Posts Tagged ‘Battersea Arts Center’

Response – Reassembled, Slightly Askew – Shannon Yee at Battersea Arts Center

May 13, 2016

Bloggers. We’re ignorant (and unpaid) and not really proper writers, so who should read our blitherings? I lack the intellectual background to write about theater, because I am a BLOGGER.

Well, in this case, I’m going to really exploit the format of having a platform where I can talk about my personal experiences in life, and share my very personal response to a show. Fuck (hey I can swear here as well!), I am just going to WALLOW. I AM NOT A PROPER WRITER. I AM A BLOGGER AND YOU DO NOT GET YOUR MONEY BACK IF YOU DON’T LIKE WHAT I WRITE because you didn’t pay me anything.

But in this case, I sure as shit have the background to know what I am talking about in my response to the show I saw yesterday.

So.

I fucking cried last night while watching Shannon Yee’s play/promenade/experiential theater thing, Reassembled, Slightly Askew. I was in the Members Library room of the Battersea Arts Center, laying on a hospital bed, with a blindfold and headphones on, purely submerged in the experience of trying to recover from a severe brain injury. I was not afraid; I didn’t at any point feel claustrophobic. What I got was a very unfiltered world most especially notable for the voiceover that was Shannon’s internal monologue. This is the kind of thing you don’t get to see on stage, although you could maybe see it in a movie; but usually any show featuring someone who’s severely ill just shows them in bed and about makes it out that they don’t have any thoughts going on. In this case, you could hear the people talking to or around Shannon, fading in and out as her awareness came and went; sometimes you heard random sounds. You heard her healthy (“What shall I get Grauniad for Christmas?”), you heard her under morphine (“Staple. Staple. Staple. Staple.”). And, most heartbreakingly, you heard her discovering what her new limitations are, and realizing what kind of an impact it is going to have on her life.

Listening to someone say, in a conversation with a doctor, “But when can I go back to work?” is nothing compared to listening someone think through the implications of their being unable to make their body (including their mouths) do the things that all well people take for granted. The inner voice has the conversation that is devastating, because it is the unfiltered voice of someone who has been devastated. It’s not just a physical change; the brain is also wrecked by the psychic impact of all of this struggle.

This, then, is what made the tears spill out around my face mask and trickle down my face: Shannon’s feeling of exposure, isolation, and profound fear; the looking back at all of the things that were lost in what must have seen like a moment; and the fear of all of the other things yet to be lost. I remembered my own experience of being profoundly ill three years ago, when my life changed in ways I never expected, and my body and brain completely let me down. I felt like I sat there with Shannon and held her hand and had a cry over all of the things we lost: the ability to feel normal on a daily basis; the sense of faith in yourself; the ability to make your body do what you had always been able to make it do; all of those friends. It is a horribly, horribly lonely feeling, looking over your shoulder at the past and finding that you’ve turned into a pillar of salt, eroding away under the power of your own tears. And Shannon has been there. And I think, if you go to this show, you’ll find that you go there, too.

Afterwards we were invited to stay for another 20 minutes and watch a documentary on the making of this show, but I wasn’t able to stay: I had to run outside and feel the warm summer air, and cry a little bit more, and find someone out there to reassure me that even though I have lost so much, there was still going to be a future and it might actually be okay. Just look forward. Be your own Euridice. Just keep looking forward, and making things, and trusting the future will still be there to meet you as you take one faltering, slow step after another. Take your time. Take your time. You’re going to make it. You’re going to be alright.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, May 12, 2016. Nobody’s paid me a penny to do any writing for over fifteen years but I still think I’ve got what I need to do it. Thanks for taking the time to read what I have to say. We’re all going to make it. We’re going to be alright.)

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Review – Light – Theatre Ad Infinitum at the Battersea Arts Center

February 7, 2016

While “the surveillance state” seems like a loosy goosy premise to organize a play around, I’m pleased to say that Theatre Ad Infititum’s Light takes the core nightmare of the society we live in – one where we expect our communication with others to be private and yet now know that most of our communication is routinely monitored by this and other governments. It clear to see what a government on a mission can do to destroy a person’s life – I mean, there are people in Guantanamo to this day who have had no charges brought against them – and the distance between our current situation and a living dystopia is probably little more than the flick of a switch away.

