Sunday, 20 December 2009

Things I've seen... yadda yadda yadda (July - December 2009)

image: palace of the end

For the record, this list contains one of the best shows I've ever seen in my life, and which I'm happy to evangelise for without reservation. If you get the chance to see this production of Palace of The End, see it. An unbendingly humane and utterly devastating treatise on the war in Iraq.

Here's the rest of the list:

-Adam Peck/FairGround Theatre: Out of Touch
-Spike Milligan's 'Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall (adapted by Ben Power and Tim Carroll)
-Bristol Fusion Dance & Creative Souls: Journey of the Griot
-Donmar Warehouse: Hamlet (dir: Michael Grandage)
-Alex Bradley: Conditionality (work-in-progress)
-Sound & Fury with Bryony Lavery: Kursk
-BAC/Forest Fringe Scratch
-Rotozaza: Guru Guru
-The Special Guests: Something's Got a Hold of Me
-Action Hero: Frontman (performance experiment)
-Orbita: The Stars Below Us
-Tinned Fingers: Our Fathers' Ears
-Judith Thompson/Manchester Royal Exchange: Palace of the End
-Jo Bannon: Claim to Fame
-Dennis Kelly/Birmingham Rep/Traverse/Paines Plough: Orphans
-Power Plant (various artists)
-Toby Hulse/Oxford Playhouse: One Small Step
-Volcano Theatre: i-witness
-Miss High Leg Kick: Fashion Bus
-Melanie Wilson: Iris Brunette
-Little Bulb Theatre: Sporadical
-Action Hero: A Western
-Daniel Kitson stand up
-Richard Dedomenici: Plane Food Cafe
-Uninvited Guests: Love Letters Straight From Your Heart
-Ontroerend Goed: Internal
-Action Hero: A Western (again... it's a great show... and I was pimping it)
-Sarah Cuddon: My Green, Your Grey
Tom Wainwright: Muscle
-Residence in Residence (various artists)
-Timothy X Atack: Buzzard (directed by me, dudes - more on that another time)
-Headlong: 6 Characters in Search of an Author
-Nell Leyshon/Salt Factory: Paradise
-You and Your Work 7 (various artists)
-Rosie Dennis: Fraudulent Behaviour
-Luci Gorell Barnes: The Tragic and Disturbing Tale of Little Lupin
-Daniel Kitson (again! he's amazing)
-Prototype nov 09 platform
-Ed Rapley: The Middle Bit
-Quarantine: Make Believe
-Lucy Cassidy & Martha King: collaboration experiments

Not bad, considering I missed a lot of stuff due to actually making work a bit again. Pimped by getting up to the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time in three or four years. Again, some extraordinary, wonderful experiences in this lot. There's the usual amount of 'very good', 'mediocre' and some proper 'utter shite', but I can't remember a year when I've seen more truly amazing shows. I wonder if theatre is actually getting better.

image: hamlet

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Are Terminator Salvation and Public Enemies the same film?

Four reasons why Terminator Salvation and Public Enemies are the same film:
  1. Christian Bale
  2. Being a woman holds very little sway
  3. Sense of humour bypass
  4. Much dependence on the right to bear arms
One reason why Terminator Salvation and Public Enemies are not the same film:
  1. TS: Christian Bale doesn't smile / PE: Christian Bale smiles once

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Things I've Seen Inbetween (Sept 08 - June 09)

image: Ontroerend Goed - Once and For All We're Going to Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen

As usual, I've barely written about any of the shows I've seen over the last few months, what with being too busy an' all (aka watching The Wire) so here's m'regular catch up list for, y'know, posterity:

