Interview: Holly&Ted

Holly&Ted first came to our stages with Pond Wife in 2015 – an new, feminist take on the very old tale of The Little Mermaid – with 90s pop included.  They returned this year with Polaris, a show exploring toxic masculinity and negative / destructive language.   This week they come to Theatre 503 in London with this excellent new show – we managed to catch up with them to find out more…

Interview ©Amie Taylor

A: First of all, for all of the people that don’t know who Holly&Ted are, tell us a little bit about you…

H: Well, we first met at Playbox Theatre, which is a lovely young people’s theatre in Warwick. Then we studied together at Dartington in Falmouth, which is where we really got to know each other and started to work together to develop our work more. Then afterwards we decided to carry on making work, and were some of the only people that wanted to pursue that, which was interesting as it was a theatre course, but we did and our first show Pond Wife was born. 

A: Your first show Pond Wife was in 2015 –

H: Yes, we had some of our first previews, at Playbox Theatre in late 2014, then our first run of it was in 2015, we performed at Camden Fringe, Brighton Fringe amongst other places. 

A: What took you from Pond Wife, your debut, to your current show Polaris?  Was there a link, or did you take a leap? And what inspired this show?

T: We actually started talking about this show for the first time, last time we were in Edinburgh two years ago, we were trying to think about what the follow up to Pond Wife might be – and we had lots of different ideas. We wanted to make a show about space travel, we wanted to make a show about Friends – the TV show.  Didn’t we at one point want to make a Lego show?

H: I don’t remember that – but there were a lot of conversations. 

T: There were a lot of disparate conversations happening – and then 2016 happened which was just a weird-ass year in general. We were at the Fringe a couple of months after Brexit was voted for, and a couple of months before Donald Trump was voted in, and we were thinking about the power of words and the way that people talk to each other, and the way the media refers to certain people and wanted to create a show about different people who were connected by the words we use to describe them. 

H: I think also after Pond Wife we wanted to make something a little bit heavier; Pond Wife was a very joyous and bright show and we wanted to explore some of the darker themes to our work, and to give it a bit more depth and breadth and to push ourselves; to make it different and try new forms and different styles of theatre. Which is why we also got a sound designer on board –

T: Yes, Graham [the sound designer] has been amazing, and people seem to really enjoy that element of the show.  He’s built us instruments that we play live on stage to create the soundscapes for the different worlds. We have these tables that have contact mics on them, then we run them through a program on an i-pad to create the sound of each world, and all of that happens live in front of an audience. 

A: You talk about using new styles of theatre for you – what were they?

T: Largely the sound design element –

H: But I also think this show is a lot more script heavy than Pond Wife was –

T: Yes, it’s a lot more text based.

H: So that’s been something to manage and to orchestrate the huge amount of text we have to speak; it’s been interesting working in that way with less movement and dance routines.

A:  We’ve talked about the style of Polaris, but could you tell us a little more about the content  –

H: It’s an exploration or overview of toxic masculinity in various formats, and a look at negative and destructive language in everyday life. So it follows three worlds – the dinosaurs who are having conversations in relation to the ‘immigration crisis’ – with that sort of language being used. There are two girls from the 90s and their language is centred around consent, slut-shaming and that sort of thing. Then the astronauts in the future talk about women in the workplace. It’s not a deep exploration of any of these subjects, it’s more an overview of what the negative language is, and how it blends in. Then we have Polaris the star looking over it all. 

A: What are you hoping people will take away from watching?

T: I hope they may think more about the way that they speak. If people leave the show and think – ‘Oh, I’ve said that before’ or ‘I’ve described someone like that – maybe I should stop’ then that’s an achievement. The show is a bit of a call to action in that sense. With a world where there are 24 hour newsfeed, we can become a bit desensitised to it, and we hope to inspire people to stop sitting back and watching – and start doing something.

Book now to see Polaris at Theatre 503 on 16th / 17th Nov 2018.

