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- [Review:] A CARAVAN NAMED DESIRE, Camden People's Theatre, London.
NB: To clarify: forenames alone are used to refer to the actors' onstage personae, where forenames and surnames are used together to refer to the actors, Helen and Alexander Millington, themselves. This is an interesting performance but one whose focus, throughline or line of study I find difficult to identify, and this is an issue. Whilst themes of trust, confidentiality and privacy, intimacy, lust and love are recurrent, these are not sufficient to ground the performance and to give it an overall identity. There is also a stark interplay between metatheatricality and realism which has not been fully conceived, refined and integrated, and this complicates a reading of the performance further. The lack of emotional connection we are permitted with the characters, through Brechtian techniques, is most notable, yet why we are distanced to observe the series of, rather bluntly, quite banal events is unclear. We learn nothing at all about sex work or the industry, which is supposedly, as we are told by Alexander, the play's focus, and this would not be a problem if there was a sense of dramatic irony, that even though the character desires a specific outcome for this play and a message to come from it, we actually learn or experience something different. This would be acceptable, but I am not sure what we are to learn or take from this performance at all: enjoyment, education, or otherwise. I shall start with this metatheatricality–realism interplay. First, the interactions during the overture, which sees the two actors roaming the stage, talking to one another 'out of character' and in the personae of our performing husband and wife duo, vocally unprepared and unaided by faulty technical mishaps. Perhaps this was due to the specificity of the night on which I saw the performance — i.e. perhaps the overture was extended to give a chance for more audience members to arrive — but these interactions were far too structured. Lines were repeated, as were movements, actions and the constant technical mishaps and reactions to these. The lines shared between the duo were also incongruous with the actual text — Helen expresses that she does not want to perform because she does not know what she is doing, but as soon as the play is ready to begin, we see no more hesitation throughout, only aggressive resistances to perform certain actions: to wear high heels, to re-enact sexual activities, etc. Somehow, this is supposedly Helen's first time ever performing her husband's play, yet she reels off her lines perfectly, in early scenes barely looking at her script. She does not stumble over choreography and blocking, delivery is faultless, and, despite assuming the persona of an 'untrained' actress, Helen Millington's own natural credibility, skill and technique as an actual actress is left far too transparent — somewhat understandably, as, personally, I believe this to be the most difficult thing for actors to perform: to act as though an actor who cannot act. This sense of structure, perfection and infallibility renders all metatheatrical techniques redundant: we are desired to believe that we are seeing disguise-less, authentic individuals, untrained[?] actors, performing characters, describing their intentions, bickering with one another, and yet natural occurrences, breaks in rhythm and momentum, awkwardnesses, etc., are not permitted. Alexander, for example, especially as merely 'the writer', performs far too robotically, rhythmically, deliberately, characterising all personae with a distinct nervousness, where perhaps caricaturisation should be used to differentiate distinctly character from actor — one reason as to why Brecht himself conceived the Gestus. One particular example of this unwanted ‘perfection’ and mimetic structure is in what I shall refer to as the ‘36 questions scene’, where lighting and sound design, in particular, along with Helen’s lack of hesitation to perform the sharp blocking with a moment’s notice, present us with an unbroken, polished vignette into the fictional characters’ lives. Perhaps an attempt at a Brechtian fragmented sequence, but this was far too mimetic and undisrupted. I should also note that the duration of this particular scene ought to be cut down significantly for both efficacy and appeal, as should that of the ‘eye contact sequence’ where we are enabled to settle into the fictive space for far too long, undisturbed…and for what cause? The role and function of the audience are most questionable, as well. Suddenly active participants after having only been spoken to and not with as passive spectators, we are to be considered throughout this performance as witnesses, aggressors, silent listeners, and voters, amongst others, and these roles have significant differences and allow for vastly disparate psychological results amongst audiences. The difference, for example, between an audience member being called on stage during a merely comedic scene of no political value and with no effect whatsoever upon the narrative, pretending to be a sex worker’s client, and having audience members decide where upon the actor’s body a bruise is to be depicted. These demand two entirely different psychological states from the audience — and, again, why? There seems to be no apparent reason behind such intense audience play. And what if the audience, particularly another one so intimate, refuses altogether to participate, which is quite likely due to the lack of coaxing and audience preparation and the abruptness of this demand for a brave volunteer, especially with intimate audiences? How is the play prepared for such a hesitancy type? I do not think the creatives are prepared at all for such an occurrence. I will say, however, that this performance is the first I have seen in a long time that has, overall, used Brechtian techniques with an understanding of their nature and aesthetic. Whilst compromised by a lack of aim and focus, and by the mimetic quality of the performance, all of the techniques used in this performance are generally cohesive and well-informed in themselves. This is a huge achievement. The actors are also confident and bold, and both have good stage presence, resilience, vitality and skill. Technique, then, is most promising for this duo in their choices for both acting and performance styles; however, how these techniques can be successfully incorporated into and utilised/weaponised in performance has yet to be discovered. An analogy to clarify what I mean: the correct hammer has been used to insert the nail, where usually people use the incorrect tool altogether, but the nail has, unfortunately, been inserted into the wrong site. Techniques are used with a sophisticated awareness but with no reason and to no avail. I would thus recommend above all else that these particular creatives ask themselves for every decision in performances like these two questions: What effect will this have on my audience? And, most importantly, why have I decided to do this? “An intriguing performance with great promise but one who has yet to discover its purpose, aims and focus.” Want a technical analysis for your own live performance? Private and public reviews are requestable by all London-based artists and for any live performance type. For more information, please click here. Artists from across the UK and the globe can also benefit from performance analyses as part of my dramaturgy service and can receive guidance, support and training in the form of consultations and/or workshops.
- [Review:] SKIN, Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, London.
