A CLOCKWORK ORANGE : A play with music

EVERYMAN

Written by Anthony Burgess

Directed by Nick Bagnall

A few weeks ago I got the opportunity to watch a rehearsal of A Clockwork Orange taking place in The International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester. It was quite fascinating to watch this young repertory company test out ideas and work on songs and choreography with director Nick Bagnall and choreographer Etta Murfitt. It was abundantly clear that this was a project spilling over with fresh juice and with no sign of any element being coldly mechanized. Thankfully this production has reached perfect fruition with its wonderfully, pithy songs and dialogue from Burgess, and excellent full bodied performances from the cast.

The staging looks startlingly simple with its neon lighting and milk white cube structure. Some of the cast are already on stage all clad in white. It is sleek, clean and pure in its sterility. As the music floods in and Alex starts to conduct there is so much beauty on stage it scarcely matters that he is conducting with a flick-knife rather than a baton. In the blink of an eye the floor can open up with options for grand entrances and dramatic or comic exits. Molly Lacey Davies and Jocelyn Meall have designed a set that is deceptively simple but is a treasure trove creating a myriad of moods and settings. The aversion therapy scenes are visually quite stunning. They are visceral and shocking and evoke something akin to Christ on the cross with Alex wearing the dystopian equivalent of a crown of thors as he looks down on the horrors mankind is capable off.

The Everyman Company take on a multitude of characters and breathe life and authenticity into them. There is a bloodied rape victim tied with vivid blue clothesline cord, Deltoid evoking a saturnine Alastair Sims, the writer F.Alexander is bludgeoned and his beloved wife is viciously assaulted. Amongst the brutality there are also moments of vaudevillian humour with little gems of Elvis type lookalikes, puppet wielding government ministers, and allusions to Jimmy Saville wearing a I’m a Pedo medallion and clutching a fat cigar. Alex and his Droogs are relentless in their thirst for life and all of its juice. Nothing in life, bar the music of Beethoven appears to be sacred.

Burgess created an intriguing and provocative hero who is thuggish yet also cultured and intelligent. George Caple brings a freshness and energy to Alex making his character always likable regardless of his monstrous crimes. The scenes during his treatment with the Ludovico Technique are deeply moving and hard to watch. Watching him in those scenes was chilling and reminded me of speaking to prisoners from Park Lane Hospital who went through similar classical conditioning procedures and covert sensitisation for crimes of sexual violence in the 1980s.

Richard Bremmer is always charismatic on stage whether he is threatening as Deltoid, delivering a wonderful ruddy, drunken priest or strolling across stage in a tiny satin robe with a curly pigs tail. Liam Tobin embodies the earnest writer F Alexander, and sings beautifully as he poignantly mourns his wife. Zelina Rebeiro is always engaging and especially so as she transforms into a sulty temptress to haunt a traumatized Alex. Phil Rayner from Young Everyman Playhouse(YEP) has really grown in confidence and created some great comic moments.

Nick Bagnall has honoured this play with music ensuring that the vision Burgess had in 1986 is finally realised on stage. The songs are a gleeful celebration of music hall tradition. The musicality of the lyrics make the Russian/Cockney slang of the Nadsat seem instantly more accessible and reminiscent of the joy of James Joyce’s Ulysses. The use of musician and percussionist Peter Mitchell is inspired and really adds to the look of the piece as well as the sound, in that he evokes all the youth and energy of another Droog.

A Clockwork Orange asks us to look at the power of choice. Is it better be bad of one’s own free will than be good through scientific brainwashing? In a world where we are all at risk of brainwashing through the daily assault of the internet it is vital to be challenged and reminded of how we exercise our own free will. This piece is brutally violent and yet also angelic at times. The cast move around the audience as they come and go, and address us directly at times, even inviting us to applaud the outcome of Alex’s aversion treatment. As we applaud we are of course colluding with the destruction of choice; it is a relief when Alex finally reverts to his old ways and finds his own way to redemption.

Burgess said “I do not like this book as much as others I have written. I have kept it, till recently, in an unopened jar- marmalade, a preserve on a shelf, rather than an orange on a dish.” I hope that he would approve of the vibrant juicy nature of this production.

