Miss Margarida’s Way by 5GoTheatreCo – ‘delightfully dark’

★★★

Miss Magarida’s Way is a text I had not come across before, and I should make a point of thanking 5goTheatreCo for bringing it to my attention. It’s a charged and fundamentally satirical piece by the Brazillian playwright Roberto Athayde, and it suits the small-scale realm of the Canal Café Theatre excellently. Its writing style boasts aspects similar to that of Pinter, Darke and Bond, though it admittedly seems a little overly reliant on sexual gags when there often appears to be room for more creative takes. That said, it is, of course, not Athayde’s writing alone that I’m reviewing, but this particular realisation of it, too.

The play is, in essence, some nightmarish attempt at a secondary school lesson, delivered through a dualized realisation of the ‘teacher’, Miss Margarida, depicted by Hanna Luna and Leena Makoff. Both performers are incredibly commanding, and the disembodiment of the educator’s role is wonderfully played out through their intense dictation. This is a real strength of the piece overall: the allegorical assertion that whatever the teacher says is fact, and nothing else, regardless of any evidence or sense that suggests otherwise. The complex (and often chaotic) speeches are beautifully communicated, and much of the actor’s movements are quite detailed. The minimal design elements work well in this intimate setting, though the over-reliance on red lighting states for moments of distortion seems a bit clichéd. The addition of a (understandably quite scared) student at the side of the stage is a fantastic touch, and stage manager Hugo Linton gives a great muted performance here, with lovely moments of silent comedy in their Gromit-esque expressions. The fact that the play’s structure is so inherently surreal makes this character’s rooted presence even funnier and more relatable – another great dramaturgical move is the suggestion that all of us in the audience are students, too (we’re even provided with worksheets).

‘You must obey. You must be silent’, dictates Margarida, and this seems a good summary of the overarching message of the piece. It is, indeed, a piece of ‘musts’ and not ‘shoulds’; an absolutist manifesto for control and submission. When at its best, it aptly comments on education and human nature with a delightfully dark sense of fun.

There’s some great ideas within the direction, but, at times, whilst layered with promise, they are loose in their execution. A wonderful skit highlighting the dangers of drugs has an incredibly promising start, with the student brandishing a comically huge joint, dancing to a loud musical underscore. This was, in my opinion, one of the funniest images of the whole evening, but then the moment ceased to go anywhere else. The dancing continued for around some twenty seconds more, and that was it; the start to something great faded. This is a running issue with the piece’s realisation.

There are uncomfortable moments. Despite the content warnings in the programme (which I very much appreciated), I struggle to see the need to deliver lines which contain thoroughly outdated and offensive homophobic language, or indeed, perhaps more importantly, their relevance to the here and now (the text is indeed billed as being ‘extremely relevant today’ in the company’s marketing). Sure, it’s clear that these words are being satirised, but their presence creates a certain cold aura that is hard to get on side with. There is a moment of slightly uncomfortable audience interaction, too, that involves physical touching and could go down badly with the ‘wrong’ participant – I somewhat hope that a plant was used for this.

I left The Canal Café quite content, but a bit perplexed. On the one hand, the promise of an interesting realisation of an older playscript had been greatly fulfilled, but I struggle to agree that Athayde’s text is as aligned to the here and now as the company suggests. It’s worth the evening, as a great introduction to this playwright’s work, and, too, that of the brilliant actors and creatives. Otherwise, though, due to the source material itself and, at times, certain creative choices, the experience feels a little misfired. That said, Miss Margarida’s Way still makes for a charming, humorous and thought-provoking evening at the theatre, and I’d thoroughly recommend supporting this company in their future work.

Miss Margarida’s Way ran from 24th-28th May at The Canal Café Theatre. More info on 5GoTheatreCo can be found here.

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Talk by Kill The Cat – a company ‘at the top of their game’

★★★★

Kill The Cat are not your ordinary theatre company. Their inherently immersive take on the medium is quite separate to all of the previous work I have seen at Theatre Royal Plymouth. So, in many ways, it was no surprise that, upon being invited into the space to experience (and certainly not ‘watch’) Talk, there was no front of house staff member to check seat numbers, wish us an enjoyable show or inform us of running times. Instead, co-artistic director and performer Dylan Frankland burst through the doors in full scientist get-up, frantically asking us to follow him into a small room equipped with cupboards and chairs, where the ‘experiment’ would begin.

