Storefront City London

Archive for the category “See It!”

The Boy Who Climbed Out of His Face

shunt-artwork-Time-Out-528x334WHAT: The Boy Who Climbed Out of His Face
WHEN: 14 Aug-28 Sept, 2014
WHERE: The Jetty
(Greenwich Peninsula, SE10 0FL)
RUNTIME: 45 mins.
WHO: Shunt
PRICE: £10
OUR RATING: Do It!

There’s big business in immersive theatre these days. With the rise of Punchdrunk and consequent rise of ticket prices, Shunt’s The Boy Who Climbed Out of His Face provides the full, rich force of the immersive experience without the outrageous price tag. Beautifully poignant, unsettling and often funny, Shunt uses the space it has excellently and evokes many fantabulous vignettes, in which attention to detail is always evident and caring.

images (10)Adam: After walking some time from the North Greenwich DLR station and leaving behind the more obvious signs of life, I approached what is aptly described as The Jetty, a new riverside venue hosting Shunt, in the old Docklands area. It’s very important that I don’t spoil this incredibly special experience, but from the outset it is clear that clambering through disused shipping containers will be key to your journey.

As you venture deeper into the complex of containers, the bizarreness of the world becomes ever more brazen – highly detailed worlds emerge from the dark to get lost in, while characters top off the surrealism with psychologically challenging performances.

There is something funhouse about the whole performance and it is best experienced by those not afraid to dive in and get involved. Before you know it, the 45 minutes are up, as is the case with many immersive productions. Perhaps some would say it is just too short, but by concentrating their efforts to a confined space and definite vision Shunt creates a believably weird world – one which it was a pleasure to be a part of.

shuntAlicia: Shunt has taken great pains to transform a series of shipping containers into a melange of beautifully absurd stories and environments, taking you outdoors, indoors and within minds all at the same time. It is obvious that a shipping container environment could provide some limitations to a theatre piece due to size constraints and a variety of other factors but this has not stopped this ambitious and risk-taking company in creating a masterful world. While the aesthetics of some of the rooms are breathtaking in their vision, it is really the characters who pull the whole piece together, inviting the audience to explore, consider and question. Again, I don’t want to spoil too much of the show!

shunt4What makes this Shunt show a great experience is that the company invites you for a full night out. When you make your way to The Jetty you immediately step into a pop up BBQ and Cocktail bar complete with entertainment and live music to keep your blood pumping before and after the performance. Chef Matthew Baxter is the man of the hour here, producing sumptuous treats with anything from fish and chips to barbeque ribs and pulled pork. But really, the Long Island Iced Tea with a scoop of fresh coconut ice cream was the crème de la crème of the night.

It will be interesting to see what The Jetty next has in store in regards to pop-up and participative experiences – I’m sure we’ll be back here again soon!

shunt3Final Thoughts: The Boy Who Climbed Out of His Face is your go-to show this month. For a tenner you can get great live music, explore the Greenwich Peninsula, and experience the peculiar and beautiful work Shunt is known for. Shoeless and vulnerable, we suggest you let Shunt guide you through this unique maze of adventure. And make sure to look out for our favorite bit in the last scene. Hint: it has batteries.

Leviathan

WHAT: Leviathan
WHEN: 15th-26th July, 2014
WHERE: Hackney Downs Studios (17 Amhurst Terrace, E8 2BT)
Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 1.03.25 PMRUNTIME: 45 mins.
WHO: Living Structures
PRICE: £16-20

OUR RATING: Skip It!

[Warning: Contains Spoilers]

The hunt for the great white whale. Immersive Theatre-makers Living Structures specialise in  visual, physical and musical performances within large-scale immersive structures, this time attempting to take audiences on an artistic adventure through the high seas.

This time, Storefront City London invited our Visual Arts editor Éimear Doherty (check her bio below) along for the ride:

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 1.03.08 PM

Photo by Angela Alegria

Éimear: My first exposure to Moby Dick was the 1956 film starring Gregory Peck. I remember feeling perplexed and uneasy after the black and white classic…then again, I was only 7 years old, so I forgave myself for not quite picking up on the complexity of the tale and film. Last night, however, I felt a little bit of a failure. No matter how hard I tried, I was unable to completely immerse myself in the experience, too distracted by a litany of questions:

Am I supposed to understand what they are saying?’

‘Why are they pushing me?’

‘What am I supposed to do with this shot of salted water?’

‘What did she say?’

‘Is this theatre or performance art?

I enjoyed the musical element of the performance; the chanting and exercise-ball-percussion brought a dimension to the experience that I think many could enjoy.

Photo from Living Structures

Photo from Living Structures

But Living Structures is known for their ‘immersive performance events’, correct? The audience was ‘immersed’ in parts, but if I am being honest, on too many occasions, I felt coerced. At 9pm, after a balmy day in London, I had experienced my fair share of pushing and shoving for the day. Either this was a play exclusively for Living Structures’ followers, who understood how to ‘perform’ as an attendee, or it aimed to immerse the audience in a space above and beyond their comfort zone.

As someone who enjoys trying new things, I cannot help but shed a positive light on the experience. It certainly did challenge and provoke many a thought. But surely nothing should be that difficult to follow and enjoy. This time, Skip it.

