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Review: Labyrinth Diet, Laura Horton, The Space, By Hannah Goslin

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

I’ve noticed over the last few years, along with celebrating bodies more, plus size being more accepted, and the new term I found this year of “mid-size”, there have been more and more productions about fatphobia, body acceptance and the mental health surrounding this. Which is important and necessary.

This production comes at a special time in my own life. After personal trauma, I found myself over a year ago having put a lot of weight on and being very unwell. When the pandemic hit, my life changed, and after losing a lot of weight, I currently sit at where I had always been on the scale, although yo-yo-ing to slimmer and back to this weight, most of my adult life until 5 years ago. Therefore, the talk about body positivity, health and weight is a big part of my life, and always has been as someone who has been on a diet since they were 8 years old.

I fear I have to a degree of subconscious bias in this review and how I felt about it as someone who has been “average”, severely overweight and unwell with it, and unhealthily thin.

Labyrinth Diet is set at a clothes swapping party, where the main character goes through her inner thoughts and feelings while battling her “friends” and their “perfect bodies”. In a sort of caveat, there is a line where the character makes it clear that she is not overweight but of an average size. And while this is appreciated as the actress clearly reflects this physically, therefore we are not at a “I’m obease” but actually, the actress is average which is frustratingly shown in media and body positivity plays I have seen, I struggled overall with this approach.

This is not to say that no one on any weight spectrum does not have the right to be self conscious, have hang ups and be upset with their body, but while the character goes on about her thighs, her belly, chub rub, not touching food in front of these shallow other character’s, it just feels hard to accept and to see yourself in, when, from a personal experience, you have been at all spectrums but know that at the unhealthy weights (overweight or underweight) these thoughts are so much more, with the points trying to be made in the writing lacking support and often being shallow, not trying to bring across how it effects a person mentally and physically.

The direction of the play chose to go with the one actress playing her main character but swapping into the other characters. Anjelica Serra is a brilliant actress; the ability to change into at least 5 other characters, all clearly being different, physically jumping from spot to spot on stage, i’m in awe at how she didn’t just pass out half way. However, I couldn’t help but feel like this was something you try in acting training, making it feel slightly unpolished and unnecessary. Either other actors could be involved, even just 1 to play the other characters or the writing itself could have had the main character speaking into the void, and responding to silence. At one point when the character/actress is exhausted from jumping side to side, it does mirror the exhaustion of how she feels in society with herself but that is where it stops. This concept needed to run through the entire play.

What I did appreciate is the elements when the character plays out these fictious scenes of euphoria, or conversations that feel like the “happy ending” only for her to be honest and say, it never happened. It’s too easy for the characters to become perfect people and for the ending to be what you expect. But to be honest, who out of us doesn’t really follow through with those moments of being courageous and confident? Hands up people.

In conclusion, Labyrinth Diet has all the basis to be a poignant play but is still quite far off reaching that goal. It feels like it still needs a clear picture on what it really is about and what we, as audiences are to get from it.

Review: Finding Percy Erebus, Elephant Talk Theatre, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Some say that we are asking children to grow up too soon. We open the World to them at too young an age and expect a lot from them. But in some instances, it is so important for children to learn the ways of life.

It is an age old saying that families think it is important to have pets in a child’s life to learn many important lessons of responsibility or love, but mostly to learn about death and losing someone.

Finding Percy Erebus is a different way of explaining this fact of life. An 8 year old child’s friend Percy passes away, and we go through a mysterious World, with many mysterious characters on the search for Percy. Really this is a tale teaching children about love and loss, about growing up and how the world changes.

There’s no messing around with this play. We are introduced to the loss of Percy straight away, leaving the rest of the play to develop from the child’s mind and how they are coping. This is punctuated with comical characters, magic and a complimenting score. Music is often upbeat at the beginning, and with a plink and a plonk; very child like and easy. But soon the music turns dark or into a soundscape to signal the more grown up aspects and the learning moments.

Elephant Talk Theatre have chosen for all voices to be prerecorded. This is helpful for children when they can hear a child’s voice instead of an adult mimicking; the same with adult voices that perhaps mirror their parents or people they know.

The set and props are really simple, which is nice to see in a children’s play. Usually these genres feel the need to fill the stage with colours and sounds and objects that they recognise. However, the minimal bits represent important parts of the story, and the rest are mimed, allowing children to use their imagination but remember the really important items for later on.

Finding Percy Erebus is fun, it is magical, but most importantly is bringing the facts of loss to children in an easy way to understand.

