Tag Archives: Devil

“The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart”

created by David Greig and Wils Wilson

at the London Welsh Centre, Monday 15th July 2013

“National Theatre of Scotland cannot be held responsible in the event of any member of the audience losing their head, their heart or their very self during the course of the performance”

Last night I was a motorbike.

Part the First

During the first act of Prudencia Hart
An actor pretended I was his kart.
Falling beside me he whispered “Give me your arms”,
Then rose up behind and clamped his palms
Around my wrists.
Then proceeded to drive me, bike-like, with all sorts of twists.
For a few short seconds I was not me
But had surrendered myself to become part of theatre’s visual imagery. Continue reading

“Satan’s Playground”

at Underbelly, Wednesday 15th August 2012

Satan’s Playground, based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s The Destruction of Kreshev and created by Sacred and Profane, is a piece which achieves what it sets out to do but fails to maintain an audience’s attention. Two strong performers are supporting by impressive tech and strong direction, but the story just isn’t interesting enough to warrant this adaptation.

Lydia Baksh and David Hewson play Satan, who narrates our story, and fit in all the other characters too. Their technique is incredibly strong and the characters defined enough to notice the difference without sacrificing nuance. The central narrative – a love story – is well executed and, considering it takes place in a religious area, contains with in it a decent amount of drama and debate. Nevertheless, the most interesting bits are Satan’s narration, which asks questions about the nature of sin and makes the narrative accessible.

The most interesting aspects of Zoob’s production is the tech, featuring Schlomo- style looping of sound and well-used lights. The sound is created by recording sounds made by the actors (either vocals or instruments) and playing it back immediately on a loop, allowing exciting atmospheres to be built up in seconds and ensuring an exciting live quality. The lighting cues are frequent, and are used to help tell the story.

But for all its interesting use of tech and impressive performances, it’s difficult to get excited about Satan’s Playground; the story, though well-told, fails to have any real effect and at times feels a little self-indulgent. This team makes storytelling fun and new, but one can’t help thinking that with different source material, Zoob and his team would be able to use their skills to better effect.

“Don Juan”

at C Eca, Sunday 12th August 2012

*Written for www.stagewon.co.uk. Published at: http://stagewon.co.uk/news/view/festival-don-juan/*

This production of Don Juan promises a “reinterpreting [of] the characters for modern audiences”, but it’s difficult to see how this is the case. True, Don Juan and his acquaintances are cast in a different light, and some reimagining is done, but fundamentally the themes examined don’t become overly modern.

Don Juan finds himself in hell, and after he explains his seducing techniques we discover the reasoning for his damnation. But though his exploits aren’t exactly lauded, I question the glorification of the lothario’s misogynistic womanising, which isn’t turned on its head until the final moments, and even then the previous sixty minutes isn’t completely subverted. If the company were trying to change the opinion of the story Don Juan to be one which isn’t sexist, they wouldn’t dress the women in corsets. It also seems this hell isn’t much of a punishment, meaning that the protagonist’s actions aren’t exactly condemned.

The movement is impressive and well-executed (except for the “party” dance), and a subtle soundtrack is well-placed. The Devil is represented as a witty, energetic individual who revels in breaking his charges, but unfortunately isn’t matched by this Don Juan, who isn’t overly charming and can’t replicate the effortless flirting this character needs. The performances of the women in the piece don’t do much to help the aura of gentle sexism at play; they are generally fairly dull and are more mechanical than human.

Attempting to change the feeling of Don Juan for the twenty-first century is a commendable aim, and Jackinabox achieve this to an extent, but fail ultimately to make us look at the play anew. The sexism and objectification of women clearly isn’t intentional, but without engaging performances it’s difficult to look past it to the play within.

“The Wild Bride”

at Warwick Arts Centre, Tuesday 25th October 2011

Written for www.StageWon.co.uk

It’s not often we find traditional folktales which have a feminist agenda. They normally reinforce patriarchal values and misogyny, mirroring the beliefs of the society in which they were first told. Kneehigh Theatre’s new production of The Wild Bride, fresh from the Lyric Hammersmith, manages to find a lesser known tale which champions women’s rights, creating a heroine who refuses to be identified in accordance with the men in her life and who manages to gain independence in a male-dominated world.

The story, adapted by director Emma Rice with text by Carl Grose, follows a daughter sold to the devil by her father due to a mistake. She is forced into the wilderness, but is taken in by a prince, who falls in love with her before impregnating her and heading off to war. It doesn’t sound like the setup to a defense of women’s independence in society, but the bride’s continued ability to survive without the help of men makes the point clearly.

In true Kneehigh style, the story comes first, interlaced with impressive dance routines and catchy songs. Rice’s direction doesn’t shy away from stereotypes, but these caricatures feel remarkably human. Some quirky touches and original ideas create a sense of magic and wonder. She is helped greatly by Stu Barker’s impressive soundtrack, the best since Brief Encounter, which begins as traditional folk music before introducing pounding base and club rhythms into the second act. Etta Murfitt’s choreography emphasises the bride’s zest for life.

Three actors play the bride during various stages of her development; as daughter, wife and mother. I worry somewhat that this reinforces certain stereotypes, but it’s bizarrely effective. She becomes a new woman with each turn in her life, and is played with a calm pathos by Audrey Brisson, Patricja Kujawska and Eva Magyar. Stuart Goodwin is hilarious as the father and husband, but it’s Stuart McLoughlin’s devil which impresses most, acting as narrator and creator. His vocal range is extraordinary, and he creates a human version of Lucifer who is at times truly scary.