Photo by Angela Alegria

Photo by Angela Alegria

Alicia: Despite being a regular immersive-theatre goer, I had a strikingly similar experience of the performance as did our guest reviewer. Walking into the performance space sent chills down my spine (despite feeling clammy and uncomfortable wearing a version of an oil-skin jacket) as a naked Ishmael swam his way on a downward slope, struggling for survival, struggling to tell his heart-wrenching story. And it was powerful, beautiful, sonically excellent. But then he opened his mouth and the entire show turned for the worse.

Photo by Angela Alegria

Photo by Angela Alegria

There are seeds of beauty – flutters of potential. The use of monochrome colours, geometric shapes and Russian Constructivism are mostly all stunning, the choreography sometimes masterful. And the music? In an entire different league, at least in terms of composition – spectacularly haunting. But these moments are few and far between. The show as a whole feels extremely unpolished and the relationship with the audience completely unclear. It needs tightening here, expanding there, focus everywhere. Not just gimmicks of “Why not make the audience stand up and then push them to the side so they don’t know where you want them?” or “Let’s just put another sheet on top of their heads to play with space and height.” Many theatre makers adopt these types of tools, but never has it been so painfully obvious and obviously misused.

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 1.03.50 PMI commend Living Structures for the graphic and sonal beauty of rare poetically beautiful moments. But the piece overall is just confusing, rushed, and poorly tied together. Words are eaten by the very devices that are meant to project them, water cools and drizzles on the audience when it should spark and ignite their imagination, giant whales are flacid and lifeless when they should be terrifyingly dangerous, the ship sails calm seas when it should be tossed, turned and whipped around by perilous storms and a deadly beast, and large props are dragged here and there leaving one to question – what was it all for?

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 1.02.37 PMFinal Thoughts: While admirably composed and a good effort made, Leviathan simply doesn’t live up to the grandeur required of it. However, we hope to see what the future brings for this inspired company.

P.S. Éimear Doherty Bio:

Éimear is in the final stages of her MA in Arts Policy and Management at Birkbeck University, a project she juggles alongside a number of other projects and passions. Since moving permanently to London in the autumn of 2013, she has endeavoured to attend as much theatre as her time and pocket permits; striving to catch up after years of being immersed in the world of visual arts and art history. When not in the library or kitchen, Éimear can be found on her bike or eyeing up the city’s latest art exhibitions.

Macbeth

macbeth2WHAT: Macbeth
WHEN: 7:40pm-9:30am June – August, 2014 (select dates)
WHERE: Secret Zone 2 Location
RUNTIME: Approx. 14 hours
WHO: RIFT
PRICE:£20-40

OUR RATING: Do It!

(Warning, contains some spoilers)

A great Eastern European Banquet. Blood. Murder. The infamous Scottish play comes to life in a secret Zone 2 location. Billed as an immersive theatre piece, the performance takes place from dusk ‘til dawn, RIFT (formerly known as Retz) invites audiences to enter the rift and be transported to spend the night in a murderous building undergoing a series of intense political, emotional and moral conflicts.

macbeth1

Adam: Entering into the world of RIFT’s Macbeth is a hauntingly beautiful, spine-tingling and an (occasionally nervous) laughter-filled adventure. Begin by being whisked into a dark, dangerous void only to emerge into a dimly lit realm of intrigue and vice. The set, real rooms in a undisclosed building, is immense and meticulously dressed, while the acting convincing and consistent. Enter suites aptly named “Fife”, “Edinburgh” and so on, each holding a special scene just for you.

Credit RIFT

Credit RIFT

Different to most immersive events, narrative is no lost in scenic design as with recent Punchdrunk shows and is central to your experience. Don’t worry, you won’t miss anything as you are well looked-after (just watch out for the occasional blood-spatter). Interspersed with the action, you’ll have ample opportunities to mingle with fellow guests over many delicious beverages, but make sure you change enough money at the checkpoint on the way in.

My only minor concern (or should I call it confusion) was the choice to base the play in a stereotypical Eastern European/Balkan country called Borduria (which I believe is derived from the Tintin comics) rather than in pure Scotland. I partly find this an unfortunate decision, as Scotland was referred to by cast members often, even when not part of the original play. I feel that perhaps the organisers were subconsciously influenced by the 2007 version of Macbeth at the Chichester Festival Theatre, which was heavily based upon Stalinist Russia. Nevertheless, commitment to accents and characters was brilliant and not to be missed.

Credit RIFT

Credit RIFT

Alicia: What truly made this performance unique for me as a regular theatre (and immersive theatre)-goer was the element of personal engagement allowed for and nourished during the production. We were taken along with five other individuals into the first scene, and these were the five individuals we spent the rest of the night with, led by a group guide Natasha, who’s wit and delivery of comic responses to certain situations was absolutely classic! Natasha and the nurturing of the group dynamic created a little family of adventurers (many of us accidental illegal immigrants to the country of Borduria). Encompassing a broad range of unexpected genres – from moments of comedy to the clear dark tones of this tragedy – RIFT transported our entire group through an intimate, chaotic and tension filled epic.

The meal was also quite unexpected. I won’t go into the specifics and ruin the surprise, but RIFT definitely provided a sumptuous feast – and even if you are the most outrageous carnivore I bet you you’ll enjoy the bounteous vegetarian supper! This meal was yet another opportunity to engage with other audience members and the cast, who never once slipped from their characters despite sporting Eastern European accents for countless hours.

