Posts Tagged ‘Southbank Center’

Review – Bromance – Barely Methodical Troupe at Udderbelly

July 2, 2015

Summer is rolling on, and the circus acts keep rolling into the Southbank. With two venues to fill – the Spiegeltent (for the “Wunderground”) and the Udderbelly (the giant purple cow) – that means there is a lot happening and it’s a bit hard to keep track. The latest arrival is the Barely Methodical Troupe, a group of three men, performing their one hour act “Bromance.” With a title like that, I was feeling quite sensitized to the “man on man” possibility it all presented – and it was a little edgy for me to watch them play with each other in a way much more familiar than you usually see in physical performance groups. They tickled each other, they tweaked nipples, they sniffed each other’s armpits. I was cringing a bit – what the hell was going on? Was this actually just man on man interaction?

Interestingly, throughout the performance, although there was physical stuff going on, what it felt like you were watching was the evolution of friendships/relationships. The guys seemed to be fighting to be popular with each other (and to a lesser extent, with the audience), and kept up a level of “who’s in/who’s out” that I, with my outsider childhood, found painful to watch. At the same time they were also doing lots of great tumbling, as well as balancing, and (finally) some very odd stuff with a giant hula hoop that was thoroughly mesmerizing; much of it was done to music which had lyrics that made what was going on rather poignant.

Altogether, it was less of an “Op La!” circus of stunts and more of an hour of emotional journey-ing along with the guys as they did their tricks and interacted; somehow managing to balance the thin line between performers and actual people with feelings. It may have all still have come out of the same can of actor-ing, but, still, I found it a most engaging hour of emotional acrobatics.

(This review is for a performance that took place on June 30th, 2015. It continues through July 19th.)

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Review – Scotch & Soda – Company 2 at Spiegeltent, Udderbelly, Southbank

June 13, 2015

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a theater critic in possession of an excess of Beckett, must be in want of a night at the circus. And here is the Southbank Center, with not one but two stages upon which to view circus acts, all in a vibe of love and free flowing Pimms, and suddenly any sense of existential dread has disappeared in a puff of shimmering fizz floating over the Thames. Ooh, who is it this time? Scotch and Soda, a wonderful combination of steampunk and hill billy, with thumping stand up bass and tubas providing a brilliant illumination for the aerial, balance and gymnastics going on in front of us.

The circus performers had created characters rather than just being, well, there on stage; a sassy, brassy blonde (Chelsea McGuffin); the more ethereal rope artist Kate Munts; and the somewhat terrifying and occasionally naked Mosez (a one man shop for undoing the hipsters beard trend). They concocted little narratives, like two men competing to see who could balance on a higher box; a series of balancing acts taking place on a bicycle (really, it plays out like a story when you watch it): all set to the wonderful music of the Crusty Suitcase Band. My favorite of all was a piece that McGuffin did in a collapsible cage with two parakeets, who clearly loved her to bits; it was beautiful, delicate and heartbreaking, an act filled to overflowing with trust yet still heavily overlaid with the sense of the ephemeral condition of our existence. She is in a cage and they are in a cage and yet we yearn to be free – while also yearning for safety, which keeps us in the cage. It was like holding a soap bubble in your hand.

Of course, the overall tone of the show was jolly, and (as usual) it’s hard to capture a circus in words; but if you’re looking for a positive, cheery night out with some good tunes to boot, you could hardly do better than spend your evening in the shiny Spiegeltent watching Scotch and Soda do their stuff.

(This review was for the press night, which took place on Thursday, June 4th, 2015. Performances continue through August 2nd but do check the schedule as the occasionally take a day, or even a week, off.)

Mini-review – Groove on Down the Road – ZooNation at Southbank Center

August 30, 2013

You’d think after the horror that was the Wizard of Oz musical done at the Southbank center five years ago that I’d be completely against any further adaptations of one of my favorite movies; but drop the word “Zoonation” in the title and there I was trying to figure out how I could afford to go on my newly slimmer budget. Their Into the Hoods was fun and lively and the much longer Some Like It Hip Hop showed they were able to do a more character driven piece that was still hugely entertaining. So: give them a work I really love, and I had high hopes something good would come out of it – even though it was being done by the younger Zoonation performers.

Groove on Down the Road opens in a classroom, where our Dorothy – with long braids – is daydreaming, until her teacher tells her off for turning in a poem instead of her math homework. The teacher then takes on three other students, whom, as we can see from the supertitled animations at the back of the stage – are the basis from which the three companions are to come later (i.e. the blond guy “Leon” is clearly the lion, “T-man” … you get the idea). All four of them seem to be bullied outcasts. Somehow Dorothy is transported to another world, and her toy dog becomes a dancing man with a hat. The companions are assembled (each one getting a great solo dance in as their introduction), the munchkins are met (since there are a lot of kids this is pretty easy), then the journey to Oz begins. Each yellow brick road segment took the dancers out into the front row and aisles of Queen Elizabeth Hall (making me really sorry I had 10 quid back row seats), keeping the energy levels high and broadly distributed.

