Sunday, 29 March 2015

The Honey Man – Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds (On Behalf of The Public Reviews)

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews and the review can be accessed here.

The Honey Man looks at two characters who could not be any different; total opposites who never thought they would end up sharing a number of things in common.  This two person play follows Honey Man, an elderly West Indian recluse who lives alone in a derelict cottage and keeps bees for producing honey.  He relies on his self-belief philosophy to impart wisdom and knowledge for aiding his health and wellbeing.   However he falls ill and there is something not right with his bees; which prompts him to look for help outside.

Misty (Beatrice Allen) unexpectedly turns up at Honey Man’s cottage only to reveal that she has and knows it all; privileged background and is always connected, digitally, to her family and friends.  This is evident with the interruptions when her mobile phone constantly rings during their conversations.   However all is not good with her; her parents are divorced and her family are victims of the credit crunch which results in her ancestral home becoming a hotel.  She also has to conduct house tours to tourists, something she would rather not be doing.

There is certainly a contrast of personalities which do clash following initial perceptions of one another.  Misty appears confident, arrogant and rebellious at the beginning but gradually opens up to Honey Man, whose richness of metaphoric language imparts his warmly wit wisdom on the young woman – by then her vulnerability and insecurities come to the forefront.  He realistically illustrates the use of the bees and their activities parallel to humans’ habitats and their responsibilities.  He quotes logically about giving and taking, “No bees, no honey” linking to “no work, no money”.  Tyrone Huggins, the writer and who plays Honey Man, analyses the characters; he views Misty as digital – modern, connected personally and technologically, educated; whereas he sees Honey Man as analogue– traditional, simplistic and wise from his older years.

There is a creative use of visuals projecting Concord Manor, where Misty hails from, and Honey Man’s cottage.  Each habitat is never out place with Timothy Bird’s staging and the multipurpose wardrobe, centrally staged, is used for both homes and as a visual projector.  Joseph Robert’s soundscapes of the bees capsulate the spirit and livelihood of Honey Man that warmly draws in the audience throughout.

A diverse range of themes are explored in The Honey Man especially the importance of intergeneration; traditional versus modern; the difference between being alone and being lonely; and digital friendships verses face to face true ones.  Probably the important play’s theme is the connected heritage from a picture in Misty’s house that is digitally projected in the second act.  This is where Misty begins appreciating, which she initially dismissed, of her ancestral heritage which is tainted with the dark history of slavery.  The picture links the historic connection which both she and the Honey Man unexpectedly have in common which is enhanced by their reprisals of the two key characters from the picture. The honey they sample symbolises the emotional journey they experience together from their unlikely friendship and life learning.  It is from then on when the picture corner frames vertically assembled on stage have this sudden meaning to the play and its themes.

With this being the final performance on the tour, Higgins afterwards cordially thanks the producers and creative team and also the audience for coming to this production.  The Honey Man is a thought provoking warm play which explores primarily intergeneration and shared history and certainly a recommended production!

Little Terrors by Madeline Shann, Square Chapel for the Arts, Halifax

Madeline Shann's Little Terrors (Photo Credit: Stefania Zanetti)

Madeline Shann brings her debut one woman show to Halifax's Square Chapel for the Arts.  When the audience takes to their seats, Shann is seated nervously on stage and she is surrounded by props; which is presumed at the time link to Little Terrors's theme, fear!

In a dance theatre lecture format, she begins addressing her inner fears from a performer's perspective asking herself "What if..." and so on.  She next moves on to look at our ever changing world from someone's eyes whose fear is their dominion.  Working methodically with the laid out props Shann personally recounts here fears with small ones to big and the extreme whether it's trivial items to things that are beyond her control such as climate change.

The music and sound design is choreographed well to the performance projecting Shann's fears through dialogue, physical movement and dancing. Good use of the props particularly the masquerade movement connecting with the fear of clowns and a comedic drama enactment about the fear of flying and travelling.  She encourages audience participation by asking someone to wipe off her make up to everyone visualising a scenario with her and experiencing how the mind and body reacts to fear, flight or fight!

Her yoga like mindfulness and sharply focussed facial and body expressions demonstrate how fear can have an effect one's mind whether physically, mentally or emotionally. 

Although she presents her fears, phobias and idiosyncrasies; she searches the 'hero' inside herself with reference from M People's "Search for the Hero".  She looks at experts' advice and theories to personal coping mechanisms.  She encourages everyone to be 'superheroes' where one can 'explore our fears' and question 'our unpredictable world' we live.

