Review: We Got Rhythm

This is a production that seems to be fuelled by ideas, but we are given no time to process the overarching one, as it only emerges at the very end. I do think it might have been wiser to choose something simpler for such a short time slot (1/2 hour). The performers were technically good, with mostly enjoyable singing, dancing and acting, but I can’t help but think that they might have chosen something to better than this to show off their talent. ‘We Got Rhythm’ is an allegorical story with simplistic characters (apparently named things like ‘Idealist’ and ‘Patriot’ in the script) does not allow so much for subtle acting. Most of the piece was of a confused gobbledygook jargon, wherein the actors cry oddly two-dimensional jabber… but then we find out that this is not the real play.

Honestly, I came out thoroughly confused, having been given very little time at the end to process the “real” section of the play. Now I wonder, can I criticise? They themselves mention the strangeness of the dancing in the inside play, within the outer play. Am I to mention the faults of the acting in the inside play? Perhaps it was all an act on purpose. Are we even supposed to process the ideas as being presented seriously in the first play, when it is only a kind of quotation of an art work. I’ve seen plays within plays before, but this was completely dominated by the “play within” rather than the play itself.

After the performance the director tells me that the writer is ungoogleable. Ungoogleable you say?! Yes! Well actually, no. I found the writer. Quite easily. In fact she’s still alive and I assume does not know of her play being unearthed from the bowels of a disused library. What does this mean? Surely someone in the production must know this? Why the added mystery? Are we the play within the play? I’m overreacting but this production left me thoroughly confused. Everything seemed to be not what it was… perhaps you should go and see it yourself. I supposed it’s actually quite intriguing. I retract everything.

Originally published by Ed Fringe Review.

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Review: Max Fletcher-Delicious

If you’re familiar with the illustrator David Shrigley, then you can gauge something of Max Fletcher’s act. His short skits seem at first to be almost tableau versions of Shrigley’s badly drawn cartoons; Max uses no facial expressions whatsoever – in his case this is not such a positive – and the point of it all is intriguingly missing. Come to think of it the handwriting for Max’s ‘bit’ menu, from which you can request which ‘bit’ you would like him to perform, is written in handwriting that is weirdly close to the artist Shrigley’s own outrageously childish scrawl.

At first I wasn’t sure if this was theatre at all, not having seen any semblance of a character portrayal, with Max ducking in and out of skits without any pause to delineate the start and end of each one. However, as Max gains confidence the humour loses some of its strangeness. For the first half I was a little uncomfortable, mainly because of his own negativity about the show, and was sad at the thought that I would have to give Max two stars, him being so likeable. However, both he and the audience warmed up and the overall feeling I gained from the mish-mash of all the different sketches was one of strangely enjoyable offbeat humour, although it is possibly not for everyone.

So that you can know what to ask for (it’s a show personalised to each audience), I would advise going for the longer skits. Highlights included: ‘THE CLINT EASTWOOD BIT’, ‘THE JOEY FROM FRIENDS BIT’ and ‘THE BIT ABOUT FAILURE’, although we did not exhaust the ‘bit’ list in the slightest. I would be intrigued to know whether ‘THE FLAMINGO BIT’ ever materialises, as it was not at that time available to us due to insufficient props. The main thing I would say is that he could do with less self-criticism and a few facial expressions, if only every once in a while.

Originally published by Ed Fringe Review

Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market

The play opens with a woman kneeling on the stage alone, sighing in such a way that we cannot tell whether she is possessed by demons or mid-climax. This is the first hint of what will be a production that provides a physical representation of the highly sexualised undertones of the poem’s language.

As we go down to the brook, sure enough the goblins appear. Their performance is genuinely spine-chilling: I hear a whisper in my ear, feel a lock of matted hair brush past my shoulder, and then an unrecognisable, horned creature is staring right into my eyes with his bright white irises. The goblins are the visual heart of the show, with their amazingly elaborate costumes and face paint. Bryony Holloway, playing leader of the otherwise all-male goblin pack, does not have many lines, but when she does speak she has a haunting voice which manages to truly sound as if it has come from a far-away land.

Laura, played by Charlotte Wilson, transforms before our eyes from a young maiden into a demented, sexualised creature, ravished on stage by the goblins who grope and caress her body, while Dionysian forces take hold of her and she writhes in their arms. The performance does indeed take on the endless frenzy of the original poem, which is powerful but can be a little trying.

