Declan – The Actors Centre

Written & Performed by Alistair Hall

Directed by Alexis Gregory

Theatre needn’t be bright or comforting. Often, it is one of the few forms of brutal honesty accessible, able to tackle divisive (and often dismissive) thoughts on isolation, sexuality, fear of the outside world and often with a degree of myth thrown in for good measure. As many attempt to comprehend their isolation, Declan is an innovative piece of theatre which draws us inward to the mind of Jimbo, a boy who has an unstable relationship with his father, a non-existent one with his mother, and a seemingly dangerous one with his old friend Declan.

Created and performed by Alistair Hall, Declan boasts powerful writing, and glints of unfettered ambition, but struggles to piece it all together. What Hall’s writing delivers, in blood-dripping droves, is an atmosphere, in particular a neo-gothic sense of contemporary horror. Leaning a touch heavily on the vampire parables, a portion of the split-nature of Hall’s performance of Jimbo has stark flickers of Stoker’s Renfield. A sinful ignition, which grows over-time, Hall’s production catches a few too many reflections of Renfield’s incarceration, a parallel which wouldn’t merit comment had Declan not drawn heavily on the vampire mythos and empowerment of the flesh and blood.

At its most potent, Declan emboldens Hall’s language, particularly in the grotesque obsession with the visceral, bodily and disturbed. The tone of speech, word-choice and twisted weaving of imagery throughout the narrative provide an intensely tangible assault on the senses, particularly adept at flaring the nostrils. Here is Declan’s strength, one it should have played into more, deeper, richer use of imagery rather than the breakneck flickering between ‘ghosts’ or time-scales. It confuses any of the purposes which were building, and just as an investment is made in a particular scene or delivery, it’s dashed to the side by Hall’s chaotic delivery.

This chaos ripples into reality, so much so the audience will spend plenty of time questions the motivations and truths behind Jimbo’s words. It seems safe to disregard much of his tales, stripping away the fictional monsters, the vampires, and ghosts, to concentrate on the real atrocities of suicide and homophobia. The questioning of our reality due to solitude, to a disconnection from the outside world is viable in its contemporary place, above all else, it’s a clever delivery mechanism deployed by Hall.

Trouble is this blurring of reality, in an attempt to conjure manifestations of psychological insecurity, potential abuse and sensory depictions, muddies its intentions. There’s an undeniable ability in Hall’s crafting of Declan, with award-winning Layke Anderson’s video editing toyed with just enough to heighten the ethereal atmosphere, without resorting to shlock horror. Flickers of lights, the scattered remains of Jimbo’s psyche strewn across the cell-like room, all communicate volumes to the audience. As a piece of cinema, as much as a piece of theatre, the editing process, and the videography Anderson achieves, all structured well by Alexis Gregory’s direction, makes for a surprisingly intimate production.

As a short piece, at just over twenty-five minutes, Declan condenses a hefty weight of imagery and language into a cell which it is bursting from. There’s the feeling of a jigsaw which has been turned out, but a few pieces are missing, and not even the writer knows where they lurk. Perhaps this is an intended note, that we are never given the full puzzle, that our obsessions detract from a healthy sense of self, but Declan bogs itself in such intensive, convoluted imagery and metaphor that it numbs impressions which may have been left.

Review originally published for The Reviews Hub:

Declan is available to stream here until June 28th:

Twelfth Night: Live! – Maltings Theatre

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Adam Nichols

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Suffering from a little cabin fever? Well, how about escaping aboard the SS Illyria with a G&T in hand and scandal unfolding directly from your lounge? This is precisely what The Maltings Theatre is promising with their abridged, musically interactive version of Shakespeare’s classic romantic comedy Twelfth Night – Live! Following a successful run, the team don their best cocktail dresses, headpieces and tap shoes to stage this classical narrative in the Roaring Twenties.

Embracing the medium, where the terms ‘Zoom’ and ‘Live Theatre’ collide – one expects chaos to ensue. Rather than allow it to wash over them, the entire team at Maltings Theatre channel this energy into their performances, aesthetic, and instead of ignoring the platform, work the logistics into the narrative; allowing us to capture multiple angles for dialogue, incorporate editing and animated effects with surprisingly unique outcomes. Inventive and playful, this live incarnation of the play removes aspects but maintains a core of the original narrative.

Sebastian may be absent, but this enables us to get to know our fellow guests – particularly Fabian and Viola, carried well by Will Pattle and Flora Squires. Pattle, in particular, takes the troubling task of introducing the premise of the show, the balance of audience video and audio and switching between camera views. This format comes with drawbacks, as occasional scenes will feature a cameo from Davina in Sunderland as her husband Brian fills his fourth glass, but, if anything, it adds an element of chaotic merriment. The characterisation is there, with Anna Franklin and Emma Watson bringing an intense presence to more extensive roles like Lady Toby Belch or Olivia. As a musical, vocals range from spectacular, courtesy of Hannah Baker and Faith Turner, to acceptable.

