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Posts Tagged ‘Frantic Assembly’

Frantic Assembly have been a hugely influential theatre company for the last twenty-five years. Their groundbreaking style integrates movement and music with narrative. Over some thirty shows, most of which I’ve seen, they have grown and evolved, and this anniversary show sees them on fine form, with guest writer Sally Abbott and guest co-director Kathy Burke joining AD Scott Graham.

It explores themes of loneliness and loss through six characters. Josie has lost her dad and her dog and her son Manny has gone to university. Clare has lost her man and is fast losing her mind and maybe her job. Ange works in a hospice, estranged from her sister and haunted by memories of abuse as a child. Bex, wife and mother of two young boys, is dying of cancer, and is a patient there. Graham, a black cab driver, is newly widowed. Connections between them emerge as the story unfolds. Despite the themes of abuse, mental health, bereavement and loneliness, there is much humour.

It’s beautifully written, with strong character development and a compelling narrative drive. I felt too many scenes were monologues, particularly in the first half, which made it a touch static at times, and the movement of translucent rectangular boxes between scenes was a bit overdone. That said, it held you in its storytelling grip throughout, and all six performers shine – Chizzy Akudolu, Caleb Roberts, Polly Frame, Charlotte Bate, Simone Saunders and Andrew Turner.

Some of their work is, well, frantic, but some is gently moving, as is this. May they continue to be the theatrical powerhouse they have become for many more years. Happy Anniversary!

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I’m always up for a Frantic Assembly show, forever inventive, each show unique. I’m well into double figures now. This one has arrived at Stratford East and it was a great pleasure to sit in a mostly teenage audience and hear their silence, the best tribute I can pay to this work about those returning home from conflicts.

It interweaves the stories of George returning from the First World War in 1918, Frankie from Afghanistan in 2013 and Nat from a camp for British refugees in Norway in 2026. having fled some sort of civil war at home. George comes home a hero to his loving wife Rose, eager to start a family, but shellshocked and struggling to shake off the horrors of his experience. Frank comes home in disgrace, accused of an act of vengeance, spurned by his parents, hounded by the press. Nat comes home to scenes of devastation and destruction, looking for his younger brother caught up in one of the rebel groups.

It’s got extraordinary pace and energy, set within, outside and on top of a revolving container designed by Andrzej Goulding, with a loud soundtrack and dramatic lighting creating the atmosphere. At first I thought the scenes too short to develop the three stories, but then you realise how enthralling Anna Jordan’s play was becoming as they unfolded in this way. I felt the future story was less well developed than the other two, and the 2013 one the most dramatic and compelling, but the evening as a whole was gripping and thought-provoking, sometimes harrowing. I found myself both in disgust of, and sympathetic to, Frankie’s story in particular.

Frantic Assembly’s house style movement and physicality lends itself well to these stories, which are thrillingly staged by Neil Bettles, with the help of four excellent performances from Jared Garfield, Joe Layton, Jonnie Riordan and Kieton Saunders-Browne, who play many other characters as well as the three protagonists.

The full house of young people cheered their approval; this is the sort of work that makes theatregoers for life. Whether you’re new to this company or not, you should catch it. It was a pleasure to bring up the average age. A lot.

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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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I wasn’t at all convinced that staging Mark Haddon’s iconic book was wise, but I was wrong. For once, it was just like it was in my head when I read it. Playwright / adapter Simon Stephens appears to have been successful by not messing with it!

In case you didn’t know, it’s the story of teenage Christopher, brilliant but challenged by being in a world of his own because of asperger’s syndrome. He decides to investigate the death of his neighbour’s dog, which leads him to some revelations closer to home and a solo adventure from Swindon to London to find his mother. It’s the strain on his parents, struggling to cope with their son, that is at the heart of the play, but Christopher is its focal point.

Luke Treadaway gives an extraordinary performance as Christopher, on stage for the whole 2hrs 45mins with the audience unable to take their eyes off him. He inhabits Christopher and you do all the things he can’t – laugh, smile and cry. At times, you just want to give him a hug, but if you could, it would be the worst thing you could do. It’s hard to play against this, but Paul Ritter and Nicola Walker as his parents do so so well, you want to get up out of your seat and help and console them.

Marianne Elliott’s production is staged in a rectangular ‘bear pit’ with three entrances that illuminates, with projections (Finn Ross) onto it, including the mathematic formulae which Christopher is so brilliant at (designer Bunny Christie). Those Frantic Assembly boys Scott Graham & Steven Hoggett have provided brilliant choreography / movement which proves so crucial to the flow of the story. Naimh Cusack is lovely as Christopher’s teacher, also part narrator. Five other actors play the remaining 36 roles! There’s lots of quirkiness, including direct references to the fact this is a play, which is completely in  tune with the story.

I loved the book and I loved the play. Maybe it was good that many years have passed between reading and watching, but nothing can take away the fact that this is a compelling and funny, yet ultimately deeply moving show. Unmissable, whether you’ve read the book or not.

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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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Well here we are again; I’m not counting but my guess would be something like my 25th year.  It’s a drug and I have a habit. Here’s the story so far (with added star ratings!)…..

This year started very well with Roadkill, a ‘site specific’ piece about sex trafficking.  Fifteen of us boarded a bus outside the Traverse Theatre and were joined after a while by a bubbly naïve Nigerian teenager fresh off the plane, who chatted incessantly, asking questions about her new home city. She was here with her ‘auntie’ for ‘education’. When we arrived at a flat a mile or so away, the meaning of ‘education’ emerged in a series of harrowing scenes that took place in three rooms and the corridors.  It was so believable you could feel your blood boil with anger at the ‘pimps’ and the punters. It was often difficult to watch but this was important theatre covering issues often buried. The staging was outstanding and the acting stunning ****

The juxtaposition of shows often means your next experience is affected by the last, and so it was I think with Penelope, Enda Walsh’s setting of the Greek myth in a swimming pool where four men take it in turns to ‘court’ the one who hates men and whose lives depend on their success. It was clever, surreal, well staged and acted, but just seemed trivial and unimportant after Roadkill; needles to say, the remaining three in the party – for whom it was their first show – rather enjoyed it! ***

Day Two started with a classic – En Route – which I will be talking about for years to come. The day before I received a text telling me where to go and to look out for someone who would be clearly marked. When I arrived there was someone with a hand-written sign which said ‘ Clearly Marked” and that got me off to a smiling start. I was given directions to turn right outside the theatre then turn right again and off I went. Just before I got to the point where I was thinking ‘what next’ another person caught up with me and gave me an I-pod and some instructions and checked my mobile number. I walked alone through Edinburgh receiving instructions by text, calls on my mobile and in a phone box, behind doors, in the racks of record shops and chalked on pavements. The I-pod provided a music soundtrack with occasional dialogue.  I had to take a photo and call a friend (who turned out to be – unexpectedly – in Greece and hence had to incur the not insignificant cost of my call!) and at one point was asked to raise my hand only to find it grabbed by a passer-by who held it as he walked me for a few minutes. I saw parts of Edinburgh I’ve never seen in c.25 years (including a stunning view from the 8th level of a car park) and it made me realise how much you don’t observe when you’re walking. The soundtrack heightens your visual senses and the whole experience was intriguing and thrilling. I don’t know how many of the people I saw en route were part of the experience but you get to the point where you’re convinced they all are. I ended up at a café with a complimentary coffee where the person who gave me my I-pod 90 minutes earlier and three miles away joined me. This is what the Edinburgh fringe is for *****

I should have rested, but a couple of exhibitions nearby proved too tempting. Impressionist Gardens is really one of those (seemingly frequent) ‘excuse for an exhibition’ exploiting the British’ insatiable appetite for anything impressionist. There were some lovely paintings but it was so much of the same that it was overpowering *** Just because it was free with the combined ticket, I took in an exhibition of an early 19th century Danish artist I’d never heard of called Christen Kobke and it was a revelation – I admired the quality of the portrait painting, but it was the landscapes, and particularly their light, which bowled me over. A surprise treat****

The same now happened as it had the day before, of course – disappointment to follow. Freefall is again a clever and well staged & acted play set at the moment after a stroke where the patient is rapidly reflecting on moments from their life. I was by now very tired so it was hard to get into it and I’m afraid as much as I admired the craftsmanship it never really engaged me; yet again, the other two members of my party for whom it was the first show of the day enjoyed it a lot more. ***

The Day ended with one of those things you book because it sounds so intriguing. Flesh & Blood & Fish & Foul was billed as theatre meets art meets taxidermy…..and they weren’t wrong! Two people inhabit an office where they seem to have little to do so end up employing those diversions we all at some point do to kill time. Their world collapses around them as plants and animals (stuffed!) rapidly appear and grow all over the place. It gradually becomes more and more absurd with the plants invading like triffids and the animals getting bigger – what starts with a rat ends up with a bear and a deer. It’s a surreal and absurd combination of slapstick and physical theatre and it made me smile and laugh ***.5!

Sunday started with a cracker called Speechless from Shared Experience / Sherman Cymru (makes you proud to be Welsh!) at the Traverse. I knew something of the story of the silent twins Jennifer and June Gibbons (I’ve seen the opera!) and this play focuses on their early life – until they are committed to Broadmoor. It was gripping from the start and the performances from the girls were positively mesmerizing. Their mother, and the boy who they befriend and who exploits them, were also brilliantly played. This was a fascinating psychological drama and high quality theatre indeed****

More art followed with Martin Creed’s quirky stuff at the Fruitmarket Gallery, the best of which was the staircase wired for sound*** Across the road at the City Art Centre there are two contrasting photographic exhibitions. At first, I thought I’d find the dressed up /posed dogs of William Wegman distasteful but they made me smile and the relationships between the pets and the photographer meant it wasn’t really cruel*** Early 20th century photographer Edward Weston covered a broad range from still life to landscape to portraits to nudes and though it was clearly technically very accomplished, there’s little more than historical interest almost 100 years on***

Oedipus at Colonus sounded like a brilliant idea – Greek tragedy (though a rare one where no-one dies!) as an African-American gospel oratorio.  There was an ancient building backdrop (used for projections) and steps for the performers. The music was very good and the costumes gorgeous. The problem was it didn’t work turning Oedipus into a Christian Everyman who is redeemed by repentance and setting it ‘inside’ a church service just wasted time and dented the impact. The projections were of dubious taste and reached their peak when Oedipus rose to heaven to be replaced by a rainbow; I’m afraid we laughed***

The day ended on the high on which it had started with the Frantic Assembly / National Theatre of Scotland co-production of Beautiful Burnout. I’ve lived my like until this year without a play about boxing, then two come along in quick succession. I think Roy Williams’ Sucker Punch at the Royal Court is the better play, but this production is simply stunning. You’d never think that Frantic Assembly’s stylised choreography and boxing would mix but they turn out to be made for one another. The energy is extraordinary and the performances stunning. I can’t say I approve of boxing, but you get caught up in the excitement at the same time as being horrified at the hurt. We left exhausted but exhilarated****

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