The Greatest Liar In All The World – Mimetic Festival

The Greatest Liar In All The WorldFamilia De La Noche

Showing as part of Mimetic Festival 2014 (17 – 29 November 2014)

At times during Familia De La Noche’s re-imagining of Pinocchio you wonder if there can be any tricks left un-deployed by this multi-talented motley crew. Well as it turns out they leave one ace up their sleeve and in the final moments what had hitherto been a highly raucous and entertaining series of set-pieces reveals itself to be something that has every right to consider itself Heads in a rowto be theatre. It is an unexpected moment of stillness that is ridden with pathos which breaks through the frenzy and displays the potent emotional heart that had beaten below its glossy surface all along.

The Greatest Liar In All The World manages to cram in acting, clowning, physical theatre, mime, musicianship, puppetry – shadow and actual, into sixty minutes. Amongst all of this they tell two stories; of the last show by the world’s greatest liar and, as a story-within-a-story, his own origins tale (that is perhaps best known by his more familiar name – Pinocchio).

Dott and the MoonIt is a heady mix and one can sense the impetuousness of youth in their desire to cram all their undoubted skills into a single production. There is a resulting unevenness in tone and quality, with some parts inevitably working more strongly than others. The first half is the stronger of the two and as Pinocchio loses sight of his objectives when on Booby Island so, unfortunately, does the production. However the frenetic pace means this is soon followed by a wonderful display of shadow puppetry, that tells of our hero’s journey across the world in search of his love and saviour; the blue-haired girl.

It is a mark of the production that it often works best when making use of the specialist skills of its cast and its weaknesses are in tying it together with more traditional theatre ideas. This is further evidenced by the excellent puppetry on display. In Pinocchio they have built a simple but powerfully effective wooden boy. His face, whilst static, is able to convey a huge range of emotions and that is credit to both his operators and to the cast that perform with him.

It is not easy to act against a block of wood but when we see the puppet’s interact with the blue-haired mime we can believe, if only for a moment, in the power of theatre to transform the unreal into the real before our eyes; for a wooden boy with a spoon for a leg to be something that can truly exist.

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How A Man Crumbled – Mimetic Festival

How A Man CrumbledClout Theatre

Showing as part of Mimetic Festival 2014 (17 – 29 November 2014)

In writing this review I discovered that Daniil Kharms’ 1939 novella, The Old Woman, is available to read online. However I urge anyone to hold back until they have seen Clout Theatre’s wonderful re-invention of Kharms’ surrealist story, as half the fun is putting yourself in their hands and watching how the inspired, frenetic lunacy eventually yields results and tells a very understandable moustachemenweb editedstory in a most absurd way.

Clout delivers a highly stylised piece of physical theatre which draws as much of its inspiration from the innovators of early European cinema as it does from theatrical tradition. We see the expressionism of F.W. Murneau in the careful and controlled use of spotlights to create a sense of dramatic tension through the interplay between light, dark and the spaces in between. Alongside this there runs, in the writer’s relationship with the world, the slightly off-kilter, unreal societal pressure that works to 120707-ptfestival-Tag3-198create the crushing paranoia of Fritz Lang’s M.

It is how this keen cinematic understanding is set against a clear understanding of the demands of physical theatre that is most impressive. It is one of the hardest styles of theatre to get right, and when it goes wrong it is highly noticeable. The credit that can be given to practitioners, like Stephen Berkoff, who did so much to popularise the style in the UK is to point to all the terrible productions that followed in their wake that clearly assumed it was just a case of slapping on some greasepaint and a black polo-neck.

The three actors, Sacha Plaige, Jennifer Swingler and George Ramsa, directed by Mine Cerci, stretch themselves to their physical limits. They understand that to perform grotesques they must reach extremes. Each gesture is exaggerated and each movement is set down with an absolute sense of its purpose and meaning. As a result every action has a function and a reason for existing, no matter how absurd it appears.

