Thursday, 2 October 2008

The Suicide

'The Suicide' - Nikolai Erdman
Hull University Drama Society
End 07/08 Term, Asylum

Mike Loader’s throat must really hurt after these shows. Don’t get me wrong, the man is a good actor and clearly has an impressive memory, but inevitably at any sign of passionate rage, Loader will hurl words into the audience with the strength of a force five tornado. He was though, an energetic front man for Drama Society’s intellectually ambitious production of Nikolai Erdman’s The Suicide.The first half of the play was admittedly painfully long and tedious in places, but this was well supplanted by the superior humour of the second half. Quirky moments such as the players mock-complaining about being cast as coffin carriers while changing set complimented the comedic elements present within the play. Particularly noteworthy (as always) was Matthew Revil, a talented actor with an apparent gift for on stage crying. Two other regulars who made their usual good impression were Rory Stobo, a man who simply commands the stage, and Anna Corbett , who was a hit as a hysterical housewife.
Asylum is not a versatile theatrical venue, but the set and props, including a full sized working door, were effective and well utilized. Some of the costumes complimented the effort put into set design and fitted the theme of Soviet Russia, but occasional others looked rather too blatantly hot off the Primarni cat walk.Aside from the customary Drama Soc late start, the farcical course of The Suicide was portrayed fairly well. It was generally enjoyable, and though some parts could have benefited more directorial attention, as the programme rightly said – ‘Russian disco music, a perverted postman, and a coffin. What more could you want?’

Thursday, 4 September 2008

'Canned Heat' Is Distinctly Cold

'Canned Heat' Dance Show
Hull University Dance Society
End 07/08 Term

The University’s Dance Society, one would assume, encompasses both those who excel at dance, and those who enjoy dancing regardless. When watching their mountainous production in April, it was surprisingly easy to observe the divide.
As soon as the dancing began, some performers were left behind, with more than a handful suffering an overwhelming lack of rhythm. Even the girls who shone in ability displayed faces shrouded in misery and concentration. Perhaps the Union would be kind enough this year to provide funding for Dance Society auto cues, suggested wording: FOR GODS SAKE SMILE.
Criticism should always be constructive however, and there were some good points of the show. The Dance Sport Salsa girl-girl couple in short dresses were confident, talented, and above all happy. The show was well organised, resplendently costumed, and all previous sins were temporarily absolved by the brilliantly energetic full company version of ‘You Cant Stop The Beat’ (Hairspray).
This show was titled ‘Canned Heat’, but one could not help notice that parts of the Dance Society were distinctly off-the-boil, leaving the dissatisfying feeling that ‘Adequately Packaged and Hot in Places’ would have been a more accurate disclaimer.

Baby With The Bathwater

Baby With The Bathwater - Christopher Durang
Hull University Drama Society
End 07/08 Term

It is unclear as to whether audience comprehension was high on Christopher Durang’s list when he wrote this play, but the Drama Soc treatment rendered the performance entertaining despite the almost overwhelming confusion. This bizarre nature versus nurture play saw parents Helen (Anna Esko) and John (Alex Davies) subjecting their unfortunate male progeny Daisy (Doug Ackerman) to a childhood of memories literally climbing over each other to be first into the ‘repressed’ bank.
Directors Tom Perry and Linzi Hamilton created the set; a vibrant and rather brilliant toy-filled Elysium, which almost made up for the limited performance venue which Asylum offers. The acting throughout was of a generally high standard, with Esko and Davies leading the troupe. Drama Soc regular Anna Corbett had a modest but well suited role, and Kit Hargreaves queer impersonation of Nanny was as excruciatingly disconcerting as it was down right amusing.
The experience overall would have benefited from certain scenes being cut down or entirely removed, but the more successful areas of the play teemed with ironic and uncomfortable humour, serving to rate ’Baby’ as among the best of Drama Soc productions of recent years.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Showstoppers: An Improvised Musical, A Brilliant Success

'Showstoppers: An Improvised Musical'
Edinburgh Fringe 2008

Considering myself a critic who, though still young, is particularly hard to impress, I sceptically handed over my ticket and settled into an Edinburgh University Lecture Theatre. After all, £3 isnt too large a sum to waste.

A fake phone call later, I was enthralled. After audience participation compiled an intreiging list of themes, settings and styles, the team of six actors trouped into action, aided by their 'writer' to stage right. Opening with a Rogers&Hammerstine-esque scene on the side of Mount Vesuvius, the team brilliantly and creatively worked their way musically and in dialogue through a story of revolution, ending in a James Blunt style finale in the face of the famous historic eruption. Particularly noteworthy was the use of props and costume, which was hardly any. The set consisted of two moveable crates, and the costumes largely of scarves and hats in red over outfits of black. Simple, but VERY effective.

I know what you are thinking, because I thought the same. How could the troupe, good actors as they may well be, improvise a musical on the spot depending on what the audience fancy? I have no answers for you. Refusing to believe I would enjoy myself, I spent the first twenty minutes of the show trying to figure out some sort of system behind their madness, but in the face of sheer improvisation experience, I simply had to render myself a fan and sit back and laugh!

My personal favourite song in the whole show, was when one of the two female peasants, a bread seller, was directed by the off-stage writer to perform a song in the style of Andrew Lloyd-Webber about Olives and Bread. She simply topped the bill, her brain working so fast you could almost see the steam, coming up with lines like 'they said bread would make you fatter, so I invented ciabatta!'. Even a botched key change within her song was quickly put to rights when the writer cleverly declared it to have been his mistake, and took it out of the show.

If anyone gets the chance to see this show in the dying days of Edinburgh Fringe 2008, then I would recommend it above any others I saw. If not, then I for one am hoping they return next year to amaze and thoroughly entertain an audience!

