Salt (Assembly Roxy, 07 -15 Nov : 20:00 : 45mins)

“A Poetic Conundrum”

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars Outstanding

If Fiona Oliver-Larkin had a magic formula for her new co-production with Al Seed, she might have mixed a little bit of Grotowski, Kantor, Alice in Wonderland, then have added some spices and at the end, naturally, loads of salt.

Far from trying to tell a linear story whilst retaining the aesthetics of a tale, Oliver-Larkin elaborates mesmerising scenic landscapes.  A poetic conundrum where the images work as oniric pulses that are splashed on the narrative, flashing throughout the piece: a marvelous and yet threatening house made of wood, salt and crystal; a submarine in a salted blue ocean; a small lighthouse; an indomitable garden where a beast lives; a still life as a graveyard made of wooden spoons; the light of knowledge that illuminates the main character at the last moment, right after a cathartic moment of biting the forbidden fruit.

This solo show with an austere scenography -that asserts the notion of poor theatre– and a noir and avant-garde study of beauty, makes use of dilated tempos to let the audience delve into the imagery (suspension very much appreciated in mime, puppetry or physical theatre). The lack of dialogue was key for the atmosphere of the show, as well as the accurate choice of making it no more than 45 minutes long.

In this fantasy world, where the strangeness and tenderness live together, we can see a little girl who uses her imagination to escape her reclusion, and plays with daily objects that become adventure companions, while an unknown being lives upstairs. The boredom of this normalised prison makes her mind work and boosts her inventiveness, to the point that fantasy and reality are blurred.

There’s a certain crescendo in terms of character’s development: the girl is afraid of beasts and dangers whilst at the end of the show -which is the travel of the heroine- she shows no fear. And that bravery makes her see the light. Plato’s cave, or just growing up?

Highly recommended for both adults and children.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Helena Salguiero (Seen 15 November)

Interview: Hand to God (Assembly Roxy 9 – 13 April ’19)

“I wish I had appreciated how difficult it is to focus when you’re laughing your head off!”

WHO: David Grimes, Director

WHAT: “Mild-mannered, shy Jason has sought solace in his mother’s Christian puppet ministry after the death of his father. In the basement of a conservative church in Cypress, Texas, Jason discovers a blossoming talent for puppetry and thinks that things might just turn out okay. His mom and Pastor Greg seem pleased, the local bully is largely indifferent, and his puppetry has even caught the eye of the cute girl in the youth group.

But the youth group has a monster in their midst: Jason’s puppet, Tyrone. As Tyrone’s foul-mouthed, irreverent, and devilishly funny influence over Jason steadily grows, no one’s secrets are safe. Not content with mere anarchy, Tyrone won’t be satisfied until
he’s dragged everyone to hell and back.

Is Tyrone simply Jason’s voice of grief and rage, or is Tyrone something far more sinister? Is Tyrone what he claims to be: the devil?

Hand to God, a play the New Yorker called Sesame Street meets The Exorcist, is a hilarious, lightening-paced, very adult comedy that explores the startling fragile nature of faith, morality, and familial ties that bind.”

WHERE: Assembly Roxy

DATES: 9 – 13 April (not Friday 12)

TIMES: 20:00

MORE: Click Here!


Why ‘Hand to God’?

I was fortunate to see ‘Hand to God’ in the West End in 2016, multiple times.  Perhaps it’s my southern US upbringing, but the play really resonated with me.  I found it to be one of the funniest plays I had ever experienced, and also one of the most moving and thought-provoking.  At the interval of my first viewing, I was already thinking about how much I wanted to get my hands on the material.  I come from the same area of the US that the play is set in.  I understand these characters.  I know them.  And yes, I’ve actually seen these youth ministries… I probably even participated in them during my childhood!  While the events may be exaggerated for humour, they are absolutely rooted in a US reality.

This is famously a script with a lot of premise and a lot of edge.  What’s at its heart?

‘Hand to God’ uses shock and extreme humour to slip important issues and an emotional punch past your defences.  Yes, the sweary puppets are funny.  Sure, the ending is gruesome.  Yes, the puppet sex is outrageous and you’ll hate yourself for laughing at Margery and Timothy, but you won’t be able to stop yourself from laughing.  All the while, the play delivers a deep message about grief, family, hope and healing.  After the laughter ends, you’ll still be thinking about the deeper messages and moments from the play.