One could apply this to any example but particular credit must go to Sacha Paige’s portrayal of the old woman. The intensity with which the clock face is presented and the mugging expressions that accompany her every action are a true masterclass in the art of the physical. I never thought that a dreamed creation would be quite as surreally unsettling as the dwarf in Twin Peaks but Paige’s old woman is a terrifying creation; a deathless force that acts as a constant reminder of the writer’s mortality.

For the full review and much more on Mimetic Festival, please click here

First Draft – Mimetic Festival

First Draft – Open Heart Surgery

Showing as part of Mimetic Festival 2014 (17 – 29 November 2014)

At the centre of First Draft, a fast-paced and fluid meditation on contemporary issues by the new London-based theatre company, Open Heart Surgery, is a loose adaptation of E.M Forster’s The Machine Stops. It is an interesting choice of subject and one that provides a neat shell in which to house the ideas that freely flow out of writer Coleen MacPherson’s pen.First draft

It is often unclear where or when we are but slowly fragmentary images coalesce into more defined scenes, and eventually the action settles on a future world where a character (Vashti in Forster’s original) collects memories; seemingly fascinated by the experiences of others but with no real interest in experiencing those of her own.

It is in these future world scenes that the performers seem most at home. MacPherson’s dialogue is well worked to create a landscape we want to know more about, while Charlotte Baseley and Louise Callaghan have a tender dynamic as they build a fragile relationship amongst the wreckage.

Basely and Callaghan are required to showcase their impressively versatile range over the course of this hour long production. They play all twelve of the characters and do a fine job moving slickly between different roles and gamely try to give each one their own personality.

For the full review and much more on Mimetic Festival, please click here

Mimetic Festival Banner

Mimetic Festival Launch Night

One of the bonuses of being a blogger is the occasional freebie. For the more successful / perky / young dynamos of the modern day vlogging world this may be tickets to the VMAs or a sample from the new Topshop-designer collection. For those of us whose age, as like a tree, can be ascertained by counting the lines carved into our forehead, are already well prepared for hip, scarily precocious twenty-something marketing --RWD13-Where-the-White-Stops-023execs to at best acknowledge our existence with the occasional eye roll, dramatic sigh and mandatory thirty seconds of feigned interest.

Which is why it was a pleasurable surprise to wander down Leak Street (home to some of London’s best graffiti) and into the Vaults; home for the next two weeks to Mimetic Festival 2014. Invited to the launch party and plied (well at least offered) something fizzy in a glass is generally a good way of getting me onside. However they really pushed my buttons by offering a cabaret bar (impressively thrown up in just over 24 hours) that could have spirited out of an art deco museum (or at least out of Poirot’s apartment).

Marion-Deprez-web1-150x150Mimetic Festival is “a celebration of the very best emerging devised, physical and visual theatre, puppetry and cabaret”. Like all the best festivals it is growing year on year, and this time it can claim to be offering up 120 shows from over 50 different countries. If slightly alternative theatre is your thing then Mimetic Festival is somewhere you ought to be over the next two weeks.

Showcased for our entertainment were snippets from the fortnight, and it really did demonstrate the range of acts vying for our attention. From the knowing beautiful clowning of Marion Deprez to the intriguing Greatest Liar in all the World there is something for everyone (even those who think that only way to improve Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights video would be to recreate it using a highly sexualised puppet).

Civilian Theatre will be reviewing a number of Mimetic Festival productions over the next year and is one of a number of Mimetic Festival Awards Partners. We will be tweeting and posting to the blog throughout, and you can find all of the latest reviews at:  http://civiliantheatre.com/mimetic-festival/


Mimetic Festival runs from 17 – 29 November 2014 at the Vaults, Leake Street, SE1 7NN.

For more information about Mimetic Festival: http://www.mimeticfest.com/

A Midsummer Night's Dream (As You Like It) at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.

