Macbeth – Modern? – Or timeless

Macbeth – Home, Manchester – Saturday 6th February, 2016

I found this a riveting production. It flowed effortlessly, easily holding me throughout its two hours + (no interval – how fashionable!). And it stayed with me – I found myself going over and over this production in my mind for days afterwards. It was clear rendition of this horrible story, with, for the most part, clear verse speaking and strong characterization. This, particularly, I felt, in the two leads: the ambition that was to doom both of them was obviously there from the start, with John Heffernan’s thane horribly torn by indecision and Anna Maxwell Martin’s Lady Macbeth obviously used to having to force him on, to the extent that it had rendered her nervy to the point of a distraction fiercely held in check – her brittle delivery in the first half giving a clear indication of the breakdown to come.

It was, for want of a better term, a ‘contemporary’ production, with a multi-racial cast, modern costuming and production tropes obviously meant to create a connection between its audience’s world and the horror of warfare and treachery contained in the script: Duncan posed for photo opportunities with Macbeth and Banquo, body bags were dragged on and off stage, the news-bearing sergeant was female etc. Yet it was really set in a sort of horrific limbo: it was true to the Shakespearean script, and bayonet knives, rather than guns were the weapons, the crown a nightmare child’s toy; and the belief in fate and foretelling the future could obviously not be ducked. This timelessness, I feel, made the weird sisters truly weird and at time unsettling – young women, whose contemporary dance steps conveyed possession so well. And the scenography was, for me, was one of the production’s main strengths – it conjured up this hopeless nihilistic place beautifully, with set, light and sound complementing each other to create a totally appropriate nowhere, nowhen.

Macbeth settingPhoto by Richard Hubert Smith

The set (Lizzie Clachan) gave us a concrete underground cavern – a fall-out shelter? a sewer? – with hidden doors in its seamless walls allowing for quick entrances and exits, automated sideways shifts upstage and a central lifting area allowing, for example, the easy creation of a table for the banquet, and just as easily vanishing. And it seemed to go on for ever, as though the stage had endless depth – a very clever use of an old scenic trick, exaggerated perspective.

We have become so used to perspective, so accepting of it, rendering as it does on paper the vision our eyes’ optics present to our brain, that, despite the efforts of post 1900 art, we forget it is really only a convention, according to Gombrich, brought to mathematical perfection only in the fifteenth century. John Willats quotes Cezanne: “Perspective is as accidental a thing as lighting … reality shows us these objects mutilated in this way. But in reality we can change position …” to see them properly, echoed by Bertrand Russell saying “The ‘real’ shape is not what we see: it is something inferred from what we see.”[1] But, seated in an end-stage or proscenium theatre, we can’t really change position, and theatre designers were quick to see the potential of perspective. By 1500, by mimicking a perspective drawing in the relative sizes of their scenery according to the depth of its placing on the stage, they created the illusion of added depth – exaggerated perspective.

Renaissance perspectiveIllustration of early perspective scenery from Leacroft, R., & Leacroft, H. (1984). Theatre and Playhouse: An Illustrated Survey of Theatre Building from Ancient Greece to the Present Day. Methuen Publishing Ltd.

And this is what Clachan has done here – so the post-apocalyptic horror of the concrete design is given a new dimension of almost never-ending depth. Weirdly ‘artificial’ lighting effects were created by LD, Neil Austen, through gaps in the ceiling and through strong, almost ‘outside’ light streaming in through opened doors. But this wasn’t his only contribution to the visual threatening unease created by the setting. When faced with blank sidewalls most LDs would have perceived problems – what about the shadows on the walls? He embraced them, with low front-light up-lighting dance and drama, with the shadows thrown only adding to the unease.

MacB shadows

Add to this the unsettling sound effects of designer David McSeveney and Clark’s music, reinforcing mood wonderfully at precise moments and, all in all, the scenographers did a wonderful job of creating this aptly horrid setting, beautifully providing the appropriate world for the play.

