Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Alecky Blythe’

Just when you thought the verbatim theatre phase might have passed, the Almeida makes its first foray into the genre. They are lucky to have writer Alecky Blythe, who has been a leader in this field. She pioneered the technique of playing the interview subjects’ words into actors ears as they recreate them over 10 years ago. In London Road, she had the interviews set to music. Here, she uses a community chorus (in the Greek sense, rather than the vocal sense) very effectively. Director Joe Hill-Gibbins takes a fresh approach to staging too, avoiding the pitfall of a lot of static talking heads, and designer Ian McNeil has created Almeida-in-the-round, which effectively blurs the line between audience and performers / chorus in another original approach.

The 2011 riots are a big issue and Blythe has chosen to focus on the effect on, and the reaction of, the local community, with the story of how people rallied around shopkeeper Siva at its core. It’s good at presenting the motivations of those involved in this, and another campaign in defence of young people, but that does mean we skirt over the causes, reasons and motivation of others, though the excellent programme helps present the bigger picture. This focus also gives the piece a surprisingly light touch, though I did think it resulted in sending up some of the interviewees, particularly the middle class do-gooders – though in all fairness this included Blythe who plays herself! Though she chose the final interview well, its staging provided too abrupt an ending.

In addition to an excellent ensemble of twelve actors playing multiple roles, the chorus of 31 volunteers from the local community animate the piece and contribute a lot to its effectiveness. They were exceptionally well integrated and it was sometimes hard to differentiate between the professionals and the volunteers. The audience on two levels closely surround a relatively small space, which most of the time represents a meeting space for the community leaders and campaigners. Multi -level platforms and four entrances ensure the whole theatre becomes the playing space; even the main entrance and upstairs windows play their part. Guy Hoare’s lighting moves us between locations and Paul Arditti’s sound design connects us with off-stage events.

There is a limit to what you can achieve in 90 minutes, and the three years that have passed since these events means we lose immediacy, but it’s a fine example of how the verbatim style can tackle things no other style can and there’s a freshness of approach here which makes it stand out. I’m not sure what Sarah and Tony from Clapton Green will think, though…..

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Verbatim theatre specialist Alecky Blythe has a huge hit on her hands with her first verbatim musical, London Road, now extended at the National. Meanwhile, a project about the displaced peoples of northern Georgia, following the 2008 war with Russia, finds it’s way to the Riverside Studios. With a visit to the Caucases planned for the coming months, I felt a strong need to go.

The small Georgian cast speak the words of Blythe’s interviewees as they hear them though the earphones they wear throughout, as was her original way with verbatim theatre, to ensure the subject’s words and speech patters are faithfully produced without an actor’s individual spin.

Most of the dialogue is in Georgian and I was so spellbound by the actors that I found myself missing much of the words on the surtitles. I did however get enough to paint a vivid picture of these people’s lives and the impact of the invasion and consequential removal to a refugee camp, where I believe they still are.

It’s surprising how much of an impression you get from fifty minutes watching / listening to these five Georgian actors relaying these tales; I really did feel I was hearing their testimony first hand.

Much more than worthy.

Read Full Post »

This is ground-breaking theatre. We’ve got used to verbatim plays, where the actual words of interviewees on a subject are edited and dramatised to tell a story; well, here’s a verbatim musical – well, more a play with music. The subject is the Ipswich prostitute murders of 2006 and the story is told from the perspective of the residents of the street where they worked & where their murderer lived and the subsequent invasion by the media. Here I am seeing a musical about five dreadful killings just four days after one about one. Yet again, what seems to be a thoroughly inappropriate art form to tell true stories ends up confounding expectations.

Writer Alecky Blythe interviewed the residents over a period of 2.5 years from the time of the murders to a time when they were returning to some sort of post-trial normality. She tells the story through 11 of them, all members of the Neighbourhood Watch set up at the time of the killings. Every word in the play was said by them and many have been set to music, including the er’s, ah’s and um’s of everyday speech. This produces an extraordinary sung dialogue which occasionally becomes sung chorus. Composer Adam Cork is more used to creating soundscapes and incidental music and it seems to me this is why he’s so good at setting this everyday speech to music.

Rufus Norris’ sensitive direction if often highly effective – people enter in a group from the darkness behind the playing area, as Christmas approaches a giant singing santa turns up, police tape wraps around the residents at the time of the arrest and it ends at a London Road in Bloom contest with a riot of colour and hope as over 30 hanging baskets and window boxes fill the stage. The rest is conjured up with just 10 plastic chairs, 7 black sofas and armchairs and a table.

It must be incredibly difficult to deliver this sung dialogue, but eleven singing actors do so brilliantly. In addition to their main character, they share in playing 52 others – the prostitutes, policemen, councillors and the media. Kate Fleetwood is extraordinary as she morphs from one character to another. Nick Holder is unrecognisable as the Chairman of the Neighbourhood Watch. Hal Fowler, Paul Thornley and Michael Shaeffer’s characterisations of the media types who couldn’t give a shit about the lives of the people they invade are spot on.

There is a surprising amount of humour, though it misfires occasionally when you feel you’re laughing at these people (I’m not sure how I’d feel if I was one of them) but in a way that’s part of the unsettling, uncomfortable experience which gives the play its edge and ultimately its success in conveying the neglected and very real experiences of people whose lives were turned upside down, first by the use of their street by the working girls, then their murder, then the forensic attention of the world and his wife.

When I woke up early this morning, it was all still going round in my head. I couldn’t get back to sleep; I just had to get up and write about it. I think that’s good theatre for you. Not an easy ride, but one I certainly don’t regret making.

Read Full Post »