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  • [Performance Analysis:] THE NINE-DAY QUEEN, Baron’s Court Theatre, London.

    Overall, all actors perform with great credibility and conviction. As the play progresses, a distinct library of idiosyncratic peculiarities emerges, which is chiefly true of the most consistent of the cast members, Samantha Ellison (playing Lady Jane Grey), enabling a good sense of character. A few stumbles over lines, but their meaning and character intention remain most legible and accurately delivered. I would say, however, that there is a certain roboticism in the manner in which the cast navigate duologues, most noticeably between Maddie White (playing Rita) and Moya Matthews (playing Lena), where there is a delay in reactivity until after the interlocutor has finished their line. I would recommend work on constant presence and reactivity to ensure that performed responses feel live and grounded. Indeed, there is a sense of stasis as the performers also, similarly, tend to stay completely still until delivering their own lines. This roboticism is also prevalent in the text itself, however, making artificiality in physical performance more difficult to avoid. The relentless inclusion of superficial banter, in particular, allows for a lack of depth amongst the characters — the very first, more conversational and jokey scene between Rita and Lena, for instance, in comparison to the scene wherein Lena queries Rita’s sexuality. I find the latter to be most demonstrative, giving us a profounder take on Rita’s character in the confirmation of an allusive character emelent and a glimpse into an intimate and gentle moment of character bonding. This is not to say that only serious scenes make for great plot and character development; instead, I communicate that banterous scenes in performances like this should be refined and revelatory just as any other. Language use does become a significant issue, most noticeable in scenes wherein technical language is incorporated. This is in reference to Rita occasionally divulging her intellectual discoveries from the books she has read or the facts she has retained, which are incongruous with this aforementioned gossipy/informal register in which the rest of the text is written; there is a disconnect here when we consider that that this is not how Rita’s speech is usually presented. Yet another voice is introduced when Rita delivers her political opinions, it is worth nothing. In this inconsistency and multifacetedness of the language used, we completely lose all sense of identity and individualism and are presented, instead, with a sterile spokesperson, a mouthpiece, robotic and lacking uniqueness. As expressed above, there are multiple, clashing voices at work within this text, each with their own motive and affect. This leads to inconsistencies of not only voice but of style and narrative too. And, notably, directorial choices here do accentuate stylistic incongruities. We have three main scene types in this performance: monologues, duologues, and stylised movement sequences, the latter of which is the most disparate of the three. The intended naturalism of the duologue scenes, in particular, somewhat grates against the hyperstylisation of the remaining segments, which feel awkward and under-demonstrative. For example, our first major scene transition / stylised sequence sees Matthews waiting purposelessly on the edge of the stage for White to finish her monologue, so that she may pass her a blazer for the next scene. Moments like these feel inefficacious and inattentive. Another example is the sequence seeing Lena and Rita circling the stage, opposite one another, staring at each other, and this is far too confrontational, considering the story sees no conflict and solely love between these two characters, or one could refer to one of the very final transitions, in which Lena and Lady Jane Grey share a knowing, warm look whilst changing the set pieces for the next scene. This latter example feels most incongruous, as these two characters have no relationship to one another elsewhere in the performance [beyond Lady Jane Grey’s knowing and talking of Lena with Rita, distanced], and so it would stand to reason that they should take no pleasure, peace or joy in recognising and appreciating one another. In this way, activity during these sequences is either unimpactful or confused — or simply in stark contradiction to the main narrative. I do feel that these stylised sequences could, indeed, be appropriate for a play that also includes an imagined historical figure so casually into its narrative, but, currently, each story element — even the manner in which the presence of this figure is addressed — feels distinctly separate from its counterparts. I do admire, however, an attempt to make transitions engaging and to fill these with character and story moments, but I would recommend against performers changing sets in character, for the transition then becomes, in most cases, its own performance independent and irrelevant to the overarching story. I would recommend, instead, if character action is desired during transitions, that the stage is changed by other, out-of-character performers — for example, Lizzie O’Reilly (playing Val) and another of the cast members whom the interstitial character action does not involve — whilst our focus is drawn to a complete [muted] scenelet between the characters who are involved. Clear and coherent transitions see the performer in a character or stagehand role and not a blend of the two. “An intriguing concept but a text which has yet to find its style, voice, focus, and line of enquiry.”

  • [Performance Analysis:] THE CLOSURE AND THE QUEST, Barons Court Theatre, London.

