Local festivals and National Theatre

The Nose by Carnival of Objects

At Little Angel Theatre

The Nose PunchandJudytest1-2-710x320

We sat at the very front of Islington’s 52 year-old Little Angel Theatre to watch The Nose, one in a series of puppetry premieres by emerging companies in this FIRSTS Festival. A puppet around three feet tall lay, sozzled, directly in front of us, moaning, squirming, crying, wailing among strewn about bottles of vodka and misery. We knew the puppet was feeling melancholic by his demeanour and the painful screech of the violin, the complaint of the kazoo.

This is the story of Major Kovalyov, an uppity fellow of St Petersburg, and a lover of the female form. Indeed, a puppet so debauched as to strike up a short, flirty conversation with me, said he was having ‘impure thoughts’ about me. Blush. The cheek! The drunken prostrate figure, it turns out, is Ivan Yakovlevich the Barber, the wretch responsible for cutting off the Major’s nose, a nose that goes on to create a larger-than-life Life for himself and becomes very, very famous.

In this play, The Carnival of Objects explores the absurdity of celebrity, a subject as much up for debate when Nikolai Gogol wrote the piece in 1825 as it is today, it would seem. A satirical look at society’s whims, its love of gossip, money and personality, The Nose is often a riot of expression. Two scenes, in particular, jump out: the moment when, upon awakening, the Major shrieks, “Where’s my nose? No…..!!!” and the exchange between our facially disfigured official and the brilliant Doctor; “hehehe … Death. Poison everyone. Chop off your feet.” Outstanding!

The stage is constantly in flux, 4 puppeteers manipulating more than 20 puppets, our beloved Punch and Judy, the narrators, among them. We have waist-high puppets, tiny puppets, 2D puppets, puppet booth puppets, flying puppets and animation. And the nose himself? He is the largest of all, his fame is so massive that this “mere appendage or should that be celebrity?” is grotesque in his enormity. He dances, he seduces, he prays, he screams, he commands and he is loved. Ludicrous! Brilliant!

This is all splendidly brought to life not only by the clever handling and varied voices of their human masters but also by the sublime accompanying music of the Cabinet of Living Cinema. There are sound effects for everything; the tock of a clock ticking and the urgency of the clerk writing are just a couple of the musical brilliances that spring to mind. Dangerously cacophonous at times and so subtle to be a suggestive tease at others, the three musicians, together with the visual mastery of the Carnival of Objects, brought The Nose close to sensory overload. In a very good way.

And what did my young daughter make of it all? During the hour or so that we sat at the front of that theatre, she sat open-mouthed, she laughed and she observed, commenting throughout the play, “Look, their feet are sellotaped together”! “He’s still got his nose in his hand!” “He’s under the sea!” “How did that happen?” She is nearly 7, and a practised theatre goer, it must be said, although the Little Angel didn’t advise viewing by under 8s.  There were some dark moments in there but nothing too scary, especially for this Harry Potter generation.  Maybe 7+ would be a good guide.

This certainly is outrageous nonsense. A must see!

It would definitely suit rural touring and North Somerset.  I would love to see this kind of theatre brought to the “sticks.”    It doesn’t command a huge stage but enough room for 7 people and those 20 + puppets.  I would like to see it in any hall – in WsM, am thinking somewhere like Victoria Methodist Church in Station Road.  Clevedon Community Centre?  School halls?  Indoors may be best as the subtleties of the music and sound effects may well be lost in an open air venue.  That said, am a great supporter of open air theatre, not that I’ve ever seen much of it!

By Becky Condron



Bigmouth – Mayfest – Bristol Old Vic

It’s Mayfest!

Half a dozen microphones and a few glasses of water sit upon an empty table of the Studio Pit at the Bristol Old Vic. A screen above displays a catalogue of names and dates – Pericles, 431 BC;  Malcolm X, 1964, Ann Coulter, 2001 – in total, a list of 20 orators from History.

Valentijn Dhaenens enters the stage and begins to chant the chilling Biblical litany of the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, followed by a speech unleashed by the Grand Inquisitor himself.  That this is conducted in Dhaenens’ native Flemish with subtitles in English is a (very short-lived) worry – surely this communication would have been delivered originally in Latin or Spanish; would we be subject to over an hour of reading from a display?  But no, onto the heart-breaking plea, in English, as it would have been in 1927, of the soon to be executed Italian anarchist Nicola Sacco, appealing to the Supreme Judicial Court.

And the monologue continues – some speeches are comical, some familiar, some devastating. But they all powerful and delivered with fluency, mostly in their original languages, Dhanens affecting mannerisms and accents close to those of the Originals.  Goebells is creepy, Paton is repulsive, Lumumba victorious, GW Bush puppet-like.  Each and every one convinces us of the power of words, at times twisting truths, at others crying from the heart.  From Osama bin Laden, 1996, to F Van Heche, 2004, we become aware of how believable individuals can be, manipulating the spoken word in an attempt achieve sometimes unobtainable aims.

If Bigmouth sounds like hard work, it isn’t.  I certainly don’t know the works or, in some cases, even the identities, of every one of these historical characters.  It doesn’t matter, Dhaenens’ voice, song and choices, coupled with impressive lighting and sound by Jeroen Wuyts, tells the story for us.

