Blah Blah Blah, Blah Blah Blah, Blah Blah Blah, or Much Ado About Nothing

The Arden School of Theatre

In collaboration with Figs in Wigs

The Waterside Theatre

It is always interesting to see what comes out of collaborations between innovative companies and theatre schools. This new piece of work created with Figs and Wigs has all their trademark elements of theatre, dance and comedy blended with silly puns and pop culture references all linked by a rich vein of absurdist humour and bonkers surrealism.

This performance is full of energy and tongue in cheek humour. Nine young performers in neon wigs and boiler suits like oompa loompas with maintenance loans. Popular culture references pop up in anarchic games of Countdown which have no winners or losers as they descend into perky dance routines and evolve toward Pointless. The consonants and vowels on display continuously shifting into yet another meansingles phrase. What could be text introducing Shakespeare is instead graphic design dummy text interspersed with the true text of the evening this is a show about nothing don’t search for meaning because there is none life is a circle it doesn’t have a point.

Shots from the Kenneth Branagh movie Much Ado About Nothing sit alongside parody film made by the performers with fake horses. Everywhere is subversion as a pantomime horse descends the stairs through the audience toward twerking horses clad in ruffled satin shirts. Later Hero the bride glides down the same stairs clad in boiler suit and satin wedding dress towards an church full of vivid vignettes of characters brightly drawn and brought to life by the cast.

Black clad mourners carry tiny butterfly coffins as they gather now for a eulogy rather than a wedding. The absurdist poignancy is playfully ruptured as this occasion morphs into a bad poetry slam. Musical interludes see various instruments employed in random ways punctuated by bad puns and finally a discussion as to how the ending should be framed… but this is Figs in Wigs and a bunch of next generation innovators so blah blah blah blah blah…

Waterside Theatre 10th/11th October 2019

Arden School of Theatre

Figs and Wigs

It’s True, It’s True, It’s True

Image by Richard Davenport, The Other Richard

Written and devised using verbatim material by Ellice Stevens and Billy Barrett

Directed by Billy Barrett

HOME

It’s True, It’s True, It’s True uses verbatim theatre to launch a blistering assault on the legal system’s attitude to women in rape and sexual assault cases, and how patriarchal perspectives inform how our truth is perceived. Ripping through the centuries comes the voice of Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi from the surviving pages of a 400 year old rape case in Rome. A seven month long court case in 1612 that pitched this remarkable 17 year old against Agostino Tassi, an older, established artist who had given her painting lessons and viciously raped her.

Using verbatim text is something Breach have honed as a theatrical tool throughout all five of their productions. They have a sensitivity to the material and a wonderfully creative and playful way of transposing it unto the stage in a way that works visually. Using clever design from Luke W Robson with lighting by Lucy Adams they create a rich Baroque environment that summons up painting studios but with a sinister hint of courtroom/prison torture chamber.

The pace is excellent here, this may be 400 year old court documents but Billy Barrett ensures they feel fresh, vivid and shockingly relevant to today. When the courtroom drama cuts to descriptions of Artemisia’s paintings of classical historical images, the energy shifts again. What ensues is cheeky and merciless as Ellice Stevens, Sophie Steer and Kathryn Bond do a glorious take on a Benny Hill style sketch and slice through traditional male stereotypical assumptions about female desire.

All three female performers take on the central roles and those of additional characters with great skill, integrity and energy. These are not easy roles to perform as they are embedded in the truth of real words spoken by a wounded young woman astounded by what the courts require of her to accept her truth. Ellice Stevens gives a brilliant performance as Artemisia allowing her a vulnerability that is laced with indignation, innate self confidence and an insistence that her voice be heard. She brings joy and power to this harrowing story of a young woman who emerges as a success and not as a victim.

Kathryn Bond has the tricky role of Tuzia who fails to protect or support her young charge yet is also the victim of bullying by the wily Tassi. She does a great job of evoking a gossipy, foolish woman who is easily swayed but not heartless either.

