Seemingly Invisible

Seemingly Invisible 

 

Genre: Puppetry

Venue: Blue Elephant Theatre 59a Bethwin Rd (entrance in Thompson’s Ave) Camberwell London SE5 0XT

 

Low Down

 

Seemingly Invisible delicately weaves a set of stage images around six characters who through chance encounters find different kinds of relationships, not necessarily with each other. A busy street: a young man sees a women fall and die; an old man cries and another woman comforts him; a goat is heard bleating; and a ‘small white man’ moves through the same spaces, observing and reacting to the characters and happenings. Like the manipulated thoughts of the play itself, the last character is a simple unadorned white puppet. In other scenes, another puppet comes into being: an old woman, grandmother to one of the characters who retains her words ‘to love’ as the underpinning wisdom of his life.

 

 

Review

 

The relationship between theatre and story making is anything but simple. Sure enough there is the whole of the film and television industry that seemingly obeys Aristotle’s three unities of time, space and action but even then, thanks for Jean-Luc Godard, we know that some filmmakers like to upset the narrative order of beginning, middle and end. By contrast, there have been numerous theatre movements who have rejected Naturalism and Realism, philosophically and in practice.  The now famous quote about Waiting For Godot being a play in which nothing happens twice is just one example that shows up theatre making not based on a linear-type narrative. Yet, who would argue that naturalistic story telling continues to be the predominant form?  Even among hundred or so experimental London theatres, non-naturalistic narrative forms are on the fringe of the Fringe.

 

Yet, Seemingly Invisible is one such experiment and while it is not, at this stage at least, on the same level as Beckett’s Godot, the integrity of its aesthetics has something of Beckett’s sense of poetry. Verbal language is sparse and economically used in conjunction with stylised movement, an evocative musical score and an unquestionable transformational impetus to shift the frame in which the audience views reality. This is done by playing with the timing of actions as well as the repositioning of stage properties and objects. With amazing clarity, actions are stretched out across the space: a movement down stage causing a reaction up stage or an encounter between two characters is repeated up to a point and then disrupted with a different gesture, or direction.  Lighting designer, Karl Oskar Mac Sordal’s precisely picks up on the mood and timing of the actions.

 

Who are Smoking Apples? Four young theatre makers with ‘European Theatre Arts’ and Rose Bruford College in common. Harriet Field and Blake Aleksander direct, compose and record the music of the show. Its extraordinary edgy tone operates as an highly unconventional soundtrack: made up of the pulse of an old spinning turntable and the ‘unmixed’ sound of electric keyboard and violin. While definitely ‘unmastered’, the music is far from cacophony. Rather, it is melodic and uplifting. Harriet and Blake also perform in the show along with Matthew Lloyd and Molly Freeman. The four have been working together as Smoking Apples since 2009.

 

I notice from the programme that Matthew and Molly have studied puppetry in Prague but that all four performers handle the puppets very well. However, it is not appropriate to think of Seemingly Invisible as a ‘puppet show’. It is a play in which some characters are realised through puppetry. What is far more important to view is the interplay between the ‘real’ people and the puppets: how do they extend our understanding of what it means to be human? Humansneed puppets to face their individual and collective potentialities and limitations to animate, to bring into being that part of their own humanity which isseemingly invisible.

 

For a great deal of the time the interplay works well but it does happen immediately.  From where I sat, I felt lost for about the first ten minutes of the play, mainly because most the actions seems to be directed upstage away from me. I was left to watch the backs of actors for what appeared to be no better reason other than the stage furniture had been placed upstage. In fact, as I walked into the auditorium to take my seat I remember thinking how ‘pre-set’ looked merely haphazardly thrown together.

 

It is only after this uncertain opening, that the show visibly builds its dramatic tension. Each section of the action seems to physically grow out of the preceding action: the setting up of the old man’s table and chairs from the rolling round table; then the screen from the boxed table clothe; leading to the dancing shadow puppets; working besides the dancing couple when the female partner just falls away and so on… By the end, I am totally absorbed at the glimpses of each character’s story unfolding: the young man who sees the death on the street as he is simultaneously experiencing grief at his own grandmother’s death and the old man comforted by a stranger and more. By at the end, after the applause and bows, the whole audience sits in silence. It is only momentarily but long enough to signal that something ‘beyond words’ had been felt towards the characters before us around the human need for companionship and love.

 

In my case I felt a quiet sort of inspiration and a definite gladness that I had found my way down the unfamiliar streets of Camberwell to reach the Blue Elephant Theatre. I noted the contrast between the unassuming small theatre and the breadth of imagination I had experienced from its stage.  I walked back to Camberwell Rd and my bus stop carrying the play’s clear sense of humanity with me.

