In what might prove to be a testing trip to London, amid strikes and cold streaks, any fears or doubts floated away on opening night, an hour in the company of Bill for this 44th birthday.
This work of Dorothy James and Andy Manjuck is what could only be described as the the creation of an apparition, or more specially Bill. He is brought to life with such conviction, a mere pot-bellied torso, arms and eyeless head. The fun and bravado of Bill prepping for his big night, is gradually met with disappointment and the awful feeling of loneliness, something we can easily relate to, the past few years considered.
Thanks to the easy appeal of the show and witty, British like humour this will go down very easy. Dorothy and Andy have a kinetic energy, each sharing one of Bill’s arms, the former also accommodating his torso, the latter his head. There is Mr Bean and Wallace and Gromit in some of the flamboyant mannerisms and weird dance moves, Andy’s legs are also Bill’s legs. It held up as rather touching as well, Bill later watches a VHS seeing his life go by from cradle to current day, a smaller wooden puppet used to astounding effect. Surreal, drunken episodes feature party crashing balloons and a giant version of Cary the carrot, a crudités that no one ate.
This is a piece which has seen some delays in getting out there, this being Bill’s first London adventure and we simply cannot believe his luck. Also, shoutout to Jon Riddleberger who dealt with a lot of the prop side of things and was an extra injection of humour, amid the sad revelations. Music by Eamon Fogarty was also noteworthy for each vibe and tone change. We are all essentially Bill, finding our way in this post-pandemic world, seeking friends to define and make us, to aid in the blandest of life and also reflect upon the pang of memories filled with regrets and of course, happiness.
In short, London loves Bill!
Bill’s 44th continues at The Pit, Barbican Centre till 4 Feb 2023.
For the past year I have been awash in the old radio broadcasts from XFM and that of the Ricky Gervais Show. Whilst this show has always had a cult following, an even more curious subculture has formed where people listen to fall asleep. One of the most enduring faculties of the show was the shoddy nature to proceedings. Along with co-writer Steven Merchant and the now infamous producer Karl Pilkington, they created what is now seen as some of the funniest radio ever heard in this land. Though the trio’s relationship has not been as close as it once was, this was their golden era, The Office making it’s rounds on the TV and Extras also a soon to be comedy joy.
One question remains: why do we keep coming back and listening? One answer would be the outrageous, un-PC nature of the whole show. Though Ricky’s show by name, the star does very much belong to Karl for this bizarre and hilarious stories, beliefs and insights. Along with Steven who is the dry, piffy sort, Ricky’s most memorable asset remains his earth shattering, shrill laugh after Karl has usually said something odd. There would be dead air, they would fluff their lines, swear, CDs would skip and phone in’s would be met with the dial tone instead of a caller. All this and more we love from this show. I’ve only realised recently that I could have listened back in the day on Sky TV, as the station would broadcast on their and on the XFM website as well.
Being in Manchester for the weekend, I had my own Karl “wrong supermarket” moment by going to the wrong Lighthouse in Salford (Karl’s home turf, naturally). Along the way to the daunting industrial estate, I began to meet fellow attendees also on their way to the convention. Finally in a room with fellow fans and dressed in my respectable “Little gay, monkey fella” costume I truly felt at home. There were some discrepancies to do with the day, though things were dealt with well and things knocked about smoothly.
This was a shared community who relished in the absurdity of the whole affair. A quiz got us thinking of some of Karl’s weirdest moments, a Kick Your Height competition saw how high someone could kick a globe positioned with their stature and other thrills. Props related to the show loitered around the venue and all food and drinks were themed. Whilst I’m not much of a drinker I did chuckle at the names of some of the cocktails and that the cafe did in fact have pikelets and congress tarts, if only for the day.
There was much buzz over who the special celebrity guests would be, after hearing the De Trout Spinners Podcast (another one of Karl’s puns) had to bail due to ill health. Richard Anderson who wrote brilliant and cutting emails into the show back in the day turned up and spoke about his of sorts celebrity within the fandom. Also flogging his own book The Wonderful Adventure of Uncle Wizard, photos with him were welcome providing a copy was bought. I thanked him at the end of the night for the marvellous emails. Nice to finally put a face to a name.
