomical influences, the play explores the kind of experiences that have the power to change your perspective, even your life’s direction. The concepts introduced are endlessly thought-provoking, expanding the open mind. Perhaps the most powerful moment of the play is the voiceover from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, which, if nothing else, you should absolutely listen to. (Seriously, this voiceover has more than 5,000,000 hits on YouTube. You will feel overwhelmingly inspired after you hear it. I’m pretty sure the size of your brain will even increase. Are you persuaded yet?)

Moon Project the kind of play that occupies your brain long after you leave the theatre. And if you go, remember to take a notebook and pen. Almost as interesting as the play itself are the conversations you have on the way home.

Moon Project is playing Ovalhouse until 16 November. For more information and tickets, see the Ovalhouse Theatre website. Photo by Geraint Lewis.

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Site-specific or site-responsive? Fourth Monkey’s Project Colony

Posted on 08 April 2013 by Veronica Aloess

IMG_9126Colour

What came first, the story or the site? It’s a question being asked more and more as the world of theatre witnesses an increase in site-specific shows, such as Fourth Monkey’s latest production, Project Colony. Artistic Director of Fourth Monkey Steven Green believes “if it was a fad it would have died out by now. I think when looking at young or new companies, a lot of people can’t afford theatre spaces – can’t hire spaces and spaces are closing – they’re not as accessible as they were. It’s stepping outside the normal confines of traditional theatre.” Co-Director of Project Colony Hamish MacDougall prefers to call this form of theatre, “site-responsive. I think it should be that your site complements your play and vice versa,” and Co-Director James Yeatman agrees: “during the devising process we always knew that we had to make a show that would honour those two things.” Yeatman explains, “in the story, this traveller arrives at a colony which is cut off from anywhere else, so this place completely fits the bills because it’s in the middle of nowhere. We have two very different spaces: this very strange underground space and this big white barn space. The division in the story has to match the division of the space and it’s always been our mission to think about how the space responds to the story. It’s about the old and the new.”

Project Colony is a production devised by Fourth Monkey’s one year company, inspired by Franz Kafka’s novella, In The Penal Colony. Essentially, MacDougall and Yeatman devised “a foundation script, then obviously the original novel was referred to throughout the whole rehearsal process, as the actors improvised and devised around that,” explains Green. “This whole project is mental: we were devising with nearly 60 people. The story has four people in it [which] allowed us to explore more than if we had a cast of four and did a straight adaptation. It’s allowed us to pull apart what Kafka’s trying to say with it,” says MacDougall. “This torture machine is the centre of the island; to the old regime it speaks the truth and creates justice. Every adaptation I’ve seen of it on stage solely focuses on the machine, but not on the island and the two parties which are practically at war.” MacDougall’s consideration of this made Trinity Buoy Wharf seem like the perfect fit for an adaptation of In The Penal Colony, and having visited the site myself I can agree with Green that “it’s almost like you’re on an island. It’s desolate, remote.”

IMG_9548ColourHowever site-specific work “always throws up its own problems,” Yeatman tells me. “The main problem with this space at the moment is the absolute bitter cold.” I would recommend audience members to wrap up warm, because, despite the spectacular view, Fourth Monkey’s space at the Trinity Buoy Wharf is most definitely subject to a vengeful breeze blowing across the Thames. Green also notes that “it’s completely different to them doing something in a studio space. How much can we rely on the audience to behave and not have people wander off into the River Thames? It’s simple things of that nature.”

Besides this, it’s been a challenge for the actors to play such a big part in the creating the show as well as performing it, considering Fourth Monkey Theatre Company first and foremost provides an alternative training to drama school, by learning through performance. Yeatman feels “a real responsibility to these performers in some ways, because they are training and they’ve got to be thrust in front of a paying audience in a way you wouldn’t at drama school. I think it’s a good way to learn that type of thing.” But however terrifying the process has been, MacDougall thinks “it pushes you to the limit in a good way. Devising requires a lot of skills: improvisation, thinking on your feet, thinking about how you take an idea and express that theatrically – this has pushed all their creative buttons. It creates instinctive thoughts and, personally, I think that as an actor that’s your biggest asset. I always say to them, an actor has to bring something with them into the room; there’s no point if you’ve got no instinctive idea.” At the end of the day, Green hopes putting on a performance in this way and on this scale will give these actors “a profound bravery moving forward. Hopefully there’s a lot there that they’ll find useful when they go on to do stuff afterwards.”

IMG_9610ColourAltogether, working in this collaborative manner with a large cast “brings it back to what the company is all about in a way: the ensemble. Which means we can do that in a really honourable, truthful way; ensemble playing just brings the space alive and I think the space should be alive… Because of the practitioners these guys are working with now they’re getting more and more of a physical language as well,” says Green. Green has been able to take a back seat on this project with MacDougall and Yeatman co-directing, and observes “they complement each other in terms of the way the piece moves forward. Watching them together, James is painting the big picture and Hamish is picking out the details.” MacDougall and Yeatman find it harder to identify what they bring as individuals when I ask them the same question: “James and I have been friends for ages; we’ve worked together a few times. We may be very different directors but we have very similar interests at heart. We always met an hour-and-a-half before rehearsals started and had a discussion to work out what one another was doing. There’s more clarity with the cast because of it I think.”

