Frankenstein @ Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

On the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it can be hard to grab the attention of theatregoers with another stage adaptation of the novel. But with its interesting interpretation of the classic, Arrows & Traps Theatre Company’s Frankenstein stands out from the crowd for including the novelist herself as a character within the play. Although this has the potential to come across as a cheesy gimmick, writer and director Ross McGregor’s choice to place her in the story actually gives a glimpse into the life of the woman behind this legendary tale, which produces an effective piece of theatre.

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Photo: Davor Tovarlaza (The Ocular Creative)

The show opens with a middle-aged Mary Shelley (Cornelia Baumann) suffering from an illness, experiencing flashbacks to her youth, and weaved into these personal stories is Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein (Christopher Tester) is a young scientist, interested in new inventions, constantly reading to broaden his knowledge, and struggling to come to terms with the death of his mother. Alongside this narrative, there is also that of his Creature (Will Pinchin), who, after being rejected by Frankenstein, is in hiding and befriends a blind young woman who teaches him to speak and read. At the same time, Shelley’s own life is in turmoil – she has eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley, a married man, at the disappointment of her father, and has a series of miscarriages. The parallels between her life and the story of Frankenstein is evident, and both culminate into tragic loss.

Baumann is exceptional as Mary Shelley. Her interpretation of the character is fully recognised, combining the author’s intelligence with her talent, while also creating someone the audience can sympathise with. It’s always inspiring to see a multi-layered female character on stage, and it’s equally enjoyable when the actor delivers this character with strength.

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Photo: Davor Tovaraza (The Ocular Creative)

As with all other Arrows & Traps shows, the ensemble work is on point, with strong direction from McGregor. Some notable performances include Pinchin as the Creature, who brings a perfect balance of terror and sensitivity to the character, with small bursts of comedy, which helps humanise him. Zoe Dales as Agatha, the blind woman who teaches the Creature how to speak, is worth a mention too, as the scenes between her and the Creature are some of the best in the piece. Full of emotion and subtly written humour, they’re a joy to watch.

McGregor has created an engaging and unique adaptation, with a well-written story and some welcome surprises. Ben Jacobs’ lighting design brilliantly elevates the ghoulish atmosphere, foregrounding the story’s magical element: electricity. What makes this Frankenstein stand out from the others is the fact that the audience gets to see the woman behind the monster story, her intellect and talent for writing, as well as her family and how a series of tragic events may have shaped her. Arrows & Traps’ play is a successful addition to the company’s innovative adaptations, and a perfect show to see this October.

Frankenstein is at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 21st October.

 

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A Christmas Carol @ Above the Arts Theatre

The holiday season means a whole host of Christmas shows, especially adaptations of A Christmas Carol (two have been programmed at the Arts Theatre alone), but The Flanagan Collective stand out from the crowd with their immersive experience. Complete with parlour games, Christmas crackers and a two-course meal, the company brings to life Dickens’ festive ghost story in spectacular fashion.

Ebenezer Scrooge (Al Barclay) is sitting alone at his desk on Christmas Eve, miserable about the festive season, and refusing to give to charity. Suddenly the ghost of his dead business partner Jacob Marley (Jack Whitam) appears, along with a room full of spirits. Marley and the other ghosts take Scrooge back to the Christmas of his childhood, celebrate Christmas in the present, and show him glimpse of future Christmas, in the hope that he gains some Christmas joy.

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Photo: Mat Johns

This extremely entertaining two-hander is expertly performed by both Barclay and Whitam, who keep the audience engaged throughout the show. As you walk into the space, the long dining table is an indication of the upcoming hearty meal of pies and trimmings, provided by chef Danny Jack. The audience are involved in the story straight away, acting as the spirits alongside Marley’s ghost, so participation feels easy and pleasant. This is of course helped by the cheerful Whitam who guides everyone through each element of the evening with laughter and wit.

Writer Alexander Wright and director Tom Bellerby have brilliantly created an immersive experience that is engrossing, filling, and genuinely fun. Dickens’ story is perfectly weaved around the dinner in the middle of the show, with just the right amount of spookiness necessary for the Victorian setting. If you’re looking for a joyfully festive evening with laughter and great entertainment, A Christmas Carol is the show for you.

A Christmas Carol is at Above the Arts Theatre until 31st December.

Twelfth Night @ Upstairs at The Gatehouse

Arrows & Traps’ new repertory season sees the company take on Shakespeare’s Othello and Twelfth Night, where the same cast and crew perform the shows on alternating nights. Directed by Ross McGregor, their Twelfth Night is an entertaining adaption that packs comedy and action into a succinct and digestible performance. Although the traditional Elizabethan costumes feel out of character when compared to the company’s usual contemporary take on Shakespeare’s plays, it doesn’t stop this adaptation from being a successful piece of theatre.