Review, Possible, Shôn Dale-Jones, National Theatre Wales, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Possible, written and performed by Shôn Dale-Jones, follows on from our last year where digital Theatre became a lifeline. The show is a live stream, and so there is instantly a difficult expectation to represent the stage through tiny phone screens and laptops, or even on a TV if you’re lucky enough! In this instance, while a really interesting piece of performance art, you cannot help but feel as if you’re missing an indulgent theatrical atmosphere…

Possible is a love story – between Dale-Jones, his wife, his daughter, his family, all types of love. But with that love comes reality, comes darkness, and hidden secrets pushed way back into the back of the mind. Using multimedia, from different camera angles and effects, music and soundscapes, to projected images, Dale-Jones features as the one man band (bar his accompanying musician); the normal element amongst strategic chaos. He is the story teller surrounded by a technicolor, crazy world.

The piece is fast paced, and tackles wonderful, lovely experiences, punctuated by the not so. His love for his family is paramount, but then reality hits when they try to figure out if their mother is having a breakdown, going through dementia or if it is something they shouldn’t be concerned about. Dale-Jones steers away from multi-characters, and paraphases them instead; “he said”, “she said”, “she replied” and so on, as if reading a tale from a storybook. And this is effective. Sometimes it is all too easy for one man plays to try and recreate characters, when telling the story and their feelings is more than enough.

The 80’s, 90’s, punk, psychedelic, an essence of what I would say it electronic type aesthetics that kids are recreating on Tik-Toks and most relevantly, a reflection of Bo Burnham’s latest Netflix show “Inside” fill the room through multi-media, creating changing in plot points and scenes; something more than a blackout or watching people move their set in front of you. While clearly not inspired by Burnham’s latest show (both likely to have been conceived separately at the same time), there’s an element of depression, of struggling mental health and grief, compacted into one room. Dale-Jones isn’t singing or playing a piano but his changes in scenes through light and sound is similar to Burnham’s and the deterioration of life through lockdown is prevalent. The music and colours are addictive and weirdly joyous to hear and to see such a different approach to performance.

Reverting back to my beginning comment, this is where it falls short. This is of no fault of Dale-Jones, NTW, anyone really but this felt like a show that would be magnificent to be in the room of. You get a sense that the projections, sounds, lights, colours could be engulfing you, enveloping around you, and while life is more about streaming right now, it would be exciting to be an in person audience member and participant.

Possible is a really interesting show – experimental, layered and what Welsh fringe theatre is really about. I truly think this type of Theatre is unique to Wales and it’s wonderful to be able to watch all the way from London.

Review, Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner, Royal Court, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Social media seems to run our lives. It can be for the positive but it often is about trolls, about racism, about discrimination; there are no secrets, everyone is able to say anything about anyone or any thing. Celebrities lives are even more under the microscope and as time has gone by, so are the lives of ordinary people.

Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner is a laid bare look at the dangers of having a voice, of fighting for those things that should be fought for. On cultural appropriation, of the black community and racism, prejudice, blacking up and whitening selves to fit beauty standards, of queerness and what that means, and how having a voice doesn’t always mean you are in the right.

We are first confronted with the Royal Court stage split into two – either side of the stage the audience sits, as if the play has been dissected for our viewing and those fourth walls are even more broken down, adding to the lack of privacy the narrative examines. A giant tree made of lights and string is in front of us, later breaking down – a feature point of the stage while beautiful, later feels rather sinister.

In true Royal Court style, a “normal” natural play is hyper-realised and the addition of staging, of props, of theatrical tricks, sound, lights, propelling us into a different reality versus the ordinary conversation between the two characters. These conversations are full of colloquialisms of modern black communities, of comedy of the current times, of references of the current times and therefore is a very “millennial” play. Hearing a older audience member after, some references to twitter went over their heads but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This play really does force itself onto the current society and ask the questions that aren’t fully realised, as this generation is the one that can change the wrongs.

While extremely clever, the narrative is punctured by almost god-like, robotic-like, dark voices that echo the comments, the retweets, the decent and darkness of social media and the character, Cleo’s, decent into dangerous territories, however these vocal effects and overlapping sometimes hinders the impact and ability to hear these. I fear that many of the “trolling” points are missed when covered by these soundscape effects.

Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner sounds extreme, and it is. It is a very raw and laid bare look at hypocritical people in our society, their anger at freedom of speech yet their own freedom expressing dark and dangerous viewpoints. It analyses how racism and homophobia is still rife despite being a “woke society”. It’s just a shame that the theatrical elements hinder the clarity of these somewhat.