[1] Both quotations can be found in Collins, J., & Nisbet, A. (2010). Theatre and Performance Design: A Reader in Scenography (1st ed.). Routledge. (Russell in Chapter 1 and Willats in Chapter 3)

 

 

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Who needs tech?

Odyssey – Theatre Ad Infinitum – Lowry Studio Wednesday 20th January 2016

Odyssey poster

It’s sometimes very refreshing to be reminded what theatre is all about – and that it’s not about us designers! As a young designer I was told by Dick Knaub, a visiting professor of Drama, that, while he totally appreciated what we designers could add, in the end, we weren’t necessary: all someone needed to create theatre was “three planks and a passion”. Sometimes a wonderful piece of theatre proves him to have been so right – this was one of those times.

Last time I saw Ad Infinitum it was their show Light, where, as you might expect, the lighting was stupendous – but not in the normal way. All lighting was created by hand-held portable battery-powered sources manipulated by the performers. It was fantastic, and let me know that the company were scenographically daring – don’t expect the ordinary.

Theatre-Ad-Infinitum-Light-c-Alex-Brenner-please-credit-_D3C0756

Here Theatre Ad infinitum – Director Nir Paldi and performer, George Mann – have created a vivid and gripping show with the solo performer holding the stage for an hour, telling us the tale of the Odyssey – a huge ancient Greek epic poem – and making it wonderfully entertaining.

Mann is Lecoq-trained, and this basis shows through here; but rid yourself of any notions of white-faced mimes. To say he tells the story is a total understatement – he really becomes it for us: Gods, heroes, enchantresses, princesses, one-eyed ogres, kings, faithful retainers, vivid baddies and a loving wife come to life through his solo performance. He is master of scores of voices, but what really animates and differentiates each character is the way he is able to transform his body to be another person – and make it quite clear to us who he is at that moment.

Mann on stage

But it’s not just characters – his body tells the story as much as his voice, showing us the path of an eagle, a ship ploughing through the ‘wine-dark sea’, the flight of Gods and, vividly, bodies magically transforming into someone – or something – else. Here we get a sort of modern reference, in that transformation are indicated by a wibble – wobble of his body, just as you might see in a rather hackneyed film; witty!

So – no effects at all? Well yes. But the main effects – the sounds – owe nothing to computer-edited sound tracks – they come from Mann himself, whether it be the creak of timbers or the screams of animals – and all so casually done. At the Lowry, also, they did use lighting washes occasionally to help alter mood, but to my mind these were unnecessary – the piece could stand without them.

Paldi and Mann have created a wonderfully entertaining and gripping piece of theatre story-telling at its best which more than deserves it’s many prizes – and, unusually, I felt no desire to step in and add lighting, sound or set. So refreshing!

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Scenography? – But it’s Forced Entertainment!

The Possible Impossible House – Forced Entertainment – Z Arts, Manchester – 31st October 2015

 

Forced Entertainments’ first ever show for children – and it’s a delight!

Poss-imposs 2

I was going to write about Forced Entertainment anyway, prompted by seeing The Notebook at Contact earlier in the month – a riveting piece of theatre created by two men on a bare stage ‘reading’ for two hours. It was probably going to be headed something like ‘The Scenography of Nothing’.Notebook 1 If you know the Company’s work you’ll appreciate where I’m coming from; they have spent over 20 years examining the idea of what makes a piece of theatre, and the use they (usually) make of scenography is part of that continuing research. So, as well as The Notebook, a part of Spectacular (ironic title) was the protagonist explaining that the scenery (non-existent) is not quite what they intended; Tomorrow’s Parties had the two performers standing on a small rostrum amidst a stage bare except for a string of coloured festoon lights; the Coming Storm started with a pile of props and furniture heaped side stage, which were dragged on when necessary (or when not necessary!); and when scenography – in this case sound effects – was made a central part of Void Story – it was totally open about its origin – sound effects were created by ‘performers’ sitting at desks in front of the screen showing the story they were illustrating.

Tomorrow's Parties

Void Story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But The Possible Impossible House has made me change my mind – it was a first for the company, as I said, their first show made for children, and it was certainly a first for me in that I have never before come out of a Forced Entertainment piece feeling really bouncy and happy, convinced that theatre can make the world a more joyous place – intellectually stimulated, yes – bouncy, not really! And its use of scenography, while certainly not hugely original, was charming and totally inherent in the way they told their story.

 

Because this was an expert piece of storytelling. Claire Marshall and Cathy Naden (on this occasion) shared the task, one the main story teller and the other sitting at a desk with keyboards, providing the sound effects in full view of the audience. But, as you might expect with this Company, it went deeper than that. The performers had created two wonderfully realised characters which they inhabited throughout. Seeing the storyteller’s dress, I tried to think where I’d seen that style of posh before – then it came to me – a primary school headmistress on a parents evening, while the other performer was her supportive (but slightly subversive) deputy providing ‘helpful’ sound effects! And this was the relationship which enlivened the storytelling throughout – interruptions, suggestions, comic business, a real interplay of character; the audience of children was never really allowed to forget that they were being told a story.

 

But what about the scenography? Well, we entered to an open stage, plush drapes at the back, a central table (empty)Poss-imposs 1 with a pile of large cardboard boxes on stage right
and a desk with keyboards and odds and ends on stage left – what I identified as a ‘typical Forced Entertainment’ set.

So scenography? Well the piece used what has become one of the most basic tools of modern staging, mapped projections – and the screen? No need for anything as formal – the storyteller just reached down and came up with a random-shaped, large piece of rigid cardboard, which took the projections – they started with red curtains (echoing the drapes upstage) refusing to open correctly at first, but then revealing deliberately ‘crude’ animations, of a little girl, our heroine, who met other, equally basically-drawn characters as her story journey, adventure progressed. The projections also showed her settings – corridors, rooms, a junk room (wonderfully explored with a ‘torch beam’ generated by the projections), and a large black hole. But the ‘screen’ wasn’t static, and the projections weren’t ever-present. Random bits of board were picked up and moved around the stage as necessary to help illustrate the story – and if something was very tall, the board, of course, had to be held high – all off the cuff, and delightful.

 

And the audience of really appreciative children just accepted it, perhaps as you’d expect of a screen-savvy generation, as easily as if they were being read to from a storybook with charming illustrations. Speaking of a totally different, adult show, I’d once asked the Director of a ‘traditional’ regional rep[1] if he felt his audience was challenged by non-representational scenography. His reply was simply “They have to suspend their disbelief, because they know they’re all in the same room together and they’re watching people pretend to do things … I think the audience accepted it as ‘this is the way we’re telling the story.’” Well this piece of storytelling was certainly easily accepted.

 

As the show progressed I was beginning to wonder if the boxes on stage right were just set dressing – but no. Suddenly the storyteller began piling them on the central table to meet the needs of a projected column of soldiers, steadily advancing across the table, till a wall of boxes had been constructed. And then the finale, which, like in all good fairy stories, took place in a ballroom – the box wall suddenly received a projection of a ‘real’ baroque ballroom – and the contrast with the scratchiness of the character animations, the ‘beauty’ of the room, drew a gasp of delight from the young audience – at which I think I caught the glimpse of a satisfied smile on the lips of one of the performers!

HG4_6672

 

A thoroughly delightful hour of ‘rough theatre’ storytelling – as I said, I practically bounced out of the theatre into a world that seemed a little brighter.

[1] Kevin Shaw from the Oldham Coliseum

Possible Impossible House image – Image (Vlatka Horvat). All other images either from Forced Entertainment’s website (www.forcedentertainment.com) or my own photos.

 

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Small-scale touring doesn’t mean you have to leave incisive design behind!

