Friday, 26 June 2009


conceived and performed by

Sylvie Guillem, Robert Lepage, Russell Maliphant

Sadlers Wells in association with Ex Machina & Sylvie Guillem

Lighting Designer ~ Michael Hulls

Costume Designer ~ Alexander McQueen

Sound Designer - Jean-Sebastien Cote

Due to phenomenal demand for tickets during its world premiere season at Sadler's Wells earlier in 2009, Eonnagata returns for a limited run.

This brand new Sadler's Wells production brings together three of the world's foremost creative minds: internationally acclaimed dancer
Sylvie Guillem, world-renowned theatre-maker Robert Lepage and award-winning choreographer Russell Maliphant.

tells the story of the Chevalier d'Éon, Charles de Beaumont - diplomat, writer, swordsman and a member of the King's Secret, a network of spies under the control of Louis XV. De Beaumont was perhaps the first spy to use transvestitism in the furtherance of his duties and until the day he died his true gender was a source of constant speculation, even provoking public bets in the late 18th century.

"The alchemist of modern imagistic theatre, Robert Lepage is one of the most challenging and chimeric directors of our time" THE GUARDIAN

For this remarkable collaboration,
Guillem, Lepage andMaliphant draw not only from their respective backgrounds, but also from the ancient Kabuki technique of Onnegata - in which male actors portray female roles in an extremely stylised fashion.

The elaborate costumes of Louis XV's court will be evoked by legendary fashion designer
Alexander McQueen, complemented by stunning lighting from Michael Hulls.

mostly dreadful - i haven't been so bored or cross in a theatre for a very long time.

1. Le Page swinging tin foil swords

2. Guillem telling us the whole Chevalier d'Eon story

3. Maliphant emerging from a giant geisha

4. Long boring bit skidding over tables to Bach

5. Fan dance with Empress of Russia with a large red fan and singing up from bass profundo to soprano shrilling

6. Fighting with a feather quill to a coarse poem & then writing with a sword to her mother then the old lady appears out of the table

7. Twirling sticks

8. Calico shadow show

9. Nice story from "Plarto who we call Plato" about original species with both genders two heads & double arms & legs til Zeus decides to literally cut us down to more manageable size - in half like an apple - and ever since we've been looking for our other half

10. Fighting with ring & stick

11. Short guillotine sequence with a skull head

12. Mirror tables including two tops with one mirrored bottom

13. Post-mortem under a swinging neon light

Lots of great ingredients that never quite manage to come together into anything very wonderful. The costumes are so exquisite and the lighting so visceral it often feels like watching an extra esoteric fashion show. The sound too is great and often dominant & rich enough to satisfy for itself.
there are moments that hold but the narrative interest is pierced by hearing the full story at the start, the spectacle of the scenography is insufficiently spectacular, and the performances are too often too lack-lustre and ordinary to hold so that I was actually bored through several sequences. And in the end it all just didn't add up to much more than very expensive looking flummery.

A sad story of how many talents can end up cancelling each other out.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

'a little night music' (stephen sondheim) ~ meinier chocolate factory @ garrick theatre


Clear clean simple and utterly engaging from the bare set with one chair we walk into see (echoed with outside  chair at start of second half), the simple design ideas - black costumes, interiors in first half in town, white costumes and mostly outdoor scenes for second half in country. The show puts all its trust in its raw materials: the writing, the music (made by a tiny quintet), its songs and its actors. The sense of shadows and memory whispers through it with the quintet chorus of Missuses & Misters singing through the younger rememberances and providing a perpetual observation of the foolish love tangles of the protagonists (the programme notes point out the repeated use Sondheim has made of outside observation in his shows). So the words all arrive with an easy freshness and potency and - like the Jude Law Hamlet - gives us a world and its people who make complete sense - merely the slightest lift rather than any great leap of faith needed to enter here.


