The Architects

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Hello Readers! 

Last wednesday I was lucky enough to see an extremely entertaining performance that took place in an abandoned biscuit factory of all places! It was a bit hard to get to, but after a bus ride and a quick tube ride I found the group I was going with and we made our way to the theatre…factory…venue. After walking in what seemed like a giant circle in the freezing cold, we finally made our way into the factory. I can’t say what I was expecting exactly but it certainly wasn’t what I found. 

After handing over my ticket, I was directed to my left where I was immediately met with a freshly cut wooden maze. This seemed metaphorical enough (architects build things do they not?) and quite fun so I began my journey to my seat. I realize now that I am horribly hopeless when it comes to mazes. It is a miracle I found my seat. The “theatre” was a room that looked sort of like a restaurant with different levels of seating with tables and chairs. It had a bar on one end and a band playing pressed against one of the walls. The colors where quite whimsical and almost circus-like with black and white pinstripes on the walls, and the tables and chairs matching the color scheme. There were also three “windows” on one wall that looked as if they were looking out towards the ocean from a huge ship. Oh, and there was also a giant bull statue in the middle of the room. Can’t forget that. 

Another interesting thing to mention (and applaud) is the immense attention and dedication to detail that this performance had. Before showtime I had to go to the bathroom. Nervous because it involved going back into the maze for a bit, I decided to be brave and find the ladies room. Lucky for me someone was coming out of the door marked “bathrooms” for there was no door handle on the door. When I got passed the door, I was faced with a huge dark warehouse-sized room (this was in fact, an abandoned factory). The only light to speak of was a red neon line running from one end of the giant room to the other. I took a deep breath and followed the line towards the light at the end of the room and WAS ATTACKED!! Just kidding. The bathrooms were at the end of the room. The added element of uneasiness and mystery even for one going to the bathroom was quite fun for me and made me excited to see what the actual show was going to be like. 

I got back to my seat and 5 minutes later the show began. The band began to play a song which was probably called “A Trip of a Lifetime” since they repeated that phrase so often. Then a lady in a pink puffy dress with only one sparkly shoe on her foot and a pregnant belly popping out under her dress came out and started teetering her way towards the bull.  She then proceeded to stick her hand up the (pardon my language) butt-hole of the bull and pull out her other sparkly shoe. Then she put on the shoe, smiled to herself and walked away. Weird. 

A screen came down and four lavish and odd people introduced themselves (think mannerisms of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean mixed with Olivia Newton John track suits). Then the live cast came out. It was a middle-aged man and three women of various ages and sizes. Instead of dressed in bright colors they were all dressed pretty plainly and didn’t act like the people in the video to differentiate between characters. They then went around shaking hands and introducing themselves (the bull disappeared around this time). Then one of the women began making a speech about “architecture” to the audience. I picked up some key phrases like, “architecture is based on wonder” and “memory keeps repetition out of play.” After her speech ended the crazy people came on screen again and began saying the audience was about to go on the trip of a lifetime (via cruise ship). Then, the trip began. 

For every different scene, the lights would go out to determine a break/jump in time. For example, in one scene the man would make an announcement that someone had rearranged all the furniture in his room. Then the lights would go out and one of the women would be calling out raffle numbers and awarding a prize to the “winner.” This choppiness gave the scenes a comical feel and really did a good job in conveying both the passage of time, and the feeling that I was actually a participant on the cruise. Sometimes the screen would come back on, and the crazy people, (each time looking drunker and less clothed then the last time) would start yelling at their bland counterparts that they were not running the cruise good enough etc.

At one point, two “kids” in striped footie pajamas and matching hats came in. Apparently they were not supposed to be there because it was an adult only cruise, but their parents (the four regular people running the cruise) has snuck them on hoping they would not be seen. The parents then promptly sent their children to bed after they gave a goodnight kiss to everyone in the audience. The amount of interaction that the characters had with the audience was really refreshing and fun for me because they literally interacted with EVERYONE in the audience, and not just a selected few. 

