Tag Archives: BE Festival

BE Festival 2015 – Opening Night


BE Festival, The REP, Birmingham Tuesday 23rd June, 2015


This year’s BE Festival at Birmingham’s REP theatre gets off to a cracking start with this double bill of winning shows from previous years.

First up is Locus Amoenus by Atresbandes from Spain. Chairs are set out to represent the interior of a train. Three passengers are unwittingly on the last ride of their lives. Captions projected on the backdrop tell us from the outset that in one hour the train will be derailed, having run over a rabbit, the entrails of which work their way into the train’s electrical system… It’s bizarre but it’s coming.

One of the passengers is female (Mònica Almirall Batet); in her sunglasses she seems oblivious of the annoyance she engenders with her interminable unzipping and zipping of her holdall. At the front, two men sit together.   One is asleep. His head lolls on the other’s shoulder. He falls into deeper sleep and his face ends up in the other’s crotch. He wakes, apologises and they laugh. The sleeper (Albert Perez Hidalgo) says the other man reminds him of his late brother. The other man (Miguel Segovia Garrell) reveals he doesn’t speak English.

So begins this perfectly timed, beautifully executed piece that turns out to be about all of us. We share a common humanity but we are divided by language and a failure to communicate. But, deeper than that, we forget our mortality and get on with our lives and all their mundanity, barely taking time to reflect and appreciate what is passing us by. This hilarious piece is ultimately very poignant, as we all head towards death, our minds preoccupied with other thoughts. It’s one of the most enjoyable hours I’ve spent in a theatre in a long while.

Next up is Show, a one-man piece by Antonio Tagliarini from Italy. Unfortunately, it pales in comparison with the previous play. This one is less accessible, its structure loose, tied together only by the repetition of sections. It begins with a man sticking tape to the floor. He tapes a route right across the stage and out of the door. Then he comes back on and dances, graceful but somehow humorous in his attitudes. This goes on for about ten minutes before he grabs a mic and addresses us. He says he’s after ideas to fill the rest of the hour but quickly abandons consulting audience members. He dances and struts around. There is more tape. There is a water pistol. He dons a mask of his own face. He puts on a wig and a high-pitched voice. There is a sequence of photographs of himself, gradually fading away… It’s vaguely amusing and Tagliarini is a likeable presence, but the show doesn’t click with me. It keeps going until it stops.

Perhaps this is more like life, after all. Perhaps we are just filling time, drifting from one thing to another, getting stuck in repetitious ruts, until we fade…

Perhaps I get it after all.

Locus Amoenus (A Pleasant Place)

Locus Amoenus (A Pleasant Place)

Friends and Neighbours


The REP Studio, Wednesday 2nd July, 2014


Presented as the second half of a double bill with Finger, Trigger, Bullet, Gun to kick off the REP’s BE Festival, this piece won last year’s first prize and audience prize, and now having seen it for myself, it’s easy to see why.

Two actors in an empty space, with only a few cardboard boxes that contain the props they need, re-enact the personal history of one, Ivan Hansen, our narrator – who has mad professor hair. The other characters are played, sometimes two at once, by Pekka Raikkonen whose strong features are impressively expressive and plastic. Ivan begins with the death of the man in the flat next door, a neighbour he hardly knew. This event leads him to reminisce about his friendships – there is plenty of fun with childhood chums, fishing, riding bicycles, skimming stones, in a dazzling display of physical comedy and mime, enhanced by sound and lighting effects. The timing is spot on.

Ivan considers how the changes in the world have made it possible for him in Denmark to be friends with Pekka in Finland – in the past they would never have met, or perhaps only on a battlefield. It’s a sweet and thoughtful piece, relentlessly inventive and performed with energy and brio by this likeable pair. Above all it is very entertaining. They incite us to introduce ourselves to the people beside and behind us – which is not as cringeworthy as it sounds. It’s all about making connections and building relationships – in contrast with the dominant (domino-ant) theme of the earlier play!

One piece of advice: accept the actors’ invitation to join them on stage for a shot of Gammel Dansk – but knock it back as quickly as you can!



Domino’s Piece, ah!


The REP Studio, Birmingham, Wednesday 2nd July, 2014


Serbian playwright Neriad Prokic’s first work in 25 years is presented here by Birmingham’s own Stan’s Cafe – the company he challenged to stage The Anatomy of Melancholy a while back (which they did, with aplomb!). Here, theatrically at least, the scale is much smaller although the subject matter deals with the fate of the world. Among intricate set-ups of thousands of dominoes, the four performers deliver scenes, out of chronological order, in which the main players (or suspects) who brought about World War I are shown, conspiring and colluding: among them is Franz Ferdinand whose fate, we know, is sealed. Our guides through this historical essay are two unnamed figures, a kind of Vladimir and Estragon pair or a Yin and Yang. One is pessimistic and pragmatic, the other optimistic and idealistic. It’s interesting if wordy and – probably necessarily so, because of the dominoes that surround them! – rather static. The dominoes and the setter-upper who crawls her way around the floor, adding yet more to the ranks, provide the tension. We know they are going to topple but we don’t know when… And there is the ever-present danger that they might get knocked, trodden on or triggered at the wrong moment.

When they do go, their rattle and slap as they hit the floor is chilling and the devastation almost total. (Perhaps it was meant to be total, I don’t know!) It’s the play’s big theatrical idea.

The play’s other big idea is that the circumstances that led to WWI are being set-up again, like a row of dominoes. The unnamed commentators bring us up to the present day and here, unfortunately, the play becomes more of a lecture. There is nothing we can do, concludes the grumpy one.

The performers: Gerard Bell, Gareth Nicholls, Graeme Rose and Jack Trow deliver Prokic’s words clearly and with conviction, but on the whole the piece is too dry and too bleak for me. The title gives the impression the piece is more dynamic than it is. I felt like I wanted to be stirred into action but I wasn’t. By the end, I was ready to topple like a double blank.

The play is the first half in a double bill to open the REP’s BE Festival. The second play, Next Door, is reviewed separately.

finger trigger