The Adventures of Curious Ganz – Assembly Roxy

Directed by Sarah Wright

Words by Anna Maria Murphy

Puppetry offers a form to the imagination that few other mediums can capture. Benefiting from a physical dimension, it takes an edge over animation, cinema and lighting effects. It makes our dreams, our hopes, and even our nightmares, significantly tangible. The Adventures of Curious Ganz told with miniatures, string and rod puppets is an enchanting piece which delves into history, alchemy and the stars.

Curiosity is, like its sibling necessity, a catalyst of science, imagination and adventure. Glossing over the colonial aspects of exploration, Curious Ganz tells the tale of a small, nosy man who is never without his trusty magnifying glass. Setting out on the open ocean, or the deepest mines of Peru in search of something, anything, Ganz encounters a familiar royal who herself finds interest in the world beyond the River Thames.

From Queen Lizzy the First to the Duffers, and even a disgustingly adorable caterpillar, Sarah Wright’s lead set and puppet design from a team consisting of Lyndie Wright, Liz Walker, Alice King, Mae Voogd, Katie Williams & Luke Wood are exceptional. Basing their production on the life of copper smelter Joachim Gans, the ability to shift us from the universe’s beginning to the stench of old London seamlessly is a testament of their profession. Liz Walker, Avye Leventis/Nix Wood and Ailsa Dalling’s conduct a wealth of tales from their fingertips, straying from drama to comedy and into touching moments with ease.

Naturally, it wouldn’t be children’s theatre without some countermanding fear to balance the sickeningly charming characters. In his bid to stifle science and maintain his authority in the Queen’s court, the Prime Minister may have a small role but it showcases the inventiveness of the Little Angel Theatre. Defiant that the world is flat, the puppet of the Prime Minister looms over model earth, with a tiny boat heading towards the edge. As he warns of sea monsters, leviathans and beasts, enormous puppet creatures sway back and forth around him. Sharply crafting him, his features strike imposing shadows on the cold stone of the Assembly theatre.That’s the thing about ‘kid’s shows, in an audience with one child -there are many more adults- it’s evidence of our appetite for shows such as Curious Ganz.

Unfortunately, there is some incoherence with the narrative, which causes the imagination to come off the reigns. It leads to the climax feeling rushed, bombastically throwing a great deal at the audience, and when contrasted with the slow, simple opener as the universe evolves, seems heavy on visuals, and light on reserved storytelling.

Understandably, this eruption of creativity comes from a place of enthusiasm. Which is what you’ll find heaping’s off throughout Curious Ganz, passionate storytelling which stumbles on its coattails to showcase as much delightful puppetry as possible in the fifty-minute runtime. Offering a revised insight into historical discovery, with delightful puppets of all shapes and sizes, Little Angel Theatre and Silent Ride are alchemists of storytelling, spinning wood, plastic and string into gold.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/the-adventures-of-curious-ganz/

La Belle Époque – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Written & Directed by Nicolas Bedos

Westworld, but closer to reality, La Belle Époque places the addictive nature of nostalgia at the forefront of its narrative. Posing that this re-enactment of the past has its benefits, but it’s drug-like properties are far from a healthy escape, that the past is pleasurable but has capabilities of crippling the future. When disillusioned artist Victor crosses the path of screenwriter Antoine’s invitation to take part in his ‘time travel’ show, in which wealthy individuals embark on nostalgic trips, Victor uses this as a means to travel back to the 70s’, where he met the love of his life.

And really, the love of his life could arguably be the time-period itself with how Nicolas Bolduc’s cinematography frames the nicotine-stained air permeating Victor’s memories. Theatrical in illusion, there is a tremendous sense of the performance ability on show throughout La Belle Époque. As his God-complex reigns supreme, director and screenwriter turned cupid Guillaume Canet’s character of Antoine offers a dissection of the behind-the-scenes skeleton to movies, theatre and media. Earpieces and set designs, sudden changes to the script and orgy direction – it’s a tough gig.

Canet’s ambition, to re-ignite the creative furnace of Victor’s talent, seems to tie itself into his failed marriage with the Cheshire grinning cheat, Marianne. Fanny Ardant achieves a rarity within romantic comedies. A redemptive arc, from callous, understandable frustrations, to an empathetic character without reversing everything which made Marianne interesting. It comes as no shock, that the love of his life has always been Marianne, and the young woman Victor meets in the café, Margot (Doria Tillier), with whom he falls in love, is a refreshingly engaging performance, echoing Brigitte Bardot or Anna Karina. And who would deny a revisit to the sound score of the best days they had?