The style of Light is very much like a silent movie (say by Guy Maddin) – all dialogue is broadcast in text above the stage, and the movement is highly stylized to increase the emotional effect of the action. Scenes are “set” with circles of light that might only have a hand or a face in them – so our gaze is guided from moment to moment onto very specific things. The performers often hold the lights and move them around to achieve this effect, and also seem to “throw” LEDs (in red and green) that are meant to show people “sharing” their thoughts with each other (although it could just as easily be people sending text messages and getting them on their phones). The nightmare at the core of this is that now our “receiving devices” are internal instead of external (phones), and these implanted devices are required by and monitored by the state. The plot is a bit about a rebel group trying to free people from the tyranny of surveillance but also about how this surveillance state came to be.

As a theatrical experience, I found the intense sensory assault (there is quite a bit of noise and we’re also occasionally blinded, then reverted to near full darkness) engaging: I liked having my focus so strongly guided. I’m also a science fiction fan, and I found the Matrix-like elements of the plot very enjoyable – in fact, the way this play rode the edge of reality made it feel much more plausible than a story about us being used as batteries. Finally, at 70 minutes, it was pretty damned snappy, with just about 5 minutes of tightening needed. And, boy, my 12 quid ticket could not be beat. In short: it’s excellent, so do try to go, if for no other reason than to see one of the best and most original lighting designs to ever grace the London stage.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, February 1st, 2016. It continues through February 13th.)

Review – This Is How We Die – Christopher Brett Bailey at Battersea Arts Center

June 9, 2015

Amidst the glowing reviews (‘Mesmerising’ – The Guardian; ‘Leaves you speechless’ – The Times), I’d like to add one that will NOT be on the BAC’s website: “70 minutes of pure wank.” That’s an excerpt from my longer review, in which I shouted over the phone at my husband: “It left me feeling gross and sticky and wanting to stab him to death with a plastic fork to make it stop.” He said he thought I wouldn’t like it and I didn’t listen but at least he didn’t rub it in.

Sometimes one man shows tell stories. Sometimes they’re comedy. Sometimes it’s just spoken word. And sometimes it’s someone who’s fallen in love with the sound of his own voice and uses it as a weapon to assault the audience. Can you escape? Barely. Is it interesting? Never. I found myself unable to distinguish the words as they ran together, avoiding narrative, punctuated by the pops of his fricatives against the microphone (“Is that a microphone in your pocket?” “No, it’s a joke I’m going to repeat several times despite the fact that it wasn’t funny the first time.” “Oh, wait, is the joke on me?” “Yes.”)

Sometimes the words briefly coalesced into images then fluttered away, either on the bumper of a car that crashed into his story or on a priest’s head zipping madly into the sky. To add insult to injury, this overly long evening ends, first with a blast of light to the eyeballs (such a sixth form theater school stunt) then with a blast of sonic oppression which only alleviates by changing our pain from merely mental to aural as well. AT LEAST THEY WEREN’T SCREAMING THE WORD JISM OVER AND OVER AGAIN BUT THEY MIGHT HAVE WELL BEEN. SOMEONE HAND ME A WET WIPE AND PASS ME THE SPORK, I’M GOING IN FOR THE KILL AS SOON AS I GET THIS SHIT OFF MY FACE.

(This review is for a performance I sadly paid for the night of June 9th, 2015. If you still want to see it, don’t blame me. We probably can’t be friends anyway.)

Experiential Review – Early Days of a Better Nation – Coney at Battersea Arts Center/Four Thieves

April 22, 2015

(This review is a work of semi-fiction but also a work of semi-reality.)

