Tag Archives: physical theatre

Edinburgh FringeReview 2015: The Marvellous Imaginary Menagerie – Les Enfants Terribles

Written and originally hosted at FringeReview. Link: Written and originally hosted at FringeReview. Link:

Les Enfants Terribles introduces you to a plethora of make-believe beasts, presented by a travelling band of vagabonds. 2015 marks Les Enfants Terribles’ 14th consecutive Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Photo Credit: Marc Sethi

Photo Credit: Marc Sethi

Les Enfants draws in the usual crowd of young artists and families who expect a bit more from their children’s theatre – and, as usual, deliver precisely that. Dr Longitude (Maxwell Tyler) has travelled the world with the intentions of filling up his travelling menagerie with never before seen (or heard of) animals, but on his travels he also manages to assemble an unlikely band of anti-heroes, each one as loveable and hopeless as the last.

The end on Pleasance Beyond stage is transformed into a moving musical mounted float, complete with flashing brake lights, and thinly guised Fringe-themed irony. A soundscape of undecipherable animal noises greet us even before we see the masterful set, which becomes an adventure playground for the cast – hidden nooks and crannies forever surprising and delighting children and parents alike.

As we follow a narrative that challenges the notion of the brave and upright adventurer, we discover how each character found themselves where they are now, each addition to the crew adding a new tentacle or feeler to Dr Longitude’s zoo; and what a collection he has. With a cast made up more of puppets than performers, the energy of this young company is unshakeably infectious. The strong characterisation and their dynamic vigour is something to behold, benefitting from clear and solid direction. The sheer quantity and originality of the puppets that appear throughout the show is a testament to Daisy Beattie’s innovative skills. The production includes all the favourites of theatre for young audiences – bouncy musical scores, slapstick choreography, audience participation, innocent humour (with some cultural references that go over the little one’s heads), and all the fun of the fair.

The story was complimented by use of song and physical structuring – a seemingly customary theme of children’s theatre (a fact that was delightfully commented on), but managed to do so non-contrived way. The company took risks with what young spectators are presented with in the current trends, and achieved a vibrant and highly enjoyable performance. Dancing the ever-fine line of entertaining the parents whilst engaging younger eyes, the script at times was highly wordy and complex, which was sometimes missed by adults, let alone children. This clearly came from a place of wanting to pack as many wonderful creatures and moments into the show as possible, which was undoubtedly accomplished; a true gem of the Fringe.

Published August 11, 2015

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Edinburgh FringeReview 2015: FEAST – Clout Theatre

Written and originally hosted at FringeReview. Link: http://fringereview.co.uk/review/edinburgh-fringe/2015/feast/

A certain feast for the eyes, ears, nose, and brain – that’s if you can stomach it. Clout Theatre’s FEAST gives you an hour of sensory overload, as we follow the evolution of three beings in soul, mind, and, most of all, body.


Photo: Richard Davenport

Photo: Richard Davenport

If you don’t like theatre that takes risks, makes you uncomfortable, and dives, headfirst, into the absurd; this is not the show for you. Clout Theatre are back doing what they do best: pushing the borders of what some may call performance art, and others would argue theatre. A barrage of uncomfortably high noise greets us as we enter the space, only decipherable as some sort of insect or the shrill cries of birds. A mass of flesh is assembled on top of a pile of dirt, twitching as the audience finds their seats. Three performers are barely covered in bandage like materials, over the important areas and around the head, so that only the face is visible. Attached by rope to their ankles, a large tin bowl. The lights are harsh and unforgiving, and we see every discomforting twitch their limbs make – all this before the show has even started.

We follow the three performers through a series of life lessons, marking their growths as organisms including standing, walking etc. or the ‘Breakfast’ section of the evolution of man. Each subsequent meal of the day remarks on the patterns that emerge through the discovery of the social, moral, and survival skills, inspired by historical and fictional literature. There is no speech throughout, the performers fully portraying their vast and hypnotic physical training, complimented with unnerving clowning and grotesque technique. Narrative structure is teamed and melded inseparably with surprising design choices, onstage and off. The use of any other technical aspects are sparse, brought in only to heighten the strong on stage presence and climatic moments. All we are left with is the sounds of skin, on floor, on dirt, on food, on skin – teamed with the audiences’ irregular breathing and nervous laughter.

