Thursday, 13 April 2017

La Strada, Bristol Old Vic

I walked into the theatre on Tuesday night completely unprepared for the spectacular performance that would greet me. I had never heard of La Strada before so was unsure what to expect, but as the night progressed I became more and more engrossed in the plot and found myself loving every minute. A story about a young girl and her interactions with the bitter and twisted Zampano, and a daring fool, and how these two men influence and change her life as she tries to make her way in the hostile world. Played by Audrey Brisson, Gelsamina visibly grew as a character throughout the performance. Her childlike innocence and naivety are brought into the spotlight through a heartwarming portrayal of the character, and a wonderful ensemble cast.

Humour is magically interwoven throughout the performance, creating connections between characters and audience as they lead us through their lives. Even though there were moments I was moved close to tears, there were far more times that I was moved to laughter. It was a light everyday humour, snuck in amongst the heartbreak and pain of the characters as they each struggled with their pasts, presents and futures. From Zampano, the mysterious and bitter strong man, to the fool, crazy, content and accepting, they all brought a touch of humour to the performance.

The music throughout La Strada also amazed me. In particular the songs sung by Tatiana Santini, and Audrey Brisson, two radiant vocalists who brought passion to their music and to the performance. The ensemble work within the production was also incredible. At moments the cast would all move as a unit in order to create the motion of the sea, or the bustling chaos of a crowd.

Whether you're young or old, optimistic or jaded, full of Gelsamina's innocence or scared by experience, this performance will delight you in every-way. An age old tale that remains relevant today, in part due to it's understanding that it's our nature to cherish those who care for us even when it's not necessarily good for us to do so. But also, in part, thanks to a beautifully constructed cast.

La Strada: What the Audience Thought

Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Record

Writing a review has never been so hard. I am not sure how to even begin writing in words, what 'The Record' was like. As I walked out of the theatre I did not even know whether I had enjoyed it or not. I was in shock. Was that one of the best performances I had ever watched, or the worst?

I'd have to admit I spent the first half of the performance waiting for the story line to kick in, and trying desperately to work out what was going on. However, as the performance progressed I began to realise that there wasn't going to be any overarching plot, so instead I began to focus on tiny little moments. Moments of connection between people that had met for the first time on stage. Moments that brought the whole performance together into a vivid reflection of the vibrancy and diversity of life, specifically within Bristol.

One specific instance that stood out to me within 'The Record' was when a whole group of people ran around the edge of the stage. They were all of different ages, different genders, different ethnicity's, and it was as a little old man in a suit jogged past that I realised that this whole performance was full of these heartwarming moments that brought people together. I began to notice the organised chaos as each individual moved exactly as they had been directed, both contrasting and somehow complimenting all the others around them.

Sort of lighthearted humour in the simplicity of the movements and my friend and I, found ourselves reenacting a few of the most iconic movements to our friends at school. I think this was a worthwhile and enjoyable experience, and I would definitely advise people to watch something like this as it certainly opened my eyes to a new element of theatre. However, I would be prepared for the repetitiveness of the sequences, and constantly remind yourself that these people had never met before, as they trust-fell into one another, and got lifted across the stage.

Monday, 12 December 2016

The Snow Queen (Bristol Old Vic)

The story of The Snow Queen, written by Hans Christian Anderson, is a well known classic, beautifully brought to life by director Lee Lyford and company. This production marvellously combines humour and childish innocence, with meaningful messages of friendship and courage.

Kai (Steven Roberts) and Gerda (Emily Burnett) have been best friends and next door neighbours their whole lives. Kai is brave and loving, whilst Gerda struggles with facing up to her fears. As time progresses children from their village begin disappearing until Kai and Gerda are the only children left. After Kai is taken by the evil Snow Queen and her goblins, Gerda sets out on a quest to rescue him, learning important things about herself along the way.

The set captured the playful, magic of the story, effortlessly portraying the enchanted home of the Flower-witch, to the gloomy and haunting prison of the Snow Queen, with large shards of ice jutting across the stage. Each place Gerda visits has it's own delightful personality, echoed in the colours and styles of costume designed by Tom Rogers. Another interesting addition, was the use of projections to portray Gerda falling in a river, and traversing along long halls in the Duke and Duchess' palace. 