At Everyman 14 April to 12 July

The International Anthony Burgess Foundation

MINEFIELD

HOME

Written and Directed by Lola Arias

A LIFT production

A leading voice in Argentinean theatre Lola Arias has created something quite extraordinary with Minefield. Bringing together on a stage, six veterans of The Falklands War who do not speak each other’s language and who were facing each other on the battlefield in 1982. This theatrical venture is itself a potential minefield as it is a piece of lived history representing their individual, unique experiences of the war. This is not theatre retelling the history of either a war, a country, or of particular regiments in specific battles but it is a deeply personal sharing of what it is like to live through a war and forever carry the emotional consequences like a permanent kit bag.

The six men are all now veterans in their fifties. David Jackson spent the war listening and transcribing codes while sometimes keeping one ear tuned to Tony Hancock on BBC World Service. He is now a psychologist counselling veterans having himself suffered PSTD (Post traumatic stress disorder). Lou Armour was front page news in both countries when taken prisoner in The Falklands at the outbreak of the war on 2nd April 1982 . Now he teaches children with learning difficulties and may have caught the acting bug. Sukrim Rai was one of the reknown Gurkhas who now works as a security guard and can finally live in the U.K.

The Argentinians are Ruben Otero who survived 41 freezing hours in a lifeboat after the ARA General Belgrano was sunk. He wears a t shirt stating the Malvinas belong to Argentina and plays in a successful Beatles tribute band. Gabriel Sagastume was a reluctant soldier who is now a criminal lawyer and is absorbed by details of the war. Marcelo Vallejo was a mortar direction controller, who struggled with PTSD and depression. He survived addiction and a suicide attempt by drowning. After support and treatment he learned to swim and is now a successful triathlon champion.

The reality is they are neither heroes or monsters but just a group of guys sent to do a job. The major difference between them is language and the overhead subtitles are a constant reminder of how differences can be overcome.

The men’s stories are told in chapters using a range of techniques. The use of rubber masks effectively put Margaret Thatcher and General Galtieri on stage. Screen projections show the exquisite minutiae of love letters to Gabriel’s wife or tiny airfix soldiers on a map retelling a story of hungry men pinching food from a farm and being blown up by a land mine. A tiny plastic leg in a stripe sock evokes the remains of a lost friend and comrade. Front page images from GENTE in Argentina show Lou after his capture. Powerful usage of sound includes the sound recording of the actual jet fighters that nearly killed David and his comrades. At other times the men become a group singing and playing guitar and drums together. There is the light relief of a squaddie’s disco or the thundering drum solo of Ruben whose shouts for help went unheeded for 41 hours. An Argentinian wallet gratefully given to a fearsome Gurkha who felt it was better to capture than kill. The poignancy of Marcelo donning the battered cape he retrieved from the Malvinas 27 years later. A close up of Lou as he remembers the death of a young soldier who in speaking English as his dying words has haunted Lou ever since.

A therapy session between David and Marcelo is a powerful reminder of how this piece has worked as group therapy for these men. Cathartic at times and also re-opening old wounds on occasions such as April 2nd, the Argentinian Remembrance day. The skill of this piece is to never preach but to seek to share, reflect and understand how our past informs our present. As a psychotherapist I appreciate the delicate balance that Lola Arias has created and maintained in this group therapy approach to this piece of unique verbatim theatre.

Minefield has brought together six men who are united by sharing the same experience of losing friends and leaving them behind on a rocky, unforgiving landscape. This war lasted ten weeks according to Google, but for these men it was 74 days because each day mattered just as each life lost, injured or mentally scarred mattered. They mattered then and they still matter now. As they perform their last song together they unite as a potent force asking their audience,

What would you fight for? Would you go to war?…..Have you ever killed anyone?… Have you watched a friend die?

The final words are from Sukrim in his native language. Translated they simply and wisely say,

Killing is never winning. Fight with the pen NOT with the bullet!! If the pen wins, fine… If not, nobody is killed.

HOME

Viva! Spanish and Latin American Festival 2018

LIFT Festival 2018

All images by Tristram Kenton

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk

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Writer Daniel Jamieson

Director & Co-Choreographer Emma Rice

Kneehigh & Bristol Old Vic

Originally performed as Birthday over 25 years ago The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is a celebration of love and art on so many levels. The love child of writer Daniel Jamieson and director Emma Rice who also acted in the original,it was revived in 2016 and has been a hugely successful production for Kneehigh and Bristol Old Vic. This lush homage to another set of young lovers- artist Marc Chagall and his beloved muse and first wife Bella Rosenfeld paints a picture on the stage that is both sensual and transcendent.

The love story is told in flashbacks as a widowed Chagall recounts the romance over the telephone to his son-in-law, the art historian Franz Mayer. They met and fell in love in Vitebsk, Belarus in 1909 and married in 1915 when Chagall returned from successes in Paris and Berlin. Trapped in Russia because of WW1, they were to witness the Russian Revolution and Chagall established the Vitebsk Arts College and painted in the Moscow New Jewish Theatre. Bella gave birth to their daughter Ida and carried on her own writing. They later fled to Europe, before WW2 and the Holocaust forced them to escape France on 1941 for America where Bella died in 1944.

The central performances are flawless. Marc Artolin and Daisy Maywood are utterly believable and sing, dance and emote with a form of enhanced theatricality that perfectly fits this dreamy, magical piece. The sense of a place so vibrant and colourful reduced by war to memories and black and white postcards is beautifully evoked. Every movement is choreographed to create a sense of immersion in Chagall’s paintings and in their hopes and dreams, and their visual and sensory world. Also on stage throughout are multi-instrumentalists Ian Ross and James Gow who bring another layer of rich authenticity playing music with French, Yiddish and Russian influences and a definite klezmer vibe.

Magical touches like a red helium balloon floating away as a fleeting love interest blushing like a radish. Colourful hats portraying animals from his paintings and symbolic fruits like the etrog are images from a lost world as the honeymoon trunk is unpacked. The inspired wit of using puppetry chairs to allow the lovers to dance the Hora or chair dance at their wedding which symbolises that in a good marriage you always strive to go ever higher, as these soaring lovers did in so many of his paintings. There are moments where images from paintings come to life through tableau scenes like when a canvas of a rabbi is unfolded in front of Bella and her own arms come through it as life and art merge.

Designer Sophie Clist has created a set which is compressed yet airy. It allows paintings to come to life and lovers to soar. It also gives a sense of a boat at sea, a reminder of the dispossessed on the move, always either leaving or returning. The lighting by Malcolm Rippeth has all the vibrancy of classic Kneehigh productions but in this piece is even more potent. The painterly depth and richness feels almost visceral at times with the wedding scene having a neon quality. Everything here is heightened and vital, from the tick of a clock and the slow drip from the ceiling to the lily white face and blackberry curls with eyes so blue like splinters from heaven.

Rice and Jamieson have created something of timeless tenderness. A lost world is seen again as we walk in the lover’s shoes through extraordinary times in history. The unpacking of the shoes and journals is utterly poignant, a reminder of so many journeys and stories recorded, and evoking the piles of shoes in Auschwitz belonging to the Jews who couldn’t escape. Chagall comes vividly to life as a pioneer of Modernism and as one of the most famous Jewish artists of the twentieth century. His Bella is painted as he saw her long flying over my canvas guiding my art…..Love and fantasy go hand in hand.

HOME until April 7th

Tour details

Images by Steve Tanner

TORO: Beauty and the Bull

THE LOWRY

DeNada Dance Theatre

Choreographer Carlos Pons Guerra

Dreamy and ethereal, Toro opens with a delicately beautiful girl lying on the Stage like the eponymous Sleeping Beauty while two brothers play Rock, Paper, Scissors. The traditional themes of fairy tales are subverted throughout this performance. The heroes and the monsters overlap, blur and change places. This opening scene is not that of a sleeping heroine about to be awoken with a kiss by a handsome Prince, but two brothers performing a perfunctory, machismo ritual to decide who gets first dibs on the young prostitute.

DeNada Dance Theatre are a young independent company who focus on exploring and subverting Hispanic and Latin culture. There is great theatricality in their work which looks and feels sumptuous and decadent. They use storytelling in dance to make bold political and social statements. In this piece they explore persecution and ostracism using fairytales focusing on themes of transformation. The lush, dreamlike imagery has elements of Angela Carter’s fairy tales, and the filmic feel of Guillamo del Toro or David Lynch. Toro includes fairy tales, circus sideshows, freak shows, animalistic orgies, vogue balls, monsters and beauties, poignant tenderness and brutal violence.

The performance has six dancers – four males and two females. Emma Walker and Marivi Da Silva are the Girl and the Bull, both performances are incredibly powerful and emotive. The scene where they unite in real tenderness and harmony is profoundly moving and deeply sensuous. The coming together of the dispossessed and “other” is truely beautiful. In this moment the Beast gets the real, red blooded woman whereas the men who are the real monsters of this piece have had nothing but a broken doll or marionette.

The four male dancers play a number of roles as the Brothers, as Matadors and as fantastical creatures – the Dragimals. In the machismo roles they are all rippling, twitching muscle and brutal intent. As the Dragimals they are all sinuous, luxuriating flesh and gleaming bodies. They are spectacular and animalistic moving harmoniously and curiously as at a great feast and celebratory orgy.

Warm, lush lighting and decadent costumes, a rich Hispanic soundtrack of pasodoble, mariachi, bull fight music and Unchained Melody to set off beautifully choreographed dance….I would watch this again in a heartbeat. Closing scenes show Jonathon Luke Baker portraying a mortally, wounded dragimal evoking Swan Lake, while the Girl is trapped struggling against the ties of patriarchal matrimony while her glorious Minotaur or She-Bull is dehorned and weakened. There is no Disney happy ending to this fairy tale yet this is still a powerful and uplifting tale of the transformative effect of love, tenderness and acceptance.

Tour details

Miss Saigon

PALACE THEATRE

A Cameron Mackintosh production of Boubil and Schõnberg’s Miss Saigon

Directed by Laurence Connor

This smash hit production of Miss Saigon opened in London in 2014 and has been on a UK tour since July 2017. Landing in Manchester with as much drama and pizzazz as the much lauded helicopter in Act 2, this show delivers on every level. Performed all over the World since 1989, Miss Saigon is a world class production that updates the Puccini opera Madame Butterfly. It tells the story of a doomed love affair between an honourable American G.I and a young peasant girl turned prostitute during the Vietnam War.

This is a lush, Technicolour experience with a lavish set, inspired lighting, sound and projections and a huge cast who sing and dance with real passion and commitment. The energy on stage never wavers and through multiple seamless set changes the story unfolds without a single glitch.

The big musical numbers are real crowd pleasers. The Movie in My Mind highlights the dreams, aspirations and coping strategies of the girls who survive by selling their bodies to the American soldiers. I Still Believe depicts the agony of two women loving the same man as Kim (Sooha Kim) and Ellen (Zoë Doano) sing with heartfelt poignancy and raw passion. The plight of the mixed-race children ostracised after the war is told in Bui Do sung as film footage displays the plight of abandoned, fatherless children. The most hi- octane numbers are undoubtedly The American Dream with the powerhouse performance of The Engineer (Red Concepción) with a white Cadillac driving on stage.

Kim’s Nightmare is the most powerful number. The roar of the helicopters moving over the audience before appearing to land on stage to evacuate the troops is genuinely tense and exciting. This scene at the Embassy gates is powerful and the switch that allows us to experience both sides of the gates is inspired. The Vietnam War may have ended over 40 years ago but this is a timely reminder of the dispossessed and vulnerable as the Syrian refugee crisis unfolds.

The performances are strong with Ashley Gilmour epitomising the all American hero and Na-Young Jeon as a sassy, sexpot Gigi. Sooha Kim brings great emotional range to her performance as Kim. She moves fluidly from reticent, shy country girl to pragmatic prostitute and eager young bride to determined survivor and fiercely protective mother. The undoubted star is The Engineer who gleefully steals every scene. Red Concepción is an exuberant, unapologetic master of sleaze and manipulation.

I’m not a fan of musicals and approached Miss Saigon with a degree of scepticism but it is a genuine feast for the eyes and ears. It is a real spectacle to behold and the hype is well deserved. The standing ovation at the end was clearly not the first and will definitely not be the last for the powerhouse experience that is Miss Saigon.

Images by Johan Persson.

Booking for Palace Theatre until May 12th.

Tickets for Nationwide UK tour.

Frankenstein

ROYAL EXCHANGE THEATRE

By Mary Shelley

Adaptation by April De Angelis

Directed by Matthew Xia

Matthew Xia reanimates Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 200 years after its first publication. This new adaptation by April De Angelis sticks closely to the original text and relates the story in flashbacks as the traumatised Dr Frankenstein tells his story to the Captain of the ship which rescues him from the ice. Xia turns his focus to producing a darkly Gothic exploration of the perils of dogged human ambition at the expense of family and friends. In this visceral production he also explores the vulnerability of those seen as “Other” in this World – the abandoned, the wounded and the misunderstood. The creations that don’t conform to our perception of idealized perfection or cosy sameness.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote this extraordinary piece of literature in her late teens and was barely 20 when it was first published in January 1818. The child of the early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, she had fallen in love with the married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley at 17. Flouting social propriety of the period she had children with him before he was free to marry her after the suicide of his first wife. Traveling in Geneva in 1816 they joined the poet Byron and together conspired to each write a ghost story. From this challenge came Frankenstein, a Gothic novel influenced by the Romantic Movement and the study of Galvanism. The themes of death and reanimation must have resonated strongly with Mary. Her own Mother had died shortly after her birth and she was to have buried two of her babies before her novel was publisher.