It was hard work to get to the meeting of the peoples of Dacia. On the islands, where I live, the anarchy and fighting that have been taking place in the mainland have seemed fairly distant to my reality. We rode through the rise and fall of the Dacian dictator in the same way we deal with all of the crises across the straits – still having coffee with friends, still going to work, engaged but separated. In fact, I only heard of this plan to have an all-country meeting to decide our future at random, while having lunch with a friend who happened to invite visionary (and fellow Islander) Annette Mees as one of our talkative crowd. When she told me about this chance for me to come as a representative to help reform Dacia – to help it make it past our current time of difficulty – I thought it was well worth the effort, even knowing the ferries were no longer running and those of us who choose to attend would have to borrow private boats to make it. With my degree in political theory, it seemed I was practically obliged to contribute to this event, for the sake of all of Dacia as well as to slake my own curiosity.

However, it seemed malign forces – whether of fate or of perhaps the pro-fascist element still alive in Dacia – was set against us doing this, for the People’s Hall of Battersea, where our conference was to take place, burned some weeks before the event. This left us reliant on email to keep in touch while we all traveled to the mysterious new home of the event, a lovely former performance hall now known as the Four Thieves. Oddly, I only knew one of the other Islanders who appeared at our initial meet up, and our facilitator seemed to be … well, not dedicated to Dacia’s success as much as to cheerleading the Islands. Yes, we have a different form of governance in each hamlet, including direct democracy, rotational leadership, and other radical approaches – but with our small population, high level of education, and social cohesiveness, this has been fairly easy. We still have our infrastructure in place, the Bug racing through the refugee camps in Dacia’s plains hasn’t touched us, and there’s more than enough food to go around.

When we got to the big conference room, we were faced with a pretty major decision: did we want to take help from the European Commission, and get food and other aid but have foreign troops in Dacia? Somehow, we weren’t even able to agree how to vote on this issue – the three facilitators for each of the areas seemed more interested in promoting their personal visions than listening to any of the people they were “supposedly” representing – and the whole thing seemed to descend into them shouting at us while none of us concerned citizens were able to do anything to work together. Suddenly, I heard a voice say, “It’s time for us to abolish the borders!” and it was if I had seen a light: sure, we were sitting in a room divided by the areas we had came from, but every citizen of Dacia was my concern, not just those relatively privileged few of us on the islands. My brothers and sisters were living in tents, fighting for their lives, lucky if they could feed themselves, and we’d let these false prophets turn our meeting into a fight over details when we had obvious, big picture issues to address. They didn’t seem to have the basic precepts of how to chair a meeting much less how to build consensus. We were rushed through to a decision based on a false dichotomy created by the selfish leaders and at the end, I saw our chances for working together, and even the chances for easily being able to feed our nation, destroyed, as they chose to declare that we’d voted against the European Help despite the fact the numbers were NOT on their side. It’s clear that those who control the media control policy far more than any individual, as even a big group of individuals was steamrolled but all the news channels said was that we’d said no.

It was heartbreaking to reconvene a year later (mind you this time with beer) and discover how far we’d fallen. I’d been shielded from it, again, in the Islands, but the situation in the Plains and the Cities was even worse – pure chaos. Somehow, in this environment, we needed to come together and figure out what to do with the few resources we had. The result and attitude were both gamed, as we were handed out single tokens and essentially divided into three again, but I decided it was time to break through the borders and sat with the Cities representatives. What we needed was to understand each other and to see what need we had, and to change our divisive attitudes to truly rebuild ourselves as a nation. An effective moderator finally emerged from the representatives, and we began to support her, as she slowly worked her way around the room, ensuring each voice was listened to; but at some point, the anarchic situation we were in reasserted itself and a large portion of the voting counters were stolen. But we seemed to agree, at last, that we needed to feed the nation, and that the richer areas could do with less in order to stabilize the poorer … and then the moderators attempted to cut off our attempts to reach consensus (a slow process) and rush us through. Sure, the lights were going out, but our will was strong: and some daring women discovered the thief who was attempting to make away with control of the mines to his own benefit and decided to bring him to justice. It was a great moment, but it appeared that the Powers That Be were more interested in ending this bizarre commingling of Dacians and abruptly declared our decision making process over, then gave us a pre-scripted story about what the outcome would be from the votes we had made – as represented at a point in time that was convenient to them.

