Posts Tagged ‘Matt Forde’

I’m fast becoming a regular at Birmingham Rep; this is my third day-trip from London in 15 months, though on this occasion it wasn’t the primary reason – that was Grayson Perry’s Art Club third series exhibition. So I added this to justify the trip and was a bit taken aback at how big a show it turned out to be. With Avalon as co-producers, destined for touring and transfer I suspect.

I was an avid follower of the original ITV series which ran for 12 years in the 80’s and 90’s, but when it returned almost 25 years later it was on BritBox and I wasn’t inclined to subscribe, though I’ve seen a fair few clips on YouTube. Even though there is as much if not more to satirise, it didn’t seem to resonate as much. Perhaps in the age of social media we get more satire, more edgy, more quickly.

Well, you couldn’t accuse this of not being edgy! The premise is that King Charles wants to save Britain and recruits a handful of celebrities led by Tom Cruise to do so. Cruise is joined by Ru Paul, Greta Thunberg, Meghan, Tyson Fury, Idris Elba and Angela Rayner. Along the way we meet the senior royals, a trio of recent and current PM’s and a handful of cabinet ministers, five current and former world leaders, some more celebrities, and the ghosts of The Queen and Margaret Thatcher – more than forty in all, performed by just 12 puppeteers (with some very quick changes) and voiced by another 12 artists.

The premise is a a bit daft, but it doesn’t really matter as the show’s great strength is the extremely funny script created by Al Murray & Matt Forde with director Sean Foley. Some of the original series’ caricatures have lingered in the memory, like the grey John Major’s love of peas! Some here, like Rishi Sunak as a public school Head Boy, work just as well, but not all do. Ian McKellen (the puppet not the man!) is very good as a master of ceremonies and with Tom Cruise, Charles III and Putin & Xi carries the show.

It’s a huge proscenium set with boxes on either side onto which they project film footage of other characters like newsreader Huw Edwards. The Palace scenes are particularly well served by this, with a great Downing Street backdrop for the government sketches. The production values really are good. Like other stage shows which use puppets – War Horse, The Life of Pi – the presence of the puppeteer doesn’t really get in the way, and there are some clever ways on display here of integrating the puppeteer’s body with the puppet.

I would have liked to have been nearer (this was a last minute matinee booking in a packed theatre) to get more detail, and it was an early preview, so a bit rough at the edges, but it’s great fun and at the present time good to see satire on stage!

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Crocodile Fever*** at the Traverse was an extraordinary cocktail of black comedy, horror & fantasy with an added dose of the surreal! Set in South Armagh during ‘the troubles’, two sisters who haven’t seen each other for eleven years unleash horror on their bullying dad, with a lot of twists, turns and revelations along the way. It was too Tarantinoesque for my taste, a bit heavy handed and OTT, but you had to admire it’s chutzpah, and gold stars to the production staff who have to erect and dismantle an elaborate set worthy of the West End daily, the latter after it’s been roughed up rather a lot.

One of political comedian Matt Forde‘s daily shows**** is each week turned into a live, lighthearted political podcast with a guest and when we went he’d pulled off the coup of getting Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. It was a good blend of serious and irreverent and Sturgeon was game; I rather warmed to her.

Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein**** is the creation of a silent movie before your very eyes using three overhead projectors, actors, puppets, live music and sound effects. You can watch the creation or the end result or both, as I did. This American group is like our own Paper Cinema, but bigger and more complex, with ‘live’ action. I found myself more engaged with the creation than the story, but it was captivating nonetheless.

In a joint venture with the Television Festival, we got to see TV writer Russell T Davies****, most famous for resurrecting Dr Who, in conversation, illustrated by film clips. His body of work is extraordinary and his enthusiasm and boyish nerdiness was infectious. Illuminating and entertaining.

I only know American folk musician Anais Mitchell**** from her recent NT & Broadway hit musical Hadestown, but I loved her concert at Queens Hall. She writes great songs, and with the help of another guitarist, plays and sings them beautifully. Carsie Blanton provided outstanding support with a more varied, lighter set that was just as enthralling.

Buzz*** at Summerhall was storytelling illustrated by film, music and a soundscape. It was often gripping, but when the actor used a microphone she became inaudible behind the music / sound and when she changed character you sometimes got lost; well, I did anyway. I had to ask my companions too many questions afterwards!

No such problems with Fishbowl**** at the vast Pleasance Grand as there was next to no dialogue! This French company presented an ingenious and hysterical show about three very different inhabitants of adjoining attic apartments and their connections with one another. Brilliant physical comedy and a real comic treat.

Had I fully realised what Julius ‘Call Me Caesar’ Caesar*** was I probably wouldn’t have gone. It was a frenetic one-man-telling of Shakespeare’s story which even at only an hour seemed too long, but you had to admire comedian Andrew Maxwell’s hard work and audience engagement.

Modern opera’s are a risky affair but Breaking the Waves****, based on the Lars von Trier film of the same name, was one of the best I’ve ever seen. The challenging story of what one troubled woman believes she has to do for god and the love of her injured man was hugely dramatic and the music just as dramatic but also accessible. American soprano Sydney Mancasola was stunning in the lead role.

Back at the Traverse to begin the final day with How Not to Drown*****, the story of a Kosovan refugee who from aged 11 to 16 travelled to and lived in England, returning briefly to reunite with his parents in Tirana. It was deeply moving, with the refugee himself (now late twenties) narrating / performing, and brilliantly staged and performed. An absolute highlight.

Sometimes the juxtaposition of shows impacts enjoyment, and so it was with Austentatious*** which seemed too light and frivolous after How Not to Drown. Still the improvised ‘Pride & Prejudice on the Titanic’ was fun, but it would probably have been more fun at another time.

1927’s Roots**** at Church Hill Theatre didn’t live up their earlier work, largely because it was a loose collection of unconnected tales rather than a cohesive story, but their unique brand of live action and music synchronised with animation worth seeing nonetheless.

The final show, at the Traverse again, was Enough***, about two air stewardesses having a mid-life crisis. I liked the poetic writing, but the attempts at bringing in bigger issues were a bit obtuse and half-baked.

Little time to take in much art, but retrospectives of Bridget Riley and recent discovery (for me) Victoria Crowe and some Grayson Perry tapestries telling the life story of fictional Julie, the inspiration for his House for Essex, were all very good, and of course some fine dining, notably at newbie Grazing by Mark Greenaway, last year’s discovery The White Horse seafood restaurant and Martin Wishart’s The Honours.

A year without bummers, and with more than 60% of shows shining. Until next year?…..

Time for a rest; four days in Northumberland…..

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