The turning point of all of this is when the screen turned on and one of the drunk crazy women looked directly into the camera and said her “boy” was going to break all of our hearts. Literally. Then the screen cut off, the normal people gasped and said *** is here! The lights cut out and when they went back on we were ordered to evacuate men on one side, women on the other. Yes, we actually all got up out of our seats and evacuated. We were led into this pitch black room with curtains all around and one monitor in the middle telling us that we were doomed and that we were all going to be sacrificed to the monster. It was actually pretty scary since the pitch black isolated every single person and the evacuation was so abnormal in itself, I had no idea what to expect. 

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Finally the curtain on one side fell away and looking up I saw a bunch of ropes hanging down from the ceiling with the two “children” dancing and flipping in the ropes. The acrobats did a routine where the ropes kept falling, and the danger of the beast was coming and eventually they both “fell” to their deaths. Then on a high platform came the beast (rather like a minotaur with a bulls head). Behind the beast came the band with their instruments held as weapons and they killed the beast and saved the day! (yes, definitely very “trippy”). The band then walked out towards the room we had all come from and just as everyone was about to follow, a red light was turned on in a box above the platform and there were the crazy people (now played in real life), with their robes completely open to reveal their birthday suits. Now it was time to leave, if I could just get through that maze again…

Overall, the experience was very different and wonderful. I really liked the themes that developed through the show like the ones connecting the maze to the minotaur, and the title “The Architects” to the fact that they created a simulation of us going on a cruise. The interaction was great, the costumes were whimsical to match the venue, and the acrobatic show was unexpected but very beautiful and extremely enjoyable. This show had a great vibe to it from the start and really delivered a unique theatrical experience. Till next time!

~A

The 39 Steps

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This show was another one lost forever in my tiny red book. But I shall try to remember it for you.. This show was so energetic it was contagious! The 39 Steps is based on a Hitchcock classic and played at the Criterion Theatre. Before I even mention the play, I have to say that I was severely disappointed with the theatre. I had a seat on the ground level below the stage, very far away. So far away that my vision was partially obstructed by the deck above me filled with people that were probably able to see some of the bits I could not. I could see the stage but the production used high balcony seats at some points and I could barely see one seat and the other was completely obstructed. I think I know what was going on, but this play was pretty whimsical and crazy so who knows? Other than that it was really fun. The 39 Steps website (http://www.love39steps.com/) describes the show as “4 actors, 130 characters in 100 hilarious minutes.” That is actually a pretty accurate description. There was one man who was the main character, a woman who played a couple characters, and then two hilarious and extremely talented men played all the other characters. Being an actor, I was sufficiently impressed with the energy and stamina needed for this play. These characters were running everywhere, cross-dressing at different points, putting on different accents the same way they put on different hats, all in an extremely fluid and comical way. The sets were fun and very practical for the kind of work they needed to do (move around, have a closet pull out into a bed, etc.) Also, I loved how they used doors in this play (is that a weird thing to write?). If some character exited a room, more often than not, he/se flipped the door and there would be something hanging above or next to the frame to show that it was “outside” and not “inside” and vice versa. For example, one door had a deer head mounted on one side of it to implicate a study. Turn it around and it is quite obviously the kitchen from where our character just exited. Also, characters would act out the elements such as wind by waving their coats, scarves, etc. in a really amusing and (if you squinted enough) realistic way. This play was a pretty standard comedic performance with regular costumes, and practical sets. The factors that were most important to me were the energy of the actors, the fast paced-ness of the show in general (it went by so fast!), and the way it put together an elaborate show with quite non-elaborate set design, costumes, etc. I enjoyed this play, and if you would like to get a small taste of it yourself (assuming you can’t go to London to see it in the near future), you can go to the website I mentioned earlier and they actually have a video trailer for it. Enjoy!

Till next time readers!

~A

Missing: Tiny Red Book

I know I haven’t written in a while. At first I was legitimately trying to wrap my head around the performances I had seen, but then I lost the tiny red notebook I had been taking my notes in…

How can you lose a RED book in a small London flat you might ask? I have no idea. But, it is still m.i.a. so for now I will have to give you my majorly abridged version of the shows. Here goes.

