Saturday, 1 November 2008


by Sturtevant

Spinoza in Las Vegas was a half-hour long staged reading presented by the TATE in their Starr Auditorium theatre space. They should have been ashamed to charge money, no matter how little, to the event. Elaine Sturtevant is a fascinating woman, sure. An entertaining art personality, absolutely. What Sturtevant is not is a writer, director, or actor, that's fer darn sure. She has made a career out of recognizing talent in iconic artists (Warhol, Duchamp) ahead of the mainstream, and then copying their work in great detail. If only she had copied some of the more innovative theater pieces of the past fifty years with as much gusto, perhaps I would not have been alternately laughing my ass off and scratching my eyes out. Yes, this is a casual and catty review-- but to be fair, it is in this spirit of the show. Informal, insulting, and, praise the lord...brief.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

IN THE RED AND BROWN WATER @ The Young Vic, London

By Tarell Alvin McCraney
Directed by Walter Meierjohann
Designed by Mirian Buether
Lighting by Jean Kalman
Music by Abram Wilson
Sound by Fergus O'Hare

With: Adjoa Andoh, Camilla Beeput, Sheri-An Davis, John MacMillan, Cecilia Noble, Javone Prince, Paul Thornlet, Ony Uhiara, Ashley Walters, Abram Wilson

The second of the Size plays, In the Red and Brown Water introduces us to two characters we know well already, Ogun and Elegba, the archetypal Brothers Size, from McCraney's previous play in addition to the majors players in the piece, all new two us. Somehow the conceits that work beautifully in that piece do not sit quite right in the puzzle that is In the Red and Brown Water. This is not to say that there are not many heartfelt and lovely moments- this is a playwright that thrives on the rhythm and sensuality of the text after all- but somehow in this much larger story and cast, something gets lost every time an actor intones their stage directions. We are pulled uncomfortably out of the gorgeous world of McCraney and uncomfortably aware of where we are and how nothing is real.

The mainstage at the Young Vic has been flooded with several inches of water for this production. This reliably leads to some stunning visuals, underused in this case. The water, the live music, the actors in the wings, the giant fan hanging from the ceiling-- all of these are only effective if used all out. To half ass such a strong choice is to make it seem negotiable rather than integral. The company is clearly working quite hard, but the Louisiana accents elude almost everyone and there seems that some of the soul has been stripped from the text thanks to this misfortune.

If this play had been one act it would have been exponentially more enjoyable for me. Strong choices were made by the playwright and the production team, but at their hearts, McCraney's plays are myths and parables. They are made to be melodramatic and powerful with a strong sense of ritual. The more concise you can keep this, the more strength it will gain.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

ONCE AND FOR ALL... @ The BAC, London

Ontroerend Goed, de kopergietery and Richard Jordan Productions Ltd. present
Directed by Alexander Devriendt
Written by Joeri Smet and Alexander Devriendt
Scenography & Costumes by: Sophie De Somere
With: Aaron De Keyzer, Barbara Lefebure, Charlotte De Bruyne, Christophe De Poorter, Dina Dooreman, Edith De Bruyne, Edouard Devriendt, Elies Van Renterghem, Febe De Geest, Helena Gheeraert, Ian Ghysels, Koba Ryckewaert en Nathalie Verbeke

There is something undefinable about watching what is "the real" on stage. It can be two actors sharing an embrace, the audience full knowing that they are entwined in an offstage relationship. It can be the moment an amputee reveals the absence of a limb in the context of a play. In the case of Once and For All..., Total Theatre and Fringe First Award winner from Edinburgh 2008, "the real" is found in the presence of its cast made up of 13 to 18 year old adolescents. Whatever they do, it is so far from acting that it by nature becomes the most beautiful esemble of stage living that I have come across.

Once and For All... attempts to be little more than a reminder of what we were and what they are. Though the dancing, fighting, groping mass on stage is certainly entertaining, the most startling moments of the performance come when the audience finds the tables turned and realize that they themselves are being watched and probed and picked apart by the kids. I found myself noticeably squirming in my seat during an extended sequence of teenage orgy (in the most innocent sense of the word) when I caught myself entrances by the activity on stage. "What does that say about me?"
I wondered. Of course, the kids don't care. I am old (though less than a generation away!) and they have themselves, each other, everything.

