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Posts Tagged ‘Carolyn Downing’

After contemporary works about China – US relations, a nuclear incident and a sibling relationship as experimental physics, playwright Lucy Kirkwood has turned her hand to something set 260 years ago, women’s place in society at that time, in particular the legal and political worlds. I thought it was a fascinating play, with a superb ensemble of fine actors and a stunning design by Bunny Christie.

We start by briefly watching these women carrying out their daily chores, underlining their limited roles in the world. After a crime is committed and a young girl, Sally Poppy, arrested and tried, a ‘jury of matrons’ is formed to establish if she is pregnant, as she says she is. If she is, her execution will be postponed or she may be transported instead. The jury of matrons for this specific purpose provides the only role women can have in legal affairs at the time; they cannot be jurors who convict.

The final person to join this group of twelve women is midwife Elizabeth Luke, who is sympathetic to Sally. She proves Sally is pregnant, but not all of the others will accept this. As their deliberations progress, conflicts of interest and prejudices emerge. They are offered a (male) doctor to examine Sally and they accept this, but even this doesn’t break the impasse. It twists and turns in ways that surprise you and when they do reach a conclusion, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be implemented.

Bunny Christie has created a brilliant design whose jury room fills the Lyttleton stage, beautifully lit by Lee Curran, with Carolyn Downing’s sound design letting us know there’s an angry lynch mob just outside. The costumes establish the period and the accents the location as East Anglia. The ensemble, led by Maxine Peake in the best role I’ve seen her in, contains fine actors like Cecilia Noble, June Watson, Jenny Galloway and Haydn Gwynne. Ria Zmitrowicz is superb as feisty Poppy. James Macdonald’s staging is masterly.

Good to see another Lucy Kirkwood play, a bit of a departure, of a fascinating subject I’m not sure anyone has tackled before.

 

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I was a bit shocked when I walked into the Olivier to find the stage laid out as a cramped modern office. As You Like It?! I still wasn’t convinced during the first few scenes, but from the moment Lizzie Clachan’s extraordinary design transformed the stage to an impressionistic Forest of Arden, I was captivated. I’m still not sure why we start in the offices of the de Bois family business (some sort of trading floor with staff in different uniforms suggesting different roles) but the rest of the play made perfect sense.

The key to the success of the production is the combination the Clachan’s design, Orlando Gough’s music & Carolyn Downing’s sound effects, the human sheep in Arran jumpers and superb casting and staging by Polly Findlay. It might not look like any forest you’ve ever walked through, but it feels like a magical one. People (and sheep!) weave in and out to play out scenes, seeming to appear from nowhere. The music is gorgeous, particularly the songs sung beautifully by Fra Fee and the atmospheric, wordless choruses. The sound of animals, birds and weather conditions are all-pervading. The verse speaking is outstanding and the gentle amplification (necessary given the soundscape) means you hear every word. The play has never felt more other-worldly or magical.

Ellie Kirk, covering Celia for Patsy Ferran, was terrific; word perfect and confident in such a big role. Rosalie Craig is a brilliantly boyish Rosalind / Ganymede and has great chemistry with Joe Bannister’s excellent Orlando. There’s luxury casting in the smaller roles, from Patrick Godfrey’s loyal Adam through Mark Benton’s particularly funny Touchstone, Alan Williams wise old shepherd Corin and Ken Nwosu’s charming young shepherd Silvius, to Paul Chahidi’s introspective Jaques.

This production appears to have divided people, but I thought it was one of the best I’ve seen.

 

 

 

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I’ve been following Frantic Assembly for a long time now. Their unique brand of physical theatre is captivating and you’d know this was a FA show within minutes. With designer Jon Bausor on board, extraordinary lighting (and darkness) by Andy Purves and a terrific soundscape by Carolyn Downing, this one adds mystery and atmosphere to the stylised movement.

It takes a while to comprehend Byrony Lavery’s narrative; in fact, I’m not sure I did fully comprehend it! There seems to have been a storm and one couple visit another’s home and their daughters get to play together. There’s a bit of a culture clash between the families, one a bit new age and the other more conventional, and there are mysterious events. The conventional couple’s daughter seems to have behavioural problems but the hippy couple’s is grounded.

Some of Bausor’s metal frames are manipulated by the four actors, sometimes with another actor in them. An elevated frame structure houses actors, who appear at odd angles, seemingly completely horizontal at times – I’m not sure how they pulled this off, but I suspect it involves mirrors. The lighting highlights just enough for the purpose. The brooding sound design adds much to the tension.

This isn’t a show to be too literal about. It’s a unique visual and atmospheric experience that intrigues and hypnotises you. I think it is let down by the obtuse story / narrative, but Scott Graham’s production provides 75 minutes of intrigue and tension. Go see for yourself.

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You know you’re at a Frantic Assembly show soon after the curtain goes up. They have a unique style which blends narrative, movement and visual beauty with an atmospheric sound scape. I must have seen more than 10 of their shows over the last 15 years or so and though they have evolved from edgy and visceral to poignant and thoughtful they are still distinctive.

This play tells the story of a couple at both the beginning and end of their relationship. The stories weave together and overlap and you learn a remarkable amount from the minimum of dialogue. From the beginnings of their relationships we see them establish themselves, buying their home and business premises, and surviving the wife’s unfaithfulness to grow old together. With their older selves, we live through life’s endgame and in particular Maggie’s terminal illness and death. This all sounds very depressing but, though it is occasionally sad, it didn’t feel like that because it’s actually very beautiful.

The stage is covered in leaves with a backdrop of tall screens set at angles to one another, onto which moving images are projected. The bedroom is to the right – just a wardrobe and bed – and the kitchen to the left – just a fridge and table & chairs. Simple but rather lovely. The actors often glide silently past one another, sometimes the old or young couple, but sometimes one of each or all four. The wardrobe and bed entrances are simply extraordinary and there’s a scene towards the end when all four are on the bed that takes your breath away.

There is an ambient music sound scape for almost the entire 90 minutes (a little too much in my view) which added to the movement and visual style creates the feeling of flowing through these people’s lives. It was a little slow in parts, but the overall impression is of watching entire lives unfold before you. At then end, the only word that would capture what I’d experienced was ‘beautiful’.

All four performers are excellent, but it’s a particular treat to see Sian Phillips in such an innovative and challenging piece at this point in her career. Film and TV writer-of-the-moment (Iron Lady and The Hour), Abi Morgan, provides a minimalist narrative which allows the other components to make equal contributions. The design of Merle Hensel (with Andy Purves’ lighting, Carolyn Downing’s sound and Ian William Galloway’s video projections) is perfect. Scott Graham & Steven Hoggett’s direction and choreography is, as always, thrilling.

Not everyone will like this unconventional and inventive show, but I did – very much.

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