Tag: Edinburgh Fringe

Edinburgh Fringe Preview Part I: Dystopian nightmare in The Project

project

It was clear from the beginning that The Project was going to be a disconcerting piece of theatre. Produced by members of the Nottingham New Theatre ahead of their stint at next month’s Edinburgh Fringe, this dystopian nightmare pushes the boundaries of conventional theatre and subverts the idea that we can sink back in the darkness and let it all wash over us.

As I took my seat I noticed that the cast members were sitting amongst us writing notes. A woman who resembled a mannequin stared straight ahead of us in the middle of the stage. She was wearing a jaundiced-yellow lipstick and it soon emerged that she was the subject of some kind of bizarre, quasi-medical experiment. The director – played by an actor – addressed the audience directly, telling us that the play would depend on our reactions to it. At various points the performance is deconstructed, forcing us to challenge our preconceptions of what a piece of theatre should be.

The experiment itself was extremely sinister. The woman is forced to do things against her will as the other characters continue on their quest to ‘cure’ her. Meanwhile, the director looks on, taking a perverse pleasure in his experiment, blind to the fact that he may be hurting someone in the name of art.

In many ways, The Project reminded me of  Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, an allegorical play which shows how people’s passivity allowed Hitler to rise to power. Like Brecht’s masterpiece, The Project makes good use of Verfremdungseffekt – or alienation technique – to remind the audience that like all art theatre is artificially conceived. By not getting too comfortable, we are able to consider some of the ethical challenges a performance can pose.

Overall, this was a fascinating piece of physical theatre and the actors made good use of the performance space. The dialogue was elegant and the narrative purposefully draws the audience in before reminding them that this was indeed a performance rather than real-life. A bold experiment – and one which paid off.

You can see The Project at Zoo Monkey House at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

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Review: No errors but plenty of comedy in New Theatre and Fine Frenzy production

comedy

In Shakespeare’s time, actors normally had 48 to rehearse a play which would no doubt have given it a raw energy and fearlessness that is sometimes lacking in modern productions.

It’s something that many performers may be reluctant to try but in a new interpretation of The Comedy of Errors, members of Nottingham University’s New Theatre and Fine Frenzy Theatre have created a pared down performance which captures the ‘anything could happen’ element that would have been familiar in Shakespeare’s day.

As we enter the theatre, we are greeted by the narrator, Ben Williamson, who is dressed as a baby (in a onesie) in a nursery full of toys – not very Shakesperean I hear you say. He explains that the actors had just 48 hours to put the play together and that a prompt would be helping if anyone couldn’t remember their lines (he wasn’t needed).

The play tells the story of two twins, Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus, and their slaves, Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus, who are separated in a shipwreck. What follows is a glorious tale of mistaken identities full of bawdy characters, such as the courtesan played by Emma McDonald with her brilliant West Country accent.

All the lines were delivered superbly with an immediacy and raucousness; when Dromio of Syracuse (played by Aaron Tej) describes the maid who has fallen in love with him as being so fat that ‘she is spherical. I could find out countries in her’ the audience roared with laughter.

The toys made frequent appearances throughout the play. Ben Williamson, in his other role as the strong arm of the law, donned a police officer’s hat and as tempers fray a fight breaks out involving water pistols and glittter.

This wasn’t a clipped and polished performance and it was all the better for it. The actors weren’t simply reciting their lines –  they were really living them which was really refreshing to see and it created a fantastic carnival-like atmosphere.

This production of The Comedy of Errors will be performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival later this summer.

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Private lives in public: An interview with 2Magpies Theatre

serenade flyer front

Walking past a restaurant on Valentine’s Day gazing in at the number of couples sat there awkwardly can make you feel like something of a voyeur. Eavesdropping on a conversation in a café, imagining back stories and making judgements is something we all do but perhaps don’t like to admit.

But in Serenade, a play by the newly formed company 2Magpies Theatre, we are actively encouraged to lurk in the shadows as we watch a young couple having dinner. It’s the idea of ‘legitimising our voyeurism’ the show’s director Matt Wilks tells me.

“The audience are going to sit there, they are going to eat a meal and they are going to watch the actor and actress eating as well,” he said.

Serenade is the Nottingham-based company’s first production: it is a piece of site-responsive theatre which takes place at Antalya Turkish restaurant on 3rd and 4th April.

2Magpies Theatre is the brainchild of Matt and Tom Barnes, who are the company’s artistic directors. They have previously enjoyed success with New Theatre’s production Porphyria, which was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year.

Serenade stars Ginny Lee and James Pardon as the young couple. There is no script and the actors play themselves (though it should be pointed out that they are not a real couple). The story is based on the actors’ own life stories and they will also react to the real-life situation of being in a restaurant.

Matt says: “The actors play versions of themselves. They know they have got to get from A to B to C and they know the sort of stories they are going to tell to get there but they are encouraged to improvise. When you go to the theatre, you sit down and you know it’s very safe. But there’s an element of danger here and the audience don’t know how much it is improvised.”

Ginny and James did not audition for their roles in the conventional way – in fact, the process sounds like a secret mission devised by Tom and Matt to see whether they would be able to cut it in a play of this kind.

