Laughing Matter @ King’s Head Theatre

Written by Paul Lichtenstern (who also directs) and James Thomson (who also stars), Laughing Matter is a verbatim piece that focuses on understanding the death of a parent, and it is theatre company End of Moving Walkway’s first devised play. While at times the concepts explored can get slightly intense and hard to follow, the funny and very touching aspects of the show make it a great hour of theatre.

While working on a theatre project he was developing, Thomson was secretly recording day-to-day conversations between his own family. When his father passed away, these recordings were the only things Thomson had. These mundane interactions suddenly became significant to him. Using one of these fragments, Lichtenstern and Thomson attempt to find meaning in the world.

Laughing Matter - James Thomson, Keith Hill (1).JPG

Thomson’s performance is energetic and engaging at the beginning, and when speaking to the audience directly his sincerity is comforting. However, once he begins to repeatedly focus on colour perception, physics and the universe in order to gain a profound understanding of our place in the world, the story becomes very hard to follow. When he first appears on stage, he says he has come up with a list of three things that will help defend his choice of subject matter. Whether or not he actually lists these things at any point gets drowned in the lengthy chat about space and the number of stars and planets that exist in the universe. The points that the first part of the piece tries to are swallowed up in this dominating dense discourse, and it is consequently hard to follow and make sense of.

However, once Thomson’s father Simon (performed brilliantly by Keith Hill) joins him on stage, the interactions between the father and son are touching to watch. Their conversation highlights the ups and downs presented in all relationships, especially those between parents and children. James is short-tempered with his dad and even insulting at times. When the scene is played over and over again, he attempts to engage with his father in slightly different ways, aiming to gain a different perspective from his speech, trying to make the moment last. Thomson and Hill are brilliant on stage together, and their interactions are moving, which creates an emotional atmosphere in the space.

Lichtenstern and Thomson have created a piece of work that makes the audience consider their own relationships with their loved ones, while also questioning their existence in the universe. The subject matter is poignant, and even though some of science talk gets boring, the humour and warmth of the show makes it enjoyable and well worth a visit to the King’s Head Theatre.

Laughing Matter is at the King’s Head Theatre until 16th July.

Advertisements

The Doctor in Spite of Himself @ Drayton Arms Theatre

Translating French-language plays into English, international theatre company Exchange Theatre’s new show The Doctor in Spite of Himself is an adaptation of Molière’s rarely-performed farce. Presented as part of the Bastille Festival 2016, which includes a series of workshops and French performances, the play is performed in English and in French on alternate nights. While there was some great acting and comedic moments in this adaptation, Exchange Theatre’s show did not utilise the text perhaps as much as it could have, which created an uncomfortable piece of work.

The story is about Sganarelle (David Furlong), a drunken woodcutter who  abuses his wife Martine (Jacqueline Berces), and the revenge she seeks in order to teach him a lesson. When she overhears two men in need of a doctor to cure their employer’s daughter, Martine decides this would be a good opportunity to deliver her plan. She convinces the two that Sganarelle is a successful doctor, albeit an eccentric one, who will only cure patients once he has been physically beaten. The two men find Sganarelle in his woodshop and do as Martine instructs them, forcing him to see the sick Lucinde (Anita Adam Gabay) as a patient. However even without the medical degree, Sganarelle uses the gullibility of those around him and his gift of the gab to convince them he is a doctor. With a bit of luck and understanding, Lucinde is cured, and the play ends happily.

The Doctor in Spite of Himself (c) Ulysse Beauvois (2).jpg

Photo: Ulysse Beauvois

Furlong who directs and stars in the main role, is superb. He embodies  Molière’s Sganarelle perfectly and the writer’s comedy is expressed brilliantly through his performance. His transformation from drunkard to “sophisticated” doctor, who is easily bought off and charismatic towards the ladies, is a fun character to watch. Matt Mella’s Lucas, a servant in Lucinde’s household, is hilarious and his comic timing commendable. The interactions between Mella and Furlong were particularly great, as their high energy physical comedy plays a big role in the show.