“We were in a position last year where this space became an option for us, and it seemed like this immensely meteoric thing to do,” says Green. Two directors leading a company of 54 actors in training through a three month devising process around a Kafka novella for a site-specific performance? Meteoric sounds about right. “It’s tricky because what we’re going is expanding Kafka’s ideas I suppose, and we don’t want to do it in a dishonourable way,” MacDougall explains the problem of adapting Kafka in this way. Green considers Project Colony to be “an extension of the novel… at the same time, something which is very much their own.” MacDougall pretty much sums up the process for the actors when he says, “I hope they’ll look back on it and think how brilliant it was. We made that.” And equally, Yeatman hopes Project Colony will lead the audience “on a journey somewhere to find a place you might have never been before, and discover a story.”

Project Colony is playing at Trinity Buoy Wharf from 2-27 April. For tickets and more information click here: http://www.fourthmonkey.co.uk/

Whilst dropping in on rehearsals for Project Colony, I also watched them film a Fourth Monkey Harlem Shake. For hilarity, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YherUyzSPYc

Alternatively, the trailer for Project Colony can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PgT5EbPDM4

All photography by Richard Lakos, www.richardlakos.com

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess is an aspiring arts journalist and playwright, who trained at Arts Educational School London and is currently studying towards a BA in English with Creative Writing at Brunel University. She is co-founder of Don't Make Me Angry Productions which is dedicated to original writing and innovative performance.

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Guest blog: finding space to work

Posted on 23 September 2012 by Ellen Carr

Virginia Woolf asserted that to have a room of one’s own was a necessity in order to write; not only a room with a window and four walls, but space to think, imagine and create. As Artistic Director of a theatre company in the very early stages of its creative growth, I am realising how challenging this can be. The search for a space to play, develop and grow seems to play a formative role in the early life of a theatre company. But is this hunt beginning to stunt creative growth?

Trying to find rehearsal space has been a constant problem for Witness Theatre, a worry that we could do without as we attempt to find our own theatrical identity. In rehearsal for The Importance of Being Earnest at Brighton Fringe this year, I was lucky enough to be given some free rehearsal space by the organisation Somewhereto_. Set up as part of the cultural Olympiad to help young people find space to do the things they love, the lifespan of this organisation is limited, but it’s an inspirational model.  Despite being a basic, ugly, council-owned building that always smelt strangely of yeast, the space we were gifted was lovely. It was a glimpse into an ideal world, a brick-walled warren of space where we could clear the floors and cover the walls with research and development material. This was invaluable for a theatre company that works as we do, allowing ideas to bounce around before being pinned down. But the financial ramifications of excessive use of space are huge, and finding somewhere to play isn’t easy.

Theatre companies and individual theatre makers need a home, but only those with proven experience and expertise seem to be able to find them. Most of us have a place we call home, but combining living space and work space can be difficult. If you’ve ever tried to rehearse in someone’s house you’ll know it normally ends disastrously and if you work freelance you’ll know how maddening it can be spending all day chasing an idea around four walls and a sofa. But for the financially struggling, what (other than choosing a more lucrative career path) are the other options?

One way young theatre makers can find space is in a digital capacity – BAC’s new digital scratch programme, for example. The value of digital space is huge, but its availability doesn’t importance of physical space and real people. Currently it seems having such space is a measure of success, afforded only to very large companies or those dubbed as emerging new talent. This is fair enough, credit and rewards for hard work where they’re due. But, similar to Lyn Gardner’s recent argument in the The Guardian for more grassroots funding, I’d argue for more offers of space at a grassroots level. Unlike funding, there is a lot of space out there not being used – what we need are the people taking a leap of faith and letting young companies make the most of it. I know it’s idealistic to ask for all this space to be given for free, but as a member of a young company who have benefited from this, I know how vital it is.

Recently there’s been a rise in shared office space being provided, either for free or very low rates, for those working in a creative capacity. A similar scheme with larger workshop/rehearsal space is certainly something to consider. Understandably, this is more challenging – as space increases, so do overheads. But there must be other companies feeling the same; if so,  maybe we should try doing something about it. Peter Brook said all it takes is an actor and an empty space for theatre to exist. There are certainly enough empty spaces in this country, maybe it’s time we started claiming them as our own. A co-operative of young theatre makers running a shared play space might seem like another idealistic notion, but it may be worth a try.

Find out more about Witness Theatre at www.witness-theatre.co.uk or follow them at @witnesstheatre.

Image of Lothian Road, Edinburgh by Lee Kindness.

Ellen Carr

Ellen Carr

Ellen is Artistic Director of Witness Theatre, a company she established after graduating from the University of Sussex in 2011. Ellen writes, directs and produces for Witness Theatre and spends the rest of her time doing more writing. She is currently writing her own blog witnesstoexperience daily, contributes regular features to One Stop Arts and can also be found writing the occasional screenplay.

