Territory Written and Driected by Reuben Johnson
Pleasance Theatre Islington (going to Edinburgh in August).
How many plays from the past ten years have been set in Salford, I wonder. Reuben Johnson’s Territory centres around a group of vastly neglected teenagers from a mostly forgotten town. There is nothing for them to do, but at least they know where they come from. Which may be a hefty curse.
The action of this impressive one act play takes place over the course of an evening of underage drinking, downing cans, spinning as they swig, within the woods. Although no one seems to enjoy themselves it is an inevitable ritual they go through every Friday night, and while the in fighting and petty displays of power are suffocating it is what they are used to, it may all that they are comfortable with. This routine is disturbed by the unexpected arrival of Jamie who has come back to visit his younger brother whilst on holiday from his studies in Oxford. Quietly played by Matthew Landers, Jamie represents the self improvement and transcendence of circumstance that these boys fear and refuse to understand because, although it would be rewarding, it may be hard work.
Amidst the general suspicion from the group the most vehement reaction to Jamie, and his personal achievements, comes from Ashley, played writer/director Reuben Johnson. Rather seeing a potential role model Ashley sees it as an attack on him, as if his life is not good enough for Jamie, which it isn’t, nor is it good enough for Ashley himself as we can see in the way he rages. He is the core of the play, a wounded animal that bites at anyone who comes near in case the further injure him.
However, despite his strong presence, the play does a good job in balancing out Ashley’s rampaging. For every Ashley there is a Leon who is willing to push himself but needs some encouragement. Unfortunately, this is a world that doesn’t really do encouragement and so you have to get it where you can. It is testament to the writing how little dialogue uses to suggest the incompetence of the teachers. Hope is around, but it isn’t easy to find.
It is an impressive production with a cast of 12. This is important, it means the play can give a portrait of a whole community. Albeit, a hard, cruel community dedicated to keeps its inhabitants oppressed. For all that poverty may have kept these boys down, lack of imagination has pulled them into a much darker abyss. It is not a show which softens its blows.
Issues raised in the play are elevated by a genuine sense that the company know the world they are presenting. For instance, the girl who does not drink beer but does have a bottle of White Ace cider in her bag, this is both funny and true. Indeed, many of the characters are both likeable and amusing and it allows the audience to invest a level concern in their plights. It makes the dark they inhabit seem relevant. It is not just monsters in the woods. Consequently Territory blends amusement, hope and tragedy. There’s a lot going on.
Between themselves the actors and Johnson have crafted a genuinely enjoyable issue based play which neither patronises, nor panders too, its subject matter. This is a solid achievement.
The experience of going to the Opera begins before the red velvet rises, it begins with the first ROH staff encounter and what an experience. Everyone from the box office assistant to the cloakroom attendant is extremely polite and friendly. What does this have to do with the performance? Everything! By the time we are shown to our seats, we are in a state of calm, ready to be entertained and willing to be immersed; the auditorium is close to capacity, the sceptical is breath taking.
The music gently begins to hush the sound of chatter, the conductor, Ingo Metzmacher, takes a bow and the, ‘festival of May,’ blossoms. Two love birds, Tom Rakewell, played by Toby Spencer and Anna Trulove, played by Rosemary Joshua, merrily tweet their undying love to each other, surely this is the only natural progress to happiness, but perhaps one lover, ‘protest too much’. Unfortunately for our heroine, one loves unconditionally, while the other loves in vain…uh, vanity…what a deadly sin. The opera begins!
Anna Trulove, like all the other characters in The Rakes Progress, are all one dimensional, they embody a human feeling or a concept, they themselves are not human, but then again we are dealing with Opera, the most symbolic representation of art mimicking life. The Libretto is very predictable because we know this story well, (it has many similarities to Faust), less predictable however is the set design. Congratulations to Carl Fillion for his set design, which was breathe tacking. Some may call this trickery, but I call it genius. The scenography of The Rakes Progress was a visual delight that complemented the verbose text.
