Monthly Archives: February 2012

Angus, Thongs and Even More Snogging at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

I think everyone who blogs knows that feeling you get when you’ve been at it a while: you can’t find anything good to blog about, you can’t find any time to write and you’re convinced it’s pointless because no-one’s reading it anyway. Well, the thing about blogging about cultural events in Leeds is that as soon as you sense that malaise creeping over you, you attend an event that leaves you chomping at the bit, desperate to get to a computer so you can tell the world how exciting it was. Angus, Thongs and Even More Snogging, which I imagined would be a light hearted laugh at teenage girls, was actually one of the most exciting theatre events I’ve been to in a while.

As soon as we walked in, my husband rolled his eyes. You literally couldn’t move in the lobby for teenage girls in leggings with huge hair, squealing with excitement. As we filed in to the theatre, making a quick detour to check out Georgia’s bedroom which has been set up in the café seating area, the first thing we heard was Lady Gaga pounding from the speakers. Four girls in school uniform were bounding about on stage, then running through the audience handing out stickers. They grabbed groups of girls and dragged them down to the stage, to teach them the famous Viking Inferno dance routine (or something). It was impressive!

Once the show began it was a riot from start to finish! I expected to smile indulgently at childish humour and a bit of slapstick comedy, but this had all the genuine fun and wit and realism of the books it is based on. Every two minutes I found myself laughing hysterically, sometimes along with the rest of the audience, sometimes with just the ones who had spotted a cheeky piece of double entendre. (When Jasmine argues with her bird spotting boyfriend, Georgia says something like, You argued with Owl Boy? What happened? Did you forget to polish his beak? This was mainly met with blank stares, apart from about ten of us who laughed, and then laughed even more at how inappropriate we felt.)

Georgia and her friends are refreshing, normal, fun teenage girls. When the boys from the neighbouring school run their bikes into them and call them slags, only to be told it’s because the boys fancy them, they rightly laugh and proceed to completely ignore them. They hysterically navigate school lessons that are a minefield of double entendres. They have snogging on the brain – why doesn’t anyone want to snog me? Am I doing it right? They argue about boys, only to make up within about 5 minutes.

And oh, the boys. It was hard to tell who was the most popular: Robbie, who is lead singer of the Stiff Dylans, until he comes over all eco-warrior and moves toScotland, or his replacement, Massimo, the Italian Stallion with muscles like bricks and an accent that melts Georgia like a chocolate button dropped in a hot espresso. Whenever either of them appeared on stage the whole theatre erupted in screams – I’ve literally never seen a reaction like it in a theatre. It was pretty much as I imagine a One Direction concert to be – jumping and dancing and screaming. If I were to go again I think I’d brush up on my first aid as I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before a mass fainting episode.

Despite the theatre being declared a Tweet friendly zone, I didn’t see a lot of phone action going on. Everyone’s eyes were glued to the stage! I can’t tell you how heartening it was to see such huge numbers of teenagers excited and enthusiastic and passionate about live performance; I hope they hold on to the way Angus Thongs made them feel, and seek that out in future years. At times I thought Naomi Petersen overacted Georgia’s more dramatic lines, until we walked out for the interval and I saw two girls, probably both 15ish, talking at the tops of their voices, with eyes wide, and arms flailing everywhere: ‘Did you SEEEEE him! No WONDER she calls him the SEX god! He is SOOOOO FIT!!!’

I had an absolutely fantastic time and I’d go see it again in a second. I’d recommend it to anyone, old or young, as a rip-roaring evening with something for absolutely everyone. It’s on until March 3rd at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

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Five Truths at the Howard Assembly Rooms

Sometimes, when at the theatre, I can get a little distracted. You see, I find the concept of acting endlessly fascinating, and there are times when I’m just staring at the person on the stage, wondering what they’re thinking, why they chose to use that tone of voice, whose idea it was to add the pause before that word, and how long it took them to perfect that twitch. When I see the understudy in a role, I wonder whether I’m getting the same experience as I would have the night before, and find myself inwardly cheering them on as they enjoy their moment in the spotlight.

Last night, the BAFTAs were on TV, and Viola Davis presented the award for Production Design. (Yes, I know, I’m getting to Five Truths, I promise.) She said something along the lines of, creating the overall look and feel of a film is an enormously difficult task and those who do it are incredibly talented and deserve recognition. And I thought, yes! Yes, they do! The mood of a film is vitally important, and as well as production design, there’s lighting designers, costume designers, make up artists, location scouts, set designers, special effects…they all contribute to that. It just hit me how many different elements are involved in my experience of watching something, and that a few little decisions here and there can hugely affect the end product.

The thing is, you’ll very rarely know how, will you? Because they don’t make two versions of films, one with an easy listening soundtrack and one set to heavy metal, or one filmed entirely in the rain and one on a summer’s day. The closest you’ll get is remakes, or seeing two productions of the same play, or going to see the same production several times. Nine times out of ten, it’s not going to happen.