Bethany Slinn has chosen to play Lizzie with an extremely childish demeanour, convincingly so with her fidgeting and constant pout. Though her sister comments that she has grown breasts and is beginning to admire men, having her played as quite this young allows for her convincing escape: she has the strength of childish disinterest with which to withstand the sexual temptations of the goblins.

Some of the script is made up of the original lines of the poem, which for me were the chilling highlights, and a respite from what could sometimes become painfully relentless suffering. I suppose that might have be intended, but if you didn’t think you were signing up for an immersive theatre experience, then this can wear a little thin. Overall, these were strong performances and an enchanting realisation of this narrative poem.

Dog sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead

Snoopy is dead. The Peanuts gang are all grown up. ‘Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead’ has cleverly adapted the personality traits of Charlie Brown and Co. into their teenage counterparts, while retaining the cartoon-like definition to their characters. Grown apart from each other in their interests and their sentiments, this is a fairly improbable group of friends, but the situations that ensue from this make for a simple, fun production, which served this cast well – despite the age difference between cast and characters.

Main character Charlie Brown, played by Cliff Blake, is very well cast. Charlie’s character is unusual in that he has been allowed to remain fairly intact from the original CB. Initially, he seems detached from the hormone-crazed antics and trivial teenage angst of the rest of the crew as he is going through an existential crisis over the death of his dog. Blake’s was one of the strongest performances, perfectly capturing Charlie Brown’s mix of nervous insecurity and quiet determination.

Beethoven was another star of the show, played by Mary Spinosa-Wilson. Slow, and fairly badly shaken, Beethoven has been bullied into an angry, dejected loner. Spinosa-Wilson has a very convincing fit, playing him with as much complexity as was possible for a fairly stereotyped part. Compliments should also go to Gina Ghioldi and Robin Wilson as Marcy and Tricia, for there entertainingly bitchy attitude and the high energy scenes between the two of them.

Meanwhile, Pig-Pen, played by Steve Hynes, has become a homophobic, germophobic jock. Hynes’ performance was a little stilted, with a few odd pauses between his lines that needed to be tidied up. He was not the only one to be afflicted by a certain slowness which made for some slightly jarring moments, and I couldn’t help wondering if perhaps this was covering up a few cases of forgotten lines. Towards the end this caused the production to drag a little, but with a slightly faster pace it could have improved dramatically, and any rough edges would have been smoothed over.

Review: One Night Stand

One Night Stand opens with a cold white light turned up high so that the audience can be feel something similar to a blinding hangover. The show starts with two acquaintances who are not behaving in a particularly appealing manner. In fact, both are being quite unreasonably awful to each other in different ways. However, as things go on their behaviour starts to make sense and we even begin to like one of them.

Shaun Kitchener is the most charming of the cast. Although initially abrasive, he comes to be sweet, vulnerable and very believable. Natalie Lester is great as Alice – someone you will recognise as that girl who has lost touch with the reality of others’ emotions, manipulating and twisting them to suit her own fantasies. As a result no one is able to take her feelings too seriously, which leads to some outrageous treatment and a crescendo of fight scenes. I found Jon Cobb as Sam to be a little overtly simpering. There are a few minor clunky bits in the script, especially for the character Megan, but in general I would congratulate Kitchener for the plot pacing and the empathy-inducing characters.

The main fault is that the plot seems to be propelled by people inexplicably not explaining obvious misunderstandings about themselves at the ripe moment. However, this may be a fault I find with farce rather than with this particular show, and this plot device does make for comic moments galore. It is, however, quite confusing to be watching a farce in such a naturalistic setting with characters that range from having realistic to completely unrealistic emotions and motivations. Just when you think all have departed from realism they are back to behaving like human beings again. Because of this I often felt a little frustrated that the characters were starting to behave unrealistically, before remembering the genre, forgiving all, and then being plunged back into realism again.

Originally published by Ed Fringe Review

Review: The World Over

‘The World Over’ tells the story of a man who has begun his young life on an empty island, not seeing another living soul for years until he is rescued and begins an epic quest. We follow Magnus Sindig on this journey from his initial naivety, which is suitably haunting and alien because of the faraway look in his eyes and his whispering fairytale voice, to his age of defeated pessimism and a deep gravelly voice. I loved his dazzlingly white costume, which proved to be the visual heart of the production. His was the most impressive performance, holding the epic together throughout its endless scenes, which sadly require endless patience-trying traipsing on and offstage, although I suppose this is typical of the epic fantasy genre.