Sophie Steer takes on the most difficult role as the vicious rapist whose scheming ways and previous history of assaults are clearly documented in the court papers. She is mesmerising as she exudes a sense of Tassi’s narcissistic selfishness and brutal intent to trample on anyone in his path. As a actress she has an uncanny and brilliant capacity to step into a character’s skin like a chameleon. The shift from scheming rapist Tassi to avenging angel Judith is wonderful to observe as she literally sheds his skin and sex and reinvents herself as another character.

What we see on stage is outrageous, ghastly and painful but ultimately triumphant as Artemisia summons her heroine Judith to behead her offender Holofernes. Breach evoke a #MeToo through the ages as Patti Smith’s defiant anthem Gloria ricochets through the theatre and hopefully beyond. A celebration of Artemisia, her later achievements as an artist, and her words, ” as long as I live I will have control over my being…I’ll show you what a woman can do”.

HOME 8th Oct – 12th Oct 2019

Breach

Baby Fever

STUN Studio, Z Arts

CONTACT YOUNG COMPANY/DEGASTEN

Co-presented and commissioned with Contact

This new work commissioned for SICK! Festival 2019 sees Contact Young Company (CYC) working with Amsterdam based Theater Degasten whose work is also focused on developing the creativity of people from all backgrounds. Exploring the commodification of happiness, a group of young artists provide a searing and provocative insight into their lives. Baby Fever is a lot less about how young people feel about creating the next generation and instead explores what value they put on life currently. This is an intriguing and sometimes uncomfortable look at who they are as a generation and how they feel about existing in this community, this society and this world.

Divided into three very different segments Baby Fever starts with the audience surrounded by a series of spoken word pieces that come at you from different angles about very varied topics. To one side there is a provocative take on your beloved NHS while another voice behind discusses the politics around our water or yet another gives their personal take on mental health attitudes. Standing above the audience on benches this feels like a twist on Speaker’s Corner. In the middle section eyes closed throughout and moving carefully and respectfully around each other, every tiny gesture feels magnified and mesmerising. The final section has performers individually inviting audience members to engage with them one to one. The space takes on the clamour of daily life hustle bustle as the action unfolds yet poignantly each experience is unique and cannot be replicated again.

What is especially striking about this piece of theatre is the sense of buttons being pushed, boundaries being challenged and risks being taken…yet all this is occurring in what feels like a very safe space. Even the staging feels framed by the boundaries of benches and flooring is protected by plastic covering which is later ever so carefully removed and packed up. This space is hot and uncomfortable with blinding lighting yet it is clear this is as intentional as every searing statement in the spoken word section. The staging might be unconventional as audience and performers merge in the centre of the space, yet throughout the piece, there is information being given to ground everyone and clarify what is happening. We are told there are three sections to the piece and their running times. We are informed what our level of participation is and where to sit or stand, all this ensures that safe guarding the young performers and their audience is paramount. Speaking to CYC producer Keisha Thompson during the show, it was clear just how seriously this work is valued and nurtured. Perhaps what I took away from Baby Fever was the need we all have right now for clarity, creative thinking and the means to form our own personal boundaries and respect those of everyone around us.

SICK! FESTIVAL 1st- 3rd October 2019

SICK! FESTIVAL 2019

CONTACT

Theater DEGASTEN

Tinned Up

Written by Chris Hoyle

Directed by Simon Naylor

Oldham Coliseum

As a writer Chris Hoyle consistently delivers sparkling dialogue that has a rich northern tone, a big heart and a genuine social conscience. Tinned Up may have been written ten years ago, but its relevance today has the same power to arrest and perturb. Staged in Oldham where community spirit remains vibrant, this new version is directed by Simon Naylor of 53Two – a much respected local theatre who are currently between homes due to the surge in inner city re-development. Casting is firmly Northern too and is headed up by the wonderful Karen Henthorn who like Naylor was part of the team involved in Chris Hoyle’s highly successful The Newspaper Boy.

