Tag Archives: Max Harrison

Reformation
★★★

White Bear Theatre

Reformation

Reformation

White Bear Theatre

Reviewed – 27th June 2019

★★★

 

“a play with bold intentions, but let down by a certain tone and execution”

 

James Martin Charlton’s new play ‘Reformation’ certainly would not make it before the watershed. This shocking and often disturbing play tackles the topics of predatory sex, religion and control. It is set in Berlin in 1529 at the peak of the tensions during the Reformation.

Some of the more aristocratic characters are rooted in real life figures, such as Protestant artist Lucas Cranach and the Elector of Brandenburg. However, Martin Charlton describes his work as ‘a speculation’ or ‘dream’ of fictional interactions between historical characters and more lowly, invented ones.

The story has several interweaving strands, linked by smooth lighting changes between scenes. Its story centres around a budding romance between peasant girl ‘Ava’, and the son of famous painter Lucas Cranach. Alongside this, we see the morally corrupt Elector, who is advised by the Bishop to commission a painting by Cranach showing the evil possibilities of sexual promiscuity. Cranach offers Ava the opportunity to model for his new artwork, entitled ‘The Rape of Lucrece’. When the Elector falls in love with the girl in the image, we see Cranach’s loyalties conflicted as he must choose whether to sell his son’s peasant lover.

Martin Charlton attempts to show the underbelly of Reformation society unfortunately fall flat. Ava (Alice De- Warrenne) is infantilised and manipulated by the men around her. It is uncomfortable to watch much older actor’s view her naked and consistently touch her throughout the performance. Jason Wing’s performance as Cranach is somewhat one dimensional – flitting between emotionally flat and uncontrolled shouting. The explicit sexual content is a distraction, from what might otherwise be a very interesting look into the lives of those not usually seen. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the consistently misogynist rhetoric and lack of a strong female lead, felt exploitative.

Director Janice Dunn takes cues from the script and sets the play in an ambiguous time frame. The costumes range from hoodies and leather jackets to waistcoats and robes to create a sense that this is certainly not 1529. Additionally, a range of music from different time periods is used between scene transitions. This is done to make the story appear relevant to the modern audience. However, it makes the dated ideals shown even more at odds with today’s cultural politics. Dunn’s direction also makes the role of the audience unclear. As you enter, the actors are positioned frozen, ignoring the audience’s arrival. The audience settle in as the spy on the wall. As the play continues, there are then odd moments in which actors suddenly appear to see audience members again, shattering the illusion that was once created.

A more positive note about this production is its use of lighting (Anna Reddyhoff) and set design (Lucy Bond). The pale sparse staging is complemented by the continually changing palate of lighting colours. It not only mirrors the feelings of the scene, but also helps to change the settings, clarifying the action.

All in all, this is a play with bold intentions, but let down by a certain tone and execution.

 

Reviewed by Emily Morris

Photography by Max Williams

 


Reformation

White Bear Theatre until 13th July

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Grimm’s Fairy Tales | ★★ | April 2018
Lovebites | ★★★ | April 2018
The Old Room | ★★ | April 2018
The Unnatural Tragedy | ★★★★★ | July 2018
Eros | ★★ | August 2018
Schrodinger’s Dog | ★★★★ | November 2018
Franz Kafka – Apparatus | ★★★ | January 2019
The Project | ★★★ | March 2019
Swimming | ★★★★ | April 2019
Garry | ★★★ | June 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com

 

Moonfleece – 3 Stars

Moonfleece

Moonfleece

Pleasance Theatre

Reviewed – 27th March 2018

★★★

“Jaz Hutchins gives a stunning performance and makes the most of Ridley’s writing”

 

Novelist and playwright Philip Ridley has been cited as a pioneer of ‘in-yer-face’ theatre. Indeed his 1991 debut play The Pitchfork Disney was considered by many to have influenced the development of that style of work. In 2010 Ridley’s Moonfleece caused controversy when a Dudley arts centre cancelled a run as it felt the content “includes characters and themes of a political and potentially discriminatory nature”. The premise of the work is based around a gay relationship plus the advocates and victims of racism and homophobia. It traces a family with far right politics and the highly destructive and damaging results it eventually has on them.

Fast forward to 2018 and the Lidless Theatre are reviving Moonfleece in the compact stagespace studio at The Pleasance, London. Part of the project is supported by the Islington Youth Council who are serious about tackling the adverse impact hate crime has had on their community.

Upon entering the theatre it is clear the audience is going to feel part of the action, being up close and personal to the characters in the dilapidated East End tower block squat flat that the action will centre in. The set has two graffiti covered walls and the room is littered with debris and the seating is on two sides of the stage.

We are quickly introduced to the main character of the play – Curtis (Jamie Downie) a troubled young man who is part of a family hell-bent on spreading their fascist views to the surrounding neighbourhood. He returns uninvited to his old home with two of his henchman Tommy (Josh Horrocks) and the shaven headed unstable Gavin (Joshua Dolphin). They are dressed smartly, yet menacingly, in sharp grey suits with St George’s cross lapel badges on them. They are there for a séance in search of his lost brother’s ghost and over the next ninety minutes, we are introduced to a total of eleven characters who slowly add to the story that swings from shock violence to touching sadness. The main story is that of a dead brother who was banished by Curtis’ stepfather because of his sexual orientation. Though as with many Ridley plays, all is not what it initially seems.

When eventually the green haired wheelchair bound spiritual medium Nina (Adeline Waby) arrives the stage is ready for a showdown. There are a few characters that are arguably superfluous to the story but no doubt Ridley felt a reasonable need to include these to add both humour and further tension. The pace and substance of the play change when Zak arrives. Jaz Hutchins gives a stunning performance and makes the most of Ridley’s writing. It not only clarifies the story but it changes the pace and substance of the play.

Director Max Harrison has done well to revive this important piece of work, to fit so many characters into such a small space and to keep the pace moving well throughout. Designer Kit Hinchcliffe’s set makes the audience feel as though they really are in a squat. The lighting from Katy Gerard is basic though effective as is the sound design by Annie May Fletcher.

Overall this was a good showing of the play and as usual with Philip Ridley there is much to consider about the content when leaving the theatre.

 

Reviewed by Steve Sparrow

Photography by Gregory Birks

 


Moonfleece

Pleasance Theatre until 15th April

 

Related
Vincent River | ★★★★ | Park Theatre | March 2018

 

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