Posts Tagged ‘Battersea Arts Centre’

You can always rely on theatre company Little Bulb to give you something different and imaginative every time you see them – from Greek myth meets Django Reinhardt to a tale about whales to a spoof Victorian melodrama, always with music to the fore. My fourth LB show is about AI and the possible consequences, positive and negative.

Like Wail, about whales, it’s part lecture, part play, part concert. Three scientists / philosophers are joined by an animateur to guide you through a piece anchored in research by the people they represent, but you don’t really know that until the end. They present and dramatise a series of possible future scenarios that make you think about what AI might mean. The performance style is their usual combination of quirky, other worldly, cartoonish and the excellent music moves from A Capella to four-piece rock band.

I didn’t engage with it like their other shows, which I think is to do with structure. I struggled to get into it and it never really grabbed me in the same way the previous shows have, but I very much admired the stagecraft, musicianship and visual aesthetic of it. One of the problems Little Bulb have is following up their huge early hit Orpheus, on a much bigger scale in the Grand Hall at BAC. They are right not to try and match it, and Wail and Extravaganza Macabre were charming chamber pieces. This needs a bit more work to give it both more coherence and more engagement, but there’s much to enjoy as work-in-progress from a truly original and creative company.

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I only discovered The Paper Cinema in 2013 and this is only my second show (I’m not sure they’ve done another since). It’s the antidote to the NT’s Macbeth, telling the same story without words in seventy spellbinding minutes. Their shadow play is both simple and intricate and I loved it as much as The Odyssey five years ago.

Three ‘puppeteers’ and two musicians create a silent film live. Beautifully drawn cut-outs are projected onto a big screen (by video; I recall an overhead projector last time!) to create live animation, with a limited number of other effects like colour wash, and a brilliant Scottish influenced soundtrack and soundscape. They start on the pages of a book as the characters are introduced to us, before the story begins. Battles, murders and madness are superbly evoked in a faithful telling of the tale.

If you can take your eyes off the screen, you can see the artistry of its creation, dimly lit on stage. I honestly don’t know how they get everything in the right place and order without losing their way. The musicians also provide sound effects, but unlike radio you can see how, if you wish. Though it seems ever so simple on screen, it’s hugely detailed and skilful in creation.

The Paper Cinema are unique and their shows magical. I urge you to see for yourselves.

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I’ve decided this charming, highly original dance-theatre piece – subtitled A Guide to Long Life and Happy Marriage – is more theatre than dance, so I’m going to write about it.

Juliet and Romeo are a modern couple, who survived because Romeo didn’t take the poison. They emigrated to Paris, married and had a child. The marriage is troubled and they’ve tried all sorts of therapeutic solutions before they get to this one – re-enacting episodes from their lives, chosen individually, in front of an audience. It sounds ridiculous as I write, but it was really rather captivating and it was surprising how much story you can pack into eighty minutes, a lot of which is occupied by dance / movement. You really engage with these lives and their stories.

There’s an eclectic soundtrack, from Prokofiev (obviously) through The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel to John Cage to accompany the often quirky movement which Ben Duke and Solene Weinachter perform. For dancers, they make very good actors, as the sections without movement were just as compelling.

A unexpected delight. Now finished at BAC, but heading for The Place.

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When Victoria Melody’s dad, TV antique dealer Mike Melody, was diagnosed with a terminal illness, she started planning his funeral. She even trained with a funeral director in South Wales called Gareth! The diagnosis turned out to be a misdiagnosis, so she made this show instead. With the participation of her dad. Does it come quirkier than this?

There’s a lot of storytelling, about the illness, the training (the funeral director was in on the night I went!!), funeral options and the plans for his (a standard funeral director / bereaved relative interview is included, except it’s with the deceased designate). We get to sing her chosen song and hear her eulogy. There’s video footage, notably of an unsuccessful trip to New Orleans to research jazz funerals (funded by the British Council, representatives of which were, somewhat embarrassingly, in the audience). There’s an excellent four-piece band and as a bonus, an antique roadshow style valuation of items the ticket holders were invited to bring along. The first part included her plans, but the second half was largely his chosen funeral.

It’s an extraordinary cocktail of storytelling, examination of funeral conventions and our attitude to death, therapy, father & daughter relationship……flawed by a touch of self-indulgence and, at 2.5 hours, overlong, but very brave, unique, often very funny. completely eccentric and great fun.

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I went to this show because a friend wanted to go. I don’t really do monologues, and I have a limited tolerance of storytelling, but it proved to be both charming and enthralling, and you have to like a show which starts by distributing free food.

Danny Braverman discovered a box of memorabilia left by his uncle Ab, a shoemaker. When he opened it he found lots of wage packets given to Ab’s wife Celie containing housekeeping money, each with a biographical drawing or painting on it. Together they tell their story of life together over more than fifty years from the mid-20’s to the early 80’s. With the addition of some family photos and a few other bits of memorabilia, it provides a captivating story of one family and half a century in London.

He has such an engaging style, you’re drawn in and feel like you’re getting to know all of the family – their two sons, sister and favourite nephew Danny himself. You learn about their Jewish traditions, family idiosyncrasies and important events. There are some fascinating revelations and it all comes full circle in a very satisfying way. You can even stay on and view the wage packets up close.

An unexpected delight.

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I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a performance where the silence at the end was so profound and so uncomfortable. This audacious and original piece packs an extraordinary punch into its 70 minutes.

It starts as a conversation between three people. One asks a trigger question, unknown to the other two. On the night I went it was what would you do about the internet if you had the freedom to decide? In what then appears to be semi-improvised discussion, we explore how we react in the modern world to what’s happening elsewhere, in particular the refugee crisis and terrorism. The three become more passionate as the wine flows. Their differing attitudes to the news footage we’re inundated with are revealed.

The conversation is videoed by two camera operators and projected onto a screen above the stage, so you can see close-up’s as well as the full conversation. Before the three discussion participants leave the stage the coup de theatre begins, and continues as we move to the video footage they have been discussing and further still……to the extraordinarily silence. It surprised me how much it drew you in, grabbed hold of you and ramped up the tension until you’re rather shell-shocked; hence the silence. Matthew Lenton’s production is unique.

I’ve only seen Vanishing Point’s work twice before – Tomorrow at the Edinburgh Fringe and The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler at the Brighton Festival last year, which couldn’t be more different, so my appetite is truly whetted for more.


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Contemporary Music

The Sessions at Abbey Road in the Royal Albert Hall was either going to be a very good or very bad idea. It’s really only a tribute show, but probably the ultimate in tribute shows, recreating 60 songs recorded in the iconic studio in a replica of that studio with a cast of 45 and the most stunning projections, sometimes onto a scrim and sometimes onto gauze screens on all sides. A truly amazing experience.

Show of Hands aren’t a band, well a folk duo, I know well, but I fancied seeing them in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and it was an absolute gem. Unamplified and by candlelight, with really funny (but brief) banter between songs. A delight from start to finish.


Pia De’ Tolomei is a rare Donizetti given it’s UK premiere (?) by English Touring Opera. I caught it at the Cambridge Arts Theatre while I was working up there. Though I wasn’t mad keen on the production or design, it was musically very good and I did wonder why it isn’t in the repertoire of opera companies.


It’s hard to imagine two more contrasting dance pieces than the pairing by Pontus Lidberg and Javier de Frutos that make up Ballet Boyz Life at Sadler’s Wells. Both were terrific and the dancing of the ten athletic young men was thrilling. Long may they continue to produce innovative exciting contemporary dance like this.


Eddie the Eagle was another film that was way better than the critics would have you believe, but perhaps that’s because British feel-good movies are my favourite genre. So glad I followed a friend’s recommendation than reviews again.


