GUTTED

HOME MCR 

Performer Liz Richardson 

A co-production between The Conker Group and HOME

I first saw GUTTED in May 2016 and it was one of my favourite pieces at HOME last  year. This is a show about the impact of ulcerative colitis on a young womans life On stage is Liz with some bunches of flowers and three gleaming porcelain toilets filled with food items. I’m fairly squeamish and I don’t especially like yoghurt or ketchup or brown sauce, yet here I am back to see this show again. 

It feels impossible not to be drawn in by Liz Richardsons performance. She is understated and charming on stage, and wickedly adept at mimicry of friends, family and NHS staff. The performance is never preachy and perhaps also protects the performer by relying on much of Richardsons experience being relayed through the conversations  of others and the messages on cards from her Partner and her Mother which are read out by audience members. Its striking that the whole performance feels deeply personal yet avoids the performer ever saying “I” or “My.”

Instead the audience is fed beer and cake while Liz scoffs probiotic yoghurt and draws her digestive system on her bare tummy and shows us how an ileostomy bag functions. Throughout this frank and funny performance runs the darker thread of pain, frustration and fear. This is an illness that is ruthless and wretched yet when drug or surgical options succeed it can bring hope and be positively life changing.

This is a show that is likely to pick up terms like “brave” or “life affirming”,and it is. I suspect it is also honed from the generosity of spirit that shares experience so we can all learn and be the better for it. GUTTED packs a hefty punch in that it paints a messy picture of what can happen when our bodies fail but it also reassures. Regardless of serious illness and multiple surgeries Richardson  looks great, has a loving relationship and a child and is doing a job she clearly enjoys. 

Chatting in the bar after the performance it’s clear how important this show is in speaking for many sufferers and their families. The show has been touring  in both theatres and hospitals to patients and healthcare professionals. It opens up lively discussion about a taboo subject and I found myself remembering my glamourous Grandma who throughout the 1960s wore her lipstick and her ileostomy bag with the style and panache of someone who refused to be defined by her illness.

2nd-13th August – Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh 

BALLOT BOX

2

Kings Arms Theatre

Written by Emily Parker-Barratt

Performed by Emily Parker-Barratt                                       Keri Bastiman

The staging of this piece is a good opening indicator of how invested Tea & Tonic Productions are in bringing their show to life. The attention to detail throughout is terrific from the frequent costume changes to the great soundtrack. The Cath Kidson throw and the Yorkshire Tea teapot really brought alive the North/South backgrounds of these two young actresses. 

Two out if work young actresses renting a tiny flat in London, dodging their landlord and squabbling over telly choices and politics while drinking copious amounts of tea. This could easily have veered into Sh!t Theatres  Letters to Windsor House territory but instead this takes a fresh spin on sofa politics.

Parker-Barrett and Bastiman are good foils for each other and their timing is impeccable. One is bright, brittle and politically aware, The other more warm, earthy and initially blissfully politically naive. Lydia and Molly share some great pithy one liners, several of which I’m tempted to pinch.

The core of the piece is the exploration  of their political beliefs in the run up to Brexit. It cleverly  highlights the political fissures that opened up in many homes, families and friendships last Summer. It also serves to remind up all of the growing awareness of the power of the young vote.

The relationship between the two reaches breaking point when tragedy strikes. This is the moment when both actresses shine. The raw grief was authentic and beautifully played. The dramatic shift allowed for a really powerful end to the piece. The grieving portrayed, perfectly echoed the grief of many of the 48% Remainers.

Going to Edinburgh Fringe

The Marriage of Kim K

Music by Stephen Hyde

Libretto by Leoe Hyde

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real live actual couple sit on a sofa drinking wine and bickering over what to watch on telly. A string quartet and a barefoot keyboard player play Mozart. It could be Gogglebox The Opera. Indeed it might have been if Leoe &  Hyde had thought of it.

Instead these intrepid boys weave centuries old opera with popular celebrity culture. The Marriage of Figaro meets A marriage of Kim Kardashian. This should be a car crash affair of which the least said the better. Thankfully the end result is fresh, fun and really rather clever.

The music moves well between genres and sounds great. Echo Chamber are a talented bunch who I heard earlier this year at a MIF17 Festival in my Home. The overall impact is polished and impressive. The piece would really shine in a larger venue to allow for better acoustics for such a big sound

The staging is very effective with the central sofa and telly creating the focus of the piece. If we use populist reality docusoaps as a means of escape are we just relaxing or are we disengaging from our lives? 

