Our Town at the King’s Head Theatre

75 years of success for Thornton Wilder’s Our Town at the King’s Head Theatre

“Did you know that Our Town is the most performed play in the world after Shakepeare, with a performance of the play running every night in the United States since its premiere in 1938? Over 300,000 performances!” Artistic Director, Adam Spreadbury-Maher, at the opening of King’s Head Theatre’s 75th Anniversary Production of Wilder’s Our Town.

Sunday 30th June 2013

Thornton Wilder’s Our Town begins with the Stage Manager introducing Grover’s Corner, and the audience, seated on three sides of the King’s Head Theatre’s intimate space, start to become acquainted with Wilder’s New Hampshire landscape: the houses, shops and streets of families, which he points out, who have their names etched in perpetuity on the tombstones of the graveyard on the hill. The drama of the inevitable movement of mortality leading lives towards that unavoidable end has started.

From my seat, I notice how Wilder’s play is drawn up metaphorically all around the audience and they occupy its terrain of vegetable gardens, chicken coops, family breakfasts and intimate conversations. Why does this play, after seventy-five years, still carry a punch?

Firstly, you are immediately engaged with the quality of Wilder’s language which, like Shakespeare’s, has the familiar ring of everyday speech, combined with the beauty of a mellifluous rhythm. While it isn’t “poetic drama”, the rich imagery of its easy, storytelling style lifts Our Town to a level of universal importance.

The structure of its three acts weaves together a story for our time: one which we are only too familiar with, of life at the beginning of a new century faced with the technological transformation of everything before us. Like the inhabitants of Grover’s Corner, we hold onto daily rituals and important ceremonies around family, children, marriage and funerals. However, the irony of knowing that, in 1938, Wilder’s references to the destruction of World War One about to hit the lives of the citizens of Grover’s Corner may seem strangely innocent to audiences in 2013, who know about the many more killing fields added to human history because of World War Two and other more localised wars such as Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Rising above or being pulled down by time and circumstance is the drama of Our Town. Wilder’s New England characters express all humanity as they deal with their unrealised abilities as either thinkers or doers: the central roles of Emily Webb and George Gibbs are iconic as Emily’s cleverness remains as unrealised as George’s promise of becoming a baseball star. Instead of these achievements, the childhood sweethearts, who go on to marry, are like everyone else in Grover’s Corner. Despite opportunities to the contrary, they choose to stay put in their small town. However, this choice, Wilder shows, is no protection from risk, pain or untimely death.

For me, the outstanding performance of the night goes to Zoe Swenson-Graham in her portrayal of Emily Webb. The intelligence of her artistic decisions to deal with Emily as both the “clever child” and the young woman who knows she will amount to nothing if, in “our town,” she is not loved and supported by a husband unfolds poignantly and dynamically. Other impressive performances are also those of Rita Walters and Tamarin McGinley, who play the two mothers of the neighbouring Webb and Gibbs families. Walters brings an earthiness and strength to the role of Mrs Webb, while McGinley portrays Mrs Gibbs as wistful and fragile.

Director Tim Sullivan assembles a cast from the four corners of the world for the production: South America, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Hong Kong and from different parts of the UK and Europe. There is no note by him in the program to say if, for instance, this was deliberate to heighten Wilder’s metatheatrical style. On the other had, the ethnically mixed cast, to my mind, clearly disrupts the audience’s ability to view actors portraying the roles naturalistically.

Arguably, while this might work visually, the director’s choice not to portray the characters through the use of an American accent seems to diminish the play’s intensity. Put simply, listening to the many accents in the production felt like being distracted from hearing about life in Grover’s Corner. This particularly weakens the role of the Stage Manager, who comes to appear in the production more and more like a wanderer who has no particular connection with Grover’s Corner at all.

Nonetheless, the production grips you in the end, if only by watching Swenson-Graham’s portrayal of Emily as she builds the role into its full sense of tragic heroism as she faces up to her short life in the face of eternity. Such a realisation of how momentarily life is experienced brings almost unbearable pain, which ends mercifully when the Stage Manager informs the audience that the play is ended and we can return, necessarily, to get on with our own small ignoble lives.

Date reviewed: Friday 28th June 2013

The Knight of the Sorrowful Figure

The Knight of the Sorrowful Figure @ Blue Elephant Theatre

 

TO:

  • Director, Ian Nicholson
  • Researchers Simon Day (with the collaboration of Aitor Basauri)
  • Devising cast: Dennis Herdman, Merce Ribot and Patricia Rodriguez
  • Writer and Adapter, Tiffany Wood

As I viewed The Knight of the Sorrowful Figure on Tuesday 21st May but I felt considerable misgivings with its most basic issues of form and content. I offer my views without prejudice and hope they are helpful in continuing to develop the work.

The most important thing I want to communicate is that I wasn’t any more clearer at the end of the show why you had chosen such an iconic work as Don Quixote other than to use the work to say ‘the Spanish are a passionate people’. The problem for me was that as an audience member who has experienced Cervantes’s masterpiece in so many different forms – novel, film, original play [Rocinante, Rocinante] – it was impossible for me to accept the novel could be reduced on the simple pantomime plot which was presented in your play. The metatheatrical devices seemed little more than the slapstick of clowns who were on a quest to nowhere because, as you know in modern pantomime, the narrative is just an excuse to string together the physical and verbal antics.

