Oops I Can’t Keep Promises (And Other Stories)

So I promised that I would blog once a week. Oops. Since I brought my blog back from the dead I have posted once… Then I slipped back into my old routine of neglection. If there was a law against blog neglection I’d be on the offenders list and sentenced to life.

But anyway.

Since our last one way conversation, I have seen two plays. One professional, one amateur. Both amazing. Firstly, I saw Euripides’ Electra at New College Oxford. Performed outdoors by classics students,  I wasn’t expecting a stellar performance. They proved me wrong – the actors playing Electra, Orestes and Messenger were outstanding. Everyone else was strong, but these three really shone. I hadn’t seen a Greek tragedy since KES’ Bacchae of 2011 and it was wonderfully refreshing to see the origins of theatre in its original outdoor form.

Following this, I saw a much more recent piece of theatre – Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot at the Arcola Theatre, directed by ex-Eton Director of Drama Simon Dormandy. And this play was also refreshing, but in a bizarre and inexplicable way. This being my first Beckett experience, I was incredibly disorientated throughout but absolutely loved the experience. The set, a room of rubble and mud, had to be walked across to get to seats, and the experience was so intimate that I ended up being knocked by one of the five actors. I can’t really review it because for the whole show I was on the edge of my seat and forgot to think of anything to do with the outside world. The show left me feeling so complete that I thought the interval was the end of the show, then when I realised my foolishness I was so excited to get to see more! Seriously though, this show is such a buzz and there is some first-class acting and set design that goes on, so if you can then do go and see it!

My third (and final, you’ll be pleased to hear) story is one of plugging. A shameless bit of plugging. Do any of you remember me mentioning a show called She Who Shines? Basically, this show about Persephone, Death and the Greek Gods, masterminded by Alice Woodhouse, is so awesome that it is returning not for a second time but for the third time! How cool is that? It’s lasted longer than The X-Factor the Musical: I Can’t Sing! And this time, it’s not in the studio but in the MAIN SPACE! That’s 250 seats that will fill up to see some super-awesome acting. So if I were you, I’d go and see it and have a whirlwind of a time – you won’t be disappointed.

So, in short: university drama at New College Oxford is very good, Samuel Beckett plays are weird but totally weird, and go to Playbox Theatre to see She Who Shines.

Tara for now x

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Review: “Grounded” at the Gate Theatre

So, yesterday I went to see a show at The Gate Theatre in Notting Hill. The thing about this show was that it was a solo show – that is to say there was only one performer. Lucy Ellinson as The Pilot was one of the single best performances I have ever seen in any theatre. Grounded by George Brant tells the story of a female fighter pilot whose career is changed forever when she falls unwantedly pregnant – she is forced to become a remote-controlled drone observer and we begin to see the two worlds of the family and the battlefield collide.

The thing about solo shows I’ve always found amazing is the energy. As an actor I’ve only ever acted in what one could term a ‘normal’ show with other actors, and I’ve become accustomed to bouncing of them and playing the show with the energy we all create as a team. Lucy held the energy at a phenomenally high level on her own for 61 minutes. I was awe-struck. For almost the whole show I was on the edge of my seat and there was not a moment I felt like I was tired of seeing the same actress. The character had so many levels and dimensions to her that I felt I was watching a fresh person come on stage every five minutes as Lucy flew (pardon the pun) from moment to moment.

Along with my friends Ludo and Connor I had the great fortune of being able to stay behind after the show and meet Lucy for a quick chat. Still in costume, she sat there and was a totally different person. One minute I was watching American bravado and aggression onstage. The next, I was sat opposite one of the nicest people I’ve met – bouncy, exciting, and totally interested in us. Upon asking her some questions about the show, she mentioned that the beauty of a solo performance was that she could flow at her own pace. She also highlighted that it was a solo show in more than one way – all the lighting and sound was operated by one person, the SM. This really struck me – such a wonderful show performed, essentially, by 2 people! I realised that good theatre is often not in the big theatres with a crew bigger than my English class (just look at the X Factor musical I Can’t Sing…), but that small spaces often house the best performances. This show, which premiered at the Fringe, is soon going to America and then swiftly afterwards going on a UK tour. And it was performed in a studio above a pub. Wow.

I’ve just realised I have forgotten Oli Townsend‘s design, which was amazing, so I’ll describe it now. A cube. That’s it. It was a gauze cube, with an LED floor. Here’s a picture.