Cluedo Solves Youth Theatre Crimes

Edinburgh Fringe 2008

Youth productions cannot always be depended on for a strong cast with the ability to entertain. I went into 'Cluedo' unaware that it would be a youth production, but as soon as I became aware I became uneasy. This cast however, pulled out all the stops and I felt it was an hour and a half well spent in their company.

'Cluedo' was a musical take on the popular family board game, with all the traditional characters as suspects of a murder, being interviewed by a mysterious Inspector Cluedo. The musical infused creativity with existing well known musical numbers, pulled from their original shows and given a new and interesting home. This was an effective tactic, and songs such as Reverend Green 'Poisoning Pigeons in the Park' and Colonel Mustard enjoying 'P-O-S-H Posh', and it allowed the actors to suplement their characters with a musical background of types. The recurrent chorus number was Chicago's 'Cell Block Tango' which worked particularly well with the spotlight and freezeframe system of the interviews.

The actors themselves, though some notably amateur, others were rather impressive. The cockney Mrs White, the american Cluedo and Colonel Mustard all sported brilliantly maintained accents congruent with their acting ability, and Professor Plum and Reverend Green contrasted just enough to show the well capable merits of both actors.

With a larger venue and audience, this show really could have a good future. Keeping many members of this cast could even work long term, though as a performer myself I am always amazed when half the cast do not realise the importance of smiling graciously when being applauded. Anyone who is in Edinburgh, this production is definately worth your time and money.

Gavin and Gavin: An Acquired Taste

'Gavin and Gavin'
Edinburgh Fringe 2008

Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the home of comedians big and small alike, the hard decision is always how to decide which show to see. The choice to see 'Gavin and Gavin' was based on favourable reviews by reputable newspaper The Times. I would like to meet their reviewer, as they must certainly be a unique sort of person.

Performing in the downstairs Sportsmans Bar in the Gilded Balloon meant the sisters Sharon and Loretta Gavin were faced with a small venue, and at this particular showing the audience was less than half full. I can appreciate that a hard audience can make or break a comedian or two, but I refuse to believe that the audience were anything other than usual.

The interesting 'style' of comedy employed by the Gavin sisters is most definately an acquired taste. Smaller, younger, unmarried Gavin was the easier of the two, as she mainly narrated the blatantly pre-conceived and pre-written script. Skinny, married Gavin was verging on painful to watch and listen to. The main gist of the comedy was crude. Very crude. Crude in a tasteless, excrutiatingly embarassing sort of way. Crude in a way that makes Very Rude feel embarassed. Crude in the kind of way I can imagine even a football or rugby team wouldnt enjoy unless they were tanked to the eyeballs.

Dont get me wrong, there were some enjoyable parts of the show. Like when Married Gavin was particularly bitter about the lack of audience enthusiasm and was making fun of them. Otherwise, the story was vaguely well conceived - something about growing up in an Irish family in London, filled with annecdotes about Irish family life. Perhaps this might have been a little funnier if it hadnt been for the fact that my companion, irish born and bred, punctured the whole scenario by remarking to me that most irish families were infact, nothing like that any more. Perhaps it was before my time.

If you are in Edinburgh and particularly fancy a sister act of comedy, then I suppose Gavin and Gavin might be your only choice. Alternatively, if you are a very drunk, loud and loutish sports team of some form, please do pay rather a lot to see it and let me know if you enjoy the vulgar humour. Anyone else, I recommend steering clear.

Monday, 21 April 2008

ISA 'Culture' Night 2008

International Student's Association, Hull University
Middleton Hall, March 2008

The International Students Association this year held their thirteenth annual Culture Night performance in the Middleton Hall, the culmination of a lot of ISA hard work throughout the year. After a weekend of fraught and frantic rehearsals, the show was only a little late in starting. Kicking off the proceedings were the typical ‘important people’ speeches, followed by the introduction of a pair of friendly smiling hosts, Michael Mazurewicz and Ediite Millere, dressed cannily as air hostess and pilot, and hinting faintly of the good old days of Eurovision.

First act to take to the boards were the Afro Caribbean Law Society, with an interesting and brilliantly costumed view of Nigerian marriage ceremony. Next up were the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, with a well received ten minute rendition of their latest production, ‘Iolanthe’. Three piece band ‘The Brave Hearts’ impressed the audience with both covers and original material. The Chinese Society presented a brief tour of their recent variety show, with singers ‘A Capella’ attaining an enthusiastic reception, though the decision to include ‘Buttons’ by the Pussy Cat Dolls was baffling. Tied bronze-medal winners the Asian Society celebrated Bollywood in a colourful and enjoyable music and dance performance.

Opening the second half of the show was the traditional International Fashion show. Next were Gold medal winners The Hellenic Participation, whose finely tuned act consisted of a variety of singing, dancing, traditional Greek music, jumping on and off chairs, and a fantastically talented mandolin player. The Malaysian Student’s Association tied for Bronze medal, their Chinese fan dance was particularly pleasing to watch, and their ‘Teh Tarik’ (tea pouring) made a nice, if oddly bemusing, change from the norm. Easily the most talented performer in the entire show was the solo performer Gema Galan, who fiercely commanded audience attentions with her candle lit and dramatically passionate Spanish Flamenco. Rounding up the bill, Silver medal winners the Arab Society entertained with an odd modern interpretation of Aladdin, which housed an attractive lady in minimal clothes doing a belly dance.

An enjoyable experience to be part of and definitely a good night out, the ISA annual performance continues to promote unique University societies, sharing with the audience the different cultures of their backgrounds, through the medium of song, dance, drama, fan waving, chair hopping, and tea pouring. At its high points it showcased a wealth of talent, but even at its lower points the ISA Culture Night never came short on being, at least, entertaining.