Credit RIFT

Credit RIFT

I must caution ye all, potential audiences of Macbeth, that this adventure is not without its dangers. I’m not quite sure it passes all of the safety requirements of a large-scale production, and I can feel my foot still throbbing from a raised doorstep and no cautions to watch my step. And if you don’t like stairs, this probably isn’t the production for you either. Nonetheless, I must say I think the level of attention put into such things was mostly acceptable, and I applaud their conversion of the site into their own unique realm without worrying about unnecessary bells and whistles some companies spend a fortune on.

macbeth5Final Thoughts: We say do it – but don’t get your hopes up too much about immersion lasting from dusk to dawn. The overnight aspect of the performance is not much more than a gimmick, with the performance lasting until 1am or so and with the only morning wrap up being a bit of food, a few minutes of acting and a forced prompt to survey the view from the roof. And make sure you are up for a late night when you opt-in to this, or if you really are tired when the acting ends and the night’s celebration begins, make sure you are proactive about telling the attendants you want to go to sleep – they don’t really make this option clear when the night starts to wind down.

Despite these pitfalls, you really do get your bang for your buck with this production, with hours of personal and engaging performance paired with a delicious feast and the opportunity to share a unique experience with those around you, and the supporting cast of guides and the amazing Alexander Luttley really do make you feel like you exist and matter in this new world. Just watch out about the first impressions you give off – nicknames will stick like glue!

Venice Preserv’d

VenicePreservdWHAT: Venice Preserv’d
WHEN: April 24th – 8th June, 2014
WHERE: Paynes & Borthwick (SE8 3JF)
RUNTIME: Approx. 215 min
WHO: The Spectators’ Guild
PRICE: £10-45

OUR RATING: Do It!

Encounter the brilliance of Italian piazzas and the wonder of celebration in San Marco Square as The Spectators’ Guild’s carnival parade leads you through the streets of maritime Greenwich to Paynes & Borthwick Wharf – a bustling Venetian metropolis. Welcome to The Most Serene Republic and the site for Thomas Otway’s tale of corruption, friendship and love.

Credit Johan Persson

Credit Johan Persson

Adam: As masked revelers flit past me, exchanging tales of what is to come excitedly while waving the flag bearing the Lion of St. Mark, one is immediately plunged into the vivacious and watery carnival atmosphere. Moving between elaborate sets, sometimes sitting, sometimes standing and always experiencing, the audience is captivated by Charlotte Westenra’s immaculate presentation of this classic tale.

Credit Johan Persson

Credit Johan Persson

For a 17th century Restorationist play, Venice Preserv’d explores the extremely current topics of mega-wealth, the corrupt elite and whether violence is a solution to a nation’s ills. Indeed, Venice is often used as an apt parallel for London, and while Otway was merely hinting at such analogies, The Spectators’ Guild is explicit (after all, the site for the production is an under-construction series of pluto-flats).

Credit Johan Persson

Credit Johan Persson

The torn Jaffeir (Ashley Zhangazha) must choose between committing an act of mass murder (terrorism? freedom fighting?) against the Senate of Venice at the bidding of his friend Pierre (Ferdinand Kingsley), or spare them at the urging of his wife Belvedera (Jessie Buckley), whose father just happens to be a senator himself – Priuli (Emilio Doorgasingh – whom you may remember from the latest season of Game of Thrones). Powerfully delivered lines immerse you in the world of greed tempered by honour – thrillingly brilliant!

Credit Johan Persson

Credit Johan Persson

The City of Bridges is brought even closer by the carefully curated elements that let you know The Spectators’ Guild is one to watch. Pounds are exchanged for authentically reproduced ducats (at least to this partially trained eye), while delicious Italian wine flows freely into magnificent goblets. The only drawback to the fare on offer was the food, but when you consider the spectacular and heartfelt effort put into the rest of the work this slight oversight seems of little importance.

Credit Johan Persson

Credit Johan Persson

Alicia: At the start of the performance I was a little wary, with the gathering point and the long promenade through the streets of Greenwich a little more slight than I expected. Yet, it is worth noting the level of interaction mandated by such an extensive parade route, and it was ultimately enticing to see the integration of a Venetian world into the threads of the local area, from gondolas gliding through Deptford’s waters to a pedal-powered Popemobile navigating the pedestrian walkways. It was always lovely to see such spontaneous interaction between the performers and any locals we encountered, and the actors were not afraid to change things up a little and think on their feet.

Credit Johan Persson

Credit Johan Persson

Yet, the entire endeavour would have been brought to the next level if the audience had been pushed more to come in costume. I was over-the-moon to see that the company suggests more affordable options at costuming, mirroring the economically accessible ticket prices (such a world of difference from Punchdrunk and Secret Cinema), and it was finally great to see a company like this collaborate with costume and transportation companies to facilitate the audience experience. Yet, no one really dressed up at all, making the experience a little weaker than it otherwise could have been.

SGvenicepres2014JP-05267All of this aside, the night just kept getting better and better, with great set integration into the venue by Helen Scarlett O’Neill with a lovely mix of Venetian luxury, industrial simplicity and awe-inspiring installations. This paired with moving performances from both Buckley and Zhangazha, this show is definitely an amazing collaboration between classic stagecraft and site responsive event theatre.

