Review: Much Ado About Nothing, reFASHIONed Theatre

“Is it not strange…”

The Faction weren’t kidding when they said they were breaking out of the rep model that has characterised their output for the last few years. Earlier this summer saw them take Vassa Zheleznova to the Southwark Playhouse and now they’re appearing at the reFASHIONed Theatre. What’s that I hear you cry, why it’s a pop-up space on the lower ground floor of Selfridges just past the luggage where a newly commissioned version of Much Ado About Nothing is paying its own tribute to Shakespeare400.

Director Mark Leipacher and co-director Rachel Valentine Smith have slimmed the play down to a neat 90 minutes, without too much damage (unless you’re a big fan of the Watch) and with a nod to the sleekly contemporary surroundings of the reFASHIONed space, introduced digital cameos to supplement their 9-strong cast. So Simon Callow and Rufus Hound pop up on CCTV footage as Dogberry and Verges, and Meera Syal appears regularly onscreen as a reporter for Messina News, filling us in on the breaking news whether on TV or on Twitter-streams. Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, reFASHIONed Theatre”

Review: Vassa Zheleznova, Southwark Playhouse

“You’re quite something, aren’t you”

The Faction are probably best known for their repertory seasons, running over the early months of the last six years at the New Diorama, brightening up dark wintry nights with their inventive reimaginings of classical plays. Their tenure there has now come to an end though and so they’re branching out to alternative venues and times of the year, popping up now at the Southwark Playhouse with a new version of Gorky’s rarely-performed Vassa Zheleznova.

Adapted by Emily Juniper who has transported the play to a Liverpool in the midst of the dockers’ strike of the mid-90s, Sian Polhill-Thomas’ Vassa is the tough-as-nails head of a shipping company whose grip on power is slowly being loosened. The business belonged to her husband’s family but he’s long been busy failing to be a rock star, so it has been her guts and determination that has built the firm’s success, but at some considerable personal cost and as crisis looms, things don’t look to be getting any easier. Continue reading “Review: Vassa Zheleznova, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Richard III, New Diorama

“I am determined to prove a villain”

It’s nice to see The Faction switching things up a little. Their rep seasons at the New Diorama have considerably brightened up the last few Januaries with Shakespeare, Schiller and more but this year sees them drop the three play model for a single show in Richard III and expand their ensemble to 19 bodies, impressively increasing its diversity in age, colour and gender. The Faction’s playing style is stripped-back and largely prop-free, allowing a focus on physical expression to reinterpret the text.

It’s an approach that is suited to the black box of the New Diorama with its blood-red floor mat, Mark Leipacher’s production making varied and visceral use of bodies to form everything from the tower walls that imprison the young princes to the horse Richard rides into battle. And it’s clear that nothing is accidental here, every choice intelligently considered as seen in the bodies that make up the throne to which Gloucester finally accedes, being those of the four men he has most recently had killed. Continue reading “Review: Richard III, New Diorama”

Review: Joan of Arc, New Diorama

“You can’t slaughter what you cannot kill”

In amongst everything else that the Faction do, they’re also steadily working their way through Friedrich Schiller’s plays with the aim of staging the complete canon of his work. I’ve seen them take on Mary StuartFiesco and The Robbers in recent years but their 2015 rep season features Joan of Arc, a free adaptation of The Maid of Orleans which was one of his most frequently performed plays during his lifetime. Its fiercely militaristic tone speaks to its popularity back then but the Faction, playing very much to their strengths in this thrilling and thoughtful version, make a sterling case for its pertinence today.

The play tells its own variation on Joan’s life – one could hardly argue it is historically inaccurate – which repositions La Pucelle as a defiantly active warrior in the Dauphin’s forces as the French Crown struggles against the combined forces of the Duke of Burgundy and Henry VI of England. That she was a peasant girl who received religious visions only added to her allure when her talismanic presence proved decisive in turning the military tide but the natural suspicion of anything different, combined with Joan’s internal dilemmas about the validity of her spirituality, allows the seeds to be sown for her downfall (even if it plays out in an unexpected manner). Continue reading “Review: Joan of Arc, New Diorama”

Review: The Talented Mr Ripley, New Diorama

“Do you like our new refrigerator?”

For an ensemble company that is so focused on, well, the ensemble, The Talented Mr Ripley seems a curious choice for The Faction to include in their 2015 rep season. Patricia Highsmith’s tale of homoerotic obsession, impersonation, murder and swanky new fridges features a tour-de-force performance from Christopher Hughes as Tom Ripley at its heart but in the final analysis, it doesn’t always feel like a show that really plays to the strengths and artistic potential of this group of actors and creatives.

Part of the issue seems to flow from the literalness of Mark Leipacher’s adaptation which runs at nearly three hours with the interval coming at the first hour mark. As you can imagine it thus retains much of the integrity, and detail, of Highsmith’s novel but it also consequently lacks theatricality. So many key story points are endlessly repeated – the day trips where Ripley gets ever closer to the luminous DIckie Greenleaf, the highly symbolic luggage that he carries with him, the various policemen who chase him through Italy – to little cumulative impact. Continue reading “Review: The Talented Mr Ripley, New Diorama”

Review: Romeo and Juliet, New Diorama

“What sadness lengthens Romeo’s hours?”

