Tag Archives: Patrick Centre

Whitewashing Won’t Wash

NOT TODAY’S YESTERDAY

Patrick Centre, Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 23rd October, 2018

 

As usual when I’m reviewing a dance show, I’m somewhat out of my depth; I lack the technical knowledge to appreciate fully an edition of Strictly, let alone a contemporary piece.  But I decide, that’s not important.  The show should work on me without me being able to tell a pirouette from an arabesque.

This is a one-woman piece, combining traditional Eastern moves with modern, Western ones – I can at least tell the difference here – creating a fusion of the two.  It begins with our soloist (Seeta Patel) on a box in front of a reflective surface, moving with jerky, quirky grace; this is a prelude to the story.  A pre-recorded narrator speaks – sometimes the performer lip-syncs, sometimes she supports/illustrates the spoken words with gestures, abstract and concrete.  It’s the story of a land of faraway folk and has the air of a folk tale, and at first, it’s a bit twee.  Were it not for the ominous music, I’d tire of it quickly.  Having painted a picture of this idyllic, if other-worldly, place, the performer introduces a different land, pushing angular forms around to suggest a landscape? A ship? Accompanied by the music of Strauss.  This is the West, sending out explorers to the land of the faraway folk.  At first, gifts are exchanged but it soon turns sour.  As we know from history.

Then comes the show’s most potent image.  The performer pours a curtain of whitewash.  It runs and thickens in front of a suffering figure, obliterating the atrocities of the past. There are some disturbing contortions conveying the torment of the oppressed.  The more she tries to wipe away the whitewash, the more obscured she becomes from sight, until she is reduced to a shadowy figure, distorted, dehumanised, animalistic even.

Donning an elaborate frock made of colourless plastic, she dances to an operatic song that satirises the imperialistic, patriotic rhetoric of the oppressor.  These people should be grateful!  Like the dress, we can see right through it.  It’s comical but it’s also nasty and spot-on and bang up-to-date.    Compare with any of the hateful rantings of the ignoramus Trump.  Fake history is just as bad as fake news.

Seeta Patel is a charismatic presence, expressive and enigmatic in equal measure.  Director-choreographer Lina Limosani keeps the action clearly focussed, augmenting it with a sound design that incorporates sound effects to suggest location, and sound bytes to get the point across.

A provocative, politically pertinent and engaging piece.  I got a lot out of it after all.

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Me and my shadow: the human face behind the whitewash: Seeta Patel

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Nice Time

BARBARA NICE’S RAFFLE

Patrick Centre, Birmingham Hippodrome, Saturday 14th October, 2018

 

Appearing as part of the Birmingham Comedy Festival, ‘housewife, mother of five, and avid reader of Take A Break’, Mrs Barbara Nice brings with her a microphone, a manually-operated tombola and a bag-for-life full of prizes.  “We’ll do the raffle in the second half; the first half’s all admin.”

By admin, she means audience participation – two words guaranteed to send a chill down the spine of any British theatregoer.  But on this occasion, we need have no fear.  Such is Mrs Nice’s approach, we join in without worrying about it.  Her questions might call for a show of hands, a grunt, a nudge of our neighbour, and so on, as response.  At any moment, she might drop in the chorus of a popular song and we all engage in some impromptu community singing, whether it’s A Windmill in Old Amsterdam, or the jingles for Cadbury’s chocolate.  En masse, we mime that we are taking part in the Winter Olympics, going for gold in the curling.

It sounds daft.  It is daft.  But we don’t feel daft.  We’re having the time of our lives.

Mrs Nice has a way of bonding us all.  Her daftness democratises us.  Between self-deprecating remarks (the ravages of childbirth on her body, for example) she champions ‘ordinary’ and ‘working class’ people – and it’s about time somebody did, and thanks us repeatedly for coming out to see a live show, for breaking our routines.  We are all in it together – and this time, those words actually mean something.

The raffle fills the second half, a surprisingly thrilling ritual in which we are deeply invested – we’ve been issued a free ticket on admission to the show.  Mrs Nice parades half a dozen prizes that arouse our acquisitiveness instantly.  I have my heart set on a tin of marrowfat peas, and am gutted when someone else claims the bottle of Dettol…  Each winner comes down, Price is Right style, while music blares, and dances with our hostess.  There is no embarrassment here, and we’re all celebrating the good fortune of the chosen ones.  I come away empty-handed, alas, but my heart is full of joy.

This is what John McGrath, long ago, would call ‘A Good Night Out’, hearkening back to working-men’s clubs and variety shows.  It’s character comedy – Mrs Nice is the creation of actor Janice Connolly – a worthy successor to the likes of Caroline Aherne’s Mrs Merton.

The evening is rounded off with the entire audience coming onto the stage for a frankly terrifying game of What’s The Time Mister Wolf?  It’s a delicious moment and Mrs Nice has proved her point: it is better to get out and get involved with people.  This hilarious show does more for the audience’s mental health and well-being than any worthy self-help book.

Furthermore, it reminds us of the fun and power of a live show, something we can lose sight of as we crook our necks over our phones, barely interacting with the world around us.

A wonderful, wonderful night.