Have you ever worked with puppets before?  And will you again?

I had a limited amount of experience with puppets prior to ‘Hand to God’.  I wasn’t a newbie, but hardly an expert.  Thankfully, most of the performers who manipulate the puppets were in the same boat.  Two had been in productions of Avenue Q previously.  Our puppets are dual arm rod puppets, which make them more difficult to manipulate.  We allowed for a longer rehearsal schedule to give the actors plenty of time to practice with their puppets.  We also built all of the puppets from scratch, as opposed to hiring them in.  Creating the puppets ourselves allowed us to tailor each puppet to meet its specific needs.  I’ve really enjoyed working with the puppets – they know their lines, always hit their blocking, and never complain!  I certainly wouldn’t shy away from another show with puppets, but the show would have to live up to the amazing script that we’ve had with ‘Hand to God’.

What will the EGTG production have that the original production missed?

We hope an audience!  In all seriousness, our production has a lot of heart.  Everyone involved is passionate about this project.  The performers have thrown themselves in with everything they’ve got and have produced a show that is really special.

What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of rehearsals?

I wish I had appreciated how difficult it is to focus when you’re laughing your head off!


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A Note of Explanation (Assembly Roxy: 1-3 Mar.’19)

Justin Skelton as Edwin
Photo: Grant Jamieson

“Lively and intelligent”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars Nae Bad

 

It fits that A Note of Explanation, a work-in-progress preview, is part of the third Formation Festival at Assembly Roxy. This adaptation of a children’s story by Vita Sackville-West is coming together rather well.

Some Kind of Theatre could argue that their 45 minute production is in kit form: neatly engineered, quick to put up, and soon to be nicely habitable. It is, after all, based upon a very small book in the library of a doll’s house. Yes, a priceless doll’s house with imperial foundations, but director and script adaptor, Emily Ingram, has carefully and respectfully remodelled A Note of Explanation (1924) for our declining and more anxious, times. I believe Sackville-West would applaud, whilst Edwin Lutyens, architect, might question what on earth we mean by ‘modernizing’. However, Lutyens is tutored and charmed by a bright and perky fairy, so all is to the good.

Quercus, ageless sprite of the house, has ‘memoirs’ to enact from standing in the wings of story time. She is forever young and capable (and Scottish) and her tales of Cinderella, the Shellycoat, Bluebeard, and Jack and the Beanstalk, are cheery, cheeky, variants upon the originals. Nothing too scary here, only a silly goose. Cheery but helpful too, as each has an ecological edge; perhaps not as keen as the woodcutter’s axe but good and pronounced all the same. When Quercus accuses Lutyens of imprisoning her within the skeleton of her oak tree the royal architect is truly sorry. Fortunately there is one magic acorn left ….

Ably performed by a cast of three – Gillian Goupillot, as Quercus; Imogen Reiter; and Justin Skelton, as Edwin Lutyens – with support from puppets of tree(s), agile squirrels and a carriage, A Note of Explanation is a lively and intelligent children’s show in the making.  

 

(& by ‘n by, for grown-ups:

Lutyens: https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/the-rise-and-fall-and-rise-of-edwin-lutyens/10029787.article

Robert Graves’ poem, The Stake, in ‘Poems: abridged for Dolls and Princes’, 1922, in the library of Queen Mary’s Doll House.  Haunted, but has an honest oak tree at its centre.)

 

 

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 1 March)

Enjoy Some Kind of Theatre

Visit Edinburgh49 at the Assembly Roxy

Interview: All About My Mother (21 – 24 Nov ’18)

“I still find it breath-taking that Almodovar was talking about gender, identity and sexuality in the totally commonplace way he did nearly 20 years ago.”

WHO: Ross Hope, Director

WHAT: “Spain, 1999.

In Barcelona, Manuela makes a new life for herself after the death of her son, working on a stage production of A Streetcar Named Desire. She is reunited with an old transgender friend, Agrado, who she finds working as a prostitute, and makes new friends in the shape of Rosa, a terminally ill young nun, and Huma Rojo, the famous and formidable grand dame stage actress whom her late son idolised.As Manuela rebuilds her life in a new city with a new job and new friends, her son’s estranged father returns to her life with tragic and life-changing consequences for them all.”

