Thursday, October 20, 2011

Writer's Block Review

Writer’s Block
By Tom Moran

Douglas Briggs sits alone with a typewriter. He is trying to write, it isn’t working and then he hears a cough. He isn’t alone. From this initial set up Tom Moran leads the audience and Douglas on a journey into the mind of a lost writer who cannot face reality. Within this world we meet an assortment of characters that form different elements of Douglas’ psyche, the most prominent his Imagination. As we travel through his mind and his memory we learn things about Douglas and start to piece together how a man such as he has ended up in such a confusion.

The characters that surround Douglas are caricatured and wonderfully exaggerated to the point where it is Douglas himself that does not make sense in this world – he needs to work his way through it, destroy his writer’s block and escape. However he as a writer should know that no narrative is ever that simple and no matter how confronting and insane this inner reality nothing can compare to his actual one. This we discover is even more heart-breaking in light of the zany hilarity that permeates so much of this play. Only a writer would create such a story-world to escape what he fears most.

This play was written with an assured hand, it is bursting at the seams with comedy, the laughs coming in many layers of the writing and performance. I don’t think that I have laughed for such an extended period for a long time. I think the success of it lies in the variety of the amusement – there was physical comedy; puns; jokes; costume fun; slap-stick; metatheatrical asides; situational comedy; clever retorts; gross eating; silly toast; wit – there was a barrage of humour really! And yet it was very artfully constructed and was ultimately useful in the context of the narrative.

A play as manic as this one needs strong casting and this was a cast more than up to the challenge. My personal favourite characters were the Sense of Loyalty and Adventure but equally everyone in this play was delightful in different ways with the excellent use of double casting. Orestes Kouzof was frequently hilarious and insanely spontaneous as one should be playing Imagination; Sam Holland pulled off the uniquely fabulous feat of two characters at the opposite ends of what is socially acceptable; Tom O’Sullivan played silly and straight and American with aplomb; Ali Dunk managed to both contort his face and his body into the weird and wonderful; Nadia Newstead shined with a (quite incredibly) rigid focus across all her many characters; Michael Clarke played both the old, innocent and prurient with clear relish; and amongst all of this chaos Naomi Richardson brought love and reason with Emily to Jo Wright who as Douglas existed in a suitably bewildered state of one who is in his situation.   

There was directorial vision to this work; the best of these actors were brought out not only with the writing and performance but the staging by Ant Cule and Tom Moran and the obvious work of the rest of the production team. There was neat set design, great costuming and the production values of sound and light were used to great effect. It is a brave decision to turn out the all the lights in a theatre but it worked and is a scene that typified the slightly insane but very well executed feel of the entire play.

Writer’s Block is a play that draws parallels in theme to The Wonderful World of Dissocia but it leaves the choice to leave the fantasy to the character. In light of the whimsy, hilarity and memories that we have seen it is possible even with our own Sense of Reason that we might want to stay with the comfort of Douglas’ Imagination.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Maskerade Review

Terry Pratchett’s Maskerade adapted for the stage by Steve Briggs
Laughing Monkey
Norwich Puppet Theatre

Maskerade is a Discworld story set firmly within the Witch Cycle. It centres around Agnes Nitt (who wants to be Perdita X), a girl who has it in her to become a witch but intends to leave it all behind to be on the stage. Of course with her no-nonsense core and her fundamental common sense she fits in really well into the exaggerated hysteria of the Opera House. Fortunately for Agnes she can sing, then again unfortunately for Agnes her new friend Christine has the body that would sell a thousand tickets. With an increasingly murderous Opera Ghost at large and unwelcome faces far from home with the arrival of Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax Agnes soon finds herself wound up in a somewhat predicable tangle.   

Laughing Monkey produced a show that fitted in very well with the gorgeous space that is the Norwich puppet theatre. They used the trapdoor, the flies, the stairs through the audience and the depth of the stage really well. Also as befits Discworld there was clearly a decision early in production to not focus on obsessively on production values and instead bring forth the spirit of fun that infiltrates even the darkest moments of the Discworld books. As such there was a delightful theatrical awareness to the piece which worked especially well considering the subject matter.