The audience literally look down onto the stage from their raised, tiered seating, and grow more uncomfortable with our cosy chairs with every minute that passes. It is safe to say that this is a company that will not be taken lightly – everything that happened on stage was drawn out to almost unbearable reality, no corners cut, and no holds barred. The effect is one where, when leaving the theatre, you are not quite sure what you have just witnessed, and are certain you are unlikely to see anything like it again. One young actor in the audience was being comforted by his friends as the auditorium emptied. Join Clout on an incredulous journey through variety of worlds, through the guises of courses, and partake in a packed visceral plate that is difficult to digest. There’s no doubt about it, you will not find anything else quite like this on the Fringe.

Published August 11, 2015

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Edinburgh FringeReview 2015: Bayou Blues – CalArts Festival Theater

With an impressive number of awards behind her, Shaina Lynn invites us to join her as she sidles through the dreams of Beauty, a young black girl who experiences her first Mardi Gras. A play that investigates how people and places first appear, personifying immediate judgements vs. the darker, or lighter truths underneath.

Photo Credit: Via Shaina Lynn Twitter

Photo Credit: Via Shaina Lynn Twitter

Venue 13 is a little off the beaten track of the cows and domes, but a venue with an extremely welcome change of pace. The auditorium larger than it appears from outside, the minimalist design of Tanya Orellana setting us up nicely to be transported to another world. It’s safe to say Lynn knows what she’s doing, her piercing gaze picking out every single audience member as she welcomes us into her story. Dressed in a waterfall of patterned blue material, performer and set design melt together irresistibly, with beautiful projections aiding her engaging narrative.

We follow the story of Beauty, a young girl who’s skin is considered “too dark” to be beautiful. The time or year seems irrelevant, conveying moments of the past and present. Lynn portrays an array of characters as well as Beauty, who conclude the same verdict. New Orleans grows from colourful beads and brass bands into a world of shadow, controlled by light and projections.

The narrative jumps slightly, forward through time to a New Orleans that finds itself underwater, reflecting on the devastating effects that Hurricane Katrina had on the country. The technical aspects of the show were matched well to Lynn’s on stage movements, highlighting and never out of place. The animation work through projecting onto the strips of material aligning the back of the stage was nothing short of stunning, aiding to Lynn’s enchanting stage presence.

Lynn’s warm and comforting demeanour allows you to relax and let her work her magic across the stage. Combining movement, dance, spoken word and rap, the script is a mash up of poetry and prose, with every word delivered home by a very capable actor. The structure of the plot is pieced together surprising and jarringly at times, the shifts in time and place taking a few sentences to recollect the audience. The multitude of characters Lynn attempts are sometimes unclear, especially through moments of dialogue between two similarly aged characters. This was always forgiven, however, as the young actress managed a poise and elegance beyond her years juxtaposed with a cultural vitality that often surprised.

Overall, the performance was a charming take on some meaty themes. You sense a strong impression of collaboration between the production team, and a well-deserved pride that comes from achieving an ambitious show. For a welcome change of pace from the manic mile, head down to Venue 13 and rise and shine with Beauty in the Bayou.

Published August 14, 2015

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Edinburgh FringeReview 2015: Titus Andronicus: An All Female Production – Smooth Faced Gentlemen

Written and originally hosted at FringeReview. Link: http://fringereview.co.uk/review/edinburgh-fringe/2015/titus-andronicus-an-all-female-production-2/

Armed with an all female cast and gallons of red paint, the award winning Smooth Faced Gentlemen return with this colourful retelling of Shakespeare’s bloody drama.


Photo: Daniel Harris

Smooth Faced Gentlemen carved their niche for all female productions of Shakespeare, continuing to create innovative and intelligent adaptations that hold their own alongside the big dogs of Bard work. Taking advantage of the numbers of talented female actors that outweigh casting calls, this production displays some superb performances, clever staging, and original design choices, very much in keeping with their fresh and unapologetic style.

