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Posts Tagged ‘Shoreditch Town Hall’

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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Kneehigh have created a large number of very successful stage adaptations from diverse sources, but I think they may have been a touch ambitious and misguided with this one, Carl Grose’s adaptation of a 500-page 1950’s German political novel by Gunter Grass.

The central character Oskar is born with adult capacity but decides not to grow up. He narrates the events happening in the world from 1924 to 1954, a rather dramatic part of the 20th century, to put it mildly, from his perspective. Family scenes and political & social events are woven together to create an epic sweep, though it often comes over as a bit if a ramble.

The problem is that the material doesn’t really suit Kneehigh’s playful style. There’s too much of Charles Hazelwood’s music, often not fully fledged songs, so it feels like more like an opera than a play, and the synthesised instrumentation jarred with me. Together with the vast space, it conspires to make quite a lot of the spoken and sung dialogue barely audible.

It’s a pity, because Naomi Dawson’s design is great (the backdrop looks uncannily like it’s the venue’s real wall), the puppetry is excellent, Mike Shepherd’s staging is full of Kneehigh inventiveness and there are some fine performances, including Nandi Bhebhe and Damon Daunno as Oskar’s mum and dad, and personal favourite Beverley Rudd shining in a number of roles, including a policeman, nurse, Satan and a baby!

It was only the second of two previews, so maybe that was part of the problem, though it has been touring for over two months. I’m more inclined to think it’s the wrong kind of story for the Kneehigh magic.

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It’s claimed that this Philip Ridley debut, on it’s first outing in 1991, started a new genre of ‘in yer face’ theatre. Well, in this site specific, immersive revival in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall,  it’s certainly in yer face.

Ridley’s play is Pinteresque, but without the restraint and subtlety, sort of Pinter on acid. Brother and sister Presley and Hayley Stray have lost their parents and live as dysfunctional recluses on chocolate and pills. A ‘pretty boy and a black man’ are lurking outside in a car. The pretty boy, Cosmo Disney, eventually comes in, wearing a red glitter jacket, and starts intimidating them. Much later Pitchfork Cavalier, his sidekick, a giant incoherent black man clad from head to toe in a tight black rubber suit, joins them. He’s intimidating too.

What it’s all meant to be about is a mystery to me, but you have to admire the production and the performances. We sit on random chairs, boxes and other surfaces in a long narrow carpeted room lit by overhead, standard and table lamps. There are heating pipes overhead, a number or doors and windows and peeling paint on the walls. Designer Soutra Gilmore again. The actors pace and prowl the length of the space, sometimes a bit distant from you, but when they’re close they really are in yer face.

George Blagden is hugely impressive as Presley, having to carry the play ‘on stage’ most of the time, eventually drenched in sweat. It’s hard to take your eyes off Tom Rhys Harries as Cosmo, and not just because of that jacket; he’s terrifying, though not as much as Seun Shote’s Pitchfork, who towers over everyone and everything. Hayley is a difficult, underwritten role, but Hayley Squires does well with it.

Great to see a small scale Jamie Lloyd production, which betters the premiere at the Bush Theatre. It’s the perfect space for it and the performances are fine, but I’m not convinced it’s really worthy of revival.

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John Gay’s The Beggars Opera may be the first ever musical, written almost 300 years ago. Though called an opera, it was actually a satire on opera, set amongst ordinary folk, in stark contrast to opera’s loftier subjects and settings. It’s had many revivals, notably one at the Lyric Hammersmith nearly a century ago that ran for almost 1500 performances, and adaptations, the most famous of which is Brecht & Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. Now Kneehigh have given it a modern setting in our corrupt new world.

The Peachum’s own a pilchard canning business. Mrs Peachum is the power behind the throne and daughter Polly keeps the books. They have a loyal servant, Filch. Mr Peachum hires Macheath to kill the mayor (and his dog!) so that he can take over (via a corrupt election). Much to the Peachum’s horror, Polly falls for, and gets pregnant by, Macheath, who has impregnated quite a few ladies, including Lucy Lockit, the daughter of the police chief (who is also in Peachum’s pay). As Mayor he changes the law so that Macheath can be hung, but things don’t always turn out as planned.

Charles Hazlewood’s new score is a cocktail of many musical styles, from references to Gay’s original to heavy metal and punk! The cast double up as musicians. The setting is a giant metal frame sitting inside the chamber of Shoreditch Town Hall, reminiscent of earlier Kneehigh shows like Don John. It’s good to see some new faces to Kneehigh, particularly Rina Fantina as a terrific Mrs Peachum, the ever wonderful Beverley Rudd as Lucy Lockit and Jack Shaloo as an excellent Filch, jailer and prostitute (very versatile!).

It was inventive and contained many of the Kneehigh trademarks. I thought the first half could do with a bit of tightening, and maybe editing, but overall it was Kneehigh back on form, doing what only they can do.

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You can always rely on dreamthinkspeak to provide a curious and disorientating hour or so. This time in the Shorditch Town Hall Hotel where Margaret de Beaumont has lived for 60 years. It takes its inspiration from the story of the Duchess of Argyll, who spent her last years living in a hotel in the same way.

There were only two of us, and I soon lost the other one! Our first room was one of the hotel’s budget windowless rooms without bathroom. Simply furnished, there’s a mirror on each wall, one a two-way mirror looking into another room where there is a real woman, and the others showing video footage of three quite different scenes involving her. As we walk through many corridors and rooms these images recur and we encounter similar rooms from dolls house size to life-size. You are given few instructions and sometimes wait wondering whether to stay or move, and if so to where, but you eventually get into the rhythm of your wander and become brave enough to try doors and pop round corners. There is a coup d’theatre towards the end and things that have puzzled you begin to make sense.

It’s a disorientating but fascinating experience, perhaps a little too short to develop the character enough. The design of the space is stunning and I was left with questions until after I’d left that I think I resolved on the way home! In comparison with much of the work Tristan Sharps and his company have done, it’s smaller scale, more intimate and more mysterious. It’s hard to say more without spoiling it, so I won’t!

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The second of Paines Plough’s three new plays in their mobile Roundabout auditorium at the atmospheric (old) Shoreditch Town Hall is lighter than the first but just as entertaining.

Penelope Skinner’s piece is a chandleresque story of a private investigator engaged to find Maggie’s friend Foxie. All is not what it seems and to say too much more would probably be a spoiler (though the London run has ended). It’s tongue its firmly in its cheek and when you’re not laughing, you’re smiling.

As with Lungs, there’s no set or props, but this one has four actors. Andrew Sheridan is outstanding as the PI, getting the right combination of earnestness and nerdiness. Kate O’Flynn and Alistair Cope are back (in smaller roles, though one has a surprise up their sleeve) and they are joined by Maia Alexander who make s a very good job of shy nerdy Maggie.

I thought the final scene went on a bit, but overall it was a nice piece of writing well performed. I missed the third in the season but I’ll make sure I don’t next time. This was a very welcome visit to London from Paines Plough.

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New writing company Paines Plough have got themselves a mobile auditorium, Roundabout, which has been placed in Shoreditch Town Hall for a short season of three plays. It’s a bigger version of the Royal Court’s set for Cock, like somewhere you’d have held a cock-fight. It reminds me of Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre – like a spaceship has landed inside an old building.

Lungs is a two-hander which starts with a discussion (in IKEA) between a couple about having a baby and in particular about the environmental impact of doing so (like giving birth to the Eiffel Tower, apparently). The man drops the idea as a bombshell in a less usual spin on such events.

The play develops through pregnancy, miscarriage, infidelity (him) and separation and it packs an extraordinary dramatic and emotional punch given its less than 90 minutes running time. Many of the scenes are short and you have to concentrate to work out how far we’ve moved on and the present state of the relationship.

I found the whole thing gripping, thanks to excellent writing from Duncan Macmillan and fine performances from Alistair Cope and Kate O’Flynn, particularly the latter whose emotions are more on display. They move around the small circular space, at times sparring and at other times affectionately, in Richard Wilson’s production.

A great piece of new writing, brilliantly executed.

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