National Theatre

Review - Can We Talk About This? DV8 Physical Theatre @ Royal National Theatre

I have had a massive company-crush on DV8 for well over a year, since a friend first shared a clip of this show in its Australian incarnation. As a result, I went into this show with huge expectations and the desire to be tested intellectually and visually. The set as we first see it is a large, open space prepared for intricate physical movement with parquet floors. There is a wall close to the downstage side with mirrors on it, and doors lining the sides of the room on stage. Pulling no punches, creator Lloyd Newson begins by cracking in on the audience, largely visible in the mirror on stage, about moral superiority to the Taliban. This direct address sets the tone for the ensuing 120 minutes of questioning our stance (or lack thereof) when it comes to Western cultures interacting with other cultures, most specifically muslims. The show challenges us to look at our own beliefs, and to question why we have come to a place of moral relativism, where acts we view as completely heinous are okay for others, because of their "culture".

At its root is a deep belief in the univerality of human existence; that there are certain basic rights that all people deserve to have access to, and that for someone to remove those rights in the name of religion or culture is not acceptable. The intellectual debate is fiery, and is underscored by intense physical choreography which echoes in space and movement the essence of what a character is saying or doing, to great effect. When a politician is dancing around an issue, the actor is literally fancy-footing around the stage. When a woman is preaching from her high horse, she speaks the entire monologue from atop another actor, who moves her around as if he was her chair.

Oddly, despite the desecriptions I have stated above, it does not feel like it gives us an answer...rather it asks A LOT of questions and at least in my case, sparked some serious discussion about how we should handle these things and what is acceptable.

Overall, the effect was visually stunning, underscoring intense intellectual debate, and left me thinking. Isn't that what we want theatre to do?

Review - Juno and the Paycock - Royal National Theatre

I have two perspectives of this production. The first, from my seat in the front row was extremely engaged; this is how I viewed act 1. From the first row, the set towered in all of its deconstructed beauty. The ceiling, a good 8 feet higher than would be necessary, gave the impression that this was a formerly grand room, in which this family had squatted and built shanty-rooms in which to live. The actors inner-lives radiated, and I was acutely aware of their struggle despite the comic overtones the director emphasized. For the second act, we opted to move to some empty rows in the back of the main floor of the theatre. . . and I believe lost something in the move. The second act, which contains the downfall of the family, appeared framed, distant, held back in the proscenium. Where in the first act, I was very aware of the director's hand in pulling out comedy before we turned to the tragedy, in the second act my awareness of the director's hand was as puppetmaster, moving the actors about the space for seemingly no reason at all.

Now to consider this as a tragedy. I believe that Juno is set up to be our tragic hero; she works to keep her family afloat, is offered what seems like an opportunity and rather than act cautiously, she spends, allows niceties, and ultimately is responsible for her family's further fall; her daughter's demise, the loss of their home and any respect they maintained. Certainly, if we are to measure tragedy in Aristotelian terms, I felt pity for this woman and her family...but I cannot say that I felt fear at the same time. Is this a way to present tragedy now? I am not so sure; this appeared to work within the already agreed upon tragic "rules", and in presenting a moment in history, did not necessarily speak to me about an act which is tragic. There needs to be an element of avoidability for katharsis to emerge, and for the characters to be likable. While I liked the actors, I can't say I liked the characters, so while I pitied their fall, I did not fear it for myself.

This said...the daughter Mary was a character whom was recognizable for the audience, and for whom the closest thing to pity and fear may have been acknowledged. This was a young woman who showed ambition and desire to better herself, and through poor (and avoidable) judgement, set herself back in a position worse than where she began life.