Posts Tagged ‘RETZ’

Review – The Trial (part 2) – RETZproduces at a secret location in Shoreditch

April 8, 2013

The idea of doing Kafka’s The Trial as an interactive play seems, on the face of it, both really exciting and a bit scary. It’s a well known work of literature, but I’m far away from when I read it, and I decided I didn’t want to contaminate my experience by comparing it too closely with the source material; I just wanted to see how it held up as a work of art on its own (or as an experiential performance, to be more accurate). I’d been to see the first half a month earlier, and left, slightly confused (I was unsure that it had ended) with an appointment card to the next stage of the event: the trial itself.

Part Two of The Trial starts at the Department for Digital Privacy (tucked in, I think, an underused government building not too far from Hagerston train station). The waiting room is full of a much more attractive version of bored governmental functionaries than I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing in my many encounters with the slightly hostile bureaucrats staffing the UK Borders Agency. We, some five or six of us, were jammed in with too few seats, while some of us were checked in, some were wanded down, and … er, there was some other things taking place, but overall, the feeling was of the group of people who do work without thinking about what the consequences are to them other than possibly losing their pension if they don’t stick to the rules, whatever they may be.

Once I was finally “processed” at intake, my real journey began. My suspicions are that what I was doing was somehow mirroring the plot of the trial itself … friendly people not in the system … being told by a chipper departmental functionary I’d been flagged as guilty and needing to be punished, not because of any crime I’d committed, but because of an analysis of my propensity to do illegal behavior … a room with a bit of food … something read to me too quickly to be understood …

I knew other people were likely doing these things both right behind me and in parallel, and that each person in each room was having to go through a fairly set script. But I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Was I, as the protagonist, only allowed to take the position of Josef K, of protesting my innocence? I decided that it was better for me to say yes, I was wrong, and for the good of society it was best that I be dealt with appropriately and according to the laws of the land. In some ways, this is because I’ve been dealing with so much bureaucracy since I became an immigrant, and read so many things telling me about my guilt “as an immigrant” for ruining the UK, and how I need to follow every pointless rule that exists to the letter, that I’ve given up fighting for my rights. I’ve been trained to placate the bureaucrats. And somehow, I think, my approach was throwing off the actors. The happy ones dimmed, the evil ones softened, the hard core rules mongers seemed not to know how to maintain their place in this different society.

Unfortunately because of the feeling I was just moving through rooms full of actors, I was never able to completely plug in to the experience, and when we got to the final scene, I felt pretty clear about how the audience was being managed. Ultimately, as a polemic against the all-seeing eye of the state, Retz’s The Trial was fairly pointed – but it didn’t succeed in taking me to another world. Perhaps it’s because in a world filled with actors, I screwed things up by not knowing the script. I accept the verdict: guilty as charged.

(This review is for a performance that took place on April 4, 2013. It continues through April 27th. Tickets can be booked through the Barbican web site.)


Review – The Trial (experiential promenade) – RETZ at Shoreditch Town Hall & other locations

March 9, 2013

I was really pleased when I heard that Retz had been recognized for their great work with a fat grant of £30K from Sky Arts; their amazing accomplishment with their six part Tempest was something I wanted to see recognized and rewarded … so I could have more really great theater to go to. The intensity and detail made it clear that it was
My reward for their largesse started last night, with a trip to the first half of their two-part, experiential/promenade The Trial. I’d had a bit of a prequel/preview the week before, at their “portal opening” party in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall. It was a treasure trove for those who like Jasper Fforde’s Bookworld: a series of display cases each with treasures found while exploring “an alternate world of narrative,” i.e. King Lear’s crown in the Shakespeare section, a ray gun in the Science Fiction , and I swear some kind of relic from the world of the Existentialists (perhaps a vial full of gloom). After wandering around for a bit, Felix and then Yuri the Bordurian guard came up to address us and point out the portal (to the world of fiction) in the back of the room, and to announce that they were pioneering travel to this great land! I was pretty excited as for me this was The Eyre Affair come to life. But suddenly … a man came dashing through the door, from the other side! He ran up to the microphone and made an impassioned speech about how he wasn’t a fictional character, he was a real person like you or me, not some thing in the cinema or a promenade art performance … he was real! Yes, it was Josef K of Kafka’s seminal work The Trial, making a run for freedom, and I was there to see it. He dashed into the heaving mass of partygoers (followed by several security guards) and that was the last I saw of him … until yesterday.

