Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Treading the Boards

This year it would appear to be the year of random theatre.
Although I enjoy the occasional jaunt to the West End, I must admit that I don’t see as much theatre as I would like to. I have the occasional flurry but could not call myself a regular theatre goer. I also much prefer a straight play to some ropey musical which just rips off a film or a pop star of yesteryear. Enough already!
This year, however, I have been to the theatre a couple of times and thoroughly enjoyed it. And on both occasions I can quite honestly say I have never seen anything like it.
Last month I went to see The Red Shoes at Battersea Arts Centre. A friend invited me along so I decided to give it a go. After getting over some initial confusion (I thought the BAC stood for Barbican Arts Centre, you see) I turned up with an open mind. As we sat in the bar having some pre-show tapas the cast appeared in white vests and y-fronts and a variety of musical instruments. They serenaded us with strange, almost childlike melodies.
It didn’t get any less weird, but was fantastic all the same. Other than the narrator, who was dressed in elaborate drag, the rest of the cast wore simple costumes and used basic props. In silence they performed the tale of a young girl who was made some red shoes which she loved. However, when she wore them, she couldn’t stop dancing. Exhausted, she tried to take them off to find they had become a part of her, and, in desperation, she turned to the local butcher for relief.
My introduction to weird and wonderful performance art did not stop there. A few weeks ago I met a couple of people from the Roundhouse who gave me a flyer for their up and coming production, The Fat Girl Gets a Haircut and Other Stories. I was intrigued by the title and the illustration on the front of the flyer so decided to give it a go.
I was not disappointed. The actors were all young people who had got involved in the Roundhouse two years ago when they were aged only 12 to 15 – making the oldest member on stage today a mere seventeen. The show was made up of 12 short plays, many of which were performed in silence. Although I was often left unsure exactly what each story was about, they were beautifully performed and so emotionally charged and cleverly choreographed that, quite frankly, it didn’t matter. Again, the set was simple, props were kept to a minimum and the pastel costumes reflected the actors' vulnerability and innocence. The live music that supported them reflected the melancholy mood fantastically and the curved walls of the Roundhouse were used to project illustrations and animations that gave the experience yet another dimension. Needless to say, I was impressed.
Alas, some of the audience members were not happy, and I saw quite a few leave. Unfortunately in a space like the Roundhouse there was no way for them to sneak out the back and it was very obvious and distracting – even more so for the actors I am sure, who had to use the same entrances and exits as the early leavers. I couldn’t help but feel outraged on their behalf, especially as such a public snub would no doubt be felt more deeply by such young performers. Alas, you can find good theatre, but there appears to be no escape from bad manners.
Unfortunately The Red Shoes has been and gone, but if any of you fancy something completely different, get your tickets for The Fat Girl. But please don’t blame me if it isn’t your cup of tea. And, whatever you do, please don’t leave early.

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