“In the Republic of Happiness” @ the Royal Court Theatre

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Backstory on the theatre. My theatre professor told the class that this theatre is known for getting exciting new, cutting edge writers. I guess its pretty famous, and for a wednesday night, it certainly was crowded enough. The play itself was…eh. I like all kinds of theatre, but this (excuse my British pun) “was not my cup of tea.” It started out enjoyable enough with the curtains opening to reveal a family at Christmas dinner (I know.. it being well past xmas, I was not enthused to see a Christmas tree onstage). There was a good awkward silence and then the eldest daughter (there were two) starts talking about her pregnancy. Ugh.. The banter was funny enough with a senile Grandfather, a witty Grandmother, a quiet mother and a partially deaf father. Oh, and can’t forget the angsty younger daughter (funny story I had actually seen her in a film of “Romeo and Juliet” in the Globe Theatre. Didn’t like her over-the top acting there either). Anyway, it was entertaining enough but then the young, kind of hip uncle crashed the scene and that’s when I thought I could actually start liking the play. He was hilarious, putting down all the other characters in the name of his fiancee (who hadn’t been introduced at that point). The fiancee was then awkwardly introduced and proceeded to change from a track suit into a ball gown. You with me? You won’t be in a second. I forget what the deciding factor was, it might have been a song. Yes the fiancee actually burst into song, microphone, subdued lights and all. Then the set was whisked away into a game show like place with stools for each character and a fuzzy t.v. screen in center stage. The whole thing then proceeded to get pret-ty  weird as “themes” would pop up on the screen and the characters would talk about it. Certain catch phrases that come to mind are, “I spread my legs,” and “I am my own person.” Very “interesting” stuff.

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What I got out of it was some satirical message making fun of the idea of individuality, authority, family, religion, etc. After each theme came on the screen and the characters talked it to death, there would be a song, at which point one or more characters would sing almost verbatim what they had said not 10 seconds before. Not a fan of the songs. The break up in the themes was a good idea, but the songs were too repetitive and the theme rants too lengthy.

Believe it or not, that wasn’t the weirdest bit. After that part was over, a new set came into play. An all white room with a giant glass “window” overlooking a body of water of some kind. The only characters in this were the uncle and his fiancee. I honestly have no idea what they said, even if I had my tiny red book I couldn’t have told you. All I remember was weird sexual anger vibes and a song by the uncle at the end with him singing “the happy song” (literally just those three words over and over again in an unsettling way). Yea. I can’t really comment on the costume choices because they just seemed to reflect the stereotypes the writer was going for. The uncle was dressed in all white which went nicely at the final scene. Also, from part one to part two all the actors took off a couple pieces of clothing or put down their hair. This was probably meant to create a more relaxed environment and separate what they were saying from their characters (which made sense since part two didn’t technically have characters). Also, the way the sets swapped was really cool. One and two broke apart and three came up from the floor, which I had yet to see here so it was pretty cool to see. I would say, if you like to be confused, uncomfortable, and possibly angered by a show, this is one to see. You’ll also laugh, for a while at least. (see, even reading this post is semi-uncomfortable). Another post to come very soon!

~A

Victoria and Albert Museum: Hollywood Costumes

photo from shoppersbase.com

The Victoria and Albert Museum just so happens to be about a 10 minute walk from my London flat. It also just so happened to have an exhibit devoted solely to Hollywood Costumes of some of the biggest, best, and most memorable movies of all time! So. Naturally, I had to go. Most of the V&A is free admission but some exhibits charge a small entrance fee. Luckily, I am a poor student and can get the student discount (9 pounds but worth it). I bought tickets in advance and it was a good thing too because about 30 minutes after I bought my ticket, the exhibit sold out. I explored the free areas of the museum for a bit and then came back to the Hollywood exhibit. It was fantastic. AND educational. In the beginning there was all this literature explaining what costuming entailed and why it was so necessary to create a good movie. Having been in different plays and working with costume designers I feel like I know a little bit about the importance of design and costumes and what effect they create. I have had to suffer many a time and put on a costume that I would not necessarily wear ever, but it suits my character perfectly. It is this concept of “creating a story” through costume that was prevalent throughout the entire exhibit.

