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Posts Tagged ‘Tricycle Theatre’

I’m not really sure what I think of this show and I’m not really sure what to write about it. The words that spring to mind are brave, exhausting, pointless, original, and improvisation. See what I mean?

Eight actors (though ten are listed in the programme) in work-out cloths mingle with the audience, eight of whom are asked to write their name (the actor, not the audience member!) on a card and put it in a hat from which one is selected and read out by another audience member. This is the protagonist, the actor who will tonight attempt said acts with the help / hindrance of their colleagues, the fixed sequence of which is written on flip-chart paper at both sides of the stage. An ‘assault course’ including attempting to get into a suitcase and eating a lemon happens three times, the third time with added teamwork. The other acts include cloths removal / swapping fights, hands in an ice bucket and a scene from Romeo & Juliet.

It’s a very uneven 70 minute ride – intriguing, occasionally funny, sometimes tedious, more than a touch self-indulgent and a bit pointless. I’m not sure how much is improvised, but some clearly is. Nadia Albina was the protagonist the night I went, braver than most to undertake such an exhausting experience with a disability to contend with. The problem with having a protagonist though is that seven actors spend most of the evening in chairs watching, a bit of a waste of talent.

This was the 5th in the ‘secret theatre’ series presented at the Lyric Hammersmith, with the same actors in a diverse range of shows. Though the idea was original, as this show is, I wasn’t prepared to invest precious evenings playing pot luck so I missed them all. On this showing, I think I might have been right.

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Best New Play(s) – The James Plays

First up its plays, new ones, and when I counted I was surprised to find I’d seen 75 of them, including a pleasing half-dozen at the NT. My long list only brought that down to 31 so I had to be real hard to get to the Top Ten short-list of Versailles at the Donmar, Good People & Wonderland at Hampstead, Wet House at Soho, The Visitors at the Arcola (now at the Bush), 1927’s Golem at the Young Vic and 3 Winters & The James Plays from the National Theatre of Scotland at the NT – a three-play feast which pipped the others at the post.

Best Revival (Play) – shared by Accolade and My Night With Reg

I saw fewer revivals – a mere 44! – but 18 were there at the final cut. The Young Vic had a stonking year with Happy Days, A Streetcar Named Desire & A View From a Bridge, the latter two getting into my top ten with the Old Vic’s The Crucible, the Open Air’s All My Sons (that’s no less than 3 Millers) the NT’s Medea, Fathers & Sons at the Donmar, True West at the Tricycle and the Trafalgar Transformed Richard III. In the end I copped out, unable to choose between My Night with Reg at the Donmar and Accolade at the St James.

Best New Musical – Made in Dagenham

I was a bit taken aback at the total of 25 new musicals, 10 of which got through the first round, including the ill-fated I Can’t Sing, Superman in Walthamstow (coming soon to Leicester Square Theatre) , In the Heights at Southwark and London Theatre Workshop’s Apartment 40C. I struggled to get to one from the six remaining, which included the NT’s Here Lies Love and five I saw twice – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Dogfight at Southwark, Hampstead’s Kinkfest Sunny Afternoon and Dessa Rose at Trafalgar Studio Two – but eventually I settled on a great new British musical Made in Dagenham.

Best Revival (Musical) – Sweeney Todd in Harrington’s Pie Shop, Tooting

An extraordinary year for musical revivals with 38 to choose from and 22 serious contenders including 7 outside London (two of which I short-listed – Hairspray in Leicester and Gypsy in Chichester) and not one but two Sweeney Tood’s! Difficult not to choose Damn Yankees at the Landor, a lovely Love Story at the Union, more Goodall with the NYMT’s The Hired Man at St James Theatre, Blues in the Night at Hackney, Sweeney Todd at the ill-fated Twickenham Theatre and Assassins at the Menier, plus the Arcola’s Carousel which was so good I went twice in its short run. In the end though, expecting and accepting accusations of bias, I have to go for the other Sweeney Todd in Harrington”s Pie Shop here in Tooting – funnier & scarier, beautifully sung & played and in the perfect location, bringing Sondheim to Tooting – in person too!

