Posts Tagged ‘site specific theater’

Review – Styx – RIFT at A Secret Location Near Tottenham Hale

July 15, 2015

To start any review of this show, I must actually start with a review of the location, because, while RIFT have been specializing in site specific performances for some time, it looks like they’re going to be settling down in this place. The gates of hell are pleasant indeed; wooden walkways and benches with a water feature in the middle and flowers dripping over the edges; a second story visiting-and-drinking area overlooking the entire space; and a million pleasant spots to stop and wait. The bar has a series of Stygian-inspired drinks, the most unmissable of which was the pomegranate mojito – holy shades of Persephone! I felt pretty confident that even if I ate the fruit garnish I’d be allowed to leave afterwards so I did in. Yum! It was an absolutely perfect place to spend a lovely summer day, although I wonder how it will hold up in the rain … still, it’s not where my head was that day. I couldn’t have felt further away from any sort of dark thoughts. Bring on the party!

At last, though, I was taken from my seats in Hell’s Little Waiting Room and me and my companion were escorted into the building, being carefully fitted with headphones and a tiny pink MP3 device so that by the time we made it inside, we were confirmed as fully wired for sound. And then our journey to the Styx began, or, rather, our journey through this narrative. Our headphones played a story about at attempt to deal with an urn that should have been full of ashes; I, the interlocutor, was attempting to deal with a death both externally (through the urn) and internally. This lead to a journey across London: I went to a funeral parlor, a wood (possibly Hampstead Heath), a cafe, and eventually an underground platform. But this, in some ways, is where the voice in my head told me I was supposed to be going; I was so overwhelmed with the visual stimuli that I’m afraid I nearly entirely lost the thread of the narration and kind of went into a dream state where the things I was seeing connected in their own way: the voice in my head was like the words you hear people speak in a dream, where the words are completely nonsensical and the meaning comes through later, thanks to the miracle of internal logic.

So instead of carrying on by telling you what maybe I was supposed to have going on, I’m going to tell you about what I experienced and how my dream logic brain put things together (with some attempt at not revealing all): I was on a journey of the parallel world of death and the dead that exists alongside the London we see every day. The port of entry might be a funeral parlor; the characters I met were speaking words and going through emotions that I thought made sense but were more roles they were playing as functionaries in this parallel world. Every park is also a graveyard; every public space is peopled by the living (barely), the dead (mostly) and the soon to be dead, who glow with the energy of their impending transformation. Every room, every tube platform is a place full of more beings who used to exist then those who exist now; we attempt to hold on to those alive and those dead and yet wind up losing both. Eventually we lose ourselves. Eventually everything is gone, except the two pennies we thrust in our pocket before we started the journey and the pomegranate seeds we still hold, thoughtfully, in our mouth – a last connection with the world of the sun and the living we like to pretend is the only reality, but is in fact the true illusion.

(This review is for a performance that took place the night of July 7th, 2015. It continues through August 1; returns may be available at the door.)

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Mini-review – Dracula – Whitby Abbey

November 1, 2014

Of all things, I did not expect to see a live performance while doing my standard tourist bit of wandering around an English Heritage site during my holiday in Whitby. But there were the signs – “Dracula, 11:30, 1:30, 3:30,” and the woman at the front desk assured me it was free, started soon, and only ran for an hour. This had me 90% on board (10% suspicious that it was going to be horrible), but while I sat on the grounds and ate my nice hog roast sandwich, I heard a family assuring another one that the show was great “and really funny.” Well, I hadn’t imagined Dracula as a comedy, but it was the kind of enthusiastic recommendation money can’t buy, and a funny version of this play sounded far more entertaining than “an attempting to be frightening” one. Besides, I was interested in seeing how they incorporated the abbey into the production. I wolfed down the remainders of my sandwich and trotted over to the visitors center to join the milling soon-to-be audience.

The afternoon started with a panto style warm up, in which we were coached a bit on our booing and cheering, warned about not tripping over lighting cables, and given pre-written questions by what appeared to be the compere; he then said he was going to “just walk that way” and look for his friend Johnathan Harker, “who looks an awful lot like me.” This cue about actors being double cast was probably helpful to the children in the audience (seemed like there were at least ten) but was also very funny and typical of an element of calling out the artificiality of the production to humorous effect throughout the show.

As it turns out, this whole show was actually done by only three actors (and a large basket), which was pretty impressive considering each of them did at least four different people. It was pretty comic, though, to have Dr Van Helsing, Vampire Hunter, also playing Count Dracula. The kids worked this out pretty quickly and kept reminded the actors “but it’s actually you” and “of course you can’t find him, you have to go change costumes.” Yet depite the close observation we kept the performers under, I never saw an actual costume change, and the highly mobile face of the one actress meant that with just a wig she easily went from uptight Mina to broadly comic Slavic townsperson to slutty Vampire Bride. Her best transormation was as Lucy (Mina’s friend); although she changed clothes, she mostly just changed her facial expression (like she was sucking a lemon) and still completely looked like a different person. Good job you!

Use of the Abbey was mostly perfunctory, I’m sorry to say, and I’m especially sorry they didn’t use the open stone coffin in any of the scenes (sticking instead the the much more mobile – and dryer- wicker basket). However, a clifftop scene in Whitby was nicely done in front of the south wall of the abbey, and of course the scenes set in a crypt (where Lucy is captured) – done in the Nave, with the big columns – and again in Dracula’s hiding place (performed in the transept) took full advantage of both hiding places, building features, and the general spooky atmosphere provided by the weathered stone. Of course, we didn’t do anything in the abbey’s crypt – I’m not sure if it hasn’t collapsed – but it was all real enough to leave one six year old sobbing in fright at the end.

Sadly, the children were in general far TOO talkative, and while I enjoy seeing an actor forced to improv as much as the next person (the scene where Harker accused Van Helsing of attacking him with spit was great, and I loved watching the same actor attempt to explain away why the corpse of Lucy was shaking with laughter), one blond child really needing some restraining by his parents, as he got to the point where he was treating nearly every line as if it were being addressed to him personally and needed an answer. I thought this was just bad manners and thought his parents should have stopped being so amused and maybe pulled him aside to tell him that he needed to let the actors talk to each other because that his how a play works. However, they seemed to be nonexistent; but dead Lucy (when she returned as a vampire) did her best to let him know how little she appreciated his lack of control.

Overall, the show moved amazingly quickly through the scenes, and while it ran over (due to the kids, I think), I still found myself fully engaged throughout the production. It helped that the weather was mild and there wasn’t even a hint of rain; while those things add atmosphere they also sap your strength when you’re watching theater outdoors. Good job, you guys, hope to see you all performing again sometime soon!

(This review is for a performance that took place on October 31st, 2014. Final performances are today, November 1st. This TripAdvisor review has a nice photo that captures the atmosphere well.)

Preview – Slung Low’s “Last Seen” – Almeida Theatre’s Summer Festival

June 30, 2009

UPDATE: review of “Last Seen” now posted.

Today’s trip into work left me with a hot tip courtesy of The Metro: Slung Low is doing a site specific show in Islington as part of the Almeida Theatre’s Summer Festival. I enjoyed their production Helium last fall, and I like walkabout, site-specific theater (Moonwalking in Chinatown the best I’ve seen since I moved here), so this sounds like a sure win. However, with such a prominent story in the Metro, it’s likely this might sell out, as it’s only five nights (though with a showing at 7 and 9). Get your tickets while you can!

(This preview is for a show running from Wednesday July 8th through Sunday July 12th, 2009.)