In a world in which you could dine with Marie Antoinette, get royally leathered with Ernest Hemmingway, or chat it out with the Third Reich (for whatever reason) the beauty of Nicolas Bedos’ script comes from the sincerity of Victor’s request to not live the life of another, or to piggyback stories, but merely replay his own. Daniel Auteuil’s transformation from beleaguered, pathetic punching bag of a man who resigns himself away from social media and digital dominance into rejuvenation, though reliant on the past, is as humorous as it is charming. His chemistry with all other performers, from lead to side, is exceptional, suggesting a genuine sense of believability as he delves deeper into Antoine’s French cafes and weed dens.

A cautionary word, Bedos’ film is for the sweetest of teeth. Straying from outright happy endings, there are heapings of sepia-tinted sentiment. Keeping La Belle Époque somewhat grounded, Bedos stringently maintains its plot device, refusing to deviate from the narrative mechanics, where so many other romantic-comedies would fall back into a traditional third act structure. The resolution sticks within the boundaries Bedos’ has set-up, a finale which certainly offers a distinct difference from the opposites the genre would habitually fall upon. 

La Belle Époque is perhaps the closest a French romantic-comedic farce will achieve recognition from a Hollywood audience. In certainty, the most recent with pangs of Richard Curtis. It’s this dedication to its plot-devices and characters make Bedos’ film a rousing success of comedic gold, with just enough drama to drive forward our leads. You may leave with toothache, but sometimes an indulgence in sucrose serves to remind us to unburden ourselves of pessimistic attitudes, gander at the past, but continue to move forward with our lives. 

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/la-belle-epoque/

Becoming Electra: A Queer Mitzvah – The Studio

Directed by Tash Hyman

Written by Isla Van Tricht’s 

A child of Abraham, but all the same a sister queen, actor and drag queen Guy Woolf/Electra Cute and writer Isla Van Tricht’s production not only examines what it means to be open with yourself in the current world, but also explores the impact of religion, family and culture on one’s existence. Becoming Electra: A Queer Mitzvah offers a compelling, humorous storytelling experience exploring a young queer woman’s journey through life, with just a few songs along the way.

Rabbis to the left of her, queer friends to the right, Electra finds herself struggling with the reconciliation of her identity. As well as fretting over explaining to her Jewish family, friends and neighbours her attraction to other women, Electra also worries about her gay friends discovering her cultural heritage and middle-class upbringing. It’s a precarious situation, in an era of supposed acceptance, where scrutiny still lies with attitudes towards anti-Semitic behaviour on a growing scale. Unafraid of fragility, Electra opens herself up to the audience. With her, we move from her days studying the Tanakh with friends to loft-room poetry readings, leading up to one big ol’ Queer Mitzvah celebration, with plenty of surprises.

Becoming Electra combines Woolf’s natural performance ability with Tash Hyman’s direction, which makes for an outgoing piece with a minimalist approach. Relying on ability, rather than spectacle, it allows the intended message to come across clearly without glam or interference. As such, the narrative journey Electra takes is relatable as she shifts around social groups, slowly accepting herself while finding discomfort in leaving behind her past. It’s a refreshing look at the incorporation of God into gender and sexuality, rather than a flat-out rejection of a higher being. 

As you may suspect, comedy plays a substantial part in Van Tricht’s script. Woolf’s drag prowess allows Electra to control a crowd with relative ease. Still, we gain a semblance of the person behind the performance. Woolf is awkwardly charming in his mannerisms as Electra, with extravagant facial expressions as her story culminates with a drunken mother, the free the nipple campaign and a touching connection with her grandfather. You also don’t have to be one of the faith to understand Woolf’s humour. Indeed, even those outside of London can understand the references made by Woof, including mentions to suburbs or shopping centres known for their Jewish communities.

Part of what makes Becoming Electra such a success is Van Tricht and Woolf’s dedication to not merely re-hash covers of songs from or about Jewish musicians, but instead adapt the lyrics and composition to create uniquely entertaining musical interludes. Excluding a sensational climax, which showcases Woolf’s vocals in a way which has been noticeably lacking in projection thus far, a take on the ever classic ‘Reviewing The Situation’ from Oliver! takes the song beyond stereotyping, turning it in on itself. Woolf’s voice here is a soothing affair; enticing, yet natural and refraining from showboating.

L’Chaim! all around for Becoming Electra: A Queer Mitzvah, which captures the party atmosphere but still allows an intimate look into a cross-section of cultures many will only partially connect with or previously know existed. Wholly personal, Woolf communicates with a broad spectrum of people, which works tremendously in the production’s favour. A one-woman drag show, Woolf’s role as Electra offers a glimmer of light in the endless, bleak darkness of hopelessness. It is a sobering, wonderfully warm show.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/becoming-electra-queer-mitzvah/