Dragon’s Den for Designers Gemma Greaves Lucy Hughes Leoni Osborn Sara Whalley
TWINKLE LITTLE STAR -Lakeside Theatre- 26th Jan’ 2008 Written by Phillip Meeks Directed by Matt Aston and Damian Cruden Starring Kenneth Alan Taylor
Twinkle Little Star was a dark and humorous play set a dingy basement dressing room. It is a real time monologue of a fledgy pantomime dame, Harold Thropp making his final appearance as Widow Twankey. Looking back over his life, sharing happy and even painful memories with the audience and we see how difficult it is for this man to let go of the theatrical world he has been apart of for so long.
Kenneth Alan Taylor is perfect for the role as the complaining actor as he himself is Nottingham Play House’s own pantomime dame. The production house may have chosen this play with him in mind as a local people would enjoy seeing some one they recognise in a play but
also find Taylor more believable because of his history in panto. It is also a different take on the genre of pantomime and an unusual idea which could also be another reason why it was chosen as an audience will want to go see something new and different. Twinkle was a successful piece of theatre because as an audience member you became completely involved listening to this character reflecting on his past and complaining about his present, as well as being entertained by his quick one-liners and sarcastic insults.
From initially not wanting to like this character you begin to find you do actually like him as he takes the audience on this journey from humorous tales of being a young gay man hanging around toilets and being busted by the police to the tragic and painful loss of his partner. You also witness the transformation of man to his beloved dame and feel a sense of his sadness as he describes how history and traditions are being lost out to the “celebrity culture” of today’s society as he is constantly being humiliated by having his scenes and costume changes cut to make room for some reality TV star who Harold hates. Although at time it did feel a little too over rehearsed and a little long, Kenneth Alan Taylor was a confident actor who could hold the audience’s attention and seemed to be enjoying playing his part.
The Lakeside was a good choice of venue for this production as most of the action happened over a small section of the theatre space. With only really using the front part of the space audience and actor were close to each other and so a more intimate atmosphere was created. The set was all done in the style of pantomime backdrops, very cartoony and bright, which I felt worked okay but wasn’t really necessary. It would perhaps have been more suitable to have a much darker set to convey him being shut off in this basement. A darker, more realistic set may have also effected the impact some of the dialogue had, with using a very cartoon- like set you walked in, saw it and it felt comical before anything had even happened, and so some of the more serious or cruel comments are almost lost because of the mind- set that the set initially puts you in. A dingier set also would have suited the theatre because it is quite small and black. The colour could have come from the character seeing as he has such a colourful life.
Even if you didn’t like Twinkle there was at least one line in this play that could make you laugh and for most people this was an enjoyable watch that had the audience laughing from start to finish.
Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’- Lacemarket Theatre- 9th February 2008
‘ Richard III’ seemed to be a somewhat ambitious choice of production for the tiny Lacemarket Theatre. An audience half-filling its capacity of approximately 100 people on its final show suggests a good turnout throughout. Such an intimate space allowed you to feel close to the action, but also made it impossible to ignore the lack of professionalism of some of the actors. Indeed, the actor playing Dorset seemed unable to hold back from scratching himself onstage, and leaning against walls in an expression of his own disinterest in the play. Whilst many audience members audibly enjoyed the comedic moments of the play, they seemed to gain just as much enjoyment from moments of amateurish hiccup.
It felt a lot more relaxed to see a performance at the Lacemarket theatre than at a larger venue, and I’m sure every seat offered a near-perfect view of the action onstage. However, I did feel that more could have been done with the appearance of the set, even with the limited budget of an amateur performance. The painting of the stage floor in blood red was almost invisible from my viewpoint and the overbearing black masking disguised itself as little else. The costumes were a confusing combination of brightly coloured, newly stitched fabrics and seemingly more authentically Elizabethan, heavy cloths. Several of the leading cast members, including those playing Richard III, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Margaret, and King Edward, carried their parts well, and their excellent projection would certainly have allowed them to perform in a much larger venue. Despite acknowledging that a lengthy Shakespeare text is hard to master, it was disappointing to have some cast members forget their lines on a few occasions, especially after having had the whole run of the performance to rehearse. Such a low- budget performance should perhaps have taken itself less seriously. If the less- than- convincing moments of violence had been exaggerated to a level of obvious comedy, they would have looked less ridiculous in an otherwise traditional interpretation of Shakespeare’s second longest play. It may be true that modern audiences want something more than this interpretation of Shakespeare they are used to being shown at theatres, and, although perhaps sadly, can no longer be expected to sit through a three hour performance.