    I will start by noting that there are significant similarities between the two texts but only insofar as structure and event type; style and content disallow a feeling that these two performances truly cohere with and relate to one another and hence warrant being presented together. Marketing efforts present these as 'plays about loss and redemption', but these themes are secondary and sometimes even merely subtextual in the second short play, 'The Distressed Table'. I should also note here that I do find it strange that this second play has been retitled to 'The Closure' across promotional content — both because this seems to have little relevance to the text itself and because this causes for another disconnect, between performance and marketing contents. The second of these two performances, both directed by Josh Hinds, is certainly stronger than the first, and I would recommend further work on this, which is closer to a refined, finished play than the other. Both texts do struggle considerably to depict enriched and particularised characters, presenting developments abruptly and with a certain nonchalance vaguely reminiscent of a fledgeling magical realism. The texts also struggle to retain subtlety in their expression, with any allusions and specific details becoming immediate events. Overall, the content feels rushed and disjointed. In terms of acting, there is a great disparity in style, which is notably a directorial issue and is most evident in the first performance of the two, in which there is a great struggle between caricaturality and naturalism. However, I understand that for actors presented with texts like these, subtlety and particularity is difficult to discern and discover, and caricaturality is impossible to prevent when extremity and unnatural speech patterns in the dialogue exist within the lines and plot themselves. Nonetheless, the performers, whom I commend for their work, perform their roles adequately. Jo Sutherland demonstrates excellent vitality and transformativity, with her two character profiles being entirely different from one another. Similarly, Aysha Niwaz demonstrates great vocal transformativity, and Daniel Subin has a great naturalistic quality to his first profile. I would have liked to have seen greater corporeal expressivity in Subin, however, who limits transformation between his two characters to the positioning of the mouth — in Bernard's lisp. 'Quest for the Mongolian Death Worm' Written by Liam Grady. Most notably, the mysticality and adventure of this first text can immediately be perceived, instead, as Orientalism, which is worth reconsidering. Allusions to magical creatures that do not exist, or exaggerative descriptions of the food chains and activities of mythic vicious beasts, feel more fairytale-like in nature and hence unproblematic, but specific depictions of contexts, namely as we are led by an experienced, wild and mysterious guide through the 'dangerous' Egyptian deserts with 'camels attempting to fornicate with the Sphynx' — camels whose 'arseholes', nonetheless, see frequent mention — feel too stereotypical, carelessly crass, and harsh. I would consider the sociopolitical value behind the content presented and how this may be perceived by audiences. Of the two presented, I struggled the most with this text — specifically, it is difficult to keep up with its content, which demands at each revelation of new information a keen eye and a level of pre-understanding, to know the subtext and piece the story together. From the very beginning, characters are presented to us abruptly and without clear relationship types. Their emotional responses to one another are highly charged, with no key reason as to why, and too much of the content owes to mystical lands and creatures and Rufus's (Sutherland) descriptions of them and her father's travels, and later Heather's (Niwaz) psychedelic trip, that the primary content, the actual story of the characters, becomes subordinate and ultimately lost. Persistent themes, such as death and adventure, instead of contextualising the action, become, in their vague vignettes, the content itself. “A confused text presenting rudimentary character and event types that result in inefficacious extremes.” 'The Distressed Table' Written by Melville Lovatt. Ironically, I would have preferred less of a plot for this text and more of a surreal and absurdist structural approach that does seem to be inherent in the characters’ exchange over the distressed table. There is a clowning and ludicrous quality intrinsic to the interactions between the characters: they obsess over the meticulous, obscure details of the table’s 'distressing', haggling its price; they wildly upset one another; and return only to repeat the conversation with a variation that initially subverts expectation and has a bathos effect once we realise the characters are starting once again to quarrel. I would have enjoyed this initial structure to return persistently, veritably forcing us to watch the two characters suffering themselves and causing each other to suffer as well over the table’s purchase. Indeed, I would have preferred this much more than the current content that frequently and needlessly returns, somewhat reflective of the first text, to out-of-the-blue extremes: suicide, imprisonment, divorce, etc. Again, plot developments feel rushed and too strategised: for instance, Bernard (Subin) reveals he is a sailor, and we are straightaway on a boat on the lake. Extremifying, instead, this caricatural presentation of Bernard and Christine (Sutherland) — accentuating his lisp and stubborn but bumbling attitude and her posh uptightness and propensity to deplore — would really accentuate the fruitful and endearing quality of this performance: its characters' interactions. Once more, we have 'proud Indonesian tribes' responsible for the table wood and its finish, and our Orientalism returns... This one detail ignored, the text itself is quite endearing and untroublesome in comparison the first. Its characters are developed not through backstories [an attempt at which ultimately dilutes and artificialises the content unnecessarily to meet playtext conventions] but through peculiarities of context and character speech. I would recommend further thought to the secondary material — Bernard's failing relationship with his wife (Niwaz), and Christine's speech to her husband[?] who has died after being imprisoned[?] [a scene that I would ultimately cut, as this did not progress narrative or story and was confounding in its content]. This secondary content ultimately feels irrelevant and compromises our understanding and appreciation of the primary material. “An interesting premise with eccentric characters compromised by interruptions from secondary or irrelevant material.” Want a technical analysis for your own live performance? Private and public analyses are requestable by any artist and for any live performance type. For more information, please click here. Artists from across the UK and [online] across the globe can also benefit from guidance, support and training in the form of consultations and/or workshops as part of my work as a live performance mentor.

