Category Archives: Reviews

3Bugs Fringe Theatre presents: The Trojan Women @ The Guild of Students

the trojan women

When it was announced that 3Bugs would be taking an adaptation of Euripides’tragedy The Trojan Women to represent them at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, it was clear that the society is again pushing the boundaries of student theatre. An ambitious project to undertake as a whole, let alone to condense into a forty-five minute adaptation.  

The script, adapted by Director Georgina Thomas, is one to be admired as a work unto itself. The tragedy has been cleverly condensed to offer the audience a grounded overview of Euripides’ original text. Making the most of its limited timeslot, the adaptation, whilst pacey, avoids feeling rushed and still allows the audience to emphasize with its highly developed characters.

For me, this is a production that showcases the strength of its actors. The engaging opening monologue from Poseidon, played by Ben Firth, immediately set the tone as one of unease and foreboding, which picked up in intensity as the hardships faced by the women were revealed. The performances were strong throughout, however particular mention must go to first year student Lizzie Roberts, who gave a fantastic performance as the mentally unhinged Cassandra. Her exchange with the slimy Talthybius, played brilliantly by Jack Alexander, was especially well-executed.

The Chorus (Ella Darbyshire and Lucy Cheetham) are also noteworthy for praise. They bounced off each other with ease and carried the plotline between the speeches of the main characters. The wordy nature of the Greek text was balanced by some clever directorial choices, the addition of song; performed beautifully, broke up the dialogue and the blocking was well thought-out achieving maximum impact in the more emotional moments.  The set was minimal but effective, giving the actors free reign of the space, which they utilized brilliantly. They balanced the stage and created some beautiful stage images, further establishing the relationships between the characters.

Though the 1950s costume was visually striking, I struggled to see any further link to the era, and found it superfluous to the onstage action. The choice of clothing made it hard to ascertain the different social statuses of the characters, the chorus supposedly servants yet dressed in the same fashion as the ladies of the court. The actors, however, did well to combat this with their character relationships and objectives clearly defined; the stony Hecuba (Cassiah Joski-Jethi) was a stark contrast to the seductive Helen (Lauren Dickenson).

The adaptation offers a well-informed snapshot into the tragic lives of the women of Troy, and packs a hefty emotional punch. Andromache’s (Emily Anderson) moving “you may think me a feeble woman… but I am stronger than you think” stayed with me, and the production certainly makes you question the validity of the statement. The power struggle between the women and their male oppressors is evident and comes to a shocking climax in the suicide of Hecuba.  Left ambiguous, the audience questions if the act was a desperate fit of despair, or a more calculated choice to regain control.

A thought-provoking production, The Trojan Women offers a complex plotline, skillfully handled by its actors and will be performed 11th-16th August 11:00, and 18th-23rd August 17:00, at theSpace on the Mile (Space 1). Staying true to the classic text whilst brining its own original take on the characters and their relationships, 3Bugs is once again presenting a play set to challenge as well as entertain.  

 by Nicole Rixon

Advertisements

Article 19 presents: ‘A Day in the Death of Joe Egg’

Some plays dissolve with time. As Co-Directors Lily Blacksell and Rebekah Lucking masterfully proved, Peter Nichol’s 1967 play, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, remains pertinent.  This revival was handled with great sensitivity; to the subject matter and the script itself. 

     Nichol’s semi-autobiographical account explores the hardships faced by Bri, a schoolteacher, and his wife Sheila; a young couple raising a disabled child. Upon its original debut, critic Irving Wardle praised Joe Egg for having ‘significantly shifted our boundaries of taste.’ Indeed, this production walked the tightrope between humour and heartbreak. The frequent jokes, such as calling their daughter Joe ‘a living parsnip,’ allowed one to forget, and later question, what you should and should not laugh at; a deft exploration of why humour is so often intertwined with trauma. 

     The opening scene was electric. Standing centre stage, Bri, played by Jacob Lovick, addressed the audience as naughty school children. This provided a nice prologue to the frustrations of Bri’s life, both at work and more importantly at home. Lovick, the highlight of the play for me, was utterly convincing. As he stood there trying to command the attention of a ‘hall of children,’ he was every ridiculed teacher I’d ever had. Throughout the play, everything about his mannerisms and voice was a sigh of defeat. What’s more, he handled the music-hall, old comedy club, style of the play very well. 

10392328_603225299784422_2285308236589047729_n

     In her programme notes, Blacksell astutely pointed out ‘there is something terribly British about Bri and Sheila’s resort to comedy to help them deal with Joe’s disability.’ Indeed, as Lovick pranced around on stage like a 1960’s Michael McIntyre, with more depth, whether it was to make fun of Freddie, or to try and seduce his wife, one could not help but feel a strong mix of hilarity and pity. 