Review, The Death of a Black Man, Hampstead Theatre, By Hannah Goslin

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The title of this play, in itself should give you an inclining to its concept and writing. Blunt, dark, surely to take you by the lapels and shake you.

The Death of a Black Man, written by Alfred Fagon in the 70’s is a raw and laid bare story about black culture in the UK and the development of generations from the Windrush movement and London itself. There is no beating around the bush with this play and it takes a lot to sit and watch with its darkness seeping in slowly.

The Death of a Black Man tells the story of Shackie, his career development as a wheeler dealer in London, his battle with his own heritage and how far he will go to make it as a black man in a still very difficult and competitive society with race. Soon, his equally minded best friend comes along, selling his ideas and the two concoct ideas of exploitation of the white man, to make money but also to support black power. Starkly contrasted, Shackie’s older ex girlfriend appears, a black woman but from a middle class background, lacking an interest in her heritage and support of the movement. It is soon evident that these two will stop at nothing to make it in this world, even if it means betraying those in their own community.

Fagon limits nothing in this play. The language is of its time, with words and phrases perhaps not said today, making it shocking and at times awkward – but as this play grows darker and darker, this feeling is clever and well executed and only adds to the tension and the final crescendo. What is brilliant is there is nothing held back about Caribbean and London Black community culture, highlighting the development of these 2nd Windrush generations with their joint use of London and Caribbean phrasing and accents as they intertwine. As someone from neither community, this takes a little time to feel yourself in the swing of the writing and how it is produced but feeling the energy of those in the audience from these communities, it feels as if it is on point and reflective of those communities. It also gives a great insight into the culture of the time and how those communities were feeling, contrasting views between Shackie, who is happy to just create a career and utilise his heritage to get there; Stumpy who is a developing activist for Black Power with a underlying hatred for white people and the country he is in and Jackie, whose middle class background has washed away any interest in her heritage but who is as dark and cynical as the other two about life.

With only three performers, it felt as if we had cut away into this living room and was easily watching a normal conversation. Their acting was effortless and easy, with the added 70’s aesthetic making this feel like a piece of history. It felt very reflective of what you usually see at The Royal Court which is always very well done – something simple and naturalistic, with elements of theatricality bursting through. In this case, the conversation acts out naturally and a change of scene brings in the contrasting theatricality with music, lighting; the stage and scene changes before our eyes as the characters almost fasten up time, moving props and staging which would have happened naturally throughout several hours as they drink champagne into the night. The final part felt particularly theatrical, with naturalism taken away and symbolism and theatricality added to enhance the darkness of the writing.

My only critique is that it felt as if these natural, spoken scenes took too long and didn’t add or emphasise much by doing so. Fagon, sadly, writes about Shackie’s fathers death which unfortunately mirrored the writers own, little did he know. And while a brilliantly written play, it felt as if much of this production was trying to keep to its legacy, with a fear of maybe changing too much, cutting too much out or bringing it to the modern stage. Perhaps the fear of changing it and therefore it no longer being a homage to Fagon held it back in what it could have become. Points and elements, which as previously said were very much of the time, felt a little like it went over my head but I can definitely appreciate that this may be because I wasn’t alive in the 70’s to understand the references or culture, as well as the Carribbean/London Black Community not being my community. I would be really interested to hear from a reviewer of this community to know how reflective this really is and how it relates to the modern community.

The Death of a Black Man is interesting, it is dark, it is cleverly executed but something felt lacking and as if it really held back what is really possible with this production.

Review, Look Who’s All Grown Up, Abigail Chandler, The Space, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

In our industry, there is often questions, perhaps never elaborated on fully when it comes to what actors go through. This is even more troublesome and often taboo when it comes to young performers.

Look Who’s All Grown Up by Abigail Chandler lays the taboo and secrets bare, without letting you ignore or look away. A coming out story of sorts, we meet two young performers who have reached the point of changing in their personal lives from children to adults but also in their performance careers. Highlighting issues with puberty in both the personal and professional but also what this means for their development in both areas and how quickly things can change.

We see three viewpoints – from a male, from a female and from an LGBTQA+ person. All similar yet staggeringly different, the three character’s stories are compared and contrasted, in experience, in opportunities and also in the unspoken – the Me Too movement and its application to child stars of any gender, but what this also means when you yourself transition from being the child to the adult in awkward situations.