Credit Johan Persson

Credit Johan Persson

Final Thoughts: Be sure to check out the company’s videos on making ruffs, headdresses and capes from anything from bin bags to plastic to complement your journey to the Venetian canals. Ultimately, Venice Preserv’d is an electrifying and rebellious piece of site specific theatre interspersed with elements from the commedia dell’arte and infused with spectacular showmanship.

P.S.: If you’d like to take a look over the script, here’s a great edition to pick up: Venice Preserv’d

The Rise and Fall of Geo Goynes

WHAT: The Rise and Fall of Geo Goynes
WHEN: March 19 – 22, 2014
rootexperienceWHERE: St. James Theatre (12 Palace Street, SW1E 5JA)
RUNTIME: Approx. 120 min
WHO: Root Experience
PRICE: £8

OUR RATING: Do It!

[vimeo 83862854]

“Secret….agent man. Secret….agent man!”

Okay, alright, maybe forget the song. But the 007 theme song or something similar might definitely buzz through your head while you are plunged into a new, challenging and adrenaline-filled world on a secret mission to protect each and every one of your fellow men and women.

Geo-Goynes-478x359Alicia: Root Experience is an interactive theatre company that devises performances based on “a structure that invites debate, direction and inclusion” from audiences, with an aim to have both audiences and actors feel fully present in the work at each and every moment. Although many of their workshops and performances have been in Brighton, this particular experience (in development) has traveled to both Brighton Digital Festival and York Theatre Royal, and now right to the heart of London.

Storefront City had the opportunity to test the waters with this show in development, merging gameplay and technology and allowing you to make choices that shape your own experience. Communicating through headsets, you encounter different people around the city and literally take part in writing the script to your own story (let’s just say I’m not very eloquent when put on the spot), sometimes working individually and sometimes in teams to pursue targets, monitor actions or even go undercover and attach yourself to the evil-doers.

In The Rise and Fall of Geo Goynes, London becomes the backdrop to an adventure for truth and for those who know it, sell it, and use it to suit their own purposes. Welcome to 2017. A new era where your friends start to report strange feelings of foresight, where future events are predicted and identities transformed. Where no one is safe from the all seeing eyes, and when the future becomes the present, and the present a mission for survival.

Adam: Have you ever been asked to find a manila envelope taped to some inconspicuous location? How about distracting someone while obtaining information vital for your survival? If this is all too Spooks for you, then perhaps you won’t enjoy The Rise and Fall of Geo Goynes. If, on the other hand, you’re like me you can’t get enough of spies and spying, then you’re in for a ride, sans the Walther PPK.

Placed in a small group, your team must work together to solve the mystery of Geo Goynes. I really don’t want to spoil it for you, but if you’ve ever wanted to play spy, this is a must for you. Fool the surveillance, try to deploy and virus, all while working out what it all means…

In this world, Root Experience welcomes you to contribute to the path that lies ahead of you, and while you might feel out of your comfort zone every once in awhile, you never feel unsafe or manipulated by the events you find yourself immersed in. But you are certainly an active participant and the mission would surely not go on without you.

Make sure to bundle up if it looks cold outside, because this show is entirely on the street…and don’t talk to strangers!

Final Thoughts: Explore London in a way you never have before and be prepared to play with others in this ultimate conspiratorial adventure!

P.S. Unfortunately, this show is now sold out, but we’re sure The Rise and Fall of Geo Goynes or other adventures by Root Experience will come around soon!

Rodelinda

WHAT: Rodelinda
WHEN: February 28 – March 15, 2014
WHERE: London Coliseum (St. Martin’s Lane, Charing Cross, WC2N 4ES)
RUNTIME: 210 min (w/ 2 intervals)
WHO: English National Opera & Bolshoi Theatre of Russia
PRICE: £12-99

OUR RATING: Chance It?

Handel’s Rodelinda has thrown the Storefront City team into quite a conundrum. Usually so agreeable, we both had different ideas about how successful this production was and so have put an unusual question mark after our above rating. The opera seria in three acts by George Frideric Handel was composed in 1725 and with a libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym.

An epic story of love, loss and loyalty, Rodelinda opens with the King of Milan, Bertarido (Iestyn Davies), being exiled from his kingdom by the usurper Grimoaldo (John Mark Ainsley), who thinks him dead. The eponymous Rodelinda (Rebecca Evans), wife of Bertarido, is locked away by Grimoaldo, who wishes to coerce her into marriage and thus solidify his rule over the city. Little does Grimoaldo know that Bertarido is very much alive and ready to reclaim his throne.

Adam: Technically excellent singing marks out ENO productions as a true treat, mellifluous notes always so well delivered and players willing to give their all to the performance. The music is glorious, but directorial decisions tended to distract from the overall quality of the experience.

Photo credit: © Clive Barda/ArenaPAL

Photo credit: © Clive Barda/ArenaPAL

As with all ENO productions, Rodelinda is presented here in English, which serves to allow the audience to better understand the content, albeit at some expense to the original beauty of the Italian. This understanding, however, can lead to severe directorial limitations – as was the case here. Richard Jones often emphasised the acting out of repeated lines, leading to a confusion between the comedic and dramatic tension. Were the lines supposed to be clowned, or is this an effect of the translation? I will leave this up to the audience, but it certainly leads to a strange introduction of comedy into an opera that was truly attempting to be dramatic.