In a rather uncomfortable landscape of a lover’s picnic juxtaposed against the backdrop of an oilfield, something haunting is lurking, could it be Tom Rakewell shadow? Tom’s nemeses, Nick Shadow, (played by Kyle Ketelsen), comes forth from under the oil rig, (what symbolism!), only too ready to serve. Tom wishes for something grander than life and love itself…and as if by magic Tom inherits both a dead uncle and his fortune, Tom simply can’t believe his luck. But what happens to those who deepened on their luck to get them through life? Their luck runs out – as Anna’s father, (played by Jeremy White), knows too well. Trulove’s attempt to intervene is rebuked by the proud Tom Rakewell, who shall eventually lye in the bed he has made. Now the labyrinth begins and how quickly oaths of love do melt…
This melting strips Tom of both his innocence’s and his conscience…loose women, drugs, and the pursuit of fame and fortune are addictive enough on their own, but combined, their damage is irreversible. This artificial world immerses Tom, quite literally and the sacrifice is his feeling of any guilt. Free from responsibility, he naively believes himself unstoppable, untouchable, – pain free, yet a slave to his own pursuit of pleasure the city has to offer.
But eventually even lust will lose its power and while Tom has everything money can buy, his heart is dying…he is lonely…he misses the simple joys of love…The Shadow sees a weakness in Tom, a void to be filled, which he does through a bogus celebrity marriage to Baba The Turk, played by Patricia Bardon. Call it female intuition, but Anna senses that she is losing her man, so she runs away from her father and her home in hot pursuit.
Tom loves the attention, but nothing much else and when Anna turns up at his film screening to find out her fiancé has married another women, Tom is given the chance to choose real love or convenience and he chooses without consulting his heart… perhaps for Anna or for himself. Yet the more he pushes her away, the more Anna is desperate to save him from himself. Like all good women who foolishly wish to ‘fix’ the men they love. Big mistake, and though Anna is able to eventually ‘teach’ Tom what real love is, it is too late and he must pay for his actions, for we must all reap what we sow.
By the end of the three acts, macabre fills the ROH and the audience experiences catharsises when they too forgive Tom for his short sightedness. The auditorium is so still and pensive, that the Brechtian encore interprets our own experience of the Opera and what we have invested. Though it was very jolly, it was also completely unnecessary. We know we are watching fiction, experiencing the pretence, the madness and we understand the role of theatre is to see reality clearer, we do not need to be reminded, or patronised. Saying that, I still gave the production of The Rakes Progress, a standing ovation and the cast, wolf whistles!
Reviewed: Wednesday 18th November by Ali Walker
The Horse, 122-124 Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 7RW
Given the developments in diagnosing dyslexia over the past 30 years, it is still remarkably hard to find hard facts about the disorder. It is seemingly equally difficult to find out what to expect from dyssing monadys from the festival website. With this in mind, the reviewer went into this experience with open expectations and was pleasantly surprised.
dyssing monadys is London’s “only annual festival in London celebrating the work of dyslexic story makers“, (so the programme tells me), but it would be a disservice to the pieces featured this evening, to dwell any further on the role of dyslexia in their creation. The festival takes place in a room above The Horse on Westminster Bridge Road on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout November; featuring a mixture of spoken word, musical theatre, comedy, and film.
The space does not lend itself to the mixed media of entertainment for tonight, but festival producer, Lennie Varvarides highlights early on that the venue’s benefit is its cheapness (free, with generous support from The Horse). As the festival is a fundraising initiative, one can easily overlook the slight technical hitches presented by the space
Tonight’s line up of Soviet Zion, Arnolds Anonymous, and Susanna, varies in success; ranging from a piece of “musical theatre” without the theatre, to a shortened short film about a big love for a big man, and a brilliantly delivered play, but all were delivered with charm and warmth
Written and performed by Giles Howe and Katy Lipson, Soviet Zion consisted of a brief spoken synopsis of their musical, and live singing with keyboard accompaniment. Starting with the rallying opening number, the tunes soon take a turn for the bleak in content and balladic in nature. A musical set in a Zionist settlement in soviet Russia may not be everyone‘s cup of tea, but Howe and Lipson were clearly talented musicians and writers.
It wouldn’t be fair to comment on Benjamin Otos short film, Arnolds Anonymous, as the aforementioned technical difficulties prevented it from being shown in its entirety; however it can be seen here: http://www.killtv.co.uk/pages/aa.html
The majority of the evening was dedicated to the farcical play, Susanna, written by Russian writer NN Rakshin and debuted at last year’s festival. The programme boldly describes the play as “a farce when done well and a disaster in the wrong hands”. Whilst the first act never veers into “disaster“, and there are some moments of brilliant comedic acting from Clare Buckingham and Katharine Innes, it is only in the second act that the play builds into a terrific farce, and director Malwina Sworczuk proves that she has absolutely the right hands for the job.
