So far this Camden Fringe I’ve had two trips to the Cockpit Theatre (a lovely, spacious and versatile fringe theatre in Marylebone) to see three shows. Each trip has been preceded by apocalyptic weather conditions, so with that in mind, I’d advise you all to have your umbrellas at the ready on 20th August, when I’ll be back at the Cockpit for my last visit of the Camden Fringe.
First up is Tethered by Contents May Differ. This show is a blend of drama, physical theatre, live music and puppetry (made all the more dramatic by the use of UV lighting). The action centres around Emily Flo Carter’s Alice, a dancer who is diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and becomes bed-ridden. In order to cope, she escapes into a VR world, where she can be distracted from her pain.
While this may sound dark, there is an optimism to Tethered, as we watch Alice go through the different stages of grief following her diagnosis. Carter is good as Alice, never more so than in the scenes with her fiance Kevin (played with a gentle, sympathetic humour by Daniel Chrisostomou), she is positively heartbreaking in the scene where he is trying to persuade her to see an American specialist who is in town.
The physical theatre elements succeed in giving the show an otherworldly feel, punctuating the sense of detachment Alice feels as she disappears into the relative freedom of the VR world. While she is going through her own trauma, we also see the ripple effects of her illness on those around her: her brother Jamie, his girlfriend (and junior doctor) Katie, and her best friend Jess. These parts are played well by Mitch Howell, Elizabeth Fitzpatrick and Amelie Leroy respectively. These supporting characters are interesting in their own right, and if this was developed into a longer piece there would definitely be scope to explore them further.
Tethered starts with a celebration, it takes us through trauma before ending on an optimistic note. For me the very real and tangible impact of chronic illness blends well with the dream-like virtual world brought to life by the physical theatre. It is a moving blend of the rational and the emotional.
If you want to check it out for yourselves the final performance is tonight (13th August) at 7pm.
Last night I also saw The Ideal Woman by Cognatus Theatre, a company of international female performing artists. And international they are with Malaysia, Finland, Italy and Brazil represented on the stage by Vinna Law, Susanna Hyvärinen, Vanessa Borrini and Morgana Baldissera.
There is something both epic and personal, timeless and contemporary about The Ideal Woman. I’m struggling to express my response to it (she has one job, I hear you cry!) so I’ll start by saying that it really resonated with me. The fusion of original music, movement and story work together to create a roar of a show. From girlhood through to motherhood, you get a real sense of the ties (physically represented with red string on the stage) that keep women in their place.
The Ideal Woman questions that place. It pushes against that place. But this is not a show that shouts about the patriarchy or men. No, this is about women, and their relationships with other women. How mother’s might encourage their daughters to shrink themselves into a shape that fits the world. How they do that with the best of intentions. How guilt permeates so many aspects of our lives. How The Ideal Woman for the world of today or yesterday, simply does not or did not exist. Maybe that is our curse.
From the very opening scene, when these four strong women take the stage, you feel you are being drawn into something tribal. They had my complete attention for the duration of the show. Each different thread of the piece building or demolishing a theme. The overwhelming sense is that of caged energy being set free. Yet within that storm of energy, the quiet moments pack an emotional punch. Vinna Law’s story of her grandmother was so resonant and truthful, it pulled at my heart.
This theatre piece is not for those who like a nice, straightforward play. It isn’t a play at all, it is a show that takes us on an emotional journey, that us invites us to process our own frustrations, guilt, rage, hope. It engages and reflects the challenges of womanhood.
The Ideal Woman is running at the Cockpit Theatre at 9pm until Wednesday 14th August, so you have two nights left to catch it.
The final show (although chronologically in terms of viewing it was the first) that I’m reviewing today is The Party, a new play by Sam J. Stewart. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure I was going to write a review at all, but here goes.
The Party is a two-act political play that is essentially about the Christine Blasey Ford/ Brett Kavanaugh assault case in the US, except the names have been changed, which is disorienting as the play opens with a soundbite of Donald Trump nominating Kavanaugh.
The overwhelming feeling I had watching this play is that it isn’t ready for public consumption. Most of the actors were tripping over their lines, the pacing was off and it felt really static. There was no real eye contact or connection between the actors, which left me feeling disconnected as a member of the audience.
It is certainly an ambitious piece, and there are some nice ideas within the production, but it simply doesn’t come together. As a result it is very difficult for me to comment on the play itself. It is very repetitive in the second act and, by virtue of its subject matter, very wordy throughout. Is there a gem in there that simply needs a bit of a spit, polish and edit? I honestly don’t know.