Angelhouse at Nottingham Playhouse- 28th February 2008 Produced by Eclipse Theatre Directed by Paulette Randall Designed by Libby Watson
To understand the choice of play by the producing house Eclipse Theatre it is useful to understand firstly why Eclipse Theatre exists.
In February 2000 a small group of Black practitioners and administrators were invited to Nottingham Playhouse to discuss the ways of developing the profile of national and regional Black theatre (Eclipse Theatre defines Black as being of African or Caribbean origin)
It was recognised that there were very few companies producing Black work for middle scale touring venues outside of London.
Nottingham Playhouse in collaboration with the Arts Council of England’s Black Regional Initiative in Theatre (BRIT) put forward a proposal for an initial three year period that involved setting up and touring middle scale Black Theatre linked to a consortium of regionally produced theatres, each of the theatres would in turn lead on one production a year before touring the play nationally.
Here the play concerns twenty four hours in the lives of a West Indian family who are living in a West London tower block named Angelhouse, we see their struggles in life through the eyes of three generations of family, the choice of play is apt in relation to the aims and objectives of Eclipse Theatre.
Angelhouse at Nottingham Playhouse- 28th February 2008
The play had a strong start with the first scene a touching conversation between a senior couple with many comical moments, however after such a promising start the play seemed to peeter out, losing its strength as it progressed, the interwoven narratives, with dialogues mainly between two characters at a time resulted in increasingly shorter scenes, in which we weren’t able to invest our emotions in the characters because they were so two- dimensional.
In a couple of the scenes they made use of the audience’s sense of smell, a character lit and smoked a cigarette and then a character burnt bank notes, this was quite an effective statement when you consider all of the health and safety laws, rules and regulations and also the smoking ban.
Angelhouse is a touring play which is reflected in the scale of the set, it was quite simplistic with smashed windows and steel girders which were upright and some laying horizontally, the set represented the deterioration of the area that the characters inhabit and is also a reflection too on their lives.
There was an effective use of light which as a group we liked, this was achieved through there being a cut out in the steel girders of the word that represents the location of the scene i.e. ‘playground’, ‘kitchen’, ‘garden’ etc. this wasn’t visible during the scenes but at scene changes the girder was lit from within and the relevant word for the setting glowed. This meant that there wasn’t a great deal of props needed as the audience were always aware of where the scene was taking place.
Visiting the Nottingham Playhouse is always an enjoyable experience. On the approach to the theatre you are pointed to the correct street by an unusual miniature sculpture of the playhouse and an arrow instead of a sign. On arrival at the Playhouse you are welcomed in with ambient lighting and the ‘sky mirror’ sculpture by Anish Kapoor. The forecourt feels spacious and open, helped through the use of large glass windows at the front of the grade two listed building. The foyer is generous, the layout uncomplicated and the interior comfortable, it isn’t overwhelming but in a good sense of the word, there aren’t any pretensions and the staff are always friendly.
Angelhouse at Nottingham Playhouse- 28th February 2008
Maybe the marketing for the show wasn’t reaching the targets that Eclipse Theatre sets out to appeal to, or maybe it did but there was the issue of ticket price. Only 3.6% of the tickets on sale for the night were allocated to be priced at under £10, once this 3.6% has sold out the next tickets range from £14 - £25, which when you consider this is three to five times the price of an evenings entertainment at the cinema you can understand that maybe the Arts Council, Eclipse Theatre and the Playhouse are still excluding the people that they want to appeal to through not supplying affordable tickets and so the issue continues. I fully understand the implications of overheads and running costs but I feel the experience would be greatly enhanced through greater availability of lower priced tickets which may then drive larger audiences and passionate performances.