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Louder Than Words

#JESUIS

Patrick Centre, Birmingham Hippodrome, Thursday 15th February, 2018

 

Everything has a hashtag these days, doesn’t it?  We all remember the #JeSuisCharlie one used as a show of solidarity after the shootings at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office in Paris.  But other atrocities don’t receive the coverage on social, or any other media.  The idea behind this new dance production is that other atrocities are being perpetrated and the people caught up in them also exist, they can also proclaim “Je suis” (I am.  I exist)

Director-choreographer Aakash Odedra has put together a troupe of dancers whose initial brief was to portray what life is like in present-day Turkey, but the show developed into something less specific yet more universal.  Rather than particulars, we get types.  A man in a long, military coat, moves jerkily, making weird angles.  He is the oppressor, it transpires, preying on the rest of the ensemble, often singling one member out, male or female, and putting his hand over their mouth and dragging them away, like a lion picking off individuals from the herd.  To a soundtrack of sound effects: sirens, feedback, electric humming, the action plays out, becoming more frenetic, more distorted when loud music is added to the mix.

The ensemble, faced with a microphone, fall over each other for their chance to speak out – until the Man comes. Between blackouts, we glimpse striking tableaux, some of them Caravaggio would be proud of.  Imprisoned in narrow strips of light, they shake wildly.  They are wrapped in lengths of cling film, robbing them of individuality, dehumanising them.  To sound effects of the sea, they crawl, washed up on the beach, dead – we have all seen images of refugees who have met this fate, especially their children.

The show is a kaleidoscope of imagery and sound.  Some of it is abstract and you get a general feel for what’s going on.  Much of it is more directly recognisable.  All of it is powerful.

I don’t think ‘exhilarating’ is the word I want here, but I am certainly invigorated in a way by the energy of the performers.  Involving disturbing material translated into movement, this piece is not only a demonstration of what Dance can do but also a reminder of what is going on, what people are doing to each other in the world today.  Gripping, inventive and pertinent, #JeSuis engages us intellectually and emotionally.  Admirable.

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Moving Moves

TRANSLUNAR PARADISE

Patrick Centre, Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 31st January, 2018

 

Theatre Ad Infinitum are reviving their hit show from seven years ago and it’s a good fit for the Hippodrome’s studio space.  The cast of two, accompanied by an accordionist-vocalist, perform a dumb show about loss and moving on, using masks and movement and a bit of heavy breathing.  It is the story of a widower, an old man at a loss because of loss.  He makes two cups of tea, forgetting his wife is gone.  Flashback scenes replay his memories: taking her to the hospital, her flatlining… We go back to earlier, happier times: how they first met, for example, their first dance.  There are also unhappier times: her miscarriage – sensitively and poignantly portrayed.  In the memory scenes, the masks are removed and the movements are more stylised, more staccato.

Masks usually dehumanise the wearer – ask any psychopathic killer in a horror film – and all expression comes from the actions and gestures of the wearer.  Even though the actors use one hand to hold the masks, this doesn’t reduce their ability to express what their characters are going through, their thoughts and reactions, while enabling swift donning and doffing of their old faces as we go in and out of flashbacks.  We recognise the humanity of the elderly couple, and it helps that their life together follows a familiar pattern, moments we can recognise and to which we can relate.  It’s basically the first ten minutes of Up! performed with grace, dance and gentle humour.

George Mann and Deborah Pugh are remarkable in their range and precision.  Inventive use is made of sound effects: the man’s wartime experiences, for example, and his PTSD.  On the accordion and singing or whistling all the way through, the versatile Sophie Crawford provides the soundtrack – there is humour here too, like the sudden shift into Girl From Ipanema when the couple get into a lift.

It’s an absorbing piece, amusing, touching and uplifting, deceptively simple and impressively presented.  Mime worthy of your time.

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Facing up to loss: George Mann and Deborah Pugh (Photo: Idil Sukan)

 

 


Ice Screams All Round

THE FROZEN SCREAM

Birmingham Hippodrome, Thursday 8th January, 2015

 

In a new departure for the Hippodrome, the Patrick Centre – usually home to dance productions – is being used to stage a play. While the pantomime extravaganza is still having it large in the main house, this is a chance for a more intimate experience and – well, it turns out to be quite an experience.

Unfortunately for reviewers, the play is one of those pieces we daren’t say too much about for fear of spoiling it for those who see it after us. I will give you a taste of the set-up, though.

It’s 1928, and bright young hedonists Tony (Andrew Dowbiggin) and Madeline (Anna Andresen) are on their way to a fancy dress party at a house, a very big house in the country. A fall of snow maroons them in a disused hunting lodge and presently they are joined by other lost partygoers. There is predatory lesbian Jinty (Victoria John) and upper class twit Roger (Christopher Green – who also directs and co-wrote the script). It’s all cut-glass accents and bad behaviour, until mysterious events, um, eventuate… I don’t want to go into it, but this cod potboiler delivers laughs and chills by the bucketful.   Barney George’s set, all antlers, dust covers and icicles, along with lighting by Katy Morison and effects by Oliver Meech, all help the cast create an atmosphere of suspense and dread…

The script by Green and novelist Sarah Waters keeps the surprises coming. I fear I’m spoiling it by saying there are surprises in it. Expect the unexpected, I will say and, to echo a recurring line from the play, “Trust no one.”

Oh, and the fabulous Rula Lenska is in it, bringing a touch of class to the proceedings as Lady Agatha.

It all adds up to a hugely entertaining piece of theatrical cleverness. Truly sensational – in the literary sense of the term, The Frozen Scream is something new for the Hippodrome and I hope heralds a renaissance of smaller-scale productions in one of the country’s largest theatres.

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