ThingsHidden Since the Foundation of the World is the final piece of a trilogy that follows on from two Fringe First winners, The Believers Are But Brothers and Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran. Any concerns regarding that tricky “third” album are quickly dissipated as Javaad Alipoor introduces the subject matter for the next 90 minutes. This is a whip-smart journey that delves into the unsolved murder of ’70s Iranian pop icon Fereydoun Farrokhzad via murder mystery podcasts and an exploration of digital culture and post colonial theory. This new production expands on themes from the previous works looking at how technology, resentments and fracturing identities are changing our world.
Alipoor sends his audience down Internet rabbit holes where we ride the hyperlinks and visit the land of Wikipedia where not everything is as it seems and via a live murder mystery podcast we emerge as seasoned supersleuths face to face with a real life Persian musical superstar. An actual flesh and blood man with a Wikipedia page who steps onstage mindfully aware that someone in this audience tonight might actually be there to assassinate him. This is a production that is fast moving and demands the rapt attention of its audience; anything less and you risk being cast adrift in Tehran, Vancouver or the lowlands of Scotland.
The staging is deceptively simple with an all black set and a lecturn but as with the Internet and cross cultural experience nothing is quite as it seems. Screens move from side to side and sets appear to open like in an advent calendar…this is multi cultural, multi layered and multi dimensional experience that invites the audience to look at the big picture in all its elements and shades. Live action as King Raam and Me-Lee Hay make music in a studio, blurred newspaper images, colour TV film footage, Alipoor at his lecturn, Asha Read delivering a podcast, Wikipedia pages floating over screens…like translucent layers of onion being peeled back…its heady stuff that you can’t not breathe in and may leave a tear in your eye.
In the ’70s a beloved Persian music icon, by the ’80s Farrokhzad was a political refugee in Germany working in a grocery store and just 6 months before his brutal and unsolved murder in 1992 he sold out two nights at The Royal Albert Hall. That’s quite a story…imagine if something similar had happened to our national treasure Tom Jones! Shocking, sad and tragic but in the past. Yet it really isn’t when a death remains stubbornly unsolved and theatre makers like British/Iranian Javaad Alipoor make us click those hyperlinks. It really isn’t when Raam Emami speaks of his experience as a Canadian/Iranian musician whose work is both celebrated and castigated in Iran. It really isn’t when he tells you about his father Kavous-Seyed-Emami, a lecturer, tortured and murdered in Tehran…though Wikipedia says he committed suicide while on detention. It really isn’t when Raam Emami or King Raam is on a death list discovered by the FBI.
Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World is one of those really great pieces of theatre that makes you think, it provokes and it informs but it does so without being earnest or preachy. This is the kind of theatre we need more off so click on the hyperlink below and book your ticket now!!
Written and Devised and Performed by Wayne Steven Jackson
AND HERE I FIND MYSELF is a natural progression/ companion piece to the digital work FROM ONE TO US devised by Jackson in 2020. This latest work expands on the themes around how heteronormative expectations impact our beliefs around parenting, life goals and how we deal with disappointments. Jackson plays deftly with our perception of typical one man confessional performance by utilising a intermedial approach that blends live and digital media. This is a really vital piece of story telling that opens up conversation around how an individual copes when science and society finally expand to permit single sex surrogacy only for new obstacles to appear.
As a performer Jackson is fascinated by memory and the use of theatrical techniques to explore ways in how to re-experience memories. He also has an uncanny ability to appear utterly in the moment which is perhaps how he forges and crafts nuggets of memory into such vivid capsules. This ability to be so present on stage makes for a great connection with his audience, while also making it impossible to tell just how personal this story is to him and how much is devised. The end result is deeply affecting and at times painful to watch, raising the question of who looks after performers when they leave the stage after delivering work such as this?
This is a show that is playful and engaging as we observe Jackson intent and diligent as he is put through his paces by a series of commands…HIDE..JUMP… as he plays hide and seek and climbs ladders. What becomes apparent is that following the rules and doing the right thing does not always culminate in a satisfactory outcome. This is the central tenet of the show as the onscreen images reveal nuggets of family memories from a good boy who grows up in a world that is gradually changing to allow previously unavailable options to a young gay man. Laws change and Science advances and here is the opportunity as a single man to finally have a child. This piece will resonate with anyone who has experienced the trauma of having had hopes raised only to be repeatedly dashed in the lottery of the reproduction process. What makes this work especially thought provoking is the male perspective; this is a potent reminder that this issue is a source of anguish to anyone wishing to have their own child regardless of gender or sexuality. AND HERE I FIND MYSELF also suggests the loneliness of this journey as a single gay man presented at every turn by a single fucking magpie.
Visually the staging looks polished and stylish. The screens either side of centre stage project images of the boy and the man using old photos and new filmed material. The illusion of magic is added by Jackson appearing to adjust colour and lustre to these memories by a sweep of his hand like a painter. The effect is lovely and engages childish glee while also alluding to a performer who can control technology on stage but who feels bitterly let down by it on a deeply personal level. The final scenes shock and dismay as the images literally shred on stage and fragmented hopes and dreams are tenderly gathered together in a tattered pile. This is a thoughtful and really tender production which has been skillfully conceived and executed.
ThirdYearStudentsshowcasingprofessional collaborations with idontloveyouanymore and In Bed With My Brother
The new theatre is a great addition to the facilities at The Arden School Of Theatre and the students are clearly relishing the opportunities it affords. The third year students have been involved in artistic collaborations with two very different companies; Manchester based digital art and performance company idontloveyouanymore and the highly innovative InBedWithMyBrother. The resulting works are unsurprisingly totally different but both demonstrate an impressive set of performance skills and creative ability.
Lit By The Light Of A Thousand Losses devised with idontloveyouanymore incorporates verbatim theatre and digital media to create a really haunting and beautiful performance. Using publicly submitted memories of loss the performance speaks of loss on so many levels from the covid themes, losses of love and liberty through to themes around possible impending loss of our very identity as human beings. The students handle this material with real sensitivity, compassion and wry humour. It is a really beautiful piece that could easily translate to a touring production. The digital backdrop evokes new stars created and old one imploding and is a nice touch that enhances rather than overshadows the performers. There are several standout performances but the overall calibre of student work is impressive. The nine students on stage were worked in a truly collaborative manner and their ability to create space, pause and silence for each other in this very reflective piece was brave, assure and highly effective.
The second production was an madcap explosion of high energy that is so typical of shows like We Are Ian and Tricky Second Album from In Bed With My Brother. THE SHOWCASE has a reality gameshow element and alludes to Orwell’s 1984. This dance focused highly physical piece never lets up on pace and the students impress with their stamina alone! Their capacity to maintain momentum and keep a technical tightness in this anarchic production is commendable. The audience observes this repetitive dance and the performers enthusiastic desire to impress the disembodied voice directing them while also receiving behavioural response cues as if we are a TV audience reading an autocue. The resulting hi-velocity order starts to break down into chaos as performers falter or are cast aside or humiliated. There are elements here of a Forced Entertainment production as the music and the dance endlessly loop and repeat. The end result is funny, unsettling and provocative. This is how I imagine Squid Games might play out in a student theatre performance workshop…at least here they the only blood spilled was tomato pulp and sweat!!! Though I’d love to know if the crutch wielding performer was injured in rehearsals or elsewhere…either way a great embodiment of theshow must go on!!
HOME excels at being a welcoming venue for vibrant, colourful and riotous productions such as the Emma Rice’sWise Children and The Tiger Lillies Corrido de la Sangre. This brand new collaboration with Les Enfants Terribles is no exception. This lively adaptation of the hugely successful children’s book by Sophie Anderson is brimming with energetic performances, Eastern European folklore, music, puppetry and animation. Its easy to see why The House with Chicken Legs was such a great choice to showcase the very varied talents of Les Enfants Terrible as they celebrate 20 years as a successful company.
The House with Chicken Legs tells a tale steeped in Eastern European folklore as the audience are invited into the netherworld of this house of bones which is home to Baba Yaga and her granddaughter Marinka. They play host to nightly parties for the dead before guiding souls through the gate to the afterlife and safely on their journey back to the stars. Baba Yaga relishes her role as gatekeeper unlike 12 year old Marinka who wistfully dreams of a life among the living. The fantastical house moves often and careers around the world on its chicken legs so Marinka is quite literally a displaced child. Although in development from before the pandemic this story is particularly relevant in our current political times. The folk music and the rustic borscht and kvass that nourish the living and the dead have much of their roots in Ukraine. Witnessing Marinka in this house that literally moves without warning is a potent reflection on what it is to be a refugee child who has witnessed death all around her.
This production is brimming over with passion and energy. Like the house itself it moves constantly between quiet, beautiful moments of reflective song or charming storytelling through puppets crafted from wood and bones through to riotous parties for the dead and dreamy, kaleidoscopic animation sequences. The house is sometimes homespun cosy for Baba Yaga or jazzy and sassy for the Yaga Tatiana in New Orleans while in other instances it literally grows legs to be on the move. Intimate moments with ingenue Marinka can be replaced by big song numbers with the whole cast resplendent in Yaga house costumes from across the world that lead to bizarre sequences that feel like you are suddenly watching some bonkers Eastern European entry for Eurovision!!
There is enough content here to have something for everyone. The set design by Jasmine Swan is suitably fantastical and glorious, as is the lighting design and fabulous costumes. The musicians are multi talented and a pleasure to listen to. The performances are strong and well fleshed out. Eve de Leon Allen is perfectly cast as Marinka and has a beautiful tone to their singing voice. Lisa Howard and Pérola Conga excel as Baba Yaga and Baba Tatiana, with the latter giving a real powerhouse performance as a sexy, sultry ancient Yaga full of wisdom and panache. Matthew Burns brings magic with a simple puppet and a glistening fan that brings Jackdaw to life for both adults and children. There really is a lot to enjoy and admire in this production however there are points where the pace gets bogged down in repetitive narrative and this clever show loses its tautness. The result is overly long and coming in at just under 3 hours with the interval may be more than some younger kids will comfortably appreciate.
The House with Chicken Legs has definitely got big enough Legs to take itself out on tour. This is a production that celebrates being different and has a strong message of inclusion. It is both magical and macabre but with enough heart at its core to tell us about death and loss in a way that may bring comfort and reassurance to children and adults alike as we navigate our own stories of what it is to live our lives and mourn our dead.
With this week seeing the incarceration of Harvey Weinstein, this is a timely revival of James Fritz’s clever and insightful four hander. Four Minutes Twelve Seconds explores the darker aspects of the internet as this play takes a family down the rabbit hole of sexting, fake news and private forums. An act lasting four minutes will rupture trust and strain moral boundaries in a close family. Under the sensitive and empathic direction of Chris Lawson and Natasha Harrison this production is a genuine psychological thriller that gets under your skin and challenges its audience to consider our own views on morality, class and parenting in this digital age.
Di and David are the parents of a 17 year old boy who is on track for exam results that will get him out of Oldham and into University. After a violent attack from the brother of his girlfriend Cara, Jack’s parents are forced to face up to the consequences of a sex tape their son has made. Leaked unto the internet it tells a damning story depending on what the viewer chooses to see. Is this revenge porn, a terrible judgement error or possibly something even more dreadful? This is a truly fascinating insight into the cognitive dissonance that subverts our perception of truth when our minds cannot always accept the information we see before us.