I have no problem about satirising the ‘literacy canon’ but in order to create the provocatively profane I believe you first have to acknowledge what’s sacred in the first place.  I could see no evidence from what I saw that the team had done this in what was performed.

Why do you suppose the story of Don Quixote has been influential for over 400 years?  The ‘Q & A’ session addressed everything but this key consideration.  As a theatrical device to grab the audience it had promise but I believe it took the audience away from knowing anything about your grapplings with a 400 year old story that still exists in the popular imagination.  That’s got to make your work futile in the wrong sense. You had an opportunity to take on a giant of literature but it seem to me that first of all you needed to see the gargantuan proportions of its legacy in the first place. The research shows for instance, that Cervantes had a deliberate purpose for his book[1]

it would seem that Cervantes wrote his novel solely for literary purposes, in order to destroy a literary genre; it would be a caricature of a man whose brain has been infected with the virus caught from reading such romances as Lancelot, Tristan, Palmerin, Belianis etc., – of which an autodafe is arranged in chapter VI.

Now it has been the general trend among critics (including that poet-critic Unamuno) to brush aside, as of no central significance for our novel, the critical program proclaimed by the author of the Quijot: derribar la máquina of the romances of escapism. After all, they argue, the centuries-old fashion of these romances had reached its height a century before Don Quijote, and was already in its decline by 1560; how they should Cerbantes have been impelled to attack its influence in 1605? Or, even if this was his initial purpose, it was soon lost sight of, as the novel gradually developed beyond its original didactic scope, growing in breadth, and vision and humanity.

But I beg to disagree: too much has Cervantes, in the preface written at the completion of the First Part, and on the last page of the whole book, insisted on his literary program. And if the critics have been so eager to disregard his expressly-stated purpose, in favour of one supposedly more closely allied to human nature and life, it has been, perhaps, because they have failed to grasp the magnitude of this purpose, and the human problem implied therein. For what Cervantes did was to POSIT THE PROBLEM OF THE BOOK[2], and of its influence on life – a problem that has developed in the course of the last centuries, a problem as challenging today as it was to Cervantes. He was the first to grasp the proportions of this problem….

PLEASE READ ON….

 

 

 

 

 

What is the benefit of taking on the importance of Cervantes in your work?

Consider Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.  Look at the way he grows the play out of the Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It is now a masterpiece in its own right as it resonates the dramatic tension and structure of the original source. I see no reason why Cervantes cannot offer you the same creative achievement as Shakespeare did for Stoppard.

 



[1] On the Significance of Don Quijote Leo Spitzer MLN Vol. 77, No. 2, Spanish Issue (Mar., 1962), pp. 113-129

 

[2] Spitzer’s emphasis not mine

King Lear

 

Magnificent from the outset: I was gripped viscerally and imaginatively from the moment the thunderous music catapulted Lear’s savage kingdom onto the stage.

The last time I viewed a production of Shakespeare’s King Lear was in 2009 when Liverpool Everyman and the Young Vic co-produced the play, directed by Rupert Goold and starring Pete Postlethwaite. The images of the production that remain rest very much on Pete Postlethwaite’s portrayal of a frail old man who muddled through domestic arrangements with his adult children. While I loved the production, it would be true to say that I experienced Goold’s production as a  kind ‘domestic’ rather than dynastic drama. The most powerful effect of the play on me was seeing Lear in the rain, brutalized by the knowledge of his loss of authority over even his own daughters.

Ricky Dukes’s interpretation of the play seems based on a totally different hypothesis: showing that in presenting Lear as a woman the themes of frailty and age could have always been intended by Shakespeare to be a mask covering up Lear’s savage rule, arising from a monarch’s arbitrary and unjust use of power.  The strength of Jennifer Shakesby’s characterisation of Lear as an Amazonian warrior at the height of her powers is wonderful to watch. And it is made even more stunning through Rachel Dingle’s costuming of the character in a greatcoat of feathers and fur, which, later is stripped off as are her dignity and sanity. Lear is reduced to being a madwomen on the heath, walking barefooted & dressed down to a simple white petticoat. Her strength is only momentarily regained as she carries her dead child Cordelia through the heath-now-battlefield on which her daughters and their allies fight for control.

However, there is no escaping the fact that Lazarus Theatre’s Lear continues to be Shakespeare’s morality play on bad parenting: Duke shows, as other directors have done before him, that it is Lear’s parenting of three daughters through favouritism and her use of inconsistent sanctions and rewards that leads to her demise. And as other productions have shown, the Goneril and Regan are presented in the early part of the play as perfectly responsible to reject their parent’s riotous company. After all, what use does an out of work monarch have for 100 servants? Like in all tragedies, it follows then that Lear destruction is based on her own ‘fatal flaw’: a lack of insight and reason rules her life, crowded out by an hubris which cannot be mollified until it is ‘too late’.