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Review: Chutney

Chutney
By Reece Connolly
Directed by Georgie Staight
The Bunker Theatre (London), Until 1st Dec 2018

4*

‘Chutney’ is described as a Black comedy. Oh boy they are not lying. This is an evening of theatre that had the audience laughing at the caustic and spot on dialogue in one moment and audibly uncomfortable the next. But when the play is about a young couple with an insatiable blood lust for killing animals, I did not expect to come out unscathed.

Gregg (Will Adolphy) and Claire (Isabel Della-Porta) have been together since university and have settled into a seeming domestic bliss. But it is very quickly made apparent that barely under the surface is a mutually shared sick desire to kill. “We did it together.” Theirs is a partnership, a union that is only deepened by the killing of a small dog and then the Pandora’s box is opened and no neighborhood cat, dog, rabbit or parakeet is going to be safe. Adolphy and Della-Porta give amazing performances and they were absolutely fantastic to watch.

‘Chutney’ really does go there; the language is visceral and descriptions of the destruction are not sparse. There is also some very clever/disturbing use of props that created one of those perfect moments where as an audience member you laugh but then cover your mouth in horror at the fact you are now complicit.

The kitchen setting with its compromised sterility was spot on and the bright lighting and pops of colour made it a dynamic set. The theatre was set up with seating all around and the actors directed their speeches to all sides which means there is no bad seat here.

Writer Reece Connolly wanted to write a horror story and as a horror fan I was really excited about this.  I feel that we don’t often see horror done well on stage (if at all) and with great writing and a clear understanding of creating tension ‘Chutney’ really nails it. (Excuse the pun)

There is a very film like feel to the play and in a Tarantino-esque move the action is blocked into specific chapters with beautiful voiceover narration care of Bertha the talking fish (Rosalind McAndrew), which nicely moved the action along.  There is very little fourth wall in the show as Gregg and Claire speak to the audience throughout from their shiny white kitchen. Sometimes I hate this device in plays but in ‘Chutney’ I loved it and thought it worked incredibly well.

The first half of the play had fantastic energy and was very fast paced. The second half however lost a bit of momentum perhaps as it focused more heavily on the relationship issues the couple are experiencing rather than the more surreal dramatic elements. I think it was the lesser for that choice.

However any quibbles aside, I really enjoyed this play. Great writing, strong performances and an assured production. I would absolutely recommend, though maybe not one to take your pet to.

© Sarah Browne 2018

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Review: Jonny Woo’s Un-Royal Variety

The Hackney Empire
19th / 20th Oct

4*

This Show has all the makings of a classic variety extravaganza, but manages to subvert heteronormative tropes with a strong dose of queerness that is raunchy, over the top, and makes one feel right at home. The volume and diversity of performance styles is staggering. Many are unfamiliar, international artists, while others are London favorites, and all of the performers contribute to an often highly sexual, and provocative style which is distinctly East London. A few favorites include British cabaret artist Lucy McCormack paired with trash queen, American performance artist Christeene. The two, who often focus their work on that which can be inserted and removed from their various orifices, feel like two halves of a whole, and what a disturbing, grimy whole they make.

Other hole-oriented performers include a mostly naked, Shakespearean acrobat who can not only pull-off minor feats of comedic circus, he also manages to deliver a minute-long version of Hamlet. The host of the show, Jonny Woo, transitions between acts with a bit of stand-up or addressing the audience directly on current events such as the recent public reaction to more prominent use of gender expansive language. He even joins some performers in song, and appears in various states of dress and undress, with a warm rendition of Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn”, which the entire auditorium joined in on.

It is difficult to sum up what this variety show offers because it definitely lives up to its title. The barrage of performers is thrilling, inspiring, and exhausting. This production features such a fabulous range of performers; it is almost too much to process. It is a funny place to be as well because the tone of the entire production is so silly, edgy, and queer, that it makes being edgy and queer feel a bit normal, and a little less subversive than one might expect. However, this is a quality that I experience more and more regularly with the rise in popularity, and normalization of queer culture. This show raises a lot of questions for me about our queer place in dominant society, and even as members of our own community. But queer, existential quandaries aside, this show is a good time, and will make you howl with laughter and shock.

© S. Kane 2018

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Review: The Art of Gaman

4*
Theatre 503 (London) until 27th Oct
By Dipika Guha
Directed by Ailin Conant

What a lovely play this is, full of symbolism, analogies, a marvelous use of visual effects and some very touching performances. I admit there was a tear or two in my eyes as the final scene closed. Not much can do that. Something really has to resonate with me.

You come away understanding in some small way the meaning of ‘Gaman’ in Japanese. Its different connotations are touched upon during the performance, from the cultural expectations on Japanese women at that time and throughout the life of the main character Tomomi as she adapts to living in America during World War Two, just before Hiroshima and on through to today. This internalization of your thoughts, wants and needs in order to do what you think is right, or expected, will connect with many women and also the LGBTQ+ communities.

There is so much to try and put into one small review here. I think that reflects just how much was incorporated into the storyline. The Art of Gaman explores the effects of internment on Japanese families in America during the war, the Hiroshima bomb, cultural displacement, US/Japanese cultural differences, post-war hopes and realities and hetero-normative expectations of marriage for someone discovering and exploring same-sex attraction. I’ve probably missed out quite a lot here and the play takes a little while to settle in as you acclimatize to all that is being portrayed. Once you do, things make a little more sense.

I have to commend both actors who played Tomomi, (Tomoko Komura and You-Ri Yamanaka – younger and older Tomomi respectively), for creating a connection with the audience that carried us through all her trials and tribulations. Running through the play we see Tomomi with her love, both in actual encounters and dream-like scenes. These were sensitively portrayed, fitting in very well with the overall storyline. This was another strong female role, (ably played by Alice Dillon), and again carried the audience along as a contrast to Tomomi’s internalized thoughts and feelings. That final scene between them was something I hope to hold in my memory for some time.

This was a small cast, with most playing multiple characters. Sometimes confusing as you tried to figure out who they were in each scene. Mark Ota Takeshi and Philip Desmeules provided some great characterizations in their supporting male roles.

Finally, did I mention the fish? It’s something that runs throughout the play and in some way acts to hold everything together. This undercurrent of analogy starts off small and builds to something that is well timed and so appropriate in the final scene. I wonder how many people came away aspiring to be that golden dragon?

© Grace Johnstone 2018

Running until 27th Oct 2018. Book now .

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Review: Skin

201 Dance Company
5*

201 Dance Company seem to take the idea of the arts having a conscience very seriously; and it shows.  Their latest smash hit production ‘Skin’ charts the experience of one child’s gender transition though a mixture of hip hop and contemporary dance styles, with an astounding original soundtrack.  Ross Allchurch’s music provides a pulsating rhythm; the passionate heartbeat of someone kicking their way out of shame and the shadows, into truth, pride, and authenticity.

I confess I haven’t seen a lot of dance in my time, but I was intrigued to see this, and I was not disappointed.  I was invited to see it by Patrick Collier, the very accomplished Associate Director/Producer with many other strings to his bow.  My initial contact with him had been through my employer ‘Gendered Intelligence’, a community-interest-company that works to enhance understandings of gender diversity and improve trans people’s quality of life.  We had been commissioned by 201 Dance Company (who had sourced funding) to deliver our ‘Trans Awareness Training’ to a number of theatres in the UK where the production of ‘Skin’ was showing. Thus the admirable ‘arts with a conscience’ credentials of the company we affirmed.

Andrea Walker’s choreography bore a kaleidoscopic, multi-influential dance that showed someone finding their way to a place of strength, power and control.  The dancers moved with adept skill and verve, causing eyes to widen and jaws to drop as every inch of their bodies told such a profound life-story.

Along with Kit Redstone’s dramaturgy, the company put trans stories to the forefront:  truthful yet conflicted; assertive yet peaceful; tidy but messy all at once.  A realism that couldn’t escape, and probably reflected, every single audience member, no matter their identity.  It is a mark of sincerity that they worked with trans performers to ensure an effective collaboration.  Other companies could, and should, take note.