     Breaking the fourth wall often takes one out of the story, however in this production it was done so successfully you felt like a confidante of sorts and even, at points, the characters’ psychologist. Finding it easier to confide in the audience than each other, Bri and Sheila replayed key episodes in their life story. This device was especially engaging when Sheila spoke to the audience. A doting, perversely optimistic wife, it soon became clear that she was just playing along with Brian’s jokes and play-acting to keep her husband happy. 

     Phoebe Brown, who played Sheila, presented a deeply moving portrayal of a woman haunted by guilt. Brown evoked such a sense of compassion and in my eyes was the most empathetic character. Brown and Lovick made for a convincing couple; you believed they were in love, despite the complexities of their relationship.

     The second half of the play lurched into Mike Leigh territory, however thankfully never appeared cartoonish. Chloe Culpin expertly played Bri’s Mum, Grace; so uninteresting and self-righteous, the atmosphere instantly became  soporific when she spoke. Dan Burke and Emily Howard were infuriatingly funny as Bri and Sheila’s insensitive friends, Freddie and Pam. Burke’s arm-swinging, pacing the living room as if making a Presidential speech, portrayal of the socialist do-gooder was what was precisely needed to contrast Lovick’s wired Bri. Whilst the social satire might seem a little heavy handed to a modern audience, Pam’s horrific statement, ‘If I say gas chamber that makes it sound horrid – but I do mean put to sleep,’ is as shocking now as it must have been in the sixties, raising relevant questions about disability and euthanasia.

     Rachel Thomas must be commended for handling the role of Josephine with great sensitivity. Her role as a child whose brain does not allow for communicative speech or co-ordinated movement, was never reduced to a caricature. The Directors’ approach of allowing her to remain on stage, and often face the audience, even when not the focus of a scene, was effective. I often found my eyes straying to her, pondering how it must feel to be her, what my coping mechanisms would be if she were my child. Questions not easily resolved, but the beauty of Nichol’s script is that after ten years of caring for her, Brian and Sheila are no closer to understanding either. 

      Everything about this production was finely judged. From the sky-blue wallpaper and the sad, lack-lustre christmas decorations adorning the Ex-Serviceman’s Club stage, an exquisite venue for this play, to the way Joe startlingly skipped out of her wheelchair to announce the interval. A very good egg, indeed.

10385302_591009424339343_5785745697412906877_n

The Threepenny Opera @ The Birmingham REP

PB_1747

Before the performance began, the audience were greeted with a motley crew of cast members chanting “no ifs, no buts, no disability cuts!” in front of an, assumedly, once glamorous now tattered red show curtain thinly veiling an ensemble of musical instruments and actors milling around, preparing to perform the opera for the poor. Around the auditorium were banners spray painted with powerful messages such as ‘Keep your filthy tax out of my bedroom’ and ‘Old people are worth more than the pennies we give them!’ The rawness and unabashed nature of this introduction set the audience up to confront some uncomfortable and challenging world views, perfectly aligned with the original intentions of Brecht.

As the Musical Review aptly put it, the play was “no-holds barred”. From the adapted and highly satirised lyrics tarring ‘Tories and their minions’, paedophilic priests and Jimmy Saville with the same brush for their ‘sexual imperatives’, to the highly ironic song performed in a prison cell by Macheath (Milton Lopes) ‘Live Life in Luxury – That’s What it’s For’, the audience were presented with a vivacious performance that served its purpose in reinventing Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera.

Almost every taboo imaginable was confronted in the performance, to the extent that some audience members were unsure whether to applaud or wince at the audacity of their presentation. For me, this only served to make it more enjoyable. The messages of the play were confrontationally presented by an awe inspiring cast, the majority of whom were disadvantaged – either in terms of their sight, mobility, hearing or their height. The casting was a stroke of genius; as the performance did not aim to make you feel sorry for the cast members, or empathise with them for their disadvantages; it aimed (and succeeded) to challenge and question the way our society works. It also demonstrated how extremely versatile the cast were, as the majority were not only actors and singers but also talented musicians.

Musically, the levels were sometimes a little unstable, and a few hiccups were had with the subtitles projected onto the walls, but these minor hindrances didn’t affect the overall experience to any substantial extent. 