And this is where Five Truths comes in.

It’s an installation. A large box, essentially, you can get thirty or so people in there comfortably. On the walls are five pairs of screens of varying sizes, and each pair is showing a version of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, going mad and then drowning. Each version is in the style of a great theatre director of the twentieth century; there’s Brook, Artaud, Stanislavski, Brecht and Grotowski. I was a bit reticent to blog about this, because I knew I would have to admit that I’ve never seen, read or studied Hamlet, and I’m a bit defensive about that sort of thing. I’ll get to it, I’ve read loads of good stuff and tons of Shakespeare, I just don’t happen to have got to that particular one just yet, okay? I considered reading it at the weekend to get up to speed, but on reflection I decided to go in to the experience with only my basic knowledge, and experience Ophelia as a performance rather than words on a page.

Anyway, the screens play on a ten minute loop, and as luck would have it, we walked in just at the beginning of a loop. It was disorientating at first; with so many screens and so many different things happening, I didn’t know where to look. At first I decided to take the screens one at a time, but I soon realised it wasn’t going to work like that. At different moments, different Ophelias grab your attention. It’s fascinating: the same actress, following the same script, but creating a vastly different experience.

The most believable to me was Grotowski’s; a broken, grieving woman huddled under a table, whose words are little more than guttural cries. The Brechtian interpretation, though, was arresting; she stared coolly into the camera, and sang her sorrow in a creepily catchy ditty that I found myself humming whilst doing the washing up later. Honestly, eeriest ear worm ever. In the corner is Artaud’s Ophelia; she wears her fathers glasses and pulls faces at an indifferent goldfish.

It’s what you might call an immersive experience, and several hours later the images are still echoing around in my head. The performances from Michelle Terry are absorbing and enchanting, and left me with so many questions. How did Shakespeare intend us to see Ophelia? Does it matter? Are there five truths on display here? Which performance is the most true? Why? Which Ophelia do I identify with the most? What does that say about me? What do the interpretations tell us about the directors?

I can’t recommend this enough. It’s free, so you’re not losing anything, and you can walk in, try it for five minutes and leave if you don’t like it. It’s running from 2pm to 8pm daily until Saturday 25th February (closed Sundays) at the Howard Assembly Rooms.

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Crossing Points at Phoenix Dance Theatre

Last year I saw Phoenix Dance Theatre perform a mixed programme, Declarations, at their home venue. It left me absolutely amazed and so when I was offered tickets to the premiere of their new show, Crossing Points, I didn’t hesitate for a second.

The programme features four rather discrete works, two of which are brand new. Things kick off with Catch, a new piece by Ana Lujan Sanchez inspired by the Magritte painting, Son of Man. The six dancers, all in suits, initially move in careful, structured patterns, but as the piece progresses, they shed their restrictive clothing and become more free and more fluid. In Henri Oguike’s Signal, the soundtrack is a relentless beating of Japanese drums, and the lighting a row of three flame filled bowls. The movements are tribal and war like, interspersed with a few moments of peace. Next comes Maybe Yes Maybe, Maybe No Maybe, by Aletta Collins, which is always a crowd pleaser. Based around five dancers and a microphone, it does two remarkable things: it elicits laughs from the audience and somehow gives a microphone a personality. Finally, another new piece: Sound Clash by Kwesi Johnson, which used resourceful lighting by Ed Railton and grungy, asymmetric costumes to create a complex, intricate piece which was visually stunning and definitely a worthy show closer.

The use of props was nothing short of impressive. Ropes, bowler hats, microphones and more were all used to great effect; the microphone and the rope in particular made me think of the famous Pixar lamp as movement and lighting and the dancers combined to give animation to the inanimate.

The highlights for me were a few stolen moments of silence, where the music stopped and all you could hear were gasps of effort, bare feet hitting the floor and heavy breathing. The focus was drawn right to the dancers and to the sheer mechanics of what was happening. Whilst music drowns everything out, the dancers’ movements look effortless and graceful; being able to hear them suddenly made everything more human and physical. The movements felt more brutal and visceral, and suddenly I found myself thinking not about the beautiful shapes and movements but the bodies themselves: brutal, visceral tools that are strong and sinewy and controlled.

There were eight dancers in all, each one of them incredibly talented. I’ve said it before but Azzurra Ardovini has this energy about her that is almost palpable; in any group piece I found my eyes drawn to her. Having said that though, Ryu Suzuki and Chihiro Kawasaki dance incredibly well together, and both are strong, lithe and fluid. I expect huge things from them!

Crossing Points is running until Sat 4th Feb at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Check out Phoenix Dance’s Twitter feed to get ticket offers! I hugely recommend it as a gorgeous night of contemporary dance that’s enjoyable for even dance dunces!

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