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traces, peacock theatre

Traces - The 7 Fingers

Traces – The 7 Fingers

Last night I managed to get last minute tickets to take my daughter to see Traces at the Peacock Theatre.  Traces is the latest show from The 7 Fingers (Les 7 doigts de la main) from Quebec.

Aged between about 23-27, the 7 performers were actually from all over the globe, Canada, USA, Australia, France & China – and we knew that because they actually told us during the show.  It was actually a lovely twist to inject some personality and a LOT of humour into their performance. It certainly made my 15 year old have a favourite (Kevin from the USA whose trapeze dance she particularly enjoyed).

They certainly had a lot of skill between them – all were fantastic acrobats and very cool clowns (not a painted smile in sight, but the clowning was certainly part of the act), but individually there were outstanding performances on the trapeze, Chinese pole, Chinese hoops (as per photo), hand to hand, teeterboard, diabolo, cyr wheel and aerial strap.

I have seen all of these on stage before, and possibly by more ‘polished’ troupes, but there was something wonderfully quirky, fun and totally engaging about Trances that had the audience on their feet giving them a standing ovation as soon as they had finished.

And my daughter? She thinks EVERYONE should go and see it 🙂  They’re on at the Peacock until 12th July.

a series of increasingly impossible acts, tricycle theatre

January 20, 2015 Leave a comment

A Series Of Increasingly Impossible Acts

Could you eat a whole lemon? Can you move a car wheel by the power of your mind alone?  Can you fold yourself into a suitcase?

These are part of a series of impossible acts that the guys of The Secret Theatre Company attempt in this show.

As we took our seats at the lovely Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn (I haven’t been there since seeing Adrian Lester in Red Velvet!), the young cast were already on the stage ‘warming up’, as if they were about to run a 100m.  Members of the group then came and had a chat with various members of the audience – I had a lovely chat with Nadia. So far, so ‘different’!

Pens and paper were then handed out to about a dozen people and they were asked to simply write down the name of one of the cast. It was then down to one audience member to pick one of the names out of the hat – to randomly choose which of the cast would be the night’s protagonist. This ensures a different show every night – although I expect the underlying themes etc would be the same.

Last Friday, we had the lovely Cara Horgan as our protagonist. So, she introduced herself, and attempted the impossible acts.

What came next is difficult to explain. This is less a show, and more a 70 minute out-pouring of genuine memories and emotions from the night’s protagonist – from the awkward first kiss, to school dances, broken relationships, remembered misdemeanours and heartfelt confessions, fit into structured ‘scenes’. Aided by the rest of the cast, Cara guided us through her highs and lows including full-on wrestling, downing a bottle of beer and a full cast dance routine.  A friend was around for one of the shows where there was a Q&A afterwards. Apparently the way the show goes has a lot to do with the cast member’s state of mind on the night as much as anything!

It’s poignant, thought-provoking, honest, quirky and endearing – even though occasionally I wasn’t all together sure what I was watching.  There were laugh out loud moments, and moments that were harder to watch. I have to admit, there were moments that it felt slightly similar to Losers – but in a good way!!

It was so entertaining that I want to take my daughter to see it and am more than happy to watch the whole thing again – especially as there would probably be a different protagonist considering there are 10 cast members.

A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts is showing at the Tricycle Theatre until 31st January. You can buy tickets here.

a perfectly fine life – playwrought #3, arcola theatre

January 16, 2015 Leave a comment

PlayWROUGHT #3

This is the third year that the lovely Arcola Theatre in Dalston has run their ‘PlayWROUGHT’ series.

These are rehearsed readings with talented actors and directors featuring the work of established and new playwrights. The series is seen as an opportunity for the writers to see hear their brand new work in a professional setting, with an audience.

I went last night to see A Perfectly Fine Life written by Annie Pierce, and I believe this was her first ever play.

There was a very crude ‘set’ (a few chairs and tables and a couple of props), a little lighting and the actors, although obviously familiar with the piece, were reading from their scripts.  They did get up, and move through the different scenes. A narrator gave some indications of scene or time passing that would obviously have been worked out for a final production.

However, it was surprising that after a while, I simply didn’t notice these facts. The story was indeed so gripping, and the actors barely stumbled that the fact that the scripts that they were reading from became almost invisible.

From the blurb:

“Zinnia can’t have the baby she wants. Elizabeth offers to be a surrogate mother. And lawyer Anwen does her best to handle everyone’s interests. But when things do not turn out as expected,what is it like to depend on a stranger for what you want most?”

I loved the story, and I really felt for all the characters in what becomes a very difficult situation – and wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Each of the four main characters – successful couple Zinnia & David who desperately want a baby, and Ghanaian couple Elizabeth & Jacob who initially want to be able to give their children a better life with the money that they can make from Elizabeth’s surrogacy.

