Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Red Balloon Puppet Show Review

I think it is safe to say whilst puppetry is having a renaissance, there isn’t a whole lot of marionette work being done. The Red Balloon is a delightful exception and has been touring nationally with a lovely, simple and gorgeously visual story about a boy and his balloon.

Presented and adapted by String Theatre from the Albert Lamorisse film, they provided a window into another world by creating a small marionette theatre within the much larger Norwich Puppet Theatre stage. It worked a treat in captivating little ones and adults alike and the focus was intense upon the little stage and the characters that danced (and floated) within it.

Accompanied by an emotive soundtrack these puppets did not communicate with words but instead the story was performed with a beautiful visual language that helped create an immersive world for the story. In terms of the puppets used, marionettes proves a great choice in terms of creating the balloon ‘character’ – there were no hands in the way of its flight and as everything else was also strung it worked perfectly in the world of the play. It was also a real treat to see the craft and the practice behind the performance of such a work, using such a form. From what I have seen of the film, it is shot quite expansively but this piece really worked in how it was shrunk down. The little puppets were incredibly expressive and the performance was enchanting.

The Red Balloon is not necessarily an uplifting story, there are real moments of sadness within it and these shone in this adaptation. There was though, enough playfulness to engage the smaller children and the theatre was full of a very moved and satisfied audience by the end of the show. There is certainly something very identifiable about a small boy and his love for a red balloon.

Dogs Don't Do Ballet Puppet Show - Review

Dogs Don’t Do Ballet by Anna Kemp and illustrated by Sara Olgilvi is one of my favourite books. Working as a bookseller in Melbourne I hand sold many copies of this beautifully illustrated, beautiful story. It’s gorgeous, it’s fun and it has a great message. When I first heard it was being adapted for the stage my heart sank. There is a building tradition for theses sorts of adaptations and occasionally they translate wonderfully but often they don’t.

I saw the puppet show on tour at the Norwich Puppet Theatre and I can reassure you that it was well worth it. It was gorgeous, well performed and the spunky very two-dimensional illustrations danced into a great three-dimensional puppet Keith Frederick’s puppet world very nicely. (No awkward Angelina Ballerina giant mouse heads here). Biff, the dog in particular was adorable. The creative team David Duffy and Andrea Sadler in conjunction with The Little Angel Theatre have produced a great interpretation. 

I would say that as with every adaptation it was a fine line between adding in more content and working with what you’ve got. In expanding the role of the dance teacher, we got excellent audience interaction but it did move away from Biff and Anna as the central characters a little bit. My favourite sequence of the show was lifted directly out of the book – where Biff follows Anna to her ballet class. It was done so cleverly and so well that it won me completely over. Tim Sykes’ set at this point was also transformed wonderfully, so it was visually engaging as well as using the original story effectively.

This puppet show deserves its acclaim and success and the little ones in the performance were held captivated for the entire show. I also though hope it encourages people to return to the book, because it still remains a favourite of mine and it will hopefully continue the magic of the show beyond the stage and into the imaginations of many little ballerinas.

Dogs Don’t Do Ballet is bound to pop up again, so make sure you see it when it does.

Bread And Roses Theatre Company The Platform - Review

The Platform – A Page to Stage Workshop or New Writing by presented by the Bread and Roses Theatre Company is rapidly growing as one of the strongest short work platforms in London. They are consistent in both quantity and quality and with this being the fourth successful one it looks set to continue for a good while. 

As the opening play, Johnny Did Not Come Marching Home by Sharon M. Andrews fitted very nicely. It was serious, dramatic, but at a length that did not completely overshadow the tone of the evening. It was well performed, and there is certainly great potential in the situation and the story of those left behind at home during WWII. It did feel that there was a lot going on in the script which might work better as a longer work, rather than a complete short but even as it was it packed a proper emotional punch.

Following the drama of the first play Just Desserts by Will Howells is a monologue that on the surface is amusing. Joanna Greaves was very engaging as an ‘after’ rather than a ‘before’ – a woman who used to be so out of control with her weight that when she loses it her life and loves spins away from her. 

Skeleton by David Payne concluded the first half of the evening. A slightly longer work, it was programmed well at this point in the Platform. It was a very tight two-hander between a mother and a daughter over lunch. In some ways a strength of this piece was in the ellipses and what was left out, I do think however that further exploring the relationship in a longer work would be interesting – and also give more space for the turns, twists and turning points to build up. Directed by Kuba Drewa, the performances of Alexia Whybrow and Fern McCauley were strong emotionally and physically and were a highlight of the evening.

Coming back from interval Cold Calling by Suzette Coon brought together generations. The older Suzanne (Judith Eveson) and the young and very wired Laura (Katie Richmond). They clash over windows and a porch but in a world with no future, what else is there to do but apologise for what you have become and reach out to those who are in a position to help.

It’s always great to finish with a good laugh and Hamlet in Hiding by Rich Rubin was just that. There has been a bank heist but unfortunately the robbers have been encumbered with perhaps the most annoying getaway driver in Belfast. This was a tightly written piece that was consistent in its comedy and performance.

This was an evening that saw: unwanted flowers, desperate men, Shakespeare, forced feeding and a ring being pulled off a finger. It was varied in content but everything was performed, written and directed to a high standard. This was another strong Platform by the Bread and Roses Theatre Company, here’s to many more!
More details about this, previous and future Platforms can be found on the Bread and Roses Theatre Company website.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Dante The Inferno - Review

Dante The Inferno
Leicester Square Theatre - lounge.

Adaptation can be difficult, just ask Charlie Kauffman and it requires a curious mix of skills to do well. A key point of the process is balancing creating something new and exciting whilst maintaining the integrity of the source. Dante The Inferno recently on at the Leicester Square Theatre didn’t quite achieve this balance but delivered some excellent performances that certainly gave a new perspective on the poem.
I have a certain level of cultural understanding of Dante’s Inferno - you can’t really gather creative degrees and not come into contact with the concepts - but haven't read the Divine Comedy. At many points in this production I felt lost, scrabbling around for cultural references that I could remember. For instance I knew that Dante’s journey when through nine the circles of hell and yet this adaption focused on three circles, which if contextualised within the piece wouldn’t have been a problem - but it wasn’t. The structure then was a writer character interacting with the devil in between weaving a separate stories around the circles ‘Lust’; ‘Gluttony’ and ‘Violence’. It was again, however unclear if these framework characters were witness to these stories, involved or just coexisting. Perhaps an audience who had read Inferno would be a little less lost than I was but accessibility is just as important for people without an intimate knowledge of the text - and would be an important point to consider if this adaptation was developed further.
Within the circles the writing and story was more assured. Although, it was a little unclear whose side we were supposed to be on in ‘Lust’ - the lovers or the murdering-Jack-the-Ripper type - who was being punished and for what was confusing. With ‘Gluttony’ there was a sad little moral tale of love and ‘Violence’ was given a contemporary voice with three short monologues about the potential life of one lost to gang violence. Whilst the style was quite different in each (influenced by three writers, adapter Nicholas Pelas, Natasha Jervis and Kevin Lee) this didn’t matter too much.
The performances throughout the show were strong. Rachel Summers as the ‘Satan character’ Roberta Fox, clearly revelled in her persona and it would have been nice to have unleashed the power of her character more. Peter Ravel-Walsh was suitable creepy and very versatile across his roles. He brought the necessary visceral physicality to ‘Gluttony’ that was quite confronting. The performance of Du’aine A Samuels was also impressive as his presence tormented the dreams of the one who had killed him. Overall the ensemble was cast well and the character well delivered.
In terms of design, the minimal set worked well and the costumes were good. A more free-flowing direction would have been better suited to the intimate space (less blackouts) but in writing, directing and performing Nicholas Pelas generally showed a solid graft. This work has good potential to develop as a longer project, but to do so should probably mean returning to the poem. For perhaps as much as anything else, adaptations should encourage you to engage with the source text, and seeing this production certainly did make me want to read the Divine Comedy.