Tuesday, 19 May 2009


The end has come!

Some snippets from behind the scenes of Mayfest, via Suit Yourself magazine.

As part of Bristol Old Vic’s front of house team, I seem to witness some pretty wacky things. I’ve spent shifts hunting for dinosaurs in the Studio along with gaggles of excitable children and I even once served a coffee with a shot of gin in it – yes, it did curdle – but nothing has come close to delight and frenzy that has been Mayfest.

The fest has been a two-week whirlwind adventure of ground-breaking theatre, a fun-loving atmosphere and seemingly never-ending bar shifts. As soon as the influx of reclaimed chairs, kitsch tablecloths and dusky lampshades arrived, we knew we were in for enchantment. The downstairs bar was transformed from wipe-clean chic to a vintage cornucopia. This prop shop-come-folk den provided some unusual finds, like a telephone box once frequented by Daniel Radcliff that “smelt like magic and horses,” according to one FOH joker. The joyous soundtrack to the Old Vic’s temporary makeover was provided by Mayfest co-producer Matthew Austin’s ipod