Opening in sheer blackness the story unfolds with Captain Walton (Ryan Gage) on stage throughout the performance as the calm and steady listener to Victor Frankenstein’s wild, frenzied story that comes to life in a series of vivid flashbacks. Trapped on his ship in the ice Walton is transfixed as audiences and readers have been for two centuries.

This storytelling honours the original book but perhaps at the cost of developing authentic and empathic relationships between the characters. The dialogue sometimes sounds ponderous and doesn’t always flow in the way natural conversation would. The scenes can appear more as static tableau scenes and therefore the power of this drama can suffer at times.

The only truly potent and memorable character on stage is the Monster. Harry Atwell looms over the rest of the cast partly due to sheer physical presence and primarily because he steals the show as this doomed, traumatised creation, abandoned and rejected like a wounded refugee from the Underworld. Atwell is all wild eyed and unkempt with more than a look of Marty Feldman, yet his sensitive nature and eagerness to learn and to love and be loved seems very much taken from the creature as portrayed in the television adaptation Penny Dreadful by Rory Kinnear.

His journey is tragic and heartrending as he starts out stammering hesitant words and twitching with movements that seem like a creature with agonising phantom limb pain as nerve endings are raw or still newly knitting together. His journey is brutal as wounded and rejected, he becomes increasingly vengeful. Yet he evolves to develop a humanity and awareness that seems greater than the men before him. His quest for knowledge and his self education are sadly not really explored in this production but the result is a fully fledged man who feels emotions and can articulate his pain. Shaped by his experiences and composed of unknown body parts he is literally Everyman.

However this production like it’s namesake is deeply flawed. The other characters never develop in a satisfactory way. Indeed some feel as wooden as the bizarre marionette used to portray William the child. This addition seems awkward and uneccessary on stage and does nothing to create the emotional potency of a child’s death. There are occasional moments where humour appears to seep in jarring the intensity. The character of Henry, Frankenstein’s friend or the introduction of The Professors creates an almost vaudeville humour that simply does not work.

Designer Ben Stones has created a set which is lush with gore and bones and limbs. Death is everywhere and escape impossible. From the trunks filled with wedding clothes or body parts to the spectacular honeymoon bed or the Frankenstein’s laboratory; detail is everything in this lavish production. The costumes are fabulous and create an almost filmic aspectic to this theatre of the grotesque.

This is visually a feast in carnage and pathos. There are some moments of real terror and genuine poignancy, yet it all feels unsatisfactory and a lost opportunity to truly chill the audience. Just as the characters are trapped on the ice, I felt trapped in my seat daring to hope but feeling ultimately doomed to disappointment.

At The Royal Exchange until April 14th

Images by Johan Persson

She Bangs The Drums

Museum of Science and Industry

Contact Young Company

Directed by Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit (Sh!t Theatre)

Contact Young Company working with the brilliant women of Sh!t Theatre and the Peoples History Museum was always going to be an intriguing project. She Bangs The Drums explores and celebrates the history of the Suffragettes and Manchester’s rich heritage of radical politics. 100 years since The Representation of the Peoples Act gave women partial voting rights this explosion of passion and energy would have been applauded by the Pankhursts.

Staged in part of the Museum of Science and Industry, the setting feels almost church-like with industrial beams and brick archways which are used to great effect with clever projections and bicycles adorned with twinkling lights flitting past the audience.

A band called Powerful Women are tucked in an archway and are central to much of the performance providing great music and vocals. There is drama, poetry, spoken word, dance, comedy and so much more. This is a show packed with all the elements that showcase the wide range of skills at CYC and could have resulted in a muddled mess. With a sound creative team including Cheryl Martin and Keisha Thompson and inspired direction the result is cohesive and beautifully balanced.

Packed full of historical facts such as the brutal force-feeding of prisoners and current references to #MeToo and #BringBackOurGirls, this is a trip from the lethal hatpin in a Suffragettes hat to the rape alarm in my daughter’s schoolbag. Cheeky, charming and incredibly poignant, this is a celebration of women everywhere, past and present.

March 8th – March 11th 2018