An engaging piece, it ran at just under an hour long.  I was so suitably captivated, I was somewhat startled when it ended.

The Greenwich Theatre itself is an easy-to-find and  friendly venue.  The bar area is comfortable and sizeable with  well-stocked and well-run bar (the grapefruit tonic deserves a special mention at this point).  There was some live jazz the night I went with my friend (Actor and Writer Nieve Hearity).  It was a real ‘shot in the arm’ of culture; dance, theatre and music bathing us in creativity…and a pink Gin.  Marvellous.

There are some performances of ‘Skin’ still to come in the UK, and it’s well worth a visit if you can.  For anyone who likes dance, for anyone who likes triumphant storytelling, for anyone who likes to see a trans person thrive; ’Skin’ is for you.

There are more dates around the country still to come:  https://www.201dancecompany.com/skin

Find out more about Gendered Intelligence:  http://genderedintelligence.co.uk

© Jezza Donovan 2018

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Guest Blog: Jonny Woo

This week we have a guest blog from Jonny Woo, who opens his Un-Royal Variety Show at The Hackney Empire this Friday, for an exclusive 2 nights only!

The Un-Royal Variety was just going to be a showcase for the best of my contemporaries. To put on a big show, in a wonderful venue to which everyone would want to come. It’s never that easy. As soon as the show was booked in, the Referendum on the EU was announced and suddenly we were living in a new political climate. It was apparent that I had to take this chance to challenge, reflect and question the views of the country and make a discussion about where we were at and how we had gotten here.

So, in 2016, The Un-Royal Variety became less about programming and more about working with my network of artists to create something uniquely political and joyous all at once. A show which provoked and asked questions but which entertained shamelessly. For me drag is all about presenting familiar ideas in a different way and opening them up for new evaluation. The Un-Royal Variety over the following year became about exploring and challenging ideas in a familiar, safe format. Dancers, a live band, comedians, magicians, acrobats. Over the last two years I have been drawn to ways of pushing content. How I can juxtapose the safe and the familiar with work that is dangerous and unpredictable.

This year I am feeling wild and experimental. I am interested in the gender punch up I see going on online. New identities are fighting for recognition. I see the definition of masculinity being challenged and I find myself wanting to assert my own masculinity on my terms. I hear the voices of women rising up and saying enough is enough. I question daily casual misogyny and feel the subtleties of my own male privilege. I try to listen to the continuing conversations regarding race and I’m learning when to stay quiet. The political upheaval of 2016 is still with us and the tumult is upon us. I see queer artists of all genders and races making their own stages. We have a stage tonight where our ensemble comes together to make a show that is rich in provocation, joy and community. We have the safe and familiar with the cruel and divisive. We are entertainers and teachers. We are collaborators and sole voices. You are both the audience and enablers.

We are all intellectuals and idiots.

Jonny Woo’s Un-Royal Variety

Jonny Woo’s annual Un-Royal Variety show returns to the Hackney Empire on Friday 19th and Saturday 20th October 2018.

Cabaret stars Bourgeois & Maurice, comedian Jayde Adams and drag icon Lavinia Co-Op are among the line-up, as well as a choir with all the singers dressed as Theresa May.

October 19-20, Hackney Empire, E9, hackneyempire.co.uk

© Jonny Woo 2018

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Interview: Reece Connolly

Flux Theatre are bringing Reece Connolly’s play Chutney to The Bunker Theatre, London, this November; with a disturbing theme of hilarious potential, Reece certainly hasn’t shied away from putting some of his darkest thoughts down on paper. We caught up with him to find out about this dark comedy, the inspiration behind it and the comment it makes on 2018 Britain.

Interview by Amie Taylor

AT: Tell us a little bit about you, how you became a playwright and how you came to work in theatre?

