Honestly, I’m not sure

Wahey – there’s nothing more you want on  Thursday afternoon than one of Kirsty’s sceptic, grumpy theatre reviews.

Here we go for Ugly Lies the Bone, National Theatre (tickets £5, entry pass scheme).

Maybe I’m so grumpy at this show because of the hype. I booked my tickets months ago, far before I even knew what it was about simply because there were only 2 entry pass tickets left. To me, that screamed excitement – a sell out, about virtual reality and trauma victims. I had visions of an immersive audience experience, putting a VR headset on and being transported to a revolutionary new age theatre of the future. Naturally, when the curtains came up and I was presented with an actor, standing on stage wearing the VR headset herself, I was a bit miffed. The only child in me had folded arms and the green eyed monster arising within. The theatre student in me though, has to consider realistically how is it actually possible to give a 200 strong audience a virtual reality experience. The answer to that lay in the Nationals ever impressive set design team. Projection was used on a cave-like structure to replicate the experience, but that’s not VR, that’s very clever use of a very expensive projector.

Another qualm I had with the show was the amount of explanation it needed. Although you could easily follow the context through the story and knew the characters stories fairly deeply, in order to understand why the play existed. It was only then that I realised quite how many issues the play was trying to tackle – PTSD, virtual reality, familial carers, virtual reality therapy, loss of jobs in Florida – just to name a few. A little overwhelming for a Tuesday evening. All the issues made sense together, I just wished there could be more focus on one or two. Yes, I get that realistically there’s always 10 things going on at once and they all affect a meta-narrative of life, but can you fit a meta-narrative of trauma and loss into an hour and a half? And to then punctuate it with jazzy animations, does it not just cheapen it? Well it all depends on perspective doesn’t it. 

It’s just such a shame that I don’t feel more excited reviewing this show because I so wanted it to blow my mind. I suppose it’s a good start to changing the game with theatre, bringing in modern technology to catch up with the digital age. But I would only class it as a start. Clean up your narrative, think about your audience, then get fancy. Thanks

My Country

After my post last June the world has moved on, a certain election over the pond and an (almost) brand new Prime Minister (But all that is a whole other blog).

The National Theatre collected testimonies from 6 areas of the United Kingdom (East Midlands, Northern Ireland, North East, South-West, Caledonia and Cymru) in the period after the referendum result.

Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate has composed and put together the testimonies into an hour and a half full of stereotyping and emotion that comes when discussing the B-word.

Sat to my right were a lovely old couple, we discussed how impactful telling someone which way you voted can be, and with the demographic of matinee theatre how balanced the telling would end up being; we wondered how the audience had voted, surmising that it was possibly slightly remain-heavy due to the liberal nature of theatre goers in London, however there was a large number of over 60’s which tended to vote out.

To my left were a young man and woman who had just met in the lobby. After praising entry pass, it turned out we were a perfect set of millennials: He, a history graduate with his own theatre company, me a second year drama student, and her trying to decide between her heart and her purse when it came to degrees. We discussed the mixed reviews of the show and quietened down when Britannia strolled through the audience and began the play.

Very different to the last verbatim I saw at the National, ‘Another World’. ‘My Country’ simulates a meeting between the Regions and Countries that make up the United Kingdom. Notably only the North East was represented from ‘The North’, presumably this was either done to present London audiences from being overwhelmed by trying to distinguish different accents, or there not being enough different stereotypes- or maybe The National were commenting on their lack of connections in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria. Whatever the reason I left feeling a little confused as to why I couldn’t find parts of myself or my friends and family represented. I recognised some the arguments and views that sent me back to the dinner table, feeling scared about how opportunities and funding were being taken away from me over what I felt was a misplacement of anger, something resonated in William’s lines:

If you’re blue you hate red – If you’re Protestant you hate Catholic – If it’s poor you hate the rich. If it’s Rangers you hate Celtic. It all works on Otherism. And when there’s enough others to blame, then the majority’s quite happy, aren’t they? More and more fear- more and more blame, takin over the newspapers and punting Otherism. Otherism. All the way.

We laughed at Michael Gove saying how we didn’t need experts, and at every time our current Foreign Secretary opened his mouth. Which I think says a lot.

The light relief that came in the middle section which involved a sing song and some stereotypical food (including Gordie Pizza, Haggis and Curry.)  It was funny; it highlighted the pride and heritage- God’s Own Country, The land of Robbie Burns, etc, etc.. However the other areas/characters soon started to pick apart the arguments, with teenage pregnancy, binge drinking and and mortality rates being flung about to chink armour until Scotland had had enough and exited- this foreshadowing was especially amusing to the audiences after calls for a second independence referendum last Monday.

I left the theatre feeling heavy. I often do when I think, talk or hear about Brexit. It to me symbolises and highlights just how broken we are as a nation. The process before the vote and the process we are going through now in the run up to the PM triggering Article 50 in the next few weeks. Over the next two years I fear this play will become more and more needed as the arguments made on both sides are proven or disproven. We will learn the fate of our neighbours, colleagues, partners and friends as they potentially have to reapply to stay somewhere they have been for years. As we learn how keen the Commonwealth is to trade with us, whether they want to find a new way to work together or whether they’ll take the opportunity to shep further away from their colonised past.

It’s hard to predict the future, how dividing this vote will be to the union, and how it will affect our personal identities.

All I can say is I’m glad I don’t have to do about the ’causes of Brexit’ as a history essay.

-Kim

On expectations.

Mum came down in February Half-Term, partly for her Birthday and partly to spend time in London with me, which is always greatly appreciated and I wish it could happen more frequently.

This time we booked to see two shows; Kinky Boots and Half a Sixpence. I was so excited for Kinky Boots, the reviews from my friends were amazing and I had high hopes for the subject matter being part of the West End- I was interested to see how an art form that was usually exclusively for Queer Spaces and in the Fringes came across in the mainstream, and having attended  my very first drag show at Her Upstairs (Thanks for organising that #BoyFriendJoe) I was anticipating being able to compare and contrast how the use of Drag had been used etc, etc…

Half a sixpence had me less excited, the Stage published a series of articles about the importance of a diverses cast, or lack of it in period shows. It made me nervous about going to see it and being distracted by trying to reach my verdict on the debate, another element that made me jittery was the… ‘West-Endy-Ness’ of it; recently going to see big shows have left me feeling half full and yearning for more after paying more than my standard £15 for a ticket.

However, I should know better than to try and judge a show before I’ve seen it. After experiencing my first removal of audience members by security (They didn’t seem to understand that talking loudly, eating loudly, laughing at the serious bits and, worst of all, taking their shoes off and putting them on the seats behind wasn’t the done thing) I tried to focus, to care. But something wasn’t quite… There, the music seemed to loud and so the words were lost, the singing was good but didn’t seem to hit me in the gut, I didn’t leave singing the songs and the ending left me confused. I wanted to know what happened, it really felt like a chunk was missing for the sake of having the two (brilliant) child actors take their bows before 10 o’clock. It felt sucked of its queer potential and the actors seemed on autopilot. I really, really wanted to like it too.

On the other hand half Half a Sixpence left me singing the handful of lines I had picked up on repeat for the next few weeks, and watching the sheer stamina and agility of the cast held my attention more than any West End show has in years; I didn’t want to miss a second. I cared about what happened, and although the ending was predictable it was so satisfying I didn’t care. I wish there had been a few non-white people cast, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was a high quality show that didn’t rely on gimmicks or big names… It was just right,

Caravan Shorts

When I was invited on an outing to Caravan Shorts by Ice and Fire at the Waterloo Vaults, the last thing I expected of the night was actually to be sat in a caravan. And not a spacious and comfortable caravan, but quite possibly the smallest and least comfy caravan in London. Well, I suppose when you pay £7.50 for a ticket to two shows you can’t expect luxury – but perhaps a little cushion would be nice to avoid the woefully distracting numbing of your lower half during the show.

There were two short plays: the first a verbatim piece about refugees from North Africa who had been expelled from society because of their sexuality. It was a good piece of theatre, hours of interviews edited to just over half an hour of testimony – performed to 7 people in a caravan. This worked- it was intimate and personal, and the audience was allowed to absorb the words, hear the stories and sympathise. I don’t use the word empathise, because I do not believe anyone who has not faced not only the degree of persecution, but the consequences of political refuge as these people have, you cannot begin to scratch the surface of empathy adequate of their acceptance. However, I do believe that this piece helped you to try to empathise, making it (in my opinion) beautifully written and poignantly effective. Solid 8 out of 10.

The next piece was where I lost the novelty of the caravan. Not only had I had to walk back to the vaults, to be taken straight back to where I had just moved from (which was just annoying, although I’m sure the exercise was beneficial) the second sit on a hard wooden bench put my coccyx on the verge of shattering underneath me. The same rule goes for a theatre audience as it does with shoes – if your shoes aren’t comfortable, you aren’t comfortable – if your audience isn’t comfortable, they aint gonna enjoy your show. Second complaint was the amount of audience in the space. For this show, the audience had grown to 10 people, but the actors use of the space lost space for at least 3 seats, so not only did my backside lose all sensation, I could not breathe cleanly for the smell of (artisanal I’m sure) lager beer from the bloke squished in next to me. Similarly to my review of School Play (at Southwark Playhouse), I can praise the actors on their commitment to the roles, but the story was just lacking. It never said what it was trying to do – not in the sense that it led to audience to question their thoughts, but more so that I spent most of it trying to figure out what on earth this poor man was actually being interviewed for, and why the interviewer was so sassy, and not even in a funny or joking way. It seemed to be a simple commentary of the societal expectations of man, set in the context of the end of the world (there was a crude reference to ‘people outside eating each other’), done by analysing the properties of this man and if he would be useful to the utopian society this person was trying to create. Basically, a 30 minute or so long metaphor for the marxist society we live in today and neoliberalism manipulation of everyday life. Nice idea, average execution. Probably would have given a kinder review had I sat on a cushion.

All in all, it was an interesting night of theatre in an unconventional space. I should have left it on a high after the first piece, although would that have been worth me paying go to into zone 1 alone, for what amounted to half an hour of testimony sat in a caravan? Ok, I’ll say yes – for the stories that needed to be told.

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as I said, the smallest caravan in London