Photo credit: © Clive Barda/ArenaPAL

Photo credit: © Clive Barda/ArenaPAL

That being said, an excellent array of characters made for an enrapturing evening. Conducted by the incomparable Christian Curnyn, the orchestra conjured the scene before us with spectacular Handelian melodies. At centre stage was Rebecca Evans in the title role, relishing every aria and reaching every note. Iestyn Davies’ fantastic countertenorial skill made for a perfect pairing with Evans, and showcased the pure talent on the ENO stage.

Photo credit: © Clive Barda/ArenaPAL

Photo credit: © Clive Barda/ArenaPAL

Alicia: The first two acts of the ENO’s Rodelinda, were, I dare say, an elegant mess. The ENO has a reputation as the ‘House of Handel’, but ‘awkward’ and ‘underwhelming’ are the final words that come to my mind regarding the production. I am awed at the ridiculous and random staging the poor, talented singers have to go through while performing, and that they are able to do such things while controlling their voice.

Photo credit: © Clive Barda/ArenaPAL

Photo credit: © Clive Barda/ArenaPAL

My first problem, specifically, was the lack of efficient thread-tracking. Loyalty is important in this story, and to symbolise this, director Richard Jones implements both tattooing (which is apparently a clean and bloodless event in his world) and blood-binding. You see these things happening, but there’s not as much meat to them as there could be, and you’re left wondering why they even bother with starting threads if they’re not going to do something with them.

Photo credit: © Clive Barda/ArenaPAL

Photo credit: © Clive Barda/ArenaPAL

Instead, these actions are really just some of the many choreographed motions randomly created on stage to entertain and distract the audience during the arias. I get this – arias are the majority of the opera and you can’t just have a single person on stage singing without anything else happening. But instead of some more nuanced staging, there is instead overly-dramatic and almost laughable moments that were downright distracting in a superbly uncomfortable way.

Photo credit: © Clive Barda/ArenaPAL

Photo credit: © Clive Barda/ArenaPAL

However, I must admit that the set and staging ultimately redeemed themselves in a few scenes, the loveliest of them all being the duet between Rodelinda and Bertarido in Act 2 Scene 7, “lo t’abbraccio”. The staging and set paired beautifully as the set dismantled in front of the audiences’ eyes just as the two lovers were forced apart from one another.

Photo credit: © Clive Barda/ArenaPAL

Photo credit: © Clive Barda/ArenaPAL

Final Thoughts: For all the errors in staging and direction, Rodelinda is a beautiful and moving opera. If you can get your hands on one of the cheaper tickets, this is an absolutely must see for any serious opera fan.

P.S.: For another version of this spectacular opera, why not try the Metropolitan Opera production of Rodelinda from 2012, now available on DVD.

London, Underground

vaults2WHAT: London, Underground
WHEN: February 28 & March 1, 2014 (10:30pm-3am)
WHERE: The Vaults, Waterloo (Leake Street, SE1 7NN)
WHO: The nabokov Arts Club
PRICE: £15 (Advance) – £18 (Door)

OUR RATING: Do It!

vaults1

Welcome to VAULT, a six week festival of arts and entertainment (Jan 28 – Mar 8) produced by the Heritage Arts Company in the labyrinth of tunnels and caverns underneath Waterloo Station. And then there’s Vault LATES, late night events Thu-Sat that vary anywhere from silent discos to burlesque debauchery and even some Mardi Gras celebrations.

Storefront City helped The nabokov Arts Club celebrate their 5th Birthday at VAULT Festival last night at London, Underground, a two-night extravaganza of live art. You can celebrate too if you get down underground tonight beneath Waterloo Station. It’s time to explore!

Adam: Lights string into the depths of the passageways that make up the vast edifice which is The Vaults. Striking out into the the chaotic milieu of plays, live music and revellers, its easy to get lost in the fantasy world beneath the concrete of London’s streets. Alternative, yet not threatening, London, Underground provided a veritable playground for the artistic spirit within all of us. The heads of Guardsmen with neon skin tones give you a royal honour guard whenever you walk the main hall, whilst innumerable clouds waft overhead in The Light Bar. Smaller venue alcoves line the tunnel, so go ahead and take your pick!

2014-03-01 01.13.27Starting with “The Pit”, the first alcove to your left upon entry, I was delighted to be treated to two plays. First up was Plums by Luke Barnes, which brings you the story of two lovers whose hidden secrets are both touching and disturbing. This was followed up by This Isn’t A Thing, Right by Lolly Jones, a tale of sexual comfortability, longing and luck. While very well received by the audience (Lolly Jones is currently a viral video star), I didn’t connect with the piece as well as I would have liked.

Unfortunately, we missed the headline act, 3RUN vs Bellatrix, an immersive free running and beatbox experience, which was very disappointing. This is due mainly to signage within The Vaults, which was few and far between, with Storefront City only discovering the small runsheet once the headline performance was over. Perhaps this is in keeping with The Vaults eclectic and immersive styling, but further signage and direction in future would be helpful.

King Porter Stomp

King Porter Stomp

Alicia: Live theatre, music, cabaret, comedy, poetry and visual art explode underground, all mashed together in an extreme balance of intimate performance and all-out party. If you don’t feel like sitting down and watching one of the many live performances and instead want to take advantage of a wild and crazy weekend night, enter The Light Bar for all your live music needs. Earlier on in the night you can get low with Dizraeli & Downlow’s hip-hop set, or later you can experience live funk, ska, dub and hip hop from King Porter Stomp, an 8 piece blend of horns, heavy bass and lyrics. As the night goes on and the party gets kicking, the whole venue sets its sights on the last act of the night, a DJ set by the Mystery Jets.

Yet the highlight of the night was Symphony, a collaboration with new writing company nabokov and playwrights Ella Hickson, Nick Payne and Tom Wells, which has been playing in The Vaults since Feb 18. Theatre meets live gig in The Cage with 3 short plays, a mix of stories told through music and spoken word, directed by Joe Murphy with music by Ed Gaughan, and with amazingly talented performances by Remy Beasley, Jack Brown, Iddon Jones and Adam Sopp.

Symphony

Symphony

The format is unique, yet inviting, with the audience ushered into a room of musicians. But when the door closes behind you, the simple gig transforms a fusion of plays and songs, an electric synthesis of mediums that mimics the varied talents and fluctuating roles of the four performers. We were drawn into all three of their pieces on the night (one of the reasons we missed out on 3RUN  and Bellatrix), including Jonesy by Tom Wells (a tumultuous and hilarious vignette of an asthmatic teenage boy in P.E.), A Love Song for the People of London by Ella Hickson (a tale of unrequited love and awkward meetings on public transport) and My Thoughts On Leaving You by Nick Payne (a story of relationships and mistakes, with the requisite amount of alcoholic declarations of love, sombreros and bathroom stall hookups). If I wouldn’t have known the background to the performance, I would have assumed this quartet had always been an ensemble and that the pieces were all created by them. The sets were amazingly cohesive, and the performances both charming and intoxicating.

Final Thoughts: Awesome venue? Check! Live arts? Check! Fantastic night? Double Check! London, Underground is just the kind of event the city needs more of, so get there before it closes so you can be part of the experience.

P.S. Can’t make London, Underground? Or perhaps the ticket price is a little steep for you? Not to worry! Tickets to other shows are as little as £7.50, and you can even stop by Tuesday and Wednesday nights for free live music and comedy.

Ballad of the Burning Star

WHAT: Ballad of the Burning Star
WHEN: February 17 – March 2, 2014
WHERE: Battersea Arts Centre (Lavender Hill, SW11 5TN)
RUNTIME: 80 minutes (no intermission)
WHO: Theatre Ad Infinitum
PRICE: £12-15

OUR RATING: Chance It!

A cabaret extravaganza about Israel-Palestine? We know, we can sense your skepticism, but Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Ballad of the Burning Star packs a punch through drama, humour and a new take on the reality that is the Middle East conflict. Hosted by the talented Nir Paldi, who plays your cabaret MC named Star, this all-singing all-dancing review of the horrors war brings to all it touches reminds us that even in the bleakest times art will prevail.

'Ballad of the Burning Star'

‘Ballad of the Burning Star’

Adam: In dealing with controversial subjects, especially war, one must be extremely careful in the arts. Performing arts, though a perfect vehicle for the conveyance of a stylised version of conflict, often blur the lines between reality and fiction, truth and fantasy. We live in a television age that brings us war on a daily basis to our sitting-rooms, making us aware, but always disconnected from, the actual event. I am pleased to say that Ballad bridges the gap between stylisation and reality perfectly, providing a thoroughly riveting experience.

Theatre Ad Infinitum's 'Ballad-of-the-Burning-Star'. Photo by Alex Brenner

Theatre Ad Infinitum’s ‘Ballad-of-the-Burning-Star’. Photo by Alex Brenner

Our drag diva Star tells the story of the life of an Israeli boy coming of age. Directing a troupe of troops, key moments are reenacted, replete with laughter and silent horror. Sometimes devastating, sometimes challenging and always cabaret, the audience experiences life at an individual level so often lost in tales of armed hostilities.

This show has been challenged in the past as being anti-Israel (especially during it’s run in Edinburgh). But it is clearly more nuanced than people give it credit for. Above all, Ballad is about the undeniably negative effect war has on both sides, whether the combatants are soldiers or non-state actors. In a way, this cabaret is as much about healing as about conflict – and choosing to move on towards a more peaceful future.

Alicia: One thing’s for sure – Ballad of the Burning Star is not lacking in talent, and the most lasting impression I had for the entire performance was awe at how physically exhausting the choreography was, and how tight the ensemble work was along with it (both with and without the charming/formidable Nir Paldi). This pairs well with the company’s mission for harnessing the universal language of the body in their performance. The skillful musicianship of Adam Pleeth was also a delightful component and really brought the story to life.

Theatre Ad Infinitum's 'Ballad-of-the-Burning-Star'. Photo by Alex Brenner

Theatre Ad Infinitum’s ‘Ballad-of-the-Burning-Star’. Photo by Alex Brenner

Yet, there were two fatal flaws in this production that left me disconnected and wanting for something more. The first was the relationship between the cast and the audience. The performance was intimate and powerful, but sitting on a steep rake in the lovely BAC building – well, even sitting a few metres away was too far. Looking down on the actors and the action felt terribly inappropriate, and I know I would have got a lot more out of the entire affair if the set up was actually, well, more cabaret! The second problem was the voice level and speed of the script…I couldn’t understand key parts of the narrative, and because of this, no matter how versed in this political history I may or may not be, I completely lost my way numerous times, which took me entirely out of the show over and over again.

