Category Archives: Review

GMTG presents: Spring Awakening @The Guild of Students

spring-awakening

On 29th November 2013, I went to see Jake Dorrell’s interpretation of Spring Awakening, set in oppressive 19th Century Germany. Dubbed one of the most ‘controversial’ plays of its time, the original play was banned in Germany for addressing the devastating consequences of exploring the ‘mysteries of your body’ in a society that denied its youth any insight into precisely that.

Having never really been exposed to the genre of a ‘serious’ musical, I went in with fairly naive impressions. I considered the likelihood of mild peril, perhaps even the possibility of a little trouble and strife, but I did not question the ending. Surely every musical has a happy ending…right?  Wrong.

This was not a musical for the faint-hearted. The play centred on adolescent suicide, the consequences of premarital sex and homosexuality. All of these would have been taboo topics, therefore one can appreciate how daring Sater’s musical would have been at the time it was originally written.

The harrowing consequences of pubescent curiosity were extremely hard hitting, and personally I felt as though they were portrayed admirably, with each actor allowing the audience a brief yet consuming insight into their lives.

The performances were undoubtedly enhanced by the personal stories that had been offered up to cast members in rehearsals, who had the unique insights given to them by working closely with the LGBTQ society. This added another dimension to the performances, which came across as even more impressive when presented as a direct juxtaposition to the surrealism which consumed the performance.

When the musical began I felt as though I had been thrust into Tim Burton’s imagination.

The surrealist set design and costume were reminiscent of Berkoff’s The Trial, and complemented the cast perfectly in their mono-chromic attire and ghoul-like stage make-up. The quirky costume design, by Maysie Chandler, inspired visions of innocence through the younger characters and images of corrupted authority through the exaggerated shoulders of Headmaster Knochenbruch.

In saying this, it must be noted that the messages conveyed within the show maintained the focal point for the duration of the performance, which is an impressive feat when considered alongside two projection screens with elaborate videos of memories/eerie projections of the deceased, a live band performing backstage and a cast of twenty actors!

The only slight criticism I will (reluctantly) offer is that of the use of hand-held microphones. I fully appreciate that this aspect of the show is minimal (!) and was probably due to limitations of being at University and not having access to a variety of resources, however I feel as though it slightly stunted the transition from scene to song; and would have helped the musical’s fluidity.

All in all, the show was an impressive piece of theatre. It was evident that everyone involved had invested an awful lot of time and effort into making each performance immaculate, and it was fully appreciated by all audience members, me especially.

Hayley Yates

Infinity Stage Company Present: Mercury Fur @ The Guild of Students

mercury furHaving seen more than my fair share of plays, whether they are professional or student productions, I judge the quality of a show by how quickly I want to write my review after it (even if I’m not technically reviewing). It’s 11.18 pm and I finished watching Mercury Fur about an hour ago. I probably would have sat down sooner if I wasn’t physically shaking.

Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur has a history of controversy: famously banned by Faber & Faber, this play follows a set of closely intertwined characters in an almost-apocalyptic world in which butterflies are drugs and ‘party’ is synonymous with your darkest fantasies. The characters spew lines of racist slurs, beat each other and themselves, and draw the audience into their intense relationships.

This is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting scripts I have witnessed. The characters are so distinct (with the intentional exception of the Party Piece) and complex, each simultaneously lost in a state almost akin to childhood, and sadistic. Ridley is able to showcase his prowess by writing Elliot’s insults as epic similes; this is highlighted by his ability to then undercut this often satirical and humorous style with a conversation wrought with emotion.

 I am extremely passionate about ‘in-yer-face’ theatre: Ravenhill’s and Kane’s plays are on my shelves, and yet I have unfortunately not been able to see them performed. To call a text ‘in-yer-face’ seems to miss the point, I have realised after tonight’s Mercury Fur. What makes it so disturbing, so violating, is actually being in the presence of it.

Director Jacob Lovick absolutely understood the importance of this. Staged in the basement rehearsal room of the Guild, the audience was instantly removed from the student bubble and into a dingy flat strewn with the signs of depleting life. The play utilised the whole space, creating a sense of claustrophobia: the characters moved around the audience, absorbing them into the world of the play. The lack of interval was also a nice touch (a la Shopping and F***ing): there was no escape from the unrelenting emotions.

 It really does take a stellar cast to pull off a play like this: get it slightly wrong, and the uncomfortableness you’re trying to create will be plain awkward. This cast not only succeeded in making me cry a grand total of three times (which is quite a feat; I’ve only ever cried at five films and maybe one play), but made me feel physically uncomfortable: I couldn’t sit back in my chair, I wanted to escape and stay simultaneously, my skin was crawling and I was shaking at the end of the performance.

 I was utterly astounded by the quality of the acting in this production; not only did I forget that I was watching a play in the Guild, I forgot that I was watching students act. Calum Witney was by far the stand-out member of this cast. His accent and ability to master Elliot’s swings of emotion was phenomenal. Ben Firth also made an excellent Darren: he was able to capture his naivety and pure adoration of Elliot. I particularly enjoyed the scenes between Witney and Firth; I truly believed in their bond as brothers, not only through Ridley’s writing, but the actors’ execution of it.

When Naz was introduced into the mix, I instantly prickled: Ridley introduces a character that is quite frankly annoying. However, Alice Hodgson made her loveable. I felt sincere concern for the character, and was utterly horrified when I realised her fate. Additionally, Hodgson’s performance of Naz’s monologues and her character post-torture were incredibly convincing and very distressing to watch.

David Williams was a genius choice for Lola. The text calls for a man to play this part, but at times Williams’s mannerisms and expressions were so convincing I almost forgot his sex. The chemistry between Witney and Williams was also entirely believable, and I found the scenes between the characters incredibly touching.

Daisy Tudor was fantastic as The Duchess, deftly exploring her character’s tortured mental state through carefully selected movements and delivery of lines. Pairing her with Danny Hetherington as Spinx was also a brilliant move: while I was oddly intrigued by and pitying of The Duchess, Spinx’s devotion to her was unsettling, and Hetherington’s ability to switch into Spinx’s sadistic mode was excellent. Jack Fairley still made an impression with his minor role: the Party Guest was utterly creepy and disgusting from the moment he stepped into the room, let alone when he revealed his dark fantasy.

The crew of this production must also be praised highly: the effects and make-up used in the play were very convincing; I felt entirely immersed in the world of Mercury Fur.

The point of in-yer-face theatre is to push its audience to the very limits. There were points during the performance where I really wanted to leave but was oddly impelled to stay. What I struggled with was my desire to stop it – I really did feel like it was all unfolding around me – and also the range of emotions I experienced: at one moment I would be disturbed and sickened; a matter of seconds later, I would be laughing, and I felt incredibly unnerved  by this. This is why I love plays like Mercury Fur: at the end, I feel like someone has reached inside my body, pulled something out and made me really look at it. With in-yer-face theatre, the audience is made to look at themselves and assess how they would act in certain situations or evaluate their behaviour and emotions. There is betrayal at every level in this play, sadism, cruelty, anger, and love. It is a truly exceptional example of postmodern nihilism and an intense exploration of the human state, and I (strangely) loved every minute of it.

by Jenna Clake
@jennaclake

The Birmingham Christmas Market

cm figuresEven after twelve years successful years, Birmingham’s German market is still attracting over 3 million visitors each year. Having become quite a popular and profitable Christmas tradition, numerous German-style Christmas markets have cropped up all over Britain in the last fifteen years. However Birmingham’s market has managed to remain the largest German-style Christmas market outside Germany and the German-speaking countries. Running from the 14th of November until 22nd December, the population of Birmingham and the many tourists who flock to the city centre around Christmas have ample time to pay the market a visit. The market follows the length of New Street, winds up around Victoria and Chamberlain square and concludes in Centenary Square by Symphony Hall. In order to have a proper look around the stalls I’d advise avoiding the weekend, going on a week-night evening, so as to avoid the crowds whilst still soaking up the evening atmosphere.