 

Reviewed by Josey De Rossi Tuesday 27th September 2011

Website :

http://www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk/

http://www.smokingapplestheatre.com/

The production is only on until Saturday (1st October).  I recommend that you act fast to view it.

Snow White

 

Camden Fringe 2011

 

 

 

Genre: Children’s Theatre

Venue: Shaw Theatre 100-110 Euston Road. London NW1 2AJ

 

Low Down

 

Filskit Theatre’s production of Snow White portrays the character of Snow White as a real girl –  as opposed to the black haired – white skinned character of Disney’s cartoon –  who is fortunate enough to survive two persistently agile henchman. She’s also not the only one with a problem as the henchmen have their own dilemmas with trying to stay out of the deadly attention of their mistress, the wicked Queen. Unfortunately, for Snow White the Royal with murderous intent is also her mother. The character change from wicked stepmother of Disney’sSnow White to the mother in Filskit’s production is another bold element of the company’s interpretation of the classic tale .

 

As characters from ‘behind the mirror’, the two henchmen, played by Katy Costigan and Victoria Dyson, narrate Snow White’s life threatening situation and their roles in it. Whatever abstract ethical dilemmas they experience while ‘just following orders’ is made delightfully tangible for the young audience through the characters’ use of stylized movement and stage business as they confront and deal with a very likeable and energetic Snow White (Sarah Gee) .

 

Review

 

The presentation of fairytale scenarios on stage has traditionally been the domain of pantomime productions. Filskit Theatre has certainly employed some pantomime comic elements to lighten what is a ‘dark’ story of infanticide gone wrong. However, the company’s use of film and, to use their own term, micro projection, give this Snow White an altogether more contemporary theatrical style. It is a form which in recent years has gained more and more interest from producers of children’s theatre as recent production such as 1927 Theatre Company and their production earlier this year of The Animals And Children Took To The Street at the Battersea Arts Centre.

 

Filskit’s Snow White is both visually beautiful and technically adventurous with its delicately placed projection of text and images on the bodies of the actors and many umbrellas that are used to depict various physical and emotional states.

The play is comprised of a team of five: three actors, a musician and a very visible stage hand (Alex Curry) who seems at all times to be utterly pleased to be making the various special effects on stage materialise. With his help, images twirl off bodies into the air, poisonous letters are instantly delivered and forest insects take flight.

 

The script is clever and metaphorically evocative, with a good use of Roald-Dahl-like grotesque imagery. The language has a strong rhythmic quality without employing the traditional pantomime rhyming couplets. The use of physical movement supports the language in often giving more metaphorical concepts a physical form: for instance, Snow White’s fear of finding herself in the woods is depicted not in words but through choreographed movement in which she wields an umbrella to mask and protect herself.  Occasionally though, I felt that stillness might have been better used but that perhaps the actors didn’t quite trust that their young audience to remain engaged if they held back on the action.

The use of umbrellas as both part of the stage setting and as moveable stage props is particularly inventive. The umbrellas are also used as stage props:  for instance, the henchmen use them as weapons in one of their many plots to ‘kill Snow White’.

 

One very large square umbrella representing the wall of Snow White’s room provides a sensational surface to view a shadow play. The audience is able to view a playful girl who is ‘just a girl’ behaving in a curiously child-like way. The shadow play also sets up the fact that Snow White speaks only through ‘body language’ and not words.  The choice of depicting Snow White without speech and only through simple voiced sounds is another significant departure from tradition. It effectively defines her as a kind of ethereal being: a true ‘fairytale’ character.

 

Katy Costigan and Victoria Dyson perform the roles of the henchman with a mixture of acrobatic strength and comic exaggeration. Their energetic commitment to their roles give their performances moments of light relief ,which at times I felt strayed too far away from the darkness of the story, as if again they did not believe that their young audience could deal at least with ‘the truth’ of Snow White’s dilemma caused by parental ill-will (let alone murderous intent).

 

From my point of view, they could have dispensed with much of the pantomimic tricks of waving to the children since the production was sufficiently strong to allow them to engage and interact with the audience through the new technologies in possibly new ways.

 

Perhaps, the most unsatisfying part of the show was for me the music which seemed piecemeal, patchy and ‘small’ compared to the mood and atmosphere created by other element of the production.  I believe that the show deserves a substantial soundtrack that meets up to its adventurous visual inventiveness. Composer and musician Melanie Borsack seemed inexplicably limited even though she was clearly a good musician with the ability to play many wind, percussion and string instruments.

