Blind Date & 27 Wagons Full Of Cotton

 

Genre: Short Plays

Venue: Riverside Studios Crisp Road London W6 9RL

 

Low Down

 

Does advertising a play as  “rarely performed” excite you or raise your suspicions about the play’s entertainment value? I have to say that for me the latter is sometimes true. I’m likely to respond  more positively if the play is the work of a respected playwright, either an early or ‘forgotten’ work for example. For this reason, I applaud Make&Bake Production’s choice of Blind Date by Horton Foote & 27 Wagons Full Of Cotton by Tennessee Williams, though Williams is certainly better known that the Pulitzer and Oscar Award winning Foote.  Nonetheless, perhaps the full-house I was part of in Studio 3 at Riverside Studios on Friday night indicates how the London fringe is key to widening an audience’s experience of the works of respected dramatists.

 

Review

 

Director Suresh Patel suggests in the programme that “both plays explore the repercussions that arise when… compassion breaks down between neighbours”. Then he adds that the plays “create two distinct worlds that nonetheless echo each other in various ways.” And indeed he seems to achieve a unity of purpose for the two plays through their use of similar design elements and doubling up of roles. A cut-away back wall is used in the set design of both: in Blind Date it represents the wall of a sitting room in a family home in Texas and in 27 Wagons Full Of Cotton it is the wall of the front porch in the cotton-growing area of Louisiana.

The style of design further suggests that the action happens in the 1930s or 40s (the 1930s for Blind Date given that Rudy Vallee’s radio show is alluded to and heard on stage). The four actor ensemble of Ross Ericson, Louise Templeton, Francesca Fenech and Sebastian Knapp double up to play husband and wife Robert and Dolores and Dolores’s niece Sarah Nancy and gentleman caller Felix in Blind Date and husband and wife Jake and Flora and their neighbour Silva Vicarro in 27 Wagons Full Of Cotton.

In placing the plays side by side, the audience cannot help notice how both plays exude a sense of America’s deep south.  For instance, women in both plays are characterise as being or aspiring to southern ‘belles’: so we see Dolores, a beautiful and personable wife and social organiser and Flora, a skittish and vulnerable young beauty. Louise Templeton’s is wonderful in the role.

The configuration of both the pairing of characters in the first play and the forced and unnatural ménage a trois in the second shows that perhaps it wasn’t only the theme of compassion between neighbours that Foote and Williams explore in their plays but the role of women in the domestic economy of finding a marriage partner and setting up married life. It is a theme that Williams is fascinated with in Glass Menagerie.

In Blind Date the comically drawn characters of Robert (Ericson) and Dolores (Templeton) are compared to the awkward Sarah Nancy (Fenech) and her ill-equipment suitor Felix (Knapp). The married couple manoeuvrings around their domestic squabbles in front of the younger pair are very funny. The darker and more sinister characters of 27 Wagons Full Of Cotton’s of cotton ginning Jake (Ericson), his child-bride Flora (Fenech) and their Italian neighbour Silva Vicarro (Knapp) represent a distinctive difference from the comic roles we see them play previously. Firstly this is shown through Jake’s violence towards his wife and the destruction of his neighbour’s property. Then through Silva’s revenge against Jake exacted through Flora and lastly, Flora’s realisation that Jake fails her as both a man and husband.

Francesca Fenech’s is able to affect Flora’s previously girlish giggles to communicate her character’s tragic circumstance: the audience hears her child-like laughter become utterly tragic by the end of the play. It is to Fenech’s credit that she does not overplay the sentiment by making the young woman’s sadness hysterical.

If I have any criticism of the double-bill it is to do with two matters: the first relates to the actors use of American southern accents that seem to geographically assimilate Texas and Louisiana. This was unfortunate in making the two plays less differentiated than they might have been. The second is to do with the lack of subtlety in which Williams’s male characters menace Flora. In this way, the line between Jake’s caresses and physically restraining of Flora might have appeared more difficult to judge as intentional or otherwise. Nonetheless, I found the evening reacquainting me with the powerful work two great American playwrights.