Susanna is the best kind of comedy, where a solid script, clear direction, and talented actors force you to suspend the knowledge that you are sat above a London boozer with Jamie T and raucous laughter echoing up the stairs and to bathe in a warm glow of romance and happy endings.
Susanna alone delivered excellent value for money at £5 per ticket. But perhaps this is where the biggest criticism lies, with two intervals and the technical hitches, dyssing monadys feels like a long evening. It would have been a more succinct and impressive one with just the one standout production. The lack of thematic cohesion undermines the individual efforts, and unfortunately the concluding play overshadows the earlier performances with its slick farcical entertainment. These works and individuals would be given a greater chance to shine if there was some obvious thematic link between them – perhaps something to think about for 2010’s festival?
In the meantime you can experience this wealth of creativity for yourself at the last two performances for the 2009 festival on Monday 23 and Wednesday 25 November, and enjoy a warm fuzzy feeling from Susanna and the fact that all proceeds help to promote creativity in imaginative people who incidentally happen to suffer from dyslexia.
More Information: http://www.makingtheatrework.com/msft-projects/dyssing-monadys
(Central School of Speech & Drama article about Lennie Varvarides)
Dyslexic alumna Lennie Varvarides (MA TP 05) has written to us about her journey in the creation of a forum for dyslexic practitioners.
“missfit Productions was born while at Central to present my MA show – a wonderful experiment in which I mixed performance and film in a photobooth– made out of wood and a computer monitor. This is where it began – this interest in crossing the boundary between the forms.
After graduation I knew that if I did not carry on making work straightaway, there was a chance I might not make anything at all. Once you graduate it’s so easy to get caught up in life and work and surviving, that the privilege
of actually being able to make theatre seems like a luxury most cannot afford.
Feeling a little lost, I became self-employed and began teaching drama, even though I did an MA in writing for performance. I worked with Bigfoot for about 18 months and then fell into the corporate sector as a marketing and
business development person – all freelance work with the ideology of perhaps being free.
In 2006 an opportunity arose to hire a small theatre for a week and I jumped for it. A friend and I went halves on the fee and we set up a new festival called Write Side of The Brain, which invited filmmakers, poets and
playwrights to submit their work. Anotherfriend sorted the website, which made Missfit real in cyber space, I got some postcards made and a logo, and before I knew it, a producing energy was in force. In February 2008 Burning
Houses and Missfit co-produced Write Side of The Brain 2008.
I wanted to do it again, only the second time I was looking for a new angle…the angle was me, a dyslexic writer, a secret poet and an aspiring filmmaker. I knew there had to be more people like me out there. I was convinced
that if Missfit produced a festival for dyslexic storytellers, a new experience of entertainment was on the horizon. The concept of the odd becoming accessible excited me.
DYS(THE)LEXI opened its wings in 2007 – the odd kids were telling their stories and now people were paying to hear them. It was wonderful. I felt like I was building my own playground and inviting all my friends to play. It had a raw energy to it, a raw and low production quality that somehow worked and continues to work into DYSSING MONADYS.
During the DYSSING MONADYS Festival, there were ups and downs and wonderful moments of complete synergy. Most of all it has been emotional because Missfit is creating a playground where the ‘odd’ kids rule and play their ‘games’, even if it is only for one night. This concept coins the philosophy that ‘in the playground we play and by playing we discover, and by discovering we learn and by learning we become all knowing’…
Every night I learn something new about the kind of theatre I want to be part of. The kind of event I want to create. I discover the possibilities and limitations of my own imagination and will. (Like I said…it has been emotional.)
So, how do you make good theatre and build a great festival? Bottom line, money, because money means good lights, technicians, props, design, costume, salary, venue…and everyone seems impressed with the smell of it too.
If you don’t have money, you hope to have some of the magic that money cannot buy. This magic is priceless, being so really hard to cultivate. But it can be found in the people you work with, their generosity and faith in what
you are trying to do. These three words, Magic, Generosity and Faith have made DYSSING MONADYS happen and continue to happen.
