I can’t shake the feeling that I missed something significant in Punchdrunk’s sprawling promenade theatre production in a converted warehouse next to Paddington station. Donning white masks and instructed to keep silent at all times, we were herded into a lift and then released a few at a time on various floors of ‘Temple Studios’, with no further guidance than to choose our own path. What followed was just over two hours of wandering around the vast expanse of Hollywood Studio sound stages trying to piece together a narrative from the various sets occasional brief encounters with performers going about their business in the studios or performing intense, passionate dances together.
The set and staging itself was very impressive. Attention to detail was spot on and you felt incredibly immersed. But immersed in what and for what reason? The answer to this is still eluding me having discussed it afterwards and ruminated on it overnight. It brought to mind for me installations such as Mike Nelson’s Coral Reef in the Tate collection, or the immersive environments of Secret Cinema only without the fun element or watching a film at the end which ties the threads together.
All of the individual elements of this production were impressive in themselves, but for me it just never really came together and I can’t work out why. Clearly this was not the same for everyone though as it received a rapturous response from some elements of the audience. What did they extract from it that I didn’t? I’d love to find out.
I’ve been to see Michael Nyman perform twice in the past few months. The first, in December, was an intimate solo piano concert at the Islington Assembly hall. In this Nyman enchanted with many of his most famous pieces; starting with some of my very favourites from the soundtrack of Wonderland (a favourite film too) and a range of other works including is sublime soundtrack to The Piano.
This week’s concert was quite a contrast; this time he was playing with his twelve-piece Michael Nyman band. The programme featured Nyman’s ‘rewriting’ of baroque music and featured works from soundtracks such as ‘The Draghtsman’s Contract’ and ‘The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover’. The energy on display from the band was extraordinary, and it was difficult to believe that the wall of sound was being produced by just 11 instruments plus Nyman at the piano (from where he conducted as well as playing). By the interval my favourite piece was Time Lapse from ‘A Zed and Two Noughts’, but I was blown away by the final work of the evening, extracts from ‘Water Dances’. A further treat was in store for the encore when a soprano joined the band on the stage for a piece that was unfortunately not listed in the programme, so I have detective work on my hands to find out what it was.
Two incredible concerts. I will have my eyes open for when Nyman is performing in the UK next, and will be making a few music purchases in the meantime.
I came out from Spades unsure whether I had enjoyed myself or not. I had been quite absorbed for the duration of the piece (which at 2.5 hours with no break is saying something), but did not really feel myself moved. There was a lot of potential in the piece but to my mind it didn’t quite get there.
The production is the first of a series of four by director Robert Lepage, co-commissioned by an international group of circular venues. This global perspective was highlighted by the fact that only about a third of the dialogue was in English. French and Spanish featured heavily with surtitles provided. The story was set in an around a Las Vegas casino, telling intertwined stories of a French-Canadian couple visiting Vegas to be married by Elvis, Spanish and Danish coalition soldiers training in the Nevada desert, an English gambling addict and Mexican hotel maids. A cast of six played a total of about fifteen or so parts between them, performing convincingly enough that my companions and I were surprised to see so few people on stage for the curtain call.
Despite not having a production from Lepage before, I was aware of his reputation for clever staging and use of video projection. The latter if these was not in evidence, mainly one would suppose due to the restrictions of playing in the round. However the circular space was capitalised on, and indeed the production was a bit of a masterclass from a staging point of view; something I appreciate having trained and previously worked in technical theatre myself. Trapdoors and lifts on the circular stage become bedrooms, a swimming pool, casino and various other locations with the help of an army of stage management and crew, who popped up through the stage at the end to take their well-deserved curtain call alongside the performers.
Spades felt in many ways like a foreign-language art house film rather than a play. The whole thing felt very dark and the pacing incredibly controlled, slowing almost at a stop at one point which was rather brave. It almost worked, too. Overall, I found the production interesting and, despite not quite being able to say I enjoyed it, I think I shall be booking tickets for the next piece in the cycle.
I had high expectations for this, having previously seen and enjoyed Isy Suttie’s standup routine featuring the love story of Pearl and Dave, which was also broadcast as a one-off on Radio 4 (possibly a pilot for this series) a year or so ago. I was not disappointed.
Each episode of Love Stories features the tale of a different misfit couple from Suttie’s home town of Matlock in Derbyshire, told through both speech and song, interwoven with semi-autobiographical tales from her own past. She manages to bring a diverse cast of characters to life and I found myself very quickly drawn into their stories which are in turns both funny and touching, really rooting for things to turn out well for them. The narrative is peppered with lines that managed to conjure up vivid images. One about a couple in a dying relationship sharing a bed ‘like two separately weeping entities under the same stained superman duvet’ particularly stood out for me.
Suttie’s performance manages to be intelligent, moving and hilarious whilst at the same time the stories remain completely believable. The series is due for broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and 4 Extra in April, and I am very much looking forward to tuning in to hear the rest of the stories.