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Küsse, Red Room Productions

Written kisses never reach their destination… Lauren Thompson and Richard Hills-Ingyon are Franz Kakfa and Felice Bauer in Küsse.

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Whilst writing his greatest works (including The Metamorphosis), Kafka was engaged to a woman named Felice Bauer, a stenographer from Berlin. Whilst he wrote over 200 letters to her (later released in the book ‘Letters to Felice’), Kafka was never really ‘present’ in their relationship and pushed Felice away, preferring to keep her in his mind and on paper.

This is the story told through stunning physical theatre by Thompson and Hills-Ingyon, who shyly observe each other until they finally connect, finally speak only to force themselves apart again. Using repeated gestures, slow movement and bursts of action driven by their fear and passion, they briefly share a room that is small and yet holds them worlds apart.

A theme apparent throughout the performance is control. Felice and Kafka both want to control the way in which their relationship is conducted and the performers demonstrate admirable control over their bodies as they push, pull, extend and create repeated motifs. Both characters mention Kafka’s desperate fear, which kept him from committing to Felice and made him feel insignificant – a feeling reflected in his work.

The design is sparse – one room constructed with flimsy wooden beams, paper walls and two chairs create a setting which is destroyed with the demise of their relationship. Paper is a key element of the piece, with one particular sequence seeing Felice desperately write letters on the walls only for Kafka to stab them, tear them and miss them altogether. Both characters carry a suitcase, each seeming to represent their hopes or needs – Felice’s endless stockings, sexy negligee and dolls’ house furniture is a stark contrast to Kafka’s solitary suit jacket.

Moving, elegant performances are complemented by music that varies somewhere between eerie and romantic, emphasising the tragedy of the doomed love story. The piece would have more suited a black-box theatre than the doors and corridors of the University setting, however after enchanting audiences in Exeter and Belgium, Felice and Kafka’s love lives on through this imaginative and wonderfully devised theatre.

Küsse was performed at the Bath Spa University Theatre for one weekend only, but you can catch up with Red Room’s upcoming shows by following @MaryBSteadman.

*****

 

 

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Gone Girl – Review

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Happy anniversary…Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck in the twisted post-American Dream thriller

On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home to find his wife Amy gone and signs of a violent struggle in his home. At first, all focus is on initiating a search and appeal for Amy to be found – but Nick’s aloof attitude combined with questionable evidence prompts the investigators to question whether he’s responsible for her disappearance.

This suspenseful thriller, directed by David Fincher and written by Gillian Flynn (author of the original novel) examines what it means to be at the centre of a case and not sure if you’re a victim or a villain. As evidence of their troubled marriage emerges, Nick is pulled apart by the media and has to fight to clear his name while admitting his failings as a partner. It’s a portrayal of post American Dream, post-recession marriage that borders realism (‘Who are we? What have we done to each other?’)

Meanwhile, Gone Girl also asks us how we view a female character with questionable motives.
Is Amy, the beautiful blonde writer-turned-housewife a victim of domestic abuse, rape and even murder? Or is she the controller of her own fate?

While the critics fall over themselves trying to decide if Gone Girl is a feminist or misogynist representation, it’s important to remember that Amy is one character, not representative of all women. Her backstory goes some way to explain her actions in the present (mild spoiler alert). Her mother is the author of Amazing Amy children’s books, a fictional and exaggerated mirror image of her daughter’s life. Her past partners (notably Neil Patrick Harris’ character) also put her on a pedestal, with an expectation to be the ‘cool girl’ Amy describes but could never live up to. We see her through multiple eyes: Nick as he tries to make sense of what’s happened, the media who dramatically address the public about the angel gone missing, and Amy herself, as she recounts her life with Nick and what happens next.

After plenty of tension, twists and violence to keep you on the edge of your seat, Gone Girl leaves the end of the story rather ambiguous. It’s a thoroughly entertaining thriller with a stellar performance from Pike, widely touted as her career-making role. Go and see it before it’s Gone.

