Posted in circus

December 19: Circus 1903

I used to enjoy the circus, apart from the clowns, but haven’t been for a long time. This production at the Royal Festival Hall promised to take us back to the “golden age”.

The performers were excellent (even the contortionist, and I don’t like contortionism as a rule).

The concept was interesting. The whole of the first act was “tech rehearsal”, so we saw the tumblers and the aerialist etc out of costume, and against a background of the show being set up. The second act was “the show”, so the compere became the Ringmaster, and the high wire act and human trapeze artist were in costume. Sadly, although we saw the costumes of the earlier performers in the curtain call, we never saw them performing in them. For example, we saw a performer out of costume on a bicycle, and he was very clever, but he took the curtain call in costume on a unicycle. I would have liked to see that performance.

There were no clowns. I was surprised by this, and oddly disappointed.

The compere/ringmaster was dreadful. And there was too much patronising “filler” with children from the audience.

The elephant puppets were fabulous, but the appearance of the big elephant was fleeting. I wanted much more of this.

The children in the audience seemed to love it all. It was certainly a good replacement for most modern pantomimes.

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Posted in Musical theatre

November 20: Hadestown

I loved this production. The voices were amazing, from the deepest basso profundo growl (Hades) up to a pure countertenor top note (Orpheus). The three Fates’ harmonies were tight, all the principals were strong, and the dancing and singing ensemble was energising.

I loved the idea of setting the Orpheus myth in a New-Orleans style jazz club, and the transformation into Hades (the place) was simple but effective. The final moment when Eurydice doesn’t escape was shocking, even though I knew the story, and I had a lump in my throat more than once during the coda.

Go and see this if you can, you won’t regret it.

Posted in Theatre

November 14: Troilus and Cressida

I would have loved to see this live, but Stratford upon Avon is too much of a trip for me. Thank goodness for live cinema screenings, and the comfort of a reclining seat.

The play was fabulous, in a stereotypical Mad-Max sort of way. I liked the idea of a slightly dotty female Agamemnon, and I liked that Ulysses was also played as female (although Adjoa Andoh was guilty over overacting in my opinion). Andy Apollo and Theo Ogundipe were fabulously and hunkily oversized as heroes Achilles and Ajax. The best parts for me were Pandarus (Oliver Ford Davies) and Thersites (Sheila Reid), who gave us both the comic relief and the narration; and the standout of the evening, Deaf actor Charlotte Arrowsmith, who signed the part of Cassandra seamlessly.

The set was clever- shipping containers doubling as tents, hanging ironmongery for trees, motorcycles for horses and chariots…

The costumes were fabulous, and the whole look was post-apocalyptic.

Best of all was Evelyn Glennie’s wonderful percussion score.

I loved this play. I might go and see it again if it transfers to the Barbican.

Posted in performance event

November 8: The Paper Traveller

Something completely new and different, but completely me. A physical journey through a real library, guided by a storyteller via the medium of audio.

This was a really clever idea, and took me to parts of my local public library that I might not normally visit (romance, travel. Manga etc).

The story was a little ghostly tale, suitable for the season, and the audio files (hidden in pop-up books) were cleverly put together with sound effects as well as a reader. I soon lost my feeling of conspicuousness at walking around the library wearing headphones and white cotton gloves (to protect the books), and list myself in the adventure.

Marie Klimis has produced a wonderful immersive experience. I thoroughly recommend you take part in this if it comes to a library near you.

Posted in Theatre

October 25: Macbeth (again)

I am becoming very fond of the Barbican theatre. It is still a bit of a trek to get to (why can’t they just put a bus stop a bit nearer?), but once inside, it is great. I love the individual doors for each row, and the good sightlines that cantilevered balconies give. No pillars to spoil the view here.

This Macbeth was the Royal Shakespeare Company’s version, transferred from Stratford upon Avon, and it was very good. I don’t need to tell the story, of course. The cast was diverse, the set was minimal as befits a brutalist building, with excellent use of lighting and sound. A clock ominously counted down the seconds to Macbeth’s demise — a clever touch. The witches were an inspired piece of casting. Kudos to the three little girls, and I hope they get to keep their red dresses.