Despite this, Filskit Theatre’s Snow White should please its producers Quirkas Productions with the way it engaged its young audience. Its fresh and vital interpretation of an iconic Disney character whose minders were seven dwarves and not two former henchmen is at times both curious and quirky. In other moments it transcends onto an epic plane that dares to show how some children (and henchmen) are able to surmount the evil intentions of their contexts and live ‘happily ever after’.

 

Reviewed by Josey De Rossi Viewed Tuesday 23rd August 2011

Website :

http://www.shaw-theatre.com/index.php?id=2

http://www.filskittheatre.com/

http://quirkas.com/

Mae Naak

Mae Naak 

 

Genre: Opera and Operatic Theatre

Venue: Bloomsbury Theatre , Gordon Street, London WC1H 0AH

 

Low Down

 

Opera Siam’s European premiere production of Mae Naak at the Bloomsbury last night, by composer and librettist Somtow Sucharitkul (aka S. P Sowtow), proves that it continues to engage audiences all around the world. First staged in 2003, it is a stunning work that fuses a European operatic style with Thai folkloric music. Arguably, such a synthesis reflects the global experiences of S. P. Sowtow himself, whose English scholarship (he was educated at Eton and Cambridge) and links to English musical traditions seems to have been successfully negotiated with his role as founder of the Bangkok Opera and the Siam Philharmonic.

Review

 

The London production consists of: the Philharmonic orchestra, with its exciting young conductor, Trisdee na Pattalung; a corps de ballet; a substantial chorus and an array of major singers in lead roles around its star Nancy Yuen as Naak. Her appearance in London is made even more poignant as S. P. Sowtow created the role for her in 2003.  Kyu Won Han as the husband Maak, Emma McNairy as the Temple Dance,  Zion Daoratanahong as the Headman’s Daughter, Pitchaya Kemasingki as the Chinese Pork Merchant, Richard Cassell as the Abbot Monk and Novice Monk played by Saran Senavinin and Grace Echauri as the midwife form a formidable ensemble. The choreography is fresh with its blend of European balletic and Thai folkloric styles.

 

 

 

The story of Mae Naak is based on the theme of female vengeance in the tradition of Medea, and Clytemnestra and her Furies. The characterisation of Naak, however, also portrays her as a trickster who lures anyone to destruction who even dares to cross her. And unlike her European counterparts whose sights are set on avenging their traitorous husbands, her reign of terror arises because the circumstances of war take her beloved husband, Maak, from her and she wants him back. Her desires go beyond the grave, were she is placed after dying during childbirth with their stillborn son. Her ghostly figure, together with that of her infant child, walk the home and village waiting for her husband’s return. When that reunion occurs, the full extent of the horror that she brings on any person who might separate them again becomes the subject matter of the opera.

 

 

The differences noted here between European and Thai characters is in itself no more than an example of focusing on the subject matter on stage: an illustration of how audiences generally move from known to unknown stories. The process of meaning making throws up similarities and differences to sharpen the vision, like adjusting the lens to get a clearer image on a camera. But in tying together possible similarities – in this case the phenomenon of strong vengeful women – irreconcilable differences also erupt for the audience.

 

The story’s Thai context is framed by its Buddhist teachings on reincarnation and its depiction of rural village life that hints at an exotic Asia far from the traffic-jammed setting of its now large modern cities. But there is no trivialisation of Thai culture being enacted. Rather, the production interestingly depicts its own version of a post-colonial heritage through its portrayal of a fearsome woman who is responsible for destroying the idyllic rural setting time and time again on stage. Its operatic score, which is a fusion of German dramatic opera and traditional Thai folk music, makes for amazing listening as it builds dramatic tension at every moment of the story.

 

 

 

At the start of the evening, S. P Sowtow came before the audience and spoke of some the difficulties the production had encountered on its arrival at the theatre. He mentioned, for instance, that the original set design by Sumet Jumsai did not fit onto the Bloomsbury stage. And I must admit it was apparent throughout the spectacular show how the depth of the stage and the placement of its higher rises seriously interfered in the choreography and mystical effect of water and fog across the imaginary river at the front of the stage. This was unworthy of the high professional evident around the production.  How had the choice of venue been made? Why wasn’t the production, for instance, staged in a venue which usuals attracts international shows like the Barbican? Why was its season for only three performances?

 

 

There is so much to engage with in Mae Naak. It deserves to been seen in its full splendour.  It deserves to be shown for far more than a short three-night season.  I recommend that it return to London again, not the least because of the wonderful character of Naak herself, whose strength and desire raises to the heights of a tragic heroine and who takes us through the music on a journey with someone battling to find peace.

 

Reviewed by Josey De Rossi Thursday 15 September, 2001

Website :

http://www.thebloomsbury.com/event/run/1593

http://www.bangkokopera.org/Opera_Siam_Main/Opera_Siam.html