I would like to say thank you to the writers, filmmakers, poets, directors, actors – and every audience member who has believed in my playground.”
Company: Eyestrings Theatre Company
Writer: Benjamin Askew
Director: Owen Horsley
Venue: Courtyard Theatre – Main House, 40 Pitfield St, N1 6EU
Dates: 14th July 2009 to 2nd August 2009 – 8pm
Matinee Performances on 26th July and 2nd August at 4pm
No Monday Performances, no performances 31st July and 1st August
Price: All tickets £10
Reviewer: Lennie Varvarides
Publication: British Theatre guide and www.makingtheatrework.com
Email Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
In Bed With Messalina is inspired by the colourful history of the Roman Empress, Valeria Messalina, (c. 17/20–48) who became Emperor Claudius’s third wife; an adolescent bride that could not be satisfied by her cuckold husband. Messalina’s demise would eventually arrive when she attempts to marry another man behind her husband’s back, when her plot was discovered, this betray led to such rage, that her husband would order her public execution.
There were appropriate similarities between the ancient desire for public adoration and the modern day obsession with celebrity that the audience can identify with. This is woven into both the text and the direction, via the use of a television prop, which is integrated well among the character as a tool to keep up to date with the outside world. It also echoes how we are all trapped by the information we are fed via the media, as well as highlighting Messalina’s alienation from the outside world due to her imprisonment. Messalina’s prison is her bedroom, which is both appropriate and ironic, as it was her bedroom antics that led to her ruin.
Messalina is unwilling to apologies for her sexuality or for her adultery, which is both brave and slightly sad at the same time. She believes it is her right to ‘come’ and if her husband is unable to perform this duty, she owes him no further loyalty; she is exonerated from her matrimony obligations. Drusus, her adviser, played with conviction by Oengus Macnamara, urges Messalina to perform this public duty in an attempt to save her life, as does her mother, Lepida, played by Linnie Reedman, but Messalina shows no remorse or respect to either Mother or Legal Counsel. Messalina’s party is truly over.
Owen Horsley’s production is vivid without playing on the sexual explicitness of the story, his use of space and direction highlights his command and confidence over the stage. The only disappointment is in the lack of dramatic action within the very well written text, by Benjamin Askew. Unfortunately, the text only ever describes the action that takes place either off stage, or in the past, instead of the story unfolding before the audience. Due to the passive structure of the narrative, there is little conflict and little physiological change among the characters.
Where the story lacked depth, the actors overcompensate with a passionate performance. Kelly Hotten has the task of holding the audience’s constant attention and the character of Messalina is so enjoyable, that she indeed keeps us enthralled, her energy and commitment is undisputed. There are some comic moments created by Messalina and her entourage played by Chris Urch, the extremely camp and very loyal attendant, Lucius and together with David Tudor, who plays Lucullus, create an amusing duo that skates very near to familiar stereotypes, without portray two dimensional characters. In Bed With Messalina is an ambitious story, but the text needs a little more revision.
… then, there is her rival, Mrs. Erlynne, superbly played with complete understanding of character and a wonderfully seamless execution of talent by Wynne Anders.
By Lennie Varvarides
Barons Court Theatre
Review by Lucy Ribchester (2007)
Lennie Varvarides believes that dyslexics have a ‘different creative approach to most people’, and, according to The Arts Dyslexia Trust, this is due to ‘above average visual-spatial cognitive ability’. Right. But whatever this might translate as in laymen’s terms, there is certainly a new approach bubbling away within Varvarides’s concept-driven theatre piece AWK-WORD.
Premiering in rehearsed reading, as part of the DYS(the)LEXI festival – a celebration of dyslexic artists, poets, filmmakers and playwrights - AWK-WORD is a journey through the seduction and power of the written word, born out through a modern day love triangle.
Young Muslim Sal (Ash Sohoye), on the brink of an arranged marriage to the beautiful but naïve Raz (Nisha Anil), embarks on an affair with sultry vixen Alex (Louise Morrel) whom he meets in a local bar. The affair is initiated, and subsequently driven, by a series of simple but tantalising word games, wherein each participant writes and scatters phrases (truths, chat-up lines, desires) to be read by their opponent/partner. The intimate vaults of the Barons Court Theatre provided the perfect voyeuristic setting for the piece, which constantly reinforced the importance of written words in colloquial life, through text message flirtation, postcards, and of course Valentines day.
