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 Recently, despite gaining more free time in which to enjoy it, I've been attending the theatre less than the time should allow. My faith in it had been gradually worn by seeing many performances that were simply "entertaining". To me, theatre should be more. It should excite, inspire, entertain, knock your world out of kilter and leave you feeling a little lost when you have to return to the real world. This is what separates it from television, which is often mindless entertainment. I like theatre which sucks you in, and makes you feel part of its world for a while (which is why I prefer black box theatres to Proscenium Arch, as an Arch disconnects the audience, creating a fourth wall, and a closed in performance space. Also why I prefer Brechtian theatre, as one of its main aims is to break down the fourth wall).

 The performance I saw this evening gave me hope again, that theatre can be amazing. I went to the theatre Royal to see a production from the Watermill Theatre on Tour performed by an all male theatre group called Propeller. I have been to the Watermill theatre (which is in Newbury), and it is truly a lovely theatre which makes me regret not being able to see it there. I remember last time I went; it was a perfect summer’s day. The theatre is surrounded by a beautiful garden, with a small river running through. It is a little bit away from civilisation, so wonderfully quiet. The theatre itself is a mix of original features, tastefully mixed with modern features, and even has the original watermill still in operation. The theatre itself is a black box, which I feel this performance would have been more suited to, as right from the outset; the actors addressed the audience’s presence, with the actors on the stage in neutral costume gazing into the audience. I hope I can return there someday. The performance itself was rather far from traditional. I have seen this play 3 times before, with the most notable being a RSC performance in London which was more traditional in acting, but with a truly beautiful, almost Gothic set. The faeries wore tattered lace, and Titania and Oberon, sweeping gowns in black for Titania, and brown for Oberon. The set was projected on to make the forest look alive, although the forest was not made of trees, but rubbish, obviously cast aside by the humans who ruled the day, spray painted black to give the illusion of darkness. The set for the Propeller production was draped in white camo nets, with sprayed white chairs creating a platform about 6 feet above the stage, all the way around the edge. This set gave the feel of a dilapidated dollhouse, a dream world in which the realms of fairy could come alive. The actors at first, all wore the same costume, a white jump suit with a white corset (which was often tightened during the play when women characters were played), except for Puck, who wore stripy stockings, and a tutu, to make him stand out as our guide into this strange new world. This neutral costume allowed them to dance in a chaotic chorus, like flying insects, casting our minds into the world of fantasy, while not letting us associate these "insects" with characters. As the play continued, the players added layers of clothing to represent each character they played. Furs, fine brocade skirts and tailcoats denoted the rich family of athens, while mismatched tutus and sweeping robes separated those of the world of Faery, the mechanicals wore long brown coats and work belts. This clear divide made the story easy to follow, even to those who unlike me can't recite most of the play by now. Unlike many performances, I could not point out many weak performers. Emmanuel Idowu though, who played Hippolyta seemed rather weak, with his facial expression and tone of voice not matching the intended message of his lines. Richard Frame who played Hermia, played a sufficiently annoying character, who out of the context of this play, I would have despised, but to me, Hermia is an immature, Princess like character who is very much prone to hissy fits. He also played Snug the Joiner, who he played as a timid fellow, and was totally charming.

 A Midsummer Night's Dream, essentially contains three plays in one. In previous productions of this I have seen, the transitions have sometimes been awkward, pulled off in a simple, high school-esque "black-out to next scene" kind of way. They seemed to manage this mostly seamlessly, with one scene buzzing into each other in a playful, insect like way. The scenes of the mechanicals created much hilarity. It takes a strong acting ability to be able to play Bottom, who leads the humour of the workers. In the first production I saw of this play, Malcolm Storry played Bottom with a particularly strong performance, and in the other two performances of it I have seen since, neither have matched his interpretation, with both relying mostly on the comic effect of the costume for humour (including one costume which used a butternut squash to represent his penis, which was popular among the young school students in the theatre). I would not say that Bob Barrett, who played Bottom in today's show was superior to Malcolm Storry, but his style was more slapstick, and reminiscent of the style of Frost and Pegg. He had me in fits of laughter, along with his fellow players in the performance of The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe, which itself could be seen as a parody of Romeo and Juliet, which was written around a similar time. This scene did go wrong in a somewhat obvious way, with Bottom's sword breaking, and part of it flying into the audience, and this disturbance distracting him, making him come out of character in a rather unprofessional way t say in modern language that he had forgotten his lines. However, in context, this wasn't as bad as it could be. as they had already included a lot of modern language, and had broken down the fourth wall even before they play had started.

 Another thing that way lovely about this evening was being able to see my Dad. As we no longer live together, this is a rare occurrence. We got to discuss many things, including the nature of performance, my future plans and politics. This makes a refreshing break from conversations with my mum, because as much as I love her, conversations with her are rather anecdotal, and are often to do with simple subject matter. Also my Dad doesn't seem to underestimate my intelligence. As an 18 year old, I am often typecast as the young one and patronised. While I admit those who have lived longer than me, may (although not always) have picked up more experience and knowledge along their way, I despise people using this as an excuse to talk to me like I have no mind of my own. I suppose I am guilty as much of playing on this attitude though. I will sometimes act young, playing on this stereotype. A psychologist may put this down to trying to reclaim a childhood lost to bullying and depression. But I enjoy the energy it allows me to express, and have no intention of trying to stop these childlike moments, and the renewed awe and wonder of the world around me they ensue. After all, to lose the sense of amazement at everything around me, would to me, be akin to that of the experience of death.

 Spider xxx


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June 2009



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