Review: Rooms

04.jpgStyle: Human-free theatre
Where: Silk Street Theatre, Barbican
When: 11 – 19 April

Rating: 3.5/5

Rooms confronts you with an interesting question: What is theatre? Where does the live experience begin and end? It has been described as theatre without actors but that’s not strictly true. It is theatre without live actors?

The audience are guided to a series of rooms (Girls Bedroom is pictured above) and after a short while to explore the space, a recording of someone telling a tale is heard. The tales are the stories of the people who would normally occupy the rooms, but they remain unseen. We have their voice and we have the room. A recording and a set. Is this theatre?

One of my companions was unsure. She posited at the end that the show would have been good on the radio. But for me, the visceral nature of the rooms – the ambiance, the smells, the details of the decor added a lot to the experience. In the same way that music is more than just poetry set to a tune, perhaps these stories needed these sets to be truly impactful.

I did miss actors though. I did miss the way that other immersive shows make you feel like part of the action rather than simply an onlooker. So while Rooms was definitely a show that made me think, I would say that I didn’t find it a show that was truly immersive. However, I do not believe it would be better on the radio.

Advertisements

Review: XNN Systems Immersive Corporate Career Development Simulator

Processed with VSCO with acg preset
Sofi Lee Henson as Dr Leon

Style: Immersive experience meets personal growth seminar
Where: Arch 504, Ridgeway Road, SE5.
When: Check for shows in June and beyond. 
To Note: Some intimacy but always with consent

Rating: 3.5/5

Ultimately, This is a rather lovely self-actualisation seminar. The group bonds through exercises to improve vocal expression, self representation and physical comfort and expression. You come in shuffling and giggling nervously, you leave having – if consented – hugged and even sniffed total strangers.

There’s an odd layer of irony that sits over what is actually a rather unironic experience. The exercises are framed as part of the ongoing world of Dr Leon, that we first encountered as part of the Feelgood Institute. Participants are told they have to improve as part of their role in the mainframe. In some ways, this feels a little like they are taking a tongue in cheek attitude to the mindfulness and self-actualisation exercises that follow.

But perhaps that works as part of a permission structure that allows jaded old buggers like me to join in. If I think I’m doing theatre rather than hippy stuff, I’m better able to join in and get the most out of the experience.

And I definitely walked away feeling much better. It was both a helpful and enjoyable experience. Ably led by Sofi Lee Henson as Dr Leon supported by a small cast of helpers to ensure the action ran smoothly, the night had a few technical issues – it’s sometimes hard to be mindful when the mic is getting too much feedback. But overall, despite the sense of a showstring budget, this lived up to the billing and had a real and lasting impact.

Review: Counting Sheep

Style: immersive theatre

Where: The Vaults

To note: make them aware of food allergies, preferences etc. Strobe lights used.

5/5 stars

I am blown away.

Rarely does taking part in a piece of theatre speak so directly to the core of my being, but Counting Sheep is one of the most exciting, moving and provoking pieces of theatre I have ever seen.

Set in Ukraine around the 2014 revolution we are introduced to the action by Mark – a Canadian of Ukrainian heritage who is visiting the country as a travelling musician. He gets swept up in the revolution and through him so too does the audience.

Read more at Plays to See.

Review: The Greatest Snowman

2X0A8268
Cast of The Greatest Snowman. Photo credit @arabellaitani

 

Title: The Greatest Snowman

Style: immersive dining

Where: Pedley Street Station, Bethnal Green

To note: make them aware of food allergies, preferences etc.

3.5/5 stars

The Greatest Snowman is enormous – if slightly confusing – fun.

Played pretty much as a straight up pantomime, it come across as charmingly childlike and simple. The storyline is not taxing, and the immersive element was less prominent than in recent production by the same team Journey to the Underworld.

The food was just as delicious though. And what made this production considerably less child-friendly was the copiously flowing booze. Not that this reviewer is complaining about that! But it does make for a slight sense of dichotomy. This is a show I think my nephew and niece would enjoy, in an atmosphere I probably wouldn’t bring them to.

The scene is set by the conductor Doris (Ingrid Miller – whose performance owes more than a little to Su Pollard in Hi Di Hi) who welcomes us and flogs us Babysham (which is just as grim as you remember it being). There is then a battle for the spirit of Christmas embodied in the life and backstory of Mr Snow (Chris Heaney) – a human raised as the last of the snow people.

This is a silly romp and a highly enjoyable one. Much of your enjoyment does come from the others at your table as when the food is served the action is paused. We had a delightful bunch and were well looked after. No part of this experience is left much to chance.

Afterwards, we spent time in the lovely Christmas grotto themed bar – I highly recommend the gingerbread based cocktails.

2X0A8678.jpg
Photo credit @arabellaitani

Overall this is a great, fun, lighthearted night out. The food is way above average and the ambience is a delight. Once again this is not theatre that will change your life, but it will give you a rollicking good time. Just watch out for the morning after!

Review: Divine Proportions

Title: Divine Proportions

Style: immersive dining

Where: The Vaults, Waterloo

When: Until 12th January

To note: make them aware of food allergies etc.

