Behind the scenes

notesfromdressingroom
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Notes from the Dressing Room

So this is one absolutely harassed costume designer reporting from the frontline of what may be this term’s craziest production: Will Felton’s interpretation of the Butterworth/Rylance smash hit, Jerusalem. There’s nothing quite like Show Week to get a costume designer at her (or his) wit’s end: no matter how many months you’ve spent preparing yourself mentally for the task, you only really ever have one guarantee: that of all the things which could go wrong… about 80 per cent of them will. (more…)

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Interview: Rick Fisher

As I sit down to interview lighting designer Rick Fisher, questions in hand, he turns to me and asks: “So tell me, why do you want to talk to me?” I am momentarily flummoxed, my neat list of questions seeming temporarily redundant. But it is a fair question, in a celebrity-obsessed culture fixated on the people who we can actually see: lighting designers, typically, are not the most visible part of a dramatic team. (more…)

notes from the dressing roo
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Notes from the Dressing Room II

So the evenings are getting darker, the opening nights are getting closer, and my room currently resembles such a pigsty it’s led a few people to remark I might be getting a little too into Halloween.

Still, this is Oxford student theatre, not the Barbican, and while the facilities are great, I’m pretty sure my demands for a sixteen-rail warehouse to store all my costumes are falling onto deaf ears. I’m sorry, but what else could possibly need so much money? Another revolving stage somewhere? I need space for my glittery jazz shoes!

(more…)

BT publicity
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Preview: Bouncers

John Godber’s play Bouncers is, in the playwrights own words, a ‘grotesque’ comedy of exaggerated characters, and the ‘Poor Player Productions’ version of it looks set to practically ooze this. The play, with a cast of four, is based around the preparation for a big Friday night, and moves fluidly from one set of characters to the next, culminating in a well-executed finale.

The four actors in the production rotate between extremes with ease, not only limited to character. Completely in control of their sound and movement, the players here command their stage entirely, and convincingly and effortlessly morph between the different sets of characters.

These include (but are not limited to) the nightclub bouncers of the title, the ‘girls’ before the big Friday night out and the ‘lads’ (or perhaps, more appropriately, ‘ladz’). The juxtaposition between the almost aggressively hilarious masculinity of the bouncers and the boys and the ridiculous femininity of the girls is pulled off well.

Both the play and the players are also comically self-aware. The group of bouncers mocking lads in general brings ironic layers into the performance: the actors imitate and caricature not only as themselves but as characters mocking other characters.

Disorientating as that may sound, this production group does bring it off persuasively, and as an audience member you never feel left out of their jokes. The exaggeration of the comedy brings the audience completely on side, particularly in the near ritualistic scenes of the lads getting ready – you’re laughing with them, and yet it doesn’t feel forced: something quite rare in such extravagant comedy.

Bouncers is more than just a romp through the potential to parody a night out however, and the cast do show glimpses of true emotion underneath, and sometimes through, their ridiculousness.

The ludicrous images the characters, especially the bouncers themselves, build up are only occasionally permeated by the back stories that turn them (just) into people, and the very rare instances of this emphasises the grotesqueness of the majority of the play.

Many of these result in almost scary fights or near fights, the excellent direction of which is indicative of the fast-paced yet well thought out work of the two co-directors, Adam Leonard and James Watt, throughout the production.

It begins and ends, of course, with the bouncers, and these are the most convincing and comedic caricatures in the production. At the very least, they will make you snort, and, more likely, the whole play will have you laughing – easily worth a visit.

‘Bouncers’ plays at the Burton Taylor studio from 28th October – 1st November

Photo credit: BT publicity

fat-pig
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Preview: Fat Pig

I arrive mid-rehearsal of Fat Pig into an intense argument that feels more like a courtroom drama than the scene of a comedy. Yet, the immediate connection I witnessed between characters solidifies what this play is about – human relations and interactions.

Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig has been widely performed since its inception in 2006 from Melbourne to Mexico City. This is indicative of the play’s universal appeal dealing with the endless obsession with weight in society.

Talking to the director/producer/lead actress (and probably more roles than can be listed here) Phosile Mashinkila, she tells me that this universal appeal is why she wanted to put this play on in Oxford. We are bombarded with a constant stream of body shaming every day in the media yet it still remains a difficult topic to talk about.

Fat Pig concerns Tom (Jason Imlach) who falls in love with plus-sized Helen (the aforementioned Phosile Mashinkila) and how his friends and colleagues react to this. Yet, this play with its brash direct dialogue is not pushing morals but instead about confronting this issue head on. The audience may feel uncomfortable, they may not want to hear the horrible things that are being discussed but surely a shout out loud is better than a whisper behind backs.

The Burton Taylor Studio, then, is perhaps a perfect venue for this play. With its not-quite darkness, and closely compacted seats, the will be no space for an audience to hide. This is not to say that the play isn’t an enjoyable watch as LaBute’s writing offers comedy as well as depth that Mashinkila’s clever directorial touches aid – whether it be the sly offering of chocolate or the dramatic dropping of a book.

The scene I was shown was the second scene in the play – a tense office scene where Tom is confronted by both his co-workers – Jeanie (Martha Reed) and Carter (Brian Chandrabose) – asking whether he is seeing someone. Even in this brief extract it is clear to see that the actors have thought a great deal about their dynamics and relationship. As an audience member, you already begin to question your sympathy when the bullied Tom in one interaction becomes spineless in another.

This play is what the best drama is – real people and real situations. Down to its uncomfortable dialogue, bitter sweet ending and comedic moments, this is a play you won’t want to miss.

‘Fat Pig’ plays at the Burton Taylor Studio from 22nd October – 25th October

Photo credit: BT publicity

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