In terms of what the German market has to offer; to ask what it doesn’t have to offer seems more appropriate. For me, the food stalls were especially appealing, and one recommendation would definitely be to go there hungry. With so much food on offer, and the impossibility of being able sample it all, I would choose carefully. The authentic Bratwurst sausages, cooked on an open fire, or the pulled-pork rolls are just some of the hot foods that the market has to offer. However for those with more of a sweet tooth, there are a plethora of sweet food and chocolate stalls too. One stall that caught my eye was serving handmade chocolate that had been carved into different pieces of extremely realistic looking machinery and tools.

cm stall

Whilst food takes prominence in the market, there are also a tempting range of
hand-crafted gifts which you can spend a great deal of time and money on if you’re not careful. The market provides a perfect opportunity to buy Christmas gifts with a personal touch, from beautifully hand-crafted toys for children to silver jewellery, handmade soaps and candles, to authentic sheepskin rugs and clothes.

Another stall which I found fascinating was selling metal figures that had been crafted to resemble famous characters from films, one of which was a very ominous (too big for my liking) predator figurine.

cm modelsAs well as being great for picking up unusual gifts and trinkets, the market also has a number of bars where you can stop and get a drink. A few are set up outside but there are also a handful which have indoor areas, all wooden-clad, they are usually tucked away behind the bar. On the rare occasion there’s some free space to sit down it provides a welcome break from the cold outside where you can enjoy some mulled wine or hot chocolate.

cm th

The one thing I love about this market and what is ever-present in it year after
year, is its authenticity. The wooden cladding of the stalls and their produce look like they’ve been plucked straight out of a small German town and dropped in the middle of Birmingham. The dual-language of the stall signs in both German and English contribute to their authentic nature, and even most of the stall-owners seem to be German. I think this aspect is what makes them particularly attractive, and provides a different take on the high-pressure, stressful process that is Christmas shopping.

CM chocolatesThere have been recent arguments about the clichéd nature and dwindling novelty of the German market tradition since their success has created a ripple effect all over Britain. One article in The Guardian said, “What was once a charming, mildly exotic ‘alternative’ has now become about as painfully predictable as a trip to Boots.” Maybe I haven’t visited the market enough to become bored of its “predictability,” and whilst some of what you find that it can be tacky and clichéd, I stand firm by the idea that the German market is and will remain an enjoyable, alternative evening out for friends, couples and families who will always prefer something a little different to the overcrowded highly commercial shopping centres.

By Elin Morris
@ElinMorris2509

Article 19 Present: The Children’s Hour @ The Custard Factory

the children's hour

Imagine you and your best friend spending hours aligning dominoes up to make a new picture for yourselves and suddenly someone comes over and with one whisper causes one of the domino pieces to fall, forcing all of them to be splattered out of shape. And that’s just what The Children’s Hour is about. Except these aren’t small, plastic pieces that are falling instead it’s the lives of Martha Dobie (played by Chloe Culpin) and Karen Wright (played by Katherine Grayson), which are disrupted by that one whisper, or better yet, the one lie created by Mary Tilford (played by Catherine Butler).

Martha Dobie and Karen Wright are two American best friends who over the years have managed to build their own all-girls boarding school which they live and teach at. Set in the 1930’s Martha and Karen run the school with the addition of Karen’s superfluous aunt Lily Mortar (played by Marni Elder). Moving along we see Karen and Martha teach, discipline and help the girls sturdily in the school, which Mortar breaks up with laughable anecdotes from her non-existent famous life as an actress early in her career. Eventually the surly child Mary, after months of weaning herself from firm discipline at the hands of the teachers, manages to run away to her grandmother. From there she begins creating an elaborate lie that Karen and Martha are engaging in a lesbian affair to her grandmother which sets off a spin of events causing havoc on the teachers’ lives.

We see both of the female leads unravel slowly as they’re plagued by deceit and their own neurological weaknesses. It’s a dark and sinister tale in contrast to the school girl atmosphere. The play itself was like exploring a huge web of lies, having to face societal and cultural issues attached with homosexuality in workplaces. This entwined with the different displays of femininity created a thrilling presentation. And Lily Mortar’s and Rosalie’s (played by Nicole Rixon) comedic skills at the helm balanced the performance out.

And then we have Mary Tilford a completely abhorrent child. Assertive, brutish, loud, boisterous and with an uncanny way for theatrics. With no morals, no sense of pity or justice and just a hard-hearted way with life, Mary helps weave this elaborate display of lies and, just like a ready huntress, she pulls the trigger and creates havoc on everyone’s lives. She’s not likeable and throughout the play she elicits the worst anger you could possibly muster up whilst seated in the theatre, but that was the beauty of the play, she was electrifying, villainous down to a tee.