*****

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A Streetcar Named Desire – NT Live Review

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An intense setting and bold performances make for an unforgettable theatre experience from the Young Vic – all in the comfort of my local Showcase Cinema 

NT Live brings top British theatre to local cinemas, often for a fraction of the price. It’s a fantastic initiative that helps make theatre (and other cultural experiences such as opera and classical concerts) more accessible for the public. You can be transported to the Young Vic in London, Maastricht in the Netherlands and even Broadway (Of Mice and Men screens internationally from 6 November.)

As a first-timer, I found the experience compelling and well worth the price (around twice the cost of a normal movie ticket). The showing was packed to the rafters, with ushers even selling ice-creams. The show begins with a newsreader-style introduction from NT Live outside the venue, and kicks off fairly quickly – don’t be late. At the interval, those not busy queuing for ice-creams are treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the Young Vic, complete with testimonials from the artistic team.

What’s most surprising about this performance is the way it’s filmed. The production is staged in the round with a revolving set, which means the camera can’t be static – we need to follow the action. As a result, we’re treated to end-on shots, over-the-shoulder during conversations and the kind of close ups that bring us closer to private moments than anyone at the theatre would be privy to. The result is overwhelmingly intimate, as the cramped apartment pulses with tension and blasts of rock music.

The Young Vic sets this production in a modern-day New Orleans, where Stella lurches around in sneakers and they glug multipack Diet Coke. Whilst the themes are ultimately relevant to a modern setting, sometimes the old-fashioned dialogue jars. It’s clear, though, that they’re aiming for authenticity – each of the actors tries their best to maintain a Southern drawl.

Gillian Anderson is mesmerising as Blanche duBois, at once haughty, sultry and vulnerable. Staggering around the set, she plays the emotional (and alcoholic) damage so well that I was left wondering if the bottle of Jim Beam was real. She’s able to dress the characters down with a look,which becomes more glazed as the tension builds towards the play’s shocking climax. It’s clear her options are wearing thin as she provokes Stanley, her brother in law (played with grit by American actor Ben Foster), becoming more desperate to cling on to the kind of life she has lost. Stella, played by Vanessa Kirby (About Time) is beautifully torn between her troubled sister and brutish husband – and hints in no subtle way that it’s his violent, passionate nature that attracts and excites her. It would be easy to sideline Stella, as she is a comparatively passive character, but under Benedict Andrews’ directorship she has a raw, sexual energy and an equal presence.

At over three hours long, you’ll be thankful for comfortable cinema seating. But with such a mix of pace, tension and fantastic performances, you’ll be  left wanting more.

*****

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Singin’ In The Rain Theatre Tour 2014 – Review

What a glorious feeling, as one of Hollywood’s best-loved musicals tours the UK following its run in the West End.

It’s 1927, and Monumental Pictures will never be the same as they face the inevitable switch to talking pictures. Silent star Don Lockwood (played by James Leece) is betrothed to the insufferable Lina Lamont (Coronation Street’s Vicky Binns), according to the gossip magazines, but in reality he can’t stand her. One night at a post-premiere party, he meets wannabe stage star Kathy Selden (the charming Amy Ellen Richardson) and the rest, as they say, is history. Staying loyal to the  movie in most ways, with a few original touches, the show is pure joy and escapism with a seamless production.

From the minute the curtain rises, cast and crew give their all as people, sets and 12,000 litres of water make their way on and off the set. Did I mention the water? For this production, the (theatrical) heavens open and a special slatted stage drains the water back into a specially made tank – after Don splashes around in it, of course.

The design is sumptuous and a colourful array of suits, fringed dresses and furs shimmy around the set, which transitions with an ease that is the envy of anyone who’s ever worked in theatre. We’re also treated to multimedia display as the hilarious scenes from doomed picture, The Duelling Cavalier, are shown on a suspended screen.

Of course, the most joyful aspect of the show is the musical numbers and the exceptional dancing that accompanies it. The Broadway Melody scene is wonderfully executed, with hanging neon signs and light-up pavements complementing the sequence perfectly. The band, cleverly elevated at the top of the set so as not to get wet, create a spine-tingling atmosphere as Don, Kathy and Cosmo perform the tap sequences with flair. Stephane Anelli is a close match for Donald O’Connor as Cosmo, who is incredibly agile, energetic and hilarious as the role demands.

Also on top comedic form is Vicky Binns as Lina, who summons all her sass to simultaneously annoy and tickle the audience with her antics. Though she shouts a little, she’s spot on physically.

