Sunday, April 14, 2013

Tartuffe by Molière Review

The Canal Café Theatre

Fringe repertory company, Paradigm presents the fourth and closing production of their inaugural season the French classic, Tartuffe. The stage is set, the red curtain moves a little bit and someone is playing the piano…

The thing about updating the context of a classic text however, is that you absolutely have to commit to it. Otherwise the assumed aesthetic can risk becoming glib, throwaway and at worst a distraction. Paradigm Theatre Company’s production of Tartuffe is a solid production of the play but fits somewhere in between the two extremes of updating a context. We are presented with a gorgeously costumed world, but at no point does the cabaret world actively interact with the text. This I feel is a missed opportunity because there is nothing quite like slightly seedy clubs to get the righteous and religious up in arms, and it would add another delicious layer to the devious nature of Tartuffe. A “godly” man all at see in a world of Cabaret would really draw out the parallels of the new context really nicely. When transporting the action of a classic text into the 1920s, it is preferable to embed the new context so that it becomes an intrinsic part of the play.   

Apart from the text, incorporating more cabaret into the style and direction of the performance would have also be a good idea. Some of the best moments of the production involve the sudden intrusion of live music and gorgeously stylised poses from the ensemble. To push this much further and integrate it throughout would be a risk that would have paid off in the Canal Theatre Café, a delightful venue really suited to the cabaret aesthetic. As mentioned previously though the costuming from Shoni Wilkinson was excellent but support from other elements would have lifted it to another level.   

Although, slow to start, the play quickly picks up as the complications in the Molière plot, layer and we are invited to share in the folly of young lovers Mariane and Valère sympathetically and endearingly played by Phoebe Batteson-Brown and John Rogers. The plight of the young all the more poignant as most their elders are proven fools in the face of Tartuffe’s lies. Only the quick-witted maid Dorine (Katherine Rodden) can truly help and she is only a servant. It takes the patriarch Orgon reaching new heights of professional and personal stupidity, going as far to sacrifice his family’s future over to Tartuffe, before the other adults finally work out a plan to out the con-artist and free family from his grip. When a brother’s words of wisdom have no ears, a wife’s virtue comes into play and the trap is set.

The ensemble cast really embraces the complications and the absurdity of the situation and as the show goes along, warm to the humour so by the time Tom Ward-Thomas interferes as Loyal we are as invested as they are in the fate of the family. A nice touch that reinforces this investment is the continual asides and the actors frequently moving throughout the audience tables. So grab a drink, make your way upstairs and enjoy what is currently on offer at The Canal Café Theatre until the 27th April.
Tickets available here.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Vagina Monologues - Eve Ensler Review

I had mixed reactions from people I told I was going to see The Vagina Monologues. There was polite interest, only one person I spoke to had seen it before, most had everyone had heard about it – but overall the sentiment expressed was along the lines of “oh that was important wasn’t it” – “it was a big thing at the time” – “aren’t we a bit past that whole vagina talking thing?” Well, this production organised and directed by Tessa Hart, assisted by Jessica Ruano proved that we well and truly are not.

Is it confronting to listen to people talking about their vaginas? Not particularly. It’s surprising how quickly it feels normal and completely not weird to be in this situation and hearing these women’s stories. And we meet vaginas grieving; vaginas that flooded; vaginas that were off limits; vaginas removed; vaginas raped; vaginas loved; vaginas as home wear furnishings; vaginas discovered; vaginas as cunts; vaginas receiving; vaginas as a village; vaginas giving; vaginas angry and vaginas jubilant.

Eve Ensler’s scripts strike a good balance between the hilarious and hysterical and pathos. There is much movement in emotion and voice across the monologues but they are united in their ultimate affirmation of love and life against what can sometimes be a violent world. Also, in each story and from each monologue there is a connection to each of us that comes directly from their source material being from real people. There was truth to much of the writing and it shone through the entire reading. And whilst the majority of the audience had thankfully not experienced sexual slavery – even in those harrowing stories there were startling small moments of recognition.

The actresses performing were Kate Smurthwaite; Rebecca Mordan; Sally Mortemore; Kate Rawson; Georgia Buchanan; Bonny Davis; Jenny Hsia; Jiin Jang; Lauren Karl and Lydia Lane. The ensemble were excellent and committed to the monologues and it is hard to separate out performances. But I will say that I particularly enjoyed Lydia Lane, Georgie Buchanan and Sally Mortemore’s monologues and their characters voices have really stuck with me.

This play is a celebration of who we are as women, and what we can be. It is a challenge to the potential in all of us to make a difference and to take a stand against cruelty and violence to women across the world. One Billion Rising is a growing network and charity that Eve Ensler founded – it involves dancing, reclaiming bodies (including vaginas) and standing tall against violence.

It always frustrates me when people are dismissive of plays that were written a few years ago, and doubly angry that if these were by a woman about a feminist issue they are even more disregarded. I think Tessa Hart and the people who worked on this understand this much more than anyone I spoke to before seeing this show. This play is as relevant as it ever was perhaps more so – and you don’t need to have a vagina to acknowledge that.

More details about the production here: