We Are All Just Little Creatures @ Traverse Theatre

Image contribution:
Pete Dibdin

Original Concept by Christine Devaney

Directors: Christine Devaney, Maria Oller & Jo Timmins

Composers: David Paul Jones & Kevin Lennon

When was the last time you found yourself delighted? If you even remember the feeling at all. In uncertain times, we strive to maintain happiness, but delight is cast to the wayside. Three years in the making, We Are All Just Little Creatures is another collaborative piece between Christine Devaney with Lung Ha Theatre Company and Lyra. A movement piece which places its performers at the forefront, their ideas are the key to this production.

The community of dancers, free to innovate, makes for unique movement. There’s a tremendous effort for freedom – to dance just as they feel, but with a central choreography still in place. The plethora of human existence is conveyed on stage at the Traverse with laughs, tears, joy and fragility.

Providing structure to the piece are dancers Charlotte McLean, Hendrik Lebon and Holly Irving. The energy and dedication from these three is exhausting to watch, let alone perform. There’s rarely a moment of rest as the trio lead solo and group pieces, a the while supporting, encouraging or mimicking the community dancers leads. Their professionalism is as evident as their talent. McLean and Irving, in particular, having tight control of pop-locked limbs, and Irving an enviable fluidity in her serpentine-like movements.

Scribbling in the background as the dancers move is artist Yvonne Buskie. As the little creatures perform their piece, the jungle grows in scale. Her artistic talents are evident, even getting involved with spoken segments. It can be distracting for our curiosity to see the finished piece – but with involvement later from the dancers the illustrative works find firmer ground.

Pushing for even more of a creative edge, a sense of identity is found both in costume design and paper puppetry. One has a suspicion or at least hope that costumes were in part picked by the community performers as each individual looks sensational. All encompassing some kind of wildlife motif – from scales, feathers, leopard print, to a fabulous set of butterfly wings.

Perhaps with the most courageous or direct connection to the audience, is the Lyra Young Artists portraying the Delight Collectors. Observing from a window at the rear of the stage, they come to face the audience directly requesting a series of answers to queries many of us would rather shun away from. They offer small bursts of euphoric excitement with an encouraging reminder of the future passions for Scottish theatre.

Furthering a recent (overdue) trend in theatre is the inclusion of a British Sign Language interpreter. Rachel Amey’s inclusion is spectacular, going beyond interpretation and involving herself in the production at moments.

Accompanying our performers is a deeply mesmeric musical component, composed and performed by David Paul Jones & Kevin Lennon. The liveness of the track adds even more artistic merit with a multitude of styles. It is the track Dragonflies performed by Boo Hewerdine which stands apart echoing the vastness of the emotional intent of this production.

So, true to form, We Are All Just Little Creatures – none higher or lower than the other. All on even footing, a footing we are encouraged to cut loose. To dance, move, sway, leap and most importantly to just simply do something. To avoid stagnation, invite one another to laugh, cry, desire and simply shake hands.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:

Macbeth @ Festival Theatre

Image contribution:
National Theatre

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Rufus Norris

Despite its notoriety as the pinnacle of the theatrical world, few can adapt the Bard’s words well. We all know the tale, or at least we boast about knowing it. Macbeth is far from a straightforward production. A step to the left and it becomes dreary, dank and uninteresting. A tad to the right and it lunges headfirst into absurdist horror. Norris has blindly stumbled into both, with deep regrets. As slashes of ingenuity beam out amidst weak decisions.

Thane of Glamis, hereafter Thane of Cawdor, soon after King. Macbeth is the archetype of corruption, blind ambition and self-prophecy. The once heroic general, his appetite for power wetted by a trio of wyrd sisters who sing of his upcoming rise to glory. His wife, tempting the desire out of Macbeth to commit treason and ascend the throne.

Without its women, Macbeth is nothing. True in almost all iterations both the Witches and Lady Macbeth hold the foundations. Without them, no performance – as well delivered as it may be could save the show. Kirsty Besterman’s Lady Macbeth has the spite, inner turmoil of guilt and the desire to push her beloved further. Though through poor direction, Lady Macbeth has lost her bite. Whilst the passion between the pair is evident in their embrace, little convinces us this woman would sacrifice her milk for the infamous four humours.  Brutally swept aside are the witches, all in a form too like the next. Little distinguishes them, their plastic sheeting as ‘cloaks’ raising brows more.

Macbeth’s downfall is often the questioning of his manhood, he is a ‘pathetic man’ in Shakespeare’s most misogynistic piece. None of this is present, the ‘unsexing’ of Lady Macbeth or taunts are not highlighted in performance. Again, let down through direction. Michael Nardone takes Macbeth in a subtle shade; his madness is more unfolded than shrieking. Whilst the spectres at the dinner table may lousily apparate – his terror is all too real.

This set, dwarfing the performing, is not utilized well for Macbeth. Perhaps in a completely different production, this would work. The craftsmanship is sublime, though to be blunt, seems more at home washed up on the beach. Often clad in plastics, the rot is tangible but to ill-effect. The looming charcoal blooms utilized as poles for the witches to hang from both perplex and take the tension away from the set. At first, amidst the grime of the setting, a use of palette offers a foolish momentary hope. King Duncan garbed in rich red suggests a costume design with merit. Dashed as the remaining post-apocalyptic coats, hoodies and jeans are a mainstay.

Not all bodes grim though, for a variety of performers channel their character to fruition. As mentioned Besterman and Nardone had potential, let down by directorial decisions. Patrick Robinson’s Banquo along with Ross Waiton’s MacDuff feel most at home with the tragedy. They carry scenes remarkably, tremendous credit due to them especially for Waiton, who shares the stage with Malcolm, portrayed by Joseph Brown, perhaps the weakest player in a National Theatre production.

Woeful as this product may be, there are aspects which keep it from the grave. Despite its familiarity, Macbeth is not easy to adapt. It certainly isn’t any easier to offer anything new. Norris fails to bring life to the show, wrapping it in too drab an appearance. Crossing broadly into camp horror with beheadings, reversed masks all fuel a meek adaptation of a definitive text.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:

(Can this be) Home @ Traverse Theatre

Writen and Directed by Kolbrún Björt Sigfúsdóttir

Writing this on the eve of the original Brexit leave date – the realisation that the past three years have resulted in drastic changes amid no change whatsoever dawns even more. That after this turmoil, nothing has been accomplished. All that has happened is the separation of a nation (not in the desired way for some) with the dissolution of ‘us’ into ‘them’. A note of caution – (Can this be) Home makes no bones about being a pro-EU piece, though it encourages those with differing opinions to attend.

Separated into segments, though complimenting one another remarkably well from a narrative perspective, (Can this be) Home is half spoken-word and another half instrumental gig. Kolbrún Björt Sigfúsdóttir’s spoken word segments examine the Brexit process from the eyes of immigrants and the prevailing decent into ‘othering’ of our communities. Those people who have worked, committed and lived in Britain for decades are suddenly others, foreigners in their home. Her words are poetic, well-versed but without a doubt cutting. Theatre is an area where the silent voices can be heard – and Kolbrún takes her chance, unapologetically pro-remain (quite rightly).

As Tom Oakes regales us with tales of his experiences with musicians, teachers and friends from across the EU and further, Sigfúsdóttir begins to sculpt. At first, it seems to distract from the score. A futile effort in childlike play, before we realise, she’s furthering her own story. The coarse sand granules gradually morph into what’s at stake – a home. A simple, but a safe home which erupts into a heaped mess, convulsing before becoming divided. Two homes, and yet Sigfúsdóttir belongs to neither. A voice, whose rights have potentially been altered is not afforded a say in the matter.

Oakes composition serves as a reminder of the effects of communication across nations, the importance of the ability to reach out and discuss with people. Chiefly a flautist, Oakes offers us some of the tunes he has picked up along the way from Ireland, Finland and encounters in Morocco. His gentile anecdotes provide levity, though also hint at the nerves beneath. His performance is otherwise engaging. The melodies are recognisable in their origin, particularly Scandinavian roots. He stitches them together with his own inspirations, forming a cultural union of different styles (subtle right?).

At what first seems a piece of commentary sharply turns into a battle cry, the stage cast in a streak of rebellious red. No one has more right to do so than Sigfúsdóttir utilising her words to inspire and encourage. Metaphorically, her spoken words begin symbolic, though her symbolism is occasionally lost in passion, with clarity suffering. The imagery painted for us is later slapped across the face. That Brexit is past the point of awkward dinner conversation.

A time for impartiality is past. The make-up of this production highlights the idiocies and dangers presented towards Scottish, let alone European theatre. Contributions for (Can this be) Home are from all creeds of the union including French, Russian, Swedish, Egyptian-Italian and of course a fair few Scotties.

Brite Theater couldn’t have known what the previous three years would have been like. Nor the fearful anxieties they now possess. It reminds us to look beyond our own perspective but a Scottish-British-European and most commonly Human one. (Can this be) Home is guttural, rough at edges but what is expected from a show that’s had to constantly shift more times than Parliament has had votes on the matter? Brite Theater is a welcome piece of theatre in Scotland – just as welcome as its creators.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:

Kátya Kabanová @ Festival Theatre

Image contribution:
James Glossop

Music/Libretto of Leoš Janáček

Directed by Stephen Lawless 

Conducted by Stuart Stratford

Scottish Opera continues its current season with their new co-production with Theater Magdeburg. Stephen Lawless’ staging of the statuesque beauty, both in libretto and design, of Leoš Janáček’s Kátya Kabanová. Adapted from Alexander Ostrovsky’s play, The Storm it’s a bittersweet tale of destiny, illicit love and isolation.

Accelerated a century or so from its original setting of the 1860s, Kátya (Laura Wilde) finds herself with deep desires for a young man called Boris (Ric Furman), who’s a far cry from her close-fisted impish runt of a husband, Tikhon (Samuel Sakker). Feeling as though something isn’t right with her life, Kátya begins to wonder if anything is truly a sin if destiny gives you no other choice?

For those still uneasy with the accessibility of opera, Janacek’s libretto is perhaps one of the more welcoming. Its ‘speech melody’ not only allows for an easier grasp of the language, it greatly enriches the narrative. Its flow is graceful and the structure is far from simplistic, though some performers, such as Furman, are lost to waves of the orchestra. Striking out above the pit though is Patricia Bardon’s Kabanicha – Kátya’s mother in law, bordering on pantomime villain but owning every exceptional moment.

Layers are not simply found within Leslie Travers’ sublime set design but throughout the production. The most noticeable layering is the unusual break from operatic aria and into traditional folk music,. Here Trystan Llŷr Griffiths’ turn with a bass guitar and cheerful beat forge a connection with the audience, drawing them further in and offering levity before the heavier tonal change.

Pacing takes an uglier turn towards the climax of the production. The third Act sits at thirty minutes, and encompasses confession and infidelity, all whilst tying loose ends in this prophetic closing to mirror the opening. Despite the short run time, the act is bogged down with pathos carried over from the first two.

Kátya Kabanová is, in its construction, libretto and vocals, rather beautiful. It’s a beauty found beneath the noir tones of the production, under the cruel and vindictive characters and the misery of industrial steel and stone, guarding against nature’s eventual claiming of the grave.

Review originally published for The Skinny: https://www.theskinny.co.uk/theatre/shows/reviews/katya-kabanova-festival-theatre-edinburgh

In the Willows @ Festival Theatre

Richard Davenport

Artistic Director, Book and Lyrics: Poppy Burton-Morgan

Music and Lyrics: Keiran Merck

Music: Pippa Cleary

A nervous Mole, a belligerent Badger and one very irritable and lively Toad. Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows shall always remain a timeless classic in the hearts of children and adults alike, not just in the UK but across the world. The idea of modernising the tale, introducing rap lyrics with cuts of British grime, couldn’t be further from the Thames bank’s creatures of old. And yet, not only does Metta Theatre and Poppy Burton-Morgan’s In the Willows instil a deep respect for the original, it builds upon it – speaking to a diverse and inclusive youth. Its core narrative remains the same, even though its (w)rapping appears wholly different.

The Willows, now a suburb just off of the Thames, houses a school where a collective of creatures gathers. Mr Badger (Clive Rowe) does more than teach these kids, trying his hardest to keep them out of trouble. Further character development appears in Toad, no longer a reckless bourgeoisie fool but now a young kid whose father is serving life in prison. Mole (portrayed here by Victoria Boyce), meanwhile, has struggled with the passing of her brother and grandfather – finding it hard to fit in or connect with anyone due to survivor’s guilt, with her anxiety bubbling in metaphorical waves. As the Weasel’s gang take up residence in Toadhall, there are snippets of the original story with updated backstories and darker undertones.

Communication is a core element of this production. Respect, violence and nurture are all explored primarily through choreography, which in itself extends In The Willows’s inclusivity. Leading this is a choreographer, dancer and leading deaf ambassador Chris Fonseca, playing the role of Otter. The movement designed by Rhimes LeCointe brings together all walks of dance from street to ballet and tap – all of which are performed admirably, with Fonseca and Seann Miley Moore’s queer Duck easily standing out among the crowd.

Vocally, everyone is on their A-game, though suspicions suggest the cast are used to less open venues as their projections seem directed into the stalls. Already an intriguing character, Zara Macintosh‘s and Boyce’s take on Rattie and Mole breath freshness into the roles. As the ‘it’ girl at school – keeping a face to fend off the crowds – Macintosh creates an emotional stir, telling us everything we need to know about Rattie and the father-figure she searches for amidst her fears and insecurities.

While the supporting cast can stand their own, what would the Willows be like without a decent Toad? Well, In the Willows has one of the liveliest, bouncy and fallible Toads in memory. Harry Jardine‘s energy is immense, with a rapping prowess that never seems to let up or allow for breath. His number “Easy Life” contains lyrics which could easily have ended sounding like a Disney-fied BBC after-school special, but in truth, the writing and performance make for a hilarious script, which is politically current and strikingly subtle.

Subtle, in all but one scene where Macintosh and Rowe deliver a powerful exchange, rising a rallying cry to the youth. In a production with such underlying wit and charisma, it’s a shame to see such an impactful moment pushed. Important words are spoken, sure, but too heavy-handed an approach is used.

Still, In the Willows isn’t trying to be cool: it is cool. Every so often a piece of theatre slips under the radar, preconceptions giving a wary nature to what the show might entail. In the Willows isn’t anything like what you might imagine it to be; instead, it is so much more. By the end, the largest cheers are not from the kids but from the parents watching. It crosses generations barriers to entertain, inform and hopefully encourage further communication around life’s tougher subjects.

Review originally published for Wee Review: