Friday, September 28, 2018

Tiptree: No One Else's Damn Secret But My Own - Headpictures

James Tiptree Jr. is quick-witted, sharp-tongued, 'ineluctably masculine' celebrated science fiction writer, and first female photo intelligence officer for the US army. His name was born from a jar of marmalade.

Headpictures gracefully tells the compelling story of the extraordinary talent of Alice Sheldon, better known as Tiptree; the American writer who redefined the science fiction genre, and the reader's concept of masculinity in literature at the same time. This one-woman show is a beautifully simple set-up; sometimes Tiptree is more Tiptree and sometimes they are more Alice - but they speak with such fluency and sophistication that they're simultaneously suave and coarse-mammered, all the more charismatic for the both.
At times Tiptree's story is comical, at times poignant, spanning Alice's days at finishing school and the turbulent first marriage in her youth, to her role in the US army as a photo intelligence officer, to her discovery of a hugely successful literary voice under Tiptree's name.

The show acts as a wonderfully engaging performative biography, and asks us where our identity lies when we change our name, our signature, our gender - what voice is it we all have in common,  and what is it that truly needs to be said?

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Bizarre Hour (Almost Live) - Spaniel in the Works Theatre Company

The Bizarre Hour - Almost Live - Spaniel In The Works Theatre Company

Ever wondered how to kill a Chinese vampire? No, I hadn't neither. That's not to say that a kid-like insistence to know exactly how didn't surface, though -  and John Bassett enlightened us all with admirable zeal.

Emanating Mad Uncle vibes, John stalks up and down the stage, gesticulating wildly between clicks on his laptop and adjustments of the sound deck. Perhaps, the audience thinks, he might have benefitted from a technician or an assistant, if only to enable his effervescent energy to exert its full impact on everyone in the room. Certainly, though, the computer stands not only as a cumbersome necessity, but as a game in itself - enter Six Degrees of Wikipedia.

An activity not traditionally synonymous with entertainment - extensive Wikipedia trawling - becomes an utter delight; we travelled all the way from Hell Hounds, through Babylonian Folklore, foraying briefly into Playboy, and then finished with a flourish (and considerable sense of achievement) at Donald Trump. Admittedly, this is something that lends itself equally to the armchair as the Subscription Rooms - but the addition of a room full of strangers waggling their arms and a continuous stream of witty patter adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. I'd pay for that.

For anyone who's into history, politics, engineering, philosophy, literature, theology, music, International Relations, or, well, anything really - this show is a treat. Encore!

Oh, and a hint about the vampires: it's rice.

Written by Grace Spencer

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Schutte the Unromantic - Katy Schutte

Schutte the Unromantic - Katy Schutte

Right from the get-go, Katy Schutte, self-proclaimed 'catastrophist', engages and enthrals her audience. Avoiding the all-too-common comedy mishap of milking a moment for too long, this show instead offers a non-stop patter of witty remarks, peppered exhilaratingly with twists and turns. Oh, and a few tubes of Love Hearts thrown in for good measure...

The good old-fashioned mixtape, a reliably beloved but perhaps generationally exclusive prop, becomes the vehicle through which Schutte recounts her romantic history. From secondary-school boyfriend, to University antics, to messy and farcical 'adult' relationships, she has a song for it all. Some impressive rapping skills surface at several points, the lyrics of which would be better omitted here. But take my word for it, it was pretty awe-inspiring. And Schutte's talent isn't limited to rehearsed material, or even to the stage; she seemed confident in improvising, quipping at the audience's behaviour, and, much to everyone's delight, parted with her boombox at one point to waltz with an audience member. Bravo!

Her show isn't all pop songs and wisecracks, though; there are some moments of genuine feeling, conveyed with admirable vulnerability and honesty. We learn of her brother's life-changing diagnosis, for example, which, as well as providing some pretty illuminating insight and life advice, bridges the gap between audience and performer. Schutte strikes a fine balance, managing to seem both down-to-earth and entertainingly complex in a Rom-Com kind of way. I, at least, felt as though I was spending the evening catching up with a lovely, chaotic, zany, chirpy pal.