Reviewed by Josey De Rossi Friday 28th October

Website :

 http://www.riversidestudios.co.uk/cgi-bin/page.pl?p=home01

The Taming Of The Shrew

The Taming Of The Shrew 

 

Genre: Classical and Shakespeare

Venue: Southwark Playhouse, Shipwright Yard, (Corner of Tooley St. & Bermondsey St.), London, SE1 2TF

 

Low Down

 

As Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming Of The Shrews highlights, the history of gender politics goes further into the past than the history of suffragettes and equal rights. The idea of a ‘shrew’ is steeped in a mythological ancestry in which furies of one kind or another, once provoked, go on their destructive rampage. Arguably, what Shakespeare shows us in Katherine is the shrew in modern terms, when economic power forms a decisive part of ‘love and marriage’ and aggression has feminine has well as male characteristics.  Robin Norton-Hale’s production, set in Cherry Truluck’s wonderful south London market street somewhere in a mythical ‘Brixton’, cleverly builds on Shakespeare and exposes that postcodes, economics and love interests are not obstacles at all but catalysts that form a productive tension in new and prosperous ‘mixed marriages’.

Review

 

From the moment you enter the main theatre at the Southwark Playhouse’s production of Shakespeare’s Shrew you observe how every audience member cannot avoid walking over some part of its huge thrust stage on which real fruit, bread and other shop items are on display and ready to be purchased. The overlapping business of shopping and staged performance is completed as actors ‘use’ the audience to purchase something to eat or hold a camera for a photo opportunity. In this way, the opening scenes of the play seamlessly fuse Shakespeare’s play world to contemporary London, a place which welcomes tourists and migrants and problematically struggles with economic and race divisions. In this setting, the tension does not erupt destructively as it did in the recent riots  but overwhelmingly shows that the city’s streets are the everyday location on which cross-cultural friendships and mixed marriages and families live. It is through the latter that Robin Norton-Hale plays out her interpretation of Shakespeare classic and feisty comedy around gender politics.

 

Petruchio
(Simon Darwen) and Katherine
(Elexi Walker) are interpreted as a formidable pair of characters, both in their physical presence and in the size of their considerable egos. They are a perfect match: Katherine with her beautiful strong looks and Petruchio in his towering confidence.  The zeal with which they go after what they really want in each other is all ‘animal passion’ mixed up with short term convenience. It would be something really extraordinary if this was a ‘happy ever after’ union but, regardless, they will be better off for having known each other.

 

By contrast, the tamer Bianca (Simone James) and the more earnest
Lucentio
(Will Featherstone) have a tougher road ahead of them because of their higher ideals which comes with being more conformist. Like their counterparts, the two young actors take on their roles with wonderful conviction and courage. The image of Bianca sitting by herself on the sofa at the very end of the play with that ‘what-am-I-in-for-look’ seems absolutely appropriate from where I sat.

 

Another strength of the production can be seen in how the line of suitors (Simon Ginty, Matthew Newman, Giles Roberts) vying for Bianca’s attention encounter a desperate father (Dave Fishley) who finds controlling either of his two daughters taxing. As a result, Bianca is depicted in her strength from the outset and Katherine is shown as having more in common with her young sister than the suitors’ ever imagine. They are both willful ‘princesses’ who are used to having their own way: certainly, arguments with their dear old father are an every day event that they both take in their stride.

 

Cherry Truluck’s costume designs are inventive in allowing each of the characters to work through their many emotional states as they pitch and pull competitively for their ‘prize’, Bianca. With references to ‘beatnik’ fashion (as seen in Hortensio’s disquise) and to the 1970s, ultimately the costumes evoke the robust hit-and-miss festival of young attraction and love in which all the characters participate.

 

My one reservation in the production was in the choice to cross-dress Grumio as a woman.  This is not to say that Sarah Winn acted the role with any less energy or talent than the rest of the case.  I just could not see what was added to the audience’s understanding of the play through the choice to play Grumio as a woman.  In fact, at times it detracted from the drama.  For instance, the strength of such scenes as the ‘let’s starve Katherine into submission’ when she first arrives in Petruchio’s house I believe was weakened by not having an Arlecchino-like male servant who in a sense is more cruel than his master.

 

Perhaps this last point remains an academic consideration as the production is wonderful to view and deserves a sell-out season. Its presentation of gender politics will undoubtedly call up much discussion, debate and laughter.

