Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review - Poland 3 Iran 2/Births, Deaths and Marriages - 7th June 2011 - Nottingham

Tonight’s main attraction was to be 30 Bird’s Production of ‘Poland 3 Iran 2’, billed as ‘The Perfect Pub Conversation about football, fathers, revolution, swimming, chess, love and Subbuteo’, but first up was Gareth Morgan’s piece, ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages: Nottingham Forest, my father and me’.

Births, Deaths and Marriages: Nottingham Forest, my father and me
Morgan’s piece is, as you’d expect from the title autobiographical, but was performed tonight by Richie Garton, who stood in for the absent author.  It concerns details of his birth, his formative experience in becoming a Forest fan and his relationship with his father through this shared love.  The twist is that the piece is designed to be performed on a coach as it takes us to tonight’s main show at the Forest Ground, via Morgan’s birthplace in Sherwood.  And it was this twist that was the problem with the show.  Garton tried to synchronise the script with the locations we were passing but this often led to timing difficulties or to him trying to fill time as we waited to get to the next location.  The final passage, which didn’t rely on the synchronicities of narration and place was by far the best bit as Morgan/Garton rediscovered his bond with his team, his home and his father and reconciled his twin loves of theatre and Forest. 
Despite the difficulties of traffic and geography Garton brought a charm and likability to the piece that well suited Morgan’s honest and touching writing. An interesting concept that needs more thought if it’s to really work but a worthwhile and diverting exercise.
Poland 3 Iran 2

 ‘Poland 3 Iran 2’ is performed by the artist Chris Dobrowolski and writer/director Mehrdad Seyf, with the aid of a large screen and a laptop that projects photos, maps and film to support their stories.   I say performed, but the impression gained was, as advertised, more of overhearing a particularly animated pub conversation between two great storytellers with a lot of great stories to tell.  Iranian born Seyf deals with the more political aspect of the show, mixing the comic tale of his parent’s courtship, his childhood in Iran and the time his father and uncle spent in prison for political crimes.  Dobrowolski’s stories focussed more on him growing up in Essex with comic reminiscences about holidays in Poland, Panini football stickers and being the sort of child who used football as a springboard for both his imagination and as a focus for his nerdiness.  Both men were able to be funny without trying too hard and be reflective without being sentimental.
The joy of the show was the way that the two men, who’d taken very different roads through life, were able to find resonances between themselves and their experiences.  Parallels between their childhoods, their relationships with their fathers, revolutions in their countries and their love of the beautiful game all drifted into and out of focus throughout the show.  That the audience were free to sit back and enjoy the stories as simple anecdotes or to fit them into a larger narrative added to the show’s quality.  The pacing  throughout was excellent and the visual aids, as you’d expect from an artist, were very well thought out and added a lot to the evening. 
Poland may have beaten Iran 3-2 at the Montreal Olympics in the titular game, but tonight the winner was theatre.  Another great show from NEAT/Hatch.

David Millington
7th June 2011
Nottingham

Monday, June 6, 2011

Review - The Cries of Silent Men – 5th of June – Nottingham Castle (Hanby and Barrett)

For theatregoers, 9pm on a chilly June Sunday evening in the grounds of Nottingham Castle is unusual territory in all senses, but it was a good sized and well wrapped up audience who were in attendance for this production of Hanby and Barrett’s ‘The Cries of Silent Men’.  This play was originally developed as a ‘site specific’ piece of community theatre, designed to be performed outside, in a particular location, by people from that location and its surrounding communities, but had been transplanted to Nottingham Castle for the NEAT Festival. 
The Cries of Silent Men

The play deals with the events at nearby Beauvale Priory and the order of Monks who called it home, during the reformation of the mid to late 1530’s.  This turbulent period of English history saw Henry VIII, with the political and religious facilitation of Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer (another local man), split the English Protestant Church away from Catholic Rome.  These events were of immense political significance across Europe, but also cut to the heart of each devout Christian in England, who had to decide whether God’s anointed King (Henry) or God’s anointed Priest (the Pope) was his authority on Earth. 
Andy Barrett’s script did a terrific job of balancing the need for exposition with storytelling, of contrasting the affairs of state against personal religious conviction and of setting Cromwell’s worldly pragmatism against the monk’s sacred idealism.  The characters never felt like ciphers and the Angelic visions and the reoccurring symbolism of the roses and petals, helped to ground the monk’s religious convictions in a reality that made their piety understandable and plausible.  Finally some sly references to England’s laws being unjustly set by a European Potentiate showed how history can repeat itself and gave the play some contemporary resonances.
The cast, drawn from the people of the community around Beauvale Priory, handled the script confidently and well.  The language was, almost without exception, well spoken and audible, not always easy in an outdoors situation close to the city centre and despite the large cast of characters the audience were well able to follow what was happening.  Ian Baxter and Russell Waters playing monks the doubting Thomas Dookmer and the capable Richard Wakefield respectively, were particularly good.
The production also made the most of the castle grounds in its imaginative staging and direction.  A passage that saw the angel appear atop the castle wall, whilst we heard the wind rustling in the trees and chanting in Latin echoing up from the stone tunnel was particularly atmospheric and really did transport the audience to another time and place.  A later scene set on a more conventional stage, cleverly used a wooden frame first to place Henry VIII in a familiar portrait pose and then acted as first gallows and then scaffold for the bloody executions than end this tale.  Costumes, props and lighting all played their part in creating a seductive atmosphere.
This tremendous show, strong in all departments, was a wonderful example of what can be achieved by community theatre.  It showed how with the right material and creative direction, memorable productions can be staged in unique venues.  I hope that more established theatres follow this lead to create similarly ambitious new pieces.
(also available on LeftLion - http://www.leftlion.co.uk/articles.cfm/id/3708

David Millington
5th June 2011
Nottingham