- Prototype Sept 08 Platform
- Clare Thornton - Pleats and Folds (open studio)
- Dartington MAshow 08
-You And Your Work platform
-Sirenos Festival, Vilnius
-The Special Guests - Something's Got A Hold Of Me (work in progress)
-Beautifully Twisted: Live Art Weekender (Folake Shoga, Annette Foster, Marcia Farquhar, Francesca Steele)
-Prototype oct 08 platform
-Reckless Sleepers - The Pilots
-Cupola Bobber - The Man Who Pictured Space From His Apartment
-Paul Granjon - Lo-Fi Songs with Servo Drive
-Tim Etchells - Sight is the sense that dying people tend to lose first
-Live Art Weekender ( feat: Emma Bennett, Chew Magna, Lucy Cran, Stephen Cornford, Dani D’Emilia, Freeze Puppy, Kathy Hinde, Bill Leslie, Magnus Spectrum, Leiza McLeod, Iain Morrison, Sylvia Rimat, Ed Rapley, Pete Barrett, Paul Clarke, Jo Bannon)
-Edson Burton - Seasoned (work in progress)
-Prototype feb 09 platform
-Neil Callaghan & Simone Kenyon - To Begin Where I Am... Mokado
-Action Hero - Watch Me Fall
-Forced Entertainment - Spectacular
-Catherine Johnson/Bristol Old Vic - Suspension
-Tom Marshman - Hello Sailor (Goodbye Heart)
-Annette Foster - Transgressa
-Tom Marshman - Soldier Sings The Blues
-Annette Foster - Daddy Long Leggs
-Tom Marshman - Finding My Inner Cowboy
-Annette Foster - Marlene Dandy
-David Hare/National Theatre - Gethsemane
-Michael David Jones - Performance for Margarita (work in progress)
-Ontroerend Goed - Once and For All We're Going to Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen
-Ed Rapley - The Middle Bit (work in progress)
-Travelling Light Youth Theatre & Fusion Arts - Paper Wings
-Sedated By A Brick - (Un)Familiar Objects (work in progress)
-Prototype april 09 platform
-The Other Way Works - Black Tonic
-Taste platform @ Mayfest
-Tmesis Theatre - Anima
-Ontroerend Goed - The Smile Off Your Face
-Aurora Nova Productions - John Moran... and His Neighbour Saori
-Top Of The World - Paperweight
-Orbita - Delta Foxtrot
-Inspector Sands - If That's All There Is
-The Paper Cinema & Kora - King Pest and Night Flyer
-Tinned Fingers - Our Fathers' Ears
-Imitating The Dog - Kellerman
-Chris Goode - The Adventures of Wound Man and Shirley
-Timothy X Atack - And The Line Goes Dead
-Back To Back - Small Metal Objects
-Reverend Billy and the Church of Life After Shopping - The Shopocalypse
-Helen Cole - We See Fireworks
-10x3 Actors' platform (13 actors)

Blimey. That's what happens when I don't go to National Review of Live Art.

image: Back To Back - small metal objects

As usual, a mixed bag, but so far 2009 is proving to have a shit hot hit rate in terms of fantastic shows. And I mean PROPERLY FANTASTIC. Not just 'very good'. And I really don't think my standards are slipping. I can honestly say that I've seen five 10/10 shows so far this year (and that's only half a year). These are shows that are not just gorgeously constructed and performed (as was Forced Entertainment's Spectacular), or shows which have merely moved me to tears (as did Chris Goode's The Adventures of Wound Man and Shirley) but shows which have completely stunned me in their effect. I go and see a lot of theatre, so I probably get one or two of these a year; so getting five of these in 6 months is pretty scary.

Anyway, just in case anyone's reading this, here are five you should definitely check out if you get the chance:

Action Hero - Watch Me Fall
Ontroerend Goed - Once and For All We're Going to Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen
Ontroerend Goed - The Smile Off Your Face
Aurora Nova Productions - John Moran... and His Neighbour Saori
Back To Back - Small Metal Objects

Mmmmm... theatre.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Star Trek: a franchise beginneth againeth

N.B. In a high concept movie FRENZY, I happen to be writing this AND trying to watch Snakes on a Plane simultaneously. It must be all that crazy-jazz pic-n-mix sugar and chemicals I had at the cinema this morning. CHECK IT!

Firstly - context: as much as I am a major sci-fi fan, I have never been able to get through an episode of Star Trek without a) switching channels half-way through or b) falling asleep. I may possibly have sat through Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but I can only remember the title. And as for anything featuring Picard... yAAwwwwwn. Basically, Star Trek to date (or Star Trek: Previous as I'm going to call it for now) had little love from me.

[SOAP update - amazing b-movie shamelessly basil exposition opening. Watch out - Samuel L Jackson... guns! more exposition! You have responsibility! More exposition!]

But the first Star Trek trailer I saw really whet my appetite. Maybe it was the fact that it focused on the ship, rather than any of the crew. And it looked really BIG. And then more trailers; where it looked really FAST. Basically, it looked like it might have addressed some of my issues with previous incarnations.


And it was big, and loud and fast, with a whole bunch of genuine GASP moments. But it was also very funny and beautifully played.

[really disappointing CG snakes]

What surprised me most was how witty and charming it was. It had none of the immense pomposity that seemed to be a tonal touchstone for Star Trek: Previous. Nor did it ever seem like a piss-take (even though I felt the urge to growl 'Niiiimoyyyy', every time Leonard Nimoy came on screen.) Even when the script required the delivery of A-Star Science-Fiction hokum, the world of the film was never broken.