Reviewed by Josey De Rossi Friday 7th October 2011

Website :

 http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/

 

My Hometown is in my Shoes/ The Other

 

 

Genre: Dance and Movement Theatre

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

 

Low Down

 

My evening at the Blue Elephant Theatre gave me something to think about how I come to view performances that demand knowledge of non-Western cultural forms. An evening of butoh-inspired dance is by definition deliberately difficult to describe conventionally, so saying, for instance, that conceptually The Other is about a moth and a man moving towards the light and that My Hometown is in my Shoes is an exploration of how shoes have a big bearing on how you connect to locus, your place of belonging and your home, sounds a bit shallow. Based on my limited understanding, this may be because the central tenet of butoh avant garde dance is not about ‘anything’ but about the absurd and grotesque embodiment of human movement itself.

 

Review

 

The first thing that is striking about The Other and My Hometown is in my Shoes is the clear lines and conscious attention to detail, both choreographically and through performance elements such as their use of costuming, projection and lighting.

 

The Other is devised by Sonal, Genovel Andrei Alexa and Lucia Tong and performed by duo Alexa and Tong who represent the ‘man’ and the ‘moth’. The simple elegance of the dynamic projection (by SOnal, Luc Song & Maaike Anne Stevens) of a growing tree upstage centre contrasted to the stillness of the two dancers in front of the large (but not cycloramic) screen is an absorbing opening. The man wields a staff and is costumed in the white robes commonly associated with sage-like males – Socrates, Plato et all. He stands upstage on the left side of the screen. The moth is still cocooned as a larvae-like slug in a white Martha Graham ‘body bag’ in which its body is beginning to emerge.

 

The multi-foci are surprisingly hard to take in all at once: the changing image on screen which seems to be yelling its references to a patriarchal Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve and the ‘Tree of Knowledge’. As I try to concentrate on the figures on screen to verify who they are I miss the movements of the performers on stage and visa versa. Similarly, as I look at the slowly emerging Moth I miss the upstage movements of the Man wielding his staff in warrior-like style. Perhaps this is the point…perhaps it is not.

 

For the majority of the time in the dance, however, the audience watches the emergence of the moth through the chrysalis and then through the man’s unwrapping of her wings which are wrapped in tightly bound rope. The release of wings is quite spectacular as yards and yards of black shiny cloth literally unfold against her small slim body.

 

The culmination of the performance is the contradictory image of a dominating and fully emerged beautiful black creature, created through shiny, satin body bodice and wings and the Lucia Tong’s long black hair. The tension seems palpable and is held fixedly as the lights dim to black and the performance ends. Could it be a temporary domination which might be overturned in an instant?

 

The other half of the programme, My Hometown is in my Shoes (Mi Patria son mis zapatos), is a very different piece.  Choreographer and dancer, Florencia Guerberof, focuses on moving feet and the variety of shoes that dress them. It is extremely energetic and Guerberof’s accomplishes a polish and precision in her racy expose of walking and running.

 

The dance opens with musician Elizabeth Nott on percussion beating out a rapture of rhythms which is then given over to the rhythmic pulses of Guerberof prostrate body, wearing well-worn men’s shoes which seem a little too big for her petite frame. Remaining on her back, she ‘dances’ as if she was standing up. It is a uniquely disconcerting view of dancing itself, as the feet flay about not making contact with the solid floor.

 

The choregraphy seemed to then be framed by dance phrases which ranged from quasi-tap routines and Spanish flamenco but which at no stage become these styles. All movement is subverted into further frenetic movement which is occasionally the cause of the dancer’s too-hysterical laughter and Najib Coutya’s wonderful singing and playing of the oud.

 

The final image of the dancer at the centre of a circle created by a variety of pairs of shoes was very curious. As she ‘tries’ different ones they call up different responses and movements and so ‘the dance’ continues in its distortion of a ‘variety show’ of this and that and another thing about continuous movement. The impression is of fleeting steps that seem to barely touch the earth. Perhaps this is the point about shoes and homes…perhaps it is not. Regardless, I look forward to viewing further work by Florencia Guerberof whose vision for seeing new material for dance seems to match her talent to create it.

 

As the programme specifically alluded to ‘butoh-inspired dance’, the audience is left in a sense with no choice but view the work as experimental and avant garde. The composition of the two companies that work to create The Other and My Hometown is in my Shoes are in themselves cross-cultural and it would be interesting to know how important that had been in the creation of their ‘butoh-inspired’ work. The performances have left me with more questions about how such experimental work comes into being. Perhaps I have been butoh inspired

Reviewed by Josey De Rossi Thursday 6th October 2011

Website :

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

http://www.florenciaguerberof.com/florencia_guerberof/home.html