But I am here to tell you the true story of Dacia, not the tale that news agent, paid by relics of the old regime, spread on that evening. We, the room of us, agreed that feeding our country and controlling disease were a must, and that, while we needed to hold on to the mines, restarting them was not as important as keeping our citizens from dying. The people from my home, the Islands, agreed that giving up some of our easy living in order to ease the situation for the Plains and the City – to help Dacian farms become productive again and to give our people stability – would lead to a long term best outcome. Because this wasn’t about us and them: it was about all of us. We’re all struggling but everyone has nearly enough to eat now and the political situation has stabilized.

The citizens of Dacia who came together that night saw that what was best for all of us was the right choice – not what was easy or fast or philosophically interesting, but that which decreased human suffering. We needed to make Dacia function, starting with the basics of survival. Now, three years later, we’ve just started up the mines and we’ve arranged the jobs they provide so they’re benefiting people across Dacia – and ensuring the income generated by the minerals is invested in the people and infrastructure of our country. The women who ensured our mines remained national property were true heroes and while the lynching was ugly, it saved our country’s people from a far worse fate.

I’m glad I had this opportunity to tell the truth about what happened that night. Every day people built a new nation underneath the noses of the vested interests of the old regime and the greedy grab-guts who wanted to steal our patrimony away for themselves. I didn’t know if it could work, but it did, and I’m glad I took the chance to get out of my comfort zone and help build a future for all of us.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, April 21st, 2015. Early Days (of a Better Nation) continues at Battersea Arts Center through April 25th. It then tours through May 14th: for details see the Coney site.)

Review – Shelf Life – Lotta Quizeen at the Battersea Arts Center (then theSpace at Surgeons Hall, Edinburgh)

August 5, 2013

Idly poking through the inbox of my Webcowgirl Twitter account, I found this strange message from @domesticbits: “Wonder if you fancy a bit of domesticity?” Well, yes, of course I do, as the “counter culture housewife of the nineties” (per A.J. Epstein): but the link attached was for a show of some sort at the Battersea Arts Center. “Mrs Lotta Quizeen uses the rituals, responsibilities and realities of domesticity (traditionally dismissed as women’s work) to entertain, educate and amuse you.” Hmm! It sounded like an ironic/comedic/poking fun kind of thing – with a feminist slant I thought would appeal to my weekend houseguest (and me). I admit, I wasn’t sure who “Fanny Craddock” was, but I figured what with my exposure to Julia Child and Martha Stewart I could probably bridge the cultural gap.

As it turns out, this show was far more confusing for an American than I expected: the constant jokes about her missing husband Johnnie sailed right over my head, and I’m still puzzled about the tiny moments of spotlit song (“I love being a housewife and keeping things tidy” seemed to be the theme). But rather than try to slot it into my cultural references, I just enjoyed what was going on, and found myself having rather a lot of laughs during a a 50 minute show that was packed as tightly as a nun’s (lunch) box. (This bad joke would not have been out of place.)

A lot of what happened was participatory, starting from when we were greeted as we entered (wearing name tags: I was “Vixen” as I was still pretty excited about the previous night’s trip to see Saucy Jack), then served sweeties at our neatly dressed tables by our charming (and bodacious) hostess. She talked a bit about her view of being a good homemaker, with interesting asides into Britishness, Europe, and rather more than the occasional double entendre. As the event continued, we were roped into a series of housework related, audience-staffed competitions that became more and more hilarious as, to be blunt, they lost their hold on double entendre and became just rude. I couldn’t restrain myself from getting in on the action and dipping my finger into the creamy topping of a banana pudding: “It’s clear why you’re married!” Mrs Quizeen announced. We were all losing it by the end: young gay men, elderly couples, middle-aged theater goers, and burnt out bohemians alike. I have to imagine that in the bustle of the Edinburgh fringe festival this will be a popular show, as it’s such a change from passively watching plays or plain old sketch comedy. Lotta Quizeen has a unique thing going and, well, I’ll never be able to fold a napkin without giggling again.

(This review is for an Edinburgh preview performance that took place at the Battersea Arts Center on Saturday, August 3, 2013. Lotta Quizeen’s Domestic Bits will be remounted at the Surgeon’s Hall in Edinburgh from August 12th to August 17th.)

