Whey Down South

Whey Down South devised by Sam Parker and Alex Robins – The LAB, Theatre Royal Plymouth.

Full disclosure: I have left writing this latest batch of blogs far, far too late. I only have hazy memories to draw on here, having seen it well over a month ago. So all of my opinions are super vague – I’d suggest seeking out an actual review if you want a proper sense of what I mean!

Whey Down South was devised by one of Theatre Royal’s LAB companies – a scheme that puts together a group of artists, nurtures their talent and aims to create a company. The Narwhal Ensemble are definitely one of the scheme’s success stories. They seem to fit together perfectly, creating a sweet tale that is both routed in locality and fairly universal in theme. From what I remember, it’s a story about the impact of modernity on rural communities and how friendships change as we grow older and forge new paths. The piece features songs that suit its tone perfectly. There was some storytelling via the medium of milk and cups that I didn’t always fully get, but that was the only flaw I found. I really enjoyed the play and can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Then Again

Then Again devised by Tremolo Theatre – The LAB, Theatre Royal Plymouth

Then Again is a fast paced and funny time travel adventure. Focusing on socially awkward PHD student Millie, we see her develop from being unable to speak to anyone, into a YouTube celebrity. The story is a pretty familiar one – girl finds fame, thinks she’s getting everything she wanted, realises it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, ends happily with her finding what’s truly important in life. That narrative arc was familiar and is not the play’s strongest element. However, the time travel injects some fun into a familiar tale. The performers are all very talented, particularly in relation to the play’s comedic elements. Even though I knew what was coming, I enjoyed seeing Millie get there. I laughed out loud several times, particularly at interjections from talking toothbrush MIRI (it makes sense in the play, I promise). The lighting design was very impressive too, at some points perfectly recreating that classic computer screen glow through plastic tubing.

It isn’t a play that I’ll be thinking about for days afterwards, but it was a really enjoyable hour of theatre by a very talented group of performers. I look forward to seeing what they do next.

Sunked

Sunked by Chris White – The LAB, Theatre Royal Plymouth

As part of this Easter’s LAB season, writer and performer Chris White brought Sunked to Theatre Royal. The play skilfully blends poetry, music, spoken word, and James Cameron. Opening with the audio of a phone call from his co-star, informing Chris that he’ll no longer be performing the play, we get off to an awkward start. But it works, making Chris even more endearing. Chronicling his attempts to raise the Titanic while avoiding the wrath of James Cameron and Celine Dion, the play’s nicest moments are Chris discussing his relationship with his mother. The bizarre other additions are a lot of fun to watch but this familial relationship is the play’s heart. Chris is an incredibly talented wordsmith, I particularly enjoyed the section involving some Beautiful South references. I challenge anyone to see this and not leave feeling buoyed.

Slight tangent here – but I saw a previous review that suggested the use of swearing undermined the performance. For me, swearing isn’t inherently offensive. It’s dependent on context and nothing in the context of delivery here seemed offensive. Swearing in my opinion can enhance a message rather than undermine it, which I felt it did here. I understand that different people have different thresholds for offence, I was just very surprised that anyone could feel offended by such an amiable performer. It seemed a strange critique of a wonderful play*.

I guess don’t see it if you’re sensitive to usage of ‘bad’ language? You’d be missing out though. Chris White is an interesting, engaging performer, sure to have a bright future ahead of him.

*I should note, the rest of the review was on point. Just one lil section on swearing that confused me.

49 Donkeys Hanged

49 Donkeys Hanged by Carl Grose – The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth

I was very excited to see 49 Donkeys Hanged as I’ve been involved in the production since I first began my placement at TRP. I should stress that by involved I mean I did some low level admin type stuff for it. But I’d read the script ages ago, seen the design models develop and read all the rehearsal reports. I thought it was shaping up to be something special and I was right.

The Drum has had all of its seats removed, replaced by scattered hay bales to draw us into the strange world of Bosanko Farm. The play is a promenade piece, so you can follow the action around and get as up close as you want. Some chose to sit on the strewn hay bales but for me, the ability to move around and change vantage point made for a great experience. Inspired by a headline Carl Grose saw whilst traveling in South Africa, the play takes place on a run-down farm in Ventongimps, Cornwall. The characters are closely married to their Cornish environment with local references and in jokes aplenty – unsurprising given that Carl Grose himself is Cornish. We follow the tale of Stanley Bray, a struggling farmer mysteriously compelled to commit the strange task of hanging 49 donkeys. He is as confused about why as we are. Bray’s wife, Joy hasn’t left the house for 30 years following the disappearance of their son Bobby. The two threads of the plot come together in a surprising twist, raising questions about storytelling itself and who really owns our histories.

Despite the gruesome title the play is hilarious, with particularly strong comic performances from Will Hartley as Carl Grose and Ed Gaughan as Stanley Bray. The Drum is choc full of atmosphere and music provided by Dom Coyote (roving the audience as Randy Williams) will be caught in your head for days.

It’s such a fun piece, highly recommend you see it!