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There must have been hundreds of costumes presented. I saw costumes from movies like Ocean’s 11, Kill Bill, The Queen, Mamma Mia, The Big Lebowski, Harry Potter, Bourne Identity, All the superhero movies, Atonement, Sweeney Todd, and much much more. Every genre was represented, all the Hollywood greats were in attendance (virtually anyway). There was even a whole section devoted to the costumes of Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro. The rooms were dimly lit and each costumes had soft glowing spotlights on them. Each costume had at least one sign in front of it talking about what movie it was from, who designed it, and sometimes even a quote by either an actor or the designer about the importance of the costume. Some of my favorites included Dorothy’s Costume (ruby slippers included), Rose’s opening outfit from “Titanic,” The “Breakfast at Tiffany” black dress ensemble, Marilyn Monroe’s “7 Year Itch Dress” and the 84 carat diamond necklace from Harry Winston from “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” This exhibit literally made me “ooh” and “ahh” as I walked through Hollywood history and made a silent prayer to become part of it’s glittery future.

~A

The Greatest Place on Earth!

Many apologies for now writing for a while. I have seen two performances since monday night but i’m not quite sure how I feel about them yet so their reviews might take a while to be produced. BUT. I do have a special post to excite all those ice cream lovers! After War Horse on Monday, my roommates and I were talking in the lobby about how much we were craving ice cream. A fairy godmother (or theatre lobby attendant) was listening to our conversation and hurriedly intervened. The result of her magic? Directions to the Haagen Dazs ice cream restaurant! And, when I say RESTAURANT I mean sit down, look at a menu devoted solely to ice cream creations and be prepared for absolute enjoyment. The restaurant was located just a short walking distance away from the theatre in Leicester Square. It was a great after-theatre experience and a tradition I hope to continue. Below are some visuals to complete this delicious post. Enjoy!

~A

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“War Horse”

This past Sunday night I was perusing through possible available tickets when I happened upon a great find. “War Horse” tickets for 16 pounds each! I was so excited I quickly alerted my two roommates (both avidly watching Downton Abbey on Netflix) and we booked three tickets for the next night. Now I’ve seen War Horse the movie and absolutely loves it. I also saw a performance of the broadway show on the Tonys one year so I knew to expect great things from this show. For those of you unfamiliar with the storyline, it follows the adventures of a boy (Albert) and his horse (Joey) beginning in Devon, England 1912 and following both characters as they individually experience WWI. Personally, I think the story is touching and inspirational, a bit sad a times but ultimately a beautiful journey whether on the big screen or in the theatre. 

WH was playing at the New London Theatre just off the Covent Gardens Underground station. Thankfully, a lot easier to find than “mariner.” The only problem my roommates and I encountered was walking down a rather skinny road to meet the WAR HORSE sign above a building that said “closed.” We were puzzled for about 2 full minutes when we finally realized the closed building was actually an Indian restaurant and the theatre was just around the corner! I remembered to take a picture for all of you to see the venue. Notice the particularly jolly man to my right. He smiled so hard for the camera that I thought it necessary to include him here. 

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As I mentioned before, the tickets were very inexpensive and partly due to the fact that they were “safety rail in sight line” seats. Being the poor college student I am, I decided I would rather see WH through a safety rail than not at all. I ended up being entirely happy with my decision. Although the view was partially obstructed by a gate, I was in the first row and could easily look over it to see the hustle and bustle below. I took a picture of the stage to metaphorically “set the stage” for you so you can understand what I am talking about when I talk about the setting. This play used the setting in lots of different and effective ways portraying overlap in time and place, and creating special effects. Also, the infamous costumes/puppetry of the performance was probably one of the coolest things I have seen in my life. 

