“a spectacular performance taking the audience on a journey of emotions”
VAULT Festival 2020 is a storm of ideas and madness, parties, costume and cabaret. What’s so great about being in the audience of ‘If This Is Normal’, directed by Helena Jackson, is the experience of watching something truly honest and sharing something deeply personal with the characters.
Two siblings, Madani (Isambard Rawbone) and Maryam (Zarma McDermott) meet Alex (Aoife Smyth) on their first day at a new school, all recently having moved to the area. Instantly, they become an inseparable three, and bounce off each other with boundless energy, their neon costume producing a loud synaesthetic experience. This coming of age story is about feeling different at school, post-exam freedoms, strong teenage friendships and the different experiences and expectations surrounding sex and consent whilst growing up.
I couldn’t think of a better place than beneath the humbling arches near Waterloo to watch such a piece where we are confided in, questioned and left to reflect. The script is beautifully written (Lucy Danser), laced with moments of poetry and left without a resolution. The characters work together seamlessly and the lines reflect their uncontained love for each other at a stage in life when, even though everything is shared, everything remains utterly mysterious.
Clothes are a strong theme throughout. All the costume changes take place onstage and as garments are strewn about the set (Lorraine Terry) and new ones are acquired, the audience sees an acceleration of the period the three characters spend growing up. These are the awkward years of adolescence where nothing feels concrete and the eclectic outfits allow for some nostalgia. Pigtails loosen and bodycon dresses tighten: a concoction of conformity and liberation reminding us that being a teenager is nothing but confusing.
Loud conversation is accompanied by competingly loud sounds and music (Nicola Chang), which is unfortunately a little overwhelming at times. However, it captures the mood of different scenes remarkably well and is incredibly evocative. The different pieces of music also create an underlying structure to the piece. The characters make their own sounds: gasps, screams and thuds are the background to their movements as they slot into the spaces with perfect synchronisation.
All three characters deliver very intelligent and believable parts, three teenagers growing up with their own insecurities and quirks. Isambard Rawbone connects completely with his character and delivers a spectacular performance taking the audience on a journey of emotions.
If you have an hour to spare, this performance is truly worth seeing and will transport you back as well as offering a space for reflection on growing up and early relationships.
“artistic lighting creates a snug, clandestine ambience, with resourceful and imaginative scene changes”
Far from 1850s Paris, we enter through the sleazy glow and pulsating bass of the King’s Head Theatre into present day England for a new take on Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’. Stripping the story to its core and adapting four main roles to fit the update, Becca Marriott and Helena Jackson recreate the life of Violetta as a pole-dancer who chances upon Elijah (Alfredo in the original), reluctantly dragged by his father into the club where she works, and finds true love. Although a chunk of Alfredo’s story of male friendship and rivalry has been omitted, this adaptation adheres to the original idea of social reputation by making Elijah’s father anxious for his own political career (rather than unable to marry off his daughter) and he manages to persuade Violetta to leave his son. The ending moves away from the melodramatic tableau of the heroine dying in her lover’s arms, to an angry re-encounter of the couple and, while clinging on to his image, her decision to find her own freedom.
The combination of Amanda Mascarenhas’s red-tinged set and Nic Farman’s artistic lighting creates a snug, clandestine ambience, with resourceful and imaginative scene changes. In contrast to the grandiose, full-scale productions, this one concentrates on the intense relationships between four of the opera’s characters, Panaretos Kyriatzidis’ arrangement of the orchestral score for solo piano working well as an accompaniment. Oliver Brignall’s expressive tenor tones capture the changing moods of Elijah – nervous, enamoured, angry, impassioned. However, the strident power of Becca Marriott’s singing dominates the occasional duets they have. Talented as both librettist and soprano, she interprets Violetta with anguish and desire but could shape the music with more variety of dynamics and articulation. The intricacy of the coloratura in ‘Sempre libera’ is lost and we miss the spiritual quality of her final scene. Michael Georgiou as Sinclair, Elijah’s father, is the only one to compete with Marriott in volume with his strong yet lyrical voice. He adds a light-hearted mood at the beginning and, later, unnerving persuasion with Violetta and Elijah. Flora (Gemma Morsley) commands the stage as she oversees her nightclub but, despite showing her true vocal potential in a couple of instances, she is barely audible in the group passages.
Verdi’s ensemble writing is such an important part of his operas. The threads of the plot weave together and the parts need to be balanced to be able to appreciate the narrative and the music. A readjustment in certain sections would give everyone a chance to be heard. This ‘Traviata’ may not have the uplifting contrast of the big choruses or the intrigue of the sub plots, but its contemporary slant and abundance of wonderful arias make it an enjoyable taster for those unfamiliar with opera.