There was as well great commitment by the actors in this production, to both the text and their characters. There was hilarious physical comedy; amusing accents; impossibly straight faces and generally a tight focus and belief in who they were portraying. Those who have dabbled in this blog before might know that I love Terry Prachett in the way one can when it was a refuge (read escape) from a certain thesis last year. Discworld is very important to me and I have a strong sense of what it is. You might be relieved to hear that Maskerade was fabulous without (obviously) corresponding to this. Casing point was Nanny Ogg who played by Paul Allum was straight out of the pantomime tradition. It’s safe to say that this Nanny was not my Nanny and yet she worked all the same and in true Ogg style delivered some of the best laughs of the play.

So congratulations to the cast and crew, especially those who crossed over in both performing and production roles. Paul Allum, Liam Pudwell and Carol Rowell you are clearly a great team. I am looking forward to revisiting the Discworld in the capable hands of Laughing Monkey soon because apart from anything else you’ve got to love a production that has an acknowledgment in the credits for the person who looks after the pointy hats!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Signing.

Existential crisis of the signature kind.

WAH! I don't think I can hack having so much tacked on at the end of an email. I think when faced with that many options one doesn't click on anything at all... Maybe two then? Or back to just the one. hmmmm.

Book Sculpture Fun!

Squee! Cutest things I think I have ever seen.

(yes this is coming from the person who never bends spines, or corners and will give you her bookmark if she sees you bending yours)

Enjoy!

Mysterious Paper Sculptures

and

Book Cut Sculptures

and almost best of all... the lovely political statement that goes with it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sophocles’ Antigone Review

Sophocles’ Antigone – directed by Cordelia Spence
UEA Drama Studio

Antigone is a play that haunts the ages, her echoes ring throughout history and have been used to highlight many struggles in many cultures across the world. The single minded defiance of a ruler for the sake of what is true and proper is as incredibly poignant today as at any other point in history it has been adapted and performed. As director Cordelia Spence writes in her notes in light of the recent uprisings in Northern Africa the public spectacle of Antigone defying Creon rings as much through our twenty-first century current affairs as the City of Thebes.

The production was tightly directed and really well performed Рthere was no extraneous noise, much like the set it was sleek and surely handled. At all times it felt (as it should) that we were being guided along to the inevitable tragic ending of the play. Reception Studies of classical writing asks new performances to bring something of the current age to the work and this production does in some ways without removing it from a classical context. Creon is sharply assured with his silver hair and a silver suit and his guards parade in camouflage and heavy boots. As a character he is as much a modern politician with his glib phrases and clich̩ infused proclamations and it becomes his modern ideals that are fighting against the traditional way of the world.

The chorus can be a problematic presence in these works, but Cordelia Spence did not shy away from them as either a construct or a stage presence. Indeed they were used to great effect as dancers and gave a beautiful lyric quality to both the staging and the language of the play. Splitting the lines into two with the Reporter as a different character from the others worked to varying degrees throughout the piece but it did assist with scattering the action throughout time.

This edit of Antigone drastically reduced the pivotal scene of confrontation between Antigone and Creon. It effectively established that neither would budge in their position and then it moved on. This decision gave room for the well choreographed dance sequences and space for the dramatic confrontation between Creon and Haemon to not be rushed through towards the end but it did give less stage time for the real battle at the heart of the play. There was surprisingly little of Antigone and Creon confronting each other’s positions and then effectively negotiating the terms of her death.

Stagecraft wise Antigone was very impressive and although whoever did the set and costume weren’t acknowledged in the program those who did contribute do deserve recognition. The space was great and complemented the director’s vision. Make up artist Sarah Francis evoked magic and mystery as well as age and wounds and her skills shone under assured lighting. And if the production team is to be congratulated, so are the cast, all of which all produced great energy infused performances.

Antigone was an appropriate choice for our times and it will of course continue to be.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Girl Who Looked Like Me Review

The Girl Who Looked Like Me
By Katrrina Raine
UEA Drama Studio


The Girl Who Looked Like Me is a play written and directed by Katriina Raine for the UEA Masters in Theatre Direction program. It is a work that deals with issues involving the sex-trafficking industry and it deposits these not only onto the stage in front of an audience but into our awareness. For working alongside the violence and the dirt of this trade is a mildly disturbing thread of normality that brings us up short on any attempt to rationalise and distance ourselves from the reality of the situation. This is not a play that gives us any permission to escape from what occurs, we are asked as we exist in a society that sanctions such brutality are we ultimately a part of it?

According to the program notes The Girl Who Looked Like Me is about Aurelia but it tells the story of many women. We hear stories from the med student who is kidnapped; the young friends who travel abroad; the boyfriend who betrays his love; the ‘aunt’ who takes her ‘niece.’ These girls’ separate narratives clash for a time in a camp where they are brutally reminded of their new status as chattels, owned body and mind by men. From here they are once again moved along, sold into slavery where there is no hope of escape. The extended scene where we hear their disparate stories is important as it demonstrates the scope of the sex-trade but the effect does leave the narrative a little scattered through all these voices. Aurelia is merely one of many, many lost souls in this piece; it seems it is not her story but theirs. Perhaps it would have focussed the flow of the play to tighten in more on Aurelia as a character and her story with the others as echoes to her tale. But then again who is anyone to impose a hierarchy on suffering by taking that decision? Ultimately it is about that little girl who now wakes and faces a mirror and to no longer see herself but “a girl that looked liked me.” Her name might be Aurelia but it might be Sofiya; Natalia; Dana; Guila; Gabriela. It might be Julia. It might be you.

It is difficult in a work such as this to portray the enemy. To stage the corrupt and the disgusting too often can become distorted into caricature. The decision to have very normal looking men in this play points again to the sense of normality that sugar-coats the ugly side of the sex-industry. The “banality of evil” is a concept by Hannah Arendt that sits comparably with this play. There was a horrific dramatic irony to watching a club manager defend his practice of ‘employing’ foreign girls as a way of protecting your sisters, daughters and mothers. Ha. Equally chilling were the boys on laptops organising casual sex with working girls across Europe as if ordering something from e-bay. There is of course nothing wrong with a sex-industry if the conditions are safe, the money is fair and there is a consensual exchange. It’s just that much of the time it is not and in awkwardly laughing at this message board Katriina Raine is asking us, are we complicit with this?

It was a strong ensemble cast of UEA drama students who worked with this difficult subject matter. In the notes on rehearsal process the Rain writes she tried to play out “difficult subject on stage without using much literal imagery or action.” As such the staging this production was quite simple and unadorned but it didn’t need to be and it was a suitable platform for the stories. There are however interesting questions in the future development of this work, does there need to be men in it at all? What would be the effect of focussing in on one or maybe two stories? There are many ways this material could be shaped further. It is such an important issue that it deserves to be a continuing project – and as is reinforced the director’s notes Katriina Raine is determined not to let us forget that it’s not about the sex, it is the about the people.

One thing I would say is it would have been an idea if the program had information on where to seek help if you are the victim of sexual assault or if you mightn’t be aware of support if you are working in the sex-industry. I can’t really supply much information as I have luckily not needed to and am not familiar with support services in the UK but do ask google, there are people to help.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Moving.

When one has lived in the same place for ever such a long time it is terribly easy to become complacent. This. Was. Me.

Totally.

So now that as of tomorrow it will be a month since I moved, it is about time things like blogging, reviewing, writing etc. get going again.

Thanks for your patience and I will be seeing theatre again as of Friday night so THERE WILL BE REVIEWS on the way and I will use the same impetus for those to bang out the last of the Mudfest stuff.

Did I say moving is terrible. Yes? Moving to a new country on the other side of the world is even worse!!

x