Mostly it was refreshing to see so many female characters that actually drive the action of the play. With consideration to the lack of parts there are for women even now, the play is a rarity in theatre productions. But it’s also a portrayal of the tragic effects a child can have in an adult’s world and how far one little lie can cause someone’s life to literally crumble on the stage.

By Shantok Jetha

Romeo and Juliet @ mac

Romeo-and-Juliet-2013

Upon arriving at the mac cinema to see the new Romeo and Juliet film I was interested to see what a new adaptation of this epic love story could offer. However, it turns out not much.

Romeo and Juliet are meant to be young lovers destined for heartbreak; however Douglas Booth’s portrayal of Romeo was more confused teenager than star-crossed lover. It felt as if he was simply going through the motions, it never felt as if he was engaging with the language and frankly at points just seemed like he was uninterested in what he was saying.  Juliet was slightly better, but the famous scene with Juliet on the balcony made me wince, the whole scene was so Disney I felt like she was going to break into song at any moment.  The worst thing about this portrayal of Romeo and Juliet was just that, Romeo and Juliet. There was more tension created between Juliet and Tybalt in one scene than Romeo and Juliet across the whole film.

The film sticks to the plot of the Shakespearian original but not to the original Shakespearian traditional dialogue which didn’t do the film any favours. They didn’t improve it in any way, and there was the odd line here and there that felt so modern, it was as if the actors had just slipped back into modern day. Another serious flaw with this film was the treatment of some of the most famous lines in history: “a plague on both you’re houses” was barely even finished, and “Romeo Romeo wherefore art thou Romeo” was basically sung at me.

The best character in the film was Benvolio played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, who gave an emotional and at times touching performance.  The scene where he travels to tell Romeo of Juliet’s supposed death the young actor’s performance was truly heart-wrenching, this however only served to show Booth up, as his reaction to the news of his lover and wife’s death is met by nothing more than a frown and single tear. There were some fantastic portrayals by the supporting cast, Fryer Lawrence played by Paul Giamatti and Lord Capulet by Damien Lewis added some much needed authority and quirkiness to the film.

It’s clear what’s happened here, the film has been aimed at a teenage ‘twilight type’ audience, and little more thought has been given to the film than to cast a Romeo that girls can swoon over and a Juliet girls can hope to be. But it’s just so infuriating that they feel the need to reduce such a brilliant work such as Romeo and Juliet into this attempt to sell it to a younger audience. Don’t under estimate young people, you shouldn’t dumb something so beautiful  down just to appeal to an audience that would rather watch Edward and Bella look moodily off into the distance than understand a great literary work anyway.

By Noemi Barranca
@NoemiBarranca

Capital Festival: Playing With Words Workshop @ mac

CapitalThe-Logo-largeOn the 20th of November on a wet Wednesday afternoon I attended Hannah Silva’s workshop as part of Capital Theatre Festival at the mac in Birmingham.  Arriving at the mac at 2pm for my workshop I got sucked into the wonderful world of theatre, and from that point on the workshop just wasn’t enough! After my workshop with Hannah Silva I stayed on for a further talk with Fin Kennedy entitled ‘In Battalion’s’ and then Hannah Silva’s play The Disappearance of Sadie Jones.

Hannah Silva is a poet, play write, director and actor, and to have a workshop on play writing led by someone with such a vast understanding of many aspects of the field was incredibly helpful as a newly-emerging writer. The workshop was a very new experience for me, coming from a background solely rooted in writing I got an insight into the world of acting and performance. Throughout the workshop we explored words and how to mould craft and use them creatively. The activity I felt I gained the most from was when Hannah gave each of us four strips of paper, on which were a few lines of text. We then had to talk to each other using only these select words, various rules were then introduced; read them as if you’re a child and you can’t read, or pronounce only the vowels. We repeated the activity a few times, and as we did a story began to emerge – it felt as if we’d begun to write. Characters and meaning began to form through these very basic and abstract interactions.

