Review – Crow – Handspring at Greenwich Dance Borough Hall


A world famous puppetry company, singlehandedly responsible for the National Theatre’s currently positive balance sheet. The poetry of one of Britain’s most famous 20th century writers. Put them together, and you’d get something magical, like Cats.

Or maybe not.

Two days after seeing Handspring Puppet’s Crow, I amazed that no one saw fit to stop this train wreck. There are some puppets, if this is what you came for. I recall a moment of naturalistic beauty as one first lifted its shiny black head to look upon the world. And there is some interesting poetry that, early on, gave hope that the evening might soar.

However, it’s the eye-burningly bad modern dance that drags the show down. The movement is not so much uninteresting as actively ugly, only tangentially related to the spoken word (which is actually in short supply). Watching the actors shuffling around on the floor, disassembling puppets, smearing grease on each other, feigning amorous interest, and generally giving their best, I feel sure their sincerity meant they had yet to figure out they were involved in a monsterpiece.

The crow puppets actually made it all worse. Was the emotional climax of the play really the moment when the pale penis of a man-sized crow creature becme erect? It’s an image that is burned in my mind, to be sure, in part because it marked the point of when I realized the evening was lost. As the crow chased a long haired actress lustily around the stage, finally disappearing into a cavern with her, I wondered if it could get any worse. Then the dome at the center of the stage cracked, and a giant crow beak poked out. The night tipped into pure absurdity for me, as I relived the key moment of an amateur production of HP Lovecraft’s “The Shunned House,” in which all of the evil of a small town is made clear by the grand reveal of an ELBOW of some giant monster, rather unconvincingly rendered in carved foam. (Read the full text here and imagine the moment.) Crow had crossed into parody, and I let myself giggle away the rest of the evening.

It’s amazing how a really bad show can make one hour and ten minutes seem like an eternity, but I knew it had to end soon enough; many of the other audience members were unable to wait even that long, however. We walked out in silence. Will it be revived? I think: nevermore.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Tuesday, June 19th, 2012. Crow continues through July 7th. If it helps, imagine this show at the performance given my the gang of bankrobbers to the old ladies’ art society in The Ladykillers. It kind of works!)


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18 Responses to “Review – Crow – Handspring at Greenwich Dance Borough Hall”

  1. Mike Pollitt Says:

    Hi – I really like this review. I saw Crow last night and thought it was appalling. You’ve well captured the reasons why (the dancing!). I quoted you on @snipelondon here

    All the best! Mike

  2. Culture Junkie Says:

    I couldn’t agree more! A travesty. I can see why the National stuck this disaster as far away from the Southbank as poss. I took my husband & two of my children & we ended up shoulder-shaking, hands over our faces & biting our lips. Interminable. The journey there was twice as long & a hundred times more enjoyable. The ONLY thing going for it was it gave us something to laugh at the whole way home! Can’t wait to see the reviews. Billed as ‘one of the highlights of the Cultural Olympiad’…how dare they!

  3. Culture Junkie Says:

    o…& I was IN ‘Cats’….no comparison!

  4. Tadorne Says:

    This American expat is with you all the way, Webcowgirl. If I hadn’t been with a polite Brit I would have walked out after the first ten minutes. As it is, I closed my eyes and tried to think of something else. Not easy when being bombarded by gruesome sound effects and revolting tripe in the form of “poetic” text read from the sidelines in a kind of weird voice-over. Whenever I opened my eyes, I regretted it. Adam and Eve, who were hauled into this unseemly production — sometimes literally — by the hair, must be, well, either choking with laughter or crying their eyes out.

  5. Kyle Says:

    I haven’t seen the show yet, but I couldn’t help noticing how unprofessional this review seems to me, although I do realise the irony in pointing this out to an amateur blog writer. But perhaps some advice would be helpful?
    First of all, reviewing a preview isn’t very ethical. There is a very good reason the seats are cheaper. In the case of this show, one of the performers told me it has been pruned by almost a third of its length over the course of the previews. So what you think you are reviewing really isn’t the finished work.
    Secondly, you don’t really give any reason as to WHY the devices you are criticising don’t work. Don’t forget you are describing a work to people who HAVEN’T seen it yet, so essentially writing “I didn’t like it” is sort of counterproductive.
    Thirdly, you’ve made no effort to analyse the particular relationship between the different strands of poetry, dance, puppetry and acting. You may very well be correct in asserting their interplay fails here, but not once do you point out, a. WHY this association is novel (have you researched anything?), and b. WHY this association fails.
    Fourthly, no effort to talk about the names involved, and why this work may be interesting to see (even as a failure!) in light of those people involved. Do you even KNOW who Leafcutter John is?!