Theatre Ad Infinitum's 'Ballad-of-the-Burning-Star'. Photo by Alex Brenner

Theatre Ad Infinitum’s ‘Ballad-of-the-Burning-Star’. Photo by Alex Brenner

There were highlights of course, one specific evocative moment being the song of the history of Jewish persecution, over which Nir Paldi adds some biting remarks. And the gradual transformation of Paldi from Diva to Dictator (/victim?) is exactly what you might ask for at this kind of satirical cabaret. However, despite the fascinating mismatch between the show’s script and form and the company’s worthy vision for these types of global stories, I left the show mostly unsatisfied.

Final Thoughts: A wonderful pairing of politics and parody, Ballad of the Burning Star will entertain and educate. Certain choices in the staging and voice-projection unfortunately let this production down, but we are sure these could be corrected in the future.

P.S.: For an optimistic and thorough treatment of the Israel-Palestine conflict, we recommend Israel / Palestine by Alan Dowty. Some good background if you’d like to learn more after viewing the performance.

Future Cinema presents ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’

WHAT: Who Framed Roger Rabbit
WHEN: February 14 – February 23, 2014
WHERE: The Troxy (490 Commercial Road, E1 0HX)
RUNTIME: 180 to 240 minutes
WHO: Future Cinema
PRICE: £34.30-47.10

OUR RATING: Do It!

Los Angeles. 1947. The sound of streetcars, jazz and big band. Hollywood.

Standing in a queue down a dark alleyway next to The Troxy, a stunning art deco building built in 1933, one is immediately transported through the decades to the 1940s, dressed elaborately in post-war fashion and buzzing with anticipation for a bit of swing dancing, a little big band, and a lot of…cartoons?

Future Cinema, a live events company that specialises in bringing the cinema experience to life in a fusion of performance, film, multimedia, design and a wealth of interactive encounters, brings Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to The Troxy stage, immersing audiences in the fantastical and comedic world where live action meets animation, and where private detective Eddie Valiant investigates a murder involving the famous (and hilarious) cartoon character, Roger Rabbit.

Alicia: Future Cinema has produced other shows at The Troxy, but Who Framed Roger Rabbit? really wouldn’t belong anywhere else. It was a perfect representation of the film’s Ink & Paint Club, which itself was a nod to the Harlem nightclub The Cotton Club, a famous go-to spot during the Prohibition Era. Today, the venue is used for anything from weddings to live music to sporting events, and is a drop-dead gorgeous spot for anything it hosts. If you think the place is lovely on the outside, your senses are overwhelmed by the majesty of the interior, with art deco fan carpeting, interiors of purple, turquoise and cream, massive chandeliers, sweeping staircases, and a general opulent decor that is magnified impressively with theatrical lighting. Walking in, you are struck with awe.

Credit: Future Cinema

Credit: Future Cinema

Before walking in however, the experience started with the Toon Patrol, Future Cinema’s take on the crazy bullying weasels from the film, who roamed the alley interrogating the audience, clad in their colourful zoot suits and complete with maniacal laughter. Upon entering the club, you were even stopped by good ol’ Bongo, the gorilla bouncer from the movie. Let’s just say the password wasn’t the famed ‘Walt sent me,’ but the interaction with Bongo is a riot.

Credit: Future Cinema

Credit: Future Cinema

The interactive experience continued throughout the night, from conversations with Marvin Acme, crazy antics from the penguin waitstaff, and a hilarious conversation I had with R. K. Maroon about not showing up Bugs in a new film we’re making. I’m really not a fan of having conversations with actors in this kind of interactive experience (I like to be left alone and observe, usually), but I tried to let myself go and become one of the Hollywood elite, allowing myself to become immersed and becoming a character myself.

Credit: Future Cinema

Credit: Future Cinema

The tie-in to the film was even lovelier with cabaret acts reminiscent of those in the movie, such as the ever-necessary “Why Don’t You Do Right?” by Jessica Rabbit herself and a marvelous rendition of “Hungarian Rhapsody (Dueling Pianos)”. There was some odd talent outsourcing, where people from the audience were invited up as part of the talent show…which, in concept, was nice, but in execution was a little strange. Otherwise, this was a perfect manipulation of the Ink & Paint Club from the film, and really brought the entire experience to life in a whirl of fantastical comedy.

Credit: Future Cinema

Credit: Future Cinema

Adam: I must say that I entered Future Cinema’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with a bit of trepidation. Would they be able to pull it off? I’ve been to immersive events before, from in-cinema cult classics to elaborately staged Punchdrunk. Some of the initial viewer reviews were less than positive – would this experience measure up? Thankfully, I’m pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience, full of the gleeful fun the movie is so well known for.

Credit: Laura Little

Credit: Laura Little

Tables lined the repurposed Troxy, now the Ink & Paint Club, whilst actors roamed the venue, looking for newcomers on whom to try out their routines. Once we had seen the pre-show entertainment, the movie began in all its 1940s glory, whilst actors representing the famous characters occasionally picked up from the movie. You were literally in the club, with everyone from Eddie, to Roger to Jessica all around you.

Credit: Hanson Leatherby

Credit: Hanson Leatherby

Before the film is in full swing, you’ll probably want to pick up some grub. A wide variety of offerings are available including French dips, pulled pork sandwiches, apple pie, carrot cake, mac and cheese and a carrot in a bun for all you rabbits out there. Be warned: the food and drink prices are steep when you take into account admission (French dip will cost you £7, whilst cocktails are £8). Still, one can take advantage of the numerous toppings and you can easily feed two people on a French dip if you are generous with your pickles, sauerkraut and red onions.

