Me and my Whale
Reviewed – 22nd June 2019
“Much can be admired about the creativity and innovative ideas”
Never has the deep, damp, dark cloisters of The Vaults been the most ideal place to stage a production. Me & My Whale which explores aquatic life, is visually and audibly exciting, using ingenious techniques to evoke an underwater world.
We follow the captain (Hannah Mook) of a submarine on her journey below the depths of the deep blue sea. All is calm as she’s focussed on her job at hand, but this is not for long as she soon falls head over heels in love. With a whale. Captivated by the mammal’s song, the captain is besotted. But this is no happily ever after as tragedy is in store. Blending multimedia techniques (mostly triggered and performed live by Xavier Velastin) with absurdist, performance art, there is a deeper message that runs through, calling out the damage we’re causing to our oceans environmentally and technologically.
Projectors, spinning bowls of water, blue food colouring and clear plastic dust sheets are just some of the objects used that are more than just props, they are the tools that transform the space into being visually quite mesmerising. Designer Virag Pazmany and technicians Venus Raven and Ariane Nixon complete the team whose combined expertise help to bring Mook and Velastin’s vision to life.
Hannah and Xavier have a warm and inviting presence on stage, with a clear joyous chemistry between one another that is infectious to be in the presence of. Unfortunately, at times parts can drag, or lose meaning, feeling it could be tightened in places. Shaving a few minutes off the running time would be ideal. There is no real story per se, in a conventional way, however, what loose storyline there is, isn’t used to its full potential. Any kind of plot, or even just symbolism in the performance art/abstract movement can be muddied and lost.
Much can be admired about the creativity and innovative ideas Hannah and Xavier have incorporated into the piece. The atmospheric world that envelops you leaves your senses tingling. At its high points Me and my Whale will make you chuckle or marvel at the sights and sounds. However this is too often dominated by moments of monotony leaving you befuddled or drifting off. Not quite a ‘whale’ of a time, but certainly an intriguing journey to be a part of.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Me and my Whale
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The First Modern Man
Hen & Chickens Theatre
Reviewed – 21st February 2019
“Jonathan Hansler gives an imposing performance as the French philosopher, holding court as he meanders through his life and thoughts”
To condense the life of Michel de Montaigne into an entertaining hour’s show, complete with insightful quotations and amusing anecdotes, is no mean feat. A Renaissance humanist who has been criticised, appreciated and revered over the centuries, his ‘essays’ are a record of his thoughts and experiences, written and shaped as they came to him and giving rise to a new literary form; “As my mind roams, so does my style”. Born in 1533, he was witness to the decline of intellectual optimism in France – the Calvinist Reformation and the Wars of Religion – which rejected not only his education but also his fiercely active mind. After a career in the local justice system and the Bordeaux Parliament, and with inherited financial security, he retired from public life to the tower in his chateau to read, write and meditate. And this is where we meet ‘The First Modern Man’.
Writer, Michael Barry, lends us the role of an English visitor and in the intimate setting of his tower, Michel tells us about his upbringing, his travels, his cat, his family, his ailments… his mind flitting from one subject to another. The play mirrors his fluid train of thought, but the overall impression lacks shape. He manages to fill the hour to the brim with all the important stages of de Montaigne’s life and copious details from his writing, but the play strides from beginning to end with little contrast. Jonathan Hansler gives an imposing performance as the French philosopher, holding court as he meanders through his life and thoughts. His comic timing is excellent but the direction rushes past the possible natural dynamics of this prolix monologue.
Director, Helen Niland makes constructive use of the small stage space but the explanatory movement, props and technical effects detract from the words, which are what holds de Montaigne’s story together. The pace and busyness may be intended to reflect a mind running after itself but in spite of a few punctuated pauses, it often feels like a race against the clock. Both the lighting (Venus Raven) and sound (Julian Starr) are consistent with the action but become almost blatant in their unnecessary underlining of the script.
The title ‘The First Modern Man’, attributed to de Montaigne by twentieth century literary critic Erich Auerbach, certainly echoes the blogs and posts of today’s social media and what’s more, his scepticism, his position as nominal Catholic and his insistence on his own mediocrity point to the ‘dumbing down’ often referred to nowadays. His writing shows a man out of the context of his time, sensitive, open to the unusual and seeking security in the back room of his mind, but this perspective fails to come across. It is, nevertheless, a very watchable show, full of interesting contemplation and observation but would benefit from allowing de Montaigne’s character to grow in dimension or risk being a dramatised ‘Horrible Histories’ lesson.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
The First Modern Man
Hen & Chickens Theatre until 2nd March
Previously reviewed at this venue: