Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Children and Animals Took to the Streets.

To the BAC to see The Children and Animals Took to the Streets by the innovative 1927 theatre company. Mixing live performance, a spooky discordant score and wonderful animations the company draw on the traditions of early cinematography, the Berlin cabaret and Rodchenko style constructivism to craft a sumptuous contemporary parable that is as secure in aesthetic feel as it is in subversive content.

It's savage stuff - set in Bayou Mansions, a slum cockroach ridden tenement inhabited by Wayne the racist, girl gang Zelda and the Pirates and a string of tight faced residents who stare vacantly at the impoverished surroundings. Into this world comes Agnes Eaves, a optimist of Mary Poppins proportions, who believes that encouragement and collage may be all that is required for cultural renaissance.

The three performers relish every second of their dysfunctional fairy tale and despite audience protestation refuse to endorse a happy ending to their story choosing instead to pack a final bleak punch that leaves us shivering in the dark with the reminder that it takes more than a positive attitude or theatrical twist to lift the poor out of deprivation. Chilling and brilliant work.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Sleeping Beauty.

Off with Patsy to a reception at Richmond Theatre and a chance to catch an early view of Sleeping Beauty. Most of the staff were on schmoozing duty with the mayor, councillors and VIPs, but it was good to have a brief catch up.

The show itself was ridiculous silly fun and I loved every minute. Top of the bill was shotgun speed gag meister Tim Vine who kept the show moving with great charisma and skill. He was ably supported by Anita Dobson as the wicked fairy queen complete with hologram dragon and a fine range of bashed out old Queen hits. It was kitsch, it was cringe, it ultimately left a lot of people going home with smiles on their faces.

At one point five kids were brought on stage and handed goodie bags. Tim then interviewed them.

'Now by the magic of theatre you can ask for what ever you like up here on stage', he said, winking at the parents, 'and you'll get it. Now what would you like?'

'Can't think!' said the first.

'Anything at all,' said Tim. 'What about a pony?'

'Already got one.'

'Oh yes, I forgot for a minute we're not playing Sunderland are we?'

The happy ending prompted the best gag of the night when confronted by the perfect nuptials Anita moaned - 'will nobody marry me?' To which Tim replied 'Brian may.'

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

New Trust & A Flea in Her Ear.

A really good meeting yesterday evening at the National Trust's Queen Anne's Gate headquarters with Gary and Ruth. We're looking to create a Drama and the National Trust module to roll out for Level 2 Applied Theatre students from September next year which will hopefully both provide an ongoing theme for the sixty or so students enrolled on the course, enable the Trust to commission work form us and give us a further opportunity to explore and further our research into the ways heritage sites can provide the stimulus for community engagement and expression. There's quite a bit to iron out, but we're all onside and very excited about further strengthening our ties.

Tonight off to the Old Vic to see an all star cast take on Feydeau's A Flea in Her Ear. It's great to see such secure farce playing and it's clear that the actors all really relished the the freedom to demonstrate their virtuosity. In a theatre dominated by psychological realism or spectacular staging effects it must be so liberating to spend a couple of hours playing in this way. As a member of the audience it's certainly wonderful to be able to sit back and simply marvel at plot and device.

Tom Hollander is superb shifting seamlessly across the dual roles of buffoon porter Poche and the bourgeois respectable Chandebise. He's ably supported by Freddie Fox as Chandebise's speech impaired young nephew, Tim McMullan as the pompous butler and John Marques as a fiery Spanish lover. Sometimes there are clunks but it's very early in the play's run and given the calibre of the actors and the clear joy they're already getting from spinning the plates, things will no doubt bed down sooner rather than later.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Mottisfont Abbey

We heard back from Nymans last week saying that although they'd like to take Canterbury Tales another touring company had got in first and they wouldn't book a second version. So in search of another venue I drove down the M3 this morning to have a reckie of Mottisfont Abbey where Gary suggests we might have a favourable welcome.

The grounds are gorgeous and the layout makes a promenade performance really enticing. The river Test borders one side and large lawns lead up to the house itself. Underneath are the evocative remains of the 13th century Augustinian priory which would be a perfect place to end the pilgrimage.

The most exciting space though seemed to be the walled rose gardens - barren now - but they house the national collection of old-fashioned roses and in the Spring and early summer would no doubt prove to be a riot of colour and perfume. Certainly a space of romance and chivalry. The Knight's Tale here, perhaps?

So a follow up email needs to be sent to see if the house manager will be game - but I can see a fantastic tour beginning at Sutton House, before moving to Ham and then out into the countryside being a fantastic way to explore and celebrate Chaucer's stories.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Pilgrimages & Riots.

An excellent session yesterday planning some schools workshops with Applied Theatre Level 2 in preparation for the outreach work that'll accompany The Canterbury Tales in the new year.

Working with Danielle the team had devised their own pilgrimage around the St Mary's campus, with stops at key sights, converted into taverns with wonderful pub signs. Earlier in the week each of us had been assigned a twentieth century job - weather girl, professional footballer, international DJ, plastic surgeon etc. and at each stop a few of us were selected to tell a story or sing a song in our pre-cast role. It was jovial, great good fun and, as we'd all taken time trouble to prepare, healthily competitive. Occasionally we met other students and asked them for stories, or songs. By the time we arrived to give thanks at our final destination, outside the chapel, we'd collected dozens. The work has wonderful potential and we're going to try and develop it in Hackney Schools with the Sutton House team. In two sessions we can tailor make and export a pilgrimage anywhere.

Meanwhile there was more trouble in central London where students and lecturers were picketing outside the Houses of Parliament in anticipation of the vote on tuition fees. For a couple of hours once again the streets were filled with violent clashes between police and protesters. The issue has certainly woken up the current generation of students to the possibility of taking direct action and for all the outcry and dismay there is a certain inevitability to the violence and criminal damage. London has periodically fallen to the mob and riots, particularly when those who perceive themselves to have little are threatened by those born into privilege and opportunity. These class struggles are very much a part of the capital's heritage.

As if to reinforce the point there was some amazing images of Prince Charles and Camilla under siege in their car as they made their way to the Royal variety performance. Perfumed, preened and corpulent they looked for all the world as if they'd stepped out of Hogarth lampoon. It felt as if we were momentarily back in the eighteenth century.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Beauty Abounds.

A full day. Patsy and I went over to Khadambi Asalache's house in Wandsworth Road which he bequeathed to the National Trust on his death four years ago. Asalache was a Kenyan exile who spent twenty years carving and creating an exquisite fretwork fantasy interior. Gary has recently added the property to his portfolio and is currently working out exactly how to open up, what is essentially a small family home, to visitors.

We were given a tour by the wonderful Ruth Clarke, the trust's community learning officer and Khadambi's widow Susie, who talked about her fear of academics coming in and 'theorising' over Khadambi's influences or motives. The reality, as she sees it, is that the house evolved organically rather than to design and she's keen to avoid trapping Khadambi in a biographical narrative. What's of more interest to her is finding a way to allow the house to inspire visitors to re create their own sense of utopia. This, of course, presents an interesting dilemma for the team, who know that most properties are visited because they hold the ghosts of former inhabitants or are the site of significant events.

Ruth explained that in discussion groups men, in particular, had expressed how moving they found a visit to the house and occasionally had even broken down when trying to explain the effect that the rooms had on them. She wondered why?

'Well,' said Susie 'Khadambi didn't have a cliched bone in his body.'

And perhaps that's the key. The sight of these rooms remind us that we often settle for spaces that compromise our own sense of desire and artistry. They throw down a challenge to us to try and live as we would wish.

Onwards to the National to see Katie Mitchell's fast paced and clever production of Beauty and the Beast in the Cottesloe with Eleanor.

There was much to enjoy particularly a simple, but beautifully executed, shadow puppet sequence and a brilliantly designed tormented beast, a crazy mix of rat, wolf and tyrannosaurus Rex. Overall though the piece didn't seem to trust the story's innate sentimentality and kept interrupting itself with an entertaining, but overplayed, music hall fore curtain where a naughty fairy MC introduced us to mind reading machines and insect orchestras. To begin with this Victorian cruelty and menace excited and provoked the audience, providing a welcome and playful subversion to a more conventional rendering of the tale; but ultimately it undermined the wonder and enchantment of the ending. A salutary lesson into the childishness of love rather than a celebration of its miracle? It left the audience impressed rather than awestruck.

Thursday, 2 December 2010


Off through the snow to the Tristan Bates in Seven Dials to see the launch of the Foxtrot Foundation, run by Drama St Mary's lecturer Chris White with the aim of progressing the way Samuel Beckett is taught in HE and FE institutions.

Chris and his co-director Julio Martino had brought over Michael Laurence's award winning off Broadway show Krapp, 39 to mark the event and celebrate. Despite the difficult travel conditions a good crowd turned up.

I'm unsure of Beckett, which of course is partly the point. His verbal games leave me in a bit of a void and although the incomprehensibility of the universe carries an awesome prospect I often struggle to find the theatricality. I suppose I'm not sure philosophy and theatre mix terribly well. I think play is essentially non intellectual and theatre is at its best when it's a bit stupid. I get the impression Beckett felt the same way about life. I hope Chris' work might help me see something else.

Tonight's work details Michael's experiment as a 39 year old Beckettian actor, in deciding to create his own derivative of Beckett's famous monologue by recording a tape in preparation for a second production on his 69th birthday in 2038. On one level the self reflection and introvertism makes for a slightly indulgent evening on another level the playful examination of reality, fiction, time and memory allows the audience to take a warping journey that questions the value of summation and posterity.