 

 

 

 

Cast; 

Lear – Jennifer Shakesby

Gonerill – Lucy Hagan-Walker

Regan – Alice Brown

Cordelia – Nellie McQuinn

Albany – Stephen MacNeice

Cornwall – Filip Krenus

 

Gloucester – Robin Holden

Edgar – Harper James

Edmund – Lewis Davidson

 

Kent – Danny Solomon

Burgundy – Stuart Mortimer

France – Mathew Foster

Oswald – Joseph Tweedale

Worcester – Dominic Attenborough

 

Nurse – Gemma Beaton

Julia – Jen Holt

Catherine – Elle Dillon-Reams

Creative;

Directed and Designed by Ricky Dukes

Original music by James Fogarty

Lighting Design by Rachel Smith

Sound Design by Nick Kent

Costume Design for Lear by Rachel Dingle

Associate Director – Gavin Harrington-Odedra

Assistant Director – Rebecca Hill

Production Manager – Ina Berggren

Stage Manager – Katie Lydon

Photography by Adam Trigg

Production Image by Will Beeston

 

Ghosts

Ghosts 

 

Genre: Drama

Venue:  Sell A Door Theatre playing at  Greenwich Theatre Greenwich Theatre Crooms Hill London SE10 8ES

 

Low Down

 

 

Sell A Door Theatre Company’s use of Alfred Enoch’s adaptation of Ibsen’sGhosts is at the heart of why their production is so effective.

Firstly, Enoch’s adaptation of the play’s original setting of the “landscape of a fjord” to Scotland’s Orkney Islands, seems to allow director, Anna Fox, to retain Ibsen’s highly dramatic intention to create the effect of a misty backdrop out of which the actors step onto stage: either into the main setting of the conservatory in the Alving house or in what appear to be shadowy, secretive places around it.

More than that, the presentation of the Orcadian setting seems to also play on the rich and problematic history of the UK’s Celtic origins which brings with it its own historical conflicts, not the least via the strict Calvinistic views of morality presented through the character of Pastor Manders in the play.

From where I sat, the barely visible outline of the Orkneys, splashed impressionistically across the backdrop, appeared at times like the body of sleeping giant, stretched out across the horizon. At other times, the scenery seemed to breathe and move, as well as bellow-out sail-like with the flow of air across the stage: all due to designer Anna Lewis’s decision to construct the walls of the Alving house from scrim-like material.  Then, through Alexander Ridgers’s lighting design, the walls go from appearing opaque to transparent and back again, mirroring the play’s theme of hiding and revealing secrets.

So, from the outset, while the world on stage gives the appearance of a well-to-do 19th century Orcadian household complete with a beautiful conservatory, the effect of shadowy doorways, with figures lurking about in other rooms, create the feeling that  the house has ‘ghosts’ who might at any moment move onto the stage.

What is to be revealed?  For fear of diminishing the productions gripping effects I won’t give too much away, suffice to say that the revelations centre on the now deceased head of the house, Captain Alving.

Review

 

 

The action of the play begins in a superbly ironic moment, ten years after Captain Alving death, at a time when Mrs Alving finally believes that she has laid the ghosts of the past to rest. She has managed to redeem her husband’s misspent life by using his money to build an orphanage in his name. Her son Oswald has also finally returned home to take up his rightful place as Captain Alving’s heir at the official opening of the orphanage.

The production is supported by a capable ensemble of actors who each show how the secrets around Captain Alving continue to live on, phantom-like, in their lives: his widow, Helene Alving; their son Oswald; the family’s priest, Pastor Manders; the servant girl, Regina Engstrand and her father, Jacob Engstrand.

Set over twenty-four hours, Anna Fox’s direction shapes Ibsen’s narrative, taking care to work tensions and ironies which such a well-written play gives her. Ms Fox particularly demonstrates, I believe, a good understanding of the power of subtext in exposing ‘the truth’ in the play. She seems to be able to the performers room to work in their respective strengths and prevent the action of the play becoming melodramatic.

Deborah Blake plays Mrs Alving with an understated vigour which I thought with the representation of a woman trapped by marital convention yet determined to survive her loveless marriage. Ms Blake shows us Mrs Alving as a deeply compromised woman, a woman who has held her family together despite her husband’s predatory sexual behaviour towards other women yet, as we witness in her capitulation to Pastor Manders over the matter of insurance for the orphanage, she fails to go the next step and claim her power to decide on matters outright.

In contrast, Tamaryn Payne, depicts Regina Engstrand as a calculating young women who has no intention of remaining in the lowly class into which she is born. Ms Payne shows this in no uncertain terms in the opening moments of the play, when confronted by her father Jacob’s request to come and work for him in a new hostel for sailors he intends to open in the town.

Liam Smith portrayal of Jacob Engstrand, the humble carpenter, mirrors Mrs Alving’s role as the keeper of secrets regarding what happened to his deceased wife Johanna when she worked in the Alving house.  We are never quite sure if Smith is as genuinely kind and innocent as he presents to the Pastor and Mrs Alving or whether he is just might be wily enough to know how to get the better of them.

Robert Gill’s performance of Pastor Manders raised many laughs from the audience. Manders is such an extreme character, full of moral righteousness, yet Gill is able to bring a sense of complexity to his portrayal of him.  I felt however that I would have like to see more of the effort needed for such a character to repress his sexual desire in order to remain fixed on his black and white views. Ibsen gives many clues of that struggle in the dialogue between him and Mrs Alving.

Jason Langley faces an interesting challenge in playing Oswald as a character inflicted with congenital syphilis since the illness has been more or less eliminated through advances in the medical treatment of sexual transmitted diseases with penicillin.