Maureen Lipman's grande old courtesan is a masterclass in less-is-more timing and energy: everything she says arrives in your lap for your enjoyment perfectly formed and still very much alive, and even the familiar lines sound newly spoken. Around her central imperious stillness, the rest of the company convince and pull us lightly through their stories, even though this is wholeheartedly theatrical: all the characters sing directly out to us (again in much the same form as the Hamlet soliloquies) and the period grandness and highly coloured romanticism of the story are all exquisitely shown so we are never being duped into thinking this is real life, but we are able to float easily inside it like we might through music - simultaneously conscious and unconscious of its artfulness.

It is funny and beautiful and poignant and wistful. And sweetly irrelevant except for two moments of great sadness in 'Every Day A Little Death' and 'Send In The Clowns' (which we understood literally for the first time: when there's been an accident at the circus like a fall from the trapeze, the clowns get sent on). 

Lovely birthday treat. 

'Kursk' (Sound&Fury) @ Young Vic

A Young Vic and Fuel co-production, Sound&Fury's


In collaboration with Bryony Lavery   

Commissioned by the Junction, Cambridge

3 June - 27 June 2009

A powerful  theatrical experience inspired by the Russian submarine disaster of August 2000.

A submarine is on patrol in the arctic. The crew sleep, eat, drill, long for word from home, and silently shadow their target. Their lives, at once extraordinary and mundane, are shattered by a global crisis from which uniquely personal stories emerge.

Cutting edge theatre company Sound&Fury (
The Watery Part of the World) join Bryony Lavery (Frozen) to imagine the life of submariners, deep below the icy seas on the fraying front line of the cold war.

We walk in upstairs on to a metal walkway galley, looking down into low-light submarine spaces on raised platforms - (easily recognisable from films) - the technology of the bridge, the glowing screens of the control room, the captain's office, the mess, the head with a shower room and bunks. We have the choice of staying up and looking down on the action, or going down to experience it inside the space: after exploring downstairs we make the happy choice to watch from above and so avoid any of the claustrophobia panics i was steeling myself for.

We get a clearly told mostly unembellished telling of the sinking of the Kursk, Russia's state-of-the-art 21st century submarine from the viewpoint of a spying british sub crew who photograph her moments before the explosion that quickly sinks her. The secrecy of their presence prevents the captain from making any rescue attempt that would potentially set off an international furore. Inside this are the routines of submarine seamanship and the human back-stories of the crewmen.

There is much right with this show and it is pretty successful in its aim to avoid sensationalising the story - for me it was still over-acted and would have easily sustained a more neutral restrained portrayal of the men. This is banality made super-engaging because of the atmospheric danger of the space and the inherent suspense building out of the narrative of the mission. In fact the star of this show is the submarine environment and at every level: visually it is an easy leap of faith to believe we are inside the submarine; kinaesthetically we traded down a bit exchanging cramped and crowded disorientation for the air, distance and comfort of our upstairs position, which gave me the enjoyment of immersion simultaneously with awareness of being in a theatre. But it is the sound we are here for and the sonic dimension is the one that magics the space beyond the literal. I would have liked even more amplification to charge this up into an even more felt experience even at the expense of the accuracy Sound&Fury were wanting, and i would have liked a more constant sound so that even the silences were filled with the noise of submarine existence. But beyond these niggles there are some wonderful experiences inside this show. The atmospheric sounds are utterly convincing (to someone who can only imagine what a submarine is like from films) as are the dynamic sounds like the search (periscope) that we're pretty sure are on a soundscape the actors have had to learn to perform on cue to. The women's voices of wives and girlfriends arriving through the familygrams are scored together as music that counterpoints with the pop music loudspeakered into their before they are forced into stealth mission silence. It is the sounds that create the imagined real sense of the dives, the crash into a stray ship container, and the spooky threat of the unidentifiable tapping noise. All good and makes for highly believable and engaging docu-drama. The moments of exceptional experience come when the sounds are given centre stage: in a nearly complete blackout we hear sounds of water in an echoing chamber, people struggling to breathe, russian men talking - the sounds of the Kursk crewmen dying puts us inside this moment with them, first the emotions catch and tumble, then the mind whirls and stumbles, the breathing starts to race and just as I am feeling the panic of a breaching collision of sensations the lights return and the moment is left as an imprint. We could easily and potently sustained some time here in our own heads, watching the men routinely carry out their duties in a mute overlay of all that's been stopped in the Kursk. But the story in our sub continues and we are forced to surface to attend to the more immediate specifics of one man's tragedy - and in this we are given the space to bring our own sense in to mix with what we are watching.