The Shape of Things to Come – Proper Job – Blue Rooms – Huddersfield – 3rd June, 20

TitleSo the show’s going on the road – and to non-standard dates which are very far from the standards of what we used to call an A-class touring venue – so we have to keep it simple? Well … up to a point – but Proper Job’s latest offering (despite the set having been designed to “go in a trailer”) proves you don’t have to leave theatrical ambition behind – scenography, especially modern technology – can help.

Let’s be clear about the main strength of this production. This was a mesmerizing, dense and intense tour de force by one actor, holding us tight in his story for 70 minutes. We meet a jolly Scots electrician – and later realize that the show, at first seemingly about H. G. Wells, is in fact an oblique narrative of the his life. He begins to tell us about HG Wells – and the stage is furnished with the usual paraphernalia of a lecture – screen, lectern etc. But it’s also cluttered with random ‘everyday’ objects (some set in audience view by the actor) which might be keepsakes belonging to the Scotsman – a sort of scenographic tension is created from the start. And so snippets of Wells’ novel and Wells’ biography become increasingly interspersed with the electrician’s life and our wider modern day civilization. In the end, they all intertwine, using Wells optimistic predictions to hammer home our own dystopia. One particularly memorable scene is where the Scotsman – as a full size projection – confronts Wells, played by the real-life Scotsman – contrasting Wells’ rosy-tinted predictions of world government and peace with our own geopolitical failure. But we finish with an (almost) optimistic resolution, as the Scotsman acknowledges, and cleverly demonstrates to us, his place in the universe. An amazingly ambitious production – a small scale tour – but made incredibly rich by the careful use of scenography.Story

The small (5m by 5m?) playing space is carefully delineated by low-level decorative lights all round. It is end-stage (the demands of touring again) – and the plain ‘theatre’ lighting is all FOH on two tripods. There’s a certain theatrical homeliness, an intentional ‘rough theatre’: sound cues are often provided by the actor playing 33” vinyl discs on an antique gramophone; a Moses basket becomes a baby; a small toy figure becomes the totally visually believable hero in an extract from the Wells’ novel; an anglepoise on the lectern becomes a highlighting spotlight at particular points; and so on.

But there was also sophisticated scenography, provided by the use of clever non-standard projection. Projection is acknowledged as a theatrical device right from start, with the actor unable to resist giving us shadow puppets with his hands; later when he is the narrator of the ‘land of blind’ story he interacts with the illustrations on the screen. OutlineThis soon develops into a more sophisticated playing with the ideas of projected ‘reality’ – he goes behind the screen, and Universereappears on the screen, he shakes hands with his own projection; the outline drawn round the actor morphs into a character; the actor at one elegiac point ‘catches’ projected stars. Again, he actually lowers the screen part way to frame a wide picture of his mother’s living room, in which her body appears and he tries to stroke her. But then, in a theatrical tour de force, what we had taken to be merely a backdrop becomes an all-encompassing wide screen, holding the solar system and the whole of space to provide the setting for an uplifting finale to what has definitely become the Scotsman’s story – it is its resolution that ends this satisfying – and scenographicly entrancing – piece of theatre.

So, like I said, don’t forget to pack your ambition!

(All illustrations – as you can probably tell – scanned from production’s programme!)

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Stunning Visual Theatre – Idle Motion

Title

All You Need to Know – Idle Motion – Crucible Studio, Sheffield – 5th June 2015

 

So let’s get one thing straight to begin with – this company don’t use only visual theatre to communicate – they always have a tremendous cast whose characterization and performances communicate wonderfully, tell stories clearly. Here, in a perhaps less elegiac, more ‘documentary’ (in the words of one of the four artistic directors) piece than some of their other productions, they cover intertwined stories: the now rather well-known narrative of Bletchley Park and its code breakers is perhaps the core; but they also feature the moment post war secrecy about it was finally broken in the 70s, letting Gordon Welchman tell his story; and also the saving of Bletchley itself from demolition in 90s, with the middle Englanders who achieved this nicely delineated. In telling these stories the expressive cast (including three out of four of the artistic directors) play multiple roles, easily switching, with the help of minor costume changes, but also of stance, gait, accent – to give us clear signals of who they are. But these are not just surface changes – the tremendous performers bring deep life to every character, no matter for how short a time that character is on stage, going from moments of comedy (the piece is anything but emotionally monochrome) to deep felt emotion, whether conveyed by text, body language or expression.

