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Thursday, 25 February 2021

REVIEW: My Mix(ed up) Tape at the Living Record Festival

The third and final review of a show from the amazing Living Record Festival, a celebration of digital art taking place between the 17th January to 22nd February. The festival takes place digitally to provide access to theatre for everyone world-wide, with a platform of over 40 independent artists and theatre companies from across the world streamed for you to enjoy at the click of a button. 
This one was a digital R&D project created by Katie Payne, with direction from Catherine Paskell of Dirty Protest Theatre, a Welsh theatre launched in 2007, that has showcased work from over 200 artists across Wales & England and a superb platform for independent works. The project was called ‘My Mix(ed up) Tape’ a short sharing of a play about a 30 something woman called Phoebe, or ‘P’ for short, trying to navigate us sporadically through her cousin Caroline’s wedding party back in her hometown in the Welsh Valleys.

Sunday, 21 February 2021

REVIEW: And Breathe… for the Living Record Festival Online

It’s wonderful that so many diverse and exciting new pieces of writing have been created for the Living Record Festival, giving theatre and art the chance to be accessed in such a sparse time for the industry. The creativity that has gone into this is wonderful and should be lauded. Mark Conway and Alex Packer’s ‘And Breathe…’ certainly fits in and stands out, being mainly a radio play with added visual guides and movement pieces.

The tag line says a lot about what the theme is – ‘1 trillion plastic bags used every year. 2 million every minute. The average use… just 12 minutes. He’s drowning under the weight of all this. But who will sink first? Him or the rest of us?’ And in this day and age this truly is a relevant theme for us all! There is the increasing worry about our plastic consumption. But without that tag line I would have struggled to piece it all together.

REVIEW: Ain’t No Female Romeo at the Living Record Festival

This is my second review of a show from the amazing Living Record Festival, a celebration of digital art taking place between the 17th January to 22nd February. The festival takes place digitally to provide access to theatre for everyone world-wide, with a platform of over 40 independent artists and theatre companies from across the world streamed for you to enjoy at the click of a button.

Today was ‘Ain’t No Female Romeo’ a digital art journey by Lita Doolan Productions. Through the self-documented video entries, we see that the main character is on a journey via the means of social media (Instagram) to either find or connect with this person called ‘Peter’. The online pursuit takes the leading lady across the world to find some poster in a subversion of the classic tale of Romeo & Juliet.

From the offset, the piece has a frantic like tendency, with the quick changes of self-tape monologues to cryptic text messages. These short burst videos of seemingly random videos demonstrates both the fragility of the main woman and also gives an insight into the sporadic nature she is going through to find this virtual lover. Also, the way that the videos are edited and portrayed gives the impression of someone who is completely new to Instagram, where they post everything and anything, which can be interpreted as a naive beauty but I found after 10 minutes it became slightly irritating.

Friday, 19 February 2021

REVIEW: Alright, Girl? for the Living Record Festival Online

This piece is one of many from the Living Record Festval, a celebraton of digital art taking place between the 17th January to 22nd February. The festval takes place digitally to provide access to theatre for everyone world-wide, with a platform of over 40 independent artsts and theatre companies from across the world streamed for you to enjoy at the click of a button. 

When it comes to expressing Art, for me, personal poetry is the most exposing and raw material you can give to the audience. In this soundscaped binaural recording, Maria Ferguson debuts her poetry collecton of “Alright, Girl ?” Accompanied with a soundscape created by Chris Drohon, this piece is a personal exploraton of class, gender and belonging set in and around the characteristc East End of London.

To begin, before you even press play, get a pair of headphones to listen to this piece as you enter a whole new world with a stunning soundscape that travels with you throughout Maria’s story. Sound designer Chris Drohon has created a naturalistc element that gave me the illusion of going on a walk through a park, which is fittng as that’s been the highlight of these lockdowns?! The binaural experience was completely new for me, and it was thoroughly enjoyable giving the calming podcast feel to the whole performance, apart from the slight jump scare I got from the pigeons.