RC: I’m originally from Newcastle, and I moved to London in 2013 to study drama at the University of East London.  I’d always done drama stuff, but I’d never written for the stage. There was a very cool theatre society at my uni, so I started putting on plays through there, and I found it a really interesting way for me to tell the stories that I wanted to tell. I’ve continued ever since, so it’s about 5 years now that I’ve been writing. Since then I’ve been a part of a couple of writing groups at the Royal Court, I’ve been a writer in residence for a theatre back home in the North-East, and I have a theatre company myself with some mates. And with a script, such as Chutney, I may send off to a theatre company – such as Flux who are producing this play. 

AT: Tell us a bit about Chutney…

RC: It’s about this couple called Greg and Claire who are quite well to do, they’re of a millennial age – late 20s early 30s and they’re living this perfect life, by mum and dads’ standards, in suburbia, in middle England.  We get the impression that they’re relationship is functional, but perhaps lacking in any real depth. Then they discover that the depth they’ve been looking for comes from this hobby that they discover that they both really enjoy, which is murdering animals. And because they live in this very knitted together life and social circle, the only animals they can really get their hands on are their neighbours’ pets, which they steal in the dead of night. It’s about how they try to get away with it and the aftermath as well. 

AT: What inspired you to write this piece?

RC: A few different things really, I think one of the major things was that my housemate got a puppy, and I love animals, but I’m also a very anxious person, and one day she left me in charge of this puppy, and my mind went to ‘Oh my god, wouldn’t it be horrible if I killed this puppy by mistake!’ And I was thinking ‘It’s going to happen, I need to put it in another room so I don’t accidentally drop something on it.’ And it got me thinking about how that would make a great story, accidentally killing an animal that you were supposed to be looking after. And then I got thinking, wouldn’t it be even more interesting if you meant to do it, and pretended it was an accident. 

There’s a lot of other stuff going on too – where I am in my life, feeling like I need to move in to an adult-esque phase of my life, and the frustrations that come with settling down, and how it can be possible to settle down in the wrong way, so a look at that too. 

AT: What do you hope people will take away from watching?

RC: I hope they’ll be quite surprised by it, because it is quite a traditional idea, it’s a two hander about a man and a woman in a heteronormative relationship – there are a lot of these plays out there, but it’s meant to be a subversion of that – essentially a send up of a lot of those plays. A lot of playwrights think that we actually want to sit and watch a heterosexual couple sit and talk for an hour about their problems, so I thought let’s at least put a bit of death in there as well, and let’s make the characters kind of unlikable, so that you’re rooting a bit for their downfall. I hope it’s also a bit shocking, and shows people things they perhaps weren’t expecting when they walked through the door. 

AT: Why is this piece really important for 2018?

RC: There’s a strand in there about the characters and the world they inhabit – they are quite comfortable existing within a grey area.  Because of where we are now with social media and the news and these movements that are going on, people from quite privileged backgrounds can quite happily exist in their own little bubble, and through social media can feel like they’re being a part of these progressive movements, like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, but they can still fit in to their perfectly comfortable life and not really have to do anything about it. And I think a lot of that is me, and people I interact with as well, but actually we have to be a part of it, we have to go out in to the world and help actively change it. A big part of this play is that these people are existing in their own little echo chamber. And I think there are individuals in our society that we don’t want to exist, so we pretend that they don’t exist. I was writing this around the time of Brexit and found it hard to believe that over half of the population voted for that. It’s about that too. 

AT: And although this play is about a heterosexual couple, are there any LGBT+ themes within?

RC: Though the characters are straight, there is some queerness in there and my politics as a gay man are very much there.  The characters in the play are the total antithesis to me, but they are very repressed, they’ve spent a lot of years repressing a huge part of their lifestyle and it’s caused them an awful amount of stress and internalised hatred for themselves and the people around them; which is something I can relate to a lot, because I didn’t come out until I was 22, so it was a long life of living inside a little cage that I built for myself. I think lots of people can relate to that – keeping a little part of themselves hidden.

Chutney opens at The Bunker Theatre on November 6th and runs until December the 1st. Book now. 

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