49 Donkeys Hanged also had a writer’s response evening.  Following Thursday’s performance Theatre Royal presented three short response pieces. The evening came about following a call out to local writers. Eleven responded and were invited to see the play, with 48 hours to write their own ‘response’ piece. Writers chose to interpret the idea of a response in many different ways, from introducing the characters to new environments, suggesting what may have occurred in the future for Grose’s characters, to creating entirely separate pieces inspired by the play’s themes. From these submissions, three were chosen to be performed by the 49 Donkeys Hanged actors.

The chosen pieces were some of the ones who had opted for entirely separate stories. The three plays were very impressive, particularly given the limited turnaround time the writers had. It was interesting to see what people perceived the play’s strongest themes to be. The writers chosen were Sam Parker, Mich Sanderson and Alex Robins. By chance, all three of those chosen have been involved with TRP’s LAB company scheme, which I think demonstrates the strength of the talent TRP is nurturing. It was a great end to the evening and something I really hope we continue to do.

 

IdeasLAB

IdeasLAB – The LAB, Theatre Royal Plymouth

IdeasLAB is a sort of scratch night offered by Theatre Royal Plymouth. It allows local creatives to showcase early stage work and get a feel for how it could develop. I saw 4 fifteen minute extracts, all of which were impressive in their own way. It was my first experience of filling out feedback forms for a show. I have a feeling most of my feedback was essentially useless, I’m not great at deciding what I think spur of the moment. I really enjoyed the night though. It’s a great example of what TRP is doing to help develop talent in the area. It was also another chance for me to experience something new. I’ve never attended a scratch night or anything like it before but it’s something I’ll be doing a lot more often now!

The pieces I saw were:

Efferus Collective’s Pithed – a dance piece inspired by the case of a woman who lost all sense of proprioception. It was unsettling at times, with some great live drumming to accompany it.

FullRogue’s WILD SWIMMING A Brief and benighted history. – an extract from a play (I think!) discussing gender roles throughout history, told through the lens of a couple on a beach, possibly going for a swim.

Chris White and Poppy Pedder’s KIN – inspired by Black Mirror this short play presented a dystopian future where humans are permanently linked to someone, their KIN. It presented how loneliness can creep in, even within a close relationship. Despite dark themes it was funny throughout.

Alex Robbins’ Bear With Me – Ostensibly the story of a writer getting his leg caught in a bear trap and coming to tell us the tale. It blurred the lines between truth and fiction, what was performance and what wasn’t. And featured some honey eating bears.

I’ve added in those fairly dry descriptions of plot because the pieces were all in their very early stages. I figured it’d be a bit of a dick move to be writing reviews of them. I’m really looking forward to seeing how all of the pieces develop from here.

La Forza Del Destino

La Forza Del Destino by Verdi – The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth

I don’t really know what to say about this. The Welsh National Opera is clearly formed of some very talented individuals. The power of their voices is impressive and the orchestra all sounded great. I loved the set design. But I was also bored stiff for the majority of the performance. Even with surtitles (which weren’t always working) and the programme’s synopsis I struggled to follow what was happening. There’d be wild applause for some sections, more muted applause for others and I couldn’t tell what was any different. I had no idea what was eliciting the extra cheers. This is the first opera I’ve ever seen, so I have a feeling a lot of me not enjoying it stemmed from me not understanding the conventions of opera. I’m glad I saw it, as it’s something I’ve never experienced before. I just didn’t especially enjoy it, which made me feel very guilty as I feel like it’s something I should have appreciated more. The whole experience made me feel like a bit of a rube really! – Through no fault of the WNO I might add!

Cathy

Cathy by Ali Taylor – TR2, Plymouth

Cardboard Citizen’s brought their production of Cathy to TR2, a brief stop on their current tour of the show. As it was being performed in a rehearsal room this version of the play was stripped back and basic, but still packed an emotional punch.

Originally written as part of Cardboard Citizens 25th anniversary celebrations, Cathy is inspired by Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home. Unfortunately, the issue of homelessness is still as pertinent today as it was in the 60s. For this performance the majority of the audience was formed of TRP’s engagement groups, such as Our Space. Our Space is a group for adults with multiple and complex needs, stemming from issues such as addiction, homelessness or social isolation. The aim of the group is to forge healthy social interaction, build confidence and encourage engagement with the theatre. I’m not always keen on outreach groups being made to watch plays that detail struggles similar to what they have experienced (the Exeunt article I’ve linked below explains why in much better words than I could come up with). However, in this case the attendees were aware of what they would be watching and had opted to attend. Cardboard Citizens also facilitated a discussion afterwards too which made things inclusive.

It’s testament to the show’s writing that the majority of the audience identified with what they’d seen, with many stating they had experienced a lot of the play’s events themselves. Cathy is the story of a mother and daughter who, after missing a couple of rent payments, find themselves in increasingly desperate situations. The current housing system for those in need is portrayed in all its inadequacies. It’s definitely not easy viewing. Some wry laughs here and there but overall the play is as difficult to watch as you would imagine with its subject matter. That’s not to say you shouldn’t see it! It’s great piece of work with stunningly realistic performances from all of the cast. The set design is interesting too, with what appears to be giant Jenga blocks being moved around to form each new environment, symbolising their transient homes. It’s a piece worth seeing, particularly for those who struggle to comprehend how a person could end up homeless.

http://exeuntmagazine.com/features/trouble-outreach-work/