I returned to a much changed Shoreditch town hall (now the Bureau for Information Security or something like that), and was checked in for my … was it a pre-trial hearing? I wasn’t sure. But I took a “wrong turn” (you know that you are set up to go this way) and wound up somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be … and then I began to live Josef K’s nightmare. Caught up in a security sweep, hustled off by a rent-a-thug … in some ways it felt like the way I, as an immigrant, have always expected to be treated. Silent rooms, unhelpful lawyers, whispered secrets about the particular wordings you might be able to use to convince the implacable authorities to finally apply “the law” in a way that worked in your favor … I was swept from one location to another, told tall tales, and finally met Josef K … neither of us able to control our fates. A surprised teenager on a phone peered at me from their car as I was hustled by, local guys fresh from prayer watched us bemusedly, but as always, no one dared to interfere, or even speak. To not see is to protect yourself, and I had suddenly become one of the invisible.

My next trial is set for early April. I will report back … if I survive. (LATER: here is the review of the second half.)

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, March 8th, 2013. The similarity of this experience and that of trying to get UKBA to look favorably on my various applications for permission to work and reside in this country are not to be overlooked, nor the fact that I am about to throw myself upon them for the final mercy or killing in the next seven days. Wear clothing suitable for walking, bring an umbrella and a cell phone, and do yourself a favor and bring enough money for a pint at the Howl at the Moon Pub, as you will find yourself nearby and my their cider is tasty.)

Review – The Claribel (fourth installation of The Tempest in six parts) – RETZproduces at Borduria (297 Hoxton Street)

June 2, 2012

For the fourth installation of RETZ’ six part Tempest (called “The Claribel”), I did something a little different and went on the last night, when a dinner was offered as well as a show. I did it, truth be told, because it was the only night I could go: “The Claribel” had an unfortunately short (two week) run, and by the time the dates were announced. I’d already booked the rest of my calendar (five shows at the Lufthansa Baroque Festival took up most of my time). But, truth be told, this wasn’t too much of an inconvenience. Actually, I’d read about the dinners on Twitter and they sounded kind of intriguing, despite the fact that they added rather a lot to the cost of the show (especially since I’d prepaid for all six by buying a Bordurian passport. So on a sunny, glorious Sunday I headed off to Shoreditch, ready for whatever Retz was going to throw at me and whatever mysteries were taking place inside the Hotel Claribel.

Surprisingly, there was quite a line behind the building, and as I arrived the guard was calling out names – apparently there was a waiting list! Fortunately, I was third to be called and made it in easily, despite forgetting my passport: I promised to “set it straight” with the guard “if we could get somewhere a little more private,”, and he replied that he’d brought his rubber gloves. As a parting shot, I congratulated on his performance in Eurovision the preceding night.

Then it was in a tiny room – an elevator, to all appearances – which shook and trembled after the doors slid shut. One of the girls who was in it with me asked playfully if we should all jump up at the same time; I earmarked her as the fun one. Meanwhile the other two asked all sorts of questions about just what was going on and what was going to happen. So curious – but where was their willingness to just go with the flow?

When the doors opened (on the ground floor still, of course), they revealed a tiny, art-deco-y bar, set in a room with some lounging chairs around a long coffee table and some regular chairs around a dining table. Four men were arranged around the room: two young (in a corner), one middle aged, and one old. But our attention was immediately distracted by the chipper barman, who offered us some “Bordurian beet gazpacho” and some kind of cocktail made of Earl Grey tea and vodka. I took a glass of each and sat down at the coffee table, so I was facing the center of the room. I sipped my drink and polished off the gazpacho (the weather was certainly right for it!) and got into a very animated conversation with the elevator jumper while the rest of the guests filed in, four by four. (I’m guessing many of the people outside never made it in. Ah well.)

