Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Roadkill" - November 2010

This was our third attempt to see "Roadkill". We missed out on tickets for its pre-Fringe run at the Tron, and then despite tipping it as a show to see in Edinburgh we found the entire run sold out by the time we were able to plan our schedule. Even this time round, we had checked in advance with the Tron when tickets were going on sale and phoned first thing on the morning they were released - and availability was already limited. But there's no doubt about it - it was worth waiting for. While its inherent nature and limited audience capacity mean it will never become a cultural phenomenon in the manner of "Black Watch", make no mistake, "Roadkill" is a piece of theatre of that level of quality. Please be aware that our comments on the show give more away about the plot than we normally try to do.

Although staged in a flat in Glasgow's southside, the performance began as soon as we boarded the bus taking us from the Tron to the 'venue'. It's a brilliant way of introducing the characters as we meet young Nigerian Adeola on her arrival in Glasgow. And it's partly the wonderful naive optimism she displays in that short trip that makes it so difficult for the audience to watch as she is forced into the sex trade.

When watching a great piece of theatre, I often find particular scenes or lines being indelibly burned into my memory. But that isn't the case here. Instead, what has stayed with me is the almost uncontrollable urge to scream at Adeola to tell John Kazek's police officer of her plight. And I do genuinely mean uncontrollable - I was actually concerned the shouts in my head were going to escape through my mouth. We often talk about theatre being 'engaging' - for me "Roadkill" took the word to an entirely new level.

But although many of the play's scenes are disturbing and distressing, the brilliance of Stef Smith's writing is that it knows when to pull back. So many 'issue' based plays would take things to such an extreme dramatic conclusion that it would lose that vital, and horrific, realisation that what we are seeing is an everyday occurrence. Similarly, I think many writers would have been unable to resist the temptation to have the police officer Adeola encounters be less than genuinely concerned for her welfare. Indeed I think it's this lack of the dramatic that keeps the play grounded in reality and gives it a real power to affect its audience.

And of course, three magnificent performances help a little. Mercy Ojelade's transformation as Adeola is heartbreaking, but for me the real strength in her performance was actually to make it believable that this young girl would find the strength to escape. As 'Auntie' Martha, Adura Onashile brings out the complexity of the character as both abuser and abused while John Kazek is chameleon-like in several male roles.

Much of the credit for the show must also go to director Cora Bissett and her team responsible for the video elements of the production. With projected footage displayed on the walls, ceilings, a TV, and even a cast member, this is by far the most impressive incorporation of video footage and animation I've encountered in theatre. It's used ingeniously to bring Adeola's nightmarish experiences to life in a way we can just about comprehend and tolerate.

Although we could probably guess that such exploitation goes on close to home, it's very easy not to think about it. And while I'm not sure quite how successful it may be as a 'call to arms' for individuals to help those affected, anything that can raise the profile of the issue politically should be welcomed. And importantly, it never feels like the artists themselves are exploiting those living the lives of the characters it depicts, or comes across as preaching to the audience.

Roadkill is a co-production from Ankur Productions, Pachamama Productions and Richard Jordan Productions in association with the Traverse Theate Company and Tron Theatre. It has completed its current run of performances.
Image used with permission


Sunday, November 14, 2010

"The Wee Man & Muckers" - November 2010

Neil Bratchpiece's appearances as Glasgow ned "The Wee Man" in Citizens Community Company shows over the last couple of years have been some of the funniest moments we've had in a theatre. So when we saw that he was headlining a one-night only comedy evening at the Citz we quickly booked up.

Compere for the show in the Citz Circle Studio was Joe Heenan, and despite a tendency to go a bit local-radio-dj in his audience interaction he delivered some strong material and worked the crowd well. So much so, that we agreed entirely with the unusually insightful heckler at the end of the show who observed that Heenan was the best act of the night. He was... and by a considerable margin.

The first act on stage was Bratchy, and if we were to be generous we could describe his routine as a carefully constructed rambling one. But in truth it felt more like a performance thrown together with little thought or preparation. Next up was Julia Sutherland who delivered a slick and polished set, but one that was pretty short on laughs. Fortunately things improved with the appearance of Mikey Adams who, despite his protests, appeared perfectly comfortable working with an audience on all four sides and generated some good laughs.

Following an interval, and some more good work by Heenan, we got the much anticipated arrival of "The Wee Man". But sadly, a character we've seen work brilliantly in sketches, rarely translated to the stand-up format. Without being able to spark off of other characters, Bratchpiece's writing lost much of its sharpness and attempts at audience interaction were met with mixed success. And incomprehensibly, given that Bratchpiece is familiar with the performance space, a significant part of his set involved displaying a set of images on a pad in the corner - leaving half the audience straining to see the detail and a good number unable to see them at all. His delivery of a comedy rap was also hampered by his decision to lose the microphone - making it impossible to catch many of the lyrics. As a result, what should have been an opportunity to showcase Bratchpiece's obvious talent just highlighted the limitations of the character and a need for greater effort in both the planning and the execution of his performances.


