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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

The People Show Book

Friday, February 19th, 2021

Mark Long’s book No One Knows But Everyone Remembers is fantastic. Written for the company’s 50th Anniversary (about 5 years ago) it manages to convey the company’s history, approach and philosophy through a hugely compelling and entertaining string of moments, anecdotes and stories.

Starting in the sixties, this book also works as a Time Capsule for London, an emerging alternative arts scene and British society in general. It also serves as an origin story for a whole strand of theatre that eschews narrative and playwrights – Stan’s Cafe included. (more…)


Friday, January 22nd, 2021

When did you last see a film in which you genuinely didn’t know what was going to happen next nor at the end? When did you last see a film that resisted an obvious short-hand description ‘it’s this crossed with that’? When have you ever seen a film with no male characters or where the vast majority of the cast are under 12? Welcome to Innocence.

Hoovering up interesting items in a highbrow Edinburgh charity shop I pulled this DVD from the shelf. The Artificial Eye brand reliably promised something beyond the mainstream, something ‘art house’. The cover images are beautiful and arresting (you could say the same thing of any randomly selected frame from the film). The description, of a mysterious girls’ boarding school behind a high wall in a dense forest, was compelling. I bought it and unusually then watched it.

I loved it, I love it, I love it more the more I reflect on it and I can’t stop reflecting on it.

An Independent on Sunday critic devised this great short-hand “Buñuel meets Angela Carter meets Enid Blyton” – this is no help before you watch it but in retrospect is perfect!

Below is a link to a wonderful video essay that distills Innocence for you, but think carefully before watching it. I enjoyed knowing very little before starting; events and revelations unfold at a beautifully judged pace and as there is no real story this pacing feels especially important. I’m desperate to share more but I won’t, I’ll preserve your Innocence.

Grey Rock

Friday, January 31st, 2020

GREY ROCK from Alexandra Aron on Vimeo.

Last night I fell in love with a play. It took my completely off-guard, I wasn’t looking for love, it just happened. There is a story and it is beguilingly simple. In his grief a widower in Palestine decides to build a rocket in his shed to go to the moon, he is aided by a delivery boy enmoured of his daughter, both his daughter and his nephew point out his plan is crazy but are won around. This daughter’s fiancé is never won around and they split up; that’s it but I love everything about it.

The script is smart and witty and poetic, it weaves together physics with love with the politics of Palestine and reflections on the Apollo programme. This mission to the moon will bring Palestine respect around the world and prove that its people are capable of great things. Of course the whole construction process is clandestine with the threat of security forces swooping to hault the project at any moment.

The cast of characters are highly sypathetic and engaging (even the fiancé), fable like in their service to the narrative and yet also humane. In tune with the rest of the production the staging is elegant in its economy and simplicity. The status of the rocket is always ambigously help so we neither believe nor discount its existence nor its capacity to fly until the final soliloquy.

Layered on top of all these pleasures is the fact that this production is performed in English by non-native English speakers with occasional splashes of Arabic. They do an amazing job and yet of course their inflections and emphasis are unusual, I loved this as much as anything about the play and production. The result is a form of Brechtian effect where you a more conscious of the script and the acting than you would otherwise be. You aren’t complacent in your listening, you aren’t drawn in so much and yet the caracters still live, somehow it fits perfectly with the play’s quality as a parable.

I should probably stop now. Grey Rock seems to be touring a lot in the US at the moment. I hope it will come to the UK and if it does, please go to see it, I’m sure you will fall in love too.

Got to love Fierce!

Thursday, October 17th, 2019

Fierce Festival 2005: The Great Swallow, Benjamin Verdonck from Fierce Festival TV on Vimeo.

Last night I was privileged to be part of In Many Hands a performance conceived by Kate McIntosh and mostly performed by its audience. The premise is fantastically simple – a group of people sit side by side at a long table and pass materials down a line to each other – the unfolding and execution of the idea is very elegant and the choice of materials assured. The minimalism of event allows us, even forces us to think about our relationship with objects, the materiality of materials, the distinction between sight and touch, nature and modern humanity.

Hold on, and extraordinary piece of international performance art, happening in Birmingham, could it be Fierce! time again?

It surely is.