Finally we had reached capacity (two poor folk had to stand near the elevator door, rather uncomfortable as the actors kept standing in front of them). Our characters for the evening were the King Gonzalo, his advisor Alonzo, and Sebastian and Antonio, two villians who spent most of the first part sitting in the corner (invisible to me) and making fun of nearly everything the two older men said – most of which was Gonzalo mourning the death of his son. The performance was rather a lot of Act Three Scene Three, but with other bits thrown in; particularly chilling was Antonio’s speech to Sebastian, explaining that his soul “is a stranger to mercy” (or something along those lines) – a truly chilling speech from someone who was goading on a man with a knife to stab to death the old man sleeping in an arm chair in front of me.

At some point before this all came to a head, the elevator doors opened, the actors went on mute (actually they sort of powered down; they certainly refused to talk when addressed, not nearly as fun as the first installation when I got to thumb wrestle Trinculo); and a group of black garbed Bordurians came in and started serving us food. Hurray, cold potato salad; hurray strange celeriac (fennel?) salad, but BOOOOO for the giant slabs of cold raw salmon, as I had NO INTEREST in eating any fish. (Our extras, however, delighted Richard, the man who played Gonzalo, when he came by our table after the show was over.) But we also had lovely rolls and butter and, well, more than enough to eat. In fact, it was good enough that when the actors resumed (and the music of the spirits was played, enchanting the two villains), I was still shoveling it in, and thus was ROUNDLY HUMILIATED when Sebastian leaned into me (after ignoring me before!) and said, “Now I will believe/That there are unicorns.” Yeah, unicorns cramming their faces full of over buttered rolls. It all wrapped up with a big reveal as the door of the elevator rolled open to show the projected face of Ariel, who said something utterly incomprehensible to me… and then the actors headed out the front of the shop, the exterior windows were rolled up, and it was time for dessert! Mmm some sort of gateau and a home made Battenburg cake, plus adorable hand-tied teabags to go with. To make it all more fun, the actors returned and socialized with us – apparently my table was full of friends of the king – and did what actors do, which is feed themselves solidly after a hard night’s work. This gave me a chance to quiz them about working on the project and about their characters – rather fun, really, to say, “So, what is your relationship with Prospero? Are you in his good books? And how does it feel to perform in such an intimate space?” They were all charming, possibly because it was the last night and they were very relaxed, but all told it was such a lovely summer evening, so perfect to sit down with a cold picnic and visit over Earl Grey martinis and slightly melting cake. And, to top it off, I had made a friend – the other American and I had exchanged contact information and promised to meet again for episode six.

Overall, this experiment in bite sized Shakespeare in an intimate, changing space has really been transforming my relationship with the Tempest – I’m having a chance to savor the characters and the text while I’m soaking in the gloriously variable environment Retz has been creating for each episode. I took a bit of a risk buying a season pass (er, “passport”) for all six performances, but I’m loving the experience. I feel sorry for people who haven’t been along for the whole ride – this feels more and more like something people are going to be talking about for ages. Me, I have already made reservations for “Prospero’s Library” in mid-June. Early booking is, as they say, advised.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, May 27, 2012.)

Review – Caliban’s Cave (third installation of The Tempest in Six Parts) – RETZproduces at Borduria (297 Hoxton Street)

April 23, 2012

Caliban: who is he, really? A hero? A villain? Is he evil, mentally deficient, or just warped by his past? We were given the chance to decide this for ourselves at the third installment of RETZ Production’s O Brave New World, in which we are invited to the lair of the “puppy headed monster” himself (or herself). Caliban’s cave is a detailed, low-ceiling environment that reminded me of nothing so much as the kinds of forts we used to build in the desert – a big pit in the ground with a bunch of mattresses thrown on top for shade and all of our precious treasures stored in little nooks inside. This was luxurious by fort standards – a spare armchair, a stool, some music playing, a half-busted computer monitor, and a bar (this being more part of the overall installation than Caliban’s per se, useful for people stopping by the location during the day or for those looking for a drink during the show).