Yet the illness remains crucial one in linking Captain Alving death through syphilis and Oswald’s deteriorating mental and physical health. In a 2009 article in the medical/ psychology journal Dermanities, Leonard Hoenig writes

In 1881, Henrik Ibsen’s play, Ghosts, created a sensation in the theatrical world by bringing to center stage the taboo topic of venereal disease. Although syphilis is not mentioned by name in the play, it is clear that a major character, Oswald Alving, is suffering from congenital neurosyphilis.[1]

While the actor can show Oswald dreading his predicament, a modern audience cannot be expected to understand shock felt by Ibsen’s contemporaries.  My own reaction towards Oswald was more like viewing someone afflicted with cancer.  But, as explained in Hoenig’s article, congenital, untreated syphilis is horrifically disfiguring.  The poignancy of Oswald asking his mother to kill him at the first sign of the disease is made only more powerful if we understand that horror. Nonetheless, Langley’s portrayal of Oswald as a lost boy as well as a doomed youth is noteworthy. His understanding of Regina’s ruthlessness is also well played as he explains to his mother how she would not have been afraid of ‘saving’ him, the euphemism he uses in requesting euthanasia.

The one criticism I have of the production is its handling of the destruction of the orphanage. It is a crucial scene whose impact should not be underestimated in creating the overall power of the production.  The change of a lighting state that I viewed was not enough for me to experience the emotional impact of the destruction first hand. As a result during the play’s denouement, Mrs Alvings’s seems more hysterical rather than as a tragic figure, grappling, not with the ghosts of the past, but with the monstrous truth of her son’s imminent death.

Despite this, I commend Sell-A-Door Theatre for producing Ghosts: it is an entirely relevant play for today, given recent headlines about the sexual abuse of young people in the UK. Subsequent police investigations indicate how dark secrets rise like tormented ghosts, chilling the hearts of the living right through the years in which the truth is ignored and killing the coming of a productive future.

 


[1] http://www.dermanities.com/detail.asp?article=282

Reviewed by Dr Josey De Rossi Tuesday 30 April

Website :

 http://www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk/ 

and    

http://www.selladoor.com/Sell_a_Door_Theatre_Co._Ltd/Welcome.html

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol 

 

Genre: Puppetry

Venue:  Petersham Playhouse Church Lane, Off Petersham Rd Richmond, TW10 7AG Richmond TW10 7AG

 

Low Down

 

Smoking Apples Theatre has produced evocative puppet theatre in productions I’ve viewed of theirs over the past two years. Their latest production of A Christmas Carolshows all the hallmarks of their intelligent approach to intricately communicate through various sized puppets and puppet theatre in different styles. Once again, I watched in admiration as they moved the audience in promenade style from room to room through the 17th Century house to witness Scrooge’s encounters with the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future. The magic was palatable!

So who decided to add into the production the walk through ill-lit, muddy and slippery paths around the house? Were the walks outside an issue of timing the multiple performances, beginning every half-hour from 6.30 to 8.30pm? Was it an existentialist thing whereby the audience might understand the real difference between the dark of winter and the warmth of human kindness? The truth remains inexplicable for me.

Review

 

The Visit Richmond website states:

Petersham Playhouse was established in 2011 by Anna Boglione and Louis Waymouth. Using the backdrop of Petersham House, the Playhouse showcases works from some of our most deft contemporary writers, performers, musicians and dancers – blending theatre, dance and music. Past productions include the specially commissioned chamber opera ‘Dr Quimpugh’s Compendium of Peculiar Afflictions’ by Phil Porter & Martin Ward, which will be showcasing at The Summerhall at this year’s Edinburgh Festival’, ‘La Petite Mort’ – a collaboration with The Old Vic Tunnels and Les Enfants Terrible Theatre Company and ‘A Christmas Cracker’ – an promenade show that took place throughout the grounds of Petersham House.

 

Unfortunately, the wet cold night did not allow me to see the charm of the grounds or setting, except to note that the restaurant area and the house itself was captivating in their own right.  As I gingerly negotiated steps in darkness and anxiously tried to find my way around paths that seem to disappear underfoot, I thought how unfortunate it was that I entered the experience of A Christmas Carol in such way.  By the end of the production, I was convinced that the walks in the dark added absolutely nothing of the meaning to production: in fact, I believe it worked against its otherwise high standard and original interpretation of a much loved Christmas story.

This was particular noticeable on Scrooge’s final emancipation after the spine-chilling encounter with the haunting silence of the Spirit of Christmas Future who brings him to view his own coffin.  The resurrection of hope for all sinners like Scrooge as he opens the window on Christmas morning was not only denied to us as an audience but we were made to follow Scrooge out to a blackened village green populated by one cart and a few thinly voiced carol singers.

There is no doubt that the work performed in the house is magical: through the delicately beautiful innocence of the Spirit of Christmas Past, the buffoonery of the Spirit of Christmas Present and the chilling presence of death in the room with the Spirit of Christmas Future. It was for me an experience worth braving the walk in the darkness and cold outside.

Reviewed by Josey De Rossi 6th December 2012 (7.30pm)

Website :

 http://www.petershamplayhouse.com/

The Wordcatcher

The Wordcatcher 

 

Genre: Puppetry

Venue: Rose Theatre Kingston 24-26 High Street Kingston KT1 1HL

 

Low Down

 

Molly Freeman, Matt Lloyd and Hattie Thomas’s aka the Smoking Apples’s participation in Kingston’s International Youth Arts Festival holds a double honour for them: the premiere of a new work Wordcatcher and their status as one of the Festivals ‘Creative Talent’ companies.  Smoking Apples along with six others are promising artists identified and supported by Creative Youth, the charity formed in 2008 to showcase youth arts of the highest quality through IYAF. Busy and productive, this is the company’s third production I’ve viewed in the last twelve months which confirms my view that the it pursues a highly disciplined and detailed approach to their blend of “physical and visual puppetry-based theatre that specifically aims to engage the adult imagination”.

Review

 

Wordcatcher is evocative and highly choreographed with the use of original music (composed by Russet aka Hattie) and contains a poignant use of language that explores the loss of an individual’s voice in a world full of books, words, phrases and other verbal means of communication.  The characters move in a landscape that seems simultaneously indoor and out, private and public.  Sometimes the audience views a street on which a busker plays her saxophone, sometimes they see inside a room with a window-ledge lined with books. The drama’s central character is a mute girl who encounters a boy who cannot read. She also meet her alter ego who, as a small puppet, who seems consumed by the books themselves, rather than the other way around. The other member of the cast is a blackbird who plays a kind of in loco parentis role for the girl and ensures that she doesn’t get too lost in the pages on which she is constantly reading or writing.

The dialogue, when it comes, erupts as a surprise from the characters and sounds more like a train of thought rather than a naturalistic conversation.  The effect is supported by folds of paper on which are written strings of words that follow the girl around and which, at a climactic moment, break out of her small, battered school case.

The style of presentation that Smoking Apples seem to favour is the economic use of objects and the repetition of physical movement that seem almost ritualistic. You can count what’s on stage almost on one hand: two window frames – one lined with books and another covered with clothe that doubles has a backlit screen; one well-used school case, one saxophone and saxophone case.  Similarly, the use of repetition of movement simplifies the narrative down to the problem of the girl living in her own world while others attempt to interact with her.

The musical score for the piece is utterly lovely to listen too – richly moving, it blends seamlessly with Hattie Thomas’s live saxophone playing. The music literally sets up the shows heart beat which, even in its silent moments, the audience views canon-like moves and slapstick type passing on of books and other objects. It is that beat which continues to drive the story forward.

There are two aspects of the production that work less effectively for me.  The first is the width of the stage that seemed to detract from the character’s drive to connect with one another. Logically, the size kept throwing up the sense that encounters between characters could be nothing but contrived and staged.  Consequently, such a feeling led me to disconcertingly feel what would it matter if the characters missed each other.  What was it about these particular people and the blackbird that arise from this place, at this time?

I’m sure the company will continue to develop such an interesting piece about the on-going problems of catching just the right word to start and remain in relationship with self and others.  If you haven’t experienced a Smoking Apples’ show yet to enlivened your imagination, I suggest you do so as early as you can.  It’s wonderful to experience.

Reviewed by Josey De Rossi Saturday 7th July 2012

Website :

 International Youth Arts Festival @ the Rose

https://uk.patronbase.com/_RoseTheatreKingston/Productions?category=YF

 

Little Women

SPECIAL REPORT – UK’s Premiere Musical Production of Little Women

Many achievements surround the staging of Little Women as a musical at the Lost Theatre from 12 December to 7 January.  This report summarises the production’s critical reception and draws together what theatre reviewers suggest are the strengths and weakness of Little Women: The Musical.

The story of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, around a mother and her four daughters who fend for themselves while the man of the house goes off to the American Civil War, is built on an epic theme at least as old as Aeschylus’s Oresteia, a trilogy showing the effects of the Trojan War on the Greeks.  The consequence of war on whole families and communities is something which immediately resonates with the families of those presently serving in Afghanistan. It also lives as part of the memory of millions of families throughout the world thanks to WW1, WW2 and any number of smaller skirmishes in Asia, Africa and the Middle East since 1945.

Ironically, there is overwhelming evidence that the absence of men through war also works in favour of women’s political and social emancipation. Jo March’s desire to live independently and achieve recognition as a novelist parallels other stories of imaginative and gifted 19th and 20th century writers such as Jane Austen, Emily and Charlotte Bronte, Miles Franklin, Virginia Woolf. Similarly, the ‘sisters’ of these writers sought the vote, a right to an education and equal pay when they refused to go back to the kitchen after working in factories and taking on other male responsibilities during war time.

Viewing Peter Layton’s and Lionel Segal’s adaptation of Alcott’s novel near the end of its run on Thursday night (5th January) still managed to evoke for me a sense of how these strong women fought against being confined to a domestic sphere. I found myself believing in Jo’s struggle as that of everyman or woman aspiring to live a productive life.

The production’s press release sets an optimistic tone by declaring that Alcott’s novel, and by implication the new musical’s adaptation of it, as a “celebration of women breaking the mould and achieving success both in work and life. Such optimism ocaught the attention reviewers: with some judging the work as a little too “saccharine sweetness” (What’sOnStage) while others viewed the positive nature of the story as a key feature of the strength and resilience of the ‘little women’. For instance, Amy Yorstan of the British Theatre Guide noted that “It would be easy to criticise the show for its sentimentality, but the overarching themes of hard work and love are wonderfully optimistic and this is a solid adaptation of a classic.”

In due course, Layton’s & Segal’s adaptation is analysed by critics in terms of how uneasily the original story lends itself to the musical genre (Nina Caplan TimeOut and Paul Vale The Stage) and what style of musical might have more effectively realized a fresh interpretation of story.  Perhaps the most critical in this respect is Russell Lucas’s review in remotegoat when he declares:

I felt like I had seen it all before as nothing new was brought to the table. In short, I wasn’t engaged as a modern theatre goer. As it is no longer a road to success by putting ‘The Musical’ on the end of a famous story it is also no longer acceptable to have dream sequences to shoehorn in a ‘showstopper’ or sing ‘wiping the clouds away’ to cheer up a character. Let us also move on from light changes signalling a song and finally when a character dies let us not walk off into a smoke filled door representing ‘Heaven’ anymore. The techniques are old fashioned. The jig is up.

From my viewpoint, I believe the techniques used by Layton and Segal are perfectly appropriate in themselves.  Dream sequences and death scenes work dramatically! The power of musicals is that they are the perfect form to enable the story to be felt as, for instance, Les Miserables allows audiences to feel Victor Hugo’s story. It would be fairer to say of the development of a musical version of a complex story like Little Women, so entrenched in an American historical context of one of the bitterest civil wars of all time, that it should have made more of the musical genre.

As all critics agree, there is much to praise about the production: they particularly single out Nicola Samer’s direction; Charlotte Newton John’s portrayal of Jo March;  the clear characterisation of each of the four sisters; the clever songs;  the comic antics of Aunt Marsh and other cameo roles. Furthermore, the design concept works very well, though the scene changes need some rethinking.  Also, from where I sat, I know that the size of the bench on which Beth has her dying scene made her look stressed and uneasy for all the wrong reasons as she precariously attempted to stay on the furniture long enough to breathe her last breath.

A simple Google search reveals just how universally appealing the story of Little Women has remained with audiences since 1868, firstly as a novel (Project Gutenberg has it free to download), through at least three significant film adaptations in 1933, 1949 and 1994 and numerous play versions (including current productions in Ann Arbor Michigan and at the Gate Theatre Dublin). A ‘great’ musical of Alcott’s story, however, is yet to be achieved.  The production I viewed at the Lost Theatre holds enough integrity for its producers, cast and creative team to hopefully aspire for that accolade with Little Women.

 

http://www.whatsonstage.com/reviews/theatre/off-west+end/E8831324468552/Little+Women+the+Musical.html

http://www.timeout.com/london/theatre/event/248466/little-women-the-musical

http://www.thepublicreviews.com/little-women-the-musical-lost-theatre-london/

http://www.britishtheatreguide.info/reviews/littlewomenlost-rev.htm

http://www.remotegoat.co.uk/review_view.php?uid=7908

http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/34725/little-women-the-musical

http://www.fringereview.co.uk/pageView.php?pagename=An%20Interview%20with%20Nicola%20Samer,%20director%20of%20Little%20Women

http://www.thepublicreviews.com/encore-nicola-samer/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Women

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/514/514-h/514-h.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Women_(1933_film)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Women_(1949_film)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Women_(1994_film)

http://www.londontheatre.co.uk/londontheatre/news/may05/18may05littlewomen.htm

http://www.indielondon.co.uk/theatre/t_little_women_musical_prev_CDrev.html

http://annarbor.com/entertainment/little-women-review/

http://entertainment.ie/Theatre/feature/Little-Women-%7C-The-Gate-Theatre/10/2033.htm

http://www.irishtheatremagazine.ie/Reviews/Current/Little-Women

Rocinante! Rocinante!

Rocinante! Rocinante! 

 

Genre: Physical Theatre

Venue: CLF Art Cafe, Bussey Building, 133 Rye Lane London SE15 4ST (Peckham Rye)

 

Low Down

 

 

The pilgrimage through the light and dark crevices of the mind are beautifully evoked in Panta Rei Theatre’s Rocinante! Rocinante!  Taking its subject matter from the originality of Cervante’s Don Quixote, the setting for the production masterfully constructs madness as a kind of ecstatic and passionate state.  The technical accomplishments of director Chiara D’Anna’s creative team is vividly apparent: Steve Mason’s evocative music and sound design, Cis O’Boyle atmospheric lighting, Nadia Malik’s bold costumes all combine in a succession of ethereal and surreal experiences. If this is madness, it is amazingly and ironically human in its quest for meaning.

Within this all-too-humanly-flawed world exists the absolute and undeniable reality of death. Faced with this truth, the audience follows the action around the space, sometimes as part of a funeral procession and at other times as neighbours seated together listening to recent calamities. These two kinds of experiences are skilfully shaped by the cast of Juancho Gonzales, Daniel Rejano, Stephanie Lewis and Tommy Scott, who weave together the world of Don Quixote in parallel with Chiara D’Anna, Anna Zehentbauer and Almudena Segura’s sense of a more authoritative world of philosophers, writers and storytellers. Which one is more real? Or to put it another way, how on earth is ‘To be or not to be’ not a maddening existentialist question which remains impossible to answer… ever!

Review

 

 

As the theatre company’s name suggests Panta Rei – a Greek term meaning ‘everything flows’ – everything is constantly changing. It seemed obvious to me that the company is fascinated by the nuanced changes to the meaning of particular words and symbols. The clusters of props hanging in the performance space look like ripe fruit ready to be picked and enjoyed with gusto.

Another term which comes to mind throughout the production is, of course, the now established adjective of quixotic: as a description of “extravagantly chivalrous, romantic, visionary”. What I believe Rocinante! Rocinante! shows magnificently is that such ‘madness’ is a laudable antidote to ‘death’ and that not to be mad is to in a kind of living death. This is what Sancho realises, for instance, when he counteracts Don Quixote’s realisation that he is only a madman and, in the other world of the play, when Gary and Lolly perform Lolly’s mock burial.

The success of the show is in no small way due to the company’s ‘physical theatre’ style performances which seem to be informed by their knowledge of Commedia Dell’Arte techniques. The whole experience is choreographed and stylised in detail, with Tommy Scott’s portrayal of the donkey stealing the show as a kind of ‘real hero’ – selfless, loving and faithful. Stephanie Lewis’s transformations between Rocinante to Dulcinea are brilliant and it is this duality, so pivotal to the experience of the show, which resonates in you for hours after viewing it.

If I have any criticism, it is the usual one that can be made of all works in their early stage of development.  In places it tries to do too much, say too much and doesn’t quite trust the audience enough to ‘get it’.  I felt this particularly with regards to the use of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Sometimes it seems just too clever by half.

I hope the company gets to further develop this splendid work. The theatre company’s bilingualism is a tour de force in its own right and extremely entertaining.  Rocinante! Rocinante! deserves to be experienced by many audiences, in many locations. It radically reminds us that there is an alternative to embracing ‘madness’ as an illness, and that in human history we have been enriched and ennobled by the concept of madness as a productive state of mind.

Reviewed by Josey De Rossi 13 February 2012

Website :

http://pantareitheatre.com/

http://www.clfartcafe.org/SITE/HOME.html 

 

 

‘Physical Theatre’ + Promenade + Site Specific really!

 

 

Little Women

SPECIAL REPORT – UK’s Premiere Musical Production of Little Women

Many achievements surround the staging of Little Women as a musical at the Lost Theatre from 12 December to 7 January.  This report summarises the production’s critical reception and draws together what theatre reviewers suggest are the strengths and weakness of Little Women: The Musical.

The story of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, around a mother and her four daughters who fend for themselves while the man of the house goes off to the American Civil War, is built on an epic theme at least as old as Aeschylus’s Oresteia, a trilogy showing the effects of the Trojan War on the Greeks.  The consequence of war on whole families and communities is something which immediately resonates with the families of those presently serving in Afghanistan. It also lives as part of the memory of millions of families throughout the world thanks to WW1, WW2 and any number of smaller skirmishes in Asia, Africa and the Middle East since 1945.

Ironically, there is overwhelming evidence that the absence of men through war also works in favour of women’s political and social emancipation. Jo March’s desire to live independently and achieve recognition as a novelist parallels other stories of imaginative and gifted 19th and 20th century writers such as Jane Austen, Emily and Charlotte Bronte, Miles Franklin, Virginia Woolf. Similarly, the ‘sisters’ of these writers sought the vote, a right to an education and equal pay when they refused to go back to the kitchen after working in factories and taking on other male responsibilities during war time.

Viewing Peter Layton’s and Lionel Segal’s adaptation of Alcott’s novel near the end of its run on Thursday night (5th January) still managed to evoke for me a sense of how these strong women fought against being confined to a domestic sphere. I found myself believing in Jo’s struggle as that of everyman or woman aspiring to live a productive life.

The production’s press release sets an optimistic tone by declaring that Alcott’s novel, and by implication the new musical’s adaptation of it, as a “celebration of women breaking the mould and achieving success both in work and life. Such optimism ocaught the attention reviewers: with some judging the work as a little too “saccharine sweetness” (What’sOnStage) while others viewed the positive nature of the story as a key feature of the strength and resilience of the ‘little women’. For instance, Amy Yorstan of the British Theatre Guide noted that “It would be easy to criticise the show for its sentimentality, but the overarching themes of hard work and love are wonderfully optimistic and this is a solid adaptation of a classic.”

In due course, Layton’s & Segal’s adaptation is analysed by critics in terms of how uneasily the original story lends itself to the musical genre (Nina Caplan TimeOut and Paul Vale The Stage) and what style of musical might have more effectively realized a fresh interpretation of story.  Perhaps the most critical in this respect is Russell Lucas’s review in remotegoat when he declares:

I felt like I had seen it all before as nothing new was brought to the table. In short, I wasn’t engaged as a modern theatre goer. As it is no longer a road to success by putting ‘The Musical’ on the end of a famous story it is also no longer acceptable to have dream sequences to shoehorn in a ‘showstopper’ or sing ‘wiping the clouds away’ to cheer up a character. Let us also move on from light changes signalling a song and finally when a character dies let us not walk off into a smoke filled door representing ‘Heaven’ anymore. The techniques are old fashioned. The jig is up.

From my viewpoint, I believe the techniques used by Layton and Segal are perfectly appropriate in themselves.  Dream sequences and death scenes work dramatically! The power of musicals is that they are the perfect form to enable the story to be felt as, for instance, Les Miserables allows audiences to feel Victor Hugo’s story. It would be fairer to say of the development of a musical version of a complex story like Little Women, so entrenched in an American historical context of one of the bitterest civil wars of all time, that it should have made more of the musical genre.

As all critics agree, there is much to praise about the production: they particularly single out Nicola Samer’s direction; Charlotte Newton John’s portrayal of Jo March;  the clear characterisation of each of the four sisters; the clever songs;  the comic antics of Aunt Marsh and other cameo roles. Furthermore, the design concept works very well, though the scene changes need some rethinking.  Also, from where I sat, I know that the size of the bench on which Beth has her dying scene made her look stressed and uneasy for all the wrong reasons as she precariously attempted to stay on the furniture long enough to breathe her last breath.

A simple Google search reveals just how universally appealing the story of Little Women has remained with audiences since 1868, firstly as a novel (Project Gutenberg has it free to download), through at least three significant film adaptations in 1933, 1949 and 1994 and numerous play versions (including current productions in Ann Arbor Michigan and at the Gate Theatre Dublin). A ‘great’ musical of Alcott’s story, however, is yet to be achieved.  The production I viewed at the Lost Theatre holds enough integrity for its producers, cast and creative team to hopefully aspire for that accolade with Little Women.

 

http://www.whatsonstage.com/reviews/theatre/off-west+end/E8831324468552/Little+Women+the+Musical.html

http://www.timeout.com/london/theatre/event/248466/little-women-the-musical

http://www.thepublicreviews.com/little-women-the-musical-lost-theatre-london/

http://www.britishtheatreguide.info/reviews/littlewomenlost-rev.htm

http://www.remotegoat.co.uk/review_view.php?uid=7908

http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/34725/little-women-the-musical

http://www.fringereview.co.uk/pageView.php?pagename=An%20Interview%20with%20Nicola%20Samer,%20director%20of%20Little%20Women

http://www.thepublicreviews.com/encore-nicola-samer/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Women

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/514/514-h/514-h.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Women_(1933_film)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Women_(1949_film)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Women_(1994_film)

http://www.londontheatre.co.uk/londontheatre/news/may05/18may05littlewomen.htm

http://www.indielondon.co.uk/theatre/t_little_women_musical_prev_CDrev.html

http://annarbor.com/entertainment/little-women-review/

http://entertainment.ie/Theatre/feature/Little-Women-%7C-The-Gate-Theatre/10/2033.htm

http://www.irishtheatremagazine.ie/Reviews/Current/Little-Women

Lost Theatre’s One Act Festival

Lost Theatre’s One Act Festival 

 

Genre: Short Plays

Venue: LOST Theatre Company 208 Wandsworth Road London SW8 2JU

 

Low Down

 

The Bush and Orange Tree theatres are celebrating significant anniversaries this year. Likewise, the Lost Theatre’s twenty-six year history of producing its one-act festival marks its importance as a company that has tirelessly supported the development of new writing and young performing artists.  The process that begins in March and leads onto the Winner’s Week in September is quintessential ‘fringe theatre’ in its nurturing of young talent.

 

Review

 

The One-Act Festival’s Winner’s Week performances were presented in the following order: Almost 1 Million by Roding Valley High School for Best Direction; The Winning Crowd by Alan Fielden for Best Cast; and Suffer the Little Children by Jamie Chandler for Best Writing. Each play was introduced by a MC and was commented on after its conclusion by festival adjudicator andTimes theatre critic, Mr Jeremy Kingston. Mr Kingston also made the trophy presentation to the winners. An interval came after each act.

 

 

The winner for Best Direction in 2011, Almost 1 Million, was a devised drama by Year 10 students of Roding Valley High School in Loughton.  Drama teacher & winner of best director Jenny Parsons’ attention to detail was exemplary. Her use of isolated body movement – from twitches to repeated choric gestures – was wonderful to observe throughout the presentation of many fractured episodes whose components were arranged and rearranged to show the implications for the UK’s ‘almost 1 million’ unemployed. Parsons’ young cast did not miss a beat. Despite, their strained voices, they pulled off their presentation with highly disciplined moves, interesting costuming and an inventive use of the space.

 

The winner for Best Cast category went to The Winning Crowd. The play took as its subject the obsession with remaining happy and how such a condition can lead to absurd and violent situations.  Director and playwright Alan Fielden created a surreal world in which, eight extremely happy individuals, with all the emotional depth of cardboard cut-outs, gave ridiculously inappropriate responses to cataclysmic moments in their lives: for instance, terminal illness, unfaithfulness and the sickness and death of children  Charlotte Baker, Pandora McCormick, Tyson Douglas, Loukia Pierides, Sara Griffin, Luke Stevenson, Vincent Williams and Brett John perform as an exceptional ensemble and hold the fast moving action with great sense of timing.

 

The final performance was Suffer the Little Children by Jamie Chandler. Chandler both wrote and performed this winner of Best Writing category.  The play is based around the theme of children killing children and the action is from the point of view of one of the offenders. The cleverness of the writing, however, does not reveal that the character on stage is any one other than a young man who is dressing up for an important occasion in his life.  The first clues that that he may be in prison cell and heading for a court appearance comes very gradually: for instance, the audience notices that he does not have a belt for his suit trousers. Revelations about his part in murdering a child are given as he chatters casually while readying himself. Its strange innocence is carefully development by the playwright as the audience witness his childish temper and his desperation to remain in relationship with his co-offender, someone who he explains is more like a brother to him.

 

Despite the good work evident on the night, I felt the Lost Theatre missed an opportunity to receive the kudos it deserves for the One Act Festival. The theatre’s website, for instance, has little more than FAQs and the rules and regulations for prospective entrants for the festival. There are no images of the work the theatre company put in to realise the festival event, particular the hard work of members of the theatre responsible for providing its vision.  The audience also seemed exclusively made up of family and friends, a fact which doesn’t quite seem right since the event has been running for twenty-six years.

 

Now that it’s over for 2011, I recommend that Lost Theatre reconceptualise its advertising and presentation of the One Act by better communicating its creative process and sharing with prospective audiences the difference it has made, and continues to make, to the development of young artists.

 

Reviewed by Josey De Rossi Friday 9th September 2011

Website :

http://www.losttheatre.co.uk/