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Posts Tagged ‘dreamthinkspeak’

Over the last eleven years, dreamthinkspeak’s immersive, site-specific shows have taken me to an atmospheric registry building in Edinburgh, a former abattoir in London, a disused department store in Brighton, a former town hall in London and now to a vacant office building and car park as part of Hull’s year as UK City of Culture. (That’s not counting their brilliant take on Hamlet at Riverside Studios as part of the World Shakespeare Festival in 2012!). As ever I am in awe of the extraordinary efforts they go to in planning, designing and building their unique experiences.

For this one, we visit the offices of Kasang, a high-tech South Korean corporation. We’re told that they, and all other South Korean corporations, owe their success and progress to democratisation, which became a reality after the 1980 Gwangju Uprising, which started with students but gained momentum and overthrew the military government. With our tablets in hand, we experience the future of retailing, live gaming and virtual reality in parallel with flashback experiences of military rule, imprisonment and memorial of the events that led up to the freedom which has produced these perceived dividends. Moving through several floors of the building, we navigate a maze of corridors and rooms on a linear journey where I somehow finally lost all others and ended up alone in a vast space, deeply moved.

In addition to an extraordinary theatrical experience, I learnt something new about 20th Century Korean history; somewhat topical as it turns out. It was only the third day, so it will get tighter and slicker, but it’s a must for immersive and site specific junkies like me and may well prove to be the highlight of Hull’s year as UK City of Culture. On until 1st October, it’s a must.

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You can always rely on dreamthinkspeak to provide a curious and disorientating hour or so. This time in the Shorditch Town Hall Hotel where Margaret de Beaumont has lived for 60 years. It takes its inspiration from the story of the Duchess of Argyll, who spent her last years living in a hotel in the same way.

There were only two of us, and I soon lost the other one! Our first room was one of the hotel’s budget windowless rooms without bathroom. Simply furnished, there’s a mirror on each wall, one a two-way mirror looking into another room where there is a real woman, and the others showing video footage of three quite different scenes involving her. As we walk through many corridors and rooms these images recur and we encounter similar rooms from dolls house size to life-size. You are given few instructions and sometimes wait wondering whether to stay or move, and if so to where, but you eventually get into the rhythm of your wander and become brave enough to try doors and pop round corners. There is a coup d’theatre towards the end and things that have puzzled you begin to make sense.

It’s a disorientating but fascinating experience, perhaps a little too short to develop the character enough. The design of the space is stunning and I was left with questions until after I’d left that I think I resolved on the way home! In comparison with much of the work Tristan Sharps and his company have done, it’s smaller scale, more intimate and more mysterious. It’s hard to say more without spoiling it, so I won’t!

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Seven years ago I was wowed by a site specific show which took place in Scotland’s Register House in Edinburgh and dreamthinkspeak, the company responsible for it, instantly became one to follow. Two years ago they blew me away with a show based on The Cherry Orchard over six floors of a disused department store in Brighton. This one, part of the World Shakespeare Festival and originated at the Brighton Festival, is completely different but just as inventive and original.

You stand in a dark space surrounded on four sides by reflective screens. At various times, films and images are projected onto the screens and they light up to reveal 10 rooms, three of which change during the 90 or so minutes running time. Scenes from Hamlet are enacted in modern dress in bedrooms, a bathroom, dressing room, office, a large lounge which takes up one side of the space and a boat! The characters are from Hamlet – Gertrude & Claudius, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, Polonius, Laertes & Ophelia and Hamlet himself (oh, and The Ghost of course).

The story is surprisingly intact, though it’s not the whole of the play in exact chronological order. You have to change where you look as the scenes unfold in different ‘rooms’ and at times you don’t know where to look as things are happening all over the place. At one point almost everyone seems to be doing the ‘To Be or Not to Be’ speech in different spaces, starting at different times and overlapping. At another point, there are three versions of Hamlet’s bedroom simultaneously, with Hamlet, Gertrude and Claudius each occupying one of them – Hamlet trashing it, Gertrude tidying it and Claudius searching it.

I don’t always like shows which mess around with classics (Katie Mitchell is the biggest culprit) but here you get the essence of the play even though you don’t get every word in the right order; but all the words are Shakespeares. Somehow, I got under Hamlet’s skin and fully understood how he felt as much, if not more, than any other production of the play. It was compelling, captivating and deeply satisfying.

Tristan Sharps staging, with design collaborator Robin Don, is impeccable. Technically, it’s a masterpiece. The performances are uniformly good. Edward Hogg had all the intensity you expect of Hamlet. Ruth Lass & Phillip Edgerley were superb as Gertrude and Claudius. Michael Bryher & Stewart Heffernan (any relation to John?) were playful and funny as Rosencrantz and Gildenstern and Richard Clews, Ben Ingles and Bethan Cullinane were a passionate trio as Polonius, Laertes and Ophelia. Thorston Manderlay’s Ghost stalked the proceedings atmospherically and occasionally scarily.

Apart from Globe to Globe, the World Shakespeare Festival has disappointed me so far, but this raises the bar with something sparklingly original that is brilliantly executed. If you’re interested in Shakespeare, you’d be bonkers to miss it.

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This is fast becoming an essential part of the spring cultural agenda. The problem for me is that it’s too near to stay down for a few days and too far to go for a single show. Given that what I’m interested in is also spread out over the three weeks, it often means a quick day trip taking in two shows – like this year.

Marine Parade is a play-with-music (rather than a musical) by acclaimed playwright Simon Stephens and American composer Mark Eitzel. Set in and around a seedy Brighton hotel, it tells the unrelated stories of four relationships – one crumbling, one starting, one that never got off the ground and one about to revive?

It’s well staged, superbly performed and there are some good songs. If only the first 70 minutes were as good as the last 20, which were terrific. The problem is its pace – at first, the slowness is brooding and atmospheric, but then it just becomes slow and dull. More work-in-progress than finished article, I think.

I’ve seen work by site specific specialists dreamthinkspeak twice before – very successfully at the Registry Office for Scotland in Edinburgh and less successfully at an old abattoir in the City of London. This one – Before I Sleep – is the most ambitious and as successful as the first.

They’ve taken over all four floors of the former Co-op building on London Road. The reference point is Chekov’s Cherry Orchard and you are led in by Firs, the butler from that play, who’s trying to sleep. He’s talking to you agitatedly in Russian, but soon you find yourself in a modern supermarket berated by shop assistants (still in Russian) until you are moved on. What follows is a surreal journey, at first through scenes which could be part of the play, then through a snowy landscape to adverts for new apartments and into a fully functioning department store where various household items are displayed and demonstrated (still in Russian!) and on through the (now run down) apartments and a wasteland then into long empty dark rooms with the occasional film sequence referencing back to the play.

I think it shows possible events resulting from the sale of the cherry orchard, but if you’re too literalist and focus too much on the detail you miss the extraordinary experience of the journey. I thought it was spell-binding and one of the best of its kind. We now have Punchdrunk and dreamthinkspeak doing site specific work on such a grand scale, so hopefully we’ll see a lot more like this.

It took 15o creators, designers, technicians and actors to put on something that only one person enters every minute!

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