WHERE: Assembly Roxy 

DATES: 21 – 24 November

TIMES: 19:30

MORE: Click Here!


Why All About My Mother?

Honestly, it’s quite a simple reason. I read the script after seeing the film and enjoyed it so much I knew wanted to direct it. I buy and read a lot (and I mean a lot) of play scripts and I bought this one only because as I was curious about how they would adapt the film into a play. I read it cover to cover in one sitting. The last time I reacted to a script like this was when I read ‘Jerusalem’ by Jez Butterworth, which I was also lucky enough to direct, I knew if I felt the same way as I did about Jerusalem I wanted to direct this too.

You first saw the movie version at the Filmhouse in 2000. Has the story aged well?

I think it has, although you would expect me to say that wouldn’t you? At its heart, this is a story about family, not necessarily the family you are born into but the family you create for yourself; friendship and acceptance. These themes are still important, interesting and relevant nearly 20 years later. So this story of these characters creating families, forming friendships and gaining acceptance has aged perfectly well as far as I am concerned.

The film on which the play is based was a critical success (an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA) can audiences expect to see anything new in this adaptation?

The play is actually slightly different to the film. It is longer for one thing and the tale is told in a different, as you’d expect more theatrical and not cinematic way, and not all the characters in the film are present in this production. If you are an Almodovar aficionado and are wanting to compare the two you’ll just have to come to the Assembly Roxy in November and see where the differences are for yourself!

Art tends to imitate life, but do you think All About My Mother has played a part in developing and progressing our attitudes over the last couple of decades?

I still find it breath-taking that Almodovar was talking about gender, identity and sexuality in the totally commonplace way he did nearly 20 years ago. I am not sure I realised myself then how progressive it was for the late 1990’s as I was a lot younger then because it truly was and still is. Maybe art does imitate life, as you say, but I also think art gives life the kick starts it needs to get to where we are. A lot of the attitudes that are being challenged in the play still need to be challenged today and as much as we have come so far as a progressive society, we still have a long way to go.

What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of rehearsals?

I wish I had remembered what an undertaking rehearsing in a small rehearsal space was like. It might have stopped me telling the cast, night after night, “you’ll have more room in the venue!”


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Formation Festival: Cowards Anonymous (10-12 July)

“Leaves you feeling pleasantly contemplative”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Cowards Anonymous – a support group for shy people who don’t like to make tough decisions. Hosted by some very colourful characters (who begin wearing masks), the welcome given feels more like you’re about to participate in a bizarre shared event, rather than sit back in the shadows to merely observe. And a shared event it becomes, as audience members are picked on at frequent intervals to give their views on a variety of topics and questions.

For many, the term ‘audience participation’ is the stuff of nightmares – the thought of being dragged up on stage, laughed at, or even just spoken to from the comfort of your seat by a performer with a big personality and a microphone – can send shudders down one’s spine and bring on the cold sweats alarmingly quickly. And while one of the aims of Cowards Anonymous is to create a sense of discomfort and awakening to some rather sticky issues, it is mediated in a relaxed and comedic way that nurtures a safe space in order to openly discuss difficult topics – mainly moral choices and philosophical debates.

Indeed, the main strength of this production is the pace and personality driven through it by performers Izzy Hourihane and Eilidh Albert-Recht who do the bulk of the direct addresses to the audience. They bounce off each other well and successfully navigate the tightrope between likeability and authority throughout. Their performance also gives the frequent sense of having gone completely off-book, adding to that feeling of awakening through nigh-on cringeworthy uncertainty of what happens next. Gripping stuff.

Josh Overton’s script dissects the notion of what it means to be a coward, and indeed what it means to be oneself – given the acting up we all do in different situations to please those around us. Posing several thought-provoking scenarios and more than a fair whack of comedy, it leaves you feeling pleasantly contemplative, even if the killer punch of the piece is somewhat lacking. Many excellent ideas are presented, but none quite strongly enough to elicit purposeful action.

Director Tyler Mortimer does well to highlight the comedic and playful aspects of the production, yet while the pacing is generally quite rip-rollicking and upbeat, some more variation in tone and timbre might help emphasise the points being made by this piece.

For many reasons, this show is likely to be divisive, yet for those open to something new, it’s an enlightening way to spend an hour. For me, this production just needs to shake off some of its scrappy and unpolished edges, embrace its direct and intelligent confrontational approach and go full steam ahead. It’s refreshing to have one’s mind challenged in this thoughtful way, and I’d encourage more people to do the same.

 

 

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 11 July)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Formation Festival: Conspiracy (11-12 July)

“A sterling effort”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Loring Mandel’s Conspiracy, which many may know from the 2001 HBO film starring Kenneth Branagh, dramatises the 1942 Wannsee conference in Nazi Germany – where several powerful members of various agencies and government departments met to discuss and agree upon a “final solution” to the “Jewish problem”. Undoubtedly one of the major turning points in global history, it is almost sickening now to witness the frank discussions from these men of how best to be rid of millions – millions – of Jews. Strap in.

Upon entering Assembly Roxy’s large Central space, you get a feeling something big is going to happen: the impressive design encompasses a crescent shaped 15-seat conference table – complete with place names, glasses and cigarettes – while a full-on buffet spread is arranged behind it. This is a production that doesn’t shy away from details, as the excellent vintage costuming also pertains to.

Stylistically, Mandel’s script doesn’t quite have the wow-factor of some of its comparable contemporaries: the dialogue doesn’t sing as much as in Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men, while it lacks some of the narrative drive of Reginal Rose’s 12 Angry Men. What it does have, though, is a gut-wrenching sense of inevitability as the decision is reached with a pitiful defence of humanity, and it’s this short journey which makes it a powerful ensemble piece – achingly relevant to the political landscape unfolding in America now.

Director Robin Osman gives himself a mammoth task in pulling off this production, and a real strength is managing the cast of 16 at all points to maintain interest and relevant focus. Indeed the down-time moments of the meeting are almost more impressive than the lengthy debate, which often seems at odds with itself when it comes to levels of tension, frustration and power with each character. The overall presentation comes across as slick and well-rehearsed, though some cast members are somewhat guilty of overacting their smaller parts, creating a bizarre sense of imbalance to those with a more subtle approach.

For me, the standout performers are: Alexander Gray as Dr Wilhelm Stuckart, who navigates the most complex emotional journey throughout the piece; Chris Pearson as Dr Wilhelm Kritzinger, for exuding a natural quiet authority; and Ben Blow for his compelling and convincing turn as Otto Hoffman.

Overall, this is a sterling effort for an amateur production of this challenging play. It’s a bit of a slog to sit through, but well worth it for the vital history lesson, if nothing else.

 

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 11 June)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Formation Festival: Mr & Mrs She (7-8 July)

“Pleasingly disquieting”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Outstanding

It’s not often I’m lost for words when coming out of the theatre, but Mr & Mrs She is one of the most bizarre plays I’ve ever seen. Yet, while its incomprehensibility may be perceived as a negative, there’s something to be said for a play whose questions stay with you for many hours – even days – afterwards.

The show opens with what appears to be a fairly stereotypical wealthy couple enjoying a generous amount of their favourite tipple and getting rather merry. Cue the entry their very eager-to-please staff, a comment about enjoying oneself too much before breakfast, and suddenly the play takes a much darker turn.

Hollie Glossop’s script may well be abstract, but there’s something gripping about the subversion of power from these seemingly stock characters that becomes pleasingly disquieting. The level of detail and pace at which the action develops is masterful, and while I would prefer a greater sense of grounding and cohesion to be able to connect more with the action, Glossop has created a world that begs to be explored further.

Sofia Nakou’s direction embraces and extends the quirkiness with intelligent physicality and proxemics, making the most of the large performance area to highlight the power struggle between each character and the vast emptiness each one is in. As the action creeps closer to the audience, the level of discomfort rises on all fronts and it’s impossible to predict what will happen next, or how you should feel about it.

Kudos to all of the young company performing this work, embracing its weirdness and committing to their roles in it. David Llewellyn in particular demonstrates fantastic range and risk-taking throughout his demise, while Grant Jamieson is suitably sinister as his butler.

It would be fantastic to see this show developed further – it has the makings of a truly memorable piece of theatre. That being said, it seems somewhat unfair to attribute a star-rating to a piece like this, which might easily alienate some audiences while titillating others. Either way, if you’re on the lookout for something different that will leave you with many unanswered questions to debate afterwards, this may well be for you.

 

outstanding

StarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 8 July)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED