Too Much World At Once is an impressive theatre debut for Billie Collins. This coming of age story has big aspirations; looking at themes around queerness, mental health issues and environmental disaster. There is a real lyricism in the writing and a strong feel for naturalistic dialogue. It’s no mean feat to write a fifteen year old boy who turns into a bird and readies himself to fly thousands of miles to his neurotic sister who is doing her bit for climate change by gathering data on albatrosses on a remote island in Antarctica. Meanwhile closer to home his Mum is struggling to connect and parent in a fractured family, while teaching and trying quite literally to hold the family home together. New boy Ellis is a breath of fresh air to both mother and son, bringing colour to their lives in ways that go beyond his nail polish and rainbow take on school uniform. It’s a lot to cram into two hours on a small stage but director Adam Quayle does a excellent job of bringing the writers’ vision to life. Quayle who is theJointArtistic Director of BoxofTricks has made this ambitious debut look and feel authentic.
The staging by designer Katie Scott is really beautiful in its simplicity. The central dias is shaped like the Earth with a backdrop of decaying wood…orange boxes, simple wooden furniture, bare window frames and driftwood that look like they may have been washed ashore. Overhead hangs a chandelier of driftwood that is reminiscent of the sword of Damacles. This staging is compact but highly effective in driving the narrative of the play. It’s further enhanced by sensitive and imaginative lighting by Richard Owen. At times the soft spread of light looks like the oceans of Earth or the rich splatter shades of guano. The lighting effects are at times simply gorgeous as in the closing moments where the the cast are lit like a rich tableau that is truly memorable.
The four actors are all well cast and give good performances. Paddy Stafford as central character Noble embodies the withdrawn boy who has closed off from his mother and desperately misses his sister. He gives a highly effective performance as he transitions into a bird and the occasional delicate movements of his head evoke a curious, perhaps wary bird. Evie Hargreaves plays his sister Cleo, a research scientist on Bird Island who is pulsating with nervy energy, passionate about conservation but overwhelmed by the harsh reality of the task and her surroundings in Antarctica. Alexandra Mathie is Fiona, their mother and the local science teacher. She is utterly believable as a brusque Northerner who seems more sentimental over her crumbling family home than sensitive to the emotional needs of her children. The force of nature in the play is Ewan Grant as Ellis, a newcomer to the school and excluded by his peers due to his sexuality. Grant exudes the enthusiasm and openness of a Labrador puppy bringing an upbeat and humorous energy to the production. He is the perfect foil to this family who have lost their way and each other.
Collins writes with the confidence of a natural poet. There is an innate lyricism and a sense of magical storytelling in this piece. It will be exciting to see her work develop as a playwright. The central flaw within Too Much World At Once is precisely that…there is a lot of world and not enough about who the characters are within this world on stage. This is an exciting premise for a play but the characters feel underdeveloped at times. The mother has some back story and context yet it is frustrating to watch this woman who sits painting the nails of a boy her son barely knows instead of battering down the doors of the local police when her 15 year old child has been missing for days. A lot of the action in this narrative is driven by what has happened within the fractured dynamics of this family unit yet these are barely touched upon. What has happened in the marriage? A deeply depressed and highly anxious daughter…is she living out her mothers’ unfulfilled ambitions? Most frustrating is the central character Noble as he never feels fully fleshed out…but perhaps he is just a fledgling in a damaged nest.
Director Adam Quayle has done a lot to make a potentially tricky play come to life on a small stage. At times the production can seem unwieldy or too busy as the chorus moves around swooping like birds or moving chairs like they are being swept away in a storm. This would all probably lend itself more effectively to a larger stage. The sound design by Lee Affen adds additional charm as he works magic to bring the world of nature and the elements to life onstage. This is a big play on a small stage but perhaps aptly so…
And this is all I know…that it’s a good world to be small in. And there is so much here to love.
Adapted from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women by Figs in Wigs
Is this a feminist deconstruction of a revered classic novel? Is it poking fun at the many movie versions? Perhaps it is a clever take on climate change? Or simply a bizarre series of infomercials for juicing machines and vibrating exercise platforms? I’m not entirely certain that the five strong ensemble that is Figs in Wigs are any clearer than the audience.
A whirlwind first act that is a similar length to the interval break seems to be a trailer full of spoilers to Little Wimmin spliced with an idiots guide to Little Women. Dressed in floaty gowns while suspended midair with fluffy cloud wigs the Figs manage to both enchant and irritate. They appear to be both artful and artless in their delivery, creating a challenge for the audience…do we want to come back after the interval and wait almost 2 hours to see the little Wimmin make a margarita or shall we bugger off at the interval and just order one at the bar?
Act 2 opens like an am-dram performance that appears to be a faithful rendition of the classic…just very orange. If the past was all white lace gloves then the present for Figs in Wigs, and undoubtedly the future, is orange…very orange indeed. Meg manages, Jo lollops, Meg simpers (and dies) and Amy flounces. Oh and the Christmas tree breaks the fourth wall to give a sneering critique of the show so far before lip syncing to the Chris Rea classic Driving Home for Christmas with a delivery that would not look out of place on Rupaul’s Drag Race.
There are radical hair restyles, arson, births and deaths all interspersed with prolonged crying. It feels like this pain will never end…When will it be over? These phrases repeatedly occur as time fractures, ice sculptures melt on tea trays, jelly wobbles on vibrating plates and rugs are beaten in an orgasmic frenzy. There is a pervading sense of what mind blowing creative carnage might occur if you locked these five in a rehearsal space with Forced Entertainment and Rashdash.
There are some clever and beautifully choreographed dance sequences, especially the piece depicting time against a backdrop of faded replications of the performance that is very effective. Genius moments include an unforgettable delivery of Edith Piaf’s Je ne regrette rien and Lynchian sequences where a giant lace glove dances alongside a horse in a pin stripe suit. Limes fall from the sky and are rhythmically squeezed by an industrial juicer before being decanted into a giant cocktail glass and drank by the famous five now clad in you guessed it – orange hazmat suits.
This is not a show for the faint hearted or the easy confused. However it is a delight if you like your absurdist theatre orange…very orange indeed. With a pinch of subversion, a dash of too clever for its own good, a drip of climate change politics and a squirt of feminism Little Wimmin is a theatrical cocktail.
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.