The success of this performance was enhanced for me by the extremely talented signers, with a special mention for actress and signer Jude Mahon. During the songs, she delivered as compelling a performance as the actors singing, and was remarkable in her ability to bring several different characters’ personalities to life through sign language; undoubtedly she captured the essence of the songs for deaf audience members. Other notable performances were given by Mrs Peachum (Victoria Oruwari), Polly Peachum (CiCi Howells) and Tiger Brown (Will Kenning), a chief of police who served in the army with the notorious but oh-so-charming murderer and rapist, ‘Mack The Knife’.

All in all, if you are looking for a theatrical performance that will challenge your views and beliefs, and prompt your thoughts towards questioning the structure and hierarchy of our society as it is today once you leave the theatre, this is the play for you. Utterly fascinating.

by Hayley Yates

3Bugs Fringe Theatre present: House of America @ The Guild of Students

house of america

Ah, the eighties. What a glorious time of nihilism, high-waisted jeans and no work. The lack of hope that characterises the eighties is what you get in bounds in Ed Thomas’s House of America. What you also get is three under-thirties struggling to escape from the Welsh valleys, or, more pointedly, the house they grew up in and their mentally fragile mother. Mrs Lewis, Boyo, Gwenny and Sid are living on top of one another, with the threat of the cast mines looming over their simple lives and their secrets adding to their claustrophobia. To attempt to escape, Gwenny and Sid dream of travelling to America, seeing their estranged father, and being like Joyce and Jack from On the Road, while Boyo remains reluctant.

While Thomas’s play conveys an overwhelming sense of hopelessness well, it is flawed in places. The cast mines initially work as an effective metaphor for the threat of modernity and the secrets that will tear the family apart, but the constant repetitions of ‘They’re coming closer,’ and ‘They’ll destroy this house,’ undermine it, making the play quite expositional. In fact, exposition is one of the major flaws of the script: the audience is often on the cusp of figuring something out (usually due to some excellent facial expressions or body language) but is denied the privilege through speech.

However, flaws with the text aside, this production was raw, chilling and uncomfortable to watch: the things I like best about theatre. Director Tamar Williams utilised the small space of the dance studio brilliantly, and the actors’ breaking of the fourth wall added to the play’s theme of suffocation. Williams’s interpretation was also brave in that it allowed the audience to become aware of the play’s theatricality subtly: the moving and banging of chairs to suggest a temporal or spatial shift was an excellent decision, with the sounds echoing the intrusive industrialism.

 Another triumph of this production was the inclusion of music (provided by a band led by Musical Director Nick Charlesworth). While the band could play rock and roll classics with ease, the real treat was the improvised traditional Welsh music, and the beautiful singing that often accompanied it.

 This play deals with a variety of issues, including two murders, mental illness and incest; this is a script that asks for a lot from its actors. The onstage chemistry and tension between Lily Blacksell and Jack Alexander was palpable, and I wish that the script would have allowed more space for this. Blacksell and Alexander could communicate their emotions through a series of subtle facial expressions, and their interactions were incredibly convincing (and therefore very difficult to watch).

Blacksell’s final monologue was the highlight of the play: sensitively interpreted, she captured the misfortune of Gwenny’s situation – one that is entirely beyond her control – to make her a tragic, although not sympathetic, character. Blacksell was able to move Gwenny from a girlish, daydreaming woman who wants to be like Joyce Johnson to a severely ill and troubled person.

 Jack Alexander was also able to capture Sid’s daydreaming personality well: his panic during his final scenes was intense. Alternatively, Jacob Lovick and Mary Davies were at their best when providing dark humour. Lovick’s comedic timing was consistently on point, while Davies was excellent at providing Mrs Lewis’s unwitting comedy.

 During its first act, I wasn’t really sure where House of America was heading. However, its second act provided the punches I was looking for. The play perhaps tries to throw a few too many, if I’m being honest: the truth about Clem Lewis or the incestuous relationship would provide sufficient drama for one play. However, Davies’s production is sensitively directed, imaginatively realised, host to some good performances, and contains some excellent live music, making this a play I am glad I haven’t missed. 

by Jenna Clake

Apples & Snakes Present: Lit Fuse @ Birmingham mac

LitFuse-full

“I want a man who pulls kindness out of his back pocket.” This was the beautiful and intriguing opening line of spoken-word artist, Nafeesa Hamid, during her performance on Friday night.

Nafeesa spent last week working alongside three other brilliant artists, Amerah Saleh, Carl Sealeaf and Sipho Eric Dube, making up the quartet of poets that brought Lit Fuse, a spoken-word collaboration, to the Birmingham mac on the 7th March 2014. This event, developed jointly by mac Birmingham and Apples and Snakes poetry collective, is a series of events showcasing brand new work devised by UK poets in collaboration with top directors and producers, encouraging poets to write and perform outside of their comfort zone. This set of poets were working with the help of Birmingham-based writer and director, Caroline Horton.