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

REVIEW: This Noisy Isle for the Living Record Festival Online

For my tenth and final visit to the Living Record Festival I tried This Noisy Isle. This online Festival is a wide-ranging mix of content and the website would benefit from a clear classification of what the target audience is for each one, comedy, audio, children, drama etc. The selection I have tried ranged from the bizarre lectures, improv to some very interesting short films. Many of them had the feel of work in progress, content being workshopped or tried out as part of their development. Overall, it has been a satisfying and enjoyable interaction with the Festival. This final piece is an audio only story split into a Prologue and 10 short audio stories. It is not clear what order to listen to them, so we tried them in the order they are on the weblink. The link to the interactive activity pack on the Festival site did not work but we found the three downloadable pages on the producers own site at Spun Glass Theatre.

The story takes its inspiration from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and is set on the tropical island where Prospero was shipwrecked twelve years earlier with his daughter Miranda. The island had been inhabited by the witch Sycrorax who has died but her son Caliban still wanders the island with the spirit Ariel who has also been imprisoned there. The target audience is 7- to 11-year-olds and the production has the feel of a modern Listen with Mother which ran on BBC radio from 1950 to 1982 and which I regularly listed to at that age!

REVIEW: Breaking Up with Reality for the Living Record Festival Online

Breaking up with reality imagines that the last 12 months of Covid lockdown is similar to the feelings after a breakup in a long-term relationship where everything we have assumed as normal is no longer there and instead our existence is defined by new boundaries and limited experiences. Nod at the Fox presents this thought as a thirty-minute monologue with the text, music and sound recordings created and read by Eden Harbud. It is an intriguing stream of consciousness, a rambling flow of thoughts reflecting on the impact such new ways of living have on each of us and at times verging on madness driven by the loneliness and isolation of being shut in our own homes.

The Deluxe experience offers the script to read and a short five-minute video of the opening thoughts which hints that this audio-visual version might have been the original intention before settling for a simpler voice over a still picture of an origami rabbit in the grass. The voiceover of Harbud is calm, soothing, in control for the most part and maintains an optimistic tone. It is also realistic about what this is. In his opening thoughts he says this may be “a load of fluff” but he hopes “some will connect” and if not “don’t bother to brush it off”. Well, it is more than fluff, there is a creativity about the soundscape both the sounds we miss like tube trains and crowds laughing and the sounds that dominate our lives like the ping of a message arriving on our phones. 

Thursday, 4 February 2021

REVIEW: On Record for the Living Record Festival Online

As part of the Living Record Festival, Cameron Essam and Ella Dorman-Gajic bring us ‘On Record’ a new audio thriller. 

Behind the scenes of a radio show the cast and crew take a break on recording. We overhear conversations with actor Naomi, who plays Mona, and a male director who sounds menacing from the get go. It is obvious that something is not as it seems but it remains unclear if the secrets are between the recording team themselves or the characters they portray.

Recording resumes and it becomes apparent the radio show centres around a woman’s refuge. With the cliché backdrop of a heavy rain, Hannah arrives at the refuge looking for somewhere to stay. Mona, a support worker, attempts to question her on the circumstances that led to her arrival but Hannah is reluctant to offer up any information and so she is shown to bed and left to her own devices. It is clear that something mysterious is going on but we are left to wait and listen…

Before we know it we are deep in Hannah’s story and speeding through the drama surrounding domestic abuse. Script and memory soon blend into one and thanks to some excellent sound design it is seriously gripping right until the end. 

REVIEW: Heads or Tails for the Living Record Festival Online

Another dip into the wide range of content available on the Living Record Festival until 22nd February took me to Heads or Tails with its tag line “after death, things need not be so bad”. What attracted me to this piece? It could have of course been the 100,000+ deaths from Covid in the UK, or the second anniversary of my own father’s death or even the sad demise of the Covid hero Captain Sir Tom Moore but actually it was the RADA graduate Skye Hallam who created and performs the piece. Having watched many graduation year productions at RADA from 2012-2015 I am always interested in seeing their graduates work, Skye Hallam graduated in 2016.

This 38-minute piece that she has written and performs is in five acts, each approximately eight minutes long and shot in the Jermyn Street Theatre against a blue/grey cloth and simple lighting. It is like watching a podcast from heaven with Steph reflecting on life and death. It explores the idea, so beautifully executed in the new Disney film Soul, that someone gets a chance before passing into heaven permanently to make one final visit to earth to perform a one woman show. The style is played straight to camera with comic asides as used by Miranda in her TV series.