This was an enjoyable performance tackling a sensitive topic, written and directed by Peter Todd and staged at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre. The first issue that comes to mind, which I see more and more often nowadays as a theatre critic, is the performance’s inconsistency in style. For this performance, there are two main concerns in this regard: mood, and narrative style. I shall start with the former. It was most surprising, after discovering that our main character might not wake from her surgery, to see a nurse (Proshanto Chanda) using a hairdryer to warm her hypothermic body whilst blabbering on about his holidays. From this moment on, all seriousness and gravity is taken from the play and replaced with an exaggerative comedy, unrealistic and caricatural. Perhaps the intention here was to alleviate the tensions created amongst the audience by Sadie’s (Juliette Imbert) circumstances…if so, why? This change in mood is simply confounding and entirely destructive to the world of the play being built heretofore. It destroys any empathy we have been developing for Sadie, complicates style and mood, and also conveys a sharp degree of insensitivity about the sensitive topic at hand, which is the exact opposite of what is intended here. On to the latter. It is interesting to learn that the idea that originated this play was what I shall refer to henceforward as ‘the MRI movement sequence’ and surprising to see that this gave birth to a play text. Indeed, situated in a dialogue-heavy performance, this sequence seems most disjointed from the rest of the play, but it does have considerable potential in its own right. The use of the LED wands representative of the scanner is most creative and original. In terms of this choreography itself, I would note that this sequence is far too long and thus loses its efficacy in what become mundane/unoriginal and somewhat irrelevant movements: Sadie slow-motion walking whilst the doctors rush around her, or hurrying for an exit, blocked by them and retreating, and so on. I would have liked to see, rather than these more esoteric, interpretive and body-focused movements, a more symbolic and narrative-based approach; I think this would have been more appropriate for this particular performance. One method to achieve this, for example, would have been a better incorporation of the red ball into the sequence, being symbolic of the button Sadie could press to alert the medical professionals that she would like to stop the procedure prematurely. But even this in itself is discontinuous, as Sadie, in actual fact, never signals for the procedure to be stopped, as far as we know, so why the movements with the red ball, those that hold power in ultimately ending the choreography? Additionally, that the sequence should be broken by a voiceover of the doctor repeating the symptoms that she may encounter before the scan…whilst we are halfway through watching the scan take place…is equally discontinuous. Having the doctors represented as aloof, uncompassionate, opportunistic and somewhat secretive is fitting with the narrative we are presented elsewhere, but the repeated looks they share amongst themselves, Sadie's victimisation by them, and having them appear as stubborn, villainous obstacles is quite incongruous. To emphasise and clarify: this is exactly why I believe the cat-and-mouse games of Sadie rushing to escape and the doctors blocking her are unsuitable here. On the topic of the inconsistency of the representation of the doctors in the movement sequence vs the rest of the play: additionally, there is an inconsistency within the latter alone. In particular, Leah O’Grady has a peculiar challenge with the role of Dr Kinsella, and it is unsurprising, given the incoherency in the text, that the profile she presents is ultimately not credible. Dr Kinsella’s language in the written text is sterile, erudite; her speech is active, and she fails to communicate as doctors should: using simple language and presenting empathetically. Then, suddenly, at the end of every one of her scenes, she demonstrates compassion, personal investment, and breaks this sterility of their particularised doctor–patient divide. I should also note here the decision to have the actors multi-role. Overall, the cast members have great vitality and a good command on their roles, and so it is surprising that Chanda, for example, was not chosen to represent the surgeon portrayed by Elise Busset. Sadie’s sister, whom Busset plays, is a primary character, and so having Busset portray this character and the surgeon, who furthermore refers to Sadie’s sister as an entirely different character, allows for semiotic confusion, unwanted metatheatricality and hence audience distancing, and, ultimately, another destruction of illusion — illusion being vital for performances like this that demand psychological realism and emotional audience–performer connection. For this reason, I would recommend Chanda play the role of this surgeon, though I can perceive a propensity of his towards more comedic characters than this serious one, so perhaps this was the reason behind this decision. Despite an adequate performance from all actors, there is a certain lack of urgency across the cast: muscular tension, vitality, transformativity, etc. With this call for multi-roling, I should really emphasise the importance of transformativity, in particular. Characters are simply not distinguished enough, or, when they are, new characters are presented far too caricaturally to distinguish them from previous profiles. This caricaturisation adds an undesirable layer of comedy. Overall, we struggle to find the happy medium between clown-like caricaturisation and a serious and rather stoic naturalism. Lack of muscular tension is particularly noticeable in the MRI movement sequence, with choreography being performed rather routinely.. Corporeal awareness is also note-worthy in this performance, specifically in the opening scene. I hope to be right in my assumption that Busset spilling her beer was not planned, given its clumsy and dangerous effects. What followed was a beyond excellent ad libitum from Imbert and Busset, but especially from Imbert in urging as Sadie that her sister remember that she now has a food waste bin. Excellent de-escalation of the situation, with the actors lingering calmly on stage as though nothing untoward had occurred. However, of course, this should have been avoided altogether with better corporeal awareness. I always recommend for actors daily practice in tuning the body, re-/discovering it, to avoid such onstage mishaps. Control and agency over the body, which has desires and reflexes of its own that must be managed at all times, are key. As for the writing itself, the story does feel notably rushed. We do not have sufficient time to form an emotional connection with Sadie, and whilst the whirlwind deterioration of her life is promising in theory, it is currently written to be the main point of focus over Sadie herself, i.e. the story focuses on how life acts upon her as opposed to how she is acted upon by life. A slight nuance, but this focus takes us away from the individual and their story, their suffering, and towards a mere recital of events wherein a character is a simple means of representation of the ‘every person’ and not a particularised individual with whom we can deeply connect and empathise. “An enjoyable performance aiming to tackle various areas of interest but without a cohesive vision.” Want a technical analysis for your own live performance? Private and public reviews are requestable by all London-based artists and for any live performance type. For more information, please click here. Artists from across the UK and the globe can also benefit from performance analyses as part of my dramaturgy service and can receive guidance, support and training in the form of consultations and/or workshops.
- [Review:] UNDER INFLUENCE, CryerArts Centre, London.
This performance is most impressive and effective in its narrative, focus and objectives. It is teeming with impressive talent from its young performers and is most thought-provoking. What is particularly impressive about this performance is that it blurs the lines between an individual's personal and social realities, exploring how trial by media, rumour and community can devastate the lives of the young, to whom identity and ego are still only fledgling concepts. Collective gaslighting, planted memories, soft evidence and widespread derision all play a role in devastating the reputations of the two characters and causing great divides amongst close friends — and perhaps also amongst an audience who, having no concrete evidence either way and perhaps emphasising the age of the characters, can easily be forced into vacillation over Aaron's (Harry Still) culpability in particular, given his extreme expressions of guilt and distress. One element that is most effective is that we as the audience are also encouraged to make assumptions based upon the limited evidence of video footage and spoken rumours. Whilst Lola (Mia Townsend) herself hardly remembers anything of the situation and whilst Aaron remains mostly silent throughout [which I am not sure is entirely efficacious here], it is easy as an audience to be mobilised by the hearsay and opinions expressed by surrounding characters. We see no concrete evidence to suggest anything incriminating, and even the outcome of the court hearing is left unexpressed. What is presented, however, is the blowup of news material and across social media. Throughout, what remains the prime focus of this performance is not the incident itself or the outcome of the resulting hearing, but the deteriorating self-esteems and social statuses and, ultimately, the lives of these two individuals. We are constantly reminded of their pain, trauma, distress and hopelessness as friends betray them and downplay their experiences and as trust is blurred. There is a particular sequence worth noting that is, in a good way, awkward and uncomfortable, really driving home the sentiment that the incident is being exaggerated: we are forced into an act of voyeurism, observing Aaron and Lola as they undress before us down to their underwear, one on each side of the stage. There is a strong and effective connotation here. As voyeurs, we observe their partially clad bodies sharing a space during a completely innocent activity but understand that this also could perhaps be initially misconstrued as a strange, uncomfortable or inexplicable provocative display. We also are forced, in this way, to sexualise and to potentially prejudge and damn the two for this innocent activity, as the community may have done. I should note, though, that Lola keeping her jogging bottoms on for a court hearing, paired with a frilly blouse, does compromise authenticity and realism here. The resulting visual is most bizarre. However, there is a slight imbalance in the focus given to the two characters. We see how Lola is affected a lot more than we do Aaron. Only this aforementioned scene wherein we see his breakdown and, somewhat, the lateral movement sequence involving him really present his involvement in his own story. Conversely, in every scene in which Lola is present, she demonstrates explicitly her opinions, feelings and responses, either of her own accord or in response to the snide or comforting remarks of her friends. Perhaps if this imbalance is desired, for some reason, this could make way for another exploration for this text: how young boys do not express such extreme negative emotions and experiences of trauma so freely in comparison to young girls, that