Simon Lamb was also truly entertaining with his array of characters, each with different voices, accents, mannerisms – all comic and well thought out. I enjoyed Ryan Dolan’s physical performances in his many different roles, but unfortunately found it hard to catch what he was saying. Cara Mahoney was funny, relatable and looked intelligent on the stage. I enjoyed being on her side in whatever part she was playing. Dominic Kimberlin plays a slimy spoilt prince well but in other places seems a little under-rehearsed.

Other actors could also have been better rehearsed and more developed. Anthony Simpson-Pike is miscast for most of his roles; unable to portray the gruff manly figures he is given, he tries to deepen his voice, but, unable to do this also, the strain on him becomes a strain for the audience. Generally the other actors could have relaxed a little, which would help them avoid stuttering and the somewhat awkward, gaping-mouthed darting kisses of the central couple. There is lots of room for improvement but nothing that is unfixable, so I think it could quite easily move up a star rating as the production becomes more polished.

Originally published by Ed Fringe Review

Review: Pinnochio: Adventures in the Metropolist

From an updated version of Pinocchio set in a metropolis I was expecting a faster pace and perhaps the sense of a large world in which Pinocchio the fragile puppet could become lost in – spacially, morally, or something. There are artistic decisions that have been made to adapt this story for the stage and the 13:45 time slot which result in losing many parts of the story. However, in my opinion, they are the wrong parts. We skip over the very beginning of Pinocchio’s childhood and so do not see his first evening alive. This would have been good to give him realistic time for character development (when does he learn of his preference for toast with no crusts, having only been alive for one evening?) However, they decided to keep the small village feel, in which everybody in the city knows who Pinocchio is and his vulnerabilities thus losing the sense of a metropolis. The utilitarian bamboo edifices are cleverly used to create various urban spaces onstage.

The puppet is quite impressive, with its soulful face, and puppeteer Alex Gray is particularly good as the voice of Pinocchio. His is the best performance in the production; through only voice and subtle gestures of the puppet’s head and hands, which twitch with every expression and reaction, he conveys a naive young boy, sweet and measured in his mannerisms, which effectively shows him as set apart from the other characters by his different upbringing (and being made out of wood). Unfortunately he is let down by the feet whose animator was required to move while kneeling on a skateboard. This ruins scene exits as she could not keep up with the standing puppeteers who were working the upper body.

The cast is generally shaky and I felt at times that they are shown up by the better physical acting of the puppet. Jaroslav Fowkes lets the first scene down as his physical awkwardness only highlights the awkward creaking of the puppet before the soundscape starts. He also needs to work on his accents – dropping consonants is not the same thing as an accent. Unfortunately, Daniel Orejon was miscast as Cat; his Spanish accent was far too strong for me to understand, or perhaps he was gabbling his lines, I couldn’t tell. With a little confidence I’m sure he could speak more clearly and even lose some physical nervousness – after all he is meant to be a thug. Kay Singh is however a good fit for her part, which has been interpreted well into a modern day Blue Fairy (a hairdresser). She is suitably motherly, comforting and a confident actor. I was disappointed, however, by the final scene in which Pinocchio becomes a real boy and Alex Gray, best actor in show, is finally freed of his puppet and given opportunity to act himself. For both him and for this climactic moment I wanted some more lines. As it was, he was not given enough to say.

Most of this production could be easily perked up by some added confidence from the team. The puppet and puppetry is good, the script is fine, but the actors must commit to their parts with more gusto to ensure a successful production in the future.

Originally published by Ed Fringe Review

Review: Anna

The plot of ‘Anna.’ is comprised of two moments in time, which the action alternates between. This is described in the blurb as ‘gradually revealing the truth behind the girl’s disappearance’. Sadly, this is not actually true. The time skips only serve to make it obvious what will happen from the start, and so the rest of the production becomes a painful waiting game.

There were some other under-developed elements of the script: the exposition unloaded on the audience at various points is awkward; when relationships between characters are explained, rather than shown through action, this sticks out like a sore thumb and cancels out any intended naturalism. Unfortunately, this production opened with its first information dump of just this kind, with Jo telling Anna that both of them fancy Matthew.

Later on there is a brief indication of some sort of turmoil over their being posh, conservative ex-private school kids, while pretending to be rough and lower class in the world outside their flat. I found added detail such as this to be unnaturalistic; outside of its two pointed mentions it was not shown at any moment by their characterisation.

Matthew (Tom Ratcliffe) was uncomfortably nervous of the sexual relationships, and similarly in the friendship between the two girls, Jo (Gabriella Moran) looked just as uncomfortable about leaning on Anna (Jennifer Todd) in a “relaxed” pose as she did on her lover Matthew’s. I found myself cringing too at Ratcliffe’s advances because he did not manage to escape his own awkward frame. The often stiff, unnatural dialogue does not help.

Having said this, I did enjoy the relationship between Matthew and Anna; the underlying dynamics of this have been better thought out and Anna’s more subtle performance led her to be the star of the show, fortunately so as she has a long monologue to deliver.

The plot is melodramatic and does not make realistic sense. I won’t include a spoiler but I did not find Anna’s responses to her stated situation to be realistic, but rather sensationalising. Her personality is not shown to transform in any visible way, as would be required for her central action in the play. To me this production was gritty but only for the sake of it, without being truly able to handle the subject matter.

Originally published by Ed Fringe Review

Review: Death by Murder

Warning: this review will contain plot spoilers. Not that it matters, as the story is never the same. Nottingham University’s improv troupe have decided to create a murder mystery before your very eyes, every day this week.

While the troupe has weaknesses and are not all at the same standard, they do manage to make up for this in a number of ways. There are several performers who are clearly stronger, including Emily Brady and Alex Southern. Luckily, they were appointed main parts for this evening’s performance: she is the inspector who has to solve the murder mystery, and the audience appoints him as murderer for the evening. Ben Hollands is on first and, perhaps because he knows he is the most competent improviser, he gives himself what will likely be a large part: a highly suspicious Gollum-like freak with an evil laugh who collects clumps in every different colour of what we have decided will be the murder weapon – that is, hair.

Brady commands the show with her clearly defined character, and provides narration in order to move the plot along and give the characters some not-so-covert instruction on how to progress, saying things like “it was then, that things got interesting.”

It very much feels like the lighting and tech people form a huge controlling arm of the production. They function as a directing force, carving a plot and dramatic tension out of enforced scene changes and some dramatic music, which created a lot of nose-to-nose staring contests.

It occurs to me that improv is very much a skill, acquired through endless practising and, I would imagine, improved greatly by gaining quite a repertoire of characters, puns and situations. While I might have been able to see the cracks in this performance, this also allowed me to see much of the method that went into it, and how this group filled in those cracks with impressive inspiration, as well as buoying each other up and playing to each others’ strengths. Although, at times, the audience can feel them being a little too careful about pushing one another into situations that might turn out to be too difficult, which was slightly nerve-racking, I get the feeling that, with a little confidence, they might be capable of more than they think.

Originally published by Ed Fringe Review.

Review: One Month Early

‘One Month Early’ is a farce. All of the actors are of a good standard: James Shelton-Smith is a suitably spoilt as the uninterested husband and Roz Ellis is perfectly painful as his spoilt and uninteresting wife. Magali Swift-Clemence is a wonderfully coy maid, although I did not know what joke we were meant to be in upon, having gleaned its existence only from the strange knowing expressions she kept giving us. The audience ought to be able to see the misunderstandings and the hidden feelings or situational issues which, if they were only revealed, would resolve the misunderstandings and thus eliminate the drama. In this production, however, we are not given much insight into the genuine feelings of the characters, or what we do get does not seem to make much sense. However, I still wonder why the characters do not simply stop what they are doing and communicate with one another. If they would, I’m sure events would go much more smoothly for them and there would be no nonsensical arguments about whether or not to put a chamber pot on one’s head.

But in all seriousness, the direction could have introduced some variation to the tone of the play, if only for the sake of my ears (the shrieking!). The whole production is of the same monotone of indignant rage. This would be a criticism for any play, not just for a farce. To feel anything there must be progression, or at least variation. In my opinion these actors could do with so much better a play to work with, but they could also have been worked to their full potential and range of acting skills.

Originally published by Ed Fringe Review