Sunday, 31 March 2013

For the Love of (Local) Theatre & Diversity of the Arts

Things have been quiet on the review front. This is because I decided that in order to see more theatre, I was going to have to see more local theatre. I made a decision to take a break from west end shows for a little while. Between being so far away from London and the general cost of big production shows it was impossible to continue the way I had been without ending up with an empty bank account. I love theatre but I need to live too.

And for that love of theatre, I wanted to rediscover that first spark - Not just ticking the big budget musicals off my 'to see' list or following the "names" of theatre around, but discovering new kinds of theatre. Maybe seeing plays that I'm not sure I'll like, taking those firsts tentative steps into a world of ballet and experiencing the heights of opera.

It's all about expanding my passion (if this were 50 shades this would have a very different meaning). I remember being told at uni that you can learn more from a bad production than a good one. They were talking about theatre craft but I think it can be applied to the experience of it too. It helps you realise what theatre speaks to you and why/why not and how that differs from other people's experiences. I think it's important to challenge your preconceptions about what makes a good performance.

For example, I went to see 'Rape of the Fair Country' by Clwyd Theatr Cymru. For me, it didn't connect. I'm not particularly patriotic and there was just so much narration, very much in the style of Dylan Thomas's 'Under Milk Wood'. I've been too scarred by many a bad stage rendition of the welsh poets famous radio play - which I didn't like much to begin with.

However, it got a decent standing ovation from much of the rest of the audience and an elderly lady sitting in front of me was crying from the emotion, it clearly spoke to her. I couldn't get past the fact that the writer favoured telling over showing and it left me less than moved.

I was a bit reluctant going to see Communicado Theatre Company's 'The Government Inspector'. I didn't know much about Gogol's work & thought it might be heavy with russian politics and I'd be lost. It turned out to be quite funny and there was a nice little touch for the scene changes - the cast played Russian music, showing an aptitude for playing instruments as well as acting.

I also attended a party for the 25th anniversary of Volcano Theatre Company - an experimental physical theatre company who I had a work placement with a while back. That kind of theatre really isn't my thing, generally, but I do like their production processes. It's a very creative atmosphere to be a part of.

Over the last month, I've realised that I shouldn't have such a London-centric attitude - there's theatre and performance all around if you look for it. You may even find some hidden gems you never knew existed - I'm not sure when else I'd have had an opportunity to see Jonathan Larson's predecessor to 'Rent', the much lesser known 'Tick, Tick, Boom' especially at a time when it's most likely to resonate - when I too am on the cusp of that looming 30 milestone.

Nothing will replace musical theatre as my favourite form of theatrical entertainment. I treasure the escapism it offers too much and it's been in my life since the beginning. Maybe now and again, though, I'll flick through the local theatre and arts centre brochures, pick something I wouldn't normally consider and, possibly, find I really like it. And if not, at least I'll know for sure.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Review: Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty

For a while now a friend of mine has been asking me to go along to the ballet with her. I've been reluctant. I wasn't sure whether it would be my 'thing' - I went to ballet classes when I was little and I didn't care for it at all. In fact, I would often sit down on the floor with my legs and arms crossed and refuse to take part. I think I simply couldn't stand another round of 'good toes, naughty toes'.

Due to these bad memories and the fact I know very little about how to interpret ballet I kept putting it off.

Then I heard that one of Matthew Bourne's ballets was touring to Cardiff. I knew of Matthew Bourne's reputation and that he brought a very unique vision and a twist to the 'traditional' ballets.

If there was ever a ballet I was going to agree to see, this was the one. I was quite excited, actually. It was a whole new theatrical experience; Like going back to childhood and wondering what exactly waited beyond that curtain.

I was not disappointed - there were beautiful gothic sets, costume and makeup. There were magical characters, comic moments, dramatic moments, powerful music and strong performances - everything I love about theatre.