The piece begins with a high-energy fight scene, introducing the company’s answer to portraying this violent play – swords are replaced with paintbrushes, and blood with lots and lots of red paint. It’s a clever technique, especially enjoyed when the characters get inventive with the concept. Paintbrushes vary in size and shape, having an effect driven by masculine energy and competition. The violent acts (Warning: Spoiler alert for those who haven’t read the play) of throat slitting, finger cutting, and tongue removal are achieved to sharp affect, and with thorough conviction.

Performances from the strong ensemble cast vary, but there is a thorough understanding and some interesting interpretations of the text. Titus is performed by a very capable Henri Merriam, but it is Emily Bairstow’s Tamora that steals the show. The young actress has a presence that you are unable to take your eyes off from start to finish, teamed with a righteous and gutsy Aaron, played by Anita-Joy Uwajeh, who is also a name to watch.

It’s a very enjoyable and satisfying show, the story told with a punchy pace and well judged timing. The choral elements involving the whole cast were particularly well placed, carrying the narrative with an ethereal beauty and aiding troublesome transitions. The pleasing set swelled and swayed with the gravity of the character’s realisations, continually surprising and always supporting stage presence. The quality of speech and tackling of some text was unfortunately not as satisfying, with words sometimes lost within one intention or lack of direction. Volume played a large part in this, having a consistent level with little variation, causing the denser moments to fall flat. However, the energy of the young cast makes up for this, with effective multi-rolling and clear, precise physical choices.

I want to say Smooth Faced Gentlemen are certainly paving the way for all-female theatre groups, but the all-female part is not important, and an unfair brush to continuously paint them with. The fact that they create performances with women does not surpass the fact that they make exciting, enjoyable performances as a theatre group, full stop. The fact they tackle the arguably misogynistic works of the Bard delivers a delicious piece of irony to their mission statement, which certainly feeds into their directing and staging choices. This performance is bold, ballsy, and challenges the audience with imagery that burns onto your brain, but probably best avoided by the squeamish.

Published August 19, 2015

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Edinburgh FringeReview 2015: Close Up – Circa

Written and originally hosted at FringeReview. Link: http://fringereview.co.uk/review/edinburgh-fringe/2015/close-up/

Circa return with their latest blink-and-you’ll-miss-it feats, bringing the audience up close and personal with their performers. A visceral and frenetic feast of acrobatics, balance, and hand-to-hand skills using projection, music, and us as the audience, to break down the performer/spectator relationship in circus shows.

Circa - Close Up Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015 Photo Credit: Richard Davenport.

Circa – Close Up Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015
Photo Credit: Richard Davenport.

As far as acrobatics and circus skills in performance go, everyone needs to see a Circa production. The daring and freshness of this Australian company, despite being impeccably skilled, never rests of on their laurels as far as handstands and back-flips are concerned; every show offers something different and pushes at the boundaries of the genre. Close Up is no exception; this time using extreme zoomed in projection and audience participation in order for us to really get a feel (figuratively and literally) for the abilities of the performers.

Before illustrating his staggering aptitude for hand balancing, one performer ran around the auditorium allowing people to feel his hands, whilst describing his routine for keeping them soft yet strong enough for his profession. Across the room, another acrobat was walking on the laps of audiences. Usually for the sakes of risk assessments and safety measures, the fourth wall has to be very much in place for circus productions, especially those concerning height and aerial equipment. Circa’s capabilities meant that, while still being safe, they were able to cross the line of having an audience simply watch a performance, and actively engage – a clever move to make an audience more invested in what it is they are seeing.

Alongside this, we are presented with a series of edited screenings, presented on a large backdrop that makes the stage space where these incredible acts take place feel even smaller and closer. In the slowest of motions, and zoomed in to the max, images of the movements circus performers achieve with ease are given a new perspective – down to the clouds of chalk and ripples of skin that are  a consequence of the actions. At times, this bordered on feeling like a new age, black and white, film-noir nature documentary, but an interesting choice to enable clear transitions. Juxtaposing this, an incredibly refreshing use of direct address and song, with a microphone delightfully passed between acrobats doing what they do best.

