‘THE COMPLETE DEATHS’ Bristol Old Vic

 

Spymonkey have been working together for eighteen years – impressive stuff. They certainly draw a crowd and Bristol Old Vic was completely sold out, with people being turned away at the door, when I arrived. I’d been really looking forward to The Complete Deaths; I love clowning and jump at the chance to watch a show with multi-media in it. In the words of Toby Park, artistic director of Spymonkey, “The Complete Deaths is the result of a massive Spymonkey and Tim Crouch jam-out. Theatre jazz. Hopefully not too much rubbish scat though.”

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Review for ‘Oh No!’ at the Wardrobe

Oh No! is joyously glorious! A facilitated adults playground contained within the theatre walls. As the audience enter the Wardrobe theatre the smell of joss sticks in the air transporting us back to our teenage bedrooms. Jamie Wood waits by the door and greets each and every audience member individually, he has wind chimes hanging from his fingers and ears. As people are seated he invites people to play the chimes hanging from his body, he deeply appreciates any musical effort and genuinely communicates patience and acceptance.

As the performance begins Jamie appears on stage looking remarkably like Jesus, humming as if in meditation and carrying the sun. He demands attention from every single eye in the theatre through his ability to be utterly authentically devoted to the present moment.
Deliciously childlike, Jamie dances in a bag with his toes peeking out amidst raucous laughter. Upon emerging he speaks to the audience individually naming their beauty and drawing a web of connectivity. Jamie tickles laughs from the depths of bellies simply by exercising his eyebrows.

The skill in which Jamie Woods builds anticipation from the audience, setting up expectations and then delivering them, ensures that he is masterfully bathing in waves of laughter time and time again. I did note that the audience was spectacularly juicy tonight. I recognised a whole front row of seasoned performers from ‘Beyond The Ridiculous’ in the audience. I’d be interested to see Oh No! performed in a theatre where the audience needed a little more massaging to get them going. However you are pretty much guaranteed an audience up for participation at the Wardrobe Theatre.

Story-telling in a bag, playing catch with the sun and channelling the spirits of John Lennon and Yoko Ono through clouds were a few of the moments the audience were encouraged and held by Jamie Woods to perform. Jamie has a unique ability to hold a safe space, I think many people who would normally say no, would have to say yes to Jamie. The highlight of the show was tenderly and unexpectedly created from asking a volunteer to get in his giant bag and take their clothes of and put them back on again. Playful giggles bubbled out from under the cloth and when they’d finished the bag was a den, child’s play, tears shed and secrets shared. The beauty of authenticity touched everyone who witnessed the open tenderness of this moment.

The culmination of this juicy joining in was a musical masterpiece, a chaotic cacophony and as it came to its ultimate climax and the lights went up, people turned to each other and said ‘What just happened?’ They left with eyes sparkling with magic stars and flew out of the wardrobe into the night.

A kaleidoscope of vulnerability, creativity, imagination and snippets of silliness – you’d be a fool to miss this one – part of Mayfest, it’s only here in Bristol for one more night. Go book a ticket right now.

 

Mayfest shows in Venues all over Bristol until 22nd May

 

Review by Anita MacCallum

CHEKOV’S FIRST PLAY AT BRISTOL OLD VIC

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It’s Mayfest and the underlying hum of excitement upon entering Bristol Old Vic was palpable tonight. As the audience noticed and fondled the headphones hooked on the back of the generously cushioned seats, the air became thick with expectation. I have to confess though, if I had not been reviewing Chekov’s First Play, I would not have bought a ticket. The last Chekov play I saw was in 1989, a student production of the Cherry Orchard and I swore to myself that I would not subject myself to another dry traditional production again. If I had kept the promise I made to myself, I would have quite frankly been a fool. I am instinctively drawn to the anticipation of a ‘great chaotic mess’ as outlined in the flyer handed to me on the way in.