    It’s fine to write cutesy Sex-and-the-City-style blogs about the arts, but I have to say I find it sort of disingenuous to use big production names to harness google search hits towards your blog (PARTICULARLY when you are using previews to get ahead of the big papers in search results, because of course, professional reviewers prefer to review a finished work), and then put no effort whatsoever into reflecting and writing about it.
    Again, you are entitled to your opinion. I’m seeing Crow next week. I may also hate the work. But I hope cynicism won’t be the only sentiment informing my judgment.

    (PS. Cats is… well, just AWFUL, and I was in it!)

    • webcowgirl Says:

      Sorry, I only had about 15 minutes to write this. I may revisit it later but it’s unlikely as the full time job is taking up too much of my time for much else. I also usually don’t namecheck people in my reviews – it’s available online for people who wish to research things further.

      As for my using big names to harness Google search – I saw this production based on the company that was doing it, saw it when I could afford to go (this is an expensive hobby and I pay for my tickets), and … er … you know I don’t make any money off of this at all, right? So what difference does it make if I’m reviewing a big name show or a small name show? I review what I see based on what is interesting and what I can afford, not based on what is going to make me the most money for all of the sponsored ads and such on my site … because I do this all for myself, as a record of what I see, and for any people out there who might benefit. I make no money off this site, and my ethics are only to save my reader from wasting theirs.

      If more gets cut from this show, well … I reviewed it with the date I saw it and the running time … so people can make that comparison. I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out in the wider press because I believe there is no way to save this spectacular failure.

      Also … for all that people in the industry complain about reviewing previews … I note they only complain when they are negative, and I didn’t mention the few technical issues that I felt were likely to be fixed. Isn’t that true?

    • Ween Wee (@weenwee) Says:

      “Fourthly, no effort to talk about the names involved, and why this work may be interesting to see (even as a failure!) in light of those people involved. Do you even KNOW who Leafcutter John is?”

      Why in God’s name should people choose to seek out (and pay good money!) to see a failure? And why should Leafcutter John make any difference to the average theatre-goer, other than in saying “oi, here’s a really terrible show, but a guy who does folktronica did the music for it!” The mind boggles.

    • Liz Says:

      I’d say that reviewing a review of a play you haven’t seen yet (and likely have some connection with – the line ‘one of the performers told me’ is telling) is more ‘unethical’!

    • Tadorne Says:

      Accusing a non-professional of being unprofessional is a little silly. Telling anyone they can’t in good conscience offer their opinion on a preview is, well, even sillier. Anyway, as Liz has pointed out, it’s _your_ judgment that’s a bit premature, Kyle.

      I saw the show on the 21st, when it was exactly an hour long (what a way to celebrate the solstice). If you were to cut everything that needed cutting from that monster there’d be nothing left.

      As for “do you even KNOW who Leafcutter John is?!,” (the exclamation mark meaning, “shame on you!”) — don’t get me started on fetishism in the evaluation of contemporary art. (Just to be clear, I’m talking about the way folks make a fetish of the work based on who made it, which leads them to drop their critical faculties.)

      Your review, Webcowgirl. Please don’t apologize — it’s a beaut.

    • Not the West End Whingers Says:

      Isnt it amazing how someone who hasn’t even seen the play can criticise a review written by someone who has?

      And Kyle – preview tickets are a damned sight cheaper than for the rest of the run and it is only because of this fact that regular theatre bloggers can see as much as we do. If you would like to stump up for Webcowgirl to go see a non-preview performance, please send her a cheque. And get over yourself, you pretentious fool.

  6. Theatre Brothel Says:

    I’m backing up Kyle here. It’s just not right to review previews, they’re basically an open public rehearsal. You wouldn’t walk into the rehearsal room and review that. Give the people who make it a bit of a chance to try to get it right before you slam it. Maybe they’ll never get it right, but they deserve the right to try before everyone jumps on them.

    • webcowgirl Says:

      This one was a bit more of an open public rehearsal that I was expecting, I’ll give you that. Poor actors.

  7. A.Bird Says:

    We went to see it on the 21st and it seemed very short indeed but, unfortunately, this was a blessing. Sadly, I couldn’t agree more with this review.

  8. Paul Chandler (@pcchan1981) Says:

    ‘Do you even KNOW who Leafcutter John is?!’

    Thanks for that, really made me chuckle. Makes me laugh more each time I read it.

  9. Mary Smith Says:

    I saw it on the 25th June and it was utterly, utterly awful. I agree with every word that Webcowgirl wrote, and so too did the two people I went to see the show with.

  10. Lita Doolan Says:

    If previews are open rehearsals why do we need to pay for a ticket? Most previews are marketed to the public as performances. If the reviewer states the review is of a preview then it is up to the reader to make an informed decision. Comparing reviews written about a show at different times during the run has an educational value too. Incidentally there is an incredible truth, honesty and electricity to early performances (particularly first nights) that adds a temporary polish or glow to a show. Early reviews (good and bad!) can make a massive difference to box office by at least getting people talking. The worst thing you can be is ignored.

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