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

REVIEW: Dance of a Million Pieces for the Living Record Festival Online

Dance of a Million Pieces is a 25-minute binaural piece as part of The Living Record Festival, written and performed by Gemma Rogers and Cary Crankson, with sound design by Rafael Diogo.

Endy (Gemma Rogers) is in a coma and Mion (Cary Crankson) is doing whatever it takes to wake her up to keep her from being taken off life support. They take adventures together and explore memories, as he grasps at anything to pull her back so he can take her home from the hospital. The balance between imagination and real life is well interlaced to portray his battles between facing reality while still being hopeful that she will wake up. This short performance combines hypnotic visuals layered with voice-overs to tell the narrative. It is obscure and emotional as it takes you on a journey to show the grief of losing someone you love.

It took me a little while to get into it, the first half I found quite confusing as the relationship between the two isn’t obviously romantic until the second half. Although the aggressive desperation in Mion’s voice came across quite too intense at times, the acting from both performers was well done and I became more invested in the relationship as the script became more poetic. The videos reflected the story nicely and helped it flow, without distracting from the show. Diogo’s sound design gives the characters depth as you feel the distance between them grow as Endy begins to slip away.

Thursday, 28 January 2021

REVIEW: Broken Link for the Living Record Festival Online

Broken Link is one of many pieces on offer as part of The Living Record Festival an online showcase of comedy, plays, films, immersive theatre and much more, all available to stream online. 

In a year where relationships went more digital than ever, the show takes us into a live video chat between 4 friends as they catch up on the anniversary of Ellie’s suicide. 

It starts slow and frankly a little awkward as we watch each character join the chat. Before we know it a fifth, anonymous person joins the chat and simply begins messaging via the chat. The friends are obviously rattled and as the drama unfolds the friends test the unknown participate in a bid to identify them. 

Is it Ellie herself or is this someone playing a cruel joke? 

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

REVIEW: Finney’s Ghost for the Living Record Festival Online

The Living Record Festival is an eclectic mix of content described “as digital media designed specifically for streaming created by over 40 independent artists and theatre companies from across the world. Accessible from your living room at the click of a button, the Living Record Festival is a celebration of ground-breaking grassroots digital art happening between the 17th of January and 22nd February 2021.” Having sampled and enjoyed a selection of their offerings I returned again to view Finney’s Ghost and it proved well worthwhile with a beautifully edited and narrated film which keeps you intrigued and mystified throughout its 38-minute running time. 

Although shot pre-pandemic in 2015 this moving film is given an extra poignancy by the current lockdown, deaths, and uncertainty around our lives. How many of us have sorted a cupboard and found a box of long-forgotten photos, perhaps left to us by a relative and looked at them trying to picture the story they capture. How many times have we wondered how those less fortunate than us homeless on the street are surviving this winter without shelter or even able to beg to passer-by’s on empty street? David Fox takes these two thoughts and combines them into a mysterious ghost story which has filmed and edited into a very well-crafted story.

REVIEW: Tales of a Reluctant World Traveler for the Living Record Festival Online

The Living Record Festival is an eclectic mix of content described “as digital media designed specifically for streaming created by over 40 independent artists and theatre companies from across the world. Accessible from your living room at the click of a button, the Living Record Festival is a celebration of ground-breaking grassroots digital art happening between the 17th of January and 22nd February 2021.” Having sampled and enjoyed a selection of their offerings I have dived deeper into the catalogue and tried “Tales of a Reluctant world traveller” by Randy Ross. As we are all in travel lockdown and overseas holidays seem a distant memory, it sounded like an interesting comedic taste of the exotic locations we can no longer safely travel to. It turns out it is little more than a narrated one-hour slide show promoting a recently published book “God Bless Cambodia” and I assume intended to promote the book and encourage online purchases. Needless to say, although I stayed the distance, I shall not be buying the book.