An absurd tale of love and puppets

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It) – Dmitry Krymov Lab @ Barbican Theatre, 14 November 2014

First seen in the UK as part of the 2012 Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, the Dmitry Krymov Lab return to the Barbican with their very loose adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The title, a cheekily knowing pun, hints that audiences shouldn’t arrive expecting a traditional approach to Shakespeare and, good as their word, the production bares only a faint resemblance to the original. Stripped away are all elements of the lovers’ escape to the forest and the night’s fantastical adventures; the focus instead is entirely on the rude mechanicals performance of Pyramus and Thisbe to the Court in the play’s final scene.MSND Barbican

Yet one cannot dare to perform this play without a sense of the fantastical and this wonderfully imaginative company have inserted a puckish spirit that runs through the production – witness the fountain that unexpectedly soaks most of those in the front of the stalls as the company bumble onto the stage, or the inept ballerinas that close the show and positively dare the audience to laugh at Dream-4-2012-360x541children; these are the kind of mischievous pranks laced with faintest tincture of actual malevolence that Robin Goodfellow would certainly have approved of.

It is also a truly fantastical production thanks to the skillfulness of the performers. Hidden amongst the apparently dishevelled cast are talents that incorporate sublime circus skills, puppetry and singing that brings life and emotional register to a production that always seems one step from disaster. Often in productions the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe is little more than a parody of amateur acting troupes and we see actors playing at being bad actors; here we see actors who genuinely resemble craftsmen putting on a show to their best of their ability. We are drawn in by their passion for their craft and as a result within all the comic effects we begin to care for these absurd puppet caricatures of the lovers.

For all their talents what stops the Lab becoming another Cirque De Soleil is that there is always a purpose underpinning the action. They come up with wonderful ways to express ideas but they are nearly always tied to a clear purpose. With companies like Cirque De Soleil everything is delivered with such a ponderous self-importance that it fatally weighs down anything of substance but here their exists a joyously absurd spirit to the production that means it is impossible not to be swept along.

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King Charles III

Revisiting…King Charles III

King Charles III – Wyndham’s Theatre, booking until 31 January 2015 (tickets)

Following on from my post revisiting The Scottsboro Boys, Civilian Theatre continues his trip down memory lane (via helpful West End transfers that kind-of legitimises the whole exercise and makes it look rather less like a pointless and desperate act of content generation) by going back to Mike Bartlett’s Shakespeare-inspired take on what might happen when our future monarch finally faces his destiny…  

(This review is for a production that took place at the Almeida Theatre in May 2014)


Civilian Theatre was one of many celebrating when Rupert Goold snagged the job of Artistic Director at the Almeida and given the unenviable task of continuing the success of Michael Attenborough’s 11-year tenure. Based on his opening salvo; the intentionally eye-catching American Psycho: The Musical before bringing in his former company with the Headlong-produced 1984, it appears Goold has a canny sense of how to blur the KING CHARLES III by Bartlett,        , Writer - Mike Bartlett, Director -  Rupert Goold, Design - Tom Scutt, Composor - Jocelyn Pook, Lighting - Jon Clark, Almeida Theatre, London, UK, 2014, Credit: Johan Persson - www.perssonphotography.comboundaries between popular and elitist theatre.

Appropriately enough the issue of succession is at the heart of the first play Goold has personally directed at the venue; Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III. Another well-judged choice, Bartlett’s play cannot fail to appeal to all audiences. Much has been made of the Shakespearian overtones but the true success of the play is that it is a hugely enjoyable piece of, what Bartlett calls, ‘future history’, which also raises questions that Britain as a country will need to confront in time.

Like Jerusalem this is proper state of the nation theatre and it is heartening to see a playwright unapologetically examine ‘big issues’ on such a grand scale. Bartlett demonstrates that verse has its place in modern drama and that audiences needn’t be turned off by the use of heightened language. The use of iambic pentameter isn’t purely to demonstrate Bartlett’s skill as a poet but because he is dealing with characters that are simultaneously entirely real and, to the majority of us, entirely unknowable.