[there hasn't been nearly enough Samuel L. to carry the film. It's like they made two films. One with the semblance of a story; and one with the snakes, the 2-D schleps and no Samuel L. Jackson.]

And I was impressed by the writing - Transformers, this was not ("Sam - don't lose The Cube. etc"). No, in Star Trek, the characters had much more individual voice than I expected. It was very much a back story piece - it's biggest flaw was perhaps that it was so unashamedly the foundation for a new franchise (and the laying of those foundations sometimes made the pace a bit clumpy for me) - but even so, the major underlying story was character-driven, focusing on the solidifying of the relationship between Kirk and Spock.

[And here we have not Richard Dreyfuss from Jaws as the snake specialist with the countdown to disaster and the made up science exposition. "His name is Doctor Price." Also we have Samuel L. reminding us that he (Samuel L.) is "not a zoologist".]

One of the great things about Star Trek was that, as a prequel to Star Trek:Previous, it didn't just sit back and rely on previous knowledge. There was no complacency in those characters. There were points were you felt like Captain Kirk genuinely feared for his life. Everything was a discovery - to those characters, as well as to us. So it was perfect for a non-Trekkie like me. But it also seemed to me to be pretty reverential to the ST:P mythos - at least with the major stuff that has become ingrained into the wider cultural consciousness.

So in a nutshell - rip-roaring action; characters with something to say and somewhere to go; funny; witty; Nimoy (no Shatner); and a great cast - I hear the principal cast are signed up to at least two sequels... hopefully the writing will keep up its quality too.

[There aren't all that many people left to kill. But don't worry folks, they've just worked out that only one person - in Texas - could have access to that many specifically exotic snakes. Who'd've thunk it? HOLD UP - someone has a gun in the plane! Do you think it's going to go off at an inopportune moment?]

I'm not sure the mechanics of the plot would quite stand up to proper scientific scrutiny, but I majorly enjoyed Star Trek and I'm looking forward to the next film in the series.

[Bored of SOAP now. Might have to get back to The Wire].

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Catherine Johnson: Suspension

Tuesday 10 March, Bristol Old Vic

At a time when all theatre-y eyes are on it, I thought it would be worthwhile checking out what Bristol Old Vic is 'flagshipping' at the moment. One of BOV's current big co-productions is Kneehigh's Don John; but given that I'm still angry from the last time I saw a Kneehigh show, I thought I'd go for Catherine Johnson's new play instead.

I wasn't expecting it to change my world, but I was expecting to see a well crafted production...

Blimey. Here was another lesson in 'never expect anything or ye shall surely be disappointed'. Cynicism-1, optimism-0.

I'd say 75% of the problems with the show lay in the writing. It was as if the script hadn't been edited. It was littered with clumsy exposition ("My daughter, who's getting married today...") and unnecessary repetition ("My daughter's getting married today!" etc etc etc). The characters were two-dimensional stereotypes whose stories ran on rails so absolutely, that there was no hope of surprise in anything that happened after the first scene. It became increasingly impossible to care about characters who were both utterly wedded to their individual points of view, whilst at the same time constantly complaining about their situation. Stuart McLoughlin's Dean is the only character who accepts any responsibility for his predicament, and he was without doubt the most sympathetic character in the play. The only sympathetic character, to my mind.

And the ending! Or lack of ending. After the interminable lead up to anything actually happening, once an event of consequence did occur, the play completely bottled out of dealing in any depth with the emotional fallout for the characters. Not only that, it randomly shoved the fucking JCB Song on the end, so that we could all go home with a nice bunch of platitudes and a head full of twee nonsense, rather than having to - I don't know - think about the issues raised.

Which brings us on to the direction - aka: where I think the remaining 25% of the major problems with the show lie.

This was a show where, during the scene changes, the lights went out and the music came on REALLY LOUD so that... er... you wouldn't notice that the crew might be moving things around on stage. I didn't know people still did that! It's like drawing attention to something by hiding it too hard. I seriously thought people stopped doing scene changes like that in about 1988.

That wasn't the only old-fashioned technique that weighed the production down. There's a great quote, which comes from a Doctor Who DVD commentary, where one of the directors describes theatre as "actors shouting, in long shot." Suspension was full of that. There was no subtlety in the delivery. Ironically, in the one section where the actors are actually supposed to be shouting across a great distance, they don't let rip - they just continue 'projecting' at the same monotonously voluminous level they employ throughout the rest of the play.