I needn't have worried about whether I could interpret the ballet or not. There was a projection of a summary of the events which were coming up at various intervals throughout the production. Even without this though, the story spoke for itself. It's astonishing how easy it can be to follow a story without words. I suppose this gives us something to think about in life too - actions speak louder after all.

Even though this is a ballet, that doesn't necessarily mean tutus and pointed ballet shoes. Toward the end of the production, 100 years later and set in the modern day, the characters wore tracksuits and trainers. This made it less intimidating for a ballet novice like me.

I'd love to be able to give names for notable performances, but honestly (and shamefully) I'm not entirely sure who I was watching; In my haste to simply watch the production, I forgot to look at the cast board in the foyer and the main roles are regularly alternated.

The lead male roles are the most mesmerising - that is Caradoc, the dark fairy's son and Count Lilac, the king of the fairies. I was transfixed watching them. Princess Aurora is spritely and nature loving and very reminiscent of a wide-eyed disney princess.

I would certainly see more of Matthew Bourne's ballet's in the future and, perhaps, even try some more traditional ballet. This production has pulled down my barriers and opened up a whole new avenue of theatrical enjoyment.

Please visit the official website for tour information & booking. 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Idol Pursuits

You watch them on stage. They glow with a blinding inner self assurance; they dance and sing with a grace and power only imagined in other worldly beings. Under that spotlight, they are untouchable, elevated and godlike. Sometimes, they are literally flying high above us. It's thrilling and exciting to be in their presence; these marvellous creatures we call 'performers'. 

We want to protect this idea of their grandeur - it feels good to have these icons to aspire to. What is it like to be them? How wonderful their lives are. How perfect. Maybe one day I can be like them.

Except, there’s one problem. This is all an illusion. The characters you see on stage are just creations.

"But I've seen them at gigs, doing their own music, being themselves" Yes, in this instance they may not be playing a character, but they are still performing. When they meet and greet later - still performing. It's all in the job description. After all, it is a job - just like the rest of us have. Theirs is just a little more public.

A confession - I don't really like to meet the people I admire. It always leaves a depressing sense of anti-climax. It feels scandalous to say so because 'stage-dooring' has become such a huge part of the experience for so many. For me, though, I like to remain remote and it's because I want to maintain the illusion - I'm not above admitting that. I want to cherish the idea that they are the larger than life characters I saw on stage.

I remember a time when I was a child - I was sitting in the bar area with my family after a show, when one by one the actors slid from a side door that led backstage and sat among us, just like regular people. And I was upset. I'd only just escaped into this grand and magical world and here was the reality and normality of actor "Dave" who lives in a small flat on the outskirts of London, trying to earn enough to give his kids a good education. I didn't want him to be "Dave", I wanted him to be "Buttons" (my theatre going was mostly panto back then), the happy-go-lucky village idiot predisposed to accidentally throwing pies at unfortunate audience members.

Obviously, the above situation is embellished. There's no way I could recall that kind of detail from 20 years ago. But you see my point - I don't need to know the details of the actor’s life. It's illusion shattering.

However, it is an intoxicating feeling to get an insight into the mind of revered idols and with social networking sites, like twitter, it's never been easier. You get an insight in a way that couldn't have been achieved even just 10 years ago.

But, wait, isn't this just an illusion too? You can make yourself out to be whoever you want to be on twitter. You can edit your personality by what you choose to reveal - or what not to reveal.

So what happens when our idols are caught making a poor decision or simply being grumpy on an off day? Everyone's horrified and inconsolable. Suddenly they seem weak and fragile, small and... Human?!

I think it is okay to get caught up in the illusion, though, because it's all part of the escapist fantasy - whether you want to be at the front of the stage door queue being recognised by all your favourite stars, or if you'd rather admire from afar. However you choose to enjoy the experience it's important to remember that it's all just razzle dazzle. Perhaps sometimes we ought to take a step back, squint against the glare of the bright lights and sequins and realise that these are simply human beings just doing a job.