Excellent!   Well done, Mayfest

– Review by Becky Condron

Zero – Mayfest – Bristol Old Vic

As part of MayfestClod Ensemble presented Zero at the beautiful Old Vic in Bristol. It is directed and choreographed by Suzy Wilson and the music is by Paul Clark.

As I took my seat there were various people meandering around the stage, some in suits and some in evening dresses, all barefoot. They all sat down and a hush descended among the audience, the lights dimmed and the production began.

I can’t begin to explain the plot or story that was being told on the stage in front of me other than it was in five acts. Not because it was so deep and meaningful that language could not do it justice but because I am still bewildered and slightly bemused.

Just to help you empathise with my bemusement: The piece began and finished with a lady in a suit walking slowly across the back of the stage, walking sticks around her neck and a tripod of sticks in each hand for support. An insect buzzing noise accompanied this.

I do not want to take anything away from the talent that was obvious before me. The ten dancers on the stage captivated and made me smile with their Lindy Hop. Some of the dancers looked ballet trained with the finesse and strength of movements. I was wowed by the music accompanying the piece a mixture of blues, jazz and soul (I think). The voices of both the male and female vocalists were superb, the songs divine. The connection between the movements and the dancing was mostly lost on me. There were members of the audience with far more incite than myself and the young man on my row whooping at the end was a sign to me I had missed something quite significant. I also overheard a young lady describing the piece as ‘just amazing’.

A trip to the theatre should be entertaining, right? Well I felt entertained so it definitely ticked the box. It would not be something I would recommend but I don’t feel it was a waste of my time. I did, dare I say it, enjoy it on a superficial level.

– Review by Cat Daynes

Fuelfest – Bristol Old Vic

Inua Ellams’ The 14th Tale

Inua Ellams’ white t-shirt is soaked in … what is that? Blood? Yeah, it probably is; he tells us right from the beginning of his monologue that, like his father and grandfather before him, he’s a trouble maker. A bad one, always getting caught.

Ever since he was a young boy, growing up in Nigeria, he has struggled with authority, his child’s hands attracting lashes of the cane for improvising in bible class, receiving the whip at his boarding school for his propensity to disregard the rules. His tolerant father understands, doesn’t berate him. This troublesome behaviour is, after all, part of Inua’s paternal legacy.

So, imagine his glee when, after having been torn from his homeland, crying all the way from school to the plane and to his new life in London at the age of 12, Inua’s classmate tells him that there is no corporal punishment in this strange country. The boy/man’s face becomes animated through glee; licence to do close to whatever he likes!

Through this writer and performer’s clever use of poetic prose and the creative lighting of Michael Nabarro, the audience is taken through the stages of Inua’s life from boy to young man, from Africa to London to Dublin and back to London, the only props on stage a chair and a torch. We expect a whole lot of trouble but we’re not sure in what form it will come. The father-son relationship features heavily, beautifully.  We witness our hero fall in love and, truth be told, we fall in love with him a little too, his face so sincere, his words so eloquent.

A thought-provoking, moving piece of theatre and well worth an hour of anyone’s time,The 14th Tale is perfect suited to the intimacy of The Old Vic’s Basement.

– Review by Becky Condron

The Victorian in the Wall – A Comedy by Will Adamsdale

Guy and Fi have known each other since, like, forever. University pals who never quite got it together back then, became reacquainted at a reunion, sparked up a relationship and well, it’s been OK since then, really.

He’s a foppish, procrastinating, uninspired writer; she works in the third sector, ‘whatever that means’. They bought a house a few years back and then just seemed to run out of conversation – you know how it goes. The solution? A readjustment in the form of a knock-through: connect two rooms, shake life up a little. Fi (Melanie Wilson) had meant to oversee the project but she has to shoot over to Denmark for work at the last minute. Guy (Will Adamsdale) can look after things at home, can’t he? All he has to do is let in the dead-pan Rob the builder (Chris Branch – great comic timing), receive a package, make the odd cup of tea. Or coffee. That’s not beyond him, surely?

But he wants to help, get involved, he really does. Fi has already decided that, if he messes this up (how could he?), she’s leaving him, moving out.

And then, during the week of the knock-through, Guy finally uncovers a story waiting to be told, when he discovers a Victorian in the wall. The 175-year old top-hatted, pipe smoking, cigarette-card collecting Elms (Matthew Steer) was, back in the day, in love with the domestically abused singer who lives upstairs, fabulously played by Wilson. As Elms adjusts at a pace to life in the 21st Century, he is joined by Guy’s adopted adult Nigerian son, played by Jason Barnett, and the trio form a cosy, mutually supportive network.

The Victorian in the Wall inspires laughter from the offset. We meet an array of characters, all played by the 5-person cast. The sound effects are so convincing that we barely notice how few props are actually used. The social commentary is specific to a British audience, the relationship quandary familiar to most. There’s music. The cast burst into song.

Structural mayhem ensues. Can Guy’s career be salvaged? Will he and Fi last the course?

The Victorian in the Wall is most definitely a whole lot of theatre fun.

– Review by Becky Condron


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