Shann presents herself as a personal biography.  A personal, unscripted performance where she shares her fears from the heart.  The performance flows without any hesitation and Little Terrors is a recommended show where one learns and appreciates how broad fear really is!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Theatre Mill's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Image Credit: Theatre Mill

"This won't change the face of science; it will change the world" - Theatre Mill's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Arriving at York's Merchant Adventurers' Hall one is greeted by front of house staff adorned in Victorian costumes warning everyone about the recent murders committed.  After a brief visit to the tavern, one is welcomed in the hall's under croft with an accompaniment of dim, atmospheric and sinister ambiance.  The 'theatre in the square' is perfectly set for a dark tale to be told in which case is The Strange Case Dr Jekyll and Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson with Nick Lane's adaptation.

The stage is perfectly and appropriatly laid out with Dr Jekyll's laboratory which assumes where the scientist's experimentation with nature and science is carried out.  The play introduces the characters Gabriel John Utterson, played by Adam Elms, Dr Hastings Lanyon, played by David Chafer, and Eleanor Lanyon, played by Viktoria Kay who masquerade themselves.  They share their stories and give their testimonies about their relationships and experiences with Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde throughout various stages of the performance.  Lane is keen to have a central female character, such as Eleanor, in the production which is a fitting tribute to Stevenson's wife, Frances, who was proud literary critic of his works.

The story is written at time where a breakthrough of medicine was established for treating Rabies, diphtheria and cholera and no doubt Dr Jekyll wanted to reenact this with his medicine research in the case of treating patients with mental health illness.  As he shares in this performance he was no doubt appalled to how these patients were institutionalised and treated with little or no dignity and was keen to help them.  It was also at a time of civil unrest where the the order of traditions were challenged by changes in society's attitudes with demand for more human/individual rights.

Dr Jekyll, played, by Simon Weaver, with his research being rejected, takes matters in his own hands and explores the full onset of man's nature with science which leads to terrifying consequences.  Andy Pilliner's lighting and Samuel Wood's soundscapes gives such a successful transformation of the frightening shift of nature between Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.  There may be a slow build up to the crucial part of the story however this encourages the slow sinister intriguing build up which subsequently leads to a testing, dramatic and emotive ending.

The use of the mask for identifying the difference between good and evil is done effectively.  The use of Bec Andrew's staging is used to the maximum and the simple props ensure the audience is able to pay full attention to the cast themselves , played by an excellent cast, adaptation and production.  Theatre Mill takes pride in using unique space and venues for their productions.  This is no exception to the this production.  Soon audiences will be summoned either in Leeds or York  for Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Ultima Vez's What the Body Does Not Remember, CAST - 10th March 2015

 Ultima Vez's What the Body Does Not Remember
Photo credit: Danny Willems

Wim Vandekeybus brought his award winning company, Ultima Vez, to Doncaster's CAST.  This production focuses on themes primarily instinct, risk, impulse, unpredictability and survival.  This production links to his quote as the reason for What the Body Does Not Remember;

"What the body had to do without having a choice. Where the survival instinct has to return, using our instincts and its reflexes, what the body has to do find its way out!" - Wim Vandekeybus

The production is divided in six sections which each begin with an empty space and dim lighting.

Hands, composed by Thierry de Mey, is exploring how various of sounds can control movement.  A woman sits at the table and taps, scratches, brushes, slaps and thumps the table which the two dancers react to with floor sequences.  The body shifts sequences are sharp, energetic and fragmented to each sound.  There is an atmosphere of suspense and the dancers experience the stillness.  The low lighting and white strips give the strobe effect when the dancers are performing.

Stones is Peter Vermeersch's piece which is based on Jean Baudrillard's Fatal Strategies.  It looks at excess and how meaningful things really are when they get too much meaning.  The music is minimal at the beginning with strings and clarinets then the tempo intensifies with brass instruments which certainly drives the physical movements and activities to the limit.  The dancers are engrossed in their own thoughts and activities.  This 'internal focus' is stirred by curiosity where they participate in balancing, building, toppling and stepping on to the blocks.  During the last bit of the section the dancers have a connection and awareness of each others presence through the fast paced activity of the blocks being thrown to and caught by one another.

Towels is based on Robert Bresson's film Pickpocket.  Composed by Peter Vermeersch this place creates accidents with an aim to steal.  Jackets and towels are the 'focus of desire' for developing and exploring movement.  This is illustrated with an exchange of jackets between the dancers with stopping and starting thus sharpening the dynamics.  Human contact and friendliness appears with physical and emotional connections but one is fooled when they are distracted unbeknown that either their jacket or towel is stolen.  Such tense slick choreography.