their experiences are perhaps ignored, forgotten or negated more readily, also. This would need to be a more explicit exploration, however, and this is currently not an expressed object of study or focus of the performance. Away from the text (writing and direction by Gary Grant), which I shall emphasise is most impressive and well-conceived, and on to the performance itself and its style. I understand that there is a desire, particularly early on in the performance, to bombard the audience with incomplete and suggestive evidence and also to highlight how innocent and passing comments can be extracted from conversations and used against individuals in police investigations. This is desired to be achieved through a series of techniques and devices, but the resulting aesthetic is simply too overwhelming, and the play loses its structure, coherency and, ultimately, its identity and artistic integrity. There is a sheer clash of styles and climaxes: stylisations (freeze-frames and tableaux vivants), naturalist representation, fragmentation, flashbacks and flashforwards, chronological presentation, the presentation of audio recordings and films… There is simply no clear-cut identity for this performance, and this is right at the very beginning, when the performance type should, with performances like this, be immediately clear. There are also far too many moments of silence in this performance, and this is due to a lack of activity, which is sometimes deliberate and sometimes notably avoidable. Deliberate because of the frequent use of tableaux or passive choral presence, and avoidable because there are too many moments where other characters of secondary importance in scenes are simply stood or sat without purpose and intent — to call upon one example. Freeze-frames, in particular, are the greatest cause for concern in regard to this stasis, and I would really recommend against them for this performance — or, at least, for the time being until pacing is sharpened. I shall elaborate on pacing first. Mostly an issue with tech operation but also a directorial, actor-led and even cinematographic one, pacing is compromised regularly in this performance by awkward interstitial stops: prolonged waiting between freeze-frames and audio clips; between the end of a video and lights-up, and then between this and the action continuing after a freeze-frame; the wait for the next scene to continue when the first has been interrupted; etc. Particularly for this aforementioned bombardment to be effective — though, again, I would discourage the use of such a sheer array of styles — we need rapid succession, precise timing. Do not wait for the lights to come up to break a freeze-frame and start moving; be prepared and in motion already to look less artificial and not so deliberate when the lights come up. Projections should stop immediately upon the end of a video, not remain on the last frame for a few seconds before turning off. Transitions are also rather messy and too slow due to the sheer number of theatrical properties to re-/organise, despite the actors’ attempt to be as speedy as possible. However, this speediness also looks unprofessional and unrefined: rushing, running, throwing props into place, and then instantly stopping in frozen positions waiting for the lights; Lola crying, still, sat down, and then running off stage as soon as the lights start to dim [and have not yet been fully extinguished]; etc. Topography of the stage should be reconsidered to coincide with the urgency and freneticism desired for the performance style, or I would recommend ensuring a better incorporation of darkness and the interactions between stage lights and the human eye if transitions are to be kept thus. With pacing being amiss in this performance in this way, freeze-frames add an extra unwanted choppiness and fragmentation to the performance. It would be far more tolerable and impressive if pacing was refined, yes; it would invest the performance with a sense of urgency and modernity. However, it over-stylises the performance, which is already suffocating with stylisation. Ultimately, when we stylise objects of study in performance, we draw attention away from the reality of the object itself and towards the manner in which it is presented, the mood surrounding it or produced by the stylisation itself; in this sense, we distance our audience from a connection with the actual object being presented and compromise emotional identification. This type of stylisation, freezeframes, encapsulates a story or narrative or forces our attention to linger upon what would otherwise be a fleeting, negligible moment. It simply presents a vignette, tells a story; it does not allow us to connect and feel, and this is a performance dependent upon audience feeling, passion and emotional investment. Whilst I find the lateral movement sequences beneficial — because we are able to home in on Aaron and Lola and to experience in real-time their progressing emotions and reactions to the developing gossips and betrayals, constantly freezing scenes, especially so early on in the performance, takes us out of the reality and world of the play and compromises our emotional connections with the characters. “A most impressive text portrayed by great young talent but stylistically confused in performance.” Want a technical analysis for your own live performance? Private and public reviews are requestable by all London-based artists and for any live performance type. For more information, please click here. Artists from across the UK and the globe can also benefit from performance analyses as part of my dramaturgy service and can receive guidance, support and training in the form of consultations and/or workshops.
- [Review:] WONDER DRUG: A COMEDY ABOUT CYSTIC FIBROSIS, Omnibus Theatre, London.
NB: As the performer shares the same name as the onstage persona we are presented, 'Charlie Merriman' and, simply, 'Merriman' will be used to signify the former and 'Charlie' the latter. This is most enjoyable and engaging performance, directed by Helen Eastman and written and performed by Charlie Merriman. I find its main areas of concern, however, to be in the consideration of the inconsistency of its performance style and its themes. The first issue concerning style starts with Merriman being in the house as we enter the stage. This would be a wonderful way of breaking the audience-performer divide if Merriman divided his attention amongst the audience members equally, his presence thus seeming deliberate and meaningful, and not divided uniquely amongst a couple of familiar attendees. This could cause a sense of tension in the audience, rendering the environment hostile and unpredictable as they attempt to gauge whether this is, in fact, a performer as Merriman lingers around, not introducing himself yet restless and obstructive. Perhaps on a more primitive level, it could also develop a sense of favouritism amongst the ignored audience members and thus one of inferiority and, later, distance, particularly if this is prolonged. If a coherent, progressive and effective activity type or reason for having him on stage cannot be found to justify and embellish his presence, he should not be on stage as we enter. Concerns with metatheatricality develop only once again, however, when an audience member is invited to suggest an excuse as to why Charlie cannot attend his Zoom Zumba class tomorrow. This moment is not only stylistically inconsistent but also endangers momentum and pacing, as it did on the night I saw the performance, with Merriman surrendering agency to the audience and thus losing control and compromising the performance’s flow and rhythm in the process. In no other part of the performance is an audience member directly included in this way; this is a huge issue, destabilising the audience's understanding of their involvement. That this audience member's suggestion should then alter the plot, alter the conversation Charlie has with his new partner, adds an extra unwanted layer of metatheatre to the performance. We learn here that its plot is not concrete, untouchable, a historical 'reality'; we learn that Charlie's story is being 'made up as it progresses', and therefore we compromise the realism, authenticity and relatability of the narrative and character. And there are already concerns of superficiality with the plot that make this all the more problematic. However, beyond these moments, I must say that this is the most consistent performance I have seen in a while in terms of its employment of metatheatrical techniques beyond these I have mentioned so far. The audience, for the vast majority of the performance, are kept at a clear amount of distance and are permitted to maintain a promising, coherent [‘passive’] relationship. I would just urge the creatives to consider the consistency of the role and function of the audience within the performance, which are currently unstable: are we active participants, removed witnesses, silent addressees, etc.? This should be consistent for the best reception, and enjoyment, of the performance possible — we should know our place and what is expected of us as spectators. Merriman maintains a confident yet calm and amicable demeanour throughout the entirety of the performance, consciously witty, and consistent in his profile throughout. He has a great command of the text, and boldness when approaching the audience. I only have a few concerns insofar as his acting, but they are quite crucial ones: Firstly, Merriman must develop a greater corporeal and topographical awareness for this performance; currently, we have him frequently dropping props on the floor, knocking into some and breaking others: the coathanger that fell off the privacy screen, the arm of the pill's glasses, the dropped syringe, etc. I can only recommend greater practice of handling and retrieving the theatrical properties but also of the repeated sequences, upon which I shall elaborate below, for which choreography is performed shakily at present. Currently, there is also a lack of intensity during these sequences, and the resulting feeling is that there is a reliance upon the intensity and suspense of the sequences themselves as opposed to upon one that emanates from the performer. My advice would be to not rely on the theme of repetition, pacing and activity alone to develop a sense of tension; it feels far too artificial, deliberate and thus lacklustre. Tension should not be the end goal but a by-product of the presentation of concrete information about the character and their circumstances. It should exist naturally, authentically, organically, within the body and the mind of the actor, not too heavily adorned by topographical and choreographic specificities. Another example of this issue is in the aforementioned moment wherein an audience member was invited to disrupt the flow of the performance, making a statement found by the majority of the audience to be hilarious and enhancing. This was met with a degree of reserve, coolness and acceptance. Though he incorporated this into the story, clearly aware of its comedic effect, his delivery lacked a certain amount of impetus. This also brings me to my last concern regarding acting: I would urge in Merriman a greater receptivity of the audience. Here, if the audience found it so funny, he could both reclaim and enhance the hilarity of the moment by really exaggerating the delivery of the excuse on the phone, now made aware that this is something this particular audience will respond to and tailoring his delivery to their desire. Additionally, the ambit of his gaze is, for the most part of the performance, restricted