The shipwrecked Viola (Pippa Caddick) finds herself on the shores of Illyria, and without her twin brother by her side, she has no choice but to disguise herself as a young man called Cesario in order to navigate this new place. In Illyria, Duke Orsino (Pearce Sampson) is hopelessly in love with Olivia (Cornelia Baumann), and uses the disguised Viola to help woo the woman he loves. When Olivia begins to fall for the cross-dressed Viola, hilarity ensues, which is made even more complicated by the appearance of a young man who looks exactly like Cesario.

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Photo: The Ocular Creative

As an ensemble the company work well together, steadily keeping the energy of the piece high throughout. Baumann embraces Olivia’s subtle humour with ease, and her performance is refreshing. Portraying the play’s fool is Lloyd Warbery, who hilariously delivers the character’s comedy and responds to the audience’s reactions with confidence. However, this adaptation’s stand out character has to be Malvolio, performed impeccably by Adam Elliott. Although not the most interesting or likeable character in the play, Elliott performs Malvolio with so much brilliance and passion that you can’t help but smile every time he appears on stage. His comedy is on point, and the interactions between him and Feste the fool were the most enjoyable parts of this piece.

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Photo: The Ocular Creative

While the talented cast present Shakespeare’s adaptation with spirit, it is McGregor’s exploration of the relationship between Sebastian and Antonio that is refreshing to see on stage. Viola’s twin Sebastian (Alex Stevens) is rescued by the sailor Antonio (Spencer Lee Osborne), and it appears the two have a sexual relationship. While some adaptations choose to ignore this “problematic” coupling, the director doesn’t shy away from the obvious attraction between the two, but brings it to the surface. Portraying their chemistry on stage is a delightful addition to the plot, which adds another layer of intrigue to Sebastian and Olivia’s pairing.

Running at just over two and a half hours (including an interval) it is always a joy to watch a Shakespeare piece that can engage and hold attention for that period of time. Packed full of comedy, romance, and superb acting, McGregor’s Twelfth Night is an enjoyable adaptation, and a wonderful addition to the Arrows & Traps canon.

Twelfth Night is at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 19th November.

Fool’s Court @ The Space

This October sees London’s first theatre festival celebrating the rich cultural heritage of Central Asia. Orzu Arts Festival plays host to a huge variety of performances and talks, giving Londoners the opportunity to engage with this part of the world. Konibodom State Drama Theatre from Tajikistan adds to this festival with their play Fool’s Court. Written and directed by Ovlyakuli Khodjakuli, the play fuses parts of Shakespeare’s King Lear and Hamlet, exploring the two stories from the perspective of the Fools. Embracing the clowns’ comedy and witty nature, Khodjakuli gives the two plays a new perspective and a humorous tone.

In the middle of the night, in a cemetery, three Fools appear troubled by their past. One says he is Hamlet, prince of Denmark, grieving the death of his father. He claims his uncle and mother were the cause of his death, and vows revenge. Another swears he is King Lear, distraught by the way his daughters have treated him, seeking to set things straight. With the help of the third Fool, the they set out to find and punish the people who have wronged them, recruiting the audience as judges to help make a decision: should they all die for their crimes?

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Although performed in Tajiki, Khodjakuli borrows some of the text from both Shakespeare’s plays, weaving his own words into this devised piece. The emphasis is made on the physical comedy of the characters, which helps bring down the language barriers, allowing the humour to come through. There is some audience participation in the show, as the three-man cast warrants a Goneril, Regan, Gertrude and Claudius from the audience, but this never becomes awkward. The participatory nature of the piece alleviates the comedy, allowing the clowns to enjoy interacting with everyone, and vice versa. Additionally, Khodjakuli’s choice to represent the characters of Hamlet and King Lear as Fools is a welcome interpretation, and one which neatly but grotesquely ties the two plays together. Overall, Fool’s Court, is an enjoyable piece of devised theatre, that mixes Shakespeare and clowning superbly, and is a brilliant addition to the Orzu Arts Festival.

Orzu Arts Festival runs until 20th October. 

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore @ Paradise at Augustines, Edinburgh Fringe

John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore is a challenging play for a modern audience. The exploration of incest is dark and difficult to stomach, but the complexities it exhibits are fascinating. Wanton Theatre’s adaptation however does not utilise the drama and complicated themes of Ford’s play, and the shock it creates in the beginning loses its power after the second Act.

Giovanni (Louis Catliff), back from his studies at University, is speaking to the Friar (Noah Liebmiller) about his desire for his sister Annabella (Ellie Burke). The Friar warns him about his emotions, but Giovanni disregards him, professing his love to her. To his surprise, she reciprocates, and the two consummate their love. But Annabella falls pregnant and is forced to marry Soranzo (Joss Gillespie) who soon finds out about the siblings’ incestuous love, leading to a tragic ending.