In the post-show Q&A, Varvarides (who comes from a visual arts background), revealed that the idea behind the word games emerged out of a single sketch – and that the words and phrases were not only composed by the actors in rehearsal but picked up and recited at random in each performance. Challenging the traditional notions of narrative, the games scenes in AWK-WORD create a liminal world where dialogue is paradoxically pre-destined but totally haphazard, and a different story can and will emerge in each performance.
According to Varvarides this process mirrors the methods many dyslexics adopt when creating art. She doesn’t see plays in linear terms, and creates her own work through moulding snippets and ideas together until they evolve into a story. In an ideal production of her play, more space would be given to develop this, with projections of the notes and text messages appearing as the actors create them.
Handing the reins over to chance led to a sense of danger and excitement in these scenes, which was somewhat compromised by embedding them into a conventional storyline. Varvarides is attempting a difficult juggling act between plain old dramatic action and concept theatre, and at times the balance between the two was sometimes, a little…well, awkward.
Nevertheless with a strong and dedicated cast, the play, which is only at the first draft stage, will no doubt develop into a bold and original piece, and if Lennie Varvaridies can put as much trust in her own dramatic ideas as in her brilliantly conceived festival then AWK-WORD will succeed in celebrating a different creative approach to theatre.
Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens
By Bill Russell
Music by Janet Hood
Not quite a play, not really a musical, Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens is more of a theatrical celebration of life, pieced together like a collage of poetry, free verse, monologues, song and choreography. This piecing together was inspired by the Names Quilt Project, a symbol of love and commemoration for people who have died from AIDS. Bill Russell, the American lyricist, playwright, and theatre director, was keen to create something that would illustrate the different type of people affected by Aids and to raise awareness of all the different ways the disease may be caught.
The first production was staged in 1989 in an Off-Off Broadway theatre. Since then has been performed all around the world. The secret to its popularity is that the production illustrates a very sad fact in a very humble and often light-hearted way: AIDS Can Kill Anyone. It’s one of those home truths that can never be repeated enough and if the numbers on seats is anything to go by, people still want to hear it.
Director Iain Davie ensured that each monologue was not a separate experience, by overlapping and feeding one story into another. This definitely helped to develop each of the vignettes and contribute to the consistency of the narrative. However with over thirty-two different monologues and around ten songs, it did all get a bit much and towards the end the actors were looking rushed and tired. Saying that, there were some star performances by Scott Garnham who played Paul, Sabrina Carte, who played Grace and Claudia, and Erin Breen who played Christine, Helen and Joanne.
There is many a word of wisdom to be had in the musical numbers, which Bill Russell explains as representing the, “present tense […] expressions of those left alive in the face of this tragedy,” but my favourite is “To love life with courage” – the Finale song. Here I cried and I know I was not the only one.
By Lennie Varvarides, Anastasios Chatzdis and Aoife Stone
Embassy Theatre, Swiss Cottage
Review by Philip Fisher (2005)
Leftover is a mixed media show that combines video installation, film and performance with elements of drama thrown in.
The experience is determinedly unusual, as the lone viewer quickly realises that he or she is the protagonist.
This is achieved by the simple means of an instruction sheet that leaves one wearing a string of large yellow beads and carrying a red suitcase filled with strange goodies (and feeling self-conscious).
The story that we enter is that of a young woman played by Aoife Stone. She is a London-based “barefooted Cinderella” and we are asked to share her life and problematic loves – almost to become her for a few short minutes.
The event takes place in a reconstructed photo booth and consists of two overlapping loops. The video repeats every nine minutes but the audio is much shorter at four.
Very cleverly, each informs the other at whatever point at which they intersect and eventually the whole acquires a dream-like quality. This results from familiar sounds initially intersecting with new images and then for the more patient, the seen begins to illuminate the heard as well.
With Lennie Varvarides’ poetic language, a series of memorable images and a soothing rhythm, Leftover is a pleasurable experience that should have a kind of crossover appeal to fans of art, film and performance theatre. It confirms the creative team as an imaginative trio whose careers will be worth following.
The free installation continues until 26 June in a studio room at the Embassy Theatre.