The intertwining of the narratives demands rapid changes of location and period, which, of course, all needs frequent scene changes – yet the piece flows seamlessly. And it is here that the company’s aesthetic of visual communication comes into its own. Elegant and expressive movement is one of company’s traits – here I particularly remember a slomo movement dance of men enlisting – but this expert use of physical theatre also allows choreographed scene changes with rapid, graceful movement of props, furniture and people – almost worth watching as a piece of movement theatre in itself.

So, a simple set – plain back wall, door either side – allows different pictures to be painted by cast. Simple stage positioning and props help us identify threads (eg Welchman’s desk is always DSL). But also, to help convey their stories use a wide vocabulary of scenic tools – this I, as I say, one of the best visual theatre companies in the country. A gauze back wall is used effectively – an early dissolve let’s us see people listening to Chamberlain declaration of war on radio (nicely period of course). But then there is a lovely comic sequence of a couple hiding from security guard, gauze-revealed by their torch uplight. But even so, so far, perhaps, so standard?

SubmarinerBut props and furniture are transformed throughout – two wooden filing cabinets and two smallish wooden desks can become anything. Want to show two people breaking into a hut? Have them crawl through a filing cabinet, lifting up a whole section of it when necessary (a filing cabinet whose drawers were practical a few moments before!). Want to show two domestic interiors? Dress the back of the same cabinets.

And a magic moment which made the audience gasp out loud: to show code books being raised from a submarine, have a naked submariner emerge from what was a moment before a ‘table’ – how and when was he planted in there? – and, of course when the ‘table’ is cleared to change scene a minute later, there he is dressed to emerge as his next character. Need to emphasise the emotional intensity of the moment different people heard the notice of victory? Have them open filing cabinet drawers and be lit only by an uplight from within.

 

All this would be more than enough in itself to satisfy the most jaded of scenographic critics – but there’s more. Idle Motion have long been associated with Starry Nightprojection – and in this piece there are some almost ‘standard’ projection moments – the gauze back wall being transformed into a night sky for instance, the cogs of the computer engulfing everyone as they frantically work, and a wonderful (here I will use the word elegiac) finale when codes flash across the whole stage, with the characters we have come to know, whose life has been dominated by them, frozen, suffused by them. But also, in this piece they use projection mapping to great and often witty effect. Early on we hear recordings of Bletchley veterans, and filing cabinet drawers are opened to retrieve each one – but as they speak we see projections of them appear on the front of each drawer. Later we see filing cabinets (again!) transformed into one of Bletchley’s ‘computers’. As equations are thought or spoken by characters the projection ‘writes’ them as though on a board (shades of DV8 – but hey – “great artists don’t borrow – they steal”). And throughout we are aided in our identification of time period by the projection of dates – but not only – indeed not ever – on a static ‘screen’ – they appear on suitcases, the lids of desks, even on sheets of paper held by cast members (did I mention that this is one of the most disciplined, as well as most expressive casts I have seen?). All a witty but carefully thought-out use of state-of-the art projection skills.

ComputerAdd to this a carefully and emotionally precise sound and lighting and, while clearly telling us their three intertwined stories, the company have made a joyful but utterly precise dance of movement and magical scene changes. As someone always on the lookout for the expressive use of scenography, this piece of ‘total theatre’ was a continuous delight. If you want to see scenography not just helping convey a story, but actually playing a major role in doing so, almost becoming a character in itself, do not miss this piece – or any other opportunity to see Idle Motion’s work!