Social issues and prejudices weren’t tip-toed around – they were confronted head-on, realistically, even though that may not have been particularly comfortable to witness in some parts.  I guess the only part that I was slightly disappointed with was the ending.  It confused me slightly but also felt a little twee in comparison to the rest of the play.

I’m just sorry that I only just now knew about the PlayWROUGHT series, just as it’s coming to an end again for the year. I will be looking out for it next year for definite. A fantastic idea that attracted a surprisingly large audience and was fantastically presented.

I hope that Annie Pierce got some great feedback from it – and if I ever notice A Perfectly Fine Life on at a London theatre, I will be sure to go along to see how it translates to a ‘proper’ stage!

I’d also like to say that I haven’t been to the Arcola since March 2012 to see The Pitchfork Disney, and they’ve done a LOT of work to it since then – it’s a really nice space. Especially the bar where this week they started serving hot food. A big bowl of veg stew, arancini balls, tasty salads and various condiments (you have the choice of everything, some or nothing – no menu) that totally hit the spot for just £5. Well worth a visit!

losers, the rag factory

January 11, 2015 1 comment
Losers

Losers

So, this was my first theatre trip of 2015 – to a place I had never heard of (let alone been before) and that is this company’s debut show.  Risky? Maybe – but a theatre company calling themselves Tit4Twat was a good sign that I would probably appreciate their humour.

The show blurb:

LOSERS is a show about four reality TV rejects who are deliciously – perhaps dangerously – desperate for fifteen minutes in the limelight. They might be sick of X Factor, Bakeoff and even Extreme Couponing turning them down – but Arthur, Rachel, Sophie and Will are far from giving up on their dream.

In fact, they’ve created their own ‘genuinely original’ reality game show. The ultimate way to show casting directors that they’re capable of being the next Jade Goody. And you are invited. In fact, you are invaluable.

Arming the audience with electronic voting handsets, the wannabes will compete fist-to-fist in eight nail-biting rounds to prove they’ve got what it takes to make it in the delectable world of ‘reality’. Shit may go down. Who knows? You (and your electronic handset) decide.

The Rag Factory wasn’t the easiest place to find and certainly ‘unique’, just off of Brick Lane (cue the usual having to fight off from being dragged into various curry houses on the way there and back) – and the back alley and rickety stairs felt a bit like walking to a kill room – but the welcome was very warm and the space was fine once we were in there. Perfect for a new theatre company, I guess!

The show wasn’t sold out, but was very well attended – which I guess is what is needed, considering one of the key parts of the show is the fact that the audience get to vote on the outcome.  I couldn’t have been more excited when I was given my little electronic handset – the power was now mine. Well, mine and the rest of the audience.

At first, it felt a little forced – Arthur, Rachel, Will & Sophie giving us the background as to why they had decided to create their own reality TV show, which we were now part of – but once they got going, their ‘contestant show reels’ playing behind them as they told us a bit about themselves were very amusing, and things started to relax.

I really don’t want to give too much away, but they split the show into 8 rounds – and at the end of each round, dependent on the audience’s votes, there was a winner and a loser (occasionally, in the case of a draw, there was more than one loser).  The winner then got to inflict a punishment on the loser(s).

The rounds included ‘most genuine’, ‘best bum’, ‘best Beyonce’ and a quick-fire round. And the punishments got increasingly brutal/gross. As it says in the blurb, shit DID go down! But the four of them were genuinely likeable all the way through.

I can understand that it wouldn’t be for every one, but I thought it was hilarious – definitely an entertaining 70 mins that left me with a smile on my face.

Losers is showing every Friday, Saturday & Sunday until 1st February, and I hope that they get a packed room every night – they definitely deserve it – they couldn’t do much more to ensure their success…and *I* certainly wouldn’t do some of what they do on the night! Visit http://tit4twat.com/ for more info and to book tickets. Go on. Do it!

a street cat named bob – james bowen (audiobook)

January 6, 2015 2 comments

A Street Cat Named Bob

I used to have to travel to Angel tube station quite a lot a few years ago, and so I often saw James and Bob selling the Big Issue when I came out. I should have guessed that they would become celebrities of their own making (or more likely, celebrities of Bob’s making!).

James had been homeless and was living in sheltered housing when Bob wandered into his life. He could never have guessed the huge impact that the intelligent ginger tom cat would have on his life.

The story itself is very heart-warming, and us Brits are a nation of animal lovers – especially women and cats! So, you have to have a little soft spot for the subject.  It’s not all about Bob though – there are huge chunks of the book about how James came to be in the position that he was in, and what life is really like when you’ve reached that level. These were actually the parts that I found the most interesting, and in a way it’s a shame that they needed Bob as a catalyst for such a story to be told.

I got this as an audiobook, and it was expertly narrated by Kris Milnes, who really sounded like he was reminiscing – even little chuckles in the right places. Very convincing that it was HIS story. However, as much as I wanted to just love and rave about the book, there were a few things about it that just jarred me.