Look Who’s All Grown up is carefully constructed to ease you into this headspace, and so when things become heated or awkward, you feel it in your gut, yet cannot look away. The character of Felix particularly lays everything bare, with a sense of humour and it isn’t until later that you can really understand the trauma it has caused. You fall in love with him yourself, not only with Chandler’s writing but Daniel Bravo’s effortless acting, adding a level of whether this is okay in relation to the topic, seriously highlighting the issues between the transition of child actors to adult actors.

Caitlin, played by Kalifa Taylor also shows a very good contrasting character and her personal growth, from an anxious girl with mental health issues to someone confident, knowing her worth but perhaps escaping the stories we hear of sexual misconduct with women and young ones at that. It was refreshing to have a strong woman character, helping the male character when these stories are often over looked.

Look Who’s All Grown Up is quirky, it is humorous but also highlights important points that are rarely laid bare and hits you in the gut with these facts.

Review, Godot Is A Woman, Silent Faces, Pleasance Theatre By Hannah Goslin

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Who would have ever thought that Samuel Beckett and Madonna would ever be thrown together in a play?

No one, till now.

Godot is a Woman, by Silent Faces, is nothing short of a masterpiece. If, like me (and Silent Faces), you are a huge fan of Samuel Beckett, particularly his play “Waiting For Godot”, and a liberal feminist, then the title alone is enough to tickle your fancy.

I try not to read too much about a production or a company before I see a show. I like to be thrown in the deep end and figure it out for myself. No presumptions or expectations. And am I glad I did for this one.

We meet 3 performers who want to put on Waiting For Godot. They reflect the original play by waiting for the Beckett Foundation to answer their call for the rights. As time goes by, the 3 battle with the reasonings on why they would be refused, a lot stemming from past beliefs in society, and hugely and predominantly focused on gender politics.

There’s an element of people who have a love/hate relationship with someone. Beckett, while a brilliant writer, specified that Waiting For Godot could not be played by females or anyone other than male, to loosely include non-binary people; I say loosely as this was never specified, in the terms of “Only a male can play these roles” way. This is thrown out in the open and discussed through performance – and it makes you feel something not necessarily easy about your own love for the play and playwright but in a good way, because it is important to address.

Silent Faces evoke the pauses, the silence, the staccato word play of Beckett when working through these thoughts. They bring in hilarious and highly hammed up characters in a pretend court room to highlight different facts and fables from both sides of the argument which in itself highlights the ridiculous nature of even having to argue gender for a play about self discovery.

They bring in elements that bring the whole play into the 21st century – instead of waiting for a person, they wait by a telephone that has a recorded message while they wait alerting them to the website. They bring in almost Brechtian elements, surprising us with dancing and music, such as Madonna, that would never have been seen in the style of Beckett. They give us a brief history of feminism and gender equality through music, dance and summaries of important elements from selected years e.g. Harvey Weinstein and the Me Too movement, androgynous celebrities and so on. And most importantly, highlights are brought onto Non-Binary persons. A exploration of the Beckett foundation’s elimination of anyone not male playing these faithful parts, including those who do not identify as either male or female and whether this is a sign of the times or something more. Again, we are thrown into history, learning something new about gender politics and how non-binary has been in lots of different cultures for thousands of years and that changing in times is not an excuse.

Godot is a Woman is hilarious, insightful, polished, educational and a brilliant production. While you feel a little uneasy as a Beckett fan, the fact it makes you question society and whether his approach would have changed makes it all the more interesting, making you further question the world we are in and the arts sector.

Review, The Dumb Waiter, Harold Pinter, Hampstead Theatre, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

In a Covid world, when we thought that Theatre was losing its life, out comes Hampstead Theatre with their revival of The Dumb Waiter.

A long time fan of Harold Pinter from my study days, I am always intrigued with how his plays are performed and how the director has interpreted the piece.

Well known for his unusual yet naturalistic narratives and inclusion of his infamous pause, Pinter creates tension and atmosphere merely with his writing. Something so specific is always difficult to direct as your own and to bring something new. But Alice Hamilton achieves this while still keeping the Pinter essence.

The Dumb Waiter is the story of two men contained in one room, where their quite peaceful lives waiting for their boss to action their job is interrupted by a dumb waiter with unusual requests.

Hamilton, along with the actors Alec Newman (playing the character of Ben) and Shane Zaza (Gus) take on this funny, awkward and fantastically written play and run away with it. The purposeful silence never feels rushed, nor does the action; the pauses adds an atmosphere, a tension, and even at times, comedy.

Newman and Zaza in themselves are brilliant. Not only keeping to Pinter’s techniques, they embody their characters, to a point where we feel as if we really are intruding into this singular room and the unusual activities. Newman is content, calm, pristine – his newspaper is folded carefully and collected, his bed is tidy, even putting his clothing out is done slowly and precisely. Zaza in comparison is a little more energetic, messy, wired and this informs the action later on when the orders from an unknown entity come it; Zaza is heightened in his emotions and soon the unknown rocks the cool and collected Newman.

A short play, The Dumb Waiter felt as if no time had passed yet all the the time in the World had as it was so enjoyable to watch. In a time of uncertainty, something full of simplistic comedy, of simple yet effective design and so well acted and directed is what we clearly need.

An Interview with dance artist Gemma Connell on the project footSTEPS by Eva Marloes

Gemma Connell is a dance artist based in Wales, whose latest work, footSTEPS, is a series of dance films in starkly different locations. Born in south Manchester and with Welsh ancestry, Gemma started dancing in her local youth club. She explains,

‘I come from a working class family and a very big family, certainly couldn’t afford dance lessons. So it was the youth club, it was things that were free that were there for me.’

She later went to Warwick University to study English literature, but found herself spending most of her time dancing and setting up shows. It was then when she decided that she wanted to devote her life to the arts. I ask her what dance is for her and she tells me,

‘Dance for me has always been therapeutic. It’s my way of processing the world, It’s my way of working through things that I find difficult. It’s a way of expressing myself when I can’t find the words.’

Used to moving freely, the lockdown in the spring brought a new challenge. She didn’t have enough space at home to dance, she tells me,

‘You try and dance and you’re gonna hit the coffee table. I felt trapped and I think footSTEPS was a way of trying to get that freedom back. Dance and dancing outside was a way of dealing with that.’

Once allowed to go over 5 miles from the house, Gemma and her partner Ian Abbott, who is the Director of Photography , decided to explore different locations and experiment making short dance films. footSTEPS thus became her escape.

‘I felt very free the first couple of times we tried to create these dance films. I suddenly found myself really excited about dancing again.’

Image: Ian Abbott

The first season of footSTEPS is set in south Wales. The locations include Chepstow Castle, Wentwood Forest, a bus graveyard, an underpass in Newport, and a beach in the Vale of Glamorgan. In her dances, Gemma interacts with the features of each place and reacts to their different feel. Bringing contemporary dance into a castle felt like a meeting of two eras, while the bus graveyard had an apocalyptic feel to it. She says,

‘There’s something for me with being at a castle of one time meeting another. We film in this medieval space but I’m very much in modern clothes and doing this kind of dance that they definitely wouldn’t have done back then.’

‘The bus graveyard for me was quite eerie. It looked a little bit like the apocalypse. As if humanity had disappeared and everything had been left. It made me a little bit nervous that site. I think it comes across in the movement as well. There’s something about me trying to create a boundary, a barrier around me. I seem to be making circles around myself.’

In each film, Gemma improvises bringing together different dance styles to respond to her immediate environment; yet there is a consistency in her moves. I ask her what Covid made her realise about dance. She tells me,

‘The tactile nature of the way I work. I do a lot of contact work. Covid means you aren’t allowed to touch anybody or anything, that you’re not allowed to get close to people. As a dancer, I’m used to being in contact with people all of the time. I found that very, very difficult.’

I remark that in our everyday life we, non-dancers, tend to suppress movement. We are not at ease with our body. I ask her how dancers gain that confidence to express themselves through movement. She tells me,

‘The late Ken Robinson used to talk about this and I think he’s brilliant. He said that people are educated out of their body and into their heads. I really do believe that. I work a lot with young people. As young people, they get less and less comfortable with their body or with moving in a certain ways. I do think that that is related to an education system which is focusing on academic achievements. There are so many kinds of intelligence. I think dance is one of those kinds of intelligence. Embodied knowledge certainly is.’

For non-dancers, dance is something one might do in a club or a dance class. We do not dance on the street, in a park, or forest. Gemma takes her dance into the wild, into historic settings, and urban sites. She frees it not just from the confinement of lockdown, but from the restrictions our society imposes on dance. Movement is how Gemma, as a dancer, deals with life and expresses her emotions. We might do well to follow the example of footSTEPS and dance wherever and whenever we feel like it.

The films can be found here.