It starts encouragingly enough tempting us with the promise of exotic, maybe even erotic, tales from a 48-year-old recently separated and unemployed Bostonian’s sixteen-week trip across four continents to eight countries in 2007. A trip that took in windsurfing in Margherita Island in Mexico (1st continent South America), a trip to Karpathos Island in Greece (2nd continent Europe), bungee jumping in South Africa (3rd Continent Africa), $1 street food in Cambodia and Thailand (4th continent Asia) and Bush flies in Australia and river boarding in New Zealand (5th continent Australia) and back to America (6th Continent North America). Yes, I know that is six continents (only Antarctica was missing from the trip), so he over delivered on his promise of four! Yet we learn nothing about any of these places, I suppose the answer is to buy the book. 

Friday, 22 January 2021

REVIEW: Ram of God for the Living Record Festival Online

Designed in response to the debilitating effects of Covid-19 on the live arts industry, Living Record Productions have created Living Record Festival, a month-long Digital Arts Festival showcasing over 45 original pieces from independent artists and theatre companies across the world. The content of the festival has been purpose-built for a digital platform and includes theatre, dance, circus, comedy, documentary, spoken word, binaural sound and music.

Ram of God is an alternative film and the creation of Theodora van der Beek with Soho Theatre and notably, nominated for Best Comedy and Best Actress at the Alternative Film Fest. Self categorised as comedy/feminist folk horror it follows the story of a "milk-based" cult set in the middle of the countryside. The cults prophet/leader, part man part sheep, goes by the name Ram and claims to be the saviour of all those who follow him when the apocalypse comes in 2028. His most favoured followers, all female, are to commit their lives to him. They are to do this by; drinking only milk as a lubricant to escape sin, by not cutting or washing their hair, not wearing makeup and literally give over their body and soul to Ram.

REVIEW: The Noise Next Door for the Living Record Festival Online

The Noise Next Door Comedy LockIn has been a popular feature of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival at the Pleasance Courtyard and we have been a regular visitors over the last few years so having missed the 2020 edition it was great to see them included in the Living Record Festival. As with all improv, the success of each sketch is as dependent as much on the quality of the suggestions from the audience as the abilities of the comics to interact with each other in the theme. The usual foursome often use technology in their shows including a camera roaming around the bars of the courtyard so it was expected that they would attempt to incorporate it in the online version.  

However the technology of delivery created the first barrier to their success as having waited 10 minutes on the Living Record site link watching a countdown when the start time arrived it proved very hard to get into the zoom call, taking 10 minutes before we eventually accessed the call. Not as bad as one customer who only arrived in the last five minutes of the hour-long show! 

It meant we missed the introduction and an explanation of why the usual four comics were reduced to three on this show, Matt Grant in a green tie, Tom Livingstone in a green jacket and Robin Hatcher in green trousers. It meant that the first sketch was incomprehensible and when it ended up on the Titanic we feared the worse for the show. The second sketch attempted to give Robin all his lines directly from the audience via his phone as his two colleagues played Crazy Golf with him but it just did not work and the result was unfunny and weak despite them congratulating the audience on their wonderful suggestions! 

The show burst into life with the next two sketches with well-practised structures that allowed them to relax and enjoy themselves. Tom was a security guard trying to recognise two passengers seeking to board a plane to Jamaica. This sketch, reminiscent of the Whose Line is it anyway Party sketch, worked very well with excellent visual comedy and parody. The next sketch also worked very well with Robin and Tom playing a Rumanian interpreter with each saying one word each in turn to spell and explain words offered by the audience. Well practised in its delivery and with some good suggestions from the audience including filibuster, Banana-man and Helter Skelter this too worked very well to raise laughs.

As they pointed out, it is very different performing this type of comedy in this way than with a full house late-night audience at Edinburgh as they can only respond to each other's laughs and the last three sketches all seemed to suffer from a lack of shared response. The jokes about various suggestions walking into a bar seemed laboured, the sketch about a Hollywood director making a film about sexy sushi seemed overlong and the improved song to an audience member Sarah would have been funnier if we could have seen her reaction. 

Improv is a unique comedy form and requires quick thinking sharp performers bursting with energy and ideas and we know Robin, Matt and Tom can deliver brilliant routines in front of a live audience at Edinburgh and showed in glimpses what they are capable of in this show. However, the technology and structure of the zoom call seemed to inhibit them and the comedy was more hit and miss than usual. It won't stop us returning to see them at the next Edinburgh Festival but left us disappointed in front of the TV screen.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★

Seat: Online | Price of Ticket: £10

REVIEW: This Little World for the Living Record Festival

One of the advantages of being stuck at home is the opportunity to sample new dramatic forms streamed into you home and this production by The Giddy Road Theatre company is a lovely example of a production that you might otherwise not see except is some small venue at the Edinburgh Festival and yet it proves to be an entertaining, imaginative, and accessible dip into Shakespeare.

Taking as inspiration Shakespeare’s 1595 play Richard II loosely based on the historic events from the murder of the Duke of Gloucester to the King’s abdication and death, the play is set in the cell at Pomfret Castle where the king is imprisoned and will shortly die at the hands of his guard. In Shakespeare’s play, Richard compares his prison cell to a world peopled with his thoughts and says, “thus in one person play many persons” and these provide the inspiration for “This Little World”. Richard accepts defeat easily and wallows in self-pity when he gives up the crown.

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

REVIEW: Always On My Mind for the Living Record Festival

This short playlet is a perfect product of the Lockdowns in 2020 in its theme and its technical execution and the end result is an intriguing piece of drama. Taking its cue from the Willie Nelson song Always on my mind where he sings. “Maybe I didn’t love you, Quite as often as I could have, and maybe I didn’t treat you, quite as good as I should have”, the play explores a couple who have split up reconnecting after six months. It resonates as a living record of the time as so many couples must have found the strains of lockdown together, or apart, difficult to deal with and all of us have tried to connect with people over the ubiquitous Zoom call and found while it allows you to see and speak to each other it inhibits real communication.

Although this started as a four-person sixty-minute play it feels like it was written for the medium as two-hander socially distanced awkward first meeting after a painful breakup. If anything, it leaves you wanting a second and possibly third act as when their call together ends abruptly you really want to know what happened next. The devise for the online version of having an actor play themselves as well as their alter ego self-watching over their shoulder and revealing their real feelings works really well and would have been fascinating to explore this more in subsequent acts.

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

REVIEW: The 39 Steps - A Radio Drama for the Living Record Festival

The Living Record Festival is a celebration of ground-breaking grassroots digital art happening between the 17th of January and 22nd February 2021 with a range of audio stories available to listen in to at home. My second visit was for Blackbox Theatre’s radio play of The 39 Steps adapted by Chris Hawley from John Buchan’s book. This familiar story, wonderfully adapted for the stage by Patrick Barlow which ran for nine years at the Criterion Theatre, suits the radio medium and is a very well-produced show with a fun tongue in cheek script and plenty of sound effects to bring the story to life.

The premise is that the cast are due to assemble at a radio station in 1962 when the snow prevents the cast arriving at the station and with five minutes to go Julian decides to put it on air using Brenda, the Tea Lady for all the female parts and the sound effects, “I was just doing tea and biscuits”, with Roy for all the male parts, “he’s good at voices”. The set up suggests a radio version of The Play that goes wrong, but they play it straight, just as ordinary folk doing silly accents and it works very well.

REVIEW: Bully Beef & Whizzbangs for the Living Record Festival

The Living Record Festival is a celebration of ground-breaking grassroots digital art happening between the 17th of January and 22nd February 2021 with a range of audio stories available to listen in to at home. My first visit to the Festival was for the World War One play Bully Beef and Whizzbangs commissioned to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War and set in 1916 in a front-line trench on the Somme.

Over the years since the end of the War there have been some powerful and moving plays written about the events in France and Flanders. The 1928 play Journeys End by RC Sheriff remains one of the finest dramatic portrayals of life in the trenches and the 2007 play War Horse portrays the conflict on a more epic scale. The 1963 musical 'Oh what a lovely war' brilliantly combined a music hall style presentation with a sharp critic of the General’s tactics and more recently in 2016 Wipers Times by Hislop and Newman comically told the story of the front-line publication that soldiers produced in Ypres. This new play written and directed by Chris Hawley takes a closer more personal view of a soldier who has been on the front line since the start of the was in 1914 and last went home to blighty over a year before. It has the feel of Verbatim Theatre, a view of survival through one mans eyes and the interactions he has with fellow soldiers during a lull in hostilities.
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