Indeed, this is how Talk is framed – ‘theatre’ is amusingly absent from any of the performer’s descriptions of what is happening. We are all here to practice and experience science (for this is what Kill The Cat have apparently re-trained to do, following government guidance). And so, the experiments begin. Firstly, a hard to follow, but very friendly chat with our immediate neighbour, prompted by questions labelled on items within the cupboards in front of us. In an allotted time, we must make each other a hot drink with the provided ingredients, and keep up conversation whilst doing so. This proves to be both a stimulating and amusing experience, if not a tad overwhelming. The only real downside is – such is the time-sensitive nature of the experiments – we can’t actually stick around to drink our mugs of tea/coffee. (This is very much a personal gripe though, and not a genuinely held one. Science must be the focus.)

The entirety of the cast are truly excellent performers and improvisers, and the weaving together of rehearsed material, recorded segments and workshop-based scenarios is masterful. This is an immersive company at the top of their game. The rooms beneath TRP’s main venue have been immaculately re-designed to create a promenade-like experience of different ‘scientific’ spaces; everything from a ‘laser’ zone (beautifully realised with string and balloons), a town planning table (near innumberable lego sets for this) and a battle field (pick your cardboard pieces and construct your partner’s armour, in preparation for a final test of the greatest fighter present).

The spirit of Talk is made clear by the title – every experiment revolves around constant communication and opening up to the people around you. This is, for someone like me, quite overwhelming, and I hesitate to say that people who aren’t used to pushing themselves out of their comfort zone may find it a little difficult to comply with, but the friendly and wryly humorous atmosphere does wonders for lessening the pressure. And even I, a strangely awkward example of someone who works in the creative industries, felt compelled and encouraged to be myself, enjoy the experience, and totally lose track of time.

So, could I recommend this piece to anyone? My initial answer would be ‘not fairly’ – surely, you need to be up for enjoying its liveness, for contributing and talking, and going with the flow. It’s only fair to acknowledge that that might be offputting at first for many. But then I think again – Talk’s ability to articulate something quite profound about the lack of communication so many of us have faced in recent years makes it curiously and encouragingly universal. If one can get past that initial fear, a joyous and empowering experience can be had.

I never open up to others easily. I tend to keep conversation to a minimum in unfamiliar social situations. And yet, by the end of Talk, I had made a new friend I talked so freely with that another audience member thought we must have arrived at the show together. That, for me, proves the worth of this production. Put simply, it works.

TALK was created by Madeleine Allardice and Dylan Frankland, co-artistic directors of Kill The Cat. I watched TALK at Theatre Royal Plymouth. The show has now finished its current run, but further info about the piece and the company can be found on KTC’s website.

The Top 3 Best Shows I Saw in 2018

From the hilarious to the harrowing, twenty-eighteen brought some incredible performances to the UK theatre scene, both on a fringe and mainstream level.

I always find it hard to summarise my opinions on all the shows I see in one year, and it seems that each calendar-recycling day I end up feeling more and more daunted by such a task. In twenty-eighteen I watched thirty-seven shows, and so, unsurprisingly, narrowing this list down to what I believe to be the three best was no easy task, though as always, possibly more-so with theatre than any other art form, subjectivity plays a terrifically important role in ranking such artistic experiences; indeed, there is no arbitrary way to grade or organise art in terms of competence, relevancy or quality – the beauty is totally in the eye of the beholder. These are just my personal favourites – but my god did I like them.

3. The Body – Cider With Rosie

★★★★

8/10

By Nick Darke. Performed at The Cider Works, Crediton 10-12th July 2018. Directed by Racheal Vowles.