We, the audience, show up shortly after the start time and arrange ourselves on the padded benches on the edges. From there, we are treated to Caliban’s exposition of his world – how he got where is his today (“see the picture of my mother!”), his take on Prospero (“Too much time reading and not enough duke-ing”), a wee hint of his feelings for Miranda, his dark smouldering plans to take his revenge on the person whom, in Caliban’s eyes, is responsible for ruining his life.

While I enjoyed my trip to Caliban’s crib, this episode did not hold up to the previous two (despite the good acting and the lovely reveal at the end). There was little use of Shakespeare’s own words, and, while some time spent in Caliban’s brain is fun, it just came off like a very thin production (albeit in a very rich environment). Caliban’s Cave was worth the trip for me, but I hope that this is as soft as the production goes, and that was are back to a richer performance in May with section four, The Claribel.

(This review is for a perfomance that took place on 7 PM, Thursday, April 19th, 2012. It continues through April 28th, at which time it will be torn down in preparation for the next installment.)

Review – A.R.I.E.L. (second installation of the Tempest in six parts) – RETZproduces at Borduria (297 Hoxton Street)

March 18, 2012

On my return to Borduria I was much more prepared for what to expect that the last time. As expected, my passport was stamped, but I was sent away because I was too early (apparently 8 PM for an 8:15 start is too early, but be warned it did actually get going pretty damned sharpish so don’t be running off to the pub down the street as if you really have time for a drink before the show).

When I returned, I was let through the door separating passport control from the rest of the building. Lo! The interior of the building had been completely ripped out since my last visit, and I was now in a sort of central control chamber, with video screens on the walls showing loops of a burning plane – the modern equivalent of a shipwreck. And raised in the corner was a little bed, with a young woman sleeping fitfully under blankets – our Miranda.

The tenor of the videos changed, and the show seemed to start (for the five of us standing in the room) – and a voice overhead, Prospero, began to argue with Miranda about the recent crash on the shores of their island. She seemed sincerely traumatized by it in a way I hadn’t remembered feeling from any other Miranda I’d seen. Eventually, the figure of a young man, Ferdinand, appears in the monitor screens: Miranda is fascinated. Then he bursts into the room, and we see them both amazed by each other. We were literally inches away from the actors, and every twitch of their faces was visible to us – somehow making it all seem more real. When Ferdinand is enchanted by Prospero, forced to work for him, it seemed quite believable – the magic in the old work somehow being realized in the technology of the modern room in which we stood.

The next “scene” took place through another door, in the front half of the building. It had been rebuilt as a sort of an office, with a bar in the middle serving drinks and coffee – I took advantage of the break to get a glass of red wine. Then Miranda and Ferdinand acted out the scene in which he is forced to attack the pile of “logs” Prospero has set as a task for him – in this case, they are log books (ooh how clever) and he is doing data entry. The entire scene was charming, and I found the words exchanged between the two actors more compelling than I had in any performance before. This, truly, was Shakespeare brought to life. I am looking forward to seeing the next iteration of this fun project!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, March 8th, 2012. To book, please follow this link. I think it’s going for another week but I’m not sure – I can’t get any information off of any of their many websites. However, the next installment, in April, will be “Caliban’s Cave,” followed by “Hotel Lobby,” “Prospero’s Library,” and “The Port.” For more information, I’d suggest emailing Retz.)

Review – The Tempest in Six Parts – RETZproduces at Borduria (297 Hoxton Street)

February 29, 2012

Sometime in January a curious tweet passed by in my feed: “Become a citizen of Borduria now, get access to 6 installations of ‘The Tempest’ in a pop-up Shoreditch art space.” The message was vague: I couldn’t tell exactly what I was being promised (paintings? movies? spoken word with jazz hands accompaniment?), but something about it attracted me like a phone number on a bathroom wall (or a message in a bottle): give a little money and you can Make Magic Happen. I could smell the sizzle of promise and imagination: I’ll become a citizen? And I’ll come back several times? What the heck, I thought, I’ll sign up for this “O Brave New World” and hope for the best.

