Review: Twelfth Night, Blue Elephant

“What happens in Illyria, stays in Illyria”

Last year you couldn’t move for productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and whilst it hasn’t quite gotten that bad yet, it looks like Twelfth Night is 2017’s popular choice. The National and the Royal Exchange have already tackled it, Emma Rice will be casting her inimitable spell over it from next month and over in Camberwell, the Original Impact Theatre Company are working their own actor-musician magic on Shakespeare’s comedy.

And you have a sense that Rice would approve of the invention of this young company, particularly in its opening half. This is Illyria as expat territory – tropical house blaring from the decks, tropical prints blazoned across shirts, “to beer or not to beer” is scrawled on the back wall, there’s even the suggestion that the opening shipwreck is a booze cruise gone wrong. And it is in this world of stunted responsibility that the production finds real purchase. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Blue Elephant”

Review: Strawberry Starburst, Blue Elephant

“I close my eyes and think back to the days when I used to stuff my face with mum’s spaghetti bolognese and I loved it, tomato juice dripping all down my chin.”

In a week when I’ve celebrated my 29th birthday (for the 8th year running, I might add), it’s perhaps appropriate that the title of Strawberry Starburst went right over my head. Here’s me picturing something fruitily poetic when in actual fact, Starburst are what the Opal Fruits of my youth (“made to make your mouth water” – slogan courtesy of Murray Walker, trivia fans) are now called (it’s obviously too long since I’ve been in a sweet shop!).

My inability to remember things I surely knew aside, Bram Davidovich’s one-woman play is actually an altogether more serious prospect. Shez is a young woman who has a healthy attitude towards food – including a liking for those sweets – and life in general, but finds herself increasingly buffeted by domestic and societal pressures that warp the relationships around her, including her own with her own body, with devastating consequences. Continue reading “Review: Strawberry Starburst, Blue Elephant”

Review: The Bacchae, Blue Elephant

“I’ve looked into the eyes of divinity and it blinded me”

Lazarus Theatre Company return to Camberwell’s Blue Elephant Theatre after their 2014 Richard III with this striking new devised version of The Bacchae. Adapted by Gavin Harrington-Odedra after Euripides and then opened up to collaboration with the ensemble in the rehearsal room, the result is an enigmatic and seductive take on this Greek tragedy to end all tragedies.

Compared to the Almeida’s Ben Whishaw/Bertie Carvel-led production with its amazing polyphonic Chorus, the focus on the ensemble here feels like a wise move. From its opening moments of haunting singing and percussive noise through the haze-filled auditorium, it is clear that something powerful has taken over in Thebes and that it contains that kind of elemental force that can’t easily be tamed. Continue reading “Review: The Bacchae, Blue Elephant”

Review: Boy in Darkness, Blue Elephant

“Tinged with sweetness and menace…”

Tucked away in the black box of the Blue Elephant, itself tucked away in the Oval/Camberwell borders is the nightmarish fantastical world of Boy in Darkness. Conjured from the solo storytelling prowess of Gareth Murphy, who also adapted the piece from Mervyn Peake’s novella, it’s an alluringly spellbinding piece of physical theatre that receives a thoughtful production here from John Walton and one which ought to fire even the most jaded of imaginations. It is worth noting too the special relationship between this venue and Peake’s work, this being the third that they have staged in recent years.

Boy in Darkness’ protagonist is a 14 year old teenager straining against the boundaries of his life but once he escapes them, he finds himself tumbling into a surreal and strange new world populated with mysterious characters that demands huge resourcefulness. Not just from Boy, but from Murphy too as he creates and distinguishes each new persona with real skill – the chilling bleating and obsequious attention of the Goat and the preening arrogance of the Hyena really stood out for me – the elegance and economy of movement almost hypnotic to watch.  Continue reading “Review: Boy in Darkness, Blue Elephant”

Review: Richard III, Blue Elephant

“Now is the winter of our discontent”

Lazarus Theatre’s reimagining of Shakespeare’s Richard III starts off in striking style in the Blue Elephant’s black box auditorium – a genteel drinks reception quickly turns into an all-out rave complete with glowsticks, from the midst of which Prince Plockey’s usurping monarch emerges to deliver “now is the winter of our discontent”. What follows doesn’t quite match up to this vibrant invention but Gavin Harrington-Odedra’s production does contain some lovely moments.

Harrington-Odedra has trimmed down the text to a mighty lean 100 minutes straight through which presents as many obstacles as it does opportunities. Richard’s rise to the throne is meteoric which robs us of much of his scheming character, and some of the remaining scene choices don’t always fly, Lady Anne’s seduction for one feeling a little too static. But the strong use of visuals works extremely well in this fast-paced world. Continue reading “Review: Richard III, Blue Elephant”

Review: (Wo)men and me, Blue Elephant

“Tu vois, je suis pas un homme
Je suis le roi de l’illusion
Au fond qu’on me pardonne
Je suis le roi, le roi des cons”

I’m not completely opposed to dance shows, but at the same time I very rarely book for them off my own bat. I prefer to go to shows that other people have picked and (hopefully) get swept along by their enthusiasm. Such it was with (Wo)men and me which also allowed me to tick another of my previously unvisited fringe venues, the Blue Elephant in Camberwell, which is another of my new local theatres. That the last dance show my friend had seen was the somewhat controversial and extremely naked Un peu de tendresse bordel de merde! at Sadler’s Wells should have rung an alarm bell for me, but more of that later.

(Wo)men and me is a double bill by French performance maker and choreographer Tonny A ostensibly exploring androgyny and psychological identity. Or to my untrained eye, it was men dancing in pants, or at least once it got started. The first piece, AR-men, a duet between Nick Smith and Jean Magnard, took a long time to break out of the set-up for the concept. The two men in boxer shorts lay under a giant plastic sheet as a video played, a prison-guard type figure then ordered them to move around and finished by taping their bodies to the floor as another video played which began to stretch the patience. But once the business of actual dancing started, Smith and Magnard slowly breaking free, discovering their bodies and ultimately each other, I rather enjoyed the exploration of masculinity, suggesting a fast track through evolution through to a celebration of gay love. Continue reading “Review: (Wo)men and me, Blue Elephant”