The actual theatre is proscenium and seats 750 but feels much more intimate than you would expect for that number. You never feel too far away from the stage wherever you are seated which suits the scale of the productions that are shown here. The number of people in the audience was low so the auditorium was quite empty, I always feel that filling the space can enhance the experience and it did feel like the low numbers may have affected the dynamics of the performance. It could have been quiet as it was midweek when we visited, or it may have been down to other factors. The initiative of Eclipse Theatre is exciting, on their website homepage they use a quote from the Arts Council of England as a mission statement: ‘ Theatre must engage with audiences and artists from a more diverse range of backgrounds. It must connect with people who have been excluded from theatre in the past’
‘ Glacier’- Lakeside Theatre- 5 th February 2008
The 'Glacier' dance was performed in the Lakeside Theatre, Nottingham. This was a small studio space theatre, that was used half for the audience and seating, and half for the performance itself. The narrative of the performance was the destructive effects that global warming has on the environment, particularly on the icebergs. The Dance created a story of how this environment is disintegrating and how this is effecting the wildlife there, how they are powerless to the massive natural catastrophe. The small space meant that the stage design needed to be simple, and also have enough room for the dancers to move around between. The 'Glacier' performance was successfull in doing this as it provided an effective presentation of the effects of global warming, while displaying an
aesthetically pleasing piece of dance. The use of the space required no large set changes, as the changes made to the props were incorperated into the dance, and the props were simple and easy to move around. These props were no more than different sizes and shapes of polysteirene sheets, which were moved around by the dancers and eventually dissappeared. The performance also presented images of birds caught in oil slick and stuggling to fight back, unable to be free of the man made problems that have such a large effect on them. This image was created by the dancers themselves being covered in an oil like substance and trying to move on a plastic sheeting that covered the floor of the space. The messages of this perfomance were brought together by a humerous story about an anguished artist protesting against the oil company which are sponsoring his exhibition. He becomes wrapped up literally in his exhibition and carted away. This exhibition is the setting for the images of the melting icebergs.
‘ Glacier’- Lakeside Theatre- 5 th February 2008
There was not much in the way of being able to 'enhance' this experience as, for the type of performance this was, the small studio space seemed to fit well. Imagining this performance in a larger theatre space, such as the Theatre Royal, or the Nottingham Playhouse, it doesnt seem to work as well. The simplistic design for the stage worked in a very effective way and no more space was needed in the way of stage size. From this performance,and visit to this space, it is easy to see that the Lakeside theatre is better used for small scale touring performances, and productions that work well intimatley, where the audience can be closer to the stage space.
This perfomance worked well in this studio theatre as it did not require much in the way of stage alterations and scenery, which appear to be difficult to carry out in the space given. There is little wing space to the stage for any large scale props or pieces of scenery, and so a performance such as Glacier, is easy to produce. The experience of visiting this space in the Lakeside Theatre was enjoyable, there were no restrictions as it is a small area, and the entire audience have near enough the same view of the stage, compared to in larger Theatres where there are dramatic height differences in the seating, for instance. The Studio provided a 'close up' view to the performance, in the intimate space in which Glacier was performed.
The space is very useful for interactive perfomances, in which the audience can take part themselves, or are able to feel like they are included in the performance, without actually taking part. This could be arranged by altering the layout to the studio, as the seating can be moved back into the wall to provide more perfomance space.
Analysis- A theatre experience versus a night out at the cinema.
A modern audience visits the theatre far less frequently than they do the cinema, and so treats it as more of a special occasion. Many people dress up to visit the theatre, which they certainly wouldn’t do to go to the cinema.
The infrequent nature of visiting the theatre may make the audience more willing to pay a lot more for their seat than they would consider doing at the cinema, adding to the sense of it being a special night out with friends or family.
Theatre relies far more heavily on the suspension of disbelief, and yet the audience seem more willing to accept what they see, than they would be if the same scenes were depicted in film- form. A film that goes beyond a certain level of unrealism may immediately be dismissed.
Perhaps designers need not then attempt to reach high levels of realism in theatre. Perhaps film should be the media through which ‘realism’ is depicted, and theatre the media through which far more abstract concepts can be communicated. Theatre and film shouldn’t be so readily compared, and should not try to compete with each other.
The incorporation of contemporary technology, such as film, is therefore not necessarily the best way forward for designers in their attempts to modernise theatre. Dramatic effects can be created through ingenious uses of lighting, in productions such as Matthew Bourne’s interpretation of ‘Edward Scissorhands’, without having to touch on cinema.
Watching effects live onstage gives theatre a unique sense of magic. An audience is far more impressed by devices where they cannot see how the effect is achieved than they are by much more complicated scenes in films where they know they are being fooled by clever cinematography.
Analysis- A theatre experience versus a night out at the cinema.
Theatre Designers need not be threatened by the increasing presence of cinema in modern culture. Rather than trying to compete through the same means, theatre should take advantage of the unique experience it can offer an audience. Productions such as ‘Angelhouse’, in which a character smokes onstage, trigger our awareness of the sensory opportunities live performance can offer. Even sitting in the upper circle of the Nottingham Playhouse, the smell of the burning cigarette eventually reached us. It strikes us that despite the many various theatre productions we may see, few offer us smell. The sense of smell is vital in the creation of atmosphere and is thought to be one of the most powerful in triggering memories. Let’s take the audience right into the action and let them truly experience the joy of live performance, rather than viewing it from their seats.