The four poems were part of the current season of work at the mac, ‘Exit Strategy’, a theme exploring death and its effects.
The event combined poetry and theatre, using lights, sound effects and short films to create atmosphere and background for the spoken word pieces. The performance began with all four poets speaking at once, moving from various areas of the intimate space of the Hexagon Theatre, before gathering together on stage. The effect of the clashing of lines and styles, and interrupting of each other made for a disconcerting and slightly wild beginning, and I struggled to make out what each individual was saying, let alone find any kind of meaning in the cacophony of noise and sound effects. Indeed, as each poet left the stage and then returned one by one, performing an individual 10-20 minute monologue, the level of intensity remained high, due to the heavy and sometimes controversial content, and the fact that the overall performance was only just over an hour in length.

Although four very different poets, all creating various interpretations of the topic of death, the pieces were beautifully crafted to fit perfectly together, moving seamlessly from one to another. The themes ranged from a heartbreaking monologue by Carl Sealeaf on the breakup of previous relationships and the death of a loved one, to a touching and intimate insight into a story of childhood, heritage and loss from Sipho, and an uncomfortable but beautifully important piece on rape in marriage from Amerah Saleh.

The influence of theatre was reflected differently in each piece, some of the poets choosing to use props. At the beginning of Amerah’s piece (written largely using stories collected from girls with real experience of rape in marriage), all the props, including a desk lamp (left over from Carl’s piece moments before), a mop bucket and a mug were turned on their side, and set right way up as the poem progressed. Using everyday objects reinforced the setting of a domestic home, and the act of setting them right reflected the healing process that took place throughout the poem.

The performance ended in the same way it had begun- all four poets speaking at once, and moving together to gather on the stage under dim lighting. This time however, the words and phrases they were saying had a poignant clarity – now I recognised them as lines from each of their poems. The idea that all these pieces shared the same subject matter, yet had wildly different interpretations of it was reinforced by the clashing and uncomfortable jarring of these lines, yet combined, at the end, a subtle and carefully crafted shared understanding and acceptance.

 by Alice Cudmore

Infinity Stage Company Presents: In Arabia We’d All Be Kings @ The Guild of Students

In Arabia

I’ve seen Stephen Adly Guirgus’s The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (and loved it) so I was intrigued to see what his earlier work, In Arabia We’d All be Kings would be like. What is evident is that Guirgis is a writer who loves character: plot falls to the side so that his characters can take centre stage. The most dramatic events are only reported to the audience; the human condition is what this playwright is bothered about.

Arabia follows a group of people in downtown New York. There is no space for them: there’s little to no work, no welfare for the poor or troubled, and certainly no sense of loyalty. Guirgus provides a gritty depiction of a nineties dog-eat-dog New York, in which drugs and sex are a form of escapism, but are simultaneously the very things trapping the characters. Every character seems to be in a Catch-22: to be happy, you need money, but to get money, you need to do some horrific things; prostitution and drug addiction are rife among Guirgus’s characters.

What is interesting about the script is that it allows a range of emotions from the audience. There are moments that are evidently meant to be comical, and ones that are serious, but then there are moments in which the audience’s intended reaction is ambiguous: moments that I found harrowing, in which I pitied the characters, where moments that others found humorous.

Perhaps this is a testament to the cast: perhaps some members of the audience were driven to uncomfortable laughter. Whatever the reason, it can’t be argued that directors Jack Fairley and Andy Baker found a stellar cast for their production (who all mastered the New York accent). Gurguis’s plays don’t really have ‘main characters’, so each actor has to work particularly hard to impress during their scene.

Guirgus is obviously a fan of having someone onstage at all times – Judas is constantly present in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot­ – at it is incredibly impressive to be in character for so long; compliments must therefore go to Ben Firth. He played Sammy, an aged alcoholic and possible drug addict, incredibly well, providing humour and poignancy with skill.

Danny Hetherington was an excellent choice for Skank: his movements and mannerisms were convincing, and his manic laughter in the penultimate scene of the play was unsettling. Guild Drama newcomer Nathan Hawthorne played Lenny, a man recently released from prison. He deftly handled his character’s anger, but was also able to convincingly communicate his vulnerability. Ben Norris gave an impressive and sensitive performance as Greer. When playing a homosexual man, it would be easy to offer a clichéd portrayal. Norris, however, dealt with this carefully, making Greer a man that would exaggerate parts of his personality to exploit others. The scenes between Norris and Hetherington were particularly sad to watch.