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The play started out with a small foal (baby horse) puppet being handled by three different puppeteers. It was very life-like with the ears flicking side to side, occasional nickering and quivering of its hindquarters (for those of you who don’t understand horse terms: basically it acted like a real horse). The only thing that bothered me about the foal was that its knees did not bend like that of a real horse and therefore was that much less realistic. But, as I saw was the baby horse would turn into, I soon understood why the legs had to be that way. The baby horse, of course, turns into a full grown horse (Joey). This transition was done really well with a bit of smoke, a dimming of light, and a lot of sound. Big Joey was magnificent. Never have I ever wanted to be a puppeteer so badly in my life. Joey was life sized with three puppeteers controlling him. And.. as you might have guessed, his knees bent! He walked, he galloped and he even reared up and pawed the air like a real horse. People could even ride him! It was awesome in every sense of the word. There were other horse too. A HUGE black one called Topthorn, and a couple of extra horses present in big war scenes. It was really interesting how the puppeteers were presented to the audience. 2 out if three were part of the horse, but the one controlling the head looked kind of like a groomsman holding the horse’s head. Joey’s groom was dressed like a man from the country in reddish browns that matched the horse. Topthorn’s groom was dressed all in black with a hat like an army general’s hat. This differentiation allowed the audience to get more of a feel for the personalities of the horses. There were other puppets as well. People with birds atop swooping wires ran about stage, as the puppets wings pumped up and down. There was also a jolly old goose who was wheeled about and made for some nice comic relief in the middle of a pretty emotionally heavy story. 

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The stage effects and setting were pretty minimalistic, considering. But they were also extremely effective in portraying time and space. Ensemble characters would carry long sticks around and use them as a makeshift “fence” leaning on it, heckling from it, etc. Also, as you can see from my picture of the stage, there was a weird horizontal, icicle looking thing. This was a perfect piece of scenery because it was used in so many diverse ways. Projections were screened onto it, both moving projections and sketch-like scenery projections. It was also used to hang a window and a door for when characters came into a scene and left. Just a window and a door amidst air, but the point came across very well. I also liked the way the characters themselves were placed on the stage at parts, each representing different places a the same time. At one point there was Albert’s parents stage right, Albert stage left and Joey center stage, all obviously in different places (also made clearer by lighting and verbal cues). This scene was powerful because of the strong emotion of longing coming from all the characters to be together. Having them be feet away from each other technically, but many many miles away from each other in the story was a great way to increase audience tension and investment into the character’s predicaments. Having them be so close and yet so far increased the sadness of the situation and made the audience (at least in my case) strongly root for the reunification of all the characters in the end. 

There were also various special effects throughout the play. A revolving circle in the center of the stage made the scenes of horses running or pulling things more believable and was cool to see from different angles. Flashing lights and smoke paired with ominous music made certain scenes very dramatic. Also, there was a HUGE tank manned by 6 people that was essentially a giant seesaw but commanded presence with its size, menacing shape and slow calculated movements. This show was extremely enjoyable to watch and I would recommend it over and over again. This is not just a story about a boy and a horse, but transforms into a unique and wonderful experience for everyone to treasure.

~A 

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

Once I finally settled down into the theatre (or whatever one would call this venue). I began to look around and observe specific setting elements. The audience was seated in a stadium like set up with the front seats coming right down to the floor, which also happened to be the stage. The stage itself went a lot deeper into the tunnels. There was the front main “stage” and one big archway will a sail-like curtain roughly covering a bit of the opening. Past this area, there was two high-arched doors leading into a third, back room. I drew a very rough sketch of the stage which you can view below! There was also very interesting lighting coming from the front left corner and front right corner of the stage that cave a spotlight effect and created a sharp contrast of lighting. The whole room had a very rustic feel and the lighting mixed with the rumbling of the London Underground gave the venue an eerie and mystical feeling that left me excited and anxious for the performance to begin. 

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 Shortly after 9pm, Fiona Shaw came out with two hats in hand. A tall, black top hat and a black hat with a wide brim. Dressed plainly in a mostly black outfit, Shaw began calmly trying the hats out on members of the audience. I unfortunately, did not get chosen for this test. Soon after that a young man with a mop of curly brown hair came in with a cup full of beer. Shaw went straight to this man, put the hat on his head and led him (looking very puzzeled indeed) down to the stage. It wasn’t long before the audience realized this was not some random man, but another performer! The recitation began. 

But it wasn’t a simple reciting of Samuel Coleridge’s poem, it was a “performance” of the poem. The main elements of the performance I found worthy to comment on was the abundance of movement, the use of shadow, and the use of props. 

First: movement. This reading of the infamous “Rime” was brought to a new level with the huge amount of movement involved. Fiona Shaw would recite lines and move her arms and body around trying to use this age-old mechanism of storytelling to tell of the harrowing adventures of the mariner. Using this movement was not distracting, and it enabled her to use the props (her partner included) to their full extent. 