 

The over blown pomp and ceremony of inaccessibility I personally feel around the ‘old plays’ was swiftly burst by the ‘Directors’ opening speech. It’s quite thrilling to be spoken to through headphones and I’m instantly warmed by the jovial delivery of the ‘Director’. As I look around the audience I can see the stiff shoulders of the audience visibly relax as we are spoken to and teased before the curtains open. We are authoritatively told our seats are ‘like a little home’ and we are ready to receive what is about to begin.

The ‘Director’s voice inside my head talks me through the traditional opening of Chekov’s First Play, explaining the subtext and the set. It’s what I often do for my children at a dance performance and I appreciate the narration filling in the gaps of the story unfolding on the stage. We are told ‘this is a play for our times as it focuses on property debt and Viagra’. As the ‘Director’ slowly unravels and actors ‘forget’ lines, it’s joyful to witness the cracks in the traditional structure appearing before my eyes. The slow build of the ‘Director’ having a breakdown live and intimately in the audience ears.

 

Gradually the breakdown infiltrates everything, calling the unspoken into the air – naming the unnamed, calling all the actors frauds and pushing at the edges of fiction, clawing the air asking ‘where is real life?’

The final breakthrough from traditional to contemporary performance is underlined by an infectious piece of music pumping like a heartbeat through the headphones. The cast broke out into an uplifting choreographed movement and a wrecking ball smashed through the front façade of the residential house that had been a backdrop for the play.

Visually stunning, shocking, and breaking rules from beginning to end. Literally great balls of fire, giant drills, intravenous wine, bare breasts, audience members swapping places with actors and the birthing of the sea. The stage is constantly teeming with life from beginning to end. The actors burst out of their characters cage knocking at the fictitious bricks of the forth wall.

Through the course of this production we travel through time effortlessly. Beginning in a past covered in the dust of our ancestors, the performance casts off any traditional straight-jackets. We are left with a gentle reminder to value our history. Before too long the contemporary light we are bathed in will turn dark and we will be sat in the shadows as the youth of tomorrow look back on our stories and judge us.

Go and see ‘Dead Centre’ perform Chekov’s First Play and enjoy the hour long journey from the insular to the extreme. Book tickets now before it’s gone.

Mayfest is on in venues all over Bristol until 22nd May

Review by Anita MacCallum

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Theatre Review – Score

Score is a bravely authentic ‘in your face’ piece of theatre, inspired by real-life accounts of parents using Bournemouth’s drug treatment service.

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Photo credit – Photo from Score by Kitty Wheeler Shaw

When entering The Wardrobe Theatre, the stage was littered with the paraphernalia of children’s play – dusted with the ambience of dirty chaos. In the centre of the stage the two performers sat, seemingly nervous and mistrustful of the audience as they filled up the seats. Yet as soon as the play began the characters Hannah (Kathleen Fitzpatrick Milton) and Kirsty (Lara Simpson) commanded the theatre revealing the masters that they are.

Score is a beautifully poignant illustration of enduring friendship, trudging through self-destruction and back to recovery repeatedly.

Be prepared for an emotional roller-coaster, sit down, buckle up and enjoy the ride. One minute I was giggling to myself at the childhood rapture of a fantasy world, the next I was literally crossing my legs as we were taken on a journey of seamless transition from child, to mother in labour in a heartbeat. Kathleen’s emotional shifts while singing ‘Never Ever’ by the All Saints, through gritted teeth as her baby was being born was truly genius. I challenge any woman who has given birth not to clench their thighs together through that performance.

The stage is cleverly planted with a few well-placed props that enable Hannah and Kirsty to change scenes and characters effortlessly. All that’s needed to take the story to starkly different time and place are minimal sound effects and light changes.

Every Time Kathleen and Kirsty sang acapella, goose bumps scattered over my skin and the blood in my veins raced a little faster. Their voices infiltrated every tiny particle of the theatre and permeated the pores of each and every audience member. Each word of Lucy Bell’s script carries weight, no time is wasted in this hour long performance. The juxtaposition of comedy and gut wrenching sadness keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. It’s rare to witness such finely crafted theatre, both the writing and performances were a masterpiece in craft.

Go and see it at the Wardrobe before it’s gone.

Score runs at The Wardrobe Theatre until 23rd April

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