to the top centre of the audience. If he were to scan the entire audience more regularly, a more authentic, profound and inclusive environment would be produced. Moving on from acting, there is also a notable attempt to connect together, and connect with, the audience in a spiritual and ritualistic deep-breathing exercise, and this is not only another example of why it is important that the audience must be aware of their function and role, but also an example of how the various comedic and dramatic techniques allow for a certain illegibility and inconsistency when paired together as they are throughout. With repetition being a recurrent technique, the audience naturally becomes hyper-attuned to rhythms and substructures, and we have already deep-breathed earlier in the performance, and we took three deep breaths and no more than three. Noting this and the fact that this performance has hitherto alleviated through comedic devices, and glossed over, any sense of profound emotion [namely here: trauma, struggle, pain, discomfort, fear, etc.], it seems unlikely that the audience would bother to take any more than these three deep breaths nor that they would do so with any profound reflections and feeling. Indeed, this was perceptible as Merriman delivered the line, “You can open your eyes now,” when the vast majority, if not all, of the audience had long already done so. Again, receptivity is key in moments like these. Sticking with this theme of dramatic vs comedic techniques, I reflect upon the post-performance debrief wherein Merriman expressed that the aim of this performance is to raise awareness of the potential of modern medicine, what new studies and research can achieve and how lives can be bettered for these. However, the revelation of a particular statistic — that those with cystic fibrosis also have an increased risk of developing cancer but, for their diminished life expectancy, rarely see this potentiality — is presented in such a way that a call for action becomes squashed by a fatalistic, pessimistic "Why bother?" attitude. Merriman conveys this thus: "Damned if you do; damned if you don't." I would recommend, in order to align better with this performance's main objective, that this wording be reconsidered and that a different approach be taken: "But that's a risk I'm willing to take" or "It's worth a shot" — something optimistic, empowering, encouraging of the new advancements that the audience are so desired to support and donate to. Pessimism rarely works as a call to action for an audience, and this is a comedy, after all, but I do understand that this tragic undertone was perhaps attractive to add a layer of depth, feeling and realism to the performance — this is unnecessary for this text, however. As for the comedic devices alone, some very intriguing and hilarious ones are being used, most notably puppetry. Puppetry sequences are most creative — from the puppet pills to the pillow and stuffed socks to communicate Charlie's sleeping. The sequences are also playfully educational and revealing, encapsulating well Charlie's personal history as well as medical specificities. There is just a tendency to over-rely upon comedic devices — especially repetition — and the substructures we are presented are in danger of becoming quite predictable and tiresome. Similarly, whilst repeated sequences are too long, fundamental storytelling techniques tend to be underused: we rush from skit to vignette to anecdote — complete with game shows, solo ballads, puppeteering, impersonations… — and the overall identity of the performance and its style becomes compromised. We have moments where Charlie starts to explain a story using one storytelling technique but proceeds with another, and the techniques fight for stage time: mime, choreographed sequences, monologues, the game shows. This should be re-examined, and a 'show OR tell' attitude should be employed in various areas. “A moving performance with honourable objectives and an inviting solo performer but with a degree of superficiality and inconsistency in style and mood.” Want a technical analysis for your own live performance? Private and public reviews are requestable by all London-based artists and for any live performance type. For more information, please click here. Artists from across the UK and the globe can also benefit from performance analyses as part of my dramaturgy service and can receive guidance, support and training in the form of consultations and/or workshops.
- [Review:] SUPERNOVA, Omnibus Theatre, London.
This is an excellent performance—perhaps a personal favourite. Rich in imagery and comedic appeal, this text is effective and most loveable. However, it seems to be still in an early stage of development. I shall start with the first thing audience members see when they enter the house: the set. This is a beautiful set design; it is most creative, dynamic and, above all, congruous with the material. It reflects well the narrative, with the various theatrical properties being assigned to their own space upon the floor, within a depiction of the cosmos, being evocative of Tess's (Rhiannon Neads) notions of ephemerality and of the histories of the characters, fleeting moments they have shared, aspects of their lives, etc., patently cementing these in time and space. The large, circular lanterns by the Upstage wall, representing celestial bodies, also add a sense of life and dynamism to what could otherwise be a static stage space, swaying gently throughout the performance. This set also serves a practical as well as a creative purpose: a neat and pragmatic organisation of the theatrical properties. Its circularity, whilst, of course, evoking the nature and forces of the solar system, also evoke the idea that these moments in time will recur in the characters' minds as memories, traumas, pains and feelings, and constantly remind us of the characters' shared past whilst foreshadowing their future. A very impressive set design. I would just pay attention to the area Upstage Right, which feels bare in comparison. This aesthetic combines excellently with the sound design, as well, to produce a sense of familiarity and thematic consistency. I would note, however, that the sound that closes the play is slightly too dramatic, given the lack of intensity in the written material itself, upon which I shall elaborate below. Nonetheless, sound design in itself—here and throughout—is impeccable. The theme of outer space and the universe not only grounds this play well but also looms over the characters with its notions of impending explosions, vastitude, inexplicability, etc. It provides the performance with a sense of structure, consistency and narrative, from the concept of two forces working against one another in something as 'pretty' as a star, to the visual representations of a lonely Tess, dwarfed in a huge white circle [her subjective perception of the universe] whilst Harry (Sam Swann) remains off to the side in his own bubble of light, to Tess's persistent, self-comforting and obsessive use of the astronaut costume. I would just note that the overture, with Tess walking slowly and buoyantly, as though on the moon's surface, is much too stylised, considering that this stylisation type will not appear again in this performance. I would recommend, if this is kept, that Swann enter a while after Neads to let this effect cement itself properly, at least; otherwise, this initial visual is too jarring and confused: we are on the moon, and yet is there a man in a suit and fez, plodding after her, unencumbered and with no breathing supports? On to the text itself. Also the writer of this play, Neads has produced a text with an excellent grip on popular-culture references, but this is simultaneously one of its most endearing facets and its downfall. The characters remain throughout superficial and obscured due to an overreliance upon and an unnatural presentation of bantering one-liners and questions that reveal nothing substantial about the characters' psyches and essences, such as 'What's your favourite planet?' or 'What would you do if a meteorite was about to strike Earth?' Tess's phone conversations with her friend reveal her feelings towards Harry and allude to her human emotionality, but they do not reveal anything significant about her—especially not that she has a propensity towards depression, which will be of paramount importance to understand as the play progresses. As for Harry, we come to understand nothing about him at all, beyond that he is a nice and loving person. Personally, I enjoyed their sweet and blossoming relationship so much that, halfway in, I was rather irked by the possibility that the writer could yet follow a traditional storyline, the notion that something horrid could come along and disrupt what they had together; I thought it would be interesting to see what a problem-less relationship could look like: an 'us against the world', where the only 'problem' is the world itself and is not anything between them…but I understand that this is simply a personal desire and not a critical dealbreaker. However, that Tess should end up with depression, beyond feeling lacklustre and unimaginative in following traditional trends as a plotline, feels incredibly superficial because of the manner in which it is presented in the text. It seems to come out of nowhere, with the only 'negative' emotional trait we see from Tess heretofore being her inability to accept that someone loves her and to express love unrestrainedly. This is insufficient to form the groundwork for our understanding of her depression. Evidently, it destroys the relationship, but exactly how and why is never elucidated. For example, suddenly, after being so loving and involved with Harry, she is now name-calling, denigrating and, ultimately, being emotionally abusive towards him. Of course, we can assume that she does still love him, that she is merely trying to push him away, as Harry himself indicates may be the case, perhaps out of fear of hurting him even more in the future if they were to continue to pursue their relationship together, but, really, we are given no reason for this random outburst. And that’s it. Relationship over, and now she’s cutting up his T-shirt. The progression—or, rather, regression—of their relationship is rushed and made unclear in this way; it remains merely a rapid series of allusions and incidents linked only by a newborn theme of depression, not having any relevance to the story we have seen thus far. Even the mere idea that she should be so distant from and dismissive towards him, avoiding physical intimacy, despite cuddling up to him, demanding sex and that he take the day off work to be with her a few scenes prior, is confounding. In fact, the volatile and terrified manner in which she refuses him almost equates to the behaviour someone going through sexual trauma would demonstrate, not so much depression, and this adds an unwanted, extra connotation. Despite this, however, other moments wherein we glimpse her depression, and her general pessimistic outlook on life, are depicted accurately, if a little cliché. In this way, it feels as though we are seeing mere glimpses, vignettes, into the characters' lives, as opposed to a fleshed-out and profound representations. We lose character profundity and replace it with a skeletal overview that rushes through the various stages of their relationship, even skipping months and years at a time until, suddenly, the two have moved on completely—somehow—and are confronted with one another merely by chance—which feels equally hammy—remaining amicable and engaged with one another. Whilst the actors themselves