Grounded Set

Ludo asked Lucy afterwards whether she could see out and see the audience. We could see her when she was lit, and of course the audience was not lit, so we weren’t sure. She replied, “Actually, no, I can hardly see at all”. This really astounded me. Lucy was performing that 61 minute solo show once (sometimes twice) a day, and from her perspective she was performing it to a cube?! That’s quite cool, if you ask. I asked her whether she bounced off the audience at all even though she couldn’t see them. She just said that she goes into her own little world and she sees pictures in her head whilst she performs. It really got to me how one person could hold an audience alone, when she couldn’t even see them.

The other brilliant thing about Lucy was that she easily has the potential to be huge in theatre, and be in big West End numbers or other famous productions. But she doesn’t want to. She is passionate about political theatre – a category which Grounded certainly falls into (it covers the topic of the use of drones and the loss of jobs, as well as how a woman’s career can be affected by pregnancy). Lucy does what she loves and that is so clear from both watching her on stage and meeting her off stage.

Grounded was brilliant – there is no other way to put it. Go and see it at the Gate Theatre, Notting Hill Gate. If you can’t, it will be an amazing tour in Autumn 2014. Lucy said she knew she was going to Windsor and she was going to the Birmingham Rep – I know for lots of my readers tone of these will be near(ish) them during term-time, so make an effort to go, since it is an astounding production and you will love every minute of it. I will certainly try to go again. I think (and hope) that that alone does it credit.

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Theatrical Ramblings… Or lack of.

So, I haven’t blogged since March (insert groans and heckling from the readers). Sorry. I’m not going to lie; I have had the opportunity, just not the foresight to plan and actually get round to writing. So the blog stats have dropped (although I have officially had my 5000th visitor, so thanks guys) and I’ve lost my audience. Damn. I’m hoping that I’ll get this thing back up and running ASAP.

So, a little update of what’s been going on during the black hole of April/May… I’ve been in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (a few photos to come – the header photo for this post was taken during the Technical Rehearsal) which was great and involved me doing lots of dancing – something I’d never really done in theatre before. I’ve done my AS Drama & Theatre Studies Performance of Berkoff’s The Trial. I’ve been doing AS Exams in Latin and Ancient History. I’ve also got theatrical projects in the pipeline for next year. I’ve seen some amazing theatre. My theatrical friends have been off busy doing all sorts of other things – fellow blogger Ben Webber is working his way into the professional realm, Playbox directors Mary King and Stewart McGill have been to Buckingham Palace, and other peers are pulling off amazing theatrical jobs left, right and centre! So yeah, lots has been going on, I’ve just not been on the ball enough to blog about it… Oops?

It has been just over a year since I started this blog on a complete whim. I thought it would be nice to try and create a sustained project to record my experiences (predominantly theatrical ones) somehow and keep in touch with friends whilst away at boarding school. At times it has done just that! At others, I’ve simply not been able to update it regularly enough. Hopefully, from now on, I will aim to blog at least once a month, if not more. Please keep visiting as you may get lucky and stumble across a new post! If you’re really frustrated with my lack of updates, you can always read old (and very bad) posts…

Anyway, I hope this little update has rekindled a little bit of interest amongst readers (if I still have any left) and silenced your groaning and heckling…

Bye for now (but not for too long…)

H x

Categories: Acting, Directing, Miscellaneous, Play reviews, Technical theatre | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Protest Theatre

Theatre carries a message. By it’s nature, the plot of a play aims to affect the audience in some way. As an audience member, when I got the theatre I expect to leave feeling something I could not have felt before the show.  For some plays this aim could be to transfer a fact, or an emotion, or an awareness of something to the audience. I have only seen one show where I would classify its aim as a plea.

On the night of December 16th 2012 a young woman and her male friend boarded a bus in urban Delhi heading for home. What followed changed the lives of these two people and countless others forever. Nirbhaya begins by telling the story of one girl who was sexually assualted and died at 4:45am 14 days later. She was raped for hours on a moving bus, and sustained internal injuries to vital organs from a sharp iron rod insertion. The play progresses to tell stories of other women who were victims of sexual violence – the cast. The actresses told their own stories. One still had scars from where she had been doused in kerosene and set alight. Another was gangraped in New York. Nirbhaya does not attempt to pass the blame or point the finger at anyone – man or woman. It purely intends to raise awareness, and operates under the phrase ‘raise your hand and break the silence’. The reason I found this play so powerful was that it was pleading about something no-one ever talks about. We like to pretend it’s not happening. But it is happening. One in three women will experience sexual violence at some point in their life. The play is pleading its audiences to speak out against this. We have to confront it. We can’t let it go on in silence. Staying for the post show discussion, one of the things that struck me the most was that some of the actresses telling their story had not even told their parents or partners. One of the actresses told her mother half an hour before opening night. This is real. These actresses aren’t assuming other roles, they are being brave an telling their story to help others. The play has been a hit at Edinburgh Fringe, has played in London as part of the Women of the World festival and transfers to India later this month. It is making its way around the world, breaking the silence. Their plea was to the audience – “continue to break the silence after we have moved on. Share, retweet, spread the word and break the silence.” So let’s do that. This is protest theatre. This is breaking a social taboo on behalf of both men and women who have had their human rights removed. We have to break the silence. I attach some links and a video which I urge you to look at. It simply reinforces what I am saying.