The slick white set is modern and middle class with the few splashes of colour provided by fresh flowers and Hunter wellies. Designer Anna Reid has created something crisp and beautiful that allows for nowhere to hide. The reflective panels add to the feeling of this family being utterly exposed and continually finding their perception of reality and truth shift as they uncover more real and fake facts about those fatal four minutes. The lighting design and slashes of sound add to the growing sense of family normality being repeatedly tipped into a nightmarish vortex. This feeling is further enhanced by the movement direction employed by Natasha Harrison which sees Di and David (Jo Mousely and Lee Toomes) literally tipped over the edge as new information jolts their middle class contentment.
The cast all give strong and utterly believable performances. Jo Mousely is a powerhouse of emotion as feisty mum Di who is initially like a lioness out to protect her cub at all costs. As events unfold she is strained to breaking point, utterly at sea as her moral compass fluctuates and she contemplates the unimaginable. Lee Toomes as husband David appears pragmatic if somewhat ineffectual as he tries to steer his family through choppy waters. Calm and apparently likeable, Toomes delivers a performance that continually surprises with some punchy shifts of light and shade. The working class Cara (AlyceLiburd) and school friend Nick (Noah Olaoye) both give gently nuanced performances that add real depth. Liburd shows not an ounce of self pity is shown here, instead there is a blunt acceptance that accent and class will impact how her story is heard and believed. As “Thick Nick” Olaoye beautifully illustrates that morality and brains certainly do not always go hand in hand.
This production is genuinely exciting and thought provoking on so many levels. Beautifully staged and directed with strong performances, this is the undeniable proof that regional theatres may be short on finances but are certainly not short on talent and vision.
I loved the energy and vibrancy of this performance. The first year students at Arden School of Theatre do their own unique take on the evergreen seminal play The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie. The sense of fun and irreverence is apparent from the moment the pianist begins her discordant thudding, setting the tone for this performance which like the music becomes increasingly disjointed with a growing air of desperation. The whole pieced has a blend of contemporary performance and dance blended with some great clowning skills and has a vibe of Mischief Theatre Company. The level of commitment and professionalism from the cast is evident throughout with students staying consistently in character even when not “on” stage.
There is some marvellous choreography dotted through this piece that really highlights some deft physical comedy from certain members of the cast particularly in numbers such as Murder on the Dance Floor when it parodies the dance off in Rupaul’s Drag Race. Psycho Killer was great combining tight choreography with some really menacing and disturbing performances with one cast member in particular proving quite mesmerising. Other notable moments include when they performers first hit the stage like a anarchic catwalk show for Burberry or Vivienne Westwood. Visually the costumes looked really cohesive and well thought through.
This really was an exercise in tearing up the script and tossing the pages in the air like satin fabric scraps. I’m sure Agatha Christie would have been spitting up bits of satin in lieu of feathers. The use of fabric in this way worked really cleverly with the performance concept. Extremely simple but incredibly effective as they remade chaos in a floor plan reminiscent of the board in Cluedo. The little ad breaks and presentations were effective as a means to clear the stage and reset for new scenes. Perhaps more might have been done with the audience interactions at those points when the two performers break the fourth wall. This was such a high energy piece that perhaps the pacing at the end night have benefited from some tweaks and editing. It felt like a really high point to end on may have been at . Psycho Killer.
There were some really strong and memorable performances particularly with some of the natural comedians on stage and some lovely elements of absurdist comedy as well as some great deadpan delivery from the Narrator and a drag performance straight out of Hinge and Brackett in the characterisation of Mrs Boyle. I look forward to seeing what this year group do next!
Trips to The British Library to explore the Aarne index of folktales from around the globe as Suzanne Andrade sought out appropriate tales for 1927 resulted in a big friends and family get together over a vat of Irish stew in a snow storm. The outcome is ROOTS, a hotchpotch of vivid, quirky tales told using the 1927 trademark blend of animation, performers and musicians. As we prepare to leave Europe this rich tapestry of interwoven tales showcases the power of storytelling as a universal medium to unite us all. Folktales have always morphed and mutated as they weave around the globe and with ROOTS this magic continues with an accompanying visual and musical feast.