Doc Brown was another guest, a rapper and actor who has been in The Office, Law & Order: UK amongst other ventures. His stories about how Ricky called him up for an opportunity are very telling and sweet, his music career also a testament to his talents. Whilst it was great to hear him talk, I think someone a bit more related to the XFM shows would go down well, a few on the day were under the impression DJ Claire Sturgess may have made an appearance, possibly even Warrick Davis. The live band Le Beat rapped up things nicely with an expected patter of song covers from David Bowie, Rod Stewart and Kings of Leon. Their bass player also resembled Steven Merchant, another surreal turn of the day. Though I missed their second set, a friend on the table had to get a train and being so far out it made sense we might shoot off when we did.
I was disappointed to see how few people dressed up for the convention. Though I really came second place after a couple who had dressed up as Ricky’s Croque monsieur lunch, they had left by the time the winner was announced. I couldn’t believe my luck when it was I who won best costume. In a little speech I blathered some stuff about how much the shahs helped people with mental health issues and that I hope to cola with the festival in the future. Friends were also made on the day, the table I was sat with was alive with quiz answers and the amount of rapid fire quotes we had was also brilliant. I find myself very relaxed being able to shout out the most random things from the show. New friendships have blossomed from the convention, even if the trophy I won was nicked by a Northerner…all in good fun of course!
Whether the next year’s convention will be in a fitting Slough, Reading or Bristol, we all know it will continue to expand and be a great success. Great work chuck! The RSK Convention will continue in 2023
Coming into this production, I thought I knew what I would experience but I was in for a surprise.
Based in the time of the second world war, Kites is a tale of female friendships that grow with time, with age and within different and ever changing time periods. Kitty and Angel begin a friendship from small children and we experience with them how they become friends, take on the world through boys and travel and challenges of the time periods from the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and onwards. There is a nostalgic feel yet a tale we can relate to to some degree, no matter who we are.
Instantly, it is clear that these two performers not only have a good relationship as acting partners but that this obvious connection potentially draws from personal relationships. Female friendship is something unique, and this production adds to this by touching upon a time when women weren’t as free and liberal as they can be now days; it showcases the pressures on woman back then and how detrimental it can be to mental health and relationships.
There is a youthfulness to this production; as we travel through time with these two, we see them play and create ideas together; they dream of the moon and the world and the adventures that they can experience and we relate to this from our own dreams. We remember those days of make believe and ease of being a child. We know the feeling when life gets in the way or we have to grow up. The transition for each character is gradual and relatable.
The only issue I had was that it felt as if it lost momentum. Time is taken to establish the characters, their lives, their friendships but it becomes rushed – as if the change that they want to convey needed to be squeezed into the time frame. When it was meant to get meatier, I wanted it meaty. I wanted to feel the raw emotion and the turmoil, to see the difference and to feel the reconciliation between these old friends. But it just felt like a rushed end when it would have been nice to give more time to these emotions.
Kites is a lovely play that any friendship, no matter gender, can relate to. Setting it in a past time period echoes the challenges women faced and how, despite this, friendship begins and grows, just as it does now. I just wanted there to be a little bit of breathing space to feel more of the emotions.
The Pleasance are pioneers in new writing and staging wonderful productions. The Rip Current, a debut piece written by Molly Keating, featured at the Pleasance, which in itself, should be an achievement for these early career artists.
The Rip Current sees the story of Jamie as he attends Cambridge University, all the way from Scotland. But it doesn’t turn out to be everything he had worked hard for. He begins to feel disconnected to life and it leads to him delving into his past, asking the questions he longed to ask about his estranged father and finding out who he really is.
For a first production at fringe, The Rip Current is a good start to what could be a fantastic production. The concepts of growing up, of discovering your past and who you are, to family, domestic violence, Scottish culture are all great combinations and highlight many a relatable issue.
The performers clearly put their heart and soul into their characters and did well to portray with believable emotion what was needed from them for the story line. Not one broke character and therefore created extremely believable scenes and relationships.