Real life couple Amelia and Stephen may or may not squabble over the remote control in private but like most couples they will sometimes stop listening with their hearts because their heads are full of stressful thoughts.

When all 3 couples occupy the stage the performance is at times sublime and surreal. It can also frustrate as clever lines get lost as couples are singing over each other. This works as a device to demonstrate the cacophony of our modern media obsessed world but at times detracts from some fine performances. 

Visually it’s fab and frothy. The central couple are authentic and well developed with Amelia Gabriel giving a standout performance. Kim and Kris are suitably trashy and raunchy and played with OTT relish- great fun. The Count and Countess look and sound stunning, and the costumes are fabulous. The attention to detail is really impressive and adds real depth to how the show looks on stage.

By combining Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries 72 day lovefest/marital car crash with the Count and Countess in The Marriage of Figaro we see nothing really changes. Two hundred plus years on we still fall in love, we still disappoint and are disappointed. We will always have lavish peacocks and steadfast wrens. The music may vary but at its heart the beat remains the same.

Showing July 3,4,10,11,15,16,17 July

Moving to Edinburgh Fringe

Peter McMaster:27

Image: Oliver Rudkin

CONTACT THEATRE

Created by: Peter McMaster

Performed by: Peter McMaster and Nick Anderson

We enter through the curtains unto the main stage as though we are entering a large black confessional box. We are greeted by two men in Skeleton unitards. Is this the afterlife? Is this where all the dead 27 year olds artistes gather on a Tuesday night?

Peter McMaster explores the vulnerabilities around masculinity and the choices we may make about how fast and furious we drive toward 27 and what lies beyond. What unfolds is brutally visceral and beautifully tender.

The scene is set and as these two men hold hands they evoke a powerful image of tenderness and trust. It reminded me of my son at 3 years old clutching his best friends hand as they jumped off a wall together rolling and tustling in the warm Greek sand. There is much rolling and tustling on the stage too. Bodies slam into each other with a raw intensity that blends aggression, curiosity, lust and love. Yellow tape marks out the space like a sporting event and it does indeed feel like Alan Bates and Oliver Reed wrestling in Women In Love.

The intimacy of the performance revs up a notch as the two performers start to disrobe requesting assistance from the audience.  This could go very wrong but the vibe of warmth and trust in the space allows it to be natural and unforced. As we assist it is playful and charming. The naked male body becomes unthreatening and is simply the casing for the two lifeforces on stage. 

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Ash is frequently shaken across the stage to remind us of the impermanence of life at 27 or any age. At times the ceremony feels like a hedonistic take on Ash Wednesday. As they roll and throw and support each other round the space, sweat and ash clad their bodies. The fresh, pink flesh becomes deathly grey and dulled. The dirt on the outside echoes the darkness on the inside that they apologise for, unrolling scrolls of apologies that we help them read out. The dirt on the outside echoes the shame on the inside but as a celebration of life experience, and living through your excesses and your mistakes.

The musical backdrop is straight from the back catalogue of the 27 Club – Nirvana, Amy Whitehouse, Jimi Hendrix. The impact of the music highlighting the story combined with the power and grace of McMaster and Anderson ensures a truly memorable experience. 

I left 27 feeling incredibly glad to be alive in that space watching that show on that summer evening. I was 27 when my Father died and for a while I just wanted to be with him. To be just ashes. A performance like 27 is a celebration of choosing life. I would see it again in a heartbeat.

A Spanish Adventure

THE EDGE THEATRE

Written and Directed by Janine Waters

Music and Lyrics by Simon Waters 

“Welcome to the mass movement of giving a toss about stuff” Julie Hesmondhalgh, Patron, The Edge.

It’s 1936 and the far right are threatening the existence of a small family run art centre in the days before the Spanish Civil War.  It is an easy leap to today and the ongoing erosion of arts Funding in Britain. Community Arts organisations such as The Edge do battle every day to keep their doors open and get funding to make Art that really makes a difference.

Today was testament to when it all comes together and something wonderful happens. This afternoon a welcoming Dressing Room cafe and a flowery garden and cosy red theatre space was filled to capacity to celebrate The Arts Council money being well spent. The 3 year association between The Edge and The Booth Centre has flourished. 

The Booth Centre Theatre Company filled the space with drama, music, dance and mime. The show was funny, clever and provocative throughout. The cheers and claps at the end were not polite but well earned and infectious. 

I talked to one of the especially impressive performers afterwards. Catherine Bowen-Colthurst has both volunteered at The Booth Centre and been a service user. The benefits and opportunities in theatre which she has experienced are obvious. As is her quiet delight in her involvement and the diligence and talent which she brought to her performance.