While the poppy scene was just so so, I loved the fight at the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle, where the flying monkeys got funky! And the bizarre dance sequence of “The Wizard” (being played court by a bunch of green and plaid clad school kids) was hysterically turned in the great unveiling scene, where we get to see a mini-me Wiz behind the curtain. I was howling, and by the end of the night standing up in my seat and clapping along as the kids all danced their way out of the auditorium. The whole thing was, what, 80 minutes straight through no interval? – and just great top to toe, with lots of music that mad _me_ want to dance. I felt so guilty knowing I’d gone to see this instead of Edward the Second next door at the National Theater, or, rather, I felt like I should … but I was just having too damned much fun to care. AWESOME!!!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, August 29th, 2013. It closes Sunday, September 1st. It is appropriate for all ages provided you like to get your funk on.)

Review – La Maledicion de Poe (The Curse of Poe) – Teatro Corsario at Southbank Center

January 16, 2011

Nobody that knows me could have been surprised that, upon reading the following tweet, my next thought was to fire up my browser and buy a ticket to this event: “Step into the dark & thrilling world of Edgar Allen Poe with Teatro Corsario’s award-winning ‘puppets of terror’ http://j.mp/feiXR8 .” Edgar Allen Poe and puppets, Grand Guignol-style? Sign me up, and thank you to Southbank Center for alerting me to this show. I mean, the title “2011 International Mime Festival” really doesn’t lead you to expect puppets, right? I would have never even read the program of shows. The online description was even more tantalizing: “Teatro Corsario’s award-winning ‘puppets of terror’ have tingled spines across Europe. Not for the faint-hearted! Suitable for ages 12 and over” – with a picture of a puppet burying an axe in another. And it was only one hour long! It all sounded like a perfect Sunday afternoon for me.

It was my first time at the Purcell room, which is actually a bit of an irritating venue because of the fact the seats are not staggered, which meant I had to keep leaning to the right to see the action during the three scenes where the characters were prone in the front part of the stage. Grr. And I’m also a bit grumpy as they delayed the start of the show by about 15 minutes; not deadly but irritating.

That said, let’s get to the meat of the matter: how was the show? How were the puppets? Was it terrifying? First, to the puppetry; this was done as a sort of bunraku, only with the puppeteers dressed in black velvet with hoods and, I think, occasionally operating behind curtains. I could only rarely see them, if I was looking at some brighter object; while normally I try to see what the puppeteers are doing, in this case I felt it was better to respect their clear desires to remain wholly unseen and just watch a show in which, as it appeared, doll like creatures were moving about on stage unsupported by the human hand.

The puppets themselves were pretty cool, though they seemed …. well, somewhat bizarre. There were a few major characters – Edgar, Annabel (Annabel Lee), her mother, Edgar’s grandparents, a policeman, a drunkard, and a monkey … probably about 3 feet tall each. They weren’t the kind of puppets that made you marvel at their craftsmanship, but they were good and professional, not cheap, and each puppet had its own personality.

Of course, being a “horror” puppet show, we had a few special puppets, in this case two old people who had been sliced to death by the monkey and a woman who’d been accidentally axed by her husband. They were deliciously gruesome and perfect illustrations to the Poe stories they meant to tell (“Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Black Cat”), but they were NOT appropriate viewing for ten year olds and I think the women who hustled their kids out thirty minutes in were deeply regretting their purchases. I also loved the evil monkey, who formed a much bigger character than I remember from reading Poe; he was a force of anarchy.

The story itself, well, I’m afraid the love story of Edgar and Annabel was rather limp, and the presence of her mother not very effective. In this, I think Teatro Corsario worked too hard to take too many small stories and blend them together; while the final image of death and Annabel Lee’s grave was quite good the story itself was just not there, and the whole thread with Edgar being chased by the policeman who’s trying to blame him for his grandparents’ deaths was incoherent. Fortunately, the free program sheet explained the entire story (such as it was), which really, really helped in my attempts to impose continuity on the narrative; but I think three distinct story lines would have worked much better.

However, cramming it all into one hour is a bit of a trick, and I didn’t actually get bored at any point, so there must have been something going right. I could recognize the problems but still have a good time, and I got what I came for: scary puppet theater with bonus killer monkey. And how often can you say that, especially of a cold London January Sunday?

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, January 16th, 2011. It continues through Wednesday January 19th.)