There is no question of the immaculate nature of Circa’s abilities. Their dedicated training centre time after time is the launch pad for some of the most powerful and risk-taking work in the field, creating a generation of almost superhuman performers. This performance successfully tries to take away from just that – the concept of this inhuman performer who doesn’t make mistakes; a somersault just another way to get to work in the morning. The bold and unapologetic direction of this performance not only has you rubbing your eyes afterwards due to being unable to close them, but constantly thinking of the performers as actual living, breathing people who have trained to be masters of their crafts. This intimate, behind the scenes look at the tangibility of circus skills is infectiously captivating and devoid of any air of pretention.

Published August 22, 2015

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Edinburgh FringeReview 2015: 64 Squares – Rhum and Clay Theatre Company

Written and originally hosted at FringeReview. Link: http://fringereview.co.uk/review/edinburgh-fringe/2015/64-squares/ 

B isn’t sure who they are; no, that wasn’t a grammar faux pas. Rhum and Clay take you on a journey of one person, whose obsession with chess splits him into four separate entities. Through an abundance of physical storytelling and live percussion, we join B as he tries to piece together his memories.

64 Squares, Rhum and Clay Theatre Company. Julian Spooner, Charlotte Dubery, & Matthew Wells. Photo: Richard Davenport

64 Squares, Rhum and Clay Theatre Company. Julian Spooner, Charlotte Dubery, & Matthew Wells. Photo: Richard Davenport

After a last minute crowdfunding pull, Rhum and Clay secured their spot at the Underbelly’s Big Belly stage. If this young company were unable to perform, it would have been a crime. 64 Squares rolls out piece after piece of impeccable storytelling, through a series of physical sequencing and contemporary techniques, switching from humour to heartache in an instant. The performers are all on stage throughout the hour long, sold out performance, and although hot and packed in, the audience were gripped from the first word.

We meet the four B’s, all wearing light blue jackets with the letter monographed in gold, the only clue he has to remind him of his former self. The era of the late 1930s is established by the three actors (Julian Spooner, Matthew Wells, and Róisín O’Mahony) and a live musician side of stage (Fred McLaren), who is equally integral to the performance. The narrative melds seamlessly with B’s discovery of himself and of the people he has met in his travels, each performer jumping in and out of a variety of characters with surgical precision.

The musical accompaniments are never overbearing, and perfectly matched with the rise and fall of an intelligent and highly original script. The audience knows who everyone is at all times, despite 90% of the show being in a constant multi-rolled cycle, achieved through clear direction, fully embodied characterisation, and pristine physical vision.

The Big Belly stage is a large shoe to fill, and a challenge that this skilful ensemble whole-heartedly accomplish. The cast personify an array of delightful characters that fill the stage, with an unapologetic determination that has the audience eating out of their hands. The space was in a constant state of flux, transformed from the belly of a boat, into a high-rise office and a dank prison cell, to name but a few. Through slick and economic transitions, dreamlike images melt from scene to scene, further portraying the company’s unique physical motifs and never straying from the plot.

The set served as a Swiss Army knife of bits and pieces for the company to play with. Costumes and props appeared and disappeared again in seconds, the performers using makeshift objects to add to tech. Although ostensibly a low budget solution, by playing with shadow and torch light, the organic, live aspects of the show not only kept you aware of the capability of the performers, but also immersed you further into the concept of being inside a man’s head; each memory was literally created, without depending on technical aspects which can easily remove audiences from a carefully crafted fictional world.

The quirky reality achieved by this stand out performance somehow successfully generates a warm familiarity alongside out of the ordinary concepts. Nothing was superfluous, every gesture, sound, and word contributing to our overall understanding with irresistible effect. With this winning combination of engaging historic memoirs and inventive contemporary movement, Rhum and Clay are fast becoming one of the decade’s most fresh and exciting physical companies.

Published August 12, 2015

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