Review – The Odyssey – Paper Cinema at Battersea Arts Center

February 7, 2012

Back in the days when I was a Seattle resident, my shadow puppeteer of choice was Scot Auguston, whose low-tech retelling of tales both unique and bizarre kept me coming back year after year (just say the phrase “naughty taties” and see me collapse with laughter). His work (when I saw it) was done through the modern, yet low tech medium of the “overhead projector,” with “sets” drawn with colored markers and simple cut-out silhouette puppets manipulated with visible hands. No sticks, no strings, no screens, but still a world of its own created through light and sound and a barrel full of imagination.

This was the experience I was hoping for when I bought tickets to the Paper Cinema’s Odyssey rather shortly after getting a flyer in the mail from Battersea Arts Center about the production. Live animation for adults? Yes please! And, I’m pleased to say, it really delivered.

The room, as we walked in, was set up with several musical instruments (piano/drums/violin) as well as old standbys of the silent cinema such as a metal sheet (labelled “thunder”), a drum with ball bearings in it (good for ocean noises), and a saw. A partially drawn screen hung in the center rear of the stage; despite sitting in the front to the far side, I was able to see all well from this position. The performers consisted of a multi-talented group of five, three primarily musicians (though the violinist and percussionist pitched in elsewhere), two of whom were solely projection artists. As it started, lead artist and bearded Odysseus stand-in Nicholas Rawling drew on an overhead projector that shared screen space with some background images generated by Irena Stratieva. The effect of watching someone working working with ink on a screen reminded me very much of the Eurovision entry with the sand paintings I’d seen a while back, and I had a brief fear that I might be killed ded with naff. But Rawling’s drawings were beautiful and iconic, and nicely set us up for the evening, introducing us to our main characters (bearded Odysseus, Penelope with her star on her forehead, their son Telemachus, and Athena, who got her own special sound effect courtesy of a set of rope-triggered chimes) and getting us ready for the main course …

The rest of the evening was done with the puppeteers in front of two (or three) videoed projections of their live object manipulation (not to me animation but puppetry) work. It was a melange of styles, with traditional shadow puppet tricks (such as moving things backwards and forwards from the screen to make things seem nearer or further away) used regularly, but “new” techniques such as multiple projections (used not just for supertitles but for “effects” like light through leaves). There were also some very special techniques such as having one “puppet” (i.e. a building with a window) brought close to the projector so that its focus went to the back, where another puppet (such as Penelope sewing) could be seen as if it were a movie camera zooming into a scene. And then, not to spoil much I hope, there was a pop-up book – not exactly in any realm of story telling I’ve ever seen in a theater.

The puppetry was great at dealing with some of the more “please add imagination here” scenes such as Odysseus and his men being chased by a giant, his trip to Hades, and the entire scene of the blinding of the Cyclops (gross!). But it handled the simpler scenes just as well, with the wonderfully appropriate (and cleverly made) music slash soundtrack keeping it all moving along nicely. Dare I say … the experience was lyrical.

All of this was done with no words being spoken (though a few appeared on screen – remember, don’t eat the sun god’s cows!), with every move of the cast clearly visible to the audience yet all of the magic still fully intact. I don’t really understand what the separate Telemachus story was that involved him in a bus and on a motorcycle and somehow reading the Odyssey but I didn’t much care; instead I was laughing at the wit of depicting Penelope’s suitors as a pack of wolves and beaming with happiness as I recognized Dawn’s rosy fingers at the start of act three. My companion was likewise delighted with this night of pure enchantment. Based on the number of people who enjoyed Sunday Morning at the Center of the World and The Animals and Children Took to the Street, there is a deep audience for this kind of raw theatrical pleasure, and if you don’t already have tickets, I’m afraid it just may be too late. Still: go.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, February sixth, 2012. It continues through February 25th and I see only three dates that are not sold out as I type this. May I say how nice it is to walk out of a show like this knowing you’ve earned the gratitude of another person because you’ve been able to give them a night of magic?)