The staging by designer David Howell creates an utterly believable cosy home that Shirley has spent 34 years living in. The outside world might be tinned up but inside these four walls is someone’s home where they have lived their life and built forged their memories. This home houses an indomitable spirit that has spent 7 years refusing to give in to the local council and the private developers. Karen Henthorn is fabulous as the gutsy Shirley whose warmth and stubborn resolve ensures that even those who have left Langworthy are pulled back to their old community to support her. Her performance coupled with the wonderful dialogue Hoyle gives his central character can easily stand confidently alongside the best kitchen sink dramas.

There are some great performances playing off the lead with an especially lovely relationship between Shirley and her young neighbour Daz. Keaton Lansley has real chemistry as Daz and balances humour with real emotional depth as a young man nurtured and encouraged by Shirley to strive for better things in his life. The living room scene with Lynn Roden as Beryl where the two middle aged women reminsce as they get pissed on ouzo is rich with bawdy humour and the poignancy of intertwined memories.

There are some wonderful moments in this production and hopefully opening night will have ironed out some timing issues and fluffed lines. The direction also lacks some of the tightness and lightness of touch that Simon Naylor displayed in The Newspaper Boy. There are several points in the first act and most notably in the final scene where the pacing slows down or appears a little unfocused.

The stomach wrenching moment in this piece is when a muddled Shirley runs out unto her street to share news with her neighbours only to be gently caught by Daz. That street and community has long gone and she is alone…They’re all tinned up, every last one of them. The final street party and the inevitable ending reflect the ebb and flow of progress. The mundane flushing of a toilet as a life ends, making way for wet rooms, upside down houses and another generation of communities… for better or worse remains to be seen.

Main House Takeover Oldham Coliseum 24th-26th Sept 2019

Images by Shay Rowan

MACBETH

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Christopher Haydon

Royal Exchange Theatre

Director Christopher Haydon delivers a production of Macbeth that is packed full of ideas and creativity. There is a veritable smorgasbord on display that is as colourful and attention grabbing as the infamous banquet where bloody heads compete for space with luridly iced party cakes and doughnuts. Unfortunately although iced delights can tempt us to a quick sugar fix this is a drawn out affair which fails to deliver in a more ultimately satisfying manner.

Lucy Ellinson is a mercurial leader who is believable as a toughened soldier and a popular leader. Sinewy and earthy she appears one of the lads, however as the prophecies of the three weird sisters start to tighten their grip, she becomes increasingly paranoid and driven by bloody ambition. Ellinson soon morphs into a power crazed maniac complete with sunken eyes and bone bleached skull. The performance itself is strong and gripping, however it somehow fails to provide a truly satisfying Macbeth. The physical fragility of a woman who increasingly resembles a crack addict searching for her next fix simply cannot deliver a plausible final battle scene with Macduff. Ultimately there is too much petulance and vulnerability here that could work with Hamlet but not as successfully here with Macbeth.

This is only part of the frustration with this Macbeth which had the opportunity to really shine a light on relationships for ambitious women in power. This lesbian couple seem emotionally ill matched and implausible as this war hardened hero seems incapable of questioning or even noticing Lady Macbeth’s scheming greed and machinations. There is no exploration of their lack of heirs as a gay couple which could have been a really interesting angle to explore in their quest for the crown. The ambitious Lady Macbeth would have surely contemplated a modern ruthless attempt at altering their fate – perhaps spurgling the sperm of Macduff or Banquo?? There is no tenderness between them or any real sharing of the damage their actions cause them personally.

Motorway murder scenes, torrential storms, helicopters, red balloons and chatty interactions with the audience members pepper this production. Designer Oli Townsend has a stark but beautiful heptagram on the stage with a steaming cauldron at its heart. All is as minimalist as a soldier’s rations until the Mad Hatters tea pparty that is the lurid banquet complete with fancy dress and part games. Looking like something from a Ken Russell movie this is OTT in the best way. Dreamlike and drug fueled the game of musical chairs drily reflects our current political situation.

Lucy Ellinson as Macbeth Image- Johann Persson

The ever present weird Sisters as drug addled party girls supplementing their incomes as sinister, sulky waitresses at the castle is an entertaining aspect to this Macbeth. They bring both light and dark elements to the production. For such a female heavy cast it is troubling that the real heart of this Macbeth ultimately seems to belong to the men. Banquo and Macduff balance career and family with grace and honour. Actors Theo Ogundipe and Paul Hickey give performances that resonate and truly highlight the tragedy of this piece.

