If this is a kid’s show, consider me a big one! [by James Wenley]
Outfit Theatre Company have turned their devising smarts on Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland story. I’ve never been to one of Outfit’s School Holiday shows, so was very curious to see how their upstart (and often dark) style would translate for children.
As we enter TAPAC it sounds like some unruly kids haven’t yet learnt their audience etiquette. But wait, no, that’s the Outfit ensemble, decked in school uniforms, and acting anarchic on the thrust stage. With all the busy-ness in this preshow I don’t know what the kids watching made of it, but I enjoyed the bits I could make out. The show begins with a school class prologue (each kid corresponding to a different Wonderland character, ala Wizard of Oz) where poor Alice gets bullied (“Dreamer, dreamer, you like Justin Bieber!”). The meanest bully (Ema Barton) gets her gang to steal Alice’s cat Dinah, and says she is going to eat her for dinner. She meets a talking white rabbit, who leads her down a rabbit role, and Alice finds herself in a strange Wonderland….
Teen angst on overdrive [by James Wenley]
Pity the British teenager. There’s something about the British school system that has seen it spawn more than its fair share of films, television and plays eviscerating the subject. Alan Bennett’s thoughtful The History Boys, which Punk Rock has been compared to, took a fairly noble approach to student’s studying their final exam. Punk Rock by Simon Stephens is something else entirely. While presenting as a familiar story of a group of grammar school sixth formers studying for their A levels, it explodes into a punishing indictment on the horrors of high school and the teenage wasteland.
School uniforms don’t stop Punk Rock’s characters from expressing their identities – it’s all how you wear your blazer. Opening loud to a suitably raucous punk song, a recognisable assortment of archetypes parade around the stage. There’s the tightly buttoned nerd, the suggestive hottie, the sloppily dressed bully, and the guy so cool he gets away with wearing a non-regulation jacket. Within seconds, the nerd’s pants have been pulled down and carted offstage. Ah, so that’s how it’s going to be.
Hauntingly Effective [by James Wenley]
With so much of the Fringe being comedy orientated, it was very refreshing to take a walk on the Gothic side late on Monday night. Benjamin Henson intelligently adapts and directs this unsettling stage version of Henry James’ 1897 novella The Turn of the Screw.
A white gowned governess (Philippa Johnson) is charged with looking after orphaned children Flora and Miles. She stands out in the world of the country house where all other performers are veiled and draped in black –are they in mourning for the past deaths in the house? Or pre-mourning for events that are yet to come? The staff (Brenda Kendall and Lisa Sorenson) are secretive, and the governess begins to suspect the grounds are haunted by her “young and pretty” predecessor Miss Jessel, and a former employee called Peter Quint. “Things have happened here” we are mysteriously told. The Governess vows to keep the children safe.
There is a real palpable atmosphere of dread in the theatre. Janet Kirwan’s effective dim light casts eerie glows across the actor’s faces and the Basement’s brick walls, and Polly Sussex plays a live score on the cello throughout, underscoring the dramatic and creepy moments. The use of selections from Henry James’ masterful text heightens the mood further. The Basement becomes a claustrophobic environment.