By Tim Briffa
Review by Lennie Varvarides (2006)
With a catchy title and a flashy postcard, How to Pick up Girls by Tim Briffa builds up your anticipation for a good night out at the fringe, but proves to be nothing short of disappointing. How to… is a two act play about lusting over women, whether they are real, cosmetically enhanced, or Photoshop touch-ups.
The story unfolds in the chill-out room of a Camden nightclub, where Vince, (a struggling musician who has not been laid for six months) played by Paul O’Neill, and his pals, Adam and Nick, compare notes on how to, ‘pull’ women. The play is not offensive to women; it’s just not very insightful. Adam, played by Patrick O’Conner-Read, is set up as the, ‘player’ while Nick, played by Daniel Robert Leigh, is the educated pervert that has never fallen in love, but not even the stereotypes come to life in what is a very flat play.
The only two characters to change through the course of the play are Vince, who finds love, and Nick, who loses his first love. This happens when Vince’s orders the eponymous self-help CD course, which in itself represents something quite desperate about the male characters in the play, almost tragic as they are chasing companionship without wanting commitment. Or do they? This question is perhaps one of the only jewels hidden in the play.
The female supporting characters however, were a breath of fresh air, Salina, played by Catherine Mobley, is Vince’s regular one-night stand. Mobley brings her text to life in a humorous and believable way, while Holly, Vince’s girlfriend, played by Zahra Brown, offers a bit of feistiness and punch to the end of a very long play. I would have loved to see more of these two characters throughout the play.
How to… has the potential to be a touching and relevant story about the fickleness of human relationships, but the script needs to be scrutinized and developed further, as does the direction of the whole play.
By Christopher Marlowe
Review by Lennie Varvarides (2007)
Opening night and the theatre was full; the tension was high while the audience waited anxiously for this classic to unfold.
The story of Dr Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), examines the consequences of gluttony, vanity and indulgence. The protagonist yearns to acquire complete knowledge, regardless of the cost, and willingly barters his sole to the devil. The return is to be an all-knowing, all-powerful magician. Of course there are religious overtones – hell is bad and heaven is good – but even if you do not subscribe to these beliefs, you cannot ignore the moral implications of The Seven Deadly Sins, for which the only, “reward is death”. These moral and religious overtones seemed a little dated, but that may also be another sign of our complacence. Sin v virtue, good v evil, right v wrong, knowledge v mysticism, etc, etc made the production a little too black and white. These archetypes were all a bit too predictable, but I guess stereotypes work for a reason. On the whole, the production might have benefited from a little bit of subtlety.
Caravanserai Productions was an ambitious attempt to incorporate over twenty actors into a wheel of carnal pleasures and charismatic characters; from Sexy Lucifer, played with a mescaline sense of cool by Rachel Allinson, to the arrogant Doctor Faustus, played with commitment by Alex Froom. The use of ritual and chorus worked well, as did the constant tension maintained by the performers throughout. The atmosphere was dark and moody with the lighting (Neil Brinkworth) reinforcing this.
There were some beautifully formed movement scenes by Movement Director Liana Nyquist and Fight Consultant Suzanne Archer. The physical performance worked well here and proved to be a powerful visual element to the production. It would have been even more memorable had this been weaved throughout the whole play. Jeff Mash, who played Benvolio, was also enjoyable to watch, while Fiona Graham, who played the Empress, gave an extremely confident performance.
Congratulations to the director: Giles Foreman’s stylistic production of Doctor Faustus turns a dense and complicated text, into a piece of theatre, populated by a huge cast who are all at different stages of their careers. I feel this production will be reinventing itself each and every night and the cast will continue to push their own creative boundaries.
dANTE OR dIE
Camden People’s Theatre
Review by Lennie Varvarides (2006) British Theatre Guide
Caliper Boy is a simple story about the childhood of a lonely boy who wants to fit into a society that he does not completely understand; his search for his absent farther and his ability to see beauty in a rotten strawberry. Pictures are created physically through the bodies of performer Terry O’Donovan and Dancer Sarah Sproull. Aurally through the deliberately disjointed text (Anthea Neagle) and highly enjoyable live folk music (Left With Pictures, who worked in collaboration with dANTE OR dIE resident Musical Director, Yaniv Fridel). Words and images work together to recreate the legendary Soho bordello where the twelve year old boy (born to a Soho prostitute) was locked up because his mother was ashamed of him.
