Kid Carpet and the Noisy Animals at Bristol Old Vic

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From the moment he appeared on stage, Kid Carpet had the audience captivated with his zany mix of quirky songs and conversations with toy animals! And with the audience full of excited kids (and equally excited parents in my case!) from as young as 2 up to 10, that was quite a feat!

Using a clever set up of a video camera and lights, Kid projected all his “conversations” with his toy animals on to a screen behind him, something I’d never seen before and that really added another dimension to the fun and believability.

The highlight of all the original self-penned songs from Kid Carpet’s journey to the local dance contest was definitely Bears Like to Poo in the Forest – we were all still singing it when we left the auditorium!

All in all, a fantastic show for kids of all ages, and the parents enjoyed it too, brilliant!

 

– Review by Lou Eddins

La Traviata at Tobacco Factory Theatre

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I’m no seasoned opera goer. In fact, the only one I know is La Traviata and that’s only because we bumped into it by accident last week in London’s Trafalgar Square, to where it was being transported from the nearby Royal Opera House for consumption by the wider public, most of us sitting on inflatable white cushions, gazing up at the huge screen with Nelson’s Column as a rather impressive backdrop.

So another first for me.  But even I can see the massive difference between that throw-every-penny-at-it production and this, Opera Up Close’s opera-in-a-box.

So, yes, we know the story, which is a propitious start for my girl, the only child in the audience of the main auditorium of Tobacco Factory Theatre, and me. “It looks different in here,” she says upon entering. Indeed it does and the set excites me.

This isn’t 19th Century Paris!  This Violetta is a woman surrounded by the glitz of 1920’s New Jersey – if you’re thinking Great Gatsby, you are spot on.  A veranda, movable windows, a chaise longue, liquor, a gramophone (!), more than a hint of the Charleston in the midst of prohibition.

Even though there are only five people at this party, I prefer the intimacy of it to ROH’s bustling stage. I feel as though I too am a guest here and I’m pretty sure I’ve met the coquettish Flora before, played so well by Zarah Hible. Warm, fun-loving, beautiful, loyal Flora, a woman anyone would want as her best friend. Even when Hible isn’t throwing her clarity of voice around, I can feel her strength. Would Violetta ever have survived so long without such a friend?

The women completely own this show and, given the subject matter, so they should. Violetta is just lovely; Louisa Tee plays her with such honesty.  A brave, genuine heroine, you can see why Alfredo would fall in love with her. Tee’s voice is clear and strong, her look perfect and her character sincere. Her strength beats poor Alfredo into the ground – would a woman like that really go for such a meek man?  But, ah, this story is about the inequalities of the sexes and Violetta is a fallen woman, here a gangster’s moll, riddled by sickness. She has no right to demand love, she’d never really dreamed of it. Though, look, here is a chap declaring a love strong enough to defy all that – he’ll be there for her always.

What should she do? Freedom has its price, after all, and this is powerfully highlighted as Violetta weighs up her options, “Always free. I will be free. I will be free!”

She grabs this last chance at happiness, ready to leave the glamour behind. Until that interfering father of his urges her to leave Alfredo. David Durham’s Germont is easily the strongest male performance, his maturity shines, his voice flies. A politician, Germont is also a concerned father; Violetta’s relationship with his son is ruining his family, scuppering his own daughter’s own chance of marriage. And, perhaps more importantly, it is damaging his career. She MUST leave him and he plays beautifully to her vulnerability, “Just picture it one year from now, the honeymoon is over, your beauty is familiar and he is bored.” What an arse.

Opera Close-Up’s La Traviata is an English version, another stroke of luck for a couple of opera newbies. And Robin Norton-Hale has made a good job of it. During the interval, I heard someone in the audience wonder whether this was how it is for Italians, being able to understand every word, not having to work hard at all to enjoy the performance. She thought it banal; I would say insightful.

The trio of cello, clarinet and piano, led by Elspeth Wilkes, is not the grand orchestra you’d expect for Verdi’s masterpiece but it compliments the size of the theatre and the scaled-down cast perfectly.  The girls did good 😉

At the close of La Traviata, it was Zarah Hible who got a ‘whoop-de-whoop” from me. Louisa Tee was alway going to get a great deal of that from everyone else.

La Traviata plays at Tobacco Factory Theatre until may 31st

– Review by Becky Condron

Extravaganza at Brewery Theatre

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We’d seen Le Navet Bete a couple of times before, so when this mother and daughter got to Brewery Theatre in North Street, Bristol, we knew that the tears would roll at some point.

That happened about five minutes into Extravaganza and we barely stopped laughing, proper, full-on laughing, for the next hour or so.

4 men. 4 clowns. 4 idiots. Romano, Hans, David, Keith. Each unique, each funny in his own right.  As a team, they’re a bloody riot. All Hans wants to do is tell you about his little known country (don’t ask me what it’s called; it’s so ridiculous, I could never spell it) but his bonkers team won’t let him: too busy being acrobats, riding unicycles, setting fire to stuff, punching each other, singing, being daft, stupid, bananas, hilarious.  They are completely madcap – you don’t need a story, you don’t need a review. What you need is a big old, heartfelt belly laugh. So, if you like your humour slapstick style, please just do it; go and have some fun.

I would see these guys every week if I could.  In fact, I’m thinking of running away to the circus.

Here’s what TCO, my 7 year old, thought of it all

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Extravaganza is on at Brewery Theatre until Saturday 31st May

– Review by Celeste and Becky Condron

Mayfest – La Merda at Arnolfini

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Silvia Gallerano

My first thought on exiting the critically-acclaimed La Merda at Arnolfini, Bristol, was “Maybe I see too much theatre?” Here was a naked woman on stage, screaming her life at me for an hour, revealing her anguish at having fat thighs and being “the small one,” telling me all about the blow job she gave to that ‘cripple’ boy, condemning her to a existence of one who is attractive to all ‘handicapped’ men, sharing with me her desperate quest to be famous, jiggling her breasts in excitement. But I left feeling that I should have liked it more, than I ought to have been whooping and clapping as heartily as most other members of the audience.

Mayfest offers a wide range of contemporary theatre from Bristol and further afield and La Merda is one of the festival’s two appearances at the equally contemporary arts centre, Arnolfini (La Merda + Arnolfini = very well suited). And our wonderful Bristol is an even brighter, ever more interesting city as a result as festivals such as this.  But you can’t love everything, right?

Given, Silvio Gallerano is formidable in her appearance as a vulnerable, pain-ridden, fatherless woman. She has plenty of the child about her and has perhaps not matured fully from that 13 year-old who lost her dad. She hates her body and, infuriatingly, never sits up straight to reveal what we can all plainly see is beauty.  I really wanted her to throw her shoulders back, stretch her spine, uncover her true stature, concentrate on the positivity of her breasts, hips, waist, buttocks and, bloodyhell, yes thighs!  But isn’t this, for many women, a sad reality: that modern phenomenon of never been being truly comfortable in one’s own skin, of not understanding that our bodies are what enable us to move, live, run, eat, climb, love, be, that how they look isn’t really the point; it’s what they are able to do that counts?  Isn’t it about the magnificient power behind those ‘ugly, fat’ thighs, not a few dimples of cellulite?

Gallerano’s delivery is crazed, she appears deranged and there is tremendous power in this.  How many others in the auditorium wished they could plead with her, “Stop shouting, just calm down, Woman! Please.”? Who else felt like running out of the door to escape her maniacal rantings? Any among you using every fibre of your being to not place your hands over your ears and rock to and fro, just to make it all stop? Did you want to twist her huge, expressive, contorted mouth into a smile, get rid of that (very impressive) grimace? Not just me then?

And that nudity.  I understood it was there to portray our actor’s vulnerability but I’m unsure it was completely necessary. Maybe I just want more from nakedness, perhaps I do actually see a female body as fundamentally sexual, which was probably the point too – are we all the same in that respect? A beautiful woman sits before us on a huge chair, talks about sexual acts and yet not once does she use her body in an alluring way.  Who wants that?

Fuck, is this really going to be another Bluebeard for me?  A performance that I didn’t actually like but that I haven’t been able to shake since I saw it almost a year ago? The kind of thing that eats into your brain, flashes before you when you least expect it?

Could be …

La Merda shows again at Arnolfini on May 23rd, 8pm

Mayfest is on at various Bristol venues until Sunday 25th May

 

– Review by Becky Condron

 

 

Death and Treason, Rhyme and Reason at Bristol Old Vic

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You don’t expect to sit on stage in the Studio of Bristol Old Vic when watching a performance.  You don’t think you’ll see an apple in a glass on your small round table. But tonight we’re here for Twisted Theatre’s Death and Treason, Rhyme and Reason, where a lot is familiar. But then it isn’t.

The creators of this piece, Hannah Martin and the cast of 5 we see before us, have taken popular nursery rhymes and explored their dark, historical origins, which they share with us musically, through song, ditty and poem.  The stage we share also houses a set of drums, a viola, a violin, a cello, a glockenspiel (what is that moving underneath throughout the performance, anyone know?) and a microphone for each member of the cast.  Children’s toys scatter the floor, mingled with cider bottles.

Nursery Rhymes.  We’ve known all this since we were children, haven’t we?  Ah, but not like this; this is for adults.

Yes, I’d heard of the provenance of Ring o Roses and Mary Mary, Quite Contrary before but never in words so sweetly melancholic, never with voices so powerful (great harmonies), never through musicians so accomplished.  Nuala Honan can really belt them out and her delivery of Jill’s texts to Jack, a comedic and ever so sad modern interpretation of Somerset folklore, is possibly my favourite part of the show.  Though that could be matched by Pop Goes the Weasel‘s drudgery of an everyday working life (“Just because it’s no longer 1805, doesn’t mean things have changed” – I paraphrase), led with power by violist Emma Hooper.

There is a dab of glitz here and a more than a glimmer of rough.  Glamour and squalor. Fun and horror.  The performance would be suited to a pub/music venue (in a jazz style) as much as a theatre. More, probably.  Which is why we’ll likely go and see it again when it comes to the Fiddler’s Club in October!

 

Death and Treason, Rhyme and Reason is at Bristol Old Vic until 10th May

 

– Review by Becky Condron