Mutually Exclusive Worlds?

Sunday, September 22nd, 2019

On Friday I met with a PhD student from Japan who has been drawn to Britain to study the plays of Simon Stephens. Prior to arriving in this country her principle connection with British theatre had been through streamed performances such as NT Live but, eager to stretch her knowledge and experience theatre beyond the London stage, she has chosen to study in Birmingham and travel around the country. From these explorations she has developed an informal thesis which she wanted to test out on me. It seems to her that in Britain there is a theatre world in which playwrights write plays that are then staged under the direction of directors and that there is another world in which plays are devised altogether more collectively and that these worlds have absolutely nothing to do with each other. (more…)

We Can Remember It For You Wholesale

Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

Birmingham Wholesale Market occupies a huge site, 28 acres of prime real estate a mere apple’s throw from New Street Station. It seemed inevitable that redevelopment and the commercial imperative would catch up with the vast 1970s concrete warehouses and that time has finally arrived; the traders have moved out, the bulldozers are on the horizon and squeezed in between, to conduct the last rites, are Friction Arts with their performance event Everything Must Go. (more…)


Friday, April 13th, 2018

This – a new performance from Tate n Lyle on Vimeo.

One privilege I have is that people often invite me to art stuff and occasionally I am able to attend. Yesterday at DanceXchange a duo called Timber and Battery shared a work they have in progress called This. Avid followers of this blog will know that I have reservations about the ‘WiP’ concept but this was fun and very much resembled a finished performance.

This is currently a 30-40 minutes long structured improvisation in which two performers explore the fabric and function of two fold-away tables. A time-lapse video (posted above) gives you some sense of what happens but also completely misrepresents the piece.

As audience members we are free to explore, to watch from a distance or come close and inspect how the mass produced objects have gained individuality through use. The performers help us study each table’s detail, the rivets, the hinges, the caps, coated metal and polymer. We have demonstrated to us each table’s geometry, its balance points, movements, squeaks and judders. We watch with concern as the material limits of each table are tested in ways the designers and manufacturers can never have imagined them being tested.

This stripped-down, performance style with its limited vocabulary of isolated words “this”, “that”, “here” is direct and engaging, bringing to mind the playful work of one of my performance heroes Gary Stevens. With the occasional lull I enjoyed This very much.

Afterwards there was a bit of a chat with the artist for which four of us audience stayed to contribute our observations. If This comes near you I’d urge you to see it and tell me what you think.

Black Men Walking in Coventry + Choke

Monday, February 19th, 2018

Coventry is already reaping a dividend from its forthcoming City of Culture status: it’s become a Stan’s Cafe theatrical destination of choice. Last week we were there to see Graeme surfing Chris O’Connell’s script in the Theatre Absolute production Choke and the week before two trips went to the Belgrade Studio to see Tyrone Huggins in Black Men Walking presented by Eclipse Theatre. Both trips reminded me how much I like going to the theatre. (more…)

Rock Hard

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

There’s a gem of a museum embedded in Birmingham University and now this fact has been acknowledged nationally. The Lapworth Museum of Geology has just been shortlisted for the Art Fund Museum of the Year award. Roisin and I went there this afternoon to learn about what all the fuss is about and it turns out the fuss is about a beautifully designed, beautifully laid out museum full of amazing objects. (more…)


Thursday, November 24th, 2016

So here are a few things I like all together in the same place. James Richardson, Constantin Brancusi and the film Arrival.

Richardson for a long time did arch punditry on Italian football for British TV whilst drinking coffee and riffling through the Italian sports press outside cafes in Italy. Now we hosts a twice weekly football punditry podcast from a recording studio in The Guardian offices and runs his own film review series Jimbo Vision hosted on YouTube. Though it’s probably possible to overdose on the urbane shtick I think he is fantastic, the way he references Constantin Brancusi’s Bird in Space in this review of Arrival makes my heart sing. It’s possible to be erudite, cultured, witty, speak two languages fluenty and know a lot about football, this man is the living proof.

He’s not massively keen on Arrival. I was taken to see it over the weekend and thought it was fantastic. It plays to loads of the things I love in art, including spending a good amount of time not quite knowing what’s going on. How many films are there in which a woman saves the world by being very clever?

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