At it's best, Once And For All... is an excercise in simplicity amongst chaos. The set and lighting design doesn't attempt to mime minimalism-- it is, in fact, barely there. While the show certainly worked within the world of these constaints, I would be enormously excited to see how a fully realized design could influence the show. There's no reason that utilizing a teenage lighting designer with sufficient skill would take away from the zest of the piece. In fact, judging by the excellent direction of 30-something Alexandre Devrient, there's no reason that adults can't come play in this world. Which of course raises the question of whether we can ever go back to the world we lived in as adolescents-- and do we want to?
Only if someone promises I get to ride the motorbike into the tower of water cooler jugs...

Friday, 24 October 2008

LATER with Roy Williams @ Trafalgar Studios, London

LATER curated by Roy Williams presented by PainesPLOUGH @ Trafalgar Studios, London
LATER series curated by Duncan Macmillan

Roy Williams present extracts from his new pieces of work

with: Che Walker, Cavan Clerkin, Jamie Davis, Alex Lanipekun, Pippa Nixon, Kate Sissions

with: Natasha Bain, Marsha Henry

LATER is a late night series representing new work by British artists. This proved a chance to hear new works in progress by Roy Williams, OBE. Williams introduced his most recent work as two separately commissioned plays (one for the RSC and one for the Almeida) whose worlds overlap. Reunion is a study of a generation that finds itself "too young to be old and too old to be young" and featured likeable performances by its cast, given a chance to portray their characters at both 15 and then again as lost adults. We were given just a taste of the second piece, Shifting Sands, a study of the experience of English blacks, and what happens when you attempt to hide behind a facade of race. It details a relationship between a mourning mother and the father of the boy who shot her son in a drive by shooting.

This was the kind of night when y ou could sit back and revel in the ease of the language. You know you are in good hands. It has taken me too long to come across Roy Williams' work, and I suspect a treat awaits me in looking into the rest of his many plays- and for all the audiences lucky enough to catch his next two London premieres.

MINE @ The Hampstead Theatre, London

Shared Experience Presents
MINE @ The Hampstead Theatre
Written and Directed by Polly Teale

Designed by Angela Simpson
Music and Sound by Peter Salem
Company Movement by Liz Ranken
Lighting by Colin Grenfell
Video and Projection Design by Thomas Gray for The Gray Circle
Sound Design by Alex Caplen
Dramaturg Nancy Meckler
Production Manager Alison Ritchie
Company Stage Manager Chrissie Chandler

With: Marion Bailey, Clare Lawrence Moody, Allistair Petrie, Lorraine Stanley, Katy Stephens, Sophie Stone

The two central characters of Polly Teale's new play, Mine, are written simply as "Man" and "Woman." It is this kind of arsty-fartsy lack of specificity that left my teeth coated in saccharine and my head in my hands when leaving this performance. Shared Experience, the producing company of Mine advertises itself as a ensemble and movement based company. Unfortunately, their desire to include this work in the current piece undermined any kind of style the play would have had on its own. Infused with confusing and awkwardly executed dream-like movement sequences, I felt like I had been strapped down in the rehearsal room and forced to watch all of the homework the actors should have done to get to their final character. Surely we would not sit and watch an actor scoring their script? It felt just as tedious and embarassing to watch them perform silly tableaux and vignettes that should have been a means to an end and certainly never the final product.

Despite it's female writer/director, Mine feels sexist and misogynistic, in addition to painfully classist. The concept of the career woman who gave up the chance for a child to be a success was covered by Caryl Churchill (in an infinitely more creative and exciting way) in Top Girls back in 1982. Why do I care again? Why do I want to see the banshee wife who longs for a child and then tries to give it away when she has one while her saintly husband stands by? Why, oh why, is the child's birth mother a prostitute who dresses in size too small sweats with her thong pull up to her waist to be sure it shows over the top of her pants? Naturally, she has an expectedly lower-class accent than the rest of the cast to epmhasize her status. I was not only bored watching the cast go through these motions, I was embarrassed.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008


MARK ROTHKO: THE LATE SERIES @ TATE Modern, London September 26th, 2008-February 1, 2009

Exhibition Includes: Four Darks in Red 1958, 8 of The Seagram Murals, The Black-Form Paintings, Untitled 1964, The Brown and Gray Paintings, The Black on Gray Paintings

The current Rothko exhibit at the TATE focuses mainly on his work in series (1903-1970) and is the first major collection of his work to be featured in the UK for the past 20 years. It is a rare chance to see some of these pieces united, hailing from diverse homes including the MoMa in New York City, the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Kawamura Museum of Art in Japan. There is a large focus on the Seagram Murals, a series comissioned in 1958 for a dining room in The Four Seasons, there is a sort of mythos hovering around the paintings that Rothko later withdrew from the project, deeming a dining room an unsuitable place to display his work. The current display of the Seagram paintings has been meticulously put together by the TATE to be as close to the orginal wishes of the painter himself as possible, and is a long gallery with a lovely amount of breathing room between pieces.