Katy Schutte is brilliant. Catch her if you can!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Out of The Loop - Three Tier Theatre

It's achingly familiar; 'the dreaded commute', as Out of The Loop's synopsis summarises, can give rise to many an interesting story, but none quite like this. Two strangers wait on a train platform bench for the 08:30 to London Paddington, but as delay after delay ensues, they find that they have a much larger, albeit still temporal, problem on their hands. As the drama unfolds, their story becomes ever more entangled by hints of their interconnected lives beyond the station, the duo cast members' sheer excellence for comic timing making each twist and turn ever more hilarious.

It must be said that the production's execution is limited by its being held in such a small area, since the stage space is simply not enough for this show, but ultimately that's all technicalities. The simplicity of the whiteboard and pen used to capture the commuters' progressively frustrated inner monologue and add a sense of timing to the escapade, is hugely effective in increasing the absurdity of the piece whilst simultaneously adding to its off-the-wall humour.

Written by Rowena Price.

The Mediators - Drop of A Hat Theatre

Rule number one of mediation - always be prepared! Or was that rule number two...

There's no other way to put it, The Mediators is simply a good old wholesome laugh. This two-man production is gloriously farcical clowning at its best; a physical, good-natured distraction from the mundane. Armed with boundless energy, the power of a reconciling handshake and the mysteriously silent yet buoyant pillow-case man 'Mr X', The Mediators will undoubtedly leave you feeling as 'cleansed, like a young sapling' as you'd ever wish for, with definitely no meditation involved...

Written by Rowena Price.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Bear - The Small Spaces Theatre

The Bear - The Small Spaces Theatre Company

Walking into what was only the second Chekhov play that I'd ever seen, I was a little apprehensive. Would all the names get muddled in my head? What if I didn't 'get it'? Would I fall asleep?!

I didn't have to worry, though; this show is a gem. Wry satire and feminist undertones abound, culminating in a feel-good and thoroughly entertaining celebration of love, no matter the circumstance. Chekhov has never felt so relevant.

Three brilliant actors, a dodgy table, and a bottle of Smirnoff come together to lend the riskily simple story infinitely more dimensions; despite its farcical, one-act nature, it leaves an audience satisfied and chuckling. We tut at Elena's melodrama, delight in Grigory's blatantly insecurity-driven condemnation of women, and cheer at the inevitably romantic denouement. An introduction on Chekhov's life and works is useful, if a little school-esque, but this is quickly forgiven as the action gets going. The lengthy monologues avoid dragging, and there's a healthy dose of slapstick - always a good antidote to discourse on the Russian patriarchy.

The costumes are impressively luxurious, too -  I was particularly taken by a specific black velvet skirt, the swish-ability of which was demonstrated with great vigour. Other than skirts, special mention has to go to Lucy Wordsworth, in the role of the long-suffering maid, Luka. Wobbling hands, a brilliant accent, and a formidable stage presence transform a young actress into the epitome of an aged-housekeeper stereotype, and the audience loves it.

Basically, bravo!!

Written by Grace Spencer

Test Transmission from The Edge of The World - Jonny Fluffypunk

I love Jonny's storytelling - it's hard not to. Ukelele in hand, his bobble-hatted head wobbling along with the wonky lampshade next to him, he perches on top of a metal barstool at centre stage, yanks out a pile of papers from under one of the many clunky analogue radios on the table next to him, and launches into the charismatic and beautifully British storytelling satire at which he excells.
I won't spoil too much - it's too funny not to see for yourself - but the story outlines the coming-of-age of the extraordinary Radio Boy; a young man growing up in dead-end Essex in 1980-something, whose life and, crucially, voice, are irrevocably and beautifully changed by his love affair with good old fashioned radio.
Test Transmission from The Edge of The World is rife with Fluffypunk's classic humour; there's quite a few gags that elude me - I couldn't have told you that Jenni Murray presents woman's hour and I don't know what Money Box Live is - I am a clueless teenager, you guessed it (!) But the pure soul, warmth and poignancy that Jonny pours into his stories don't need translation - his voice echoes across the generation gap, transmitted and received, with unparalled clarity.

See Test Transmission from The Edge of The World on Sunday 16th September, 2:30pm at The Museum in the Park, or the Old Library, Lansdown, at 5:30pm.

Written by Rowena Price.