By the end of the evening, we were grinning from ear to ear (and many in the front rows were still laughing from being splashed) as we left the theatre on a high. A combination of winning performances, stunning design and classic, joyful musical numbers results in a truly uplifting and memorable show. It’s in Bristol until the 9th of August – don’t miss it!

 

*****

 

 

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Le Week-end – Review

Qu’est-ce que vous regardez le week-end? I stumbled upon this 2013 gem from Film4 during a leisurely Sunday stroll through Netflix, and was pleasantly surprised.

Married couple Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsey Duncan) are on their way to Paris for a weekend of nostalgia to celebrate their anniversary. They’re used to each other and their roles – “You’ve got the Euros” - and hopeful that the trip will present an opportunity to rekindle the fire.

Their illusions are swiftly shattered, though, as their hotel from a previous visit disappoints and a call from their grown-up son brings them back to parent mode. It’s clear that Meg has different ideas about their impending retirement – whilst Nick wants to talk about redecorating the bathroom, she’s dreaming of life in Paris – “Why would anyone want to live anywhere else?”

As Meg and Nick explore the city, spending too much money and attempting to rejuvenate their marriage, new possibilities are opened up and many an old wound picked. When they bump into Nick’s university friend Morgan (Jeff Goldblum on top form), tension and unfinished business builds to a subtly acted climax.

Both Duncan and Broadbent play repressed English dissatisfaction with panache as their relationship dynamic shifts and they finally voice deeply buried feelings. Despite the romantic setting there’s not a hint of cliché and, under the direction of Roger Michell, it’s a sharp but warm lesson in growing old together. As Nick deftly points out, love can be hating someone one minute and adoring them the next – but no matter what, you always want to be by their side.

****

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Top 10 films of 2014 so far

Happy Friday moviegoers!

The Guardian has published their top 10 movies of the year so far – do you agree with their choices? How many have you seen?

http://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2014/jul/02/the-10-best-films-of-2014-so-far

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Waiting for Waiting for Godot/Kamchatka – Review

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This double bill of original comedy places the audience firmly in the moment, offering a dose of pure escapism.

Potted Plant theatre company, a relatively new pairing of old friends in the South West, have brought to the Bath Fringe Festival a quirky and absurdist mix of previously performed material and a new piece on its first outing. Both plays have a spontaneity and pace that almost seems improvised, throwing you into the middle of a situation with no long preamble.

Waiting for Waiting for Godot finds two young actors waiting to rehearse a production of Waiting for Godot. The director hasn’t turned up and the two young men become increasingly frustrated with their wait, resorting in a peek at the directors’ notes. They don’t like what they find and what ensues is a comedy of one-upmanship, with each trying to convince the other that they are the better actor.

There are peaks of energy that would command a much bigger space – however the fact that the performance takes place on a pub’s basement stage is all the more fitting. Several acting clichés are played out fantastically – procrastination, vocal warm ups (“TENNIS! TENNIS?”) and bragging about being on Casualty all provoking knowing smiles in the audience. It’s good fun with a dark, philosophical edge and certainly warmed up a small audience for the second half of the evening.

Waiting for Waiting for Godot

Follow Jamie and Ben on Twitter: @PottedPlantshow

Kamchatka, a piece on its first public outing, finds two very different characters in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic America. This is for you to decide though, as the entire drama plays out in a living room (or cell?) around a complex board game. Tolstoy, a redneck in a string vest, is contemplating the lack of meat on his ribs, appearing to have once belonged to a dead man out in the hall. Glen, a nervous old man with a large beard and cowboy boots, is trying to explain how the board game works once again. The men are quite obviously trapped, both looking like they’ve not left the room in some time.

As the two attempt to understand each other, and the game before them, dark comedy and satire is peppered with political and social comment. Who are these people, and how did they get here?

It’s an absurd delight with real potential – the venue is limited but the duo make the most of it and as the drama reaches a peak, there’s a palpable tension in the room. The American accents need work and the sound of thudding feet in the pub overhead were a little distracting. But with more support, this company will go far.

Waiting for Waiting for Godot / Kamchatka is at The Assembly Inn, Bath on Friday 30th May. Get your tickets here.

****

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