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Posts Tagged ‘Neil Bartlett’

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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A collaboration between South African puppeteers Handspring and innovative British theatre director Neil Bartlett seemed irresistible, and what they’ve produced is a pretty unique show with five puppets and eight performers on a bare stage in the round.

An old gay man close to death looks back on the early stages of his 67-year partnership in flashbacks. Narration is provided by the excellent Adjoa Andoh as nurse, housekeeper, solicitor and some sort of psychiatrist / psychologist giving a lecture. Puppets Mr A and Mr B have young and old versions ‘manipulated’ by the same performers, Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler, with four bare-footed puppeteer / actor ‘assistants’ dressed in black suits.

This all takes place on a bare stage with props stored underneath, handed up and down to and from actors by two visible stage managers. There are six entrances, four steps and two walkways, one through a giant rusting wall and one through double-doors.

There is some extraordinarily effective staging – swimming, a party, a squash game and a car journey – during the uninterrupted 100 minutes, but I found myself admiring the stagecraft and the creativity more than I engaged with the storytelling. It’s original and intriguing, but didn’t have as much emotional depth as I was expecting; it was as if I was a student of theatre studying it from a technical perspective.

That said, I don’t regret going and its a worthy experiment – much more so that Katie Mitchell’s pointless deconstructions. Go to admire rather than enjoy.

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