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Posts Tagged ‘Etta Murfitt’

Though I wasn’t a fan of Emma Rice as Globe Theatre Artistic Director, I am a big fan of Emma Rice, theatre-maker, and this is something like my eighteenth show. It’s her first production since leaving Shakespeare’s Globe and the first for her new company, named after Angela Carter’s 1991 novel, on which this show is based, somewhat ironically inspired by Carter’s admiration for Shakespeare.

The story concerns a theatrical dynasty. Our narrators, twin sisters Dora and Nora Chance, look back to the generation which preceded them, and forward to the ones that followed. It starts on their 75th birthday, which is also their father Melchior’s 100th birthday. Flashing back, we meet him and his twin brother Peregrine, his various wives, daughters and son, the sisters half-brother and Grandma Chance. It’s a complex, and very adult, story involving ambiguous parenthood, incest, child abuse, suspected murder and more, interwoven with the everyday story of theatre folk, for which there is a troupe of singing actors.

You’d know it was an Emma Rice show within seconds. All of her customary ingredients are here – puppetry, music, dance, inventive staging, men playing women & vice versa and above all child-like playfulness – which was part of my problem with the show. It seemed to be recycling things she’s done before and therefore felt a bit stale. I also didn’t engage with the story and characters, which was the other problem. I’m afraid I felt I was at an Emma Rice show for people who’ve never seen an Emma Rice show and it wasn’t a patch on recent gems like Romantics Anonymous, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk and the revival of Brief Encounter. I suppose this is a problem when you have such a distinctive house style. In all fairness, most of the audience seemed to love it.

There’s no disputing the talent on show, including many Kneehigh regulars. Vicki Mortimer’s excellent design feels at home on the Old Vic stage, and though it’s probably the biggest theatre I’ve ever seen one of her shows in, I didn’t feel that was a problem. Etta Murfitt (who also plays Nora – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her act before) has choreographed it very well. I wasn’t so sure about the cocktail of original music with standards and contemporary songs; they did signpost the periods, but seemed a bit of an inconsistent rag bag.

A bit of a misfire for me, but don’t let me put you off, particularly if you’re new to Rice and Kneehigh.

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The smile didn’t leave my face for the duration of this chamber musical in the lovely Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. It’s got bucket-loads of charm and romance aplenty. Emma Rice’s staging is a delight, from the chocolates distributed before it begins to the badges as you leave, with an interval song in the foyer to keep that smile on your face. I defy anyone not to be charmed by it.

Based on the 2010 French-Belgian film of the same name (Les Emotifs Anonymes in French), it tells the story of desperately shy chocolatier Jean-Rene, who has inherited an ailing business from his father, and Angelique, the equally shy secret ingredient of competing chocolatier Mercier. After her employer dies and she’s out of a job, Angelique attends the shyness support group of the title, where an employee of Jean-Rene meets her and subsequently introduces her to her boss, who gives her a thoroughly unsuitable sales job. Fortunately, she talks herself into a role commensurate with her talents, rescues Jean-Rene’s business and navigates the difficult path to true love.

Emma Rice has adapted Jean-Pierre Ameris & Philippe Blasband’s screenplay of the sort of film only the French seem to be able to do these days (oh for a return of the Ealing comedies). American music & lyrics partners Michael Kooman & Christopher Dimond are new to me, and the UK, and they’ve done a lovely job producing songs that suit the subject matter perfectly. The SWP is a design in itself, but Les Brotherston has added some neon signs (shock, horror!) which signpost locations and become a running joke in themselves. Etta Murfitt’s choreography adds much to Emma Rice’s inventive staging. Dominic Marsh and Carly Bowden are superb in the lead roles and there’s luxury casting in the ensemble, with includes Joanna Riding, Lauren Samuels and Marc Antolin no less, with multiple cameos from Philip Cox and Gareth Snook.

I left the theatre with a warm glow, which hasn’t really gone yet; it’s a delightful evening. It’s Emma Rice doing what she does best, a heart-warming evening, her last production here as AD. You have until early January and you know what you have to do…..

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I’ve always liked the work of artist Marc Chagall, the subject of this play, but that turned into a love affair when I visited the Musee Marc Chagall in Nice eighteen months ago. Daniel Jamieson’s play is a beautiful, captivating biographical homage to him and his first wife Bella.

Chagall was born in Vitebsk, then Russia, now Belarus, to a Lithuanian Jewish family. He fell in love with Bella aged 22, just before he left for his first spell of four years in Paris, and this is where the story begins. He returned just before the outbreak of the First World War and they marry and begin a turbulent ride through the war, when he works in the war office, the Russian revolution and the pogroms, while he is running an art college in his home town, before they escape to France via Lithuania and Germany. They’re on the move again seventeen years later, escaping from occupied France to the US, where Bella dies and our play ends.

Jamieson’s play captures the child-like charm of the couple in a clear narrative (you always get a clearer narrative from a playwright experienced in writing for children!) to which is added feather-like movement by director / co-choreographer Emma Rice and co-choreographer Etta Murfitt and the most delightful original music by Ian Ross. It’s all set on an extraordinary wooden construction designed by Sophia Clist that they climb over and occupy various parts of. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is the most perfect venue, with its candlelight adding more warmth to that already generated by the words, music and performance.  Marc Antolin and Audrey Brisson are each terrific, and wonderful together; their singing is gorgeous. The composer and fellow-musician James Gow accompany and occasionally add vocals.

Emma Rice’s final production as Kneehigh AD, now in her new home, was a delight from beginning to end; another fine night in the SWP.

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This macabre tale of a man who inadvertently sells his daughter to the devil (and her subsequent journey) is a welcome return to form for Kneehigh after four disappointments in a row.

The starting point is a faustian pact (with a touch of Robert Johnson’s crossroads brought to the fore by the blues soundtrack) where the devil visits a poor farmer and offers him fancy clothes and bling in exchange for everything in his back yard. He makes the exchange enthusiastically, not realising his daughter is in the back yard. After the devil makes her father chop off her hands, she escapes and goes feral until found by a prince who falls in love and whisks her away, but the devil hasn’t finished yet; he creates a war to send the prince (now king) to and fakes correspondence between him and his mother which effectively sends the girl back into the wilderness.

It took too long (45 minutes) to take off, though in all fairness my companion didn’t agree, so maybe it’s just my impatience (if a book doesn’t grab me in 100 pages, I put it down!), but from the point at which she goes feral I was captivated. There’s a terrific blues inspired score from Stu Barker with enough songs to qualify as a musical, though in style it’s a play with music. The girl is played at different ages / stages by three actresses and Etta Murfitt’s choreography has them moving brilliantly in unison. The usual Kneehigh inventiveness is here (though we’ve seen most of it before now) and Bill Mitchell’s design around a central tree is highly effective.

The acting honours belong to Stuart Goodwin. who is terrific as both dad and prince / king; the latter a superb comic creation in kilt with a spring in his step. The three girls / women – Audrey Brisson, Patrycja Kujawska and Eva Magyar – are all excellent and Stuart McLoughlin’s devil is suitably smarmily satanic.

I still think it would be great to see Kneehigh stretch themselves again beyond gothic fairy tales like they did with their film adaptations of Brief Encounter and A Matter of Life & Death and Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, but for now it’s ‘welcome back’ (and an evening free of men in Y-fronts and vests at last!).

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