However, this production felt as if it was still in an infant stage. This isn’t to criticise or to say that this production wasn’t any good, because it was, but it still felt as if it needed some tweaking and working on, as all great productions do in their development till they reach ultimate success. The performers perhaps focussed too much on the sheer painful emotions and so lost a little of the different emotional levels that could be experienced within naturalism.
They also made the mistake that we all do at some point in theatre of relying heavily on set and props. Much of what was put on stage seemed to function more as a way for performers to keep their hands busy, when it wasn’t necessarily needed or added to the plot. Taking away some and filling those voids with confidence in their characters and performance would avoid distraction for the audience but also help with their character and story development.
The Rip Current is very much a great starting point for this young company. All the elements are there and it is in great shape for a first production. With continued work, this production could prove to be something quite special.
I’m going to begin this review with a very strong opening. A strong, and 100% deserved opening: If there is one thing you do this year, it’s go and see The Rest of Our Lives.
The Rest of Our Lives is a post-pandemic show in some respects but it isn’t about the pandemic. It is a question of what we do after a monumental change in our lives. How do we cope, move on, return to life as we know it. How do we enjoy it and laugh, and love, and cry. How do we become us again. How do we create community again.
This brilliant show is prime example of the unique, inspirational and exquisite style of performance that comes only from the Welsh theatre and arts scene. Perhaps some bias in my admiration for Jo Fong that has stemmed since my own performance training years in Wales, I still stand by the genius and beauty behind this piece with George Orange.
The Rest of Our Lives is a physical theatre, multi-media, dance and movement piece. It is comical, warm, open and personal. There is no barrier between us and the performers – we are welcomed and treated as friends, making regular eye contact and somehow having a feeling of a personal relationship with the performers, as if we were in their living room of an evening.
Physically, the performance was abstract yet gentle and evoked any emotion from hilarity to sadness. The performers pushed themselves to the limits and broke physical and environmental boundaries without a sense of fear or hesitation. There was many a moment that I found myself crying at how moved I was at their portrayal of normal human elements such as romance and pain, and how I would soon be laughing and smiling through my tears. I didn’t feel like an audience member – I was a friend, a family member, some one close and welcomed and it was such a unique and beautiful feeling and created so simply yet mysteriously – that space felt safe as soon as we came in and I still can’t pinpoint why; the signs of a successful production.
Audience interaction is a huge part of this show and it continues the feeling of inclusion in the action, with no formality to any of the proceedings or interaction. It created an almost immersive atmosphere that you never wanted to end. Finishing the production, we are welcomed onto the stage where we dance and sing to Donna Summer and congratulate Fong and Orange. Hardly any of us know one another but there we hugged, we held hands, we sung together as if we were in Karaoke and all of it was euphoric, beautiful and special.
The Rest of Our Lives is a triumph of theatre, dance and physical theatre. It is everything and more that Welsh theatre brings to the table and is unlike anything I have ever seen. It reminds us of who we are and once were and brings us together as humans and friends.
For my finale Prom this season, an appearance from the BBC Symphony was offered for the last Monday concert. Mighty Conductor Karina Canellakis excited with an array of varied delights in a concert that had a lot going for it.
Beethoven’s The Creatures of Prometheus overture thrills in its few minutes, a tantalising taste of the full ballet score. This makes a great concert opener with it’s charm on it’s sleeve, Karina getting off to a fabulous start here. Of note was the world premiere and BBC commission from Besty Jolas of bTunes. Here in the Albert Hall with us at the age of 96, this added a special weight to proceedings. Her odd piece used theatrical elements that could have been utilised more. We saw the lead violinist conduct for the first few bars, as the pianist and conductor arrive late flustered.
This funny little moment lead into a harsh and insightful sound world, Betsy creating some intriguing compositions. Pianist Nicolas Hodges got busy with lid slamming, string plucking and smashing tone clusters, also notated into the score for him. The whole things was barmy, trying to pass off as a playlist of music, it seems to have gone down well and with her presence on the night proved a success.