This is a good show for us, and ready to be an exceptional one if it can have more development (although the men of Sound&Fury seem busy busy with other projects) now that its first five years of making have solved the problems of sightlines, design, soundscape and narrative accuracy. Waiting to be found now is the fine-tuning in the balance between elements to transcend a damn good docu-drama into a heightened theatre experience. For me the next work would be to tune down the acting into greyer performances, which the show can easily support, and tune up the sonics to make a more visceral experience.

Unless, of course, this is what the audience downstairs in the main submarine spaces are getting already, and we lost by swapping the intensity of being inside the story with the men for easier and more removed watching from above and outside? 

Sound & Fury is directed by Mark Espiner, Tom Espiner and Dan Jones. It draws on the disciplines of theatre, Foley artistry, sound design, music and storytelling. Its key artistic interest is in developing the sound space of theatre and presenting new ways of experiencing theatre and stories by heightening the aural sense. To achieve these aims, Sound & Fury has, in the past, boldly immersed its audience in total darkness. This unique theatrical device combined with sophisticated surround sound design, imaginative acoustic devices, voice and subtle lighting effects creates a powerful new language for theatre which has gained the attention and interest of the media, critics and - most importantly - a new audience. Their work has been twice selected for an Arts Council UK tour billed as the future of British theatre and has been included by the British Council in its group of touring companies. The Guardian has described their performance style as: “Total theatre that doesn't just happen all around you, but that swallows you up completely ... you feel as if you are experiencing the whole thing through your skin.”


From The Times

June 1, 2009

Theatrical realism in Kursk

The sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk has inspired a bold experiment in theatrical realism


Jasper Rees

Theatre is capable of taking its audience more or less anywhere merely through word and action and the odd prop. Even for the most imagination-stretching of art forms, however, life on board a submarine might be deemed a bridge too far. It’s been memorably done on film — the one that submariners all swear by is Das Boot rather than The Hunt for Red October. But how can theatre fully convey the cabin fever, the mental bends, the chronic uncertainty of the submerged life at sea?

Audiences for a new play at the Young Vic will be taking what is perhaps the first, and certainly the most realistic, theatrical dive to the ocean depths. Kursk takes place in the Maria, the box-like studio space where, as closely as possible, the interior of a hunter-killer submarine has been replicated in pipes, platforms, wires and blinking lights. Authenticity will be conveyed above all in the disembodied roar and hiss, growls and grunts both made and heard by the gigantic listening device that is a sub.

The title of the play gives at least some of the story away. It tells of the horrific death in 2000 of 118 Russian seamen aboard a stricken nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea. The majority of them died soon after an on-board explosion, but 23 survived in an airtight part of the cabin for several days while President Putin refused to let Nato come to the rescue.

The argument of the play is that Nato was very much in a position to help. The Russian Navy was testing new weapons systems and showing them off to the Chinese. At least two US submarines are known to have been watching closely. The supposition of Kursk is that a British submarine is also in the neighbourhood, and it is the one that picks up the aural evidence of distress. But as its commander of this sub (on which the play is set) says: “We’re an attack vessel, not a f***ing lifeboat.”

