Category Archives: Circus & physical theatre

The Boy in the Lighthouse

reviewed at the Hostry Festival, Norwich on 24 October

Lighthouses are beacons of safety. They are positioned to warn of submerged hazards and the tumultuous seas which crash over them. Refuges – but perhaps in some ways they are also prisons.

This year’s Hostry Festival organisers, the PBSK Partnership in association with the University of East Anglia and Booja Booja, have commissioned an immersive piece of movement theatre from Total Ensemble Theatre Company and Rebecca Chapman.

With the audience on all four sides of the acting area, sounds, lighting and storm-seas colours for the simple costumes focus our concentration on the drama. The title character, played by Hugh Darrah,  is a solitary teenager, who cannot remember a time when the lighthouse was not his restricting shelter.

On the disused pier which abuts it a solitary semi-automaton fortune-teller (Aamer Raza) also seeks identity answers. As does an old mariner (Peter Barrow) nursing the remains of his pet crow (Lexi Watson-Samuels). But the sea is cruel, and its currents do not always follow human intentions.

The boy’s quest leads him to hot, war-torn countries where answers need to be pieced out of fragments. The fortune-teller also will gain the knowledge – and the peace – which he craves. It is very suitable that the myths of the sea and the distant lands to which it leads are here drawn from many cultures.

Four star rating

The Boy in the Lighthouse runs at the Hostry, Norwich Cathedral until 27 October.

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Filed under Ballet and dance, Circus & physical theatre, Reviews 2018

A Brave Face

reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 8 February

Post Traumatic Stress is a fact of both military and civilian life. The former also impinges on the latter.

Family, friends, employers and the medical profession all attempt to deal with a person whose life has been blistered by experiences they can scarcely understand and which are outside (for the most part) their personal acquaintance.

Vamos Theatre under its founder-director Rachael Savage specialises in full-mask mime. As in classic Greek theatre, the mask both hides the identity of the actor and allows each audience member to make of the character portrayed what he or she will.

Mime makes us concentrate – there are no words to distract from what we are seeing. This full-length production does have sound, created and mixed by Janie Armour and Adrian Northover. Carl Davies’ sets and costumes with Mark Parry’s projections and Russell Dean’s masks draw it all together.

The story is simple enough. Two young men Ryan (James Greaves) and Jimmy (Sean Kempton) join the Army in 2009. Ryan’s mother (Angela Laverick) and young sister Katie (Joanna Holden) see them off on this life-changing adventure.

It takes them to Afghanistan, completely alien in culture, faith and politics to th men of their platoon. Khatera (Holden) is a young village girl, with much the same teasing attitude to Ryan as his kid sister back at home.

Then something happens in the village. Something so traumatic for Ryan that he sins his life out of all control. Discharged, he can’t settle to a job, brushes his mother and sister aside and sinks so deep into depression that the pills prescribed by an overworked doctor seem to offer the simplest way out.

Does he take it? That you have to find out for yourself. It’s important to remember that, though the theme is serious, the staging has its lighter-hearted moments. Camaraderie is understandably a support mechanism.

Most evenings show us British and Allied troops coping with strange places and even stranger customs. Atrocities do occur; it’s difficult for the lay person to place these in true context.

At the curtain call, the cast take off their masks to reveal their own faces. It is a strength of Savage’s meticulously researched production that we feel we know the person behind the mask more completely than the performer when bare-faced.

Five star rating.

A Brave Face is at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester also on 9 February. The national and international tour until 30 May includes the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich ( 23 February), the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds (23 April), Hertford Theatre (1 May), the Mumford Theatre, Cambridge (2 May), the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford (5 May), Stantonbury Theatre, Milton Keynes (11 May) and the Rhodes Arts Centre, Bishop’s Stortford (12 May).

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Filed under Circus & physical theatre, Reviews 2018

Cirque Enchantment

reviewed at the Towngate Theatre, Basildon on 26 January

This show really does live up to its title. There have been a number of spectaculars around over the past few years, some of which seem over-loaded with symbolism and even pretentious. This one has a framing device – a young girl reading a fantasy story and singing “Over the rainbow”. Here dream adventure takes her to a strange world which mingles pleasure with pain.

Dreams have a habit of flowing into nightmares just before waking. So there arer elements of Alice’s adventures down the rabbit-hole as well as through the (violently splintered) looking-glass. The beings she meets include a dominatrix singer, spangled-masked, who is both mentor and adversity.

Apart from the succession of orthodox circus skills our girl-dreamer encounters as she negotiates her way through what you could regard as an allegory of growing-up, Cirque Enchantment’s strength lies in the costuming and lighting. From the opening silver and white sequence, colurs mutate through the rainbow with sequins, feathers and flowing drapes of shimmering fabric cleverly lit to fill the stage without crowding it.

There are aerial displays, juggling, some magical work with hoops, juggling on and off a unicycle and bars which all succeed in a natural flow and contribute to the story lne. I can’t give you the names of individual performers or designers, as the company doesn’t offer programmes with this information. That’s a pity, as it’s a company which deserves an informed audience.

Four and a half-star rating.

Cirque Enchantment plays at the Hertford Theatre on 27 January, at the Lighthouse Theatre, Kettering on 16 February, the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft on 23 February and the Grove Theatre, Dunstable on 25 February.

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Filed under Circus & physical theatre, Reviews 2018