A Lady of Substance

A Lady of Substance 

 

Genre: Drama

Venue:  Tristan Bates Theatre  1a Tower St, Covent Garden, London, WC2H 9NP

 

Low Down

 

 

Jon Cooper’s play straight from Manchester’s 24:7 Theatre Festival sets up a collision of cultures: classical European sensibilities of art and poetry versus contemporary hip hop African and Caribbean language and music and a ‘generation gap’ between the hopes and aspirations of contemporary youth and the spent promises of a seemingly more privileged generation who were given a good education to make something of themselves.  A Lady Of Substanceexamines these issues from the perspective of the legacy of the emancipated woman: what can they pass on to younger women through their fears, vulnerability and paradoxes that show how having equality under the law with men exposes a host of other more subtle and pernicious inequalities they deal with as part of their every day lives. The two roles of Jasmin and Cassandra are played by Tia Bannon and Joyce Greenaway respectively: with both performers giving evocative performances throughout the eighty minute production.

All that seems before the middle aged Cassandra and the sixteen-year-old Jasmin when Jasmin chooses to break into Cassandra’s house through an unlocked back window. The place is littered with packing boxes, though there is furniture and other things around which clearly seem to be still in use: a comfortable sofa, a few shelves on which sit poetry anthologies and a hi fi system. However, when the audience first spies Jasmin moving about the room, drinking alcohol and playing music, it might have assumed like I did that she was in her own home. It is only when on hearing a door open and seeing Jasmin duck behind packing boxes that I realise she has possibly arrived unwelcomed into the space.  This is confirmed when Cassandra returns, pre-occupied with the burden of carrying her orange Sainsbury’s bag full of vodka, whiskey and wine bottles. She sits on the sofa and begins drinking, after curiously placing two different glasses before her on the coffee table as if she was pouring drinks for two people. A noise from amongst the packing boxes disrupts her drinking and propels Jasmin into her life.

Review

 

The pun on the word substance in Cooper’s title relates to the way the play characterises Cassandra and Jasmin as users of drugs and alcohol and how, in turn, drugs and alcohol relate to psychological and cultural contexts: Cassandra through her use of alcohol to calm her fear of failure as a writer and Jasmin in using cocaine to fill the void of her parents’ inattentiveness towards her. What proves even more interesting is the way Cooper develops their stories through placing the finality of death into these responses and then ties it to both their relationship with having an artistic imagination and developing personal relationships: this is made clear for Cassandra through the death of a partner and for Jasmin, the death of her mother.

Death complicates Cassandra’s and Jasmin’s worlds and, ironically, simplifies the choices before them as women, daughters, potential nurturers and partners. Cooper’s brilliance can be seen in the way that he presents the roles of ‘wife’ and ‘mother’ as looming parts of the drama that are continuously reconfigured in terms of the action before us as we watch Jasmin and Cassandra elicit a sense of responsibility from one another.  The role of parent and child is exchanged between the two as the alcohol and cocaine is passed around, posing questions for the audience about what should a sixteen year old and a middle aged woman be excepted to do and know. The issues are drawn up with even more contemporary nuances, given the fact that Cassandra’s long-standing homosexual ‘marriage’ to her partner is for all intension equated to that of Jasmin’s parents commitment to one another.

At the same time, the contrast between Jasmin and Cassandra is exploited at every level of the drama.  The actors play off each other to distinguish the subtle differences brought about by their age, class and race. Its as if the pair hold the ‘type’ of character they imagine the audience is viewing when they see them physically,  and then redraw each part of themselves from the inside out: Cassandra, her white, middle-class educated self and Jasmin her black, urban savvy, working class persona. In this context, the alcohol and cocaine act as a kind of bacchanalian re-mixer of typical behaviour in which a middle-class poet gets to rap and a black teenager gets to speak in the style of Western poets. Director Samantha German is able to call out and shape two very fine performances from Bannon and Greenaway: her attention to every detail and use of iconically important objects, such as the Cassandra’s baseball bat and Jasmin’s overburden under-shoulder bag, is beautiful to watch.

I came away impressed by the depth of Cooper’s characterisations. Nonetheless, the play left me feeling dubious about three aspects of its construction. The first was a silly practical matter that kept coming to mind as I watched the actors drink the alcohol and snort the cocaine. Could anyone remain even half as coherent and insightful as these two characters did with that amount of chemicals in their bloodstream? I quickly dismissed the idea and reminded myself that this was theatre and a suspension of disbelief was needed to operate.  However, the unaffected actions and speech of the two characters did still worry the mother in me who only recently moved from being someone with three teenage daughters and seeing them move through the party and pubs phase of their lives. Cassandra surely shows that for some, the phase remains a lifetime addiction. So, I couldn’t see why the production pulled short of exploring ‘substance abuse’ through speech and movement. Secondly, the almost instantaneous development of warmth and friendship between Cassandra and Jasmin also seemed a little unreal. Perhaps it was just that there wasn’t enough time expressed in the play between their first meeting and the subsequent series of events that follow. If we are to believe in the characters as hard cases of one kind or another – Cassandra as the disillusioned artist and Jasmin as the hardened street kid – then the warmth that comes about almost from the beginning is simple unbelievable.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the production is the idealism expressed through Jasmin who, for me, on occasions sounded like a spokesperson for a whole generation telling us how they have had to almost parent themselves while their parents got on with being overwhelmed with their lives: how their parents’ generation was totally unprepared with dealing with death and other disasters and had little appreciation for all the opportunities which they had been given in their lives. Tia Bannon speaks Jasmin monologues with such conviction that I literally wanted to stand and applaud her then and there. But the truth is even harder I suggest for Jasmin in the real world, the dangers so much more lethal and the lack of care so much more hurtful. Come to think of it, perhaps Jon Cooper did me a favour in seeing a strong, intelligent, resilient, resourceful and courageous Jasmin. It is enough to know that she might exist.

Reviewed by Josey De Rossi 23 March 2012

Website :

 http://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/Production_details_A_Lady_of_Substance.asp

Staged in Tristan Bates Theatre  ‘Plays by Young British Writers’  until 14 April.

The Death of Norman Tortilla

The Death of Norman Tortilla 

 

Genre: Drama

Venue:  Tristan Bates Theatre  !a Tower St, Covent Garden, London, WC2H 9NP

 

Low Down

 

One sparsely furnished uninviting room, plastered with images from popular gossip magazines; one old man (Norman Tortilla) sitting in his armchair, fixedly gazing to his left at presumably the pictures on the wall opposite; one very athletic, good-looking foreign care worker (Jack) who comes like clockwork to bathe and put clean clothes on Norman and one frightened but conniving young woman (Tandie) whose past misfortunes continue to impede her progress. This is the setting and the characters who are brought together in the play and who become the focus for the audience in confronting some extremely difficult questions about the human yearning for intimacy, leaving a sense of legacy and creating relationships which can sustain individuals in times of need.

Review

 

 

In the first silent moments of the play the lights come up on an old man looking decidedly solitary and shabbily dress. The hundreds of faces on the collages mounted on the surrounding walls and cupboards make him look even more isolated. The effect was also for me slightly absurd, created by an incongruity fuelled by my prejudice that gossip magazines are mostly read my young women and bored housewives. The mismatch seems to tie in with the effeminate characterisation of Norman as an ‘old queen’. However, after a while that part of his character seems to be rendered as a mere comic device to soften and humanise his presentation. I imagine for a minute what Norman would seem like without the kind comments he makes from the ‘pop’ psychology he sources from the magazines about the lives of Peter Gabriel, David Beckham and other celebrities.

Clearly, the play has grabbed me as I continue to be disconcerted about Norman Tortilla’s character and situation. This doesn’t stop me however wondering about the hypothesis on which the drama is based. For instance, why would a man with such a rich imaginary life, full of beautiful celebrities, whom he defends vociferously, be so incapable of any kind of relationship with anyone? Indeed, how could such an entertaining ‘drama queen’ attract no interest from anyone? Is there a connection with Norman’s as a ‘drama queen’ and the need to record his life? Is that what he can’t remember? These are just some of the questions which remain unresolved for me as I watch Robert Gill’s animated and entertaining performance of Norman Tortilla as a spritely, protesting, obsessed creature claiming that someone…anyone… write down the events of his once promising life.

The questions keep coming at me about his situation.  What does this vainglorious, solitary man require care? Should I assume he’s just demented or mentally deranged? If so, which reference to his mental state did I miss? This brings me to me consider the other characters in the play: Jack the ‘Slav’ care worker and Tandie the Switch Gas girl: Jack as a sporty, muscular type of East European with an antipathy for Norman and later Tandie, and the lusty Tandie the with a eye for Jack and an opportunistic attitude towards Norman.

All my questions lead me to more general questions the drama’s intended form. Should I view The Death of Norman Tortilla as absurd or just plainly cruel? There are many absurdist elements in the play: beginning with Norman karate kick that knocks out the very hearty, muscular Jack for over ten minutes, just in enough time for Tandie’s desperate entrance, her instant lust for Jack’s body, her plan to help Norman to tie him up in his armchair and then share a well-deserved cup of tea cake! Nothing, however, prepared me for the act of cruel that Jack exacts on Norman near the end of the play (which would not be fair to reveal). Jack’s behaviour throughout is the antithesis to that of any genuine carer: as a character, he seems inspired by the terrible stories of abusive carers recently vented in news reports on old people’s homes. His pushing and shoving around of Norman certainly calls up a social criticism about the quality of care to the most vulnerable. Moreover, nothing changes in the play except through acts of cruelty. Norman, Jack and Tandie take turns leading each other around through one violent act after another with no gains in the end: the message seems to be that there are worse things than death, as Jack story of the Nazi concentration camp reminds the audience.

The final moments of the play leads me then to see the play as a piece of ‘theatre of cruelty’ in which actors place before the audience the very difficult truth about alienated characters represented through age, social isolation and sexual abuse. I’m not totally convinced why Jack should have been characterised as an East European. The implications that he should be the carer in a system in which the English population is judged by him to be ‘shit’ seems to be almost another drama at work around Jack as the main character.  Watching Norman Tortilla was for me like entering a Chamber of Horrors. I sat the whole time wishing that some small act of kindness might appear and relieve the cruelty before me on stage. The power to create that atmosphere was remarkable for such a young playwright, however, it was the questions of form which remained for me unresolved no matter how willing I was to come to know Norman Tortilla.

Reviewed by Josey De Rossi 23 March 2012

Website :

 http://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/Production_details_A_Lady_of_Substance.asp

Norman Tortilla is billed alongside Jon Cooper’s A Lady Of Substance 

Ruben Guthrie

Ruben Guthrie 

 

Genre: Drama

Venue:  New Wimbledon Studio  The Broadway, London SW19 1QG

 

Low Down

 

 

IronBark Theatre, a company specialising in presenting Australian theatre in the UK, produced an excellent production of Ruben Guthrie, an award-winning play by an acclaimed young Australian playwright, Brendon Cowell at the New Wimbledon Studio. The play premiered in 2008 in Sydney at the Belvoir Theatre Downstairs: a production by Belvoir’s Company B which went on to win Play of the Year (Time Out Sydney) and to be shortlisted for the Sydney Theatre Award for Best New Australian Work. Cowell was also shortlisted that year for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award. Judging from what I experienced at the New Wimbledon, the play continues to engage audiences in Australia, New Zealand and now London. Its London production delivered a wide range of emotions: from brutally honest views on alcoholism and drug addiction through to desperately tender moments showing human desire in the complex hedonistic world of mass advertising and personal consumption.

Review

 

 

As a creator and writer of advertisements, Ruben Guthrie knows how to deliver what people want. The image of a refrigerator full of ice-cold Coke planted on an Iraqi street, in sight of thirsty soldiers on patrol in the Middle Eastern heat, is just one ironic image in the opening monologue. Such an unlikely occurrence is set to disconcert the audience as it steadily comes to know the lone figure on stage, Ruben Guthrie, seated with his arm in a sling and his forehead bearing stitches. The immediate realisation that the well-defined white square stage is the encircled empty space of an AA meeting, propels it into playing what Augusto Boal termed the role of ‘spect-actor’: an audience both detached from yet also participating in the drama. However, unlike Boal’s didactic Forum Theatre, Cowell uses the audience’s ironic views to draw on a depth of compassion and understanding. Its judgement of Ruben Guthrie’s actions are held tantalisingly just within reach yet also paradoxically impossible to hold onto as the permutations of the play’s motivations and their implications evolve.

Nicola Samer’s artistic direction and Alyson Cummin’s design are intelligent and subtle as they apply both a naturalistic style and a more symbolic and iconic set design. This pairing is foundational to the relationship between the presentation of Ruben’s character and the stage/life that he occupies. Situations and conflicts through various encounters with his boss, parents, girlfriends and best friend literally leave their mark on the floor. For me, it was like watching skin being bruised and torn as the inherent violence of self-destructive remained forever present in the play’s staging.

Nick Hardcastle’s portrayal of Ruben is very engaging.  What’s not to love about a good-looking, fun-loving and highly imaginative young man? Ruben is the complete package: boarding school education, high-paid job, a beautiful fiancée and a string of event showing him having great times. But Hardcastle’s realisation of the role relies on Ruben’s defiance of reality as he ignores his psychological and physical limitations and fuels his experiences with alcohol and drugs. As he sits soberly in the AA meeting we learn that this literally causes him to crash land as his injuries are the result of him flying off a hotel balcony into a swimming pool below. As a latter-day Icarus, this is made more poignant as he goes onto reveal how his mother and girlfriend have forced him to come to the meeting because he was nearly killed by in fact ending up in a children’s wading pool.

Nicola Samer direction of the ensemble, which moves on and off the stage from that point on, is masterful.  She sets up the world around the stage like a spinning satellite around the action which mostly takes place in Ruben’s flat: his bathroom off stage left; the street in which he has the altercation with his girlfriend off centre stage; and his parents’ successful restaurant somewhere way-out-there are all part of Ruben’s epic quest towards sobriety. The performances give a sense of being arranged as a series of stand-up, duo and trio acts.  Only once in the whole play are all the cast members on stage at the same time. This occurs at a profound moment in the second half of the play when all the complex contradictions of Ruben’s life lead to his relapse as ‘they’ – the people in his life –  destroy his willpower and so drive him to drink. Such an objectification of the problem skilfully doubles as part of the problem itself.

The ensemble of seven characters, which IronBark brought together for the production, creates memorable performances. Rose O’Loughlin’s as Ruben’s young girlfriend Zoya, a photographic model from the Czech Republic, reveals a struggle for identity which is robustly portrayed alongside her own complicity in choosing to work in the fame-producing industry. Ruben’s other love interest is Virginia, an ex-junkie whose participation in AA resembles an evangelical born-again energy. Virginia sets out to reform Ruben as she works to negotiate the minefield of her own traumatic life, which is hinted to contain sexual as well as physical abuse. Most noticeably, both Zoya and Virginia are not just Ruben’s girlfriends but hold the status of fiancée: the term distinguishes these two women from the one-night stands which drink obliterates from memory. Such a distinction ties into the ‘madonna’ and ‘whore’ split in which Ruben’s treats women in general: he is respectful, kind and supportive one moment and abusive and predatory in the next. Jemma Walker gives a great portrayal of the paranoid and righteous Virginia. She seems to be able to contrast herself in relation to the other women in the play: with Zoya, the maturing child-bride, and Mum, the menopausal woman who damns herself for losing her husband’s sexual interest.

Timothy Knightley’s portrayal of Ruben’s boss, Ray, is clear and strong: his one-dimensional nature well-motivated by the character’s defended position that shows that while he has survived his own harrowing fight with alcoholism, he has no intention to assist Ruben. Quite the contrary, his success as an advertising manager is to engender the ‘creative genius’ in Ruben to make advertisements, for instance, for selling young girls sweet, lollipop coloured alcoholic drinks. Ray portrays all the galling hypocrisy of a pusher who abstains from wasting his own life on the drugs he is nonetheless prepared to pedal.

Edmund Dehn’s portrayal of Peter, Ruben’s father, and Virge Gilchrist’s role as the nameless ‘Mum’ are the most caricature- like roles in the play: Peter as a put-another-scrimp-on-the-barbie type Aussie male and Mum as a type of conservative woman thought to be found in Australia’s Country Women’s Association or Karrakatta Club. Aspirational members of the baby-boomer generation, Ruben’s parents have done well for themselves: they have sent their son to boarding school and have run a successful business yet –  also true to type –  around their thirtieth year of marriage the wheels come off their relationship. Dad ‘runs off’ and has an affair with a much younger woman (ironically presented in the play as a docile Asian woman who serves him). With this, Mum is left alone in the family home to analyse ‘what went wrong’: both in her relationship with her own alcoholic father and her marriage to another alcoholic. The audience is reminded of this as Virge Gilchrist shows a particularly wonderful sense of comic timing and bathos as Mum comes on stage at various times with the latest ‘brochure’ from which she reads the latest advice.

The last character we encounter in the play is Ruben’s best friend Damian whose homosexuality is portrayed as a kind of bacchanalian revelry of endless sex romps and drug-induced freedom. I found Tom Feary-Campbell treatment of the role the least satisfying: while he portrayed Damian’s love for Ruben clearly enough, somehow the portrayal was to gave little sense of the inner struggle that I saw in other roles.

Taken together, each role added to the story by showing how alcoholism exists intergenerationally: deeply entrenched in both our families and cultures. I was profoundly moved by the young audience members around me as they engaged with the unfolding events: in one case, even speaking back to the actions with comments like ‘can you believe it?’, ‘oh no, come on…’ – all comments which further revealed for me the way the production was able to elicit from the audience the dual perspective of spect-actor.  People remained in the auditorium for at least fifteen minutes after the show, discussing the play and talking to the actors, director and producers.  Some of the conviviality I’m sure was due to the many Australians present who perhaps lingered together more than they would because of the play’s many Australian references. But in truth, for me it made little difference that the play was ‘Australian’: I believe it just as well could have been staged by replacing the geographic references to Sydney’s Surrey Hills and Centennial Park with their local London equivalents of Southwark (like Surrey Hills containing good theatres and close to the city centre) and Hyde Park.

In fact, I began to get annoyed with what seemed to me to be overly exaggerated Australian accentsInstead, I viewed Brendan Cowell’s play as the work of a more cosmopolitan Australian artist who was prepared to move into the complex urban sprawl of cultural and personal encounters that consume us regardless of our specific geography.  As Cowell demonstrates, such an interrogation of our humanity need not lead to thoughtless generalisations and insipid artistic work.  Quite the contrary, IronBark Theatre’s production Ruben Guthrie shows the best of many worlds: as particular and detailed as the individual the audience comes to know in the play as Ruben Guthrie and as cross-cultural and epic as all humans prepared to confront what it means to be fully present in and responsible for living with the important people in our lives.

Reviewed by Josey De Rossi 16 March 2012

Website :

 http://www.ironbarkpresents.com/IronBark/Home.html

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ruben-Guthrie/105824166213651

Autumn Fires

Autumn Fires 

 

Genre: Drama

Venue: Finborough Theatre 118 Finborough Road London SW10 9ED

 

Low Down

 

 

The revolutionary nature of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre is well documented through plays by Sean O’Casey and his tackling of Irish Nationalism.  Perhaps less remembered is the nuanced ways in which social realism enabled Irish playwrights to critically view the social conservatism of Irish society under the influence of women as ‘God’s police’.  T. C. Murray’s Autumn Fire explores sexual desire around a ‘May – December’ coupling of young Nance to a virile older man, Owen Keegan. Questions of masculine physical prowess are set alongside those of the ‘natural order of things’, as the couple move through their secret courtship and marry at the expense of keeping in motion family hostilities. Director Veronica Quilligan shapes the truth of human desires in delicate ways as she gives the story a space to be reimagined beyond Ireland in the1920s.

Review

 

Nonetheless, the attraction of Autumn Fire is very much tied up with experiencing the melodious sounds of it Irish brogue. It is language, rather than physical touch, which is the key factor that seems to bind and repel characters in the play. The opening scene, for instance, is a confronting dialogue between Nance and Ellen, who, as future wife and daughter of Owen Keegan, are the two women who fuel key dramatic turning points of the drama. Ellen Keegan, strongly portrayed by Aoife McMahon, possesses a shrewish tongue and a desperate need to rule over her father’s house as if it was her own. She knows that her marital prospects have vanished. Why she has this view of herself isn’t revealed until much later in the play: a fact that Murray seems to deliberately arrange to maximise Ellen’s shrewishness.

So, the audience is immediately confronted in the opening scene by Nance and Ellen’s antagonism. The beautiful Nance and the plain looking Ellen are further characterised through contrasting styles of dress: Ellen in her shapeless house frock and faded apron and Nance, an accomplished dressmaker, in her little autumnal-burnt-orange dress that shows off her lovely legs and arms. However, it is demanding language of the play which resurfaces many times as actors stumbled over their lines: an occurrence which is likely to change as the season develops.

The production’s set, lighting and costume designers create the rural ambience of village life, a life in which everyone’s behaviour is scrutinised.  The set design by Phillip Lindley consists of a raised platform upstage, on which the kitchen table is placed, separated from the auditorium by a large thrust stage.  This thrust doubles as both an indoor and outdoor setting  – the Keegan’s front yard, the front porch and Nance’s sewing room. It is a platform on which promises of love are negotiated and fought about: above all, it is the arena in which Owen Keegan’s passions are expressed before they are cooled by theinfirmities of age.

Sophia Anastasiou’s costume designs are a central motif of the drama. They range from elegant country squire attire, worn by the Keegan men – Owen, his son Michael and brother Morgan – to the darker and more sombre dresses of Ellen Keegan and Nance’s mother and the colourful dresses worn by the flirty Molly Hurley and the beautiful Nance Desmond.  Even as ‘Mrs Keegan’ Nance dress embodies the rich tones of the earth in which the harvesters’ reap the autumn harvest. All the design elements are integrated well and evoke the characters’ desperate attempting to suppress their sexual desires and romantic sensibilities.

This is particularly true of central character, Owen Keegan, whose desire for the much younger Nance, who is the same age as his children, cannot be sustained. Luke Hayden’s portrayal is convincing as the larger-than-life local hurling hero. His accomplishments enchant Nance from the moment she sets eyes on him on her return from ‘the town’ to the village to care for her mother. The drama then shows how the natural development of the attraction that grows between Nance and Owen’s son, Michael, cannot be consummated. The only comfort to be is found comes through the cold comfort of righteousness.  The truth of lost love and impossibility of a meaningful emotional union is poignantly enacted in the closing moments of the play as Ellen’s moral victory over Nance is set against her father’s brokenness.

I very much enjoyed Autumn Fires and its fine ensemble of actors. If I have any reservations it comes from the fact that I was never totally convinced by the lack of Nance’s and Owen’s physical displays of passion.  I found myself asking why doesn’t there exist a more overt display of affection between them, one that is aligned with the portrayal of a hearty Owen who arrives on stage perfectly capable of holding a woman in his arms and pressing up close to her. Similarly, I asked myself why Murray would write into Ellen’s part frequent references to Nance’s ability to manipulate through her looks and feminine wiles yet I saw no hint of her sexual powers to draw Owen towards her? Aside from these questions, it is always interesting for this theatre historian to view the forgotten work of a good playwright.

Reviewed by Josey De Rossi 5 March 2012

Website :

 http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2012/autumn-fire.php

 

The Fantasist

The Fantasist 

 

Genre: Physical Theatre

Venue: Blue Elephant Theatre Bethwin Road SE5 0XT

 

Low Down

 

The term fantasist is used by the physical theatre ensemble Theatre Temoin/ Compagnie Traversiere in their latest collaborative production at the Blue Elephant Theatre to embrace several states of mind:  a person with a mental illness, a visual artist gripped by a frenetic need to work and a young woman longing to be romantically swept off her feet by a handsome man. These experiences weave what seem to me to be the dominant themes of show of madness, creativity, addiction and desire into the fabric of a simple story of Louise, “alone in her room… desperate to fall to sleep” and her “surprise visitor” who interrupts her and “takes her on a strange journey through excitement, creativity, horror and destruction”.

Review

 

Yes, the narrative is very simple but astonishingly powerful.  Each part is choreographed in relation to exploring what is real and what is fanciful.  Perspectives are distorted from the outset as the audience first sees Louise (Julia Yevnine) in bed, standing upright, moving and tossing about as an insomniac, against a backdrop of a bed sheet and a gravity-defying pillow. The cartoon-like animated real furniture on stage – the opening and closing of wardrobe doors, chest of drawers and various box lids  – give the impression of an energetic farce. Laughter breaks out many times in the first ten minutes of the show.

Then reality breaks into the scene through two characters: the first a visiting NHS nurse (played by Cat Gerrard) checking to see if Louise is continuing to take her medication and a visiting friend (played by Julia Correa) who is paying her weekly spot check on Louise’s well-being. Both characters’ interactions with Louise change our perception of her from being just an imaginative sort of person to a ‘troubled’ patient and dependent friend.

It is at this poignant moment that the drama takes another spectacular turn. A beautiful blue coat, briefly introduced earlier in the show as something Louise likes to play with, now takes on a life of its own through the introduction of ‘him’, a swarthy, handsome devil whose aim it is to take complete control of the young woman: mind, body and soul.

The puppetry in the The Fantasist seems to be built in relation to him – either in contrast to or as an extension of his personality and his effect on Louise. We see everything from cute baby-like puppets to witch-like hags. The adroitness of the three puppeteer/ actors literally grows before us on stage.  Julie Yevnine’s Louise is stunning to view – from her use of ‘isolation’ in body moves show her disintegrating self and her delicate delivery of poignant lines: she sometimes seems as innocent as Alice in Wonderland and at other times as raging and cruel as a parent abusing her child, in her case, the artefacts of her own creation, her models and paintings. Julia Correa and Cat Gerrard present an array of absurd and menacing puppets: a walking easel with preying mantis-like legs, the decomposing heads of previous women who loved the man in the blue coat. The allusion to bluebeard’s wives is comically captured in their rap song.

Director Ailin Conant’s must be applauded for her imaginative use of the stage space in representing esoteric states of mind as stage emblems.  In effect, she allows the audience to go on Louise’s highly personal journey by travelling with her into her own subjective fantasy, each step removing her ability to return to a ‘more real’ and objective view of reality. Sitting in the audience, I came to see what it means when we say she or he ‘can’t help themselves’. The whole experience evinced in me a surprising degree of compassionate.

In fact, there are so many surprises in The Fantasist.  I have touched on a few in my review. If you ever needed proof that puppet shows are a genre that deserve to be taken seriously by adult audiences, then come and view this production.  But most of all, come and view it because it is just a fantastic show.

Reviewed by Josey De Rossi 1 March 2012

Website :

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

http://www.theatretemoin.com/index.html