3/5 stars

Divine Proportions promises much and almost – almost – delivers.

The party atmosphere is apparent from the beginning. Audience members are encouraged to dress decadently and buy further glitter on arrival.

45309889_10160957586600468_4464858824792080384_n
Your intrepid author attempting to dress like a glamorous goddess…

The music is classic hen night decadence and performed brilliantly in the downstairs bar by the cast who writhe with appropriate abandon. In fact, the downstairs bar action is by far the highlight of the show.

The problem with the main action is partly one of the venue and partly one of the production.

In terms of the venue, there is no sound amplification in the parts of the room furthest from the stage. Given the open inducement to get raucously drunk and the Saturday night crowd’s absolute willingness to do so (our party was no exception), we couldn’t really hear a lot of what was going on.

The venue was very full and as such the action on the night was very much dependent on who you were sat with or next to. I went with one other person and we were surrounded and somewhat overwhelmed by much larger groups. To avoid that, I would recommend smaller groups go during the week.

IMG_0475 c Lara Maysa

Divine Proportions had a pretty high innuendo threshold and there were some genuinely sexy moments to behold. The worshipfulness of the Maenads towards Dionysus was well played in particular. A slight bugbear of mine is that for a show all about the worship of all things flesh – all the flesh was very much female. No man-candy to behold. While most of the time an all-female cast would be held to be radical, and certainly Dionysus’s empowered sexuality was an exemplary performance of a woman – or even a goddess – at home in her own body. But to have an all-female cast at this kind of show felt almost reactionary. Women for looking at and encouraging the audience to eat drink and be very, very merry.

IMG_0479

Divine Proportions is a fun night out. Not quite theatre, not quite burlesque, not quite vaudeville it is a decent meal with a floorshow you enjoy what you can catch of this. What I can’t tell is if it has pretensions to be more than that. if so, it should give those up and embrace its hen-night destiny.

 

Review: Frankenstein

Title: Frankenstein
Style: Site-specific promenade
Where: Sutton House, 2 – 4 Homerton High Street, Hackney, London, E9 6JQ
When: Until 3rd November
To Note: Mobility required – will climb stairs, dress warmly

Rating: 4/5

Frankenstein sets itself firmly in the 80s before the show begins with a thumping and iconic 80s soundtrack. As you enter the “squat” space and are greeted by a group with a very strong ‘Legs Akimbo‘ vibe telling ghost stories. As Mary speaks, she tells of a dream she had – a dream the group shared of a family suffering a tragedy.

As they tell it the story takes over and we are led through their interpretation of Frankenstein.

Frankenstein, Sutton House - Courtesy of John Wilson (4).jpg
L-R: Justine (Katy Helps), Henry (Chris Dobson), Victor Frankenstein (Jeff Scott), Elizabeth (Jennifer Tyler_). Photo by John Wilson.

First my usual bugbear. This isn’t an immersive production despite being billed as such. Yes, the audience goes on separate journeys in the first half, but there is no interaction between us and the characters and no audience-led content.

What it is is site-specific. It makes excellent use of Sutton House as a venue, drawing both on its recent history as a squat and arts venue and it’s gothic grandeur as a space. It works to heighten the tension right down to having appropriately creaky wooden doors.

The story is a feminist twist on the classic Frankenstein story, strengthening the character of Justine (Kay Helps) to make her Victor’s equal rather than subordinate and making the monster a woman  (Molly Small). The traditional loneliness of the monster is heightened by her desire to become a mother – to have someone to love and depend on her wholly. While This is an interesting approach that did make the women of the piece much more visible, I’m not sure how feminist it is to centre the female experience on motherhood. But the delivery – especially by Molly Small was so powerful that it worked.

Frankenstein, Sutton House - Courtesy of John Wilson (7)
Victor Frankenstein (Jeff Scott) and his monster (Molly Small) – photo by John Wilson.

The play uses a number of clever devices. The lighting, in particular, was exceptionally well designed not just to direct your mood, but to literally tell you what was happening. The switch from the spotlights of the action to the fairy lights of the interval literally lifted the mood. The music works to set different moods throughout and as mentioned, the use of the Sutton House space works very well.

I was less enthralled by the costumes and props which blended 1980s with early 1800s in a way that didn’t quite work for me. The show of Victor playing SEGA as he deteriorated and went into himself was well done in itself, but overall, it just confused to the point where it distracted from the drama.

Frankenstein, Sutton House - Courtesy of John Wilson (5)
Elizabeth (Jennifer Tyler) with ‘William’ – Phont by John Wilson.

A particular mention has to be made for the puppetry. Its inherent creepiness is well rewarded with a second half twist that was as brilliantly shocking as it was dramatic. Incredibly well played out, it set the scene for an incredibly affecting last 20 minutes that I found moving, disturbing and hard to shake off. If you’re anything like me, the challenge of the last 5 minutes will stay with you for some time and it is the strength of this ending that more than makes up for any pickiness I had earlier.

This is a disturbing, enlightening and properly gothic production. The ambience and atmosphere of Sutton House suits the drama perfectly and the cast delivers thoughtful scares throughout.