Director Daphna Attias pushes the theatrical possibilities to the limit in every project, not only testing the work, herself, the collaborators, but also the audience’s expectations. I feel fortunate to have experienced three out of four of their devised pieces since the company was formed in 2004. Each time I am pleasantly surprised and inspired. It was refreshing to see a fringe production where the audience is not spoon-fed through a linear story and where you are left questioning the relationships between the performers, the performers and the audience, and the text with the live music.
So, what is the recipe for innovative theatre? It’s called funding and when you put funding and creativity together, you get Caliper Boy . Thanks to the Arts Council England, The National Lottery’s Awards for All fund, Royal Victoria Hall Foundation and the Tonic program at Camden Peoples Theatre, dANTE OR dIE have devised a deeply visual theatrical experience. The fact that this visual experience is created with a minimum set of two pillows, two wall ladders and some red yarn is evidence of the visionary ability of both Michelle Reader, (Scenographer) and of dANTE OR dIE.
Physical Theatre might be a little alienating for some audiences because it uses a different vocabulary and for those audiences let me say this: let the metaphors over power you, you don’t have to understand everything.
Justice by Christopher Hanvey
Old Red Lion Theatre
Review by Lennie Varvarides (2005)
The Christmas carols and the tinsel are juxtaposed against a man lying on his side with a plastic bag over his head and blood on his clothes. Welcome to Portadown, Northern Ireland, the setting for Christopher Hanvey’s play, Justice.
This is an emotionally run down town where drug laundering is the focal point of a rather depressing place. A member of The Loyalist Volunteer Force, Pinky McCrea’s (played confidently by Nick Storton) plans on expanding ‘his drug empire’ while Chris Carson, (played with conviction by Christopher Hanvey) The Ulster Volunteer Force member, thinks he can stop it. Chris Carson is on a journey to discover that the truth about the people he knows and loves is hidden behind a thick fog of unsuspecting lies, and it is often the people closest to him that let him down.
The cast give it their all and their energy is high, but there is lack of attention to scenographic detail. The oversized dinning table, used to represent Pinky McCrea’s restaurant, was set too close to the audience entrance. This not only emphasises the disproportion between the set and the playing space of the theatre, it also was not a convincing choice to persuade the audience that Pinky’s restaurant was, “the best thing in Portadown”. (Unless that is the irony?)
There also was a lack of detail in most of Hanvey’s characters, making them quite cliché and uninspiring. It is directed by a promising Jessica Hrabowsky, who utilises the space and transition of scenes with ease and also plays Susie Taylor, the very trashy prostitute. Apparently Susie is not a, “slag”, because she gets “paid”, highlighting yet another uninspiring female role within Christopher Hanvey’s bleak play.
Technically there were some brilliant and believable moments of stage combat, the gun shots were powerful, even the blood was the right shade of dark red to make you feel like you are witnessing real brutality.
This close up in-your-face style of acting was made believable by Hanvey, Storton and Leon Bearman, who plays Stevie Davidson, the misogynist drug dealer and murderer. In fact I felt extremely uncomfortable watching Stevie beat up Danielle Stephens (played very naturally by Francesca Dymond), the pregnant fiancée of Chris Carson. The relationship between Danielle and Stevie is one of the ugliness of dependency.
This is something unsettling about the play, as there is no sense of the possibility of escape, making Justice quite claustrophobic and monotone. However, Valerie McCrea, Pinky’s rather chatty wife, (played with bag loads of energy by Sharlit Deyzac) tries to lighten things up with a joke here and there and an intoxicating laugh.
Both the script and the acting have an air of naturalism associated with TV drama, highlighting the tone of angry young men syndrome, (but not being too sure what they are angry about. Too often anger is just an excuse to course chaos which I feel that Hanvey’s play successfully illustrates.) Hanvey, a self proclaimed Political Writer, explains, “…when terrorists can no longer be terrorists…they become ‘gangsters’.” This idea is especially pertinent now in a time of fear about terrorism and one cause of terrorism being the perceived disenfranchisement of young men. The overdose of male testosterone in Justice only ever tells one story and that is of a very male dominated and frustrated underworld where men take centre stage, and where the women never speak to each other.