  • [Performance Analysis:] DR DOLITTLE KILLS A MAN, London Hospital Tavern, London.

    Chaos and absurdity are the very best friends of this performance, which remains throughout, in its content and style, unpredictable, ludicrous and energised. The comedy in this text, written by Aidan Pittman and Hudson Hughes and also directed by Hughes, is particularly strong, with a consistent library of subversions, hyperboles, and abrupt dark quips, and is permitted to flourish well with good timing and a wonderfully exaggerative characterisation by Pittman (also playing Dr Dolittle). Pittman has excellent vitality and has created a most unique and discernable identity for his character. Positioning of the mouth and sudden yet precise gesticulations, side glances to the audience upon innuendo and in-joke…the caricature with which Pittman presents us is exceptional in its conception and consistency. Conversely, I must admit that after halfway into the performance, the Doctor’s peculiar and lovable idiolect and his sharp, articulated and rather robotic movements had disappeared, and I understand this is due, in part, to a faltering in plot/narrative and in performance style, whereby there is an inherent difficultly in marrying the performance content with the Doctor’s character. The text is divisible into three main parts: the video depictions; the story of the ‘huge fucking ruby’; and the main premise that contextualises it all, which I will refer to as the ‘talk show’, wherein Dr Dolittle presents himself, his recent successes, and his new book. It is these two latter parts that allow for the greatest disconnect in content, namely in their chosen modes of presentation: the story of the huge fucking ruby is, overall, self-contained, owing to dialogues between him and secondary characters and to first-person self-references and descriptions of the events he had experienced. The talk show, however, sees a direct audience address wherein specific audience members, as opposed to the general audience as a whole, are targeted and approached. The story, and the video projections themselves, remain generally descriptive and mimetic, consciously ignoring the presence of the audience, barring a few passive invitations for audience participation [upon which I shall elaborate later]; the talk show, on the other hand: metatheatrical, confrontational, self-referential. Whilst references to murder/death and Eddie Murphy’s film portrayals of the Doctor are frequent throughout, Eddie’s ultimate murder at the end of the play feels the most incongruous of all the material. There ought still to be structure to this chaos, which is admittedly present in the artificial existence of a story with chapters, a throughline, motifs, etc. but, despite a strong beginning with clarity, purpose and direction, nonexistent in the talk show sections. That all should be resting upon this final murder — the very title of the play forboding it, the Doctor having somehow predicted it all, the related merchandise he has prepared — and that the murder should be presented as a denouement of sorts is most incoherent, given that the material has not drawn significant focus to this at all. Performance style is complicated further by metatheatrical references which coincide with Pittman’s fading persona of the Doctor: Pittman referencing his involuntary sweat; his stating he ought to “get back into character”; the awkward bumbling as “Eddie Murphy” asks the audience to excuse him whilst he struggles to make his way through them and to the stage; the casual and non-performative manner in which the audience are admitted into the house; and, to some degree, how audience participation is conceived and prompted. Subtractive items aside, this remains a most enjoyable performance, a rollercoaster treat. Comedy is refined, articulate and well executed, and the facilitative video graphics and overall characterisation we are presented make for a fascinating and inspired watch. “A hilarious, creative and inspired performance.” Want a technical analysis for your own live performance? Private and public analyses are requestable by any artist and for any live performance type. For more information, please click here. Artists from across the UK and [online] across the globe can also benefit from guidance, support and training in the form of consultations and/or workshops as part of my work as a live performance mentor.

