Tag Archives: Kate Baxter

Elephant Steps – 4 Stars


Elephant Steps

Arcola Theatre

Reviewed – 20th August 2018


“Kennedy has created something quite spectacular. His directorial decisions are often as surreal as the source material.”


Grimeborn is the annual East London opera festival which coincides with the world-famous Glyndebourne Festival. Founded by Mehmet Ergen in 2007, the festival held at the Arcola Theatre is considered a dynamic alternative to the traditional ‘summer season’. And, try as you might, I’m pretty sure you can’t get more ‘alternative’ than “Elephant Steps”. Written fifty years ago by Grammy winning and Tony nominated composer Stanley Silverman and American avant garde pioneer Richard Foreman, this show still feels outlandishly experimental.

Aptly subtitled ‘A Fearful Radio Show’, it is like randomly turning the dial of an old transistor radio. An eclectic (aka ‘chaotic’) cruise through a mix of renaissance, ragtime and rock; picking up on its way scraps of madrigal, tribal and incidental; a pinch of electronica and a nod to the Beatles and Bernstein. Oh, and Stockhausen, Kirchner, John Cage and Frank Zappa and… you get the idea.

The plot is as strange as the music. I’m often sceptical about programme notes that try to shape an audience’s interpretation of the show, but in this case, director Patrick Kennedy’s advice is spot on: “don’t try to understand”. At just over an hour long, it is as futile to waste time working out what is going on as it is to attempt to interpret dreams. The trick is to enjoy the limitless possibilities. And with his top-notch cast of eight blending the beauty of opera with the grit of rock, supported by a ten-piece band playing twice that number of instruments; Kennedy has created something quite spectacular. His directorial decisions are often as surreal as the source material. But like the source material, there is no real theme throughout – musically and textually. Without a solid frame, it is all too easy to lose focus, and interest. The score shifts from harmony to discord in a beat; from the relative accessibility of the pop and rock numbers to the atonal dissonance of the more unusual songs. And in between is the whole gamut of modern music.

Perhaps there is too much variety. It is very much a lucky dip, but if you keep turning the radio dial you will undoubtedly come across a station that appeals to your taste. This is a show that is in equal parts genius yet maddening too. It requires a stretch of the imagination but stretches your patience. It is exhilarating and powerful, but underlying it is a whiff of ‘the emperor’s new clothes’ and we occasionally wonder if we are being taken for a ride. Perhaps the cacophony of thoughts it leaves you with is intentional. Whatever the answer, and I suspect there is none, it is a quite unmissable production. Especially as each performance in this all too short run at the Arcola is followed by the chance to meet the composer Stanley Silverman in person.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Alessia Chinazzo 


Elephant Steps

Arcola Theatre until 22nd August


Other Grimeborn shows reviewed
The Rape of Lucretia | ★★★★ | July 2018
Greek | ★★★★ | August 2018


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King Rufus

King Cowboy Rufus Rules The Universe!

London Theatre Workshop

Reviewed – 15th August 2017





“The cast is on point, sustaining the focus and frenetic energy unwaveringly”



An English fop, who pretends to be an American cowboy but dreams of being King. There is no way to sum up the plot of Richard Foreman’s 2004 play, as there is none. This is a surreal abstract glimpse into the psyche of an infantile and reckless buffoon, playing with the power of his own subconscious – made all the more nightmarish for the very real links to a certain Mr Trump. 

This is a very ambitious and brave play for a fringe company to attempt and director (designer and choreographer) Patrick Kennedy’s team certainly give it their all.

It is worth saying straight up – this is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It is disorientating, disconnected and confrontational from the off. This is not a world to get comfortable in yet Patrick Kennedy embraces it fully. This is his third Foreman play and he clearly loves the material. From the set detail to the glaring lights, this is a tightly choreographed piece which addresses each new image with precision. The care in which the grotesque is presented creates a genuinely unsettling atmosphere – like riding in a limousine with a drunk at the wheel. The comedy is dark, made more so by recent events – King Rufus at one point does a Nazi salute – and it offers up no answers. In forcing the audience to assemble it’s own meaning Kennedy succeeds admirably.

The cast is on point, sustaining the focus and frenetic energy unwaveringly. As man-baby King Rufus, Stewart Briggs has a dangerous innocence, credibly flipping from childish to psychotic in an instant, charming but never likeable. As Susie, the stand out performer Madelaine Nicole Jennings injects some sass and warmth into the gun-totting bride and Kate Baxter’s innocuous, dead-eyed Baron Herman brings a chilling undercurrent to all her scenes. But the highlight for me was the music – the ensemble, completed by Jessica Foden and Dev Joshi, is lyrically stunning, beautifully complementing Kieran Stallard’s composition.

However not all of the effects succeed. In an intimate space with a limited budget some of the visual props don’t have the impact needed to carry the images. The constant bombardment may have meant to be abrasive, but repetitive rhythm also risks becoming predictable and at one hour and 20 minutes the show certainly outstays its welcome.

This is not a show for everyone. It’s not one I would rush to see again. But it is exciting to see a young director and an accomplished cast use the fringe for what it was intended for – to take a risk and play with a more obscure type of theatre. For that reason alone I’m pleased I went and I hope to see more from this company.


Reviewed for thespyinthestalls.com

Photography by Alessia Chinazzo




is at the London Theatre Workshop until 26th August 



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