Throughout the Snow Queen there were a variety of different songs that made the audience laugh, cry and gasp in admiration of the amazing vocal skills, particularly of Gwyneth Herbert, who played the Snow Queen. The music mirrored the childish innocence of Kai and Gerda, as well as reflecting their friendship which was founded on moments iconic of childhood, such as ice-cream and laughing at farts.

Every performance that I have seen over the last couple of months at the Bristol Old Vic has boosted my excitement and anticipation, and Thursday's production of The Snow Queen was no different. I left energised and excited, fully assured that every member of the audience was laughing hysterically throughout the evening, charmed by the tale of self-discovery and friendship.

Monday, 21 November 2016

946 The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips (Bristol Old Vic)

Sitting down in the audience waiting for 946 The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips to begin, I was totally unprepared for what greeted me. As I chatted with my sister, I noticed a man trying to climb over the edge of the divider that separated the gallary from the pit. He then proceeded to ask those in the back row of the pits to stand up so he could do some last minute cleaning. I initially completely fell for it, and it wasn't until, about 5 minutes later, that I realised that this was, in actual fact, the beginning of the show. These 'cleaners', were part of the performance. As the lights faded, and the actors had all eventually made it to the stage, I prepared myself for a very enjoyable performance.

The story of Adolphus Tips, written by Michael Morpurgo, and adapted by Emma Rice for theatre, is both hilarious and tragic. Following the story of Lily Tregeneza, an energetic girl living in the countryside of England during world war II. From the arrival of the evacuees, to them departing again, the life of Lily Tregeneza is full of ups and downs. Played by Katy Owen, I was amazed by how springy and childlike she acted without coming across as silly or over dramatic. Katy bounded across the stage bringing the character of Lily to life, spreading her huge smile and childlike decisiveness. Sharing her small worries, that seemed enormous, only finally put into context when the horrors of the war touched her personally.

One of the things I loved most about 946 The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips was the incredible singing, in-particular Nandi Bhebhe who played 'Harry', an american soldier and friend of Adi. The music was both haunting and tragic at points, reflecting the turmoil and horrors of a war that robbed so many people, but also the small joys and victories experienced by those who remained at home, as well as the final victory of the war's conclusion.

I think the finale to the play summed the whole experience up for me. The whole cast came on stage, and encouraged the audience to stand before teaching us all a few simple clapping patterns. Then as an entire theatre we stood on our feet and began to sing along and 'dance' with the performers, something that just made me laugh even harder than before. I certainly left the theatre smiling, marvelling at how well the production highlighted emotions of grief, whilst keeping the bouncy perspective of the child who narrates it.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

The Grinning Man (Bristol Old Vic)

Brilliant! Just brilliant! This Grinning Woman walked out of The Old Vic and immediately started telling everyone they must go and see The Grinning Man for themselves. Based on Victor Hugo's The Man who Laughs and adapted for the stage by playwright Carl Grose, The Grinning Man is unmissable for its incredible writing, performance, direction and production.

I was intrigued and engaged from the moment I opened the door to the already crowded theatre. The expectation in the auditorium was palpable: heightened by the huge jeering grin spanning the stage; setting the scene for the marvel to follow. The sets continued to bring the  performances to life throughout: a performance within a performance; a stage within a stage; a huge grin; a church; a throne room; a dungeon. The sets morphed effortlessly and seamlessly to change not only settings but mood from heartbreak and despair to joy, and sprinkled with humour throughout.

The cast for The Grinning Man were incredible. They had beautiful voices that sang the haunting melodies of Grinpayne's tragic life. I was particularly inspired by Louis Maskell who played Grinpayne. His voice portrayed a quiet belief, a desperate hope and a childish innocence and curiosity. This was contrasted by the harsh, prideful character of the clown, whom the audience are encouraged to distrust. As an audience member I often felt moved to protect Grinpayne from the pain of his past, as well as his physical pain. We were taken along his journey, with him, as he discovered his true identity beneath the smile. 