4 Ever by George Iliopoulos
The Theatre Lab Company
Review by Lennie Varvarides (2005) British Theatre Guide
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful and successful couple, Adam and Eve, and their life was like one of those fairytales that ended with “and they lived happily ever after”…
The night is humid and the air still. In the distance there is a storm that is getting closer. The happy mood changes and the light banter turns sour. Emotions soar and the fairytale turn into a nightmare.
4 Ever is a new and passionate play by George Iliopoulos (who won first prize for 4 Ever in Greece’s Competition for New Writers) which illustrates the dark and controlling side of love. In a very human and tragic way, the audience see themselves in the performers, and hide their faces. This is a stylised performance piece that is complemented extremely well by contemporary language.
Metaphors are at a high in the detail of the set (Designer Malin Lindholm) where the outside and inside become ambiguous. The white window blinds of their hotel room transform into a suggestive cage leaving the audience very sceptical about the romanticism of love and thinking of marriage being similar to a life sentence.
The performers are on stage as the audience enters the space, lounging around their hotel room, playing in the sand and drinking and leading the audience into a false sense of security by their apparent appearance of happiness. We follow the journey (emotionally as well as chronologically, with the use of projection that the performers operate from stage) of Adam, the frustrated Architect, played with conviction by George Pirpasopoulos, and Eve, played by a versatile and powerful Kristina Erdely. There are associations and connotations with the classic Bible story but this version is closer to home.
4 Ever is produced by The Theatre Lab, a London based international company with a reputation for mesmerizing theatrical imagery, physical theatre, and devised experimental work. Words, music, images and movement are brought together to create dynamic theatre that crosses the boundaries of culture, language, taboo and medium.
Directed by the Theatre Lab’s Artistic Director, Anastasia Revi, whose unapologetic style, and constant pushing aesthetically as well as physically of the performers she works with, makes 4 Ever a very strong visual production. All of which was enhanced with the poetic lighting, (Lighting Designer, Takis) and original music, (Composer, Jonathan Bratoeff). 4 Ever is an excellent example of theatre working its magic as a collective of practitioners. In fact the only constructive criticism I have is that it is too well made, even the ending is wrapped up nicely.
Hackney Empire celebrates its fourth annual Spice Festival with a colossal amount of new theatre, music, art and everything in-between. Amidst the colourful program you will find Mr William Shakespeare himself, narrating his very own theatrical story.
Shakespeare In Shoreditch, is a devised project based of the life and work of William Shakespeare, performed by resident theatre company, The Shakespeare In Shoreditch Ensemble, and produced by Lights of London, as part of the Spice Festival.
For an audience member who is not too familiar with the works of William Shakespeare, played enthusiastically by Matthew Wade, this production offers a comprehensive portrait of the young man who leaves his wife and children in Stratford upon Avon to seek fame and fortune in London.
Back in the fifteenth century there was only one place for something as disrespectable as theatre to exist, that place was Shoreditch. On Curtain Road stood James Burbage’s Theatre, built with his very own hands. By the time Shakespeare arrived it was already showing the works of Christopher Marlow.
Shakespeare’s talents went unnoticed while he worked in the theatre stables, looking after the horses and acting as prompt on Marlow’s scripts, until Marlow (Matt Gardner) took a risk on the young poet. On the one hand this risk temporally saves the theatre financially, but on the other it eventually results in Marlow’s own demise; how very Shakespeare.
When James Burbadge (Michael McEvoy) dies there is a wonderful sense of romanticism as Shakespeare and the other players commit themselves to taking down the theatre and rebuilding it a new. This new building would become, the Globe Theatre.
Shakespeare In Shoreditch (directed by Wendy Richardson) feels more like Theatre in Education then Fringe Theatre. Even though the script was very cleverly intertwined with facts and content from some of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, (The Taming of a Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night Dream), it was all a little too safe for me to be personally moved.
That said, however; it is an informative and enjoyable production with a completely competent troupe of actors. Lee Griffiths, who plays Will Kemp and The Earl of Southampton, is both comical and extremely comfortable on stage and is a prime example of how well rehearsed and prepared the company are. You can also see this production as part of the Shoreditch Festival on Saturdays 2, 9, 16 and 23 of August at 3pm upstairs at The Old Blue Last.