The greatest PR trick that royalty has ever pulled off was to create this public image and then to strenuously avoid revealing their true face. Our current Queen has studiously kept to this template and it is notable that it is only when the mask slips that the public begins to question their value. As we enter a new era, the age of Will and Kate and of smartphones and public accessibility, this model is in a state of flux and Bartlett has pitched Charles’ succession as the moment that the new and old world will collide.

The use of verse is a way into this private world. How can prose be placed into the mouths of people who are so recognisable but so unknown? We cannot know how they really speak behind closed doors and so creating a state of unreality through artifice is a way to reach some kind of truth. It also allows Bartlett pre-existing conventions to slip seamlessly between conversation and monologue. We are permitted into an inner-realm, not just the closed world of the monarchy but the private consciousness of its key figures.

King-Charles-III-Almeida-LondonThe allusions come thick and fast and for those who know Shakespeare there is much fun to be had in spotting the references. However Bartlett ensures that this is not to the detriment of those who haven’t been schooled in all the History plays and a fair portion of the tragedies. The characters he draws are fascinating in their own right and capture the essence of who they are. It is perhaps Prince Harry who is closest to caricature but how could one resist when he is built to be modelled on the classic arc of Hal in Henry IV Part I and II.

His entrance to the nightclub and his night of revelry is a clear echo of The Boars-Head Tavern in Eastcheap and whilst Jess is a far cry from Falstaff, one senses that it is only a matter of time before there will be a rejection. In a play of many highlights, it is Harry accepting the duty that has been placed upon him and thus leading to the final abandonment of Jess that is the true tragedy of the play. Jess is the one innocent, drawn unwillingly into Harry’s world and the one target that press can attack. It is a superb and understated performance by Tafline Steen; she gives Jess a stoic dignity in her humiliation and the image of her standing alone before the coronation tears at the heart. It is a brutal reminder, if any was needed, that above all this is a club whose very survival depends on its exclusivity.

The play is a tragicomedy, with a comedic start slowly giving way to the grand tragedy as the crisis develops. Like so many tragedies it is one action that sets the direction on its course and it inexorably rolls towards its conclusion due to man’s frailty. It starts with a funeral, amidst a wonderfully staged requiem scene, and inevitably ends with a coronation. It also features the great dramatic device of signing a document, and it is here that for all the idiocy of Charles we find sympathy for him; he does not fall as far as Lear but the moment that he realises that he must sign is reminiscent of Lear (‘reason not the need’) pleading Goneril and Regan for his knightly retinue.

We know Lear has brought himself to the pass but we sympathise because of, rather than despite, his foolishness. It is the same with Charles that with one rash act, to challenge Parliament, he has like Lear, to split his Kingdom, condemned himself with an unworldly pride and a fatal inability to distinguish between power and authority.

Misunderstanding of royal power leading to constitutional crisis and abdication cannot help but remind of Richard II. However there is less to be drawn into this than in other Shakesperian characters. Tim Pigott-Smith’s Charles may share Richard’s naivety but he does not share his cruelty. There is no moment in the play that Charles echoes Richard’s splendidly cold moment when, on hearing the illness of John of Gaunt, he states ‘pray God we may make haste, and come too late!’, instead he is more a kindred spirit with Shakespeare’s less-performed tragic heroes, Coriolanus and Timon of Athens.

The tragedy of Charles is his unwavering sense of moral principle. He does not recognise flexibility to be an option and even making a gesture towards reconciliation cannot be achieved. Like Coriolanus and Timon he see himself as a good man in a bad world, and that if he does not have his virtue then he will have nothing of himself. People desperately present solutions that require compromise on all sides but they are rejected because there is principle at stake. It is foolish but it is not evil. In many way Pigott-Smith presents a very warm, and almost lovable, Charles and the frustration one feels with him is not with his cause but with his approach to the solution.

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