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Posts Tagged ‘Katy Owen’

Kneehigh may just have the best party in town this season. The combination of storytelling, creative immersive staging and willing participation is irresistible.

They’ve set it on an election night when the sitting president gets a second term, but Ubu and Mrs Ubu turn up, stage a coup and the tyranny begins. When the Ubu’s fall out over his oppression, war ensues, then revolution. Written by Carl Grouse, co-directed by him and his fellow Kneehigh AD Mike Shepherd, and based on Alfred Jarry’s 1896 play, it’s all accompanied by a great selection of pop and rock songs, played by a superb live band, whose lyrics contribute to the story.

The participation isn’t in the slightest bit enforced or uncomfortable, partly because a party atmosphere is created as you arrive, and partly because of their ingenious ways of engaging the audience. We sing along like crowd karaoke, with surtitles to help us, there are games and battles and some audience members get inflatable animals to create a zoo! Host Jeremy Wardle, brilliantly played by Niall Ashdown, keeps it all on track, and Katy Owen and Mike Shepherd are terrific as Ubu and Mrs Ubu respectively.

The design aesthetic spares us Kneehigh’s trademark white Y-fronts, but instead we get collar & tie on white vests with braces. Mrs Ubu only needs her hat to come alive. There’s a giant loo which is put to great use, and we fall in love with the magic bear. It’s very funny, but with a bit of a satirical bite and an underlying message, and of course rather timely, but above all its huge good-hearted fun and another tonic to divert us from the madness. Don’t miss it !

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There are actually four Hans Christian Andersen tales adapted here. The rather sad Little Matchgirl bookends three lighter tales – Thumbelina, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Princess and the Pea – two of which take up much more of the evening, a contrasting if odd combination.

Our narrator is Ole Shuteye and the five performers are collectively called Shuteyes (and the band The Swan Vestas!). The adaptations, by Emma Rice (who also directs) and Joel Horwood, have contemporary references, in particular in The Emperor’s New Clothes, where the weavers have become modern fashionistas and we get living designers name-checked and some Spice Girls music. Not all of this contemporary stuff works; it sometimes gets in the way of the magic of the fairy-tales and turns the show into posh panto for Waitrose customers, with Trump, Brexit and even cheating cricketers thrown in for good measure. It does work for the title tale though, where the contemporary spin involves war and homelessness.

Vicki Mortimer’s costumes are excellent and the original music by Stephen Warbeck, played by an onstage trio and one of the performers, is delightful. Niall Ashdown makes a cheeky and charming narrator as well as the gullible Emperor. Katy Owen and Guy Hughes were huge fun as the fashionistas and the latter made an excellent prince. Edie Edmundson’s puppet matchgirl melts your heart. It really does fit the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse like a glove.

There’s much to enjoy, but I do wish they’d reigned in the pantoesque stuff and concentrated on the magic of the fairy-tales, something Emma Rice does so well.

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I always thought Kneehigh would suit the Globe Theatre space, but it also turns out that Michael Morpurgo and Kneehigh is a match made in heaven. This is wonderful storytelling – funny, moving and captivating. I laughed and cried and had a lovely time.

The backdrop to Morpurgo’s story is a little known event leading up to the D-Day landings in 1944. US forces had arrived on the South Devon coast in order to rehearse on the beaches. In November 1943, local people were evacuated and five months later the preparations led to Exercise Tiger at sea. The lack of a second support vessel and cock-ups in communication led to the death of 946 men. This was hushed up and it was 40 years before the truth became public.

The story is told through the life of twelve-year-old Lily, who’s dad is away in the war. She lives with her cat Tips, mum and granddad on his farm in Slapton. When they are evacuated, London evacuee and Lily’s school friend Barry joins them. Their teacher is herself a Jewish French refugee. They are befriended by young Black American GI’s Adolphus and Harry, who become as fond of Lily as the family is of them. The show is bookended by contemporary scenes where an elderly Lily, now a grandma herself, loses her husband, which frees her to return to her past.

This is such a heart-warming story. The meeting of three cultures provides much comedy, but even more warmth and empathy. There is a lot of music, some original, some well-known songs, with ‘the blues man’ and his band above the stage and the cast joining in with instruments, bottles, spoons and vocals. Lez Brotherston’s design uses sandbags and tin baths to great effect. The telling of the tale of Exercise Tiger is particularly inspired in Emma Rice’s delightful staging (she also co-adapted with Morpurgo).

It’s an excellent ensemble with Kneehigh AD Mike Shepherd as granddad (and contemporary Lily!), Adam Sopp as chirpy cockney evacuee Barry (and contemporary grandson Boowie) and Ncuti Gatwa and Nandi Bhebhe charming as Adolphus and Harry respectively. Ewan Wardrop provides a superbly funny cameo as Barry’s mum. Katy Owen is simply terrific as feisty, cheeky Lily – and an ever so believable 12-year old.

A delightful, enthralling evening that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

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Well, Emma Rice certainly knows how to make her mark. Her inaugural production (and only her second Shakespeare) at The Globe is exuberant, anarchic, irreverent, cheeky and packed full of ideas. It’s populist stuff and the audience loved it.

She starts by making her mark on the venue. There are a dozen opaque green tubes hanging over the groundlings (damaging the sight lines in the middle and upper galleries!) and even more giant white balloons providing an (incomplete) roof. The actors are miked and there’s a fair bit if artificial light. Four round tables occupy the front of the groundling space so that the action can spill off the stage. She also takes a lot of liberties with the play, chief amongst them is that Helena has had a sex change and is now a man called Helenus. The rude mechanicals are members of the Globe Team, including the cleaner and the Health & Safety Officer (the only man). Puck has also changed sex and is now an impish punkess with horns. There’s a lot of music and dance routines, notably a short Bollywood Beyoncé, and a lot of changes to the text (together with a snipe at those who would want it as written). It was a few too many liberties for me, I’m afraid, burying Shakespeare’s play in too much funny business and losing its magical quality.

I like the idea of a Bollywood version, but it’s a bit half-hearted in that mission, and the differing styles of the lovers (Hoxton cool), the fairies (punk gothic) and rude mechanicals (theatre staff) didn’t combine into a cohesive whole for me. There are some lovely performances, though. Edmund Derrington, Ncuti Gatwa, Anjana Vasan and Ankur Bahl are a fine quartet of lovers. Amongst another fine set of performances as the rude mechanicals, Ewan Wardrop shines as Bottom, and Katy Owen is a delightfully cheeky Puck. Zubin Varla is the best verse speaker as Theseus / Oberon and it was good to see Meow Meow as his (burlesque) queen. Stu Barker’s music covered too many genres for me; I’d rather have a uniform style, perhaps Indian.

You expect a new Artistic Director to bring their past with them, but this felt like they’d moved Kneehigh in, rather than appointed Emma Rice. Notwithstanding my reservations above, it’s a good first show, but she must move on and embrace diverse approaches and talent. I enjoyed it, but it bothered me coming soon after her negativity about Shakespeare plays in the press.

 

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