  • [Performance Analysis:] STILL LIFE WITH ONIONS, Barons Court Theatre, London.

    Rob Burbidge's text has a certain lyricism and fluidity, demonstrating well the writer's ability to generate flowing dialogue. I would first recommend greater differentiation in the style of speech of each individual character. The most notable trait in this regard is Susan's (Naomi Bowman) loquaciousness, her character surely possessing the vast majority of the lines. Burbidge has captured well Susan's ability to ramble confidently and incessantly, without the subject matter she presents becoming esoteric or too irrelevant, and to domineer conversations with a playful and feeling but self-assured attitude. The other characters, however, remain markedly indistinct. Beyond second-party references to Joanna's (Olivia Steele) "Hampshire poshness" and Behrman's (Christopher Kouros) nationality, there are no idiolectal peculiarities to the characters, and this would be most fruitful to explore. As the text progresses, however, it is most notably character development and plot that need refining. Despite this lingering on Susan's rambling, or on the atmospherics of the characters' context, the overall plot is incredibly rushed — to such a degree that the text quickly becomes rather shallow, hyperfixated upon symbolic references and specific allusions to moments or persons in the character's memories and anecdotes of their past [Tommy for Susan, a childhood paint set for Joanna, etc.]... Whilst these minor features become the text's primary focus, major developments, however, remain always left to our imagination. This culminates in the extremely sudden [and thus not too credible] development of Joanna's pneumonia — and her just-as-sudden, miraculous overnight recovery — and, immediately afterwards, Behrman's death. I use the word ‘plot’ in this analysis lightly, as I do not mean to imply that in order for a play to be successful, it must have an intricate, captivating and powerful plot…I simply mean that the plot content should feel deliberate, articulate and precise. I enjoy the stasis, or rather stagnancy, that we find the characters in, and should the plot pivot solely upon its characters' unchanging context and the near-death of its main character, there is no reason why this should not be enjoyable, coherent and efficacious. But this lack of pacing and, most importantly, of focus destroys any strong emotional connection with the characters for us. The symbolism of the wilting creeper and Behrman's masterpiece, Susan's shoes, etc., are all very strong symbolic references in themselves and have great intrinsic significance and value, but how this marries the content is just as important, and there certainly is a disconnect there. One disconnect is in the incredible fact that all three characters are somehow artists. Whilst pre- and post-war times were certainly marked with rapid and widespread artistic movements, making this situation not too difficult to conceive, the apathy that this is presented with allows for a certain bluntness and clumsiness — Joanna and Behrman, both so fond of art, just accepting that they live beside one another, and Susan abruptly revealing that she has, somehow thanks to Joanna, taken up drawing ‘again’ to such a degree that she is now the breadwinner for the roost. We start with a tension between Joanna and Behrman, and suddenly it is revealed that she has been modelling for him for days now; after only their very first meeting, we see Susan kissing Joanna affectionately on the cheek [perhaps a directorial issue, though]; we have only just heard of the man that saved Joanna from the river, and David (Kieran Dobson) appears; David's somehow overlooked misogynist remarks, leaving Joanna to want to marry him after only three, quite unspecial, encounters… These elements, of which there are many more, all compromise the integrity and credibility of the text. Without this pacing and precision in character/plot development, I am sad to report that the play felt rather skeletal, leaning more into atmosphere, symbolism and context than into character depth and relatability. This feeling was especially strong once Joanna was on her deathbed and Susan and Behrman were arguing incessantly, the very language of the play being reduced to slurs and angsts that felt in their lack of idiosyncrasy that they could have been uttered by anyone and not uniquely by our particular characters here. Characterisation is quite good from each of the actors, though I would similarly suggest better pacing for Bowman, who loses melody in delivery, which is most important for her babbling character, and who stumbles over and misdelivers lines frequently. Intensity behind argumentation is severely lacking across all of the relevant cast members. I commend Steele for the characterisation of Joanna's illness, forcing deep and chesty coughs and continuing to present her character’s mental distress even in her sleep, so that we were presented a fever dream of sorts and not just a still, resting body that could have easily faded into the background. Deliveries of epistolary sequences are in desperate need of refinement, however, both where acting and performance style are concerned. “An atmospheric play rife with symbolism but needing better focus, pacing and depth.” Want a technical analysis for your own live performance? Private and public analyses are requestable by any artist and for any live performance type. For more information, please click here. Artists from across the UK and [online] across the globe can also benefit from guidance, support and training in the form of consultations and/or workshops as part of my work as a live performance mentor.

  • [Performance Analysis:] FRANK’S CLOSET, Union Theatre, London.

    I had very mixed responses to this performance — as did quite a few, rather vocal audience members. Frank’s Closet is an enjoyable evening, full of vitality, camp extravagance, wit and character, but its focus and agenda are entirely confused, its plot poorly communicated, and its action seeming incongruous with its primary narrative. Ultimately, it loses touch with its initial premise, attempting to marry all of its various, disparate activities with Frank’s (Andy Moss) “journey in life” but to no success and with great incoherency. Our four chorus members (Jack Rose, Oliver Bradley-Taylor, Sarah Freer, and Olivia McBride) are most impressive in their expressivity, vocals, and command of the stage. All four of them maintain excellent physicality and vitality throughout, with their various impressions and quips being most transformative and enjoyable. Choreography itself is sufficiently varied and impressive, though I would pay greater attention to interstitial activity — most notably during vamps or short interludes whilst Frank is explaining something to the audience — as these are much too repetitive, incorporating simple knee-lifting foot taps and clicks of the fingers whilst turning on the spot. Luke Farrugia is simply awe-inspiring as the various Divas, demonstrating great skill, talent and self-awareness. For the vast majority of the performance, his vocals are impeccable, manifesting an excellent range and control. The majority of characterisations are also allowed to flourish through his inflections and exaggerative positionings of the mouth in song as well as through an excellent corporeal and facial expressivity throughout. Farrugia has excellent presence and vitality, and immaculate costuming certainly aids our appreciation of his exaggerative personae. It is easy to feel that his personae are slightly too superficial, however, but this is due to the writing (Stuart Wood) and the hurried nature of the Divas' presentations, performing their unique numbers in a one-time appearance before swiftly being replaced by the next. In comparison, however, other costumes remain distinctly unrefined, with the skirts attached to the corsets of some of the chorus dancers slowly detaching as the performance progresses. There are certainly other elements that produce a sense of tackiness, as with the lack of a backdrop to conceal the entrances and exits of characters once they have come through the designated portal to the stage. Otherwise, this is truly a most aesthetically pleasing performance. Whilst Farrugia’s impersonations of celebrities are generally skilful, their relevance is poorly conceived. Of course, they are the divas of the past whose spirits and peculiarities have greatly influenced Frank and whose costumes he has collected as a sycophantic magpie of sorts, but the performance quickly becomes an endless series of impersonations as opposed to a symbolic representation of how they have impacted Frank’s psyche, despite the few Diva—Frank interactions that we are presented. As a member of the LGBTQIA+ Community, I can certainly identify and comprehend an obsession with sassy, powerful, egotistical and successful [routinely female] figures and how an abrupt, condescending and ‘shady’ diva culture can increase a member of this Community’s self-esteem, joie de vivre and sense of purpose. However, it is never communicated that this is, indeed, the reason behind the sudden changes of tone, the swearing, the bitchiness; this is merely a deduction of mine. For instance, seeing Julie Andrews as quintessentially British, trilling, tight-lipped and upright, then swearing with the children and sticking her middle finger up is most comedic in its absurdity, but what is the purpose of presenting Julie Andrews in this way? How does this depiction / imagined extension of this Diva persona benefit, empower, challenge or change Frank? This remains distinctly unclear for our lack of information, causing the primary narrative to feel disparate in comparison. Merely having the Diva tell Frank to shut up whilst she sings another number, or having the two exchange mere one-liners wherein Frank explains his current situation and the Diva tells him to have courage, is not sufficient to justify the Divas’ presence. This disjointedness, and the sudden revelation at the end that Frank’s boyfriend would never ask him to change himself to be with him — a revelation that destroys the entire premise of the play and that complicates it further with his own infatuation with yet another Diva — are the main subtractions from the integrity of this text. Indeed, this ending feels like an afterthought, a snappy way to end the musical on a soppy high-note but without much integrity or profundity. In summary, whilst the performers and backstage creatives demonstrate, overall, excellent skill, conviction and chemistry, the foundations of the performance, the text and the book, need significant work to render this performance coherent and efficacious. “A performance with catchy songs and pleasing visuals but with little coherency or depth.” Want a technical analysis for your own live performance? Private and public analyses are requestable by any artist and for any live performance type. For more information, please click here. Artists from across the UK and [online] across the globe can also benefit from guidance, support and training in the form of consultations and/or workshops as part of my work as a live performance mentor.