Initially things went badly: my passport didn’t turn up after more than a week, and while I could see from the Twitter feed that things were happening, I couldn’t tell what. A chorus? Wrackeroni? Frequently the links were for YouTube videos or stuff on Facebook, both of which were blocked at work: then on the blog there were stories (the Bordurian women’s choir? People napping?) that made me unsure if I was going to a small concert hall or just a coffee shop. The passport I bought said I got “free access during the day,” but to what? And what was going on in the evening, exactly? Pressure mounted as the Twitter feed started talking about the end of the first installation, so I stopped faffing around, went onto the Bordurian Citizens website, and just signed up for a time to go. (Well, actually, I wasn’t able to get the website to work right and sent a Tweet saying I wanted to go, and the nice person who helped me sort out my missing passport took care of it or me.)

Come a Sunday and there I was, disembarking in front of St Leonard’s hospital with a Turkish pizza in my hand, trying to figure out which end of Hoxton was the right one given that (once again) none of the buildings had numbers on them. I got lucky and turned the right way (hoping the “top” of Hoxton was the part near the canal), and there was a man in a green overcoat and a military-style hat. He greeted me, I showed him my passport, and I was welcomed to Borduria, which apparently accessed via the rear entrance of a scaffolding-covered building (be careful stepping over the ladder).

Inside my passport was checked and stamped (“Welcome back, citizen!”) and I was ushered into … a small room that seemed like a combination bar slash coffeeshop. There was a bar with a person behind it making drinks (and a crock pot of some sort full of stew); a table football game; some stuff playing on TVs; and about twenty other people sitting around in chairs or on couches talking to each other and … waiting. (“What’s going to happen?” I asked one of the girls sat near me. “I don’t know!” she answered. Fair enough.)

So what DIDN’T happen is that we didn’t get up and move around the building to different places where different things were happening – we stayed put the whole time. So it wasn’t a promenade. And, well, even though a new “environment” was created inside the building, I wouldn’t really call it an installation piece or performance art. What it was, eventually, was a performance of once section of the Tempest – an early part of the play (somewhat cobbled together, I think, though with a lot of Act II scene II) with Caliban, Ariel, Trinculo, and (I think) Stephano, the last two (human) characters recently arrived on the island during a storm. Ariel is done as a computer program – A.R.I.E.L. – who speaks through the computer monitors on the walls (I think it was just text displaying but my memory has added a voice as well).

The three non-digital characters interact a bit with the audience at one point, drinking and playing games with us (I beat Trinculo at thumb wrestling) but mostly only have eyes for each other – though Caliban does have a go at the bar. It’s all very intimate and in your face in this very small space, making the sweat and smell of the actors very vibrant. While I was a bit disappointed that we weren’t actually walking around a recreation of a shipwreck and instead watching a fairly straight piece of theater, it was a cool experience. I also liked the integration of the digital character, and (as I saw later) all of the work the team had gone to created a full-cycle experience with the videos/tweets/graphics that surrounded the performance, making it more of a … well, four dimensional show, or five, perhaps – it was a show that had not just a place and time of performance, but a world and a lot of imagination. I’m a citizen of Borduria now. I live on a strange island with talking computers (and free WiFi) and hypnotizable, “clustering filberts” drinking monsters; and come next week I am going back to see something else entirely, and I’ll go four more times over the next 5 months to see “my homeland” in its entirety.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, February 19th, 2012. “O Brave New World” continues with its A.R.I.E.L. installment from Friday, March 2nd, 2012. For further updates, please see the RETZproduces twitter feed or the Facebook page – to be honest I find the whole thing hard to keep up with and am grateful I received a flyer letting me know that Friday was the date of the new show. I still have a lot of questions about what is going on with this show and apologize if I’ve been unable to answer yours.)