perform with an incredible sensitivity to naturalism, developing credible and textured profiles [as much as the text permits], this is rather compromised by the roboticism of the characters' lines, which fail to emulate natural speech patterns. For example, when explaining how stars work, we lose all sense of idiolect and idiosyncrasy and are presented with what feels as though textbook material: 'This instantaneous explosion causes…' Simply substituting a phrase like this for 'And then it explodes straightaway and causes…' will allow these rather sterile phrases in the text to feel more human and less like the transcription of a science lecture. In fact, the characters' speech types are notably inconsistent; idiolects fail to reveal themselves at all throughout. This lack of naturalism becomes a huge issue for this performance, and in multiple aspects, unaided by certain directorial decisions (director: Jessica Dromgoole). Transitions are notably unruly. It is clear that the actors have had no clear, decisive and meaningful instruction during these sequences, aimlessly heading to the edge of the stage, only to turn back again to commence the next scene, or, most disappointingly, failing to get into position before the lights go up. I would recommend simple blackouts for this performance which does not call for overly stylised transitional sequences; nevertheless, if the stylisation found at the beginning of the play is something the creatives wish to explore, these transitions offer a great opportunity to do so, to build a library of imagery exploring the relationship between the characters and thus enriching our understanding of them as well as adding flare, visual appeal, and stylistic continuity and coherency. Another thing that compromises naturalism has to do with mime. I mentioned that the organisation of theatrical properties was well-conceived, but how these properties are utilised is not so successful. To have the phones off, screens black, allows for destruction of illusion whereby audience members must suspend disbelief that the mobile phone that they can see is clearly turned off is actually a functioning mobile that the characters are using to converse. Turn them on; use real messages and calls. Otherwise, the actors naturally fall into a common miming trap: over-interaction. An example of how Swann fell into this is in his portrayal of Harry’s phone conversation with Tess wherein he believes she has hung up when she is, in fact, still on the line. With an iPhone, as soon as one takes the phone away from one’s cheek, the display relights and shows the call screen—or, at the very least, a green bar at the top of the phone screen to indicate that a call is currently active—and so, if Harry were, indeed, using this device in real life, he would not have had to interact with the phone as frenetically as Swann portrayed him to, tapping the screen continuously, miming as though searching for a hidden button or setting; he would know straightaway that Tess was still on the line. In this way, certain interactions with theatrical properties compromise naturalism. A similar, more alienating example is in Neads’s first solo scene wherein she is supposedly having a phone conversation with her friend whilst gathering herself together and retrieving her switched-off mobile phone when Harry calls her. Neads then starts to interact with the mobile phone, which has been hanging awhile from her neck by a lanyard, now holding it and using it differently than she had been doing hitherto. This communicates that the phone was off whilst it was hanging by her waist, especially given the blank screen. Decide either upon full mime, or use the properties appropriately; do not half-commit to the properties. Use working mobiles, toothpaste with the toothbrush, etc. Detailed items demanding effort and thought, such as the star map (which I recognised myself as an authentic product, enhancing my own appreciation of the play’s illusoriness) and the printed “Jam-Man” screenplay, were most effective for this reason—although, perhaps plain white paper would feel more authentic over coloured. This is still a very powerful, engaging and hilarious text, but these elements inhibit it from attaining greater integrity and refinement. Its lack of naturalism is a major concern. I would prioritise enhancing narrative and plot over these [perhaps more pedantic and] decorative concerns. The actors themselves perform with excellent credibility. Their chemistry is impeccable—the manner in which they interact with one another, shared eye contact, proximity, etc. They have a great grasp on their character intentions and motivations, performing accordingly and most accurately. I have little on which to critique them, beyond one moment: when Tess first describes how she is feeling, Neads stands straight, arms unmoving, staring forward; this is most unnatural. We usually, especially when expressing emotional content, shift our weight, bow our head and perform self-soothing actions whilst standing. Other than this, these are impressive and talented actors. The text makes wonderful use of theme and motif; has a well-structured, if fledgling and predictable, storyline; and presents very lovable characters with the aid of its impressive comedic integrity. The writer demonstrates an incredible familiarity with aspects of popular culture, particularly science-fiction works, and the intertextuality this offers successfully generates a sense of shared experience, engagement and comfort amongst the audience. As I mentioned above, this latter is its strong point, but my recommendation is to prioritise story and plot, particularly if such a hard-hitting storyline and powerful psychological result are desired, as appears to be the case. “A thoroughly enjoyable but incomplete performance.” This is a free review published publicly as part of my work as a freelance dramaturg offering support, training and guidance to theatremakers and live performance artists. To request your own review, which may also be published privately for an affordable price, contact me. Alternatively, find out more about the dramaturgy services I offer by clicking here.
- [Review:] SWEENEY TODD: THE VICTORIAN MELODRAMA, Wilton's Music Hall, London.
Jeff Clarke's adaptation of this 1847 comic opera has a good number of seeds for a successful comedy but is much too convoluted and rushed. Excessive spectacularities and metatheatrical techniques do not progress but, instead, work against the narrative and world of the play. It is a pantomime, then an enclosed play, then a melodramatic opera…and thus has no consistent, reliable performance style. This is also true of the acting style: some actors perform to the audience; others, to each other. This is even the case between actor profiles: Paul Featherstone as Colonel Jeffries, for example, performs robotically—unnaturalistic and representative gesticulations with every line—facing the audience and delivering speech with a rising intonation as though to suggest and forbode something to the audience. As Reverend Lupin, however, his focus remains exclusively on the other characters, and his movements and vocal deliveries, though all consistent with his chosen profile, are sufficiently varied. It appears that Clarke has not yet decided whether he would like his audience to be 'terrified', as written in advertisements, and beguiled by and engaged in the horrific acts of his rather stoic and brute-like Sweeney (Nick Dwyer) or humoured by the ludicrousness and exaggerative of them and those of accompanying characters. It is clear that we are to understand Sweeney as a devilish, corrupt and entirely evil individual, unremorseful and a straight-to-the-point murderer, yet this is inconsistent with certain comedic inclusions—things like him miming opening/closing doors and hatches to the accompaniments of the orchestra. The actors themselves are, overall, incredibly talented and demonstrate excellent versatility and presence, but the consistency of their profiles is made impossible by the indecisive written material. Overall, vocal technique is excellent across the cast, with a particular emphasis on Madeline Robinson. I would just recommend focus be given to Nick Dwyer's diction, which is currently very poor both in speech and song. I mentioned the orchestra's sound effects. Whilst these were overplayed, they were most creative and could have developed a great sense of familiarity and texture to the performance in their repetition; however, they were often forgotten completely, with some actors simply entering/exiting the stage, uninhibited, particularly towards the beginning of the first act. Inclusions like this must be consistent in order to create a coherent and consistent world. These sound effects also distracted from more sinister or suspenseful moments, compromising momentum, with every character forced to take time out to perform the laborious mime. More significantly, we have inconsistencies in the plot itself—or, rather, meaningless items and events that are completely glossed over and forgotten. Some examples: Mrs Oakley (Caroline Kennedy) being locked in the cupboard; a blood-covered Thornhill (Matt Kellett) breaking free from the cellar [except, he actually, somehow, enters from the front door—yet another inconsistency], holding a knife; and finally, after an entire [lengthy] segment being dedicated to all of the characters' shared hatred of Reverend Lupin, we open the second act with them entertaining his and Cecily's (Lynsey Docherty) song, he is welcomed into the house with no concern, and all of the characters remain civil to him thereafter. There are plenty more of these examples. It is not until the very of the play that all of the various skits and subplots happen to finally coincide. Until then, these remain completely disparate and unmarriable to such an extent that any throughline is indiscernible. One would favour, with performances like this one, a distinct and grounding plotline from the very start of the performance over an endless series of unrelated [and rather silly] skits. Audience inclusion was particularly ill-addressed, as well, with marketing ploys encouraging the audience to interact, hiss, heckle, yet with the performance itself making no effort to employ and engage them. Dwyer had clearly not practised what he would say back to a heckling audience, given his repetitive responses and the extensive agency he permitted them. I mentioned above the partial propensity to perform towards the audience whilst other actors performed to each other, and this further complicates this issue and confounds audiences in regard to their function and levels of inclusion and agency. On the topic of the audience, I would pay significant attention to the most vocal of audience members and their responses: "This is bonkers," "I'm sorry it's not what we expected," and "That ending went on for far too long. Like, we get it—you played more than one role." Though, of course, I cannot speak wholly of an audience, it was unfortunate to experience the sheer number of dissatisfied but, most importantly, discombobulated audience members leaving the theatre. I would pay close attention and respond urgently to this reaction type. “A sketch of a performance; convoluted, inconsistent and confused.” This is a free review published publicly as part of my work as a freelance dramaturg offering support, training and guidance to theatremakers and live performance artists. To request your own review, which may also be published privately for an affordable price, contact me. Alternatively, find out more about the dramaturgy services I offer by clicking here.