Tom said: “For the first rehearsal we got them to meet at the restaurant. We told James to get there at about ten past seven and Ginny to get there at about half past. We got them to meet at the Corner House and we were sat in the Theatre Royal bar watching them – it was all very manipulative. James turned up and we gave him an envelope – they had no idea what they were going to do. We told him we’d got a table booked for them, here’s some money, go and sit there and wait. People were watching him and he was getting very self-conscious.”

The idea of site-responsive theatre is something that Matt and Tom have already experimented with. In February, they both worked on New Theatre’s production of Paradise, which has also secured a slot at this year’s Fringe.

Tom says: “We did it in a secret location near Queen’s Drive. Under the flyover there are some tunnels. It’s a long, dark tunnel like on the tube – people had no idea where they were going but it went down well. It is the story of a group of strangers on the tube and somebody ends up getting hit by a train. All their stories weave together – their emotions range from being annoyed that their train is delayed to having the responsibility of it happening.”

Sadly, all the tickets for Serenade have now sold out – but Matt and Tom say the launch is only the beginning and they are planning to take the show to other venues and cities in the near future.

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Review: From the mundane to the poetic in Porphyria

Suffocating domesticity turns into something altogether more macabre in Porphyria, a new play written by emerging talent Craig Wilmann and performed by members of Nottingham University’s New Theatre.

Robert Browning’s 1836 poem Porphyria’s Lover forms the basis of this gripping psychological drama which previewed at the university on Wednesday ahead its run at next month’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The play opens with Reginald Blake and his wife, who incidentally has no name, squabbling over a game of Scrabble. It is a petty argument but one that belies deeper problems in their relationship. Despite this, Reginald assures the audience that he would never be unfaithful to his wife – except that is in his dreams when he dances with a beautiful blonde-haired woman.

But Reginald was not expecting this woman to emerge from his fantasies and be sitting at the breakfast table in the form of his son’s au pair.

What follows is a darkly comic and surreal tale of infidelity, madness and murder. The play moves deftly from the mundane to poetic, perhaps seen most poignantly in Reginald’s estrangement from his son Nicholas. We see love at its most selfish and destructive and by using a range of neat dramatic devices – such as the two women speaking over the top of each other – the distinction between past and present breaks down. There is also a sense in which dreams and reality become indistinguishable, trapping our protagonist in his own perpetual torment.

The three cast members, Nick Jeffrey (Reginald), Liz Stevens (Wife) and Genevieve Cunnell (Dream Woman) played their parts brilliantly. Jeffrey was wholly believable in his role of the beleaguered everyman. He comes across as wide-eyed and innocent, almost child-like, but at the same time, he is also obsessive, selfish and menacing. Meanwhile, the fact that the two women are not given names does not detract from the complexity of their characters and the rich emotions they convey.

New Theatre will be representing the university and the city of Nottingham at this year’s Fringe – it thoroughly deserves to be a success. You can see Porphyria at Zoo Southside, 117 Nicolson Street, Edinburgh between 6th and 20th August. For details click here.

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High drama in Nottingham for the New Year

After a week (or possibly a month) of festive fuddles, impromptu mid-week drinks and trashy TV, I am looking forward to dragging myself off the sofa and immersing myself in some world-class drama in Nottingham – so here are a just a few of my top picks.

At the Playhouse, the season kicks off with some improvised live theatre when Court in the Act! opens on 1st February for a three-night run. Six actors will create a comic courtroom drama in which you – the audience – take the role of jury.

There is also plenty in store for Shakespeare fans including an exploration of some of his darker characters in Shakespeare’s Villains on 7th February. Here Steven Berkoff draws on Shakespeare’s own words to look at why characters such as Macbeth and Richard III do what they do. In addition, there will be the chance to see a new and passionate interpretation of the tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet from 13th until 24th March.

The life of another great literary talent is examined in Mary Shelley (17th April – 5th May). The daughter of early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the lover of Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she was just 19-years-old – a piece which explored revolutionary ideas about playing ‘God’ and nature versus nurture.

Meanwhile, at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal, there is another chance to see J.B. Priestley’s classic An Inspector Calls (24th – 28th January). Fresh from its fourth season in the West End, this atmospheric thriller – with its impressive stage set – looks at the responsibility of the middle classes to  members of society who are not as privileged as them. This Modernist masterpiece also throws into doubt the values of the old world order.

The world premiere of David Seidler’s The King Speech – the play which inspired last year’s Oscar-winning film – will take place on 13th February and runs until 18th. It is the story of King George VI’s struggle to overcome a stammer as Britain stood on the brink of the Second World War.

Addiction and family strife are at the centre of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Long Day’s Journey into the Night (5th – 10th March), which stars David Suchet. This is followed by an RSC production of the Taming of the Shrew (13th – 17th March) which sees the flamboyant Petruchio attempt to woo – and tame – the wild Katharina.

And last but not least, Blind Summit will be presenting its unique puppet show The Table at Nottingham University’s Lakeside (31st January – 1st February). The show, which was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last summer, includes a puppet who is stuck to the table, a ballet of disembodied heads and the story being told using pieces of paper emerging from a briefcase.

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