Tag: Nottingham

Edinburgh Fringe Preview Part I: Dystopian nightmare in The 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


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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Review: Charlie Phillips captures a forgotten Notting Hill

Jamaican-born photographer Charlie Phillips, whose Urban Eye exhibition is currently showing at the New Art Exchange in Hyson Green, worked as a paparazzo for many years and lived by the code ‘shoot now, ask questions later’. His naturalistic portraits depict people going about their daily lives, occasionally stopping to peer into the onlooker’s camera.

Phillips captures life in post-war Notting Hill when immigrants from around the Commonwealth arrived in Britain hoping to make a new life for themselves. The Notting Hill they inhabited is a world away from the gentrified version we know today. Here, buildings stood in ruins and the bleak, urban landscape was one that was all too familiar in a city that was still feeling the effects of Hitler’s Blitzkrieg.

The newly-arrived immigrants injected a sense of vitality into war-battered, monochrome Britain. In Crowd Scene, Notting Hill Carnival, Phillips captures the moment when people of all backgrounds get together for a joyous celebration while in Kebab Shop Dandy, a gentleman dons his finest clothes and poses outside a rough-and-ready looking takeaway. There were the places where different communities would all congregate, notably the ‘Piss House Pub’ which Phillips says was ‘a meeting place for different working class people, both black and white, Caribbean and Irish’.

It is impossible to separate Phillips’ highly personal portraits from the socio-political movements taking place in London at this time. In Notting Hill Couple (pictured above), a young black man and a young white woman stare directly into the camera and their defiance is startling, reminding us that not so long ago a relationship like this would have been out of the ordinary. In this community, racism – both casual and institutional – simmered away and when coupled with the grinding poverty faced by many people, it proved to be the catalyst which led to the eruption of the notorious riots of 1958.

Charlie Phillips: The Urban Eye runs until 7th July.

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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: New Theatre’s Posh is a riotously funny production


With reports that some of our senior politicians were members of the Bullingden Club  – the notorious student club which had a reputation for drunken room trashing – it’s not surprising that Laura Wade’s 2010 play Posh has struck a chord with many.

The play, which is being performed by members of Nottingham University’s New Theatre this week, is a searing satire about those who belong to such clubs – in this case the Riot Club – and the consequences of power without responsibility.

Inside the private dining room of a gastro pub, members of the Riot Club have gathered for their annual dinner. They are all wealthy students from Oxford University who are looking forward to a night of drinking and debauchery.

Despite their obnoxiousness the antics of the young men are very funny indeed. They are highly intelligent people and the dialogue is sharp and witty. They poke fun at each other and the quick-fire jokes are endless.

But lurking beneath the surface is something much darker. As the conversation becomes political, Alistair exclaims that he is ‘fed up of poor people’. The boys even feel that they are hard done by because the middle classes supposedly hold all the power and they bemoan the fact that they have to open up their mansions for visitors to look round. Meanwhile, their solution, if they get into trouble, is to throw money at the problem and hope that it goes away. As the night wears on a sort of tribal misogynism is revealed in their dealings with the prostitute and Rachel, who is the daughter of the pub landlord.

Eventually the inevitable happens and the members of the Riot Club trash the dining room – and I mean really trash it. Glasses fly, champagne fizzes, books are ripped and tables are overturned in this spectacular piece of theatre.

A tragic twist causes them to crash back down to reality but despite the ghastly incident there is a feeling that because of their status and who they know, they won’t have to suffer the consequences of their actions.

Overall, this is a fine production by some exceptionally talented students. The actors captured the bullish arrogance of the characters perfectly and managed to provide much hilarity, while also giving us something to think about.

Posh is on until Saturday. For tickets visit the New Theatre website.

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Celebrating the elaborate costume of China’s Miao community

miaoNottingham’s Chinese New Year celebrations got underway earlier this month with a dazzling display of textiles at Lakeside Arts Centre.

The exhibition, which is curated by Xuesen Zeng, is an homage to the embroidery of the Miao community, who live in south-western China.