There is something about Rothko that attacts me partiularly from a lighting design standpoint. His use of color and texture is a tangible (although not really, they arrest you for that sort of thing...) example of what we strive to do every day on the stage. Although this could be a metaphor from everything from text to design, it particularly resonates when discussing light. I first started looking at a lot of Rothko images when working with New York lighting designer, David Lander, who was usuing a painting as inspiration for his cyc in a production of King Lear. It has struck me ever since that Rothko has in fact laid out the groundwork for nearly perfect lighting designs. Seeing these peices in person is invaluable. I cannot stress enough that nothing but reality can do remote justice to Rothko technique-- it is imperative to see each available brush stroke. It is a brilliant example of the amount of work that goes into something that appears on a quick glance to be starkly plain-- As we in the theatre know, this is ever the hardest thing to accomplish! In Rothko, something that is black is actually seven shades of purple.

I spent maybe 5 minutes in the Black on Black room completely alone. (Lucky scenario at the TATE on a weekend!) It was incredible to sit quietly, with the paintings, no other person to put meaning or judgement on either them or myself. All art that challenges us and our perspective changes us, and hopefully as we change and deepen, so does our craft.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

DRIFT '08 @ The River Thames, London

Illuminate Productions
London's First Annual Art Exhibition on The River Thames

Please see Iluminate Productions for information on all 7 contemporary art installations as a part of Drift '08.

Craig Walsh (Austrailia)

Classification Pending

Hyper-Real Projection

North Side of London Bridge looking towards the TATE Modern

"Witness a new life form living in the Thames. These mythical creatures will evolve to form a family unit during the course of DRIFT. Only appearing at dusk, they will develop into an apparition - like the creatures of folklore before them."

Maybe I have been feeling particularly lonely since moving to a new country two-odd weeks ago. Perhaps it's that time of the month and my uterus wants to be noticed. (They do that sometimes.) Or I could just be a sap. But the sight of baby sea monsters finding one another in the Thames River and learning to live in a family unit (nuzzling, playfully dodging waves and one another, all the while whiskers twitching) makes me want to do nothing more than take the artist home and cuddle. Would that be creepy? Probably. But the offer stands. Classification Pending is my favorite piece I have stumbled on during DRIFT '08. It tells the viewer a story of the place the art is set, the characters within it, and makes the audience care about all of the above. As a theater practitioner, I recognize this as no easy feat. The quality of the projections is lovely, although I look forward to 20 years from now when we find a way to eradicate the telling projection boxes of light that are a giveaway to the installation.

Andy Harper (United Kingdom)

Feast of Skulls

Oil on Steel

River Walkway by Shakespeare's Globe

"Weird and wonderful plant-like forms are painted directly onto a river buoy. The plants appear to be growing, morphing and climbing the buoy."

A smart piece with clean brushstrokes and joyful colors, this buoy holds a secret. Interwoven within a maze of fish, flowers and algae the viewer stumbles across the dark remains of several skulls floating amist the debris of human bones. I appreciated how much joy the artist brought to his macabre subject and found the bouy to vastly improve it's section of walkway along the river, in reality an unforunate locale for this piece. I would have liked to come across this on a piece of beach, washed ashore and thick with rust. As it was, the tourist and commuter traffic heavy locale distracted from it's fine mix of art realism.

Mariele Neudecker (Germany)

Much Was Decided Before You Were Born (2)

Sound Installation

Millennium Bridge

"A seaside soundscape disorientates passers-by, surrounding them with the sound of waves, seaside chatter and the cries of seagulls."

The soundscape on Millennium Bridge is, along with the Blackfriars ghost bridge, conceptually one of my favorite pieces. Unfortunately, like the Ghost Bridge, it seems a halfhearted effort. I did notice the crying gulls before I knew there was an installation here, but I long for a better thought out system, where you didn't only come across the one sound at the one point. Rather, why not explore a variety of sound at a variety of bridge locations? Sensorally, the piece works. There is something very comforting to me personally, as a childhood seaside veteran to the crashing of waves and crying of gulls. I only wish I could get more excited about it.