I am truly ashamed to say that, before stumbling upon this wonderfully bizarre text and production by the Cornish play-write, politician, beachcomber and all round general fucking legend Nick Darke, I was completely unaware of him or his wonderful texts. I understand he has a tendency to divide opinion – and certainly, I will acknowledge that the brutally surreal and relentlessly unpredictable nature of this farcical play isn’t for everyone, but I for one loved it. Not only did this unlikely rural production uncover a true partly forgotten gem of British play-writing, its energised, committed and frankly hilarious cast bought to it a very distinct charm, competency, silliness and subtle darkness that created the perfect dichotomy in which to present the text and its backwards narrative. Not forgetting of course the wonderful setting – a working Cider mill; airy, cold, and full of dangerous but slightly funny possibilities, much like the story itself, The Body dragged the word ‘theatre’ kicking and screaming into the world of twenty-first century community arts projects, and stuck a conking great red nose on it. This production was a true bit of gold-dust – incredibly hard to fault at all, bar some perhaps slightly drawn out segments more due to the nature of the script and not the performance – I would unreservedly recommend seeing it again if its revived, or indeed anything by Cider With Rosie in the future. Racheal Vowles’ direction has been proved by this show to be truly spellbinding and wickedly hilarious. A triumph of small-scale theatre.

2. Labels – Worklight Theatre

★★★★

9/10

By Joe Sellman-Leava. On tour 15th – 21st July 2018.

Labels was paradoxically both technically simple and logistically complicated, whilst retaining a beautifully multi-faceted and real story-line. With Joe Seaman-Leava’s performance leaving a brilliantly frank and assured comment upon race politics in our current social climate, it’s no wonder that Worklight have received widely positive responses to the production. A poignant way to conclude the running of Exeter’s most unusual theatre, The Bike Shed (may its legacy rest in such pieces), the show’s tendency to hope for the better seemed both admirable and indeed minorly depressing – that we haven’t already achieved better, that is. Much of the piece revolves around Joe’s own anecdotes from growing up in rural England as a mixed race man, and at times, despite his jovial style, amazing capability for impressions and effortless stage presence, the piece can be incredibly hard to watch. It paints a sad yet incredibly truthful picture of the racism we can so easily forget about unless we are directly faced with it. A stellar performance only slightly let down by structural aspects and at times perhaps a slight over-reliance on comedy; in reality the issues at hand are so grave, important and genuine, there’s no need for such engagement tactics. People should listen regardless, and indeed it seems that they do, if only because of Joe’s no-nonsense, ego-less attitude to the topic and performance. It feels more like a conversation with a friend than a solo piece, and at that, a very important one.

1. Amadeus – National Theatre

By Peter Shaffer. Performed at The National Theatre, London (Olivier Stage) 22nd January-24th April.

★★★★★

10/10

The very thought of Amadeus still gives me goosebumps to this day as I write this, even though it’s been a fucking year since I watched it. Lucian Msamati’s depiction of Salieri is masterful, and Adam Gillen’s Mozart, whilst at first potentially hard to get into and perhaps overly clownish at certain moments, proves otherwise pitch perfect and manically gorgeous. The Southbank Sinfonia’s violently precise movements, re-mixing classical tunes into rock-steady beats of strings and serenity add another incredible aspect to this wonderful realisation of Peter Shaffer’s text. It goes without saying that any future performances crafted by seemingly much-under-watched award-winning director Micheal Longhurst are absolutely worth trying to experience, as this incredible monster of storytelling proves undoubtedly his incredible capabilities in forming theatre that can be as architecturally complex as it is relatable. With an effortless passage through time and tale there is, in my opinion, only one word that summarises the production and indeed the man himself who it is so covertly named after: Magnificent.

-Toby Moran Mylett

Exit The King by Patrick Marber – ‘Shamelessly silly’

★★★

7/10

exit the kingMarber’s adaptation of Ionesco’s absurdist exploration of the inevitable curse of mortality is, textually, an entertaining and generally delightful ride, with an affecting albeit slightly confusing conclusion. The cast’s performances are full of energy, composure and individuality, and the play’s design elements shine brightly throughout, but one of the most admirable aspects is that of Marber’s interrogation of the original text to create an adaptation that takes into account Ionesco’s own life experiences but still breathes new life into the piece, with dashes of its original surrealism and satire alongside hints of commedia dell’arte, slapstick and a sometimes near total absence of a fourth wall.

It seems an interesting choice of text for Marber to pursue at this point in time; it doesn’t shine too much explicit relevancy to socio-political aspects of our current era, at my first, possibly foolish, glance (bar its exaggerated depiction of a kingdom and its people crumbling seemingly beyond repair) but perhaps that’s because it is, by nature, somewhat timeless – no matter what point in history you look at, as stupid as it may sound, people still experience death. We have the same worries, gripes and fears as we always have done, we think of the uncertainty, the beyond, the what ifs, the why nots – we are all guilty of indulging these trains of thought at countless points in our lives, and for that reason, watching King Bérenger’s demise presents an oddly unsettling question: whilst we laugh or despair at his overblown, selfish, confused and often deranged attitude to his inevitable passing, won’t we all feel just the same once we get to our own individual ends, too?

A few certain cast members provide really admirable performances in an absurdist, farcical world that is difficult to portray at the best of times, particularly Derek Griffiths as The King’s ever-attentive and respectful Guard, often proclaiming pointless headlines on his demise to the rest of the kingdom at regular intervals throughout the one act performance (pun intended), and Indira Varma, who portrays a stunningly composed and stern Queen Marguerite. Adrian Scarborough plays an incredibly engaging and wholly likeable King’s Physician – a breath of fresh air in a play full of quite unlikeable or over-exaggerated characters, and Rhys Ifans plays the title role with a fantastic and highly impressive tensity, but Marber’s inconsistent direction appears to have ignored the fact that this leading role exhibits much the same character throughout, instead of developing more maniacally as would seem natural as he gets closer and closer to death. It seems that more time could have been taken examining the individual score of the character to see how his madness could ensue whilst we watch him reach his end, and how his general manner could become more tense and dishevelled as he regresses. Instead, however, in many ways, we see a greatly similar King leave the stage for the final time that we did when he first burst onto it: arrogant, frail and loudly unlikeable. It appears a missed opportunity overall, though Ifans without a doubt does the best that he can with such a role, and channels an incredible amount of energy into his character, both physically and vocally, even when in his most quiet, near vegetative, moments.

The use of live trumpet adds a pleasant extra dimension to the piece but also seems slightly isolated and underused – the awkward final bow of the solo musician almost seemed comical due to her sheer under-use in the piece. Perhaps greater attention to live musical elements could have been paid if this was an area Marber wished to pursue – or, indeed, it could have been questioned as to whether this was required at all. Another directorial (and jointly script-based) problem arises from the comedy in the piece, which, whilst at many points is classically farcical, appears at times far too obvious or crude for a play with such unusual and dark undertones. Many jokes do hit the mark though, and both Ionesco and Marber’s love of the bizarre shines through beautifully. Anthony Ward’s stage design is also wonderful, with its immense broken palace wall and regal red carpet thrust.

Further problems however arise from the show’s inability to remain sure of its tonality, as mentioned earlier, and indeed the qualities of its characters; whilst the onstage execution of the final scene was astounding, what seemed like a complete change in character from Queen Marguerite occurred, as she exhibited a manner which seemed profoundly different to that which she had shown for much of the preceding ninety-five minutes. The piece is also littered with excessive monologues, that whilst being beautifully composed frequently drag and rarely seem to deliver the meaningful conclusions they appear to grapple for (bar one particular passage in which the King talks, in painstaking detail, of the slow, gory death of his former pet cat). Whilst these may exhibit such length through fear of diverting too far from Ionesco’s original words, perhaps an edit to the entire script could have made the piece feel far more cohesive and concise, and perhaps even, comedically, a little rushed.

All in all Exit The King feels like a decidedly mixed bag; more leaning without a doubt towards positive attributes, being an often hilarious, consistently engaging and never dull show, but showing notable inconsistencies which drag it down from being quite as good as it could potentially be. I am unsure as to whether we will see this script re-surface on a mainstream level again for some time, but if the National is to bring back this particular production I hope that some time is taken to refine and polish its delicate, shamelessly silly world, and that its passage and characters can therefore shine more pristinely. But what remains undeniable is that Marber has breathed beautiful new life into this text which has so much to say and poke great fun at, and I for one am incredibly grateful to him for bringing it to the fore once again.

‘Exit The King’ played on the Olivier Stage at the National Theatre, London, from the 17th July until the 6th of October 2018.