  • [Performance Analysis:] MARRY ME A LITTLE, Stage Door Theatre, London.

    The set for this performance is certainly memorable for its efficient simplicity and naturalistic quality. It is abundant with the characters’ personal items and has a practical feel, allowing for a great amount of interactivity and hence dimension and liveliness. However, the set was not particularly used to its full potential — most memorably, the microwave not being powered, allowing for a unique sense of mime not implemented elsewhere in the performance, but most significantly, the repetitiveness of the set interactions we see. Interactions, whilst somewhat attractive in their mundaneness, representing the humdrum daily actions of the bored and lonely characters, are incomplete or illogical: making bagel sandwiches and food that are never eaten, applying makeup to an already made-up face, pouring drink after drink and rarely actually drinking from the glasses, etc. From the repetition of these actions comes also a lack of clarity in time of day: we are to deduce that the play starts on a Friday night, with their coming back home from outside, Shelley Rivers (playing Woman) in work attire, but beyond this, we know nothing of when exactly the action is taking place. I find it strange also that we are to understand the set as both of the characters’ respective homes depicted simultaneously, yet the characters regularly interact with the very same theatrical properties, despite there being many others with which they could do so, and in the same way. It would be good to see the characters interact with their own, unique properties that share a performative symbolic space but that are clearly, markedly theirs and only ever interacted with by them, much like Man's (Markus Sodergrens) photograph was — the only prop utilised and addressed in such an intimate and personal way. Conversely, the characters did end up locked into certain remits of the stage, outlining in this way their respective symbolic territories. This could have been more effective if it was organised more deliberately, however, with the characters having clear and cogent reasons for remaining in these said areas. I did really enjoy that the characters were separate from one another. That they were in different physical spaces was clear from the very beginning, with the lack of interaction between them and their shared ignorance. However, this was equal parts effective and irritating, with the significance of this being underwhelming. On a similar note, ambit of gaze is a major issue in this performance, with Sodergren addressing the audience directly when signing and Rivers staring into the void above their heads. This imbalance causes for both stylistic inconsistency and disruption in the modes of audience reception. With the songs being used as a storytelling device of sorts, presenting a direct-speech narrative in their lyrics, it is odd that only one character [Sodergren’s] should be approaching the audience, encroaching vaguely on their territory, sat at the edge of the stage, and addressing them individually, seeking eye contact. Perhaps this was an actor-led decision as opposed to a directorial (Robert McWhir) one, however. When it comes to vocal performance, both Rivers and Sodergren have wonderful, melodic voices, and vibrato is achieved well, overall, but diction is a major concern for both — as is volume, particularly on higher notes. Whilst diction is the most significant issue for Sodergren, Rivers must train to have better strength behind her voice when achieving higher notes. Harmonies, unfortunately, are not achieved at all throughout the performance, with the exemption of the finale. Indeed, seeing the performers themselves not melding together in song, the lack of crossover between the characters is over-intensified, which is a shame, as it would be beneficial to see that the characters are united in this, at least — their ‘inner voices’, their sentiments and their nature, and their manners of expression intimately similar. A few notes lost for both performers, but a satisfactory vocal performance, overall. This remains one of Sondheim’s least impressive texts — admittedly a subjective response on my behalf — demanding an exaggerativeness to be fully engaging, one that we only glimpse in a few sequences — Sodergren’s ‘bang bang’s and Rivers's ‘stripping’ sequence, namely. I would certainly recommend further work on comedic timing and further intensity in physicality here to make the sassier or more idiosyncratic moments punchier. Characterisation takes second place to the focus on the vocals, leading to a certain genericism and lack of depth. “A watchable performance but lacking in originality, vigour and stylistic consistency.” Want a technical analysis for your own live performance? Private and public analyses are requestable 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.

  • [Performance Analysis:] 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.

  • [Performance Analysis:] 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.

  • [Performance Analysis:] 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.

  • [Performance Analysis:] 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.

  • [Performance Analysis:] 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.

  • [Performance Analysis:] 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.

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