For a play with a mainly male cast, the women really stole the show. My favourite character was Chickie, and this is a testament to Phoebe Brown’s acting prowess. I truly believed that she was a drug addict, from her nervous movements to her child-like, heart-breaking optimism at thought of being free from her addiction. My two favourite scenes involved Brown: firstly, the interaction between Chickie and Charlie, the bartender (played fantastically by Calum Fraser), was touching and strangely romantic. Her later scene with Demaris (played by Charis Jardam), a no-nonsense teenager old was particularly poignant: here we were given a tragic glimpse into the women’s hope for a better future. Jardam’s attitude and delivery were perfect for her character, making this scene the standout of the play.

The production team of the play had evidently worked hard to create an authentic atmosphere for the play: the genuine bar helped to create a sense of verisimilitude, but it was really the costume that stood out. The women’s outfits and make-up would have been particularly nostalgic for several women in the audience, which made the play even more uncomfortable to watch.

While Arabia seems to lack something that Judas has – perhaps an emotionally devastating monologue – it is still nothing short of an entertaining and thought-provoking play; however, it is the work of this particular cast and crew that held this production together, and made it undoubtedly successful. 

By Jenna Clake
@jennaclake

CBSO presents Ultimate Vaughan Williams @ Symphony Hall

andrew manze

Ralph Vaughan Williams remains one of the nation’s favourite composers, and his enduring popularity was very evident at Symphony Hall. There was barely an empty seat in the house as Andrew Manze conducted the CBSO in an evening of ‘Ultimate Vaughan Williams’; a shamelessly indulgent programme consisting of what might be considered his orchestral greatest hits, spanning a twenty-two year period (1908-30) which saw Vaughan Williams establish himself as one of the most important figures on the British classical music scene.

We began with his Overture to The Wasps, originally commissioned to accompany a production of the Aristophanes play at Cambridge University in 1909, which abounds with wonderfully broad, expansive themes of cinematic scope, sounding at times almost like the score for a Western. And the CBSO did justice to the energy inherent in the piece, Manze energetically brandishing his baton with a charisma and deftness obviously infectious to both orchestra and audience.

Next was Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, and although the turnaround of players between the first two pieces was wanting some smoothness, it was definitely worth the negligible wait. It is written for two string orchestras with a solo quartet, which – in the hands of Vaughan Williams – results in a rich and delicious sonority. The fact that several, admittedly more elderly members of the audience appeared to drift off during this piece is, I think, testament to the beauty and subtlety of the music, rather than evidence of anything condemnably soporific there. The thick strings, often moving in parallel fifths, are so typically characteristic of his style that, at times, he seems almost to parody himself, but always remains wholly earnest, creating a sound at once singularly evocative of the English countryside and yet also decidedly European. In the passages for solo viola and violin respectively, the ideas he would fully realise in The Lark Ascending are explicitly audible, but comparatively Fantasia… contains moments that seem to cry out for solo woodwind to burst through and soar lyrically above a texture occasionally clogged by the sheer number of strings the composer employs.

This concert was part of the CBSO:2020 series, which – as the famous orchestra approaches its centenary in six years’ time – features works composed in the decade leading up to their inaugural concert in September 1920. The Lark Ascending, written in 1914 (initially for violin and piano) and arguably Vaughan Williams’s best known work, therefore formed the centrepiece of the evening. And here, unlike in Fantasia…, that desire for otherness is satisfied absolutely. At the moment, say, where the beautiful solo violin might take a phrase too many, the oboe emerges, pure and defiant. It was in this piece, and the final one, where we heard the CBSO, under Manze’s skilful guidance, at their most dexterous and antiphonally fluent. Laurence Jackson was the soloist, and he did an admirable job with a notoriously delicate part, occasionally sounding hollow or airy, but commendably never dispassionate.

The concert concluded with Job – A Masque for Dancing, which Michael Kennedy (in his excellent programme notes) calls ‘a synthesis of various elements in his [RVW’s] musical personality,’ and it was thus perfectly positioned at the end of the programme. By far the most dramatic and ambitious of the evening’s pieces, Job takes the listener on a journey too nuanced to describe in this short review, but one through which the CBSO led us expertly. Jackson – with the other excellent soloists – found full voice here, making his violin sing sweetly with the nostalgic themes of a composer whose place in the hearts of the British concert-going public appears deservedly secure.

by Ben Norris
@BenNorris7