It may well say more about me than about the book though, as it was the attitude at some points that I didn’t like and I often had an element of disbelief niggling at me. Perhaps I’ve been a Londoner for too long. It’s a lovely story though, and was a great one to read / listen to over the New Year to give warm fuzzies.

I believe there are now a couple more ‘Bob’ books (I’ve taken AGES to get around to reading this as I was worried I’d be disappointed), but honestly – I’m not sure that I’ll be picking them up.

breeders, st james theatre

October 4, 2014 Leave a comment
Breeders

Breeders

I booked this last minute with a Time Out deal – just £18, which was good for quite a well known cast.  I’d also never been to the St James Theatre before – hadn’t even heard of it, and I love trying out new places.

Firstly, the venue – it’s apparently only a couple of years old, and so is very modern, and well thought out. The seats were comfy with enough legroom, and although quite small there is a feeling of a greek theatre about it (although not curved), with the seating rows staggered at least a head height going up, so that there’s a really decent view for everyone.  There’s also a really nice bar and bistro – a must have these days, and it was absolutely heaving when I went, so a great atmosphere.

And then the play. A cast of four, and all known in their own way. Tamzin Outhwaite and Angela Griffin were obviously top-billing as a high-powered, successful married couple at a stage where they want to start a family with Nicholas Burns (great comic actor – Man Stroke Woman etc) as Outhwaite’s bit-of-a-loser brother and the brilliant Jemima Rooper as his slightly ditsy girlfriend. Rooper was one of the reasons I wanted to go. She was brilliant in Hex and Lost in Austen, but I also saw her earlier this year playing alongside Angela Lansbury as Elvira in Blithe Spirit and she stole the show.

Author Ben Ockrent came up with the idea for the play based on his own experience when a close friend had once asked him to be a sperm donor for her and her girlfriend to conceive. For various reasons, he didn’t do it, but wondered how it would have affected everyone involved if he had.

There is a brilliant dynamic within the play as the theory behind the request is that the couple would like the baby to have both of their genes, so Griffin will carry the child, using Burns’ sperm as it carries Outhwaite’s DNA as they are siblings.

Obviously this leaves Rooper slightly out of the equation, ensuring some conflict, and the family history and rivalries can also be explored.

It’s not going to win any awards, but performances were great (particularly Griffin and Rooper), the script was clever and unpatronising, I genuinely laughed out loud and also got a tear in my eye. Chuck in a bag of flour and load of bad Swedish-language cover versions of old 80s pop hits and Christmas songs (yes, really) and it was a fantastic night out – recommended.

The cast of Breeders

The cast of Breeders

alex horne – ‘monsieur butterfly’, pleasance theatre (islington)

Alex Horne – Monsieur Butterfly

I love Edinburgh preview shows. There are some fantastic ones which are really cheap, as they are always a ‘Work In Progress’. I’m lucky that my local pub, Ye Olde Rose & Crown Theatre Pub has the fabulous Red Imp Comedy Club that plays host to many acts. But, there are shows going on all over London, and one of the busiest is the brilliant Pleasance Theatre just off of Caledonian Road. It has a twin in Edinburgh, so it’s hardly surprising.

Being so busy recently, I’ve only been able to book to see a couple of shows, but last week saw Alex Horne (minus his Horne Section this time). If you don’t listen to Radio 4, you may not yet have heard of Alex Horne. The Horne Section mixes a 5 piece lounge band with comedy. Yes, I know how that sounds, but it works in an irresistible, innocent silly way.

So, Monsieur Butterfly is more of the same but with an absence of musicians.

The show was in The Pleasance’s Stage Space, which is undeniably tiny – it can’t hold more than about 30 people. But this gave the show an intimacy which Alex Horne works really with. His amiable, easy-going inclusive nature meant that even though there was some audience participation necessary – it wasn’t as if anyone was worried that they would have been made to look stupid, the participants really felt like they were helping him out – and for the first time EVER at a comedy show, I wished that *I* had been one of the people picked! I’m usually one of those that wants to sit at the back, just in case…

I don’t want to give too much away about the actual theme of the show, as it’s a pretty ingenious idea, but suffice to say that the audience was entranced, and on absolute tenterhooks willing Alex on to a successful climax – the tension in the air was palpable. We were all rooting for him!

However, a successful climax (ooer) wasn’t the be all and end all, it was the journey. The show was peppered with little anecdotes, childhood stories and very amusing set-ups.

I see quite a lot of comedy shows, but I have to say that there was one particular moment that was SO silly that I really did worry that I was going to leak! It was extremely simple, but so well delivered, complete with audience participation, and the entire place erupted, and took ages to settle down.

At only about 50 minutes long, and just £5 at The Pleasance (playing again next Wednesday – 25th June), I really recommend that you get a ticket if you can…or catch him in Edinburgh of course!

(Edit: Have just seen that he’s also on at The Bowler Hat in St Paul’s next Friday, June 27th – but that is £15, although Time Out are currently offering half-price tickets)

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