The 1st Symphony makes for gateway Mahler and here it was executed with a fiery focus. All the hallmarks Arte here in what would be heard later in his music. This graduation piece shows a vast array of musical brilliance, the meshing of popular songs, the waltzes, Alpine bliss and mirky underwater stand out as check points. With a pristine beauty, this held up as a highlight of my Proms live this year. There is a promise in this first symphony, perhaps one of the finest firsts ever written. The panache of it’s delivery, the mighty mood swings and the composer himself having conducted this more than any other of his works proves its importance. Highlight include the Frère Jacques variation, a evocative double bass solo and all round impassioned occupation that sells it and more. Would to hear Karina conduct the following on two symphonies by Mahler now.
We are a nation and a current series of generations where our childhood and knowledge of history is emphasised by the brilliant Horrible Histories books by Terry Deary and the beloved show shown on CBBC (but let’s be honest: when was it ever for the kids!).
So when invited to a show that has changed this to “Herstories” I was definitely intrigued and excited. Horrible Herstories is a hilarious and unbridled take on female history, flittering between different parts of history in a sketch-show-like manner. The premise basis itself on a group of men who are all hammed up and one dimensional and hilarious versions of the gender. All called Phil, they are unaware of anything to do with women, let alone their place in history, and the mick is very much taken of them. This is where it leads to them learning just what an impact woman had and what they had to put up with.
Like any sketch-show, the sketches are small and to the point. They don’t need to be long to be absolutely side-splittingly hilarious and it was in a way brilliant to see the occasional man in the audience not quite get the quip or feel uncomfortable. It was a shake up of the comedic kind but also a political stance with no inhibitions.
The performers were all brilliant; just like the television programme, they could all turn their hand to a huge range of characters – from the typical news reporter, the egotistical man, the girly girl women. And it all worked brilliantly. They were fully in each character, supported with minimal staging and costume, but this didn’t matter; in fact I would say it enhanced this. We didn’t need sparkle and flashy theatrics; all we needed was the brilliant writing and comedic approach to true history.
As this was the last night and they had run for a month, there were moments of corpsing and if you have read any of my former reviews, you know that I love this. I think it shows the comradery of the actors, the fun they are having and as a performer myself, I know that a long run is always met by silliness and a euphoria in the end. It was clear that the performers had a great connection and were having fun, celebrating the end of a successful run of such a brilliant production.
Horrible Herstories seems much in its infant stage, but what a brilliant place it is at this point. It is witty, funny, clever and an absolutely brilliant production, that can only go from strength to strength.
Set in the basement of the Edinburgh Army centre, NMT Automatics production of Troy & Us is very apt for such a setting.
Tempus Fugit: Troy & Us is the story of a British soldier, his wife and his tours in Afghanistan. It addresses their progressive relationship from marriage, to war PTSD, to a baby and all the other bits in between. It is a raw and poignant production, mirroring the story of Andromache and her soldier husband Hector in the Trojan war, this production shows the pain of war and that this is a phenomenon that is almost as old as time.
Tempus Fugit is a combination of short dialogue meeting physical theatre and dance; the moments where we are transported into the past to look at the Trojan War are signified with beautiful mask work to break the difference in scenes. Focussed mainly around plain brown boxes that create furniture, barriers, sculptures and buildings, the performers move effortlessly between and with one another, showcasing euphoria, pain, war scenes and so much more. It is accompanied by music and storytelling recorded narrative to enhance the scene and show the juxtaposition but the similarities of the past and the present.
The performance is beautiful and there does seem to be genuine (or at least realistic) emotion and connection between the characters, whether they are the modern characters or the Ancient Greek ones. They effortlessly flick between the two and moments can be recognised that have cleverly been shown earlier on in the production, mirroring the modern day equivalent with the same movements and emotion.
However, for me, the scenes were all too quick. It felt like we flittered from scene to scene very quickly, whether that was from Troy or to the modern day, and I felt it needed a moment of stillness, or just a breathe. The fast paced nature left me wanting something meatier to hold onto for just a moment before we were catapulted to the next element. To really revel in and feel the emotion and the, what is a beautiful and painful story to engage with, it would have been nice for some different levels in energy.
