Filmland! – Camden People’s Theatre, London
Created by: India Banks, Molly Carroll, Eli Harris, Frode Gjerløw and Jonathan Wakeham
CRANK Theatre – 07/10/2015
Filmland! (the exclamation mark is part of the title) explores the fictionalized life of Harriet Hartley, imagining the impact of starring in the world’s first motion picture had on her. Swapping gender she moves to London and behind the camera, revelling in and reinventing the illusion that cinema can create.
The show brilliantly utilises the period and atmosphere of the time incorporating cabaret, silent film and music hall presentation. My favourite expression of this style were the few songs spread throughout that drove along he narrative whilst keeping the audience thoroughly entertained in addition to lightening the mood appropriately. I also appreciated the use of period as I am not a great fan of period pieces (stems from a hatred of history lessons ), but in Filmland! they used the politics and social issues of the day to reflect how in some ways we have not moved on as much as we’d like to think, especially concerning how hard in can be for women to contribute to the film industry when they’re not just being the pretty actress. Harriet’s transformation into Harry gets the audience to feel how gender fluidity can open many doors in the political landscape at the time, but the forced nature of the transformation also causes pressure and discomfort for Harry. It acts as a reminder how even today individuals are forced to disguise their personal choices in order to do better in work or society as a whole.
A lovely simplistic design for the set consisting of a small projection screen and a few hanging light bulbs let the energetic performances and direction to stand out beautifully. The frantic world of shooting and releasing films is captured through some stop/start jump cutting and despite only having four actors on stage we were entertained by a huge breadth of funny and thoughtful characters. The two chorus actors who were continually rotating roles clearly conveyed who they were with simple physicality and brought laughs and drama in appropriate measures. The productions Harry gave a gripping and grounded role that gave an emotional pull to keep the audience invested, whilst our music hall hostess provided lovely entertainment and made us feel welcome and uplifted before the doors even opened. One touch that also made me personally happy was the music hostess providing live sound effects with wine glasses, drumsticks, and lovely vocals throughout which echoed the homemade effects of the time and also added to the energy of the piece.
I’d highly recommend Filmland! on it’s engaging, energetic performance and clean yet enthralling direction alone, but these factors are added to even more by the clever story of a woman who wants to do simple things although still presented with many hurdles. Whether fan of film or theatre this show will entertain, intrigue and play with your heart.
© Daniel Ramsden – 2015 – @DanielRamsdenFL