Thierry De Mey's Frisking is people making physical contact which appears invasive in form of an Argentine tango.  Variations of physicality between a man and woman are observed and measured from the soundscapes and music.  It is shown in the couples; the man wants the woman but she isn't interested and vice versa.  Throughout the provocative production it explores a wide range of human emotions varying from passion, tenderness to aggression.

Stories are linked to PosesThierry de Mey's piece encourages one to approach stories from a different angle.  The use of chairs are illustrated showing their displacement in offering dancers to deconstruct and recreate stories as shown in the movement sequences.  Variety of emotions are shown physically ranging from sheer aggression to blowing of three feathers representing lightness and calmness.

The Finale is linked to the pieces already performed where the audiences are reminded again of the themes and its physical elements.  An exploration of hands and feet creates a catastrophe of a kind, a loud and intense crescendo and links appropriately with;

"Art creativity doesn't seek permission at a specific time, it just happens , unexpectedly." - Wim VandeKeybus

Instinct, impulse, reaction and such happen and not planned.  One simply appreciates expecting the unexpected.  A fantastic production performed by a talented international cast of dancer and its creative team.  This production offers a lot of potential for inspiration, innovation and creativity on and off stage from a humanity perspective.  The physical movement certainly draws the audience in and there is a lot to explore beyond the stage!

Source: Ultima Vez What the Body Does Not Remember Resource Pack

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Jean-Christophe Maillot's Les Ballets de Monte Carlo Romeo and Juliet

Martha Leebolt and Giuliano Contadini in Romeo and Juliet
Photo Credit: Andy Ross

 I took my niece to see Jean-Christophe Maillot's Romeo and Juliet, performed by Northern Ballet.  She sums up the production as 'Absolutely awesome!'

Northern Ballet is current performing Jean-Christophe Maillot's Les Ballets de Monte Carlo's Romeo and Juliet, which Edinburgh hosted and Leeds is currently hosting.  If one's expectation is to see a traditional ballet with Renaissance sets, costumes and ambiance, one will be in for a surprise! The staging is stripped bare, prop-free, and certainly untraditional!  It positively offers the audience the opportunity to solely focus on the exciting, edgy and innovative dancing in this production.

Martha Leebolt and Giuliano Contedini are incredible to watch as Juliet and Romeo.  One could feel emotively the love and passion between the characters they dynamically and beautifully portray.  The chemistry is seen; the intensity is felt and tears of joy and heartbreak is experienced.  Rest of the cast does a stellar job on stage physically retelling Shakespeare tragedy.  This adaptation allows for Friar Lawrence, played by Isaac Lee-Baker, and his Acolytes to 'introduce' crucial scenes, through general observation and physical movement.

The white scenography and dark costumes, designed by Ernest Pignon-Ernest and Jerome Kaplan respectively, a darker and tenser feel to the story.  The contrast could not be any greater and could symbolise the ongoing feud between the Montagues and the Capulets.  Perhaps more emphasis on use of the murder weapons and suggest using actual props for indicating the murders as they come across a little unclear.  Nevertheless the red scarf used as blood upon Juliet's death was poignantly significant and executed well.  It could symbolise the Montagues and the Capulets being blood guilty for both the young lovers' deaths.

A legendary ballet recreated with a untraditional and contemporary twist for audiences who enjoy being told Shakespeare's classic tragedy.

Uncle Vanya

David Ganly as Uncle Vanya
Photo Credit: Anthony Robling

Samuel Adamson's Uncle Vanya, directed by Mark Rosenblatt, is currently playing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.  The in-house production retells Chekhov's play starring David Ganly as Vanya.  Uncle Vanya is a rework from the playwright's previous writing, The Wood Demon.

Set in rural Russia the play is about a dysfunctional family whose members are trying their utmost to make their lives meaningful as possible despite the issues they have to face.  The audience is invited to observe the nine characters' lives particularly Vanya.  Lead by him all of them share their life experiences including their triumphs and struggles; hopes and frustrations; successes and disappointments; and the longing to be yearned and loved. Family and friends' loyalties are no doubt tested and divided given the circumstances for one to be true to oneself along with receipt of expectations.

It is evident in the play Chekhov wasn't afraid to address the human experiences in an ever changing world.  The diverse emotions, experienced among the characters, show how they deal with the ongoing changes, good and bad, in circumstances whether personal or societally collective.  There is no authorial presence though Chekhov could be related closest to Dr Astrov, played by Ryan Kiggell, because of their passion for the environment, a theme raised.  Chekhov is simply an observer of human life and its complexities; he allows his characters to be preoccupied in fulfilling their life ambitions and yet at the same time they are oblivious to what is happening around them.  This is evident with the characters' unexpected emotional outbursts when Professor Serebryakov proposes to sell the estate in Act III and more emotions are let loose at the end of the play.

Dick Bird's set is made up of disused telegraph poles and represents physically and figuratively the isolation and distance the characters face from everyday civilisation.  The set links with Astrov's outlook on the ever changing environment which just as paramount today.  This excellent production brings the best out of Chekhov, the characters, and the key themes which one can relate to today.  The themes certainly are relevant in the 21st Century as they were over 120 years ago as far as a 'self-discovery' of one's emotions are concerned.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Still An Enemy Within (Documentary film), CAST, Doncaster - Thursday 5th March 2015

I learnt a lot more about the 1984-85 struggles in this moving documentary film than what I'd seen and heard during the actual strike!


 Image Credit: Still The Enemy Within

Still An Enemy Within, by Owen Gower, Sinead Kirwan and Mark Lacey, is currently being presented at many venues nationwide.  This award winning documentary film is about personal struggles during the 1985-85 miners strike.  Personal accounts are shared from some who lived and were actively involved during that time.

In 1984 the Conservative Government then threatened to close a number of coal mines and targeted the trade unions especially the National Union of Mine Workers, the strongest one at the time.  The Government believed the proposals would benefit economically however it was strongly argued by many that it would have a negative impact on the industry and significantly the tight knit communities and the livelihoods.

Around 160,000 coal miners took action and fought collectively against what the Government had thrown at them.  They bravely endured direct and indirect persecution, hardships and alienation from those in power especially when many found themselves confronted by the Police.  Only for the majority of the media to have pictured the miners as villains and the Police as heroes from the rhetoric reporting!

Honest moving accounts from Norman Strike, Paul Symonds, Joyce Shepherd and others.  Their experiences no doubt were life changing and many of them are still politically active today.  They continue fighting for the common good the social and political issues that challenge every day people.  Like in a similar vein to the miners who fought over 30 years ago.

One may assume in 1985 the miners may appear to have lost the political battle when the strike ended.  But no, the solidarity and the admirable connection with many communities, particularly the LGBT communities, gained momentous respect.  This admirably fuels the optimism to continue fighting for what is right from then on.  The political and social landscape has changed since but the battle isn't lost and the spirit fights on for a brighter future.

Red Ladder Theatre quotes 'Ordinary people who lead extraordinary lives' (We're Not Going Back, 2014) which is evident from those who shared their first hand experiences of the strike.  It is important for many not to just rely on accounts from the politicians, elite players and specialists. There are at least two sides to the story! It is refreshing to see an event in a different perspective movingly shared by those who were at the forefront.

A documentary not to be missed! Further information about the documentary can be found here.

Dreaming in Code – Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds (On behalf of The Public Reviews)

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews and the review can be accessed here:

Photo Credit: 2Faced Dance Company

2Faced Dance Company is currently presenting their double bill, Dreaming In Code.  The award winning all-male dance company is known for their innovative performances that tell stories which are relevant in today’s society.

First of all, young artists from D M Academy, working in partnership with 2Faced Dance Company, perform Half Remembered Dreams.  The music is primarily based on Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’.  The talented artists interpret the music beautifully through dance and movement, reflective of how fragments of dreams are remembered with a mixture of nightmares and pleasantness.  There is a lovely touch with the use of roses, demonstrating one of the impacts that dreams can have.

Following on is Eddie Kay’s Milk Night.  Set in campsite during the night, men are in a world without the existence of women.   With a narrative beginning and a combination of theatre, visuals and physical movement, men self-examine themselves by sharing their inner emotions; questioning their existence and crucially recalling their experiences about women they once knew and loved.  The fast tempo of the music increases the men’s intensity and insecure predicament where despair and frustration takes over, combining the fears of forgetting what they hold dear from dreams and memories.  The transitions between the interpreted scenes could have smoother in places, but overall Milk Night is an intense and thought provoking piece of art.

Tamin Fitzgerald’s Lucid Grounds is certainly the double bill’s highlight.  Luke Evans’s mirrored set with smoke haze and James Mackenzie’s lighting implies how the men recall their memories through obscured realities and highly charged emotions.  The variety of physical movement with solid choreography to Alex Baranowski and Angus MacRae’s music portray the men’s past eventful memories and how their stories of today are shaped.  At the end of the programme dramatic interpretation of the music gives a real awakening with the men embarking on their personal journeys.

The company presents a combination of theatre and dancing where the athleticism, agility and unison dancing by the cast are admired.  The enjoyable double bill shares how dreaming can have a vivid impact on shaping anyone’s present and future.  As Alfred Lord Tennyson once said:
"Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?"