The Believers Are But Brothers

The Believers Are But Brothers by Jaavad Alipoor – The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth.

Jaavad Alipoor explores extremism in its many forms and how the internet becomes a breeding ground for radicalisation. The play makes pertinent points about the ability of the online world to become a place of solace for those struggling with day to day life, along with how that can be exploited. There is the unusual addition of a Whatsapp group that the whole audience is added to (with people being neighbourly and sharing their screens for those without Whatsapp). It allows Alipoor to communicate with the audience throughout the show, placing us firmly within that online world. The audience builds up a little community, which is fun. There are also violent interjections direct to your phone that allows for a visceral insight into how online abuse can feel.

The play is a fairly intense viewing experience and felt particularly resonant now things like the incel community are becoming part of mainstream consciousness. It’s not always a fun experience but it is definitely worth your time. Alipoor is a skilled performer, presenting an engaging story in an interesting and unusual form.

Education, Education, Education

Education, Education, Education devised by The Wardrobe Ensemble – The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth.

As with Whey Down South, I saw this play far too long ago to write a post that does it justice. But I’ve said I’ll write about everything I see this year, so you’ll have to bear with. I will uphold my promises, dammit!

Anyway, Education, Education, Education is great. It’s a smart commentary on the impact of education systems on young lives, and in turn the impact of a country’s political environment upon schools. Some scenes are heartbreakingly familiar but it’s not short on laughs either. The music and dancing add fun to the piece, as well as making it properly nostalgic. If you’re at an age where Tamagotchi’s were a big part of your school life this play will definitely resonate with you. Scratch that, if you ever went to school you’ll enjoy this play. It’s really good.

See, told you I wouldn’t do it justice. Have some Lyn Gardner instead! https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/aug/17/education-education-education-review-wardrobe-ensemble-pleasance-edinburgh

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.

 

Clockwork Canaries

Clockwork Canaries by Christopher William Hill – The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth

Directed by Luke Kernaghan, this new play was a lovely completion of a circle for TRP. Kernaghan was the first resident assistant director for the theatre and has now returned to direct a show in The Drum. During his time at TRP he directed one of Christopher William Hill’s earlier plays with our Young Company. Lots of connections coming together! I really enjoyed seeing the fruits of the theatre’s emphasis on developing talent.

The show was right up my street as well. Dark, unusual and funny, with some stellar puppet work. The play is set in the town of Schwartzgarten, a fictional location seen in William Hill’s novels. On one of the nights that I saw the play there were some young fans of the books in the front row, giggling delightedly at every reference to Schwartzgarten specific products.

The play is ostensibly about a family. Maximillian Dressler (Dominic Marsh) and his daughter Tatiana lead lives surrounded by death, literally, in the form of the pet cemetery attached to the house. Tatiana herself (played with charming girlishness by Charlie Cameron) is obsessed with the subject, imagining her ideal tomb and drawing gravestones to decorate the house. This should set the scene for how odd the Gothic world of the play is. The pair welcome a new cat into their home, the catalyst for even stranger events. The cat, given the fancy moniker of Count Frederick Sebastian, is brought to life by puppeteer Richard Booth and it steals the show in several scenes (as does the puppet dog he also operates, it’s so cute!). The cast is rounded off by Jeremy Ang Jones playing a delivery boy fond of implausible disguises and Chris Staines who plays the flamboyant Mrs Steinhoffelman and several other characters. The staging is incredibly complex involving multiple speedy costume changes and some ingenious set design.  It’s such a fun spectacle to watch, bright and full of life despite the dark themes of the story. It’s laugh out loud funny at times and genuinely creepy at others.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. Go see!

Me and My Bee

Me and My Bee by This Egg – The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth

Co-created and performed by Josie Dale-Jones, Joe Boylan and Greta Mitchell, Me and My Bee is a play about climate change. It’s a huge subject that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with a children’s show but it works. A ‘political party disguised as a party party disguised as a show’ is how we’re introduced to proceedings and how we’re going to ‘save the bee, save the world!’. It’s an important and caring message, winningly put across through singing, dancing and awkwardness. It’s a really funny show, particularly Joe Boylan as the bee. His claims to be ‘only small’ (very untrue) consistently got a lot of giggles. The silliness is undercut by the big and serious message but the performers make it accessible and interesting for children (and adults).

There were minor issues with some of the audience though. The show is most definitely kid friendly but I think it works best for children over the age of 6. Younger ones will enjoy some of the spectacle but a lot of the message will go over their heads. There’s great interaction and engagement with the audience but it’s not the kind that will stop a two year old getting restless. It highlighted an issue with children’s theatre for me, in that if people have children of multiple ages they can’t just leave the littlest ones at home. Children’s theatre then has to aim for all ages, something that’s mad difficult to achieve and perhaps means that more nuanced shows like this one have to fight that bit harder to resonate. A tiny one literally screaming (not crying, just sitting and going ‘ahhhhhhhhhhh’ for seemingly no reason) is going to throw anyone off.

This is a really lovely show. It’s unusual, inventive, full of heart, and has a great message. It’s well worth seeing. Fun for some of the family!

Napoleon Disrobed

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Napoleon Disrobed by Told by An Idiot – The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth

The photograph above should give you an idea of how much I’ve been seeing on this placement. It’s more theatre that I’ve ever been exposed to and I’m loving it. It does however mean that my grand plans to review everything might be a tad ambitious. I’ll still try to write something about each piece but it means my posts will likely be brief/maybe not that well written.

Napoleon Disrobed is a play devised by Told By and Idiot, based on Simon Ley’s novel The Death of Napoleon. It’s a co-production with us, the Arcola Theatre and Told By An Idiot. With the play being a co-production, I was given more access to rehearsals than I’d get with a visiting company. I got to source some prop feather quills that they’re still using in the play. They get used for less than five seconds but I’m still weirdly proud every time I see them onstage. I got to be a tiny part of a show!

I’ve been lucky enough to see the play three times now, in its dress rehearsal, the Plymouth press night and the Arcola’s press night. Each time the play has been different. The company has been working on and developing the piece each night in response to audiences. It was good to begin with but it’s got even better.

The play involves some of the most interesting staging I’ve ever seen, I won’t go in to too much detail as it’s a nice reveal, but it’s very impressive and makes for some demanding physical work for the actors. Paul Hunter and Ayesha Antione give great comedic performances as Napoleon and literally every other character respectively. The play is at times bizarre, it’s not always easy to follow the narrative (that said, this has improved every time I’ve seen it, even minor tweaks to some lines have made it clearer) but it’s so much fun to watch that it doesn’t really matter. It is funny and moving in equal measure.