Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Online Theatre: Every Time A Bell Rings

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Every Time A Bell Rings. 
The story of how Clarence Odbody, Angel Second Class, earned his wings is a familiar one. But even an angel has to learn their trade, and that’s a much lesser told tale. Join Clarence in his angelic education, as his celestial colleagues teach him the ropes, offer him advice and regale him with their own stories of how they gained their flying licences. Will he be ready when the call finally comes? 

This production of 'Every Time a Bell Rings' was initially meant to be performed live in front of an audience, whilst simultaneously streamed for those watching at home. The county town of Bedford however was moved into Tier 3 on Thursday, meaning that the production would have to be all digital. The show faced further hurdles in the following days, due to technical problems and the introduction of new COVID-19 regulations in relation to Tier 4. The team involved laughed in the face of adversity however, and continued working to ensure that theatregoers would have the opportunity to see this highly-anticipated production. They ultimately succeeded, going on to create a filmed production of the show that they could then release to the wider public. The perseverance demonstrated in this particular production really is admirable, especially in these turbulent and uncertain times. Theatre is facing more challenges than ever before, and the devotion of the Mangled Yard Theatre Company should be applauded. They worked exceptionally hard to ensure they could bring joy to those in need of it, and that in itself is extremely commendable. 

There are some really important messages explored throughout the course of the show, particularly in relation to fairness and justice. The most striking part of the entire production comes towards the end of the show, which explores recent controversy related to the Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre. The aforementioned establishment is a detention centre for foreign nationals prior to their deportation from the UK, and is located in Bedfordshire. It has previously been alleged that the way in which the centre is run is unacceptable, and the show sheds light on the issue through a series of pre-recorded messages. I wasn't entirely familiar with Yarl's Wood, so I was intrigued to hear this particular story. It's important to raise awareness of issues such as these, and the show tackles it skilfully. 

My only critique for this production is that I did feel that there were certain missed opportunities that would likely have enhanced the overall production. The most prominent example of this was the Boris Johnson parody, who appeared throughout the pantomime segment. In this particular sequence, Johnson is given the role of 'pantomime villain', and is referred to as the 'Evil Baron Boris'. This topical skit had the potential to create a clever satire on the incumbent Prime Minister, though ultimately came up a little short. The actress performing the role did little to change her accent in order to impersonate Johnson, which in turn made this segment feel like something of a missed opportunity. I did feel that small additions such as these may have enhanced the comedic elements of the show, and thus benefitted the production as a whole.

In spite of this, it is still wonderful that this production is available to view, and it's great that audience members had the chance to watch it in the face of these new restrictions. Every Time A Bell Rings is a show for the whole family, and is well-suited to the Christmas period.

Thanks for reading!

-The Basic Theatre Reviewer

Friday, 18 December 2020

Online Theatre: Kuwento - 物語

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Kuwento - 物語.
‘Kuwento - 物語: Revisited Tales of Japan and the Philippines’, written by Nozomi Abe and directed by Yojiro Ichikawa, is a digital storytelling exploration of Japanese folktales told in English, providing the children and audience all over the world with the unique opportunity to experience the authentic Japanese culture. Its aim is to raise and increase awareness of Japan, and its culture, and to invite the audience to the world of Japanese aesthetics. 

This newly-launched production of Kuwento was recently uploaded onto YouTube, and is available for all to watch online. The producers involved have sought to find a way that can keep performance and theatre alive, in the uncertain era of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fact that those involved were able to put this production together in spite of the challenges faced is in itself remarkable. Those taking an active role in preserving the arts during these turbulent times should be commended for their work, and I applaud Théatre Lapis for all of their hard work. In addition to this, it should also be noted that this production is free to watch, which is all the more striking. Considering that there have been recent debates in relation to the accessibility of the performing arts, the way in which the producers have made this viewable for the wider public is highly admirable. 

The story features three well-known Japanese folk tales, which have been passed down from generation to generation and have solidified themselves in Japanese history. On a personal level, I am not overly familiar with Japanese culture, so it was intriguing to gain this type of insight. The first two folk tales are particularly interesting, and proved enjoyable to watch. They featured messages of love and hope, both of which are likely to resonate with audience members both young and old. It did seem however that the third folk story was the weakest of the trio, at which point the narrative lost some of its momentum. The production may have benefitted from shortening this particular section, as certain parts felt somewhat prolonged. It wasn't necessarily clear what the intended message was either, so it is also possible that further clarity may have proved beneficial.

Due to pandemic restrictions, the show is animated in its entirety, with no live performances beyond voice acting. The drawings used to depict the story by Nina Martinez were extremely well designed, and they did an excellent job of conveying the story. Their colourful nature proved visually appealing, and their level of artistry was captivating. I appreciated the level of detail that was inserted into each drawing, such as the recurring cat cameos that appeared throughout the show.

The show features a musical score by Ryo Takeshita, with lyrics by Eden Tredwell. Whilst the music was to a high standard, it felt like it was somewhat few and far between. It is likely that the production would have benefitted from a greater use of music, as this may have enhanced the overall narrative. This however shouldn't detract from the quality of the music, which was outstanding. 

Whilst there are still aspects of the production that are in need of tweaking, Kuwento is an interesting piece of theatre and I applaud its creativity. Considering that the show is in its early form, it'll be interesting to see how it develops in the future. Hopefully we'll see it transfer to the stage in the near future, and the troublesome times of the present will be no more than a distant memory. 

Kuwento  - 物語 can be watched on YouTube for free here: Kuwento - 物語.

Thanks for reading!

-The Basic Theatre Reviewer

Sunday, 13 December 2020

Review: Dream Machine

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Dream Machine. 
The Dream Machine : ‘Making your dreams come true’. The Make It Beautiful Theatre Company have presented four nights of improvised comedy using a new technique devised during their residency with Obra theatre company in France. Each night they will perform a brand new, full-length improvised play based on the audience's dreams...

Dream Machine is a unique concept, making use of improvisational theatre; a type of performance that I rarely come into contact with. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before, and thus it should be commended for its originality. The performers begin by engaging with an audience member regarding a recent dream, and then go on to create an entire production on the basis of that very dream. It is truly incredible to contemplate the notion that these new stories and characters are being created right before our very own eyes. The level of quick-thinking that is required to carry this out is awe-inspiring, and the performers certainly rise to the challenge. The production uses a minimalist set, comprising solely of two chairs. With these two chairs alone however, the actors are able to create this whole new world, and that in itself is also very impressive. Ultimately, Dream Machine proves to be a lot of fun from beginning to an end, and the time really flew by. The show provides non-stop laughter, and it was a joy to watch. In these trying times, it's great to have the opportunity to escape from the real-world, and lose yourself in a fantasy-world (or in this case; dream-world). 

The cast comprises of the Make It Beautiful Theatre Company, with the full cast including: Felix Grainger, Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson, Max Katz, Molly-Rose Treves, Yaniv Yafe, Will Stevens and Cara Steele. They were a very talented group of young actors, who were brimming with energy from beginning to end. They bounced off each other well, and had fantastic chemistry with one another. Each and every one of them had natural comedic abilities, and their comic timing proved impeccable. In addition to this, they way in which they interchanged characters throughout was particularly impressive. They switched characters throughout the piece, sometimes within a number of seconds, which is by no means an easy task. The performers however seemed to pull this off with relative ease, giving performances that felt genuinely believable. Most importantly of all though, it really seemed that the actors themselves were having so much fun onstage, which in turn made it fun to watch. From an audience member's perspective, it seemed as if they had enjoyed every moment, which certainly helped make the piece itself all the more enjoyable. 

Now for my final verdict on Dream Machine. I give Dream Machine...

Dream Machine is genuinely delightful, and it's distinctiveness is particularly striking. Additionally, the performances prove to be a particular highlight, and the actors involved are all extraordinarily talented.

Think it should have got a higher rating? Agree with my rating? Think it should have got a lower rating? If so comment below.

Thanks for reading!

-The Basic Theatre Reviewer