-Toby Moran Mylett

 

 

Boyhood (2014) ‘Linklater Is A Natural Director For Such A Film’

★★★★

9/10

Boyhood is a real experience, in a good way. Richard Linklater’s 12 year epic, both in terms of production and story, depicts the child-to-teenage-hood of Mason, a fairly ordinary boy from the United States. It captures a very certain sombre confusion that I think, in some way, every single one of us felt during our teenage years, and this is beautifully shown through not only the gentle storytelling but also the compelling performances and brilliant presentation of power dynamics in families, workplaces and other areas of life.

Boyhood-2014-movie-poster

Linklater’s trademark aimless precision shines throughout as the story weaves a notably honest but somewhat bleak plot-line through almost disjointed scenes, shown chronologically with minimal score, cuts or edits, as we have grown so used to seeing in Linklater’s work. However here I would argue that this technique of his works its best, as through such a style combined with this subject matter a distinct sense of futility manifests – all of Mason’s key life events seem disconnected and isolated, and whilst things do happen and he learns consequentially through them, nothing of major importance, to him, at least, really occurs in the end, and that really is kind of the point this time. Boyhood presents a calm nothingness that seems to capture teenage angst and a youthful longing for a meaningful identity perfectly. Linklater is a natural director for such a film.

The overall style, however, does seem predictable at points if you are already familiar with Linklater’s work, and certain soundtrack choices seem a tad too twee even for a film about teenage in-opportunity. The opening is especially weak: a reverse pan from a 6 year old lying on a grassy lawn, staring blankly at the sky whilst Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’, a classic 2009 PicCollage favourite, plays softly in the background seems, ultimately, very uncreative. Such a style of sequence has been replicated countless times before, more often than not in B grade music videos, and I feel there could have been so many more interesting methods of beginning such an unusual film. The script presents another localised issue, as whilst being very strong overall, particularly in moments of conflict (one is heavily reminded of that long argument scene in Before Midnight) certain exchanges between the younger characters in the film seem forced and improbable, not helped by how a few younger performers struggle slightly to perform coherently or convincingly, including even, at points, Lorelie Linklater, Richard’s daughter. I generally expect and partly forgive this of child actors – it’s hard to direct someone of such an age and it’s even harder to find younger people who work as well as many fully trained adults do on screen – but when the younger characters are the main focus of the film, it seems important that the casting process chooses only the strongest for the final shoot.

However, certain performances shine blindingly brightly, and rightly so too; in terms of younger actors, Ellar Coltrane is spot on as Mason and Zoe Graham portrays a thoroughly convincing good-friend-turned-love-interest in the character of Sheena. Ethan Hawke (of course he’s in this, he probably has a contract based around ownership of his soul to Linklater at this point) and Patricia Arquette are completely believable and, at heart, an incredibly likeable dis-associated pair, both with intentions and views that don’t quite correspond to the other, but neither in any way malicious (Hawke’s role admittedly being somewhat reminiscent of a slight re-hash of his previous character in the Before trilogy). Other more minor cast members also deliver wonderful on-screen performances, such as Charlie Sexton and Richard Robicheaux, but one of the most striking actors has to be Marco Perella, whose detailed and chillingly measured but thoroughly unpredictable depiction of Welbrock, an abusive stepfather with a far from stereotypical background, is legitimately terrifying. The measure and calmness of his general manner contrasted with bursts of sheer rage, shown only at fleeting moments, reaches a perfect equilibrium allowing him to become, for me, possibly the most impactful character in the entire film. Breaking the stereotype to show an abuser who isn’t, at first glance, thuggish or shady, but in fact quite the opposite, is not only important but incredibly clever.

In essence Boyhood is, just like growing up from infancy into adulthood, a rite of passage; it should be considered a must-see for anyone who is a fan of Linklater or less conventional cinema. It encompasses all that is synonymous with the age gap it depicts and provides a reassuring nod to anyone experiencing anything even vaguely similar to that which Mason is going through: a craving for an extra bit of encouragement, or direction, or confirmation as to what should happen in the immediate next. As Patricia Arquette’s frustrated character says in a final quiet moment in the piece, ‘I just thought there would be more’. I think, at some point in our lives, we all did.

-Toby Moran Mylett