The workshop was with a rather limited group of people (only three of us in total!), and we had an opportunity to talk in detail about Hannah’s work and how she works creatively. Hannah’s work is not your typical “Aristotelian, three act play”, and through discussions with her, I began to feel inspired about my own submission for playwriting. Hannah spoke about theatre passionately describing it as a form that can be changed and played with. Some would say that her work ‘breaks the rules’ but I think Hannah would present it more that there shouldn’t be any rules in the first place. Theatre is a creative and varied form and so much can be achieved through personal or ‘different’ creative processes that the thought of assigning certain rules to theatre is surely just stifling to a personal creative voice.

Hannah talked a lot about the process that took her play The Disappearance of Sadie Jones from script to production. This wasn’t something I’d ever thought about – after all being a new writer, the thought of my work being on stage is a far-off distant dream. But the process Hannah takes in approach to her work was food for thought and a lot about what she said clicked after I’d watched the play. Hannah said when they approached the play with her actors that they were looking for direction she suggested they approach the script as if it were a piece of music, this when first hearing it seems like an abstract idea, but it really made sense in the context of her work.

My experience of ‘Playing with Words’ was a highly positive and inspiring one, it really helped me channel my elusive creative juices in time for up and coming creative writing submissions.

By Noemi Barranca
@NoemiBarranca

Birmingham Royal Ballet Presents: The Nutcracker @ Birmingham Hippodrome

Nutcracker

When this event became available, I could not help but grab it at the first opportunity, and had waited avidly for it ever since. Having been familiar with the astounding music composed by Tchaikovsky, I expected nothing less from the production itself.

I had not seen a ballet before, and it is not something I had ever really considered; my main interest being big shows and musicals. However, from my experience of the ballet, I could not recommend it more highly. First of all, the venue was out of this world. The Hippodrome has definitely gone all out to decorate with the most beautiful, homely and welcoming Christmas decorations I have seen so far this year – not to mention the grand ornate interior of the theatre itself.

Flicking through the programme waiting for the show to start, the orchestra began to warm up and instantly a warm Christmassy feel took over me. There is no better sound than a live orchestra, with each instrument adding its own individual timbre. The curtain rose and on stage laid a huge pile of presents, shadowed by the most humungous Christmas tree I had ever seen – and it got bigger! It definitely brought out the big kid in me; the set being composed of a grand log burning fire, accompanied by warm crimson lighting. I wanted to jump up on stage and ransack all of the presents myself … that was until the dancers came prancing gracefully onto the stage – I somehow don’t think I would have fitted in!

Tracing back 127 years, the story of The Nutcracker is constantly evolving to this day; each producer adding their own touch to the festive ballet. The performance is built upon the musical foundations of the breathtakingly enchanting musical suite composed by Tchaikovsky. The music and choreography work interdependently to portray the narrative of Clara’s magical journey.

The story tells of a family holding a Christmas party for all their family and friends. The jolly atmosphere takes a mysterious turn when the magician, Drosselmeyer, enters the stage, bringing gifts for all of the children and performing tricks which leave the children dazzled. The whole play then turns into a magical fantasy performance when all the toys come to life at the stroke of midnight. The Second Act commences with Clara flying across the stage on a beautiful white Swan where she enters an enchanted land inhabited by a number of magical characters, including the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Snow Fairy. This section included much of the well known and well loved music by Tchaikovsky such as the ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ and the ‘Waltz of the Flowers’.

The performance was astounding to say the least. As I mentioned earlier, as a typical fan of musicals boasting big performances shaped by bold beaming voices, the ballet dissimilarly entranced me in its absolute silence. The story was told completely through the music and dance; ranging from the jubilant opening ‘Christmas Scene’, to the sudden change of a mysterious minor key upon the magician’s arrival.

It was a real traditional family production, putting emphasis on all generations: the excitable children eagerly waiting to open their presents, the graceful adolescents, the proud parents, and topping it all off with the comedic duo of the grandfather and grandmother. It was so nice to see young girls in the audience leaping and dancing around after the performance, and it really hit home for me how inspiring the performance must be for young children, particularly those aspiring dancers.

If you have not had the pleasure of attending a performance by the Birmingham Royal Ballet as of yet – it is an absolute must! The next show being performed by the spell-binding dancers will be Swan Lake (running from Wednesday 5th – Saturday 15th February.)

by Victoria Williams