This bakers dozen are not clean cut or a cohesive illustration of a particular theme such as those approached by Italo Calvino or Angela Carter. Instead they revel in being a splatter fest of the dark, the peculiar and downright odd. A Fat Cat is a tale of epic consumerism where puss systematically eats the world, pausing only to barf up a schoolboy’s scabs and a world leader’s toupee! Elsewhere a genitally blessed king seeks a bride without a domineering will of her own, while in Two Fish parents kill their child in the misguided hope of acquiring a third fish. In the delightfully whimsical An Ant found a penny, a beatnik French ant honeymoons in The Orkneys before her world implodes from a traumatic event involving a pot of stew.
As with all 1927 productions the animation and film by Paul Barritt looks wonderful whether as minimalist black and white or the psychedelic landscape of Snake or the absinthe green tinged The Luckless Man. Performers pop up through hinged windows in the screen bringing 3D to the animations, musicians gain angel wings just as the animated fat cat ascends to heaven…every tiny whimsical detail is utilised and luxuriated in. In The Magic Bird layers of detail create a Punch and Judy aspect to a couples murderous, greedy squabbles. The costumes, make up and music all combine to give this production a real world flavour from Parisien ants to Mexican Day of The Dead horse heads in Alonso and the Ogre and the rich earthy African tone of Snake.
The tales are darkly comic and often violent with witty current references all told in a very naturalistic manner by non professionals. This madcap cluster of tales are weirdly mesmerising and totally engrossing.
Elysium Theatre Company have once again shown what high calibre work they can produce. Great story telling from South African playwright Athol Fugard with sound direction from Jake Murray and powerful performances from both male leads ensure that this is a great piece of theatre . A journey through trauma to possible redemption, Playland explores what happens to the human psyche when men with a strong moral code find themselves doing unspeakable things and then have to find a way to live with the consequences.
Set in Playland, a travelling fairground, the action takes place on New Year’s Eve 1989 when war veteran Gideon La Roux meets the fairground watchman Martinus Zulu. Behind the gaudy splendour of the lights and wurlitzer music is the deeply reflective Martinus alone in his monastic space. This bleak setting eventually serves as a kind of confessional for both men. The absolute power of this performance is not just that it is about the unravelling of a man with PTSD, but that it is a man who fought in a war of Apartheid where soldiers were forced to take a vow of silence and where truth was white washed or blacked out. Somehow Gideon is pulled towards another man who is guarding his own secret pain and who has also broken the sixth commandment.
This is a perfectly balanced double act from two actors who were both also excellent in a previous Elysium production Jesus Hopped the A Train. Danny Solomon is veteran Gideon, a man whose initial bonhomie hides deep psychological wounds that slowly start to surface as the clock ticks down to a new year. Solomon is all nervous energy and keen, darting eyes while he attempts to engage the recalcitrant security guard. He is engaging and charming as he tells stories of his pigeons and his childhood but effortlessly shifts into menace and madness as he attempts to gaslight his reluctant companion into violence. He increasingly reminds me of early Jack Nicholson in the ways he can play with energy, tempo and mood.
Faz Singhateh counters Solomon with a wonderfully controlled and restrained performance. Stiff with righteous indignation, every sinew is coiled as his Martinus watches and waits like a wary, wounded animal. The growing tension between both men slowly builds, becoming palpable as their stories are told and they find common ground in their actions but struggle with their opposing perceptions of redemption and forgiveness.
The writing is evocative and brutal in its description of the horrors of the Border War, but is also tender as it reveals the youthful innocence of childhood. Simple but effective staging with rich lighting and a fabulous fairground soundscape add additional pleasure to this production. Everything is thoughtfully and sensitively done, ensuring that 30 years on this tale of redemption and forgiveness still feels timely and relevant.
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…
This new work commissioned for SICK! Festival 2019 sees Contact Young Company (CYC) working with Amsterdam based TheaterDegasten 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.