 I’m not sure how to categorise either Jonny & the Baptists ‘The End is Nigh’ at the Orange Tree Theatre or Little Bulb’s ‘Wail’ at Battersea Arts Centre. The former is part stand-up, part concert and part theatre about climate change – energetic, infectious fun. The latter is part lecture, part concert, part theatre about whales – quirky, eccentric and charming fun!


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Polish theatre company Song of the Goat first crossed my radar ten years ago in Edinburgh when they put on an extraordinary, hypnotic combination of movement and polyphonic music in the nave of a church. Five years later I caught up with their other Shakespeare inspired piece, Macbeth, at the Barbican, which was less hypnotic but just as original. This show is based on King Lear presented, as the director says, as a series of ‘sound pictures’.

The ten actors, dressed in black, sit in black chairs in an arc. Each scene is introduced by the director, who is visibly directing from the side of the stage. It is predominantly sung, though there is some dialogue (but I have to confess I didn’t understand it all). Most of the vocals are unaccompanied, with occasional use of harmonium, bagpipes and kora and in one extraordinary scene nine drum skins are held by the actors while the tenth plays them, carefully avoiding their hands! In addition to the singing, their movement is carefully choreographed for each scene, with stamping of feet and gesticulation and, in a brilliantly staged war scene, tension is created by six actors ‘playing’ their chairs in unison, like drums.

Though it doesn’t purport to tell you the whole of Lear’s story in 65 minutes, it does capture the essence through what are largely sound pictures, as the director suggests, and it’s very compelling and captivating. This is a unique company with a very particular blend of music, narrative and movement that seems to be rooted in their training and work together. Fascinating.

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Little Bulb’s Orpheus at BAC – the most extraordinary cocktail of concert and storytelling

Paper Cinema’s Odyssey at BAC – more storytelling, with music and charming lo-tech projections

Mischief’s The Play That Went Wrong at Trafalgar Studios – more laughs in 60 minutes than any other show – ever

Cush Jumbo’s Josephine & I at the Bush – two biographies intertwined in a virtuoso performance

ONEOFUS’ Beauty & the Beast at the Young Vic – two biographies intertwined with a gothic fairytale

PIT’s The Universal Machine at the New Diorama – a timely play with music about Alan Turing

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For the second time in a matter of weeks, hot on the heels of Paper Cinema’s Odyssey, BAC is hosting something completely original and unique and this time showing off the wonderful Grand Hall in the process. How to describe it is another matter!

The Grand Hall, with its proscenium stage, high ornate ceiling & pipe organ has become a 30’s /40’s Paris music hall where the legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt & chanteuse Yvette Pepin (fictional?) are performing. They ‘step out’ of the concert performance on platforms in front of the stage to perform the story of Orpheus & Eurydice on the stage, playing the lead roles themselves with all other roles played by five members of the band. In effect, there is a musical prologue, interlude and epilogue with the story told in two halves in-between.

The performance style can best be compared with a silent movie – all exaggerated gestures and movement, hammed up mercilessly and a real hoot – with added retro inventiveness. The music, mostly live, is an eclectic selection of all things French including Reinhardt, Saint-Saens, Faure, Debussy & Piaf plus Bach, Monteverdi, Brahms and original compositions! The musicianship is superb – Dominic Conway’s guitar playing in Django’s (necessary) two-fingered fashion, piano, violon, accordion, double bass, flute, clarinet & percussion – and when Charlie Penn takes to the Hall’s organ it takes your breath away, quickly followed by gasps as percussionist Tom Penn proves to be an extraordinary counter-tenor!

It took a short while before my puzzlement subsided and I allowed it to cast its spell, but then it never let me go. It’s not often someone who’s been going to the theatre a few times a week for over thirty years can say ‘well, I’ve never seen anything like that before’ but that’s exactly what I did say. Sparkling originality, consummate musicianship and great fun. Absolutely not to be missed – and Little Bulb yet another company to follow.

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