While some of the cast do well to make parts of this play enjoyable, there are elements of it that bring down the energy created by the performers. At points, the set pieces seemed too difficult to change and seemed to be getting in the way. At other points, the costume pieces kept falling off the performers seemingly unintentionally, and props were awkwardly handled. It seems trivial to mention points like these, but when put together, it made it seem like those on stage felt very out of place and uncomfortable in their surroundings which was not pleasant to watch. What adds to this discomfort is the loud music that blares at different point throughout. While it adds to the scene in which the two men attack Sganarelle as it is comedic and fast-paced, at other times it is so overpowering that the actors have to scream to be heard over it, and yet their speech is still unclear.

The Doctor in Spite of Himself does include some brilliant casting and humorous action. However, the awkwardness of some scenes, and the discomfort created by some of the unpolished performances made Furlong’s adaptation just not a very enjoyable piece of theatre.

The Doctor in Spite of Himself is at Drayton Arms Theatre until 17th July.

 

Macbeth @ New Wimbledon Studio

Following on from their Titus Andronicus in October Last year, theatre company Arrows & Traps have now added a Macbeth adaptation to their Shakespeare canon. While  at times the action can become awkward and un-engaging, there are some very strong performances, interesting character developments, and scary horror elements throughout.

The play begins with a prophecy: Macbeth (David Paisley) and Banquo (Becky Black) come across three witches who predict that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and then eventually the king of Scotland, and that Banquo will father kings. When Queen Duncan (Jean Apps) promotes Macbeth to Thane, he starts to believe in the prophecies. His wife Lady Macbeth (Cornelia Baumann) convinces him to kill the Queen in order to fulfil the second prediction. Once the deed is done, the Queen’s sons flee the country, leaving Macbeth to assume the throne. And once the second prophecy becomes true, his obsessions with the prophecies leads to bloodshed and his eventual downfall.

IMG_5046.jpg

Photo: Davor Tovarlaza at the Ocular Creative

Director Ross McGregor focuses on the supernatural in the opening of the production, and this theme continues throughout. The dead soldier in the beginning of the play is on display as the audience walk into the space, covered in a bloody sheet. It evokes Frankenstein’s monster, heightening the play’s horror features, and in fact the scene itself resembles the start of Rupert Goold’s film adaptation. McGregor does well in producing a horror atmosphere in the auditorium, especially during the scene with the apparitions, where a blood covered Banquo seems to appear out of nowhere. While Elle Banstead-Salim, Olivia Stott and Monique Williams give powerful performances as witches, their singing destroys the allusion of their supernatural appearance. The two songs d0not fit well into the action, and felt uncomfortable to watch, especially as the music overpowered the singing, making the lyrics unintelligible.

However the redeeming elements of the play are the fascinating character and casting choices, which opens up a new understanding of dynamics in the play. McGregor chooses to highlight the emotional toll Lady Macbeth’s dead child has on her. During her speech convincing Macbeth to commit the murder, her description of her child is evocative and powerful, but it doesn’t seem to impact Macbeth at all. Baumann presents a very strong Lady Macbeth, and her affectionate portrayal makes her breakdown at the end of the play all the more tragic. Hers was a perfect performance.

IMG_5370.jpg

Photo: Davor Tovarlaza at the Ocular Creative

Equally, McGregor’s choice to present a female Banquo brings to light unexplored relationships within the play. Black brilliantly portrays a young and energetic Banquo, which mirrors Lady Macbeth, but also contrasts her childlessness. The loss of their child does not appear to impact Macbeth until he witnesses Banquo and Fleance together- a strong mother figure with a son who is destined for greatness according to the prophecy. Therefore the murder of Queen Duncan, then Banquo, then Lady Macduff appears to be an attempt to kill all the mother figures in the play, a seemingly romantic gesture on Macbeth’s part in order to build his relationship with his wife again. But by this point, the tragedy of the loss of her child, alongside the guilt of the murders, leads to Lady Macbeth’s own death. Ultimately, McGregor re-imagines Macbeth as a ‘love story’ (his own words), albeit a tragic one.

It is true that there may be other, more engaging adaptations of Macbeth currently in London, with better production value. But McGregor’s character development and choice of including more female characters highlights unexplored layers of depth in Macbeth. For an interesting exploration of motherhood and a different relationship between the title character and his wife, Arrows & Traps’ Macbeth is worth the watch.

Macbeth is at New Wimbledon Studio until 9th July.