Tempus Fugit: Troy & Us is a unique and interesting approach to real stories and of a kind of life only a small amount of people experience. It shows the truth of the feelings and thoughts behind war but it also needed to let us have a moment to internalise the story and feel it for ourselves.
The world of Greek Myths is full of tyranny, of hypocrisy, of sex, of comedy, of sheer power and grotesque storytelling. They are the stories that have most been carried through time, updated and mirrored in popular culture and continue to be apart of society. This is very much what we get from Myths Unbound Productions and their production of Prometheus Bound (Io’s story).
Taking a new approach to Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound, Myths Unbound have updated and changed the viewpoint of this tale. An ancient Greek tragedy, this story focuses on the competition between the God’s, the injustice of punishment for helping humans to progress and, by taking it from the point of view of Io, a mortal plagued by the God’s doings, looks at what it means to be a human as opposed to a higher being that society trusts the judgement of.
This production has an edgy-ness to it. No toga’s or golden crowns but a gothic, alternative take. All in black, there are little elements added to the immortal beings to differentiate them using colour and make up that Tik Tok stars would admire, along with their differing personalities and interactions, to show these staple characters and their impact to the story. Simple changing of jackets helps to double up on a character and with this and other parts of the writing, Myths Unbound take a comical view of breaking the fourth wall and playing upon being self aware as a theatre production – the same actor is acknowledged and the confusion of the characters; we are addressed and yet Io asks “who are you talking to” which for sure brings comical moments. The only difference is Io who is dressed in a cream to create the dynamic between the humans and the Gods. This was quite refreshing, showcasing that the Gods aren’t so “heavenly” and actually the darker part of the tale, despite their idolisation.
Despite these interesting elements, I found it hard to engage. With such a complex story, it felt that you probably had to know the tale well to understand their changes to the original story. A story I’ve not heard before, it therefore left me a little confused and some elements I wasn’t sure were fully explained. Not a criticism, but the performer playing Prometheus was of slight distraction with his uncanny performance and looks similar to Captain America’s, Chris Evans.
Overall, the aesthetics of Myths Unbound Productions, Prometheus Unbound (Io’s Story), were refreshing and a modern take on such an ancient story. I just found it slightly a hard storyline to follow which, I can completely understand could plainly be to my own lack of knowledge.
In a return to the BBC Proms in London, a new venue for the festival would call. Whilst I’ll confess the Printworks in Canada Water is a bit out of the way for this travelling reviewer, it was a fleeting chance to see another side of London. In a more laid-back, approachable look on classical music, the venue itself on first appearance looked cluttered, very busy.
As things went on, I found the whole thing to be truly wonderful, the direction of James Bonas with a metaphorical butterfly net keeping everything grounded, yet delightful.
The head turning array of soloist, orchestra, dance, art, beat-boxing and sound design filled the venue with the ambition of a classic happening. The star of the show was very much American counter-tenor Anthony Roth Costanzo who has dazzled audiences across the pond and over the world. It is his clear sex appeal and queer ideals that dust the show with beautiful goings on. In both the bejewelled Handel and Phillip Glass repertoire (extracts from both their operas, some never heard at the Proms along with a world premier from Glass) he proves his broad taste and mighty passions, his voice sharp and touching.
All the other goings on segway well into each aria, the dancers never quite getting the limelight (with emotive choreography by Justin Peck). The live painting of Glenn Brown was only truly visible to one side of the vast elongated factory. Players from English National Opera and conductor Karen Kamensek never wained is this apparent gamble that paid off all round. Costumes by Raf Simons are billowy, colourfull fun creations, slight and web like for the dancers, exaggerated for Costanzo.
Jason Singh would beatbox and add whispy vocal tricks to make space between the notes of the arias. What almost attempted to steal the show was the finely crafted surreal video work which graced the brick walls. The likes of James Ivory with Pix Talarico, Tilda Swinton and Daniel Askill and more had unsettling, vivid and witty films that got away with a lot of it’s demands.