*  All images taken from Company’s website

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Postmodernism – Oh no it’s not! Oh Yes …

Aladdin – Oldham Coliseum – 15th November, 2014

 

I worry when people apply the word ‘postmodern’ to theatre – despite occasionally doing so myself! Postmodernism is a tricky concept – probably because everyone decided to climb aboard this particular bandwagon and every theorist gave it a slightly different meaning, depending on the particular point they wanted to emphasise as something different from what had gone before; Glen Adamson and Jane Pavitt, in their article in the catalogue to the V&A’s 2011/12 Postmodernism exhibition, maintain that in the 80s “Academics and journalists argued vociferously over its meaning”. The various articles in the catalogue somewhat bear this out! However, it identifies certain trends: in particular “Performers in various disciplines brought techniques like quotation and self-referentiality … Most particularly they drew attention to the mediation of their own work.”[1] The exhibition itself made a point of the androgyny and flamboyance of, for instance, Grace Jones and Boy George.

grace-jones

 

 

Boy George

Aronson, in his 1991 article, Postmodern Design, is somewhat more precise in that he gives us some concept of what ‘modern’ design was; “… characterized by the presence of a strong metaphorical or presentational image … [which] moved the stage picture away from the specific, tangible illusionistic world of romanticism and realism …”. Now, however, with postmodernism, “ … a kind of panhistorical, omnistylistic view now dominates stage design …”.[2] Here, he is, I think, referring to the ‘grab images from any place and period and put them on the stage together’ mode of design – a sort of scrapbook collage of ideas.

So, both performers and designers want to make audiences aware they are in the theatre, that what they are seeing is not ‘real’ but a piece of theatre. They acknowledge the audience’s presence, want them to share the joke of the clever unreality of performance and design. So, this was something new that, according to the V&A’s (admittedly somewhat apologetic) dating began round about 1970? Hmmm….!

As you will guess from my subheading I’ve been to the pantomime … and heavens, was it postmodern!

AladdinOldham Coliseum’s panto might be described as totally traditional – audience is addressed directly by the characters, a principal boy is obviously a woman and his/her mother is obviously a man playing a dame, dressed in outfits so outrageous they positively scream ‘look at my unreality!’ The wonderfully designed scenery (costumes and set by Celia Perkins), heavily dependent on easily flown cloths, creates a magical but non-real Peking, combining ‘traditional’ Chinese motifs with witty allusions to today, which might go over the children’s heads but which amuse the adults – like so many of the (wonderfully well-rehearsed) ad-libs. Aladdin 2Colours are bright, music is modern pop-songs played loud – and the proscenium arch, providing an appropriate framing for the scenic set pieces, is not so much crossed as positively smashed by the performers – all-in-all, a joyous, totally inclusive experience for all.

So next time someone claims a piece of design as ‘omnistylistic’, or points to a performance as ‘self-referential’ and claims that, therefore they are drawing on the concepts of postmodernism, remind them of pantomime, with its roots going back to at least the early 1800s, and drawing on playing traditions that were around long before that. Apart, perhaps, from brief periods of aberration, I think theatre has always been ‘postmodern’.

[1] Adamson, G. & Pavitt, J. eds., 2011. Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, 1970-90, London : New York: V & A Publishing. p.13 and 50

[2] Aronson, A.P., 2005. Looking into the Abyss: Essays on Scenography illustrated edition., The University of Michigan Press. p. 14

 

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Shift @ Contact. Great scenography – when you could see it!

Shift: Festival of Contemporary Experimental Performance – Contact, Manchester – 5th December 2014.

 

A mini-festival at Contact, promoted by a new collective The Future, made up of emerging (and some emerged?) performers based in and around Manchester – and if the standard here is anything to go by, a new collective to be welcomed. My Friday night allowed me to see three delightful performances of contemporary theatre which will stick in my memory, not least because they all wholeheartedly embraced scenography, not as an adjunct to their pieces, but as an integral part of how they communicated with their audience. (This, for me, put them in the category of ‘theatre’, rather than ‘performance’; my dividing line is “Does the piece create a fictional world, no matter how bizarre? If so, it’s theatre, if not it’s performance.” But I suspect this categorizing is too much of an academic game for most people, so back to the pieces!)