It does seem at times, however, that although Kneehigh are doing what they’re good at, they are staying firmly in their comfort zone. There aren’t any techniques here which haven’t been used before, and even Bill Mitchell’s design doesn’t take many risks, bearing striking resemblance to both Hansel and Gretel and The Red Shoes. The production at times feels too polished (if that can be a criticism), and in being so slick it can become sterile, losing the charm of the original story. Though it’s hardly a bad thing that the company have become too good at their house style, it’d be nice to see a few more risks being taken.

Rice’s joyous production revels in storytelling and play. We are shown the growth of a woman, and by extension the growth of womankind. With one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a Kneehigh production and some beautiful moments of text, the company have created a solid, impressive production after a short lapse in quality. If you’re a Kneehigh fan (and why wouldn’t you be?), The Wild Bride won’t disappoint.

“Doctor Faustus” by Christopher Marlowe

at Shakespeare’s Globe, Thursday 21st July 2011

Some have expressed surprise that Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus hasn’t been produced at the Globe before now. Surely, they argue, as one of the Elizabethan masterpieces, it should have been explored at least once before now. Matthew Dunster’s production makes it relatively easy to understand why; this is a play which, even though it lends itself to spectacle, never feels tragic enough in a safe, enclosed environment like this.

I am yet to see hubris work in the wooden ‘O’; audiences fall about laughing in this auditorium, but never seem to grasp true remorse. Dunster fails to remind us that Faustus’ time is continually running out, and subsequently all we end up watching is the spectacle and the comedy, both of which work brilliantly.

Steve Tiplady’s puppet design successfully puts creepy ghosts and spirits on stage without reverting to cliches. The repeated image of a goat’s skull sends shivers down the spine, and coupled with Richard Pinner’s ‘magic’ there are some unexpected coups des theatre.

Jules Maxwell’s music begins with punch, but slowly becomes fairly dull and predictable, and Georgina Lamb’s puppet-like choreography never really gets a showing past the first act. There are lots of good ideas here, but the bizarre layering of them sometimes makes it feels like they’ve been created by GCSE students.

Arthur Darvill’s Mephistopheles is hardly one to lose sleep over, but the humanity which shines through is often touching. Paul Hilton’s quick-witted Faustus isn’t a tortures soul but a free spirit, and he too has some moments of brilliance (specifically the first scene). But the two actors who shine through are cast in comic roles; Felix Scott as Wagner acts as our chaperone, and his effeminate Emperor is inspired. Without a doubt, however, it’s Pearce Quigley’s gloriously deadpan Robin that steals the show. Once again, comedy prevails here.

This is by no means a bad production, but audience members would be forgiven for not realising that Faustus is one of the iconic tragic parts. Hubris is all but nonexistent, and until I see tragedy performed effectively at Shakespeare’s Globe, I’m sticking to my belief that this is a space for comedy.

“Settle thy studies, Nick, and begin”

 

The word Faust is latin for ‘lucky’. Nick Clegg at this moment in time most probably thinks himself to be incredibly lucky. He has managed to secure a coalition with the Conservative parliament for the first time in over sixty years, has been promised a referendum on the alternative vote and has even blagged himself the role of Deputy Prime Minister. There is no way more apt to describe the Liberal Democrat in the current political climate than as the German scholar who sells his soul to the devil.

Of course, this description will only fit if your political leaning is towards the left. Amongst his own party though, it seems that Mr Clegg may soon become known as the man who “sold out”. Liberal Democrat policies were thrown out of the window at even the smallest whiff of power and it seems that we will have to wait until at least 2015 before any form of decent electoral reform comes into place.

It is likely that most of you know the story of Faust, but for those who aren’t quite so au fait with their German legends, here’s a quick summary. In the legend, Faust is a scholar who seems to have it all. He is gifted with wealth, knowledge and wit, but yet still wants more. So far, so Nick. Faust has his own view of the world, and sees that working in black magic may give him the extra bit of power that he wants. He then makes a pact with the Devil’s messenger, Mephistopheles. Placing David Cameron in the role of the Devil and the overseer of the Lib Dem/Tory talks William Hague as Mephistopheles, the allegory of Nick Clegg as Faust holds even more weight.

Here’s the crux; Faust is only allowed this elevated power for a temporary period. The length of time varies from version to version, but it may as well be five years. After this time he is escorted to hell by the Devil’s associates and forgotten by everyone. All because he wanted some extra power.

In order to sign the pact with the Devil, Faust sells his soul and thus the essence of who he is has gone. Essentially, the Liberal Democrat party is one whose primary policies are based on electoral reform. In making a deal with the Conservatives, Nick Clegg has given up this fundamental part of what it is to be a Liberal Democrat; “Building a fairer Britain”.

When we look at Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, there are even more points on which we can draw allusions. In this version, Faustus is stuck between a Good Angel and an Evil Angel. One imagines many of Clegg’s party members telling him to, I paraphrase obviously, “leave that execrable art” of losing sight of progressive politics. The Evil Angel is represented by Danny Alexander telling Clegg to “think of honour and wealth”.

The scholars are the voice of reason in Marlowe’s version, and there seems to be no more fitting candidate for these roles than Vince Cable. Reportedly the nation’s favourite choice for chancellor, he could well have said “Oh [Nick], I fear that which I have long suspected, that thou art fall’n into that damned art”. It’s possible.

Obviously, this is mere speculation, and time will tell whether or not Nick Clegg has done the right thing. As things stand, however, the Liberal Democrats have given up a lot of their core policies in order that they are able to have a few seats in the cabinet. As with the legend of Faust, however, it could just be that the leader of the Liberal Democrats is forgotten. In five years time we may once again be saying those immortal words: “Nick Clegg. Who?”