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10 Shows in the UK

My name is Quasar. And I am a theatre-holic. 

Everywhere I travel I have dive into the nearest theatre to see what is on. It is on those occasions that one primarily gets to witness interesting work that ordinarily wouldn’t be on view at home. So here is a list of interesting and unique performance experiences from my last bit of travelling to England and Scotland from September to November 2011: 

1.    Localising Theatre:
     The Royal Court in the UK have tried to ‘branch out’ from their Sloane Square home and take the plays of new writers to other parts of London as part of the Theatre Local programme. Last year our very own Anupama Chandrasekhar’s play “Disconnected” was also performed at a mall in Elephant & Castle. However when we say performed elsewhere, it means actually converting the acquired space wholly and fully into a venue capable of hosting the play in its ideal way. In Peckham, I witnessed Truth & Reconciliation, an interweaving of different stories from around the world where victim and wrong doer are confronting each other. Stories from Rwanda, South Africa, Bosnia, Ireland and Zimbabwe. Each story was powerful and the relationship of the characters was different. The Bosnian story was about two men who raped a woman. No in peace time, she is pregnant. One of them is asking the other to take the blame because the former has a wife and works for his father in law. The Irish story was the confrontations of two sets of parents of young boys who were part of an IRA attack, and were killed and how one set of parents blames the other for their child’s influence on their son. The South African story was about an old woman who refuses to sit in a courtroom till she finds out properly what happened to her abducted daughter. All very powerful. All very moving. All even more heightened because it wasn’t a formal theatre.

2.    Folk Stories:
It really seemed that ‘short stories’ was the way to go. Tell Them I am Young and Beautiful was a collection of seven short folk stories from around the world. The best local example would be the work of Motley and Naseeruddin Shah. Normally in this format, it is not so much the stories that excite, but the manner in which they are told. Tell them.. was performed by an ensemble who became trees, benches, cattle and the various characters, all accompanied by a powerful percussionist. Although the Arcola Theatre in not a proscenium space, it still has a certain formality. Into this, the performers were able to bring the energy of a village square. Although immaculately rehearsed and skilfully performed, the play had the ease of an improvised story telling session. The evening ended up being a joyful celebration of life for both performer and audience.

3.    A long running show is not necessarily a good show.
No trip to London in complete without one customary visit to the West End. Many have talked about The Lion King and while I enjoyed the animated film, I am not a ‘die hard’ fan. But the ‘theatreholic’ in me won the day, and since it was the only matinee I could attend I went. There is no question that Julie Taymor’s direction is genius. The misc-en-scene of the play is spectacular. Unfortunately the singing was pedestrian and the dancing was more ‘marking’. All in all quite a disappointment not helped by the fact that we could only afford the ‘nose bleeds’ – seats that are high up in the auditorium. Later when talking to some local theatre people, I discovered that long running shows often suffer this kind of dip, since the talented dancers and singers leave, and the new talented ones are not interested in being part of an ‘already running’ show. For a performers career it is better to be part of a ‘new and exciting’ show.

4.     Busking Auditions
Just when we thought the day was a disaster, we wandered into Covent Garden and were drawn to the sound of classical music. In the piazza, a string-quartet was playing. Now when one thinks of classical music, ‘entertaining’ is not usually the word that comes to mind. But these guys managed to get a crowd of over a hundred. They made classical music cool, playing in jeans and t shirts. They had a little choreography. And were very good. Made lots of money, and sold tonnes of CDs (one to me) Apparently the Covent Garden street performers have to audition before they are granted a slot. Imagine that! To check out Mamushka at Covent Garden click on this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gl6QSbADbQM&feature=related

5.    Changing Climate
It is strange that I saw this play in Brighton. But it was so worth it. I was also introduced to the concept of subsidised tickets. While normal tickets were GBP 25, because the house was not selling, they did subsidised tickets an hour before show. I was lucky and got a seat about ten rows from the stage for only 10 pounds. Earthquakes in London was about climate change. Mike Bartlett's intricate plot followed three sisters and their estranged scientist father, who abandoned them as soon as their mother died, because they reminded him of her. While the first two acts were excellent, the last act had the feel of an M. Night Shyamalan short story like Lady in the Water.  The outstanding concept from the play was - that each individual by their very presence is contributing to changing the climate; since the climate can support only one billion people, and there are actually six billion, at some point the planet will address the balance; not by degrees but by huge events like tsunamis and earthquakes.

6.    You have to be a classic to appreciate a classic
On my other off night in Brighton, I wandered down once again to the Theatre Royal to catch Tartuffe, - a Moliere play about a scoundrel con man. Unlike Earthquakes, this show was full. Only problem was, it seemed like I was the only non-white haired person in the room. I actually began to feel quite self conscious. The text was in verse and although the show started on a relatively low note, it soon picked up. It was also fun to see colour blind casting, where a young Sri Lankan, Hanan, played the part of the young lady’s suitor. Unfortunately Tartuffe himself was weak. But the octogenarian audience enjoyed it immensely and there were many ovations.

7.    Radio Play Sunday
I have worked on a couple of the BBC radio plays that have been recorded in India. However, the fact that people dedicate their Sunday afternoons to it was quite amazing. On the long drive from Brighton to Glasgow, we tuned into one of Raymond Chandler’s Marlow detective stories, where the great detective was played by Toby Stephens (of Mangal Pandey fame). For the two hours we were properly transported to another world. Our imagination doing the work of filling in the scenery. I was almost upset when it finished, particularly because we still had a four hour drive ahead of us. For Bombay’s traffic, maybe Radio Plays are the way to calm the road rage.

8.    A Play, A Pint and A Pie
There is a typically Glasgow experience, where every lunch time, a venue called Oran Mor does lunch time theatre. What is unique about this, is that for the price of the theatre ticket, you get a pint and a pie free. The show I saw was Mcadam’s Torment about the discovery of a bandit who used to eat people. While the story is a British legend, I had never heard it so was quite taken by it. The play was a monologue and he was accompanied by a live violinist. The haunting underscoring was very effective. I expected to be one of fifty, but when I finally entered the room, I discovered almost 250 people who all seemed to have the same idea. Take a slightly extended lunch break and watch a play. How wonderful!

9.    Kinetic Theatre:
Technically speaking this was not ‘theatre’. In Glasgow itself there is the Sharmanka Art Gallery. The permanent exhibit is ‘robotic’ sculptures created by Russian Eduard Bersudky. In 1996, he left Russia and brought his collection to the UK. The sculptures are moving art. Each moving machine is a separate exhibit. So to watch the entire hour long performance means moving from exhibit to exhibit. The sculptures each have biting comment, and are quite engrossing and enjoyable as you get lost in each element. A video of the sculptures can be viewed below.

10. Refugee Theatre
Sometimes you go and watch a piece of art for the nature of how it is made, not really for the quality of what it is. Ignite Theatre’s double bill was exactly that. The two plays were made up of young local Glaswegian performers and refugees from Africa. This was part of a project to assimilate both groups and thereby through comradeship at the young age benefit both groups. There were two performances, Does Anybody Get Me  was about adjusting to everyday student life in Scotland. The hard hitting True Colours, about a group of Scottish students on a field trip to Africa and get taken hostage by militants. At a dinner with the director later, she told us a story of the day when the ‘prop guns’ arrived. The Scottish kids wanted to take pictures of each other holding the weapons because it was ‘cool’. The Rwandan and Somali kids, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with the guns, because they have seen first-hand the destruction they cause. 

And that’s the ten. There was also a terrible version of the remake of the Jack Lemon film Days of Wine and Roses, but that was neither special nor interesting.