It's one of the reasons why I don't go out of my way to see more conventionally produced theatre. It just makes my heart sink to hear everything hollered out like that. I'm not saying it doesn't happen in less traditional theatre (it certainly does), but it's not the default mode of delivery. I'd much more expect to get the kind of confident, conversational, engaging tone that Robin Arthur and Clare Marshall employ in Forced Entertainment's Spectacular (which I saw at Arnolfini last week), where the clarity of speech does not come from being large and loud, but through drawing the audience in and inviting them to listen. If only Suspension's actors had been directed to invite us in to their world, rather than force it upon us.

But then listening wasn't really written into the characters. And the pacing didn't make room for pauses. It was as if the characters in their world were as unsurprised by each other I was. No-one stopped to take anything in. As if nothing had any meaning, other than to get to the next bit of the plot.

I'm going to go easy on the actors (despite Stuart McLoughlin being in possibly the worst sitcom I've ever seen in my life) - given what they had to work with, none of them were bad. The big problems were a lazy script, and a decision that in its tone, the production would settle for charmless, broad strokes.

I imagine many of the audience were there because they were fans of Mamma Mia!. I've not seen the film (to be honest - everything about the idea of it terrifies me... especially the phrase 'smash hit musical'), but I bet it's a more polished script, with at least a little love for its characters as people, rather than merely drivers of the plot. I'd be interested to know how many drafts Suspension went through. I'd be surprised if it was more than three. And if it did go through a longer process, Johnson seriously needs to get a better script editor.

The most positive note for me was that the audience response seemed fairly muted. People seemed to get bored of laughing at the incessant swearing and throwaway references to Bristol. There wasn't an encore.


On the way back home from the show, the boyf asked me how I thought the local listings mag (Venue) would review the show. I said 4-stars and they'll review the show it could have been, rather than the one we saw. Sure enough...

It's not just Venue magazine, lots of the reviews have been friendly to the show, and have mentioned its inconsistencies as 'by-the-by' rather than major flaws. I can't help thinking that it's in part to do with critics being grateful for a starry writer coming back to theatre. I absolutely think theatre could do with more starriness, but I wonder if Suspension would even have been commissioned had it not been by 'Mamma Mia!'s Catherine Johnson'.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Forced Entertainment: Spectacular

Friday 6 March, Arnolfini

This is a brilliant show - laugh-out-loud funny, disconcerting, and weirdly moving. Beautifully written and exquisitely performed. As the Venue Magazine review says of the show:

"Forced Entertainment continue to ask a lot of their audiences, giving what amounts to a smattering of clues towards a performance; and if you're willing to suspend your disbelief in new and interesting ways, their work is some of the most affecting you'll ever see. You know it's a shame, by definition - but at the end of the evening, you're left shaken by echoes of a show you never witness. It's truly refreshing and wonderful"

Seek it out. It's one of those wonderful shows that doesn't shout at you. It draws you in and makes you listen because of its tone and quality rather than its volume.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Action Hero: Watch Me Fall

Arnolfini, Friday 20 February 2009

"I guess I thought I was Elvis Presley but I'll tell ya something. All Elvis did was stand on a stage and play a guitar. He never fell off on that pavement at no 80mph." [Evel Knievel]

"I just wanna live for another 20-25 years. A couple things I always wanted to do; one was to drive at Indianapolis... The other thing I wanted to do was jump out of an airplane at 30,000 ft. without a parachute and land in a haystack in the Hilton hotel parking lot... The other thing I wanted but never got to do had something to do with Liz Taylor but she's getting a little old and a little fat." [Evel Knievel]

Evel Knievel was a daredevil. He'd pretty much stopped active daredevilry before I was born, but he was still a very present icon whilst I was growing up. Which, looking back from 2009, seems odd; I mean, the Evel Knievel movie was made all the way back in 1971. Perhaps there was something in the uber-macho 1980s that gave his image currency. Perhaps, like geeknewscentral, we should say:

"Long live the memory of a true badass that broke more bones in his body then just about anyone alive, and for having the courage and talent to do what he did."

Higher. Faster. Further. Seeing how far you really have to fall before gravity kills you. Should we be celebrating that? According to the internet, before he began his career as a motorcycle daredevil, Robert 'Evel' Knievel was fired from a drilling job for doing a wheelie on his earth-mover and driving it into a power line which left an entire town without electricity for several hours.

Now I'm not saying that isn't quite funny, but seriously...

But seriously, something in me loves the fact that this dude got his promotion, then got into his massive engineering vehicle, and thought 'hey, look what I can do!' before even thinking about the consequences.

And I love the fact that in 2001, at the age of 63, this dude still regretted that he'd never jumped 30,000 feet without a parachute and landed in a haystack.

Before we get too excited, let's not forget that one of the other things that Evel Kneivel wanted but never got to do "had something to do with Liz Taylor but she's getting a little old and a little fat." Maybe if your balls are big enough to want to jump the Grand Canyon, you're likely to suffer from a side-effect of excess chauvinism.

It was this acknowledgement of the dark edges around the ultra-alpha-masculinity embodied by daredevils like Evel Knievel, which made Action Hero's show extraordinary for me.

You enter, and the atmosphere is not the quiet reverence that you're often encouraged into at the theatre. Already there's whooping. Cameras flashing. Pre-show STUFF coming through the PA. Crowds gathering. Babbling. Atmosphere building. Warming up.

We're not here for the theatre; we're here for the show.

And the show is a recreation of Evel Kneivel's 1967 Caesar's Palace motorcycle jump - with an 18-inch ramp, a pedal-bike, and a Coca-Cola fountain.

But that recreation isn't just about making the jump. It's the daredevil that makes the jump, so Watch Me Fall makes a daredevil out of Action Hero. Through a series of absurd heroics, outrageous claims and brash acts of almost-violence, Watch Me Fall sucks us into its own hype. Now we are here to believe.

Watch Me Fall recognises the binary urges of that kind of macho culture and it recognises its ugliness. You want the daredevil? You got the daredevil. So when James Stenhouse stands above Gemma Paintin, who sits at his feet, head thrown back, legs apart (you get the picture) and pours a 3litre bottle of Coke into her open mouth - producing an image that is visceral, and shocking... somewhere between softcore porn and waterboarding - this is the daredevil we've been waiting for.

So often, I find that contemporary performance tends to bottle out of showing it like it is. Rather than getting nasty, it's easier be euphemistic, or qualify things with irony - as if to say to the audience, "well, you know what I mean". But in Watch Me Fall, you feel things actually transforming in front of you and around you. This isn't a place I know any longer, and when the jump comes - in all its brief, small, rubbishiness - we holler like it is Las Vegas.

It would have been easy for Action Hero to make a cute little show, which relied on nostalgia and let them play at being the hero without the vulgarity and misogyny. But this is something different. The show is beautifully constructed. It understands that it is about the event. The spectacle is not in the trickery, but rather in the audience being convinced that this time, they might just make it. It's an accumulation - from the red, white and blue that is all over the design, to the sheer amount of Coke (busting to get out of its plastic bottles and spill all over the stage) to the seething violence, playing chicken with pain. You can't take your eyes off it - even the pauses are like acts of endurance. It's a punk collaboration with an audience.

I come out of the theatre wide-eyed and dazed. It's a thrill. It's a shock. It's a thrill.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Pictures of you

Whilst I was seeking out pictures to liven up my blog, I did the obvious and google-imaged my name. You don't get much when you try my full name - mainly links to projects I've been part of, plus my facebook pic - but (unsurprisingly) my first name brings up a bunch of images of the Hindi Film Star I was named after:

I really like this slightly hilarious profile of her:

"One wonders if she were not Nutan's little sister if Tanuja would have ever been in Bollywood? She was not classically beautiful with her Barbara Striesand nose and darker than your average Bollywood starlet complexion. Nor was Tanuja especially talented or could she really dance very well. But then there is something about Tanuja something fresh and infectious, endearing. She is so darn cute, that's it. She bounces and pouts and makes girly faces, thoroughly modern 70s girly faces. Tanuja was that rich father's spoilt daughter who followed her headstrong heart that you see in so many Bolywood films of the late 60s and 70s. She had that part down pat. And every rich spoilt daughter who follows her headstrong heart in every Bollywood film that followed Tanuja's lead owes a bit of their characterization to her."

Oooh - feisty... in a sort of Bollywood kinda way.

Pimp my blog

Hello you! whoever you are- (probably me)

I was talking to Tom Marshman the other day, and he mentioned he'd been checking out Tim Atack's website.

"Good pics," he said.

Hmmm, I thought. Best pimp my blog.

So I've just spent the most extraordinary amount of time finding and splicing a selection of 'lovely pictures' into various bits of this blog. I'm particularly fond of the image I found for CSI in this post.