Kursk is a collaboration between the theatre company Sound & Fury, which specialises in surround-sound designs of cinematic scope, and the playwright Bryony Lavery. They were first teamed four years ago by a funding initiative that pairs young companies with established writers. Staging a submarine drama appealed to all. For Lavery the lure was “the claustrophobia of the space”. For Dan Jones, of Sound & Fury, it was putting on stage “the extraordinary mind game of submarining combined with the absurdity of the submariner’s domestic life: making tea alongside a nuclear reactor”.

For a while they toyed with setting the drama on the Kursk itself. The most bizarre ideas for realising the human tragedy were tested and discarded: the Kursk as a nightmare vision of Chekhovian stasis; the disaster as dramatised by clowns. “It became clear that normal life at sea is so extraordinary,” explains Mark Espiner, of Sound & Fury, “that we were going to miss a trick if we didn’t actually use that as a benchmark against which to set the disaster. There was the potential for voyeurism. Also, how are you ever actually going to get the idea of what the last 23 survivors of the Kursk were dealing with?”

Had a wackier idea prevailed, it’s very unlikely that the production would have had such enthusiastic support from the Royal Navy. Among the play’s consultants is the chairman of the international submariners association, who happened to meet the Kursk’s crew in St Petersburg not long before she sailed. A former Polaris commander who now runs the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport also advised, as did an ex-coxswain who was serving at the time of the disaster.

One adviser even ended up in the cast. Ian Ashpitel is a submariner turned actor who to this day lists reading Morse code at 25 words a minute on his CV. As a radio operator on a submarine at the height of the Cold War, he is full of tales of every hue: from breaking through the ice to play cricket at the North Pole to sneaking into Murmansk harbour to spy on a new Soviet aircraft carrier from ten metres under its keel. It may seem a strange career leap, but not to Ashpitel. “You don’t see daylight for 12 weeks and start doing things like putting raincoats on and umbrellas up, pretending it’s a rainy day. ‘Morning, terrible weather.’ Silly stuff. Watching TV programmes that aren’t there.” So it was but a step into the rehearsal room.

As part of their preparation, a visit to HMS Devonport was laid on. Jones took along his microphone to capture authentic sounds, while the five actors had a go on a simulator that fakes the sensation of a 60 degree dive. They also went aboard a real sub to get a feel for the actual cramped space. “It was like the first time you go to New York,” Lavery says. “You’ve seen it on film. It’s strangely alike but completely different”. For Ashpitel it was an unwelcome trip down memory lane. “I hadn’t been down one for 28 years and after ten minutes I thought: ‘I’ve got to get out of here’.”

The idea is to reproduce that oppressive intimacy. It’s a promenade production, so the audience will be able to wander under the conning tower and loiter outside the karzi. By coincidence, a full house will tally numerically with the hundred-plus seamen aboard a nuclear sub. Naturally there’s no interval. It will be a unique mark of the play’s success if by the end they are all desperate to get out.

Kursk previews at the Young Vic, London SE1 (020-7922 7922), from Wed and opens on June 8


Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. @ ICA

ICA   17 Jun - 23 Aug 2009

Exhibiting artists: Vito Acconci, Carl Andre, Anna Barham, Matthew Brannon, Henri Chopin, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Alasdair Gray, Philip Guston, David Hockney, Karl Holmqvist, Dom Sylvester Houédard, Janice Kerbel, Christopher Knowles, Ferdinand Kriwet,Liliane Lijn, Robert Smithson, Frances Stark and Sue Tompkins.

Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. takes an expansive look at text-based art practices, inspired by the concrete poetry movement of the 60s which explored both the literary and graphic potential of language.

The Scottish artist and writer Ian Hamilton Finlay was an important promoter of concrete poetry in Britain, and our exhibition takes its title from the periodical that he ran from 1962 to 1968. Other figures here linked with concrete poetry include Henri Chopin, Liliane Lijn, Dom Sylvester Houédard and Ferdinand Kriwet.

Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. allows the viewer to look afresh at a range of other text-based practices that originated in the 60s and 70s. Robert Smithson and Carl Andre are best known for their contributions to minimalist sculpture, and Vito Acconci for his performance work, but here they are represented by poetic and expressive works on paper. The exhibition also includes poems illuminated by Philip Guston and Alasdair Gray, typewriter works by outsider artist Christopher Knowles and a set of etchings by David Hockney inspired by Greek poet CP Cavafy.

Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. concludes with the work of a number of younger artists. Sue Tompkins, Janice Kerbel and Anna Barham are all represented by text-based pieces, including a film by Barham in which letters are assembled and disassembled by hand. Other artists explore the combination of text and image, including Matthew Brannon and Frances Stark, while Karl Holmqvist is represented by a wall of xeroxed poems and images from his Oneloveworld book. galleries: free: Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. is curated by Mark Sladen, ICA director of exhibitions. It is accompanied by issue two of Roland, the magazine of the ICA's visual art programme.

Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. features a number of special events including gallery talks and a night of experimental poetry. The second issue of Roland magazine is also now available in the gallery and online with a guide to the exhibition, essays and more. On this website you can find also guide a guide to the artists in P.O.T.H., a gallery of images from the exhibition and an annotated guide to further resources and websites.



Visceral. Immersive. Falling inside the words. Looking for words inside words. circular words.


To know it is to cut it (or similar - need to check this on return visit)


The typewritten witness report of a shooting written in vertical jangled innocence until it messes itself in confession then returns to vertical re-attempt to make a steady story.


Hockney's articulation of gay coupledom told through images. Posters being what they said - magnificent feats.


Performance poetry using voice to lay bare contemporary song lyrics - Grace Jones 'Capital Cannibal'.


Another typewritten text that made you feel your way inside to find its sense - literally going inside the story.


A picture made from a piece of Samuel Beckett writing about 'the soil of my father and my mother and my father's father and my mother's mother and my father's mother and my mother's father ...'


Tuesday, 2 June 2009

jude law as 'hamlet' - donmar west end at wyndam's

Creative Team

Director: Michael Grandage
Designer: Christopher Oram
Lighting Designer: Neil Austin
Composer & Sound Designer: Adam Cork

Hamlet: Jude Law

Polonius: Ron Cook

Claudius: Kevin R. McNally

Gertrude: Penelope Wilton



very still & clean & clear putting all emphasis on language

jude law's Hamlet works as a character easy to feel sympathy with as he processes through depression ~ denial ~ fury ~ impetuous tenderness with his mother ~ to cool well-bred alpha-mastery. He is always credible but never dangerous.


Fresh insight comes in the 'get thee to nunnery'' scene when it suddenly seems obvious that he is saying to Ophelia everything he has repressed saying to his mother, and this makes his avowed love for Ophelia at her graveside more believable than usual.


Ron Cook's Polonius is fine. Penelope Wilton's Gertrude manages to shine through her horrible business woman's woman's suit costume. Kevin R. McNally's Claudius too is crafted with sureness. Sadly the younger leads are all thin, and most ruinously thin vocally. Ophelia's mad scene was too pretty and much much too prettily sung (Tara Fitzgerald is still the only actor i have been convinced by in this scene).


There is no ambiguity and no emotional force in this version and I drifted out a number of times - not so much from boredom as through distraction: the fullest experience this show gave me came from Shakespeare's words, here are given a full invigoration so that the vitality of the words and the images they conjure combined with the wide openness of the  space design and the held still energy and focus in the performances kept making a head full of rich imaginings that took me away from what was happening on stage.  


And what emerges above all else is the apparent straight-forwardness of Hamlet - the character makes perfect sense and it is hard after watching this show to remember why or how countless essays have been written about his bewildering complexities. In this end this reduces the play to a series of stills and a more prosaic domestic drama than it should be. 

i will go back and watch again peter brook's 'hamlet' with adrian lester and try and figure out why the held energy in this startles and vibrates even out of the screen, whereas the apparently same kind of energy in this production arrives clear and fully formed and then evaporates almost without trace...