As for the musical element, the inclusive ripples of Jukebox moments bring additional character-elements but hinder on occasion. The live instrumental accompaniment conjures feelings of those concert halls and theatres, from what feels so long ago, enhancing the quality of the production. Adam Nichols’ artistic direction, no doubt relishing the ability to shift the production to the digital platform, rouses the cast together as they take on the role of stagehands, technicians, and the previously mentioned musicians. Much of the music has a comedic focus, with characters passing items between frames, and on occasion allowing for a solo piece to build sentiment.

Belting out numbers from Rihanna to Radiohead, tying these artists into the works of Shakespeare is no easy feat – particularly with Twelfth Night, a usually complex choice with a variety of pitfalls. When it works, it’s a triumphant burst of luxury, lunacy and hedonism entirely befitting of the SS Illyria. If it falters, it comes off as a break in the production’s energy and pacing, a seeming sore thumb of artistic choices. When the cast gets going, celebrating the roaring Twenties with a whiskey or toddy, there’s a wealth of enjoyment emanating.

What this concoction ends up as, is a quality, fun piece of interactive theatre which refrains from shying into an easy escape online. Malting’s Theatre dive headfirst into tying the Bard to the bar, relishing the enthusiasm as they plant their flag squarely into the comedic side of Twelfth Night, offering up a few noted moments of committed drama. An authentic send-off to a Shakespearian comedy, drawing the lords, ladies (and yes, the rabble) into the story, Twelfth Night – Live! may be a vast departure from Shakespeare’s original, but this modern retelling has heart, laughs and a 20’s twist worth getting sea legs for.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:

Rambert – Festival Theatre

Artistic Director: Benoit Swan Pouffer

A dancer’s ability stretches beyond the confines of simple movement, as storytellers, a superbly talented dancer is also a crafter of narrative. At times, the lack of a voice has drawbacks, but Rambert (in particular) excels in the extraordinary, the delicate marriage of movement and tale. A trio of performances, which couldn’t be more different if they tried, each evoke particular emotional responses – whether this is the waving bursts of Presentient, the righteous indignation of In Your Rooms, or the headbanging preservation with Rogues. Whichever you prefer, Rambert once again demonstrates their keen ability to go beyond movement, and into artistry.

Tight, claustrophobic and a relentless assault of choreography, Presentient transforms the Rambert dancers into a wave of mobile syntaxes, a grown-up Sesame Street if you will. Certainly, the most ethereal, Wayne McGregor’s choreography ebbs and flows with the soundscape, manifesting an intense wall of billowing movement. There’s a sense of continuous movement, unnervingly so, as the dancers retract into a tight-knit group. Cast against Lucy Carter’s lighting design, otherworldly yet complimenting the soft pastels of Ursula Bombshell’s costumes – Presentient is a furrowing piece which feels held back by its inability to move outside of its confines.

Sandwiching between the opener and closing performance, Marion Motin’s Rogue strides ahead as a significantly brutal, mesmeric piece of movement. When the husk we clad ourselves in burns away, removing material possessions, our shields and homes, what sort of person is left behind – and what does it take to survive? Rouge, with echoes of the horrors of Grenfell, feels the most tangible of the triple bill, it’s metaphorical contexts grounded in Yann Seabra’s costume design, accelerating perception of the dancer’s proposed character.

Visceral, Motin’s choreography ensures a sense of fatigue, though far from an issue, this is the purpose of the piece. Every stretch of muscle, each collapse and push for the dancers to communicate a sense of ‘carrying on’ is visible. That when the world around you collapses, we find this primal resource to survive, our biological machines working to the fullest to the beating rhythm behind us.

If Micka Luna’s composition doesn’t evoke memories of long, regretful but exhilarating nights out, or push you back into the club-scene check your pulse. The rhythmic thrashing ensnares spectators, drawn to the pulsing movements as they march, drum and drop into the smouldering shadows. In pace with not only the dancers, Judith Leray’s lighting is also an assault on the senses, commanding our attention and conjuring a refusal to look away.

Control is the name of the game with Hofesh Shechter’s closing production of In Your Rooms, or rather, the lack of controlMuch of the Shechter’s lively choreography feels alien, distant to the audience, but glimmers with emotional recognition. Quite often we see these repetitious patterns bubble over in select performers, their physicality broken and overburdened as they leap sporadically, or crumple into the mess laying around them. The only piece with a voice-over, noting the building blocks of the universe and how he can comically; ‘do better’, it adds an extra element to the dynamic, though overstays by a minute or two.

Narrative is key for artistic director Benoit Swan Pouffer’s vision of Rambert’s triple bill. Above tight choreography, which is a given, Puffer’s desire for dancers with a purpose behind the talent, and ability to stand as both form and storyteller is evident, is part of Rambert’s issue here. Singularly, there is no fault in the movement, nor inherently with the pieces, instead, the flow staggers as two productions sit overshadowed by their middle sibling, detaching them from our expectations.

Review published for The Reviews Hub:

Photo Credit: Johan Persson