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Posts Tagged ‘LIFT 2016’

Minefield

Theatre has always told true stories. In recent years, it’s often taken the form of ‘verbatim’ theatre, ‘tribunal’ plays, verbatim musicals and, with Committee recently at the Donmar, a hybrid of all three. This piece breaks new ground again by placing six soldiers from both sides of the Falklands war on stage to tell their stories from before the conflict to the present day. I found Lola Arias production very powerful.

There are three Argentinians, two English and a Gurka. They tell us about how they came to be in their respective army / navy roles, their training and deployment, their experience of war and post-war life. Sometimes it’s direct to the audience in their own language, with surtitles in the other, sometimes it’s scenes re-enacted. There are projections and sounds and they even become a rock band. Over one-hundred minutes we hear their views, and those of their countrymen, of the war, glimpse the traumatic events they experienced and begin to understand the long-term affects.

Some have done very positive things since, but they haven’t entirely shaken off the negative impact. The process of rehearsing and making the play was clearly therapeutic. The most moving aspect is the fact that these pawns in someone else’s game have built positive relationships with people they once called the enemy and bonded during the development of the piece.

It’s often uncomfortable viewing, but it struck me as frank and honest, an objective attempt to show war from the perspective of the combatants rather than the countries, governments and leaders, and ultimately hopeful. Ground-breaking theatre indeed.

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You might not believe this. It’s certainly one of the most surreal evenings I’ve spent in a theatre. A celebration of Japanese pop culture as a rave.

You are advised to check your coats and bags, wear a rain poncho and use (multi-coloured) ear plugs (both supplied). The seats in The Pit theatre have been covered in plastic. There’s an MC / warm-up man explaining what’s going to happen. You can take as many photos, videos or audio recordings as you like .The walls of the theatre are giant screens with continuous projections.

Twenty-five people, mostly women, rush in and start dancing, shouting and jumping around to very loud music. They walk amongst the audience, throw water, confetti and food, engaging with you close up. Glitter falls from the ceiling. There are well choreographed dance routines and ‘scenes’, one of which was a kitsch Les Mis pastiche that had me in hysterics, but some of the time it also appears to be entirely spontaneous.

In what seems like a few minutes, but was actually forty minutes, the whole audience are on the stage and the performers are in the audience. Then they disappear, the music stops and the lights go up. As you walk through the corridor back to the foyer, they are smiling at you, greeting, thanking, hi-fiving, hugging….. In the foyer, you wonder if that really happened, but you can’t stop smiling.

It was mayhem and pandemonium and I thought it was great fun – and the perfect pick-me-up after the referendum shock.

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Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park is probably my most extraordinary venue in a lifetime of site-specific theatre. Opened 175 years ago, no-one has been buried here for fifty years and it is now a wooded and overgrown nature reserve with many paths running through it. As it got darker, it became even more atmospheric, as we walked in silence from one ‘station’ to another to see acrobats in trees & on the ground, choirs and soloists singing, dance & movement, video and sound installations. It was eerily beautiful.

The dampness of recent days added a musty smell. The lit rooms of bordering houses sometimes came into view and at one moment we glimpsed the towers of Canary Wharf. Towards the end a three-quarter moon shone brightly between the tall trees. The three walking groups eventually came together in a clearing for onstage acrobatics accompanied by the choir, to end the evening.

Though I admired the skilfulness, I’m not sure the final scene added much and was a bit long, as I was by now very tired. There was a lot of walking on rough ground and you had to take care in the dark. The silence was occasionally broken by individuals incapable of keeping their traps shut or phone off or camera unused, but not enough to mar an extraordinary experience in an extraordinary venue.

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My first show in LIFT 2016 is a short piece based on the true story of nineteenth century cross dresser Ernest Boulton. He was apparently adventurous, indeed reckless, visiting the West End as a raging queen (in the 1860’s!), sometimes assuming the persona of a prostitute. As the more refined Stella he took female roles in touring shows. He even had an aristocratic Tory MP as a lover.

It’s told in two interwoven monologues by a 21-year-old Stella and an older Ernest. Both are waiting – the younger for his lover and the older for admission to hospital. The younger is boasting of his unorthodox and exciting lifestyle. The older is sadly contemplating its end. A mute attendant is sometimes present. It’s a bit static for someone like me, known for not liking monologues, but it does convey both ends of an extraordinary life well, and played in a 19th century music hall, the venue could not be better.

It’s beautifully performed by Richard Cant as Old Stella, virtually motionless, welling up with sadness, and Oscar Batterham as Young Stella, cheeky, playful and full of life. It’s simply staged with a couple of chairs, the venue itself anchoring the piece in its time. I wasn’t sure what to make of the occasional use of dramatic light and sound, particularly at the outset.

Neil Bartlett writes and directs this 70-minute piece and it’s good to have him back in the theatre after what seems like an age. Well worth trying to be cool in Hoxton!

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