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.
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.
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.
Creators/Performers Liz Richardson, Josie Dale-Jones, Sam Ward, Carmel Smickersgill
I grew up by water, a green, gurgling river full of trout and salmon and Lough Erne, the Irish Lake District – 2 dark and beautifully treacherous loughs filled with islands. I love the comfort of water, especially a warm enveloping bath. For Liz Richardson and her friend Lisa comfort and solace comes in the icy shock of wild swimming. This new show takes a moving and tender look at the grieving process as Richardson introduces fellow theatre makers Josie Dale Jones and Sam Ward to wild swimming while composer Carmel Smickersgill observes them and creates an extraordinarily beautiful homage to the power of the water and the potency of grief.
SWIM combines performance with live music, video footage and a conversational style that creates a really fresh feel to this piece. There is a real sense that these performers are meeting in a collaborative process that is new to all of them and that their personal curiosity around the subject matter is geniune. This production is full of earthy humour and guileless playfulness yetthroughout their quest to explore what is involved in wild swimming, there is a haunting constant in the grieving process and that this show is not about Liz’s friend Lisa but that it for her.
The stamina, huge heart and lust for life that LizRichardson embodied in Gutted is on show once again. She takes her fellow performers and the audience on a quest to feel truly alive and to never feel apologetic for the gift of life. The filmic element of the show is both down to earth mundane and sublimely beautiful as they chatter and shiver in an estate car or float on vast lakes. The personalities and differing perspectives of the performers work well and the whole thing is drawn together by the soaring vocals of Carmel Smickersgill who creates an ethereal soundscape akin to Julee Cruise or Duritti Column.
SWIM speaks of the spiking feeling or electrifying shock to the body as it is encompassed by the icy water. It speaks of the pain as friends see each other grieve, on your face a type of joy til I’ve seen You’ve remembered again…just because you’ve enjoyed yourself doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten. In the water our bodies are reshaped just as our souls are by grief. In profound grief we often seem to lose ourselves, or the selves that we once were. In making this show for her friend Lisa, Liz is seeking a friend who is out there lost in the dark water. Regrouping, reforming repairing, still an unknown to herself and to Liz…may you both continue to journey well within the water and beyond it.
The day after I saw this show I too lost someone very dear to me. I’m still floundering in and out of the water but I won’t drown. Shows like SWIM are so important, we never know when we might need to revisit them and find solace.
Saturday lunchtime is as good a time as any for a wander around a pitch black church crypt doubling up as a contemporary art museum and a mental hospital. Donning headphones and entering the exhibition Director Victoria Snaith is charmingly optimistic about the experience though does warn us all to not fiddle with the controls and watch our heads on the low arches in the gloomy but rather dreamy crypt.
Wandering around the exhibition we learn about the fragile 1920s artist Gretel Sauerbrot and her alcoholic brother Hansel. It quickly becomes clear that these are two seriously damaged individuals but by WW1 or something more unworldly…even more unspeakably horrible? Are the clues in the art itself or perhaps in what we hear as museum recording and something more sinister start to overlap?
Things are going swimmingly so far with a delicious hint of impending dénouement and horror beckoning round the next dark corner. Then suddenly the mood fractures with the appearance of a rather unorthodox psychiatrist (Robb Wildash) who may well be an wandering patient- and if he isn’t he certainly should be. One should never introduce oneself with a description of how you castrated yourself in a forest and then attempt to medicate your stunned patients with skittles and lemon drops without checking if they are diabetic.
There are some moments of genuine discomfort and potential scare. However this is a piece of immersive theatre that sadly loses pace as it shifts from auditory storytelling into theatre. The room I was waiting for never materialized and I felt entertained but strangely cheated by never catching a real glimpse of the crazed and tragic Gretel in this thoughtful twist on the famous folk tale.