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Spotlight On: Forced Entertainment

Posted on 15 June 2012 by Douglas Williams

Forced Entertainment’s new show, The Coming Storm, kicked off a couple of weeks ago in Essen and, for founding member Cathy Naden, things have gone well despite a rocky start. “We sort of began in one place, couldn’t really get it to work and then had to restart somewhere else so that last four to six weeks have been very intensive. We were working pretty much up until the performance opened.”

The company are well known for their provocative, anarchic style. It’s interesting to wonder just how much the company set out to push buttons when thinking about its audience. “I don’t think we start out to make something difficult or challenging but we are naturally drawn to the feeling where you think you know what you’re watching and then it changes and you’re watching something else. That’s quite a destabilising experience. One minute it can be quite good fun and you’re laughing along but the next minute something quite hard happens so you lurch from one way of watching to another.”

So have audiences changed at all in the last three decades that Forced Entertainment has been performing? Naden doesn’t feel they have hugely but it’s noticeable that modern audiences are far more familiar with narrative fragments. Fifteen years ago, the idea of deconstructed narrative was still somewhat radical and the company were frequently asked, “Is this really theatre?” Today’s audiences, especially youthful ones, are “more familiar with presences on stage as opposed to characters”. Despite audiences being accepting of experimental performance, Forced Entertainment doesn’t have a fixed idea of what it wants each audience member to take away from The Coming Storm. “I think we want them to be really entertained, but also to not be able to sum up in a sentence what they think the show is. We’ve never really liked that idea. Because we never start work from a single idea or issue, like ‘Let’s make a piece about gender politics’.”

Instead, the company make material through a devising process. They start from nothing and material slowly grows and the audience experience the ideas much in the same way. “It’s quite hard to reduce down to a single meaning. It leaves them with something to think about. Maybe it has a lasting effect on them and things come back and there’s work to be done afterwards.” That approach can work in quite a poetic way and the company hope that The Coming Storm has a “poetic, musical, textural” feel to it, whereby “you switch off your head and just go with the experience”.

The show has had a great response from audiences so far. Audiences have been commenting on its differences to previous shows, not least the inclusion of live music, which is unusual for the company. Naden tells us more:“We have an old upright piano, which we got into the rehearsal room and then we’ve been gradually adding a sort of band to that, including a guitar, drums and a bass. We’ve had to find a way of making music feel like part of the performance rather than a simple accompaniment.” None of the company are taught musicians, so the music has been a whole new element for each of them to play with. Naden and co had to learn to play instruments from scratch. There are six performers in total – the usual five players plus Phil Hayes who collaborated with Forced Entertainment on their last anarchic production, The Thrill Of It All. “One of the reasons we wanted to work with Phil again is that as well as a performer he’s a musician so he can play drums and is teaching us how to play, so we’ve learnt basic drum rhythms and a few chords on piano and on the bass. There are certain moments where all the instruments come together but it builds very slowly.”

The show itself is a collection of fragments. Sometimes it’s performers telling stories but often it’s interrupted by loud drums or performers dancing across the stage: “there’s a sort of mismatch between the story and the action, a sort of crazy burlesque dance, an exaggerated personal story.” The starting point was a desire to combine elements from two previous Forced Entertainment shows. The company made a show called Void Story, which was, uncharacteristically for the company,  very interested in narrative. According to Naden, it was the first time they had really gone on stage to tell a story, as deconstructed as that story was. The company are revisiting narrative with the new production but this time the stories are multiple. As well as that, the company felt there was more to be explored in the dance element that was key to last year’s The Thrill Of It All, in which the company pranced around stage in matching costumes in a mad, presentational style.

“We wanted to make the dancing a bit more anarchic, a bit more private and perhaps a bit more inexplicable,” says Naden. “That was the starting point. The show we’ve made is more down the chaotic end of the spectrum and I think the way it works is more like a composition. The way the music works is by playing off different textures and energies and it has a sort of lurching, unstable, improvised, made up feel.” The audience might find themselves watching one character telling a story - a boring, personal anecdote – whilst a stage is constructed around them with plenty of noise and dancing. You might think you’re watching a story but find that you’re merely watching something being set up for a following sequence. The show bounces very quickly between settings and characters. The company use one microphone between them so there’s a sense of interruption that underpins the spoken element of The Coming Storm. “You never get the mic for very long before someone takes it from you. It feels very democratic between the performers on stage. It’s hard to work out what’s going on but in a really satisfying way because you get to see scenes unfolding in front of you and things beginning to make a sort of sense but then dissolve and disappear into something else, and we like that energy very much.”

So things complete and then disappear. One audience member in Essen commented that the piece had an “unsettling” quality that made it “like watching Forced Entertainment in 3D” because of the way that objects were used in space. Would Naden agree? “I think the music has that quality because it’s high energy with the drums and it builds quite slowly and it’s almost like a number or a melody and then it breaks up and falls away and something else takes its place. It’s quite experiential.” In that case, it must be time to experience Forced Entertainment.

The Coming Storm receives its UK premiere as part of the London International Festival of Theatre, showing at Battersea Arts Centre from 19 to 23 June at 7.30pm. For more information and to book tickets, visit BAC’s website.

For more information about Forced Entertainment’s work, visit its website.

Image credit: Hugo Glendinning

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