Posted in Theatre

October 24: A Very Very Very Dark Matter

This should have been excellent. Written by Martin McDonagh. Starring Jim Broadbent and Phil Daniels. Staged at the Bridge. It should have been excellent, but I came away feeling a bit flat. Thank goodness it was a straight-through play. I might not have stayed past an interval.

There were good things. The set was wonderful, and the incorporation of the hydraulic lift was clever. The costumes were authentic period. Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles played Mbute Masakele (Marjory), a Congolese Pygmy woman with a strength and dignity that the rest of the characters lacked, and was the standout performance for me.

The story was strange (no spoilers from me, this is a new play), but the theatre’s own publicity gives a clue:

In a townhouse in Copenhagen works Hans Christian Andersen, a teller of exquisite and fantastic children’s tales beloved by millions. But the true source of his stories dwells in his attic upstairs, her existence a dark secret kept from the outside world.

Posted in books, public art, Theatre

October 16: The Trench; Weeping Window; Man Booker

A busy day today. The Trench is a one-act play with puppets and live music, performed by Les Enfants Terribles.

I have seen this company’s work before, and I wasn’t disappointed. The terror of war was depicted graphically at times, and there were no happy endings for the miner hero. Lighting was used very effectively, and the actor-musicians told a difficult tale very well.

On my way home from the theatre, I passed the Imperial War Museum, where the wonderful Weeping Window poppies installation is to be housed until after Armistice Day this year. I have only seen pictures of this work before, and they do not do it justice. The installation is very beautiful, in stark contrast to the war it commemorates.

Finally today, the Man Booker prize winner was announced. I got it wrong, unsurprisingly, but the winner was the book I liked most from the shortlist, and is coincidentally about a time of trouble which we don’t quite call a war.

Posted in puppetry, Theatre

October 12: The Paper Cinema’s Macbeth

My fourth Macbeth of the year, and I have to say, the most imaginative telling of this story that I have ever seen.

The Paper Cinema use pen and ink drawings to bring the play to life. It is a little like shadow puppetry, and a bit like old-style TV animation (think Noggin the Nog). There were some very clever effects using ink dropped into water and 3-D objects, and some very impressive music played on a variety of instruments by just two musicians, who doubled as very clever foley artists.

The play was short (75 minutes), and had no dialogue. Hard to imagine a silent movie of Macbeth without even subtitles, but this little company did and it worked absolutely brilliantly.

I shall be keeping an eye out for more by the Paper Cinema.

Posted in Theatre

October 9: The Sweet Science Of Bruising

“Bruising” is a slang term for fighting. But the bruises in this play aren’t all collected in the boxing ring.

I was very moved by this account of four very different women struggling for emancipation. I found the medical/surgical intervention to deal with “hysteria” particularly distressing, even though it was not portrayed in any real detail at all. I hadn’t realised that this type of mutilation was carried out in England, seemingly quite commonly, in the upper classes. The casual violence by men against their wives, mistresses, servants wasn’t overdone dramatically, but was a definite theme.

The violence, and the other punishments for women standing up for themselves were all too close to what is still happening.

The end of the play sees the women standing up for each other, and beginning to gain strength in sisterhood, but it is clear that there is still a long way to go.

Posted in Theatre

October 6: Peer Gynt

I looked out at the rain bucketing down and debated whether I wanted to face the weather enough to see a small-scale production of what is generally presented as a loooong play. In the end, I shrugged on my trusty “Vera” mac and trekked across London to the Arcola. I was very glad I did.

Roberto Ciulli and Maria Neumann (Theater an der Ruhr) acted their (in her case, mismatched) socks off. These two actors are not young, but the acting, (by Maria in particular, playing almost all the parts (the young Peer, Solveig, Anitra, the Troll King, the Woman in Green, etc etc)) was very physical. There were some eye-watering moments – in one scene she had to rip a raw onion to shreds with her teeth. The whole audience winced and dabbed their eyes – the Arcola space is quite small and the onion was huge.

This version of the play was a two-hander in German (with surtitles), and ran for a straight ninety minutes, which went by in a flash. If it ever comes to a theatre near you, I would recommend that you see it.