Best Out of Town – National Theatre Wales’ Mametz

I have to recognise my out-of-town theatregoing, where great theatre happens too, and some things start out (or end up!). The best this year included a superb revival of a recent Broadway / West End show, Hairspray at Leicester Curve, and one on the way in from Chichester, Gypsy, which I will have to see again when it arrives……. but my winner was National Theatre of Wales’ extraordinary Mametz, taking us back to a World War I battle, in the woods near Usk, in this centenary year.

Best Site Specific Theatre – Symphony of a Missing Room (LIFT 2014)

Finally, a site specific theatre award – just because I love them and because it’s my list, so I can invent any categories I like! Two of the foregoing winners – Sweeney Todd and Mametz – fall into this category but are  now ineligible. The two other finalists were I Do, a wedding in the Hilton Docklands, and Symphony of a Missing Room, a blindfolded walk through the Royal Academy buildings as part of LIFT, which piped the other at the post.

With some multiple visits, 2014 saw around 200 visits to the theatre, which no other city in the world could offer. As my theatrical man of the year Stephen Sondheim put it in the musical revival of the year – There’s No Place Like London.

 

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Lionboy

I’ve seen much of Complicite’s work but I think this is their first family show, and it struck me how well suited their style is to the material. It’s also very refreshing to have seasonal fare that entertains without patronising young people, treating them as intelligent thinking beings!

I’m not familiar with the Zizou Corder’s novels from which this is adapted (the name conjures up some East European Philip Pullman or Michael Morpugo, but it turns out to be the pen name of a mother and her young daughter!). Charlie Ashanti (the Lionboy) is the son of eminent scientists who appear to have been abducted, and he sets out on a journey to find them. He encounters a circus where he earns his nickname by freeing the lions. When he sets them free in Africa, he also finds the laboratories of the Corporacy who seem to be manufacturing health conditions in order to sell drugs and may have abducted Charlie’s parents lest they produce a drug-free cure.

The story is told with Complicite’s usual flair, conjuring up believable settings and situations with the bare minimum of props but the maximum imagination – a coat and hat turns someone into a circus-master or king, a few ladders create a prison – and outstanding performances. In addition to the adventure of Charlie’s journey, there is a strong moral / ethical narrative which, even though it conveys a clear view, does so with a degree of objectivity which does it great credit. In one scene, a boxing match is used as a device to debate a core issue, both entertaining and thought-provoking, which seems to me to be a great way to engage the young in real issues in the real world.

The contrast with the NT’s Treasure Island the day before was striking. Way less resources, much more lo-tech, but much better storytelling that captured the imaginations of its audience of all ages, who were extraordinarily quiet because they were captivated. More Christmas shows like this please!

 

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Mark Thomas broke new ground with his last show, Bravo Figaro, about his relationship with his dad and his dad’s love of opera. He continues to develop a unique form and voice with this second show, Cuckooed, about his arms trade activism and in particular how he was spied upon by a friend. It weaves together a personal story with a political message which is sometimes funny and surprisingly moving.

I first became aware of his work to expose the immoral practices of the arms trade through his Channel 4 show, in which he created a fictitious PR company which coached foreign governments in spin and screened their clumsy cover-up rehearsals. It went on to include the exposure of companies flouting the law by supplying torture items to foreign lands and the book ‘As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela: Underground Adventures in the Arms and Torture Trade’. Mark’s friend Martin was spying on him, allegedly for BAE Systems, whilst being the most enthusiastic of activists, but Mark has been unable to get him to explain, so his motivation is a mystery and closure has not been obtained. This still clearly hurts, with visible emotions on display.

Like Bravo Figaro this is staged, and on this occasion includes exceptionally well synchronised dialogue with the testimonies of others involved on TV screens that emerge from filing cabinets and on a back screen, other subjects of spying. Towards the end it very effectively broadens the issue to spying in general, touching on police spies who went as far as fully fledged relationships with women and the worst of all, spying on the family of Stephen Lawrence. I thought the combination of the story of personal betrayal and public campaigning against spying was seamless and the humour, disappointment, hurt and anger a powerful cocktail.

In the shorter first half, Thomas is his own warm-up act, mostly telling tales of his brilliant 10 Acts of Dissent initiative, in his more usual (former?) stand-up mode. Together they form a very entertaining but thought-provoking evening that defies categorisation. How lucky we are to still have campainging comedians like Mark Steel, Jeremy Hardy and Mark Thomas to prick consciences and expose unfairness and worse; long may they reign.

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This is a fascinating, multi-layered play from American playwright Marcus Gardley, covering ground I haven’t seen on stage or screen or even in print. It gets a great production by the Tricycle Theatre’s AD Indhu Rubasingham, with a fine cast of British actresses (plus Paul Shelley!).

Gardley’s play is set in New Orleans in 1836, in the period between the Louisiana Purchase, when this chunk of America was sold by the French and soon became one of the United States, and the American Civil War. Under French rule, white men routinely had a second family by a black mistress so a mixed race of ‘free people of colour’ developed. Their lives would soon change when the US became a black or white society and it is during this transition that we meet placee (black concubine) Beatrice and her three daughters mourning the death of their white common law husband / father Lazare (whose body is onstage!).

Beatrice is determined her daughters don’t follow her into placage (concubinage) but Agnes rebels and gets her sister Odette to pose as her mother and sell her into placage. Third daughter Maude tries but fails to prevent this. Somewhat ironically, these women have a house servant who is a slave, but she is a strong woman who has a big influence on them all. Beatrice has two other women in her life – her mentally unstable sister Marie Josephine, who causes a fair bit of havoc, and her friend La Veuve, who she is forever sparring with. We even get Lazare’s ghost for good measure.

Tom Piper opens up the Tricycle stage with a simple but clever white balcony and curved staircase; I’ve never seen it look so big. It’s great to see a cast of Black British women relishing these meaty characters. Tanya Moodie is, as ever, magnificent as the servant Makeda, deeply moving when she is finally free. Martina Laird is strong and defiant as Beatrice and Clare Perkins’ madness as Marie Josephine convinces. Amongst the daughters, Ayesha Antoine is hugely impressive as rebel daughter Agnes, with a combination of cheekiness and determination.

A fascinating piece of social and political history, with a nod to Bernarda Alba and an autobiographical dimension to the characters, and a great piece of family history. The Tricycle’s on a roll.

 

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The first London outing of this Sam Shepard play 33 years ago had a great intimate space (the Cottesloe) and one of those magnificent but rare ‘double-acts’ (Bob Hoskins & Anthony Sher). The 1994 revival had an even better space (the Donmar) and Mark Rylance, as Lee, showing us the sort of physical acting he would later perfect as Rooster Byron in Jerusalem. This third production has a lot to live up to!

Shepard’s play has chalk-and-cheese brothers pitted against one another. Lee is a loser, sometime criminal and rather dangerous. Austin is a successful screenwriter who’s house-sitting for their mom on holiday in Alaska. Lee turns up at mom’s unexpectedly and harasses and intimidates his brother, but gets him to write a synopsis of his idea for a movie. When Austin’s producer arrives, Lee strikes up an unlikely relationship with him, playing golf and persuading him to buy his screenplay. The tables are turned in the second half when both brothers get drunk and things get very wild indeed.

It seems less ground-breaking and for some reason less plausible in 2014, and the contrast between the brooding first half and the manic second half seemed too imbalanced this time around, but it’s a great vehicle for two actors and Alex Fearns & Eugene O’Hare certainly rise to the occasion and perform as if their lives depended on it (perhaps more so on the night I went, which was being filmed) . Fearns in particular is manic, terrifying and fearless as Lee, always on the edge.

Philip Breen’s staging on Max Jones’ realistic impressive oppressive one-room set is excellent, though the frequent scene breaks where screens come down mean the tension diffuses and they did get on my nerves a bit after a while. I love the way the soundscape of crickets in the first half and coyotes in the second mirrors the atmosphere and events. There’s good support from Steven Elliott as the producer and a late entry by Barbara Rafferty as mom, but this really is a two-hander.

We see too little Shepard revived these days and its great to see this once more, in another great intimate space with equally fine performances.

 

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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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