The Miao people, who are cut off by the mountains, have no written language so they use highly elaborate garments as a way of identifying their heritage and beliefs. As you might expect, the ceremonial costumes are particularly impressive, for example the wedding and festival dresses are made up of many layers and ornate silver jewellery.

Like many artisan techniques, China’s rapid industrialisation could signal a decline in Miao craftsmanship. Increasingly, people are now working long hours and do not have the time to hand stitch these beautiful clothes. Moreover, if members of the younger generation do not learn these embroidery skills, they could be lost forever.

The exhibition, which is in the Wallner Gallery, runs until 10th February. Entry is free. For more details on the Chinese New Year celebrations in Nottingham visit the Lakeside Arts Centre website.

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Abigail’s Party: More than just kitsch comedy

Mike Leigh’s 1977 play Abigail’s Party is one that is so ingrained in modern culture that it could potentially be reduced to clichés – cheese and pineapple sticks, garish décor and Donna Summer.

But although these may have raised a few wry smiles from members of the audience at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal, there is something about this suffocating suburban world that still resonates today.

Of course, we do not actually see Abigail. She is the teenage daughter of middle-aged divorcee Susan who is a guest at Beverley’s party across the road. So while we might wish we were at Abigail’s party, we instead find ourselves in the company of Beverley, her estate agent husband Laurence, their neighbours Tony and Angela and Susan.

The main characters are all ghastly in their own ways. Beverley flirts disgracefully with Tony and criticises Laurence even as he lays dying at the end. Laurence thinks of himself as an expert on art and says he likes olives but admits he has not read the Dickens on his shelves. Meanwhile, the quiet, sullen Tony is about as cultured as a broom; not only that but we also see that he is racist and emotionally abusive he is towards his wife.

What makes this production so successful are the subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – facial expressions, the sidelong glances and the excruciating awkwardness of the situation. Tony looks bored with the conversations about how wonderful Beverley’s kitchen is, while Susan clearly feels uneasy throughout the whole dismal event. There are moments of pure hilarity, such as when the two couples dance with each other’s partners: while Beverley and Tony dance in a passionate embrace, a very awkward Laurence and Angela do a strange, non-contact jive before Laurence formally shakes her hand.

During the course of the play we see the nuances of British middle class played out in the harshest of environments. The characters compete with each other and are often downright rude, while the fraught marriages of Tony and Angela and Beverley and Laurence unravel before our eyes as the alcohol strips away the social niceties.

This production, which is directed by Lindsay Posner, is made all the more convincing by the wonderfully retro set design which includes clashing brown patterned wallpaper, huge house plants and cut glass ashtrays.

Abigail’s Party is on until Saturday. For tickets see the Theatre Royal website.

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Evening of entertainment by students from Nottingham University

Students from Nottingham University’s many arts societies gathered on Friday evening for a one-off event of dance, art, music, comedy and entertainment.

Along with an exhibition featuring arts and crafts by student artists and members of the community, there were performances from a diverse cross-section of the university’s arts community. Some of the highlights for me was a glorious introduction to improvisational comedy from members of Improv (these guys could give some of the comedians on Radio 4 a run for their money), along with the live music from the very charismatic Cheshire Cat.

The idea behind the event was to link up members of different arts organisations so that they could pool their skills on future productions. It also aimed to raise the profile of the university’s theatre company New Theatre as well as being a fundraiser for its upcoming production of George Orwell’s 1984, which opens on Wednesday.

Organiser and third year student Martha Wilson, from New Theatre, said: “We felt that the theatre can be a bit exclusive so we wanted to introduce people from different arts societies and get them talking to each other. It’s a good meeting point and I’m happy that we have so many people here tonight.”

1984 is directed by Bridie Rollins and it is produced by Martha Wilson. For tickets see the website.

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Rebel without a Cause: Exploring Arthur Seaton’s Nottingham at Lakeside Arts Centre

There’s something about Arthur Seaton, the rebellious anti-hero of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, that has endured through the decades. Sat at his lathe in Radford’s Raleigh bike factory, he counted down the hours until it was the weekend, working hard only to ensure he had plenty of cash to spend on booze and smart Teddy Boy clothes.

Nottingham, like many other industrial cities in the 1950s, was on the brink of a seismic social change. Following the austerity of the war years, there was a surge in demand for consumer goods (like bikes) and teenagers leaving school with no qualifications could look forward secure employment with Raleigh or the nearby Player’s cigarette factory – something that would be almost impossible for a young person today.

It was also the decade when the first signs of a youth culture were beginning to emerge. Arthur did not want to settle down to start a family at his age and he describes his own parents as ‘dead from the neck up’. He wants to dance, drink and have affairs with married women rather than take on responsibility.

Arthur’s world is explored in a new photographic exhibition which opened at Nottingham University’s Lakeside Arts Centre at the weekend. This thoughtfully curated exhibition combines commercial photography with journalism and social commentary as well as stills from Karel Reisz’s film adaptation of Sillitoe’s novel, much of which was shot in Nottingham.

We are given a glimpse into what life was like in the Raleigh factory, along with recorded personal testimonies from the people who worked there. The long, tedious hours spent at the machine were punctuated by raucous nights in the pub, day trips to Skegness organised by the company and the excitement of the annual Goose Fair.

During the 1950s, Nottingham’s hard-drinking culture attracted national attention – just like it does today. Two journalists from the Daily Herald were asked by their editor to visit Nottingham and find out about the nightlife that inspired Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and some of their photographs form part of this exhibition.

Neither the book nor the film makes any attempt to sentimentalise working class life in urban Nottingham. The warren-like slums of St Ann’s, Radford and Lenton were over-crowded and rife with gossip. Towards the end of this exhibition there are images depicting these houses being cleared to make way for new developments outside the city, notably the Clifton estate and were seen by many, including the residents, as heralding a new era of clean housing with indoor bathrooms and large, open spaces.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which is free, runs until 10th February. For details, including opening times, see the website.

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Review: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

The riots that swept through London, Nottingham and other cities in the summer of 2011 left many questioning what had happened to the next generation.

Some said that the rioters were criminals who had taken the opportunity to grab material possessions while others pointed to communities full of young people from chaotic homes without any hope for the future. It is against this modern backdrop that a new stage version of Alan Sillitoe’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is set.

In this production, brought to Nottingham Playhouse by Pilot Theatre in association with York Theatre Royal, we hear Prime Minister David Cameron say that the acts committed by the rioters is ‘criminality pure and simple’ – and the play’s antihero, the defiant Colin Smith would no doubt agree with him.

Although Colin did not take part in the riots himself, he is later sent to a young offenders’ institute for stealing a cash box from Greggs in a playful nod to the Silliitoe’s novella which was published in 1959. Inside the institute Colin’s talent for running means he is soon noticed by a well-meaning official from the Home Office, who encourages him to take part in the upcoming cross-country race against boys from a public school. He is even allowed to leave the institution to go on long, unsupervised runs in the surrounding countryside. The race an opportunity for Colin to make a success of his life, find favour with the prison governor or even, as the Home Office official suggests, stick two fingers up to those public school boys.

But Colin is not interested in other people’s agendas. He doesn’t even run because he wants to win a race: he runs because this is the only time he is free from the heavy burdens he carries on his shoulders. The questions about Colin’s future are never resolved and there are no obvious solutions. It is only when he is running that he is able to live in the present and enjoy some kind of clarity.

In the play, the internal monologue of Sillitoe’s text was brought to life with an imaginative set design. Each scene was projected onto a 3D backdrop which enabled scenes to be transformed in quick succession, mirroring the protagonist’s fleeting thoughts. We also see Elliot Barnes-Worrell, who excels in the role of Colin, running on a treadmill,which gives the narrative a driving energy. His running and his thought patterns are intersected by scenes from his troubled background – but there is also an unadulterated joy in the physical sensation of running: the ‘Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, crunch-slap, crunch-slap’.

My only slight disappointment was that the play did not appear to be set in Sillitoe’s native Nottingham but instead in an unnamed London borough. While many young people in Nottingham emulate the slang of their London counterparts, it would have been great to hear some local dialect – and possibly a reference to the Broadmarsh Centre rather than the Westfield.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is on at the Playhouse until Saturday. For tickets visit the website.

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