The term scenography carries with it very different baggage from the more traditional ‘theatre design’. Here Joslin McKinney, in her Cambridge Introduction to the subject is, as always, useful: she says the concept “suggests a difference in intention from the static and pictorial scene designs of previous centuries” and that “scenography extends and enriches audience experience of performance through images [including aural images] which operate in conjunction with, but in different ways from, other aspects of the stage.”[1] This, for me, exactly describes the approach of the pieces I saw.

Leentje

 

Leentje Van de Cruys (whom I last saw doing the delightful Horse) told a funny but poignant tale of a housewife whose identity had become merged with the gadgets and routines of her house. So, it was naturally set in a (real?) kitchen with the cupboards and fridge providing interesting directional light. But she provided a somewhat surreal take on the kitchen – she herself was in a gold-lame evening dress with high heels, but also began the evening wearing brightly coloured washing-up gloves. And, given the centrality of potatoes to the narrative, the floor was covered with unpeeled potatoes, gently glowing from the LED strip hidden within them (original lighting Tamsin Drury). The room (Contact’s Greenroom) was small, so the 25 audience were very close – a really intimate experience.

 

 

RachaelRachel Young’s The Way I Wear My Hair was a more in-your-face piece, with Rachel doing almost a stand-up comic routine, addressing us, the audience, directly throughout. But here again, scenographic ideas provided a (be it sometimes oblique) part of the message – her stints as a ‘lecturer’ were signified not only by extracts from textbooks on the large projection screen, but by her donning a white lab-coat hanging from the grid – without removing it from its hanging. And when a party had to be shown it was signified by two ra-ra razzles of pink glitter being blown out perpendicularly by fans, which later, as the situation seemed to lead to a ‘party rape’, emphasized the ironic tawdriness of the event. This was followed by her pitilessly and it felt like for hours spraying atomized water into her face until the ‘tears’ dripped to a pool at her feet. But in all, a fun piece by “a strong black woman”.

Rachael - tears

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The scenographic highlight of the evening was (or perhaps I should say would have been) Celladour Redux by Façade. As the blurb says, inspired by the Geisha culture, it was a highly visual and distinctly visual performance, full of beautiful stage images, with the three performers’ bodies becoming almost part of the metaphorical Facadescenographic messages. I particularly remember them mercilessly rubbing white powder into their faces, the endlessly repeated attempts to carry an egg in a spoon and the red ribbons, tying them to the wooden chest from which they had emerged (the soundtrack poetry seemed to hint at Pandora’s box) like an umbilical cord. And finally, the stream of fluttering paper butterflies descending from above in an endless snowstorm cloud. Beautiful.

 

But unfortunately I (and I suspect most of the audience) couldn’t see quite a large chunk of the performance: the performers often came right down to the front of the stage and did most of the actions there kneeling; they emerged from the chest and returned to it at the end, but the chest was low on the floor. And we had been corralled (“At the company’s request” said our usher) to sit in the front five rows. And since the seating at the Contact Venue 1 is arranged so the rake of the seats does not really begin till about row 6, the section we were sitting in was lower then, or at best on a level with the stage. Put an even average size person sitting in the row in front and half the action became invisible! I appreciate that no company wants a huge void between them and their audience, but surely some director’s eye, some critical friend, or even a front-of-house manager could have foreseen and pointed out this problem in advance. For such a visual piece, sightlines should have been one of the first considerations. I don’t think it was merely the grumpy old man in me who was annoyed. A pity – but I suppose it means I will have to seek out the piece again – please, please revive it – to really appreciate its true beauty.

[1] McKinney, J. & Butterworth, P., 2009. The Cambridge Introduction to Scenography, Cambridge University Press. pp 3-4

 

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