- [Review:] POTTED PANTO, Apollo Theatre, London.
I will start by stating that this pantomime has distinctly little appeal for children, despite welcoming so many into the house. From "oui oui hole", "Dick's huge Whittington", "Prince Charming's Balls" and other such double-entendre-based jokes to political quips, ironic feminist teachings and other sexual innuendoes, its material is distinctly mature. The chariot race, I would say, alongside the general existence of puppets, colourful costumes and projectile sweeties, are the only elements that show true consideration of the children in the audience. Of course, a pantomime must appeal to both adults and children and such adult content is not inherently problematic; this performance, however, fails to balance its adult content with that suitable for and enjoyable to children. Comedic content is also somewhat repetitive throughout: common social profiles, late entrances and missed cues, interrupted skits, or, most significantly, the constant deconstruction of pantomime. This latter works entirely against the creatives: having explained the context of the skit, then interrupting the skit to start all over again, then moving swiftly on to the next thing…all comedic potential is entirely thwarted in this manner. The main costumes are particularly irksome in this performance. It is beyond all reason that the two hosts should be dressed in sports uniforms, both pedestrian enough to feel out of place in their performance context yet obnoxious enough to clash with the costume pieces lain overtop. A few other costumes are simply undercooked, and not in a hilarious way: Other costumes, however, are most humorous and transportive: Cinderella, Prince Charming, and sleeping beauty's evil fairy. This performance aims to be eclectic, to offer great variety and yet lacks the framework necessary to refine, shape, structure and give identity to it. As it stands, it is merely chaotic and voiceless. Of course, the intention is to present a series of various pantomimes in quick succession, but the stories are simply skimmed over, replaced by completely unrelated skits that could be attributed to any pantomime at all or, worse, by a mere summarising narration. I would recommend far more attention be given to the stories presented; after all, this is the only objective of the show: to portray several pantomimes in one sitting. In terms of performance style, Daniel Clarkson is certainly far more expressive than Jefferson Turner, and this is jarring to watch at times. Especially with Clarkson performing longer solo skits – Prince Charming's monologues, his one-man reenactment of the King Rat and Cat's fight or his huge offstage monologue during the Cinderella story, to name a few – the comedic content is emphatically delivered by Clarkson over Turner, and this is a huge issue for a performance presenting two entirely equal hosts. Not only is Clarkson more expressive, having intenser physicality, but Turner rather underplays his characters. This sense of underplaying is most notable in the ambit of his gaze: Clarkson performs to the entire house, looking up to the circle, across the stalls, etc.; Turner merely performs outwardly, just above the stalls and just below the circle, in a comfort zone where no audience member should actually reside. All of this is unaided by his propensity to stumble over his lines. I would pay close attention to this discrepancy in the duo's performativity and to this lack of eye contact on Turner's part. As voiced by the hosts in the performance, it is, ironically, most peculiar that Charlotte Payne and Jacob Jackson should appear as unmarkedly as they do. Their appearances are also serious, not comedic or self-referential: Payne performs and sings beautifully as the fairy, and Jackson plays his roles with little metatheatrical self-reflection. In this manner, these two performers are most ill-incorporated into this show, despite how well they perform. I will say, however, that comedic timing is impeccable and that one-liners are well conceived, congruous and well delivered. Clarkson is a most energised and captivating performer, committing to the ludicrousness of his roles wonderfully. The duo do have a good chemistry, but I would work on allowing this to feel less artificial in places. Puppets are wonderfully crafted, and the majority of costumes are equally well designed. The set design is notably lacking, however, which is slightly made up for with the abundance of props, but this emphasises any moments where physicality and expressivity are lacking. “Chaotic, ill-considered and underplayed.”
- [Review:] HEARTBREAK HOTEL, Etcetera Theatre, London.
This performance, written and directed by Lydia Vie, has a wonderful and exciting premise and presents an excellent range of engaging character types. Aesthetically, for the most part, it is also coherent and equally engaging in its eclectic and flamboyant design. A true feast for the eyes at times. However, I am afraid, the superficiality of the written text for this play restricts its potential from achieving much beyond visual appeal. I shall start with acting. We are presented with a great range of abilities, but repetitive characterisations – derived, of course, from the caricatural and unnuanced characters in the text itself – allow for monotonous and shallow profiles. This is particularly the case for those less focalised by the text, such as Anna Oggero (playing Violet) and Christiana Maycea (playing Silver): Oggero's constant hugging herself or fiddling with her hands is, of course, effective in quickly communicating nervousness but very soon becomes far too shallow and unyielding. Maycea is perhaps the most unenergised of the performers, and I would have liked to have seen far greater intensity, vigour and presence in her performance. A great intensity, however, from Sevi Filippidou (playing Eden) who remains bold, confident and self-aware throughout, but, again, her repetitive repertoire of movements weakens our reading of her character. Characterisation in performances like this, presenting scenelets in quick succession and lingering predominantly only on a few characters – in this case, Amber (Chryssi Janetou) – is most importantly achieved in silent scenes and in choreography. Unfortunately, wherever these actors are silent, they remain either frozen or perform extremely vague and indecipherable actions in slow motion. This is not effective in developing refined, precise and demonstrable characterisations. Indeed, choreography is very poor throughout the entirety of the performance, either repetitive or completely illegible. An example of illegibility is in the last sequence wherein Eden paints her hands in red lipstick to smear over Violet's hands in stealing her heart – a very symbolic and pretty depiction. As Filippidou does this, we see Oggero pulling at each of her fingertips, slowly, with fluid motions. What this represents is most unclear. To provide an example of repetitiveness, I would turn to Alexis Danan's (playing Felix) daisy chain dance or Oggero's rather unenergised attempt to get out of the web of caution tape, seeing her stumble vaguely back and forth, in and out of the various taped-off sections. Oggero, for example, spends the vast majority of the performance, especially in early parts, simply filing her nails, which is a most pedestrian and unrevealing activity, eliminating any poignant reading of her character. Audience perspective is not considered in choreography, either, particularly in what I shall refer to as the window-cleaning and the red-carpet sequences. Those not sitting in the centre of the house would be unable to see any of the action whatsoever. With choreography being so intrinsic to this performance, that it should be so repetitive and so vague is a huge issue. However, this is not to say that choreography shows no promise whatsoever. Indeed, the concept of Jasper's (Ilias Alexeas) window-cleaning sequence is endearing and humorous in its quirkiness and variety. That Felix should use the daisy chain, which his lover had used to hang herself, in a quick, passion-filled tango of sorts is equally enchanting. Indeed, there is a definite creativity lurking behind the choreography, but the creatives, on this occasion, were simply unable to pull it off in practice, presenting unvaried routines and repetitive repertoires in each choreographed sequence. In fact, each sequence could easily have been halved in time and would still have communicated the same content. I shall now move on to the text itself. Really, this play can be broken down into four parts. The first two, which constitute the majority of the performance's content, consist of the characters detailing their respective stories of heartbreak and of the characters playing games to pass the endless time they must spend in this liminal realm. The third part, in its brevity, consists of the characters breaking free from the hotel and moving on into the afterlife, and the fourth, even briefer, consists of Eden revealing her true intentions and trapping Violet forever. That such focus and attention should be given to these two former parts – and, most surprisingly, to the second I have mentioned – and that these latter two should be so rushed and inconsequential is most peculiar. Currently, this performance feels incredibly undercooked, presenting various, superficial vignettes which, in their thematic similitude, give the impression that the overall plot is coherent, well-established and profound but which, in truth, reveal very little about the characters, their stories and their current shared context. Far less time should be given to such unnecessary incidents as the characters playing charades, truth or dare and spin the bottle, and given, instead, to progressing the actual plot of the play. As it stands, it feels as though we are rushing through the meaningful elements of the performance – through the development of the characters and their inter-/relationships – and giving an unnecessary abundance of time to inferior, insignificant material. If the plot were far better developed, its significant and pivotal events would seem far less incoherent and haphazard: that Silver and Felix should fall in love, that Eden is, in fact, evil and conniving, etc. – both of which examples seem to come out of nowhere. One recommendation might be to present the characters' stories in quick succession upon Amber's entrance, so that we may understand the characters in their entirety from as early on in the play as possible, and then we can spend the rest of the play developing these characters, seeing what roles their traumas and heartbreaks play in their lives now, how character relationships develop because of these, etc. At least one game sequence should be permitted at the very most, for respite from heavy content or to trigger another development – that Amber should start to crush on Felix, for example. Personally, though, I would remove these game sequences altogether, as they currently only subtract from the performance's profundity and consume valuable stage time. The text seems to obsess over asking questions that are never answered, either when the characters are in game or with Jasper's catchphrase 'Have you ever felt so lonely you could die?' – indeed, that it should be Jasper's catchphrase and not Eden's is most peculiar. With so many questions being asked [and, again, never answered], bearing no relevance to the performance content whatsoever, these ought to be reduced or entirely deleted as well so that better focus may be given to more valuable story developments. I mentioned Jasper's catchphrase, and I would recommend far more context-related elements like this. That the four 'chambers' of the heart should be translated into the four chambers of the hotel and that Elvis Presley's song of the same name should be played again and again add a great sense of context in their symbolism and familiarity. However, these are the only elements beyond the luggage and luggage trolley and Eden's phone conversations with guests that actually draw us into the context of a hotel. Indeed, the significance of a hotel as opposed to any other liminal spiritual realm is left uncommunicated. Once again, an undercooked reference which, whilst being aesthetically appealing, bears little fruit in the bigger picture of the performance. We need to see what it is exactly about a hotel setting that should affect these characters. What are the relationships between the hotelier and guests? This question, in particular, is definitely something to better consider if we are to be at all shocked by Eden's final intentions. Even the performance's tagline, 'we hope you have an unpleasant stay', communicates a relationship between hotelier and guest, a dingy context of suffering and pain, but we do not actually see any of this in the text itself, only in our summations and personal imaginings. It seems as though the creatives have a great budding concept but have run away with it too quickly before it can be materialised in its final, more coherent form. A few final notes. One could argue that not only this performance's aesthetic but its overall storytelling style rely heavily upon an abundance of theatrical properties, from the severed horse's head to the bubble bottle. Such properties are ubiquitous and highly significant. In this way, any pretence of an action where props are not used, such as Eden's leafing through the hotel's reservations book and Amber's presentation of a dagger, becomes intensified and extreme, drawing excessive attention to the inferior presentation of mime and relying upon the audience's imagination that is elsewhere not called into action. I would recommend removing all mime from this performance and replacing imagined properties with physical, material ones. Otherwise, an emphatic stylistic inconsistency arises. There are a few, almost missable moments of audience interaction that are unnecessary and entirely distractive, and the vast, vast majority of these come from Oggero. This is a self-contained performance, never addressing its audience, not even in its various monologues. Thus, that Oggero should go so far as to scrub an audience member’s foot as though shining their shoe, look them in the eye, and roll away, has no purpose; it merely takes the audience member out of the performance and into an awareness of the audience-performer contract, the codes and mechanicality of the space and of the art form in general, and into an awareness of themselves and their own bodies. This self-consciousness is not in any way facilitatory in a performance like this. “A performance with great promise and intrigue but rushed, incoherent and incomplete.”
- Star Ratings: The Performance Critic
For the foreseeable future, star ratings will no longer appear in the critical analyses published via The Performance Critic. Star ratings do not coincide with the nature of the reviews that are published here. Although I have always intended for them to be considered more of a rating of efficacy, integrity and originality, I am aware that they are taken as mere abstractions of my personal opinion. I do not feel it is beneficial to communicate my personal relationship with the work to which I am exposed; personal reactions and psychological results vary too greatly from audience member to audience member to be awarded any merit. Therefore, I am removing them from the end of my reviews, as I wish only to critique the performances as objectively as I am able to. Whilst available to the public, these reviews are not intended uniquely for the public as commercial reviews are; instead, they are intended for the theatremakers and live artists who request them and are published publicly for free for those who cannot afford private reviews. So, I feel that star ratings are of little use in comparison with the content of the reviews themselves. Star ratings may still be requested, should this be deemed important to the theatremakers requesting a review for some reason. It should be noted, however, that these star ratings will reflect, as I have said, the efficacy, integrity and originality of the performance(s) in question. Quotations will still be included to encapsulate the unique content of the review and my critical response to the performance(s) in question.