Ms. Shaw’s partner, Daniel Hay-Gordon, was partly used as a prop, partly as a pantomime stand-in for other characters like the wedding guest and the mariner, and lastly (and most interestingly) performed different tidbits of modern dance at particular events in the poem. Some of these dances were meant to resemble an object and some were meant to display an emotion that correlated with the poem. For example, at one point, Hay-Gordon moved his arms and shoulders in an elegant and rythmic way that he resembled that of the “albatross” mentioned in the poem. Another time, he ran around gracefully falling, getting up, running around and falling gain repeatedly to evoke the craziness of the situation and the death/destruction/fear surrounding the mariner. This movement was successful in creating an alternate way of storytelling juxtaposed with Fiona Shaw’s recitation of the story. If the director’s intention with the performance was to add more visual stimulation, that endeavor was also successful. At times the dance did seem a little silly especially when it seemed sparatic, but mostly, the dancing and movement engaged the audience. With a poem so long, this was very much appreciated. 

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The use of shadow in this production was probably the most successful element in the performance. Both Shaw and Hay-Gordon used their props and their movements to the advantage of the shadow and the spotlight. There was very specific and intentional blocking (direction of stage movement) that brought both the actors right in front of the spotlights and reflected a huge image onto the wall and the piece of tarp that covered the back stage. This shadow was really captivating to watch and made the story spring to life and become more than just two people on a stage. Daniel Hay-Gordon bent over in a wide-brimmed hat and walking stick became the “ancient mariner” portrayed as a giant shadow. I found myself looking more and more at the shadow and not the people on stage, which I believe was the desired effect. The shadow also really added to the effects that the venue created. Namely, mystery, suspense, and even a bit of the supernatural. 

The use of props in this show was very minimalistic compared to many shows, but with a two person cast, the use of props is actually quite impressive. Main props included the aforementioned hats and walking stick, a miniature replica of a ship, a miniature telescope, and a pair of masks. Fiona Shaw also used wall pegs to climb up part of the stage and give the allusion of being on a ship. She also ran around and used ropes to tie up the curtain to make it look like the sail of a ship. The miniature ship was used in the spotlight multiple times. In one instance, Hay-Gordon picked up the ship and moved his body to imitate the movement of the ocean under the ship. The effect this made as relayed by the shadow, was beautiful. Overall, the props were pivotal in this performance’s telling of the mariner’s story. The props allowed for more visual stimulation along with the large amount of movement. They were simple, and many props were able to be used in more than one way. The props really helped the shadow images be more effective and impactful than just the human figures alone. 

A word on the acting…

I think that Fiona Shaw did a pretty good job of acting in this performance. I really liked her use of movement, but what I sometimes felt distracting was her vocal intensity. At some points, Ms. Shaw would intensify her vocals so that her voice would grate against her vocal cords and crack. This happened more than once and it was not very pleasing to the ear, nor was it necessary to the plot of the poem. Ms. Shaw’s vocals might have just been tired and overworked, but whatever the cause, the effect was that I was distracted by the voice cracking and paid less attention to the actual words. Also, Shaw’s voice cracking brought the audience’s attention to her gender. I think Shaw did a great job interpreting Coleridge’s words but the fact that she was picked to recite it instead of a man (which the ancient mariner presumably is) is an interesting fact to dwell on. I never really thought about gender until these voice cracks happened and I feel that the reminder was not effective in the telling of the story. 

I must admit, this kind of theatre is not my favorite. I have very little interest in old poetry, but I was pleasantly surprised with my entire experience at the Old Vic Tunnels. The venue was artistic and unlike anything I have ever seen. The performance was very different and happily exceeded my expectations. Although there was slight room for improvement, the overall effect of “Rime” was successful and entertaining. The set was fun to look at, the actors were energetic and transferred a lot of their energy directly to the audience, and the use of the light was captivating. I would recommend this show to anyone looking for a very unique and interesting theatre experience. The show runs about 1 hour long, which is a great length for a poem interpretation.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I had to face the extremely long and steep escalators on the way back home too. This time going down. EEK! Till next time!

~A