(reviewed at the Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Norwich as part of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2015 on 13 May)
There’s something innately theatrical about the Jeff Koons exhibition on display is the Artist Rooms at Norwich Castle. It’s playful – “easy fun” has been one description – and contrasts a sort of conspicuous consumption shine, colour and glitter with the formality of white, totally realistic sculpture in a classical style and the type of objets trouvés (in this case vacuum cleaners and baseballs) one associates with the prints of Lichenstein and Warhol.
Unlike, for example, some of Damien Hirst’s sculptures which seem deliberately designed to unsettle the viewer, Koons invites us to frolic with him. Rococo shapes are suggested by some of the wall-hung panels, gleaming rich reds, blues, turquoise or green for all the world as though they were enormous facets of gem-stones. The famous anthropomorphic teddy-tears greet us; if you’re lucky, you may also encounter them in human form. Yet even these are not simply Disney.
Those towering urns crammed to their brims with seasonal flowers and fruits familiar from Dutch still-life paintings seem to be the inspiration for the vases of ceramic larger-than-life and twice-as-bright blooms. Again, the air of realism is misleading. But the whole of this exhibition is a double game. Yes, Koons is playing with us. But he’s also inviting us to play with him.
The Jeff Koons exhibition can be seen at the Castle Museum & Art Gallery at Norwich Castle until 6 September.
(reviewed at the Adnams Spiegeltent, Norwich as part of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2015)
Circa is an Australia-based company which takes traditional circus arts and allies them to something much closer to modern dance; there is often a complex intellectual back-story to the shows. What Will Have Been pits a girl and two men against each other, yet the fluid fragile alliances between each successive pairing suggests something deeper than the more usual girl-comes-between-male-friends scenario.
It begins with some spectacular rope-work by the unnamed female performer. In some sense her avatar, a violinist, her instrument enhanced, both comments on the action and leads it with Bach’s Partita which is inter-cut with an electronic soundtrack. What is so apparently plain before our eyes and ears is by no means the whole story. It’s counterpoint as well as variations on a theme.
The male acrobats swing each other round, balance on top of each other and perform vaulting feats. Is this rivalry, or just masculine show-off and preening? Is the male bond stronger than whatever fascination the unsmiling girl exerts, or do they just circle around each other in a sort of mental and emotional cocoon? The phrase “a mystery wrapped in an enigma” would appear to fit.
There’s no disputing the technical skills and abilities of all four performers. The audience is close to them at all times. The Norfolk & Norwich Festival (now threatened with an appallingly ferocious cut to its grant-aid funding) has commissioned this new piece from Circa as one of this year’s highlights. Let us hope that it won’t be the last.
What Will Have Been plays in the Adnams Spiegeltent, Norwich until 24 May.
(reviewed at Felbrigg Hall as part of the 2015 Norfolk & Norwich Festival)
This Festival commission from Wild Works is an extraordinary piece of outdoor theatre. The story of Wolf’s Child is one as old as myth-making itself and suggests that odd love-hate, fear-acceptance relationship which two-legged mankind has probably always had with the four-legged animal kingdom. We use animals, often make pets of some of them but – however much we attempt anthropomorphism – we are not of the same species.
From fold tales rooted in the forests which once covered so much of the European mainland and islands through Perrault, Grimm and Andersen and Frazer to the modern re-tellers of these stories and many more, wolves in particular are seen as creatures hovering on the edge of domesticity imbued with something of the divine as well as the feral. This is what director Bill Mitchell has latched onto.
The audience is led on a two-hour journey through the forest as night falls through 12 stages of the story by a flock of crows who order, cajole and comment. At a building very like the Palladian façade of Felbrigg Hall itself we encounter a cross between a ladies’ seminary and a reformatory where Mother (Sue Hall) has the whip hand and her favourites. Hazel (Mae Voogd) is being demoted while Rowan (Kyla Goodey) is promoted in her place.
Rowan is sent into the forest a kill a wolf as a sort of rite-of-passage. Hazel tails here. Rowan encounters a man-best (Morgan Val Baker) and begins to realise that she is perhaps not quite as human as the girls among whom she was brought up. It’s more than mere animal instinct, even when her coupling results in Thorn (Ellie James).
The wolf pack begins to bring up Thorn, until Mother manages to secure her. But she returns to the forest in spite of the carrot-and-stick technique of the “civilisation” attempt. Tragedy ensues, but so does revenge. The crows lead us in our turn back to gravelled paths and a flood-lit house. it was all just a story…well, wasn’t it?
Music (Abbott), enhanced sound (helen Atkinson), flaring torches and blazing log fires punctuate the action of Dave McKean’s script. The large cast is effective in their larger-than-life costumes (Kate Munro and Myriddin Wannell are the main designers). It’s an occasion piece, of course and the National Trust property provides a perfect setting for it. Most myths have staying power. I’m just not completely sure about this one.
Wolf’s Child runs as Felbrigg Hall until 23 May.