- 10 Practical Tips for Writing Your First Screenplay
#1 Always Introduce Your Characters Often, screenwriters focus on the action, the plot, and forget that first impressions are incredibly important and will be the decider for any reader (or producer – eek!) whether or not to giving you any attention. Alongside this desire to plunge straight into the action, there’s a trend within the industry to gloss over characters’ first appearances, especially main characters who appear abruptly and are launched straight into fast-paced action. This is the first time meeting your character, and given that we can’t see beyond the page and inside your head, we need to have an idea of how you’re imagining them. Spend sufficient time — one segment of action lines, at least — detailing the profile of your character, starting with the obvious: their fashion, age, gender, race. Are they haggard or mean-looking or sweet and bouncy? How do they carry themselves — with poise and dignity or with slothfulness and self-neglect? How do they speak — with a distinct accent or idiolect? With trilling intonation? How do they fit in, or contrast with, the aesthetic of their environment and the other characters? #2 Keep Descriptions Succinct Equally, you shouldn’t aim to describe every single detail exhaustively, from the positioning of your characters flyaway hairs to the exact elaborate design of their polyester tie that will only see two seconds of screen time. Page space is a precious resource that should be used precisely and sparingly. Include enough descriptions to maintain the intrigue and beauty of your story, and not so many that attention is drawn away from the principal content and towards less significant, whimsical aspects. Given that you’ll most likely be working with a creative team to have your project come to life, you’ll want to give these creatives leeway to bring their own creativity and imagination to the work, too. Leaving descriptions impactful but open can be the needed stimulus for some amazing ideas from your collaborators. #3 Screenplays vs Books Film is an audiovisual medium, i.e. it relies on sound and visuals. Without some form of narration or dialogue [a form of sound] or some abstract or symbolic depiction [visuals], we would have no idea as to what is going on in the character’s minds, and so your script shouldn’t detail such matters as could another literary form. Keep in mind that you should only detail what we see and hear; your script should read as one would watch the film it produces. #4 Live in the Present Moment Similarly, your narrative and descriptions should be in real time. Include no indication of the past: how a character used to feel or, worse yet, why a scene is relevant based upon a scene that happened earlier or that will happen later in the script. If you feel the need to explain to your reader why your scene makes sense, it probably doesn’t make any sense at all, and you should think about reimagining it, or, at least, communicating its content in a different, more coherent manner. Whether your character is travelling backwards through time or forward normally like the rest of us, and whether your plot is organised chronologically or fragmented, the way we experience your independent scenes will always be progressive, continuous, linear, and so they should be described accordingly. #5 Stay Within the Word Limit The average feature-length screenplay is 95-115 words. If you’re looking to get your screenplay made into a film, you’re going to want to stick to this word count . Receiving a ridiculous amount of screenplays per week, page counts are an easy way for a producer or film company to filter out the useful from the unimpressive. Too short, and the impression will be that you are unable to maintain a detailed and powerful story. Too long, and you will seem amateur and overly ambitious. There’s a word limit for a reason. If you’re looking to produce/direct your own screenplay, however, you go ahead and make it as long or short as you want! Don’t let oppressive ‘industry standards’ hold you back there! #6 Write What You Want to Write On the topic of transgressing ‘industry standards’, don’t make a screenplay that you think your audience wants; write what you want to write, whatever interests you. Writing for others will either lead to further pollution of an industry already plagued by hammy clichés and unoriginal narrative formulae, or to creative exhaustion as you find yourself increasingly uninvested in your own work. Of course, know your target audience and be aware of existing trends within the genre, but let this be your inspiration only , a framework to guide your writing — if you need it — and not a dictatorial force that comes to dominate your every written word! #7 Know Your Formatting If you’re just dabbling, this might not be so important to you, but if you’re enjoying screenwriting and want to further a career with the art form, make sure that you’re not just going in blind and relying on software like Celtx to format everything for you. Make sure you know your craft inside and out and that you memorise formatting standards. This is the difference between someone who likes writing screenplays and a serious screenwriter-artist, as without the software to do it all for you, where would you be? (I've actually got a screenplay formatting course coming out soon! So, keep an eye peeled wide for that!) #8 Speculative Screenplays vs Shooting Screenplays Speculative (or “spec”) screenplays are essentially intended to “sell” your idea to prospective producers and directors. As such, there are certain things you shouldn’t be including unless absolutely essential to the telling of your story: camera angles, scene transitions, references to ‘the viewer’ [you’ll notice many amateur scripts modelled off of Hollywood shooting screenplays with phrases like ‘we see’ and ‘we hear’ — don’t do this. Including these items is another surefire way to have your script rejected. Again, if you intend to direct/produce your script yourself, include whichever instructions you deem will be necessary and useful in post-/production. Although, it might be worth getting the story itself down first, and then thinking about how it will be depicted on screen. Further along the process, you might want to develop two separate scripts, too: one for your actors, and another for you, so that you can litter the latter with however many annotations you like whilst keeping the former clean and legible for your other creatives whom such messy notes do not concern. #9 Be Conscious of Your Budget Explosions and graphic gore, fantasy worlds in the sky and talking, walking trees might not be recommended subject matter if your budget is a modest one. But use this limitation to your advantage! See it as a challenge and let it channel your creativity and guide you to create a poignant and vivid story that is still feasible and realisable. #10 Read Some Screenplays! There are thousands of screenplays, speculative and shooting, within the public domain. Use them to your advantage and see how the artists whose work is most attractive and effective to you communicate their ideas through their scripts. This will help you especially to find new, engaging and articulate ways to communicate the more abstract and particular imagery you have in your head — black holes expanding across space, a common flower mutating into a dog-eating monster…etc! Make sure you choose a speculative or shooting script in accordance with the type you are writing, though! Found this article helpful? Wonderful! Subscribe to my website now to be notified when new publications are released! Or follow me on Twitter, if that's a bit of you, instead: @ljbroadwood
- Guidance and Support for Theatremakers and Live Artists in London!
To support artists towards the end of the pandemic, and to develop my own thinking and practice in training, I am currently offering my services as a freelance dramaturg for free* to first-time clients for up to an entire hour! As a freelance dramaturg, I offer support, guidance and advice on all of the following: For more information on this professional service, and to book your free* two-hour consultation, click here! * Consultations are free for the first hour and for first-time clients only and are offered on the condition that a written testimonial be provided at the end of your session. Consultations longer than one hour and those organised for returning clients are priced at the normal rates listed on this webpage. LINKS To find out about all of the professional services I offer, please click here. And for critical writings on theatre, please click here. Be Brave. Be Kind. You Are Blessed.
- 5 Top Tips for Poets
Poetry Is Not Emotion-Journalling You do not have to write a soppy, sentimental, passionate poem about your one true love, a Petrarchan sonnet about your pining for an almost celestial creature. Instead, your poetry can be about anything you want it to be about. Don’t be led by current trends — formatting as well as content — be free to use the page and your words however you wish. There are no restrictions, and no topics are too taboo, from nature to space to social justice to sex. There’s no such thing as ‘proper’ poetry; only poetry that is successful in communicating its information. Sesquipedalian Words Aren’t Effective The majority of readers will have no idea what ‘sesquipedalian’ means, and this tip will thus seem alien and disinteresting. In the same way, if you use ‘big’ words because they seem fancy and whimsical and give your poem a haughty air, the effect can be too alienating, especially if you’ve used the words you’ve just found in a thesaurus incorrectly. It is widely accepted that polysyllabic and particularly loan words, of French origin mostly, sound romantic, fantastical and intriguing, and that an impressive vocabulary is the sign of a true, seasoned writer and poet. Instead, they usually come across as hammy and frustrating, especially if you’ve only chosen a word uniquely because it rhymes with another [tip on rhyming coming right up!] but that actually comes from a higher register of language. Use the language that you know and with which you are familiar. If your vocabulary is, in fact, quite extensive, your natural writing tone and style will accommodate that organically with minimal effort; you don’t need to force it in order to sound ‘more poetical’. Don’t Be Usin’ None of ‘Em Contractions and Colloquialisms, Ya Hear? Notice how the use of a lower register in the above subtitle conflicts with the mood, and flow, of the rest of the text thus far. Contractions and colloquialisms usually give an informal, intimate and, above all, comedic tone to your writing. They feel ‘down to earth’. An overuse of these could either make your text illegible and convoluted, forcing your read to figure out what letters or words are being omitted, or jarring to read against otherwise neutral language and higher registers. So, make sure the language type you use is consistent. Notice also how the words ‘contractions’ and ‘colloquialism’ stand out against the rest of the words in the above subheading. This serves as a good reminder of and example for the preceding tip. It feels out of place, too formal. Thou Shalt Scribe Similarly, Old English pronouns appear regularly in classical poetry, the kind of poetry we are taught in educational institutions is the ‘best’ poetry, perhaps even the poetry that first introduces us to the art form. However, Old English does not just consist of these pronouns but of thousands of words that have either lost their meanings or gained entirely different ones today. Old English, especially in poetry, can be characterised by puns, innuendoes and metaphors that can be easily missed by the modern reader, however informed a critic one may think oneself to be. These can be easily forgotten or overlooked by modern writers, and adding ‘eth’ or ‘est’ at the end of a modern word does not make it grammatically correct or Old English, either, I am afraid. For these reasons, I would recommend staying away from writing in Old English altogether, unless you are a seasoned scholar dedicated to this language and its oddities. Not to mention that attempting this can be far too restrictive on your creativity. I would recommend reconsidering the purpose of your writing in Old English — to sound knowledgeable and impressive, for personal research, or for academic reconstructions and teaching? Don’t Be Led by Rhyme Schemes Instead, make sure that the words you are choosing benefit and work with the work you're writing. When you’re writing poetry, you should have full command over the creative material you are producing, and if you find yourself struggling to come up with the next line, not because you are experiencing writer’s block, but because you are trying to find a word that rhymes, it’s time to ditch the rhyming scheme. Rhymes can feel childish, really only experienced in modern daily life through nursery rhymes, and much too singsongy, dominating your writing’s structure, flow and intonation. Rhymes can equally be beautiful and resonant, and I include them more than regularly in my own poetry, too, but they must be a device that works for you; you mustn’t be ‘working for it’ and compromising the integrity of your work for a mere rhyming scheme.