REVIEW: ‘The Author’ Tim Crouch (@ Bristol Old Vic: Now Touring)

“I have the choice to continue. I have the choice to stop.”

The Author Tim Crouch @ Bristol Old Vic Tue 28 Sep – Sat 2 Oct  *****

Performed within it’s audience, THE AUTHOR tells the story of another play: a violent, shocking and abusive play written by a playwright called Tim Crouch. It charts the effect that the play had on the two actors who performed it, the playwright who wrote it and an audience member who watched it.

Somewhere around the halfway point of ‘The Author’ in one of the breaks in the actor’s monologues I find myself watching a woman with red earrings who face gurns and twists in interesting ways as she reacts to the room. An older woman and her son on the other seating bank keep looking at and pointing at me and the friend I am sat with. In any other show this attention might be a sign that the play is failing to keep the audience’s attention; in this case it means anything but.

Tim Crouch’s new play, which premiered at the Royal Court in 2009, starts with a brilliant conceit. Two banks of seating face each other in the space. Two sets of audience staring each other out. From amongst the audience emerge a theatre obsessed audience member, a playwright and two actors. Each one unfurling the story of a shocking play we never see but which manages to pack a punch none the less. Theres is more at stake than ticket sales however as we are let into the private story of how the play affects the lives of those who work on it and see it, often in shocking and disasterous ways.

Given the flurry of shocking and/or violent plays in the ‘in yer face’ years of the nineties it seems strange that there has not before been a play to examine theatre’s relationship and responsibility when showing us the worst of human nature. In these perfectly formed and interconnected monologues we are transported to dark places, with the characters constantly asking our consent ‘Can I go on? Is this okay?’: consent which we as an audience give without knowing exactly where this might be leading. A fact wonderfully exploited as the play reaches it’s conclusion.

The actors (Tim Crouch, Chris Goode, Vic Llewellen and Esther Smith), from their places amongst us, give strong poetic performances that create vividly events and plays that we never see in the flesh and make us feel simultaneously as though they are just like us and yet sometimes completely strange and apart. We come to really care for them and belive in them in a way most traditional plays would kill to achieve.

As with Tim Crouch’s previous plays for adults (‘An Oak Tree’ and ‘My Arm’ ) the theatrical concept, whilst imaginative and new, is never persuded at the expense of the human story being told. Rather the two support and enhance each other to create a truly unmissable evening of powerful theatrical experience that leaves us all, theatre makers and audiences alike with much food for thought.

For details of the tour visit:

www.newsfromnowhere.net

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REVIEW: ‘The Chairs’ (Ustinov Studio, Bath)

Eugene Ionesco was one of the most important dramatists of the twentieth century leaving behind a legacy of famous absurdist plays including ‘The Bald Soprano’, ‘Rinoceros’ and ‘The Chairs’. In a lighthouse an elderly couple half remember and half forget the past and a lifetime of missed oportunities. Tonight, however, is different. The Old Man has a message to give to the world, his lifetime’s achievement to be presented by a special orator to an invited audience. As the guests arrive and the stage fills with chairs we are taken into a world of magical absurdism and pure theatrical joy.

In many ways ‘The Chairs’ can present a challenge to actors and directors. The absurdist style of the twentieth century can at first seem unfamiliar and this play asks much of it’s two performers who are on stage constantly and face perhaps the greatest mime challenge in theatre history as the ‘guests’ arrive, interact and fill the stage. Ciaran McIntyre and Janet Amsden certainly rise to the challenge in Maria Amberg’s wonderful and vibrant production.  Their characterisation is note perfect and the introduction of the guests so perfect that by the end of the play we can see the stage filled with characters. The set is simple yet effective with the combination of suspended chairs and almost pleasure pier lighting providing a brightness and energy that coupled with the actors performances leaves your head spinning. Martin Crimp’s crisp translation is faithful and fresh from start to end. To be surrounded by an audience overcome with giggles and gasps of amazement and joy is a rare treat and one which makes this a production to treasure. This is magical theatricality at it’s very best.

REVIEW: Medusa the Celt (True West)

A collaboration between three southwest theatre companies (True West, cube and Bedlam), Medusa the Celt is a new play by Nick Whitby, who also directs. The show has been touring outdoor venues around the south west with an interesting take on the story of Medusa.

The pages of historical background in the program indicate the depth and breadth of research that went into the writing of this play but also indicate the challenge it faces, filled as it is with many ideas. The play tells the tale of a celtic woman kidnapped and taken into the heart of Roman Britain and the journey her sister undertakes to rescue her. Along the way warriors, mystics, actors and spirits add their voices to the central message of the play, a romanticised comparison of the world views of the celts and the romans. The characters discussthe sense of oneness with nature, question the concept of ownership and comdemn opression, all noble aims but the power of this message is lost in a rather confused plot that even has the actors looking nervous and muddled at points.

There are some wonderful lines in the play and some great poetry and the central concept (medusa as a coded story about roman barbarity) is impressive but the play relys to0 heavily on telling us what is right and wrong about the celtic and roman ways rather than showing us. The tone changes frequently the writer seemingly unable to decide if he wants to write Blackadder or Howard Barker and the play is robbed of any satisfying conclusion to the tale as the characters become aware of their 21st century audience. There are powerful images and some good performances (the roman general/acting troupe leader is impressive as is the simpleton sister who follows her sister) but the direction misses many oportunities by relying on the storytelling and narration of characters rather than the dramatic moments on stage (a harp carried by musicians is not played, beautiful greek masks are held up and then dropped, stage boundires and conventions are picked up and dropped as the play progresses and the attempts at audience participation seem clumsy and out of place).  The outdoor settings, costume and music start to build an atmosphere that with development this play and production could carry into something magical but sadly at the moment this piece feels rather messy. A disappointment.