The afternoon ended in Patron Julie Hesmondhalgh opening the new studio space as The Edge adventure on another day and hopefully never have to close their doors through lack of funding.

Saturday 17th June

BEARS


Image by Chris Payne

 

A Powder Keg and Royal Exchange Co-Production

Royal Exchange Studio

The stage looks like a rundown bear pen in a post- apocalyptic zoo. Despite the welcome mat this is clearly no cosy Bear home that Goldilocks has chanced upon. The Bears are styled in the fashion of Mad Max meets well worn patched up teddy bears. They are both bizarre and delightful as they set their dinner table to eat salt and peppered KitKat with knives and forks. These are civilised bears adopting human behaviours in a no longer civilised world.

We want people to see a piece that is about climate change without it preaching to them or without it fearmongering to the point where people just turn away from it. I think that is one of the main reasons a lot of people don’t focus on climate change as one of the overriding problems of the world.
Powder Keg won the 2016 Hodgkiss Award to develop this piece about climate change and conservation. It is not remotely preachy –  especially as the bears do not speak any words. It is however a humorous and at times enchanting look at the impact of consumerist waste. We may smile as the bears playfully try out a variety of aerosol deodorants then casually throw them away. We might be amused as they scramble through boxes of rubbish bearing high street brands like Cafe Nero or Starbucks. The message is however very clear. We have choked the planet with waste to the point where we have been extinguished and now the last animals left know nothing other than to emulate their destroyers.

The physicality and movement of the performers is deft, and effective in evoking the bears in their habitat. The cast have created 3 very watchable bears however the pacing needs some work as the middle 20 minutes flounders needing further dramatic development. The last section picks up pace and with a clever use of lighting and more of an already good soundscape it develops to a striking conclusion.

There are some beautiful moments as the bears play and scavenge and squabble. The most striking moment is perhaps the magical use of fairy lights. Ultimately so poignant and heartrending as they become like barbed wire enveloping  the tragic, bewildered animal.

The use of brightness and darkness works effectively to portray the last gasps of our technological world. The closing scene of the bears downsizing their home bangs home a powerful message about the shrinking icecaps. These bears are the natural descendants of those earlier cuddly eco creatures The Wombles. Sadly 40 years on and we seem to still need reminding that our planet remains in crisis.

Every Brilliant Thing

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THE EDGE THEATRE

A Paines Plough and Pentabus Theatre Company
Cast James Rowland
Writer Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe
Director George Perrin

You are seven years old and your Dad tells you that your Mum has done a stupid thing. Actually your Mum is in hospital and has just tried to commit suicide. You feel guilty that you’re clearly not enough to make her want to stay alive. You’re seven years old and you need your Mum to want to stay alive. So you start to write a list of every brilliant thing which might just make her want to stay alive.
This a play with perfect pitch. It delivers on every level. What could be mawkish and heavy handed is instead life affirming and delightful. There is unbridled energy in this performance and absolute glee in each interaction but also moments of real affect where Rowland describes the reality of depression on relationships and family and the lasting impact on children.
This award winning play has toured America and Australia as well as Edinburgh Fringe and lots of small regional theatres here. It is a play that could easily run and run as it has a lot to say about life and due to its format every performance will be unique.
There is no big cast or eye catching set or clever lighting to hide behind. There is just a great script and soundtrack, with one actor on stage who is engaging with the audience well before the performance starts and whose impact lingers long after he has left the stage.
This is a uniquely engaging performance in that it exists only through the audience participating in an act of trust and taking on a range of roles on stage. Foreman gives out post it notes or annotated sketches or coffee stained scraps as the audience is first seated. As he calls out the numbers on the papers each participant becomes a part of the performance. Others are deftly engaged as actors voicing roles such as the veterinarian who euthanizes his first pet dog or the narrator’s father or his first love.
The success of each show relies on a willingness to participate that is elucidated by pure charm and warmth. From start to finish this ensures the attention of all involved as we wait for a cue for our part. The result is a theatre space full of energy and life. As the list grows so does the confidence of the participants as we move from the 7 year old child listing-

3. Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV.
To the teenager-
994 Hairdressers who listen to what you want.
To the adult in love-
1009 Dancing in public, fearlessly.
9995 Falling in love.
To the man who has known depression and loss-
999998 Inappropriate songs played at emotional moments.
1000000 Listening to a record for the first time……
Adding to the list I write-
1000001 Watching Every Beautiful Thing on a Summer evening at The Edge Theatre.

TOURING