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The show has some promising performances. Burke portrays Annabella with passion and there is real emotion in her repentance. However, some of the action was hard to watch due to the yelling as a means of projecting intensity by the actors. Ryan Hay’s direction also doesn’t focus enough on Philotis’ characterisation. Philotis is a young girl who is used by the men around her but is “saved” in the end of the play after she is sent to a convent. Her appearance seems to serve no  function in this adaptation, apart from to boost the number of female actors on stage. While ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore attracts attentions during the incestuous sex scene, it loses this impact when it doesn’t follow through during the more violently gory scenes. Consequently the gouging of tutoress Putana’s eyes is flat and doesn’t evoke much emotion. Even when Annabella’s heart is brought out onto the stage, it isn’t bloody enough. Overall, Wanton Theatre’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore falls short of a memorable adaptation.

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore is at Paradise at Augustines until 20th August.

Macbeth @ ZOO, Edinburgh Fringe

Fortitude Dance Theatre are a Nottingham-based company made up of students currently studying at various drama schools around the UK. Their debut show Macbeth is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s place set in the Acid House scene of 1989 Manchester. While the idea of this setting is a welcome approach to the text, especially by a young group of performers, the execution isn’t solid enough for a strong performance.

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After encountering three witches, Macbeth and his friend Banquo are spooked by their prophecy. When their first prediction comes true, Macbeth calls his wife to let her know what he has witnessed. In order to make sure what the witches foretold comes true, that Macbeth shall “be King hereafter,” the couple concoct a plan to kill their leader Duncan and fulfil the prophecy. Blood begets blood, until Macbeth meets a deadly end.

The company are skilled with their movements and the dancing in the performance is the most promising element of it, but there isn’t enough of it in the show. This “physical theatre” adaptation doesn’t get physical until Duncan’s murder scene a third of the way in, which is a disappointment. The performers also need to work on the delivery of their lines, as most couldn’t fully grasp which words to emphasise, often spitting the speeches out quickly. While the Acid House elements are present in the costume design and music of the show, more could have been done to incorporate the psychedelic nature of the genre. This would have worked especially well with the witches, and would have emphasised their supernatural nature. Overall, Fortitude Dance Theatre’s Macbeth lacks the understanding and energy to be an effective adaptation.

A Midsummer Night’s Dreaming & Dreaming Under the Southern Bough @ theSpace@Niddry St, Edinburgh Fringe

Developed by the University of Leeds and the University of International Business and Economics in China, this double bill of plays is inspired by Shakespeare and Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu. To celebrate the 400th anniversary of their deaths, the students from both universities have created these works with emphasis on the theme of dreaming. While A Midsummer Night’s Dreaming is a fun and playful piece, Dreaming Under the Southern Bough lacks the magical qualities of Xianzu’s play Nanke Ji which it is based on.

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In A Midsummer Night’s Dreaming, young couple Hermia and Lysander take some time off University to retreat to Sophora Nest Hotel. When they arrive, they are greeted by three playful spirits who welcome their visit. The couple are followed by their friends Helena and Demetrius. Regardless of Lysander’s relationship status, Helena is in love with him, and despite this, Demetrius is hopelessly devoted to her. In order to satisfy their interest in these mortal beings, the spirits put a spell on Hermia and Helena, and the two fall in love with Demetrius, leading to hilariously compromising situations.

This light-hearted adaptation directed by Li Jun emphasises comedic stereotypes and physical humour. Demetrius is performed superbly by Sun Bingchang and stands out from the other characters with his exaggerated, geeky nature, which adds further comical effect to Hermia and Helena’s obsessions with him. The only uncomfortable elements of the piece are the sudden performances of rap. With no other elements of this style of music present in the play, the rapping is jarring and also very awkward. Aside from that however, by focusing entirely on the young lovers in the play and drawing on teenage rom-com tropes, Jun has created a delightfully youthful adaptation.

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The second play of the double bill, directed by Steve Ansell, follows Chenyu (George Clifford), a young officer who is struggling with the memories he has of being on the front lines and losing his fellow officers. After an encounter with a spiritual woman (Cao Xinyi), Chenyu goes on an enlightening journey, where he marries Princess Yaofang (Milly Stell), encounters war again and learns to be a better man.

Performed straight after A Midsummer Night’s Dreaming, the more spiritual and serious nature of Dreaming Under the Southern Bough is a welcome tone. At first, the play seems interesting, as it explores affects of post traumatic stress disorder on those in the military. However, this idea isn’t developed further, nor are any other concepts in the play. Things are alluded to, like spirituality and enlightenment, but it isn’t explored in depth. The quick time lapses in the performance means the action moves too quickly, not allowing enough time for some of the themes to progress. Barely any emphasis is made about Chenyu’s metamorphosis into an ant, and he is hardly surprised by what is happening to him. When he finally wakes up from the dream, he is a transformed man, but Clifford’s lack of character development in his performance makes the change in him hard to believe. On this occasion, Dreaming Under the Southern Bough needs more work to turn it into a coherent and engaging piece of work.

A Midsummer Night’s DREAMING Under the Southern Bough will touring in China between 14th – 28th September.