Posts Tagged ‘Charles Stross’

Review – Some Like It Hip Hop – Zoonation at the Peacock Theater

October 25, 2011

Into the Hoods was the first full-length street dance evening I attended, and while I found it rough around the edges, it got me excited about the style … and the company. This meant that the company’s new show, Some Like it Hip Hop, had made it to the place of honor in my mental space as I put their flier on my cubicle’s tiny display space. Mental note: AWESOME SHOW COMING.

So … here’s what I expected going in. Despite the fact that the title is from the movie Some Like it Hot, I was thinking not at all about a plot involving gangsters, all-girl Jazz bands, and cross-dressing musicians; instead, I’d got my mind fixated on Shakespearean influences for this show, with As You Like It and Measure for Measure being zipped up and rejigged with the ever popular mistaken identities, twins, and a whole new element of kick-ass dance to tie it all together (per Time Out‘s interview Twelfth Night was an influence). And, well, the production shot made me think it was all taking place in a high school.

But what I didn’t expect was a story about dystopian police state in which all books are banned and women are completely cut out of civil society – not even allowed to speak in the menial jobs they are given! The framing is a blend of science fiction and fairy tale, as a mad governor (Duwane Taylor, rather like Leontes from A Winter’s Tale) has taken the sun from they sky, forcing his subjects to live in darkness. While I was imagining the frozen future of Charles Stross’ “Palimpsest,” the death of all plant life wasn’t as important as the fact that this world was now split into those on the inside of the city (who support the king and follow his rules) and those on the outside (who have their own society but live in poverty and desperation, not to mention cold). Life is so regimented that it seems no fun for the men or the women – the men are reduced to bullies who pick on the women but live in the knowledge that one screw up on the job and they’ll be on the outside with just the coats on their backs.

This regimented life is expressed well in movement: the men shuffle into an office with their personality stripped away, but suddenly break into dance (with shouts and hollering from the audience), showing us their interior life, as they clock in for the day; and, though they move in unison as they type up their reports (and the women feed their typewriters paper), they throw in little flourishes that express the fact that they are still individuals despite the Governor trying to strip away their ability to think for themselves.

But then we get to the situation of the women. Somehow, watching them stripped of dignity, existing only to “assist” the men, reduced and humliated by the simple chance of the gender they were born being defined as “inferior” (though even at the beginning we can see that one of the guys – “Sudsy Partridge” – isn’t as good as Miss Jo-Jo Jameson) – I couldn’t help but think of all of the uprisings going on in the Middle East this year. All of these people with so much potential being held back by folks only concerned with keeping themself in power – a revolution was going to have to happen. And when Jo-Jo (Lizzie Gough) and Kerri Kimbalayo (Teneisha Bonner) decided to bust back into the city (after being thrown out for getting uppity) and take the men on at their own game, you can’t help but cheer, especially when to “win the right” they have to show they can perform as well as the men. And they do, in a sizzling dance-off that saw other guys (including Sudsy) fail as the chicks showed they could totally hold their own for speed and moves – as long as they had on a suit (and hysterical fake mustaches). Now admittedly we had some plot happening here, but MAN was the dancing snazzy and fast, and how could you not see the point made that women can hold their own not just on a frozen planet but in the real world and in the arena of street dancing!

Then another plot point was spun in … The Governor has a daughter, Oprah Okeke (Natasha Gooden) who wants to reunite with her dad! First she’s on the outside of the city, then, somehow, she sneaks in an open door and gets a job at the factory, but she is not doing a good job at conforming – especially knowing that the misery her father has put on everyone else is something that’s wrong, but that fixing him is what has to be done to change it. So we have revolution bursting out at many levels, from the women, from the family, and finally from the men of the city, who are not as happy living in their same sex dorms and playing poker as The Governer might wish they were! Finally the whole thing breaks out in all out war as the various forces come together and have to fight it out in a big dance scene. You think this is going to be cheesy and over-stylized, but it actually had me on the edge of my seat – it was like watching X Wing fighters diving into the Death Star! The audience was going wild and I was cheering along with them – to see a corrupt system overthrown, to see the women get the respect they deserved, to see the various lovers finally allowed to reunite – there was a lot riding on this battle and we wanted a happy resolution. Unsurprisingly, we got it, and at the end we even got the sun hung back in the sky.

Overall Some Like It Hip Hop was a big level up for Zoonation, with not just a compelling story and characters, but great design work and … it has to be said … the fantastic addition of a bunch of original music sung by real belters. No more projected sets and sampled music, this was the full meal deal, a night of story told through acting, singing, and dance. I was astounded at what a change had happened. Congratulations to Kate Prince and crew, you’ve made a show to be remembered – and one I think I need to go back and see again.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, October 24th, 2011. It continues at the Peacock Theater through November 19th. Awesome dance moment: during the final fight, a guy dances like he’s going to tear the house down all by himself, and in response, the woman he’s showing off to takes her right leg and, while standing on the left, tucks her foot behind her ear. Dodge THAT.)

Preview – Dunwich Horror – Ororo Productions at the London Horror Festival

October 17, 2011

While poking around looking for fun theater stuff to do this Halloween, I was very excited to discover that there was going to be a production of a play based on a story by HP Lovecraft. Ooh! Shades of Open Circle Theater’s “HP Lovecraft Theater of Horrors,” one of a regular season of Halloween time eldritch/Cthonic shows! How could we Londoners be so lucky as to have our own All Souls’ spookiness? I tracked down David Dawkins of Ororo Productions and asked him for some answers in person.
Dunwich Horror Armatige
As I knew, Lovecraft never wrote any plays, and Dawkins has adapted this story himself. (It was also done as a radio play in 1945 but this version is not beholden to it.) It was originally done as a one-man show, but now has a cast of nine. Dawkins saw this story as ideal for the stage, as it’s more about “atmosphere and use of language” rather than buckets of blood. “It’s not about an immediate physical threat. The impact comes later. People shouldn’t be scared during the show but should be uncomfortable when they walk out. ” For him, the challenges of adapting it were actually “how you keep from turning it into a talk fest.” His approach was to look at it from a more Brechtian and Commedia dell’arte perspective – to focus on the relationships and movement and to “keep the humor intact.”

Dunwich Horror WizardNow, I’m a Lovecraft fan due to an obsession with tentacled gods, but what is it that sparks Dawkins’ interest in him? “Lovecraft had an a-religious mythos. He looked at science, positing other dimensions, vast univeres, creatures millions of years old. Before him the belief was that the world was very young. But he posited a future before mankind, a reality and a life we couldn’t understand. People were not ready for it at the time.” But these days, alternate universes that exist alongside us are commonplace in science fiction – in Gaiman’s Neverwhere, in Stross’ “Laundry Series” (which are extremely indebted to Lovecraft), and of course in Mieville’s recent Kraken. Our terror is no longer damnation; it’s losing our sanity. And this is the fear that lurks beneath Lovecraft’s writing for me – a terror that we may face any day. I can’t wait to see it from the safety of a seat in the audience.

(“The Dunwich Horror” is running from October 25th to November 6th as a part of the London Horror Festival. All shows will be at 9:30 PM.)