Once you’ve munched through your food and the movie is at an end, the whole club takes on a new atmosphere as tables are cleared and revelers move to the dance floor for some 40s-style clubbing. So get swinging and dance!

Final Thoughts: A new take on a classic movie, Future Cinema’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is a unique experience that is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Although more highly priced than previous Future Cinema events, going with the right attitude gives you your money’s worth. Be warned: seating is first come, first serve, so get there early and snag a table up front to avoid disappointment. And remember, ‘[Roger’s] whole purpose in life is to make… people… laugh!” so laugh your heart out with the toons at this whimsical event.

P.S.: If you can’t get over to The Troxy for this immersive event, pick up a copy of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and see what all the fuss is about.

Hidden Show: The Good Neighbour

WHAT: Hidden Show: The Good Neighbour
WHEN: December 6 – January 4, 2013/2014
WHERE: Battersea Arts Centre (Lavender Hill, SW11 5TN)
RUNTIME: 135 to 160 minutes (no intermission)

WHO: Battersea Arts Centre
PRICE: £12-19.50

OUR RATING: Chance It!

Put on your thinking cap and channel your inner Sherlock with Battersea Arts Centre’s Hidden Show: The Good Neighbour. Complete with mystery and magic, this immersive theatre adventure impels you to delve into curious mysteries and discover fantastical characters, leaving audiences inspired, awed and heart-warmed.

Credit: BAC

Credit: BAC

Alicia: The Good Neighbour is a parent’s daydream. BAC offers audiences two choices of adventure, one being geared toward families with young children (6+), and the other specifically for audiences without the little ones who want an adventure just for themselves (14+; specifically entitled The Hidden Show: The Good Neighbour). All groups (led by an actor) are trying to solve the same mystery, but the groups diverge every now and again, with special stories catering to their specific audiences. Inspired by the historic 1909 fire at the Clapham Junction department store Arding and

Hobbs, audiences explore and investigate the mystery of George Neighbour, who has lost his memory and needs his fellow explorers to delve into the hidden chambers of BAC to search its history and find the pieces of his life’s puzzle.

Photo by James Allen

Photo by James Allen

It was quite lovely to sit in a room full of excited families, ready and willing to solve this great mystery. Yet, being part of the adult show, our group was separated from nine other children’s groups, sometimes being sole adventurers and sometimes running into the other groups and sharing beautiful experiences with them. One of the best moments of these shared experiences was in the

Momentorium, a room full of moments and memories, of bright light and the slow dripping of water. A momentologist had just finished showing us the film of a person’s memories, a home video full of illumination, laughter and family. As the momentologist was about to show another home video full of another person’s loving moments in life, a young boy, approximately six years old, said, “That was beautiful. I think this one’s going to be beautiful too.” I swear to you, the most magical moment of the whole night. Despite being part of the more adult group at times, I was thankful to have experienced moments with these developing minds, and to witness the imagination and inspiration flooding forth.

Photo by James Allan

Photo by James Allan

Our group traversed the entirety of the arts centre, knocking on hidden doors, crawling through passages and even discovering trap doors and hidden momentos. At times, I really did feel like Alice delving into the curiosities of Wonderland, finding hidden messages on blank pieces of paper, talking with lightbulbs and watching the dreams of a Japanese bee. Other great moments were being ogled at by patrons of the BAC who were just minding their own business in the cafe or sitting room, and who were suddenly interrupted by our intrusive investigative team on a rampage for answers.

Photo by James Allan

Photo by James Allan

Adam: Beautifully orchestrated and imaginatively conceived, Hidden Show: The Good Neighbour takes around 10% of the audience on a more adult, behind-the-scenes tour of the children’s version, which runs side-by-side. Immersive theatre has had a massive boost recently, with the acceptance of Punchdrunk as mainstream and audiences clamouring for all-surrounding sensational experiences to take them away from the daily grind. In this respect, Hidden Show: The Good Neighbour is successful, but mainly for children.

Photo by James Allan

Photo by James Allan

Why do I say this? Because in order for such immersive experiences to be successful, one must feel thrust wholly into it believably – and being talked down to doesn’t achieve this. Honestly, I’m being too harsh as I really enjoyed the overall experience. I played to them, allowing myself to be immersed (or was I forcing myself?). This allowed me to get a lot out of it, but I would guess others in my group would have discovered less wonder than I.

In fact, at one moment, I was allowed to lead the group to the next scene by reading the instruction on a clue. Luckily, I took this seriously and spoke up, allowing everyone to hear – which cannot be said for the other leaders who got us hopelessly lost. Again, one needs to want to be involved, which was not the case for the other leaders.

Photo by James Allan

Photo by James Allan

The world created inside BAC is exciting and interesting, but doesn’t have the majesty of other immersive shows I’ve experienced. I was also highly suggest that the actors vary their performances dependent on the age of their audience: there’s nothing worse than being spoken to as if one were on Wizadora. If you have children this will be a treat, but otherwise only go if you have an imagination!

Final Thoughts: Families with young ones will find this an amazing explorative adventure full of wonder and delight. Meanwhile, adventurers sans-kids might want to reconsider this forey.

P.S.: For more great kids’ theatre, why not check out The Silent Language at Storefront City Chicago.

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