The use of puppets was particularly fascinating, and so effective that I initially thought it was a real little boy running across the stage. I have never watched War Horse, but had always wanted to see how they used puppets, so having the opportunity to watch the same puppet company at work was amazing. I loved how realistic it was, and how you often forgot that there were people controlling the puppets’ arms and legs. 

I think the thing that captured my heart most in this performance was the fact that it made me both laugh and cry. I'm not going to say that's a hard thing to do, because it's not. I am quite easily moved to both laughter and tears when watching performances, however it is rare to find a performance that does both, certainly not in such a beautiful way as this.

In case you haven’t guessed it already: I recommend watching The Grinning Man 100%! It is the sort of performance you can watch again, and again, and pick up new things from the plot and the cast each time. Grab some friends and some tickets and go see it. I dare you not to come out grinning.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Guys and Dolls- Bristol Hippodrome

Wow. This was quite literally one of the most incredible musicals I've ever seen, and I'm not really sure how to put it into words. A couple of weeks before going to watch the performance I happened to be in town, and saw a poster for Guys and Dolls, and I remember wondering how good it was actually going to be. Turns out, it was completely mind-blowing. As the first song ended and clapping broke out across the audience, I lent across to my mum, smiling from ear to ear and whispered, 'I'm going to like this.' I did, and my smile lasted all night through. I'd go and watch this production again in a heartbeat. I loved the songs, the energy, the story-line, the cast. Everything about this made me want to scream, and shout, and tell everyone all about it.

The cast were what was truly inspiring about this performance of Guys and Dolls. Yes, I loved the plot but it was the cast that really brought this show alive with their amazing vocals, acting and dancing skills. I hadn't heard of Richard Fleeshman and Maxwell Caulfield before, but I will certainly be looking out for them in the future.

I'm going to be completely honest and say I don't often focus much on lighting in a performance. I much prefer to watch the cast and plot develop but Guys and Dolls was an exception. The lighting was so spectacular that you couldn't help but notice it. In particular there was a gambling scene in which lighting was used to give an impression of throwing dice, rather than actually physically doing so. The songs also added marvelously to the atmosphere, and I have added many of them to my 'favourite songs' list. 'Sit down, You're rockin the boat,' 'Develop a cold' and 'Guys and Dolls' are three I can think of straight off the top of my head, but the more I consider it the more I realise how much each of the songs deserve the title 'best.' All of them set my feet taping, and my smile steadily growing.

At the end the whole cast joined in a super cool tambourine dance which I really want to learn! I feel like I need to find a tutorial of it somewhere, although I'm not quite sure where that would be. This summed up the whole performance for me, it may sound cheesy but I totally love singing, dancing musicals complete with happy endings, and Guys and Dolls is exactly that. The whole audience were on their feet by the end, and I'm pretty sure all of us left with a smile on our faces.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Taming of the Shrew- Ballet

I would never say that I am a great judge of ballet; in fact, the only ballet performances I have seen are; Alice in Wonderland when I was 8, and Taming of the Shrew, which I watched yesterday in the Bristol Hippodrome. But without a doubt, this was fantastic. I don't necessarily mean in a jump up and down, desperate to go again sort of a way, but a 'wow they were amazing' sort of a way. I don't know if I would personally choose to go again, and yet I would advise anyone with a love of Shakespeare or ballet to go.

The mime and facial expressions are what truly blew me away. How a story could be told without any words or any explanation other than the movement of their bodies, completely inspired me. Each step, or leap told a story, it portrayed whether the character was; happy, sad, in love, angry, scared or confused. The words of Shakespeare were wonderfully woven together and brought alive with the phenomenal dancing portrayed by the ballet company.

Humor is a huge theme within Taming of the Shrew and the ballet really drew on this. I myself laughed out-loud multiple times, snorting in a totally undignified manor as Kate fell off her horse once again, or as Bianca's suitors battled. In particular, Iain Mackay, used his incredible dancing abilities to leap between humor, love, and anger, owning the stage in a way that made him stand out from everyone else.

All in all, Wednesday evening was thoroughly enjoyable and I would definitely go and watch another Birmingham Royal Ballet production.