Royal Exchange Theatre 13 Sept – 19 Oct 2019

Images by Johann Persson

The Jumper Factory

HOME

By Luke Barnes

Conceived by Young Vic Taking Part and Justin Audibert

Directed by Josh Parr

This smart, astute piece of theatre was developed with the Young Vic and inmates from Wandsworth Prison in May 2018. Originally performed in the prison using actors cast from young men whose lives have been impacted by the criminal justice system, The Jumper Factory has subsequently toured successfully and is currently on lockdown at HOME.

This piece is beautifully directed by Josh Parr giving all six young men on stage to shine as they converse together or step forward individually to take the spotlight. The blend of jarring soundscape and lighting blocks by Jess Glaisher that evoke prison cells interspersed with movement sequences works really effectively.

This work using verbatim story telling gives a fresh perspective on passing the time of day as we see how structure or lack of it can make or break an inmate. The boredom and the waiting between prison visits coupled with the anxiety of life and loved ones carrying on without them or with someone new is vividly evoked. The random nature of who you share a cell with and the consequences good or bad for an individual is sharply observed. Regardless of the crime whether theft, GBH or chasing a fox, prison will change you and not always for the better despite its intended reform approach.

The six performers on stage do a great job of bringing the varying experiences of inmates at HMP Wandsworth to life. Shame, embarrassment, fear, boredom, anticipation, hope and despair runs through this work. The Jumper Factory is a potent reminder of the importance and the impact of time misspent, or valued and well spent regardless of where we are.

HOME 10TH- 14TH SEP 2019

HIVE CITY LEGACY

Photo Helen Murray

HOME

Written and developed by Busty Beatz, Lisa Fa’alafi and Yami Löfvenberg and A League of Extraordinary Femmes

Directed by Lisa Fa’alafi

There is a new hive in Manchester this week and it’s not the one on the roof of HOME. Anyone who witnessed the anarchic and joyous cabaret spectacle that was HOT BROWN HONEY when their hive landed at HOME in December 2017 will have some idea of what to expect from Hive City Legacy. This show is a collaborative project between the Australian company, their producers Quiet Riot and Roundhouse. A call out in 2018 for young British Femmes of Colour to expand the hive led to the creation of this new show. Heavily influenced by the original cabaret blend of beat box, body popping, aerial work, spoken word and burlesque, this new production zeroes in on London. Stories of matriarchy, mental health, marginalisation and harnessing the power of the Hive to once again ACTIVATE POLLINATE LIBERATE.

The staging is simple but effective creating a honeycomb effect with lighting that allows for creating office parties and commuter trains while also giving a sense of magical wonder as boxes open Pandora like to reveal snaking flags and oversized combs and tape measures. In the midst of all this is a wide eyed ingénue (Farrel Cox), drinking in the truths both joyful and distressing of being a young femme of colour in a still marginalised country.

The performances by all eight femmes are full of savvy confidence, boisterous energy, anger and poignant sadness. These femmes are in your face enraged and disturbed by a world where their history is being swallowed by your history and oceans are swallowed by puddles. There is a definite sting in the words and actions of these femmes in this hive and they are definitely all queen bees in their own right.

The segments are varied in pace and style. Ropework beautifully showcases trust and faith in each other when you quite literally put your faith on the line. Office parties teeter into violent discomfort as voices assault our senses and sensibilities with racist taunts and stereotypical assumptions. The national anthem plays alongside the snaking endless swirl of the English flag while spoken word pieces are unfueled from the mouths of these femmes.

Hive City Legacy has many of the trademark magic touches of the Mother Hive and is lovingly directed by one of its founders Lisa Fa’alafi. The joyous finale has everyone on their feet dancing with the femmes. Enough of us taking to the stage and we might just outgrow the Hive and start to truly ACTIVATE POLLINATE LIBERATE!!

At HOME 3rd – 7th Sept 2019