Image used with permission.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

"Curse of the Demeter" - November 2010

Inspired by Dracula's journey by sea to Whitby in Bram Stoker's classic novel, writer Robert Forrest gives us his version of the events onboard the Demeter before she finally runs aground on the English coast. Designed to scare its audience in the manner of 'Alien' as the crew are picked off one by one, the fear factor is multiplied by being staged as a promenade performance on board a genuine 'Tall Ship' at Glasgow's quayside.

Quantifying the 'scare factor' is a tricky thing to do, as everyone has different 'buttons' to be pressed, so your mileage may vary. Although there are perhaps only one or two moments which made me jump (and it would benefit from a few more), it certainly created an unsettling atmosphere. Let's just say that there was no rush to be the first to follow our characters down staircases into the darkness.

But then, fear, and particularly fear of the supernatural, is only part of what's important here. Just as significant is the effect the perceived threat has on the relationships between the crew. And while Forrest's writing isn't exactly subtle in making the connection with the current climate of fear in our society, it's a parallel well worth highlighting.

The cast of two, Simon Donaldson and Stuart Bowman, give fantastic performances. Each portrays several of the ship's crew and give the relationships between them a real sense of depth - genuine affection between some; fear and suspicion between others. While they do well to make each character distinct in voice and mannerisms, a little more help by way of props/costumes wouldn't have gone amiss.

Director Douglas Irvine employs handheld video cameras relaying images to strategically placed TV screens at times to give a crew's/monster's eye view of events. While it works well technically, for me the mere presence of the technology often broke the 'spell'. The show is at its most magical when it's at its most low-tech, and perhaps had the 'monster' remained as noises/voices in the darkness our imagination would have made it all the more terrifying.

We saw an early performance of the show*, and we suspect as the run continues it will be tweaked and polished into a unique and memorable piece of theatre.

*This was a performance for an audience of bloggers and social media users which we think was a great idea - although in keeping with our usual policy, we insisted on paying for our tickets.

Visible Fictions' Curse of the Demeter runs at Glasgow's Tall Ship on various dates until 20th November.
Image by Neil Thomas Douglas used with permission.


Monday, November 01, 2010

"Dracula" - October 2010

Sell A Door Theatre Company are currently touring their production of Liz Lochhead's adaptation of "Dracula" around Scotland before a month long residence at the Greenwich Playhouse in London. And with a stop at Stirling's Albert Halls on 31st October, what better way to spend Halloween.

Louis J Parker is excellent at making his Count menacing and monstrous, but despite an appearance that wouldn't look out of place in 'True Blood', 'Twilight' etc. any sense of magnetism or charisma was largely absent. When this Dracula exerts his power over women it appears solely down to his supernatural powers. However, the moments when he bites his victims are exquisitely realised - wonderfully memorable moments of theatre.

The first act is a little on the slow side as the characters are set up but the post-interval introduction of Alexander Pritchett's Van Helsing immediately brings an energy and sense of urgency to the show. It's a really strong performance and carries much of the second act, but it emphasises the problems with the choices made for Dracula. Rather than our vampire hunter battling against all odds, it would be a foolish man who would bet against this Van Helsing in a battle with this Dracula.

Laura Blackmore and Daisy Burns impress as Mina and Lucy, with Mina's transformation from prim propriety to wild abandon particularly well realised. Madness on stage is often taken to hysterical extremes but Kieran Hennigan's portrayal of Renfield, institutionalised after his encounter with Dracula, is beautifully measured. Sophie Holland deftly delivers much of Lochhead's pointed social commentry as maid, Florrie, while Matthew Grace makes Harker's choices and reactions believable, but for such a central character he actually doesn't have a great deal to work with. The strong ensemble is completed by Ellis J Wells' Doctor Seward and Louise Ann Munro's nurse who both have some fine moments, but due to their characters' fast paced dialogue at times their clarity was hampered by the cavernous nature of the venue, vast stage and expanse between the stage and the audience. Indeed all the cast at times found themselves competing with an overly loud, if admittedly atmospheric, soundtrack.

Despite some flaws, this is a fine production and the audience really responded to it - in fact the biggest mistake I saw on stage last night was the cast's failure to recognise that the audience was demanding a second curtain call. When the audience keeps clapping as long as we did and people are whistling and cheering, it's a shame not to oblige them.

Dracula is now nearing the end of an extensive tour but visits Greenock and Tamworth this week before arriving in London on 9th November.
Image used with permission.