Nirbhaya Video


Is protest theatre right? Of course it is. We have freedom of expression. Is Nirbhaya theatre or a documentary? Of course it’s theatre. We just happen to be told the stories by the victims themselves. Theatre always has a message. Some plays have a more powerful message than others. But Nirbhaya? By far the most powerful I’ve ever seen. The thing that struck me was how brave these performers are, yet also how scared they are. The responsibility lies with everyone to confront the matter and break the silence. Not just men. Not just women. Everyone.

Break the silence.

Nirbhaya plays at the Southbank Centre in London until the 12th March before going on tour.


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A Tale of Two Plays…

Apologies for not blogging recently. Doing three plays at once is always a bit of struggle, but nonetheless exhilarating. Anyway, I currently have a spare moment and lots of theatrical thoughts buzzing around my head, so here comes the next blog:

Two plays, both unlike in their dignity,

In fair London, where we lay our scene,

From ancient dance break to new prisons,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

From forth the fatal themes of these two plays

A star-cross’d teenage boy doth write his blog.

Okay, enough with the Shakespeare spin-off. Yesterday we went to see two plays – one in a space above a pub in Finborough, and the other in Soho district. Both very different. One playwright’s debut work about a boy’s death in a prison, and the other a dance piece.

I’ll start with Carthage. A first play by Chris Thompson tells the moving story of a mother and son stuck in the deadly loop of crime and prison, performed on a tiny traverse stage in a small room above the Finborough Arms. With probably about 40/50 audience in a very compact room, you were so close to the action. You could feel the electricity of the theatre in the space. The set was simple: a table, two chairs and a bin, plus some yellow fencing around the sides. But the space was not what made the show. What made the show was the outstanding acting. It’s hard to pinpoint, but to be so close to such amazing acting was quite an experience. I genuinely believed in the story that was being portrayed. It’s really tricky for me to put it into words, which is probably why most of the group I was with were speechless for the first few minutes after the show had ended. For such a small space with virtually no lighting or set,  it was really a beautiful experience – the purity of the acting. It just confirmed the concept that great theatre doesn’t need a huge theatre with lots of technical capabilities on Shaftesbury Avenue to do well.

The evening performance we attended was played at the Soho Theatre, and was called Running on Empty. A dance piece lasting only around 45 minutes, I entered the auditorium warily, not quite sure what to expect. Overall, I think I enjoyed watching the great dance and physical movement combined with original live music, but I don’t think I really connected with the piece at all. Some people in the group really appreciated. I like the concept of physical theatre and movement-pieces, but I don’t think it quite got the balance right. I enjoyed it nonetheless, however.

Overall, an exciting out with the ‘Experimental Theatre’ group which was in some ways eye-opening. Carthage was certainly worth the money, but I probably wouldn’t go and see Running on Empty again. Both, however, I would encourage you to go and see if you’re interested in the more “off-West End” theatre, which you should be! If you’re not, then start watching lower-budget theatre. I’m not lying when I say I preferred Carthage to Wicked. Go and have a look – you might find some hidden gems. We did!

But there you go – my incredibly brief reviews of two very different shows, plus an attempted rip-off of Shakespeare. What else could you ask for on a Sunday morning?

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A Theatre Manifesto

Studying the work of Antonin Artaud in a lesson the other day, we read his manifesto on theatre. Bonkers. If you’re interested in alternative attitudes to theatre, Artaud is your man. We were then encouraged to write our own manifesto of what we thought theatre should be. It occurred to me that, having written this blog for nearly a year now, I had never really expressed my thoughts and feelings about what theatre should be. I thought I’d share it with you.

Theatre Manifesto : Henry Edwards, 2014

So there you have it. A page and a bit of my opinions on theatre. Of course, these are individual thoughts and theatre means different things to everyone. So please feel free to either challenge or support my thoughts- I love an intellectual conversation about theatre! Just contact me: leave a comment or tweet me (@ChivalrousWench).

I hope you find it interesting!

Categories: Directing, Miscellaneous | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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