The Faction return to the New Diorama for their now customary annual repertory season, having seriously shaken up their line-up for the first time – just two core ensemble members remaining along with directors Mark Leipacher and Rachel Valentine Smith. What remains though is an equally serious streak of inventiveness that marks them as one of the more adventurous and exciting theatre companies out there. And it is that sense of innovation that sustains their fresh and spiky Romeo and Juliet which clocks in at a healthy three hours and fifteen minutes.

It may seem like a strange combination – such fidelity to the fullness of the text yet such exploratory theatre-making as led by Valentine Smith – but it provides some lovely moments such as the setting of the Act II prologue to music which is sung beautifully by the full company. Keeping the majority of the company onstage at all times allows for some fascinating, and wordless, extratextual exploration of relationships – the sex and violence of Capulet and Lady Capulet’s tempestuous marriage is compelling to watch and the genuine affection, love even, between the Nurse and Peter makes perfect sense.

Continue reading “Review: Romeo and Juliet, New Diorama”

Review: Reptember – Triple Bill B, New Diorama

“I can highly recommend the apricots”

And so to complete the set of triple bills at the New Diorama, Programme B of The Faction’s Reptember saw my third trip in quick succession to this most friendly of theatres, tucked away near Warren Street station and possessing some of the loveliest people working there. My mood was further enhanced by this proving to be my favourite of the three shows, demonstrating the greatest variety of style and mood in the solo performances that have made up this rep season. Programme A was also strong and if Programme C wasn’t quite my cup of tea, any issues I felt it had were more than compensated for here.

First up is Lachlan McCall in The Man With The Flower In His Mouth written by Pirandello and adapted and directed here by Faction AD Mark Leipacher. McCall is the perfect choice from the ensemble for this ruminative piece, his ruffled everyman demeanour suits the gentle rhythm of this late night interaction between his character and a man who’s missed the last train. The role of the other guy is taken by a video camera into which McCall speaks, the image being projected onto the back wall thereby co-opting us all into the reveal of the depths of his melancholy soul. It’s subtle but becomes most moving. Continue reading “Review: Reptember – Triple Bill B, New Diorama”

Review: Reptember – Triple Bill C, New Diorama

“You would like to hear that one wouldn’t you”

A second trip this week to Reptember at the New Diorama saw me take in another of The Faction’s triple bills after a strong start with programme A. For me though, programme C didn’t quite hit the same mark with its collection of solo performances. Whether connected or not, these were all new pieces for me so I wonder if that lack of familiarity played into my mindset. Additionally, it didn’t feel like there was quite as much directorial innovation at play here, previous work from The Faction having raised the bar in terms of expectation.

So with Aeschylus‘ Prometheus in a new version by Will Gore, director Rachel Valentine Smith has Faction AD Mark Leipacher up a stepladder, bound there by the dark deeds and secrets of his past but though it makes for an arresting initial image, the static nature it enforces on the piece leaves it feeling a little flat. Like with Borkmann, adapted by Leipacher from Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman, Alexander Guiney’s self-flagellating banker never managed to capture my imagination as he addresses the empty chairs that represents the family he’s let down. Continue reading “Review: Reptember – Triple Bill C, New Diorama”

Review: Reptember – Triple Bill A, New Diorama

“Can we discuss what makes great art”

The Faction theatre company have now become well established with their yearly rep season at the New Diorama so it was something of a pleasant surprise to see them pop up with something extra – Reptember, another rep season but this time made up of single-person shows. Over the next few weeks, they’re presenting three diverse triple bills, featuring new adaptations of some well-known works as writers and actors alike put a Faction-able spin on the world of solo performance. It’s a challenging evening to be sure, closer to three hours than two, but there’s wonderful variety within the programme as the three performances inhabit completely different aesthetics.

First up is Kate Sawyer and Rachel Valentine Smith’s modern take on Lorca’s Duende, an “interactive lecture” on the profound forces that drive the soul of true artists. Its presentation (acted by Sawyer, directed by Smith) is ingeniously conceived and comes as a marvellous surprise. Suffice to say, it demands an expressively physical performance from Sawyer and she fully delivers, vividly entertaining but with a tragicomic note that blooms beautifully late on. Lorca may not have referenced Penélope Cruz, Simon Cowell or Nick Cave directly in his work but the updating is beautifully done and makes great artistic sense. Continue reading “Review: Reptember – Triple Bill A, New Diorama”

Review: The Robbers, New Diorama

 
“He’s the apple of your eye but if that apple do offend, then pluck it out” 

The final piece of The Faction’s 2014 Rep Season 2014 is a revival of their 2011 successful take on Schiller’s The Robbers, which slots in along Hamlet and Thebes in playing through February at the New Diorama. As Schiller’s first play, it has something of a rawness about it in the way that brings together a surprisingly mature (for the 1780s) debate about state versus revolution, intervention versus anarchy, with the kind of histrionic family drama that at times recalls Shakespeare at his most bafflingly obtuse.

The play bounces between antagonistic siblings, Franz and Karl von Moor. The devilish Franz has hoodwinked their father into disinheriting the older Franz and so is allowed to grasp for power and money in court, whereas Karl flees to the forest where he becomes the head of a vicious band of robbers who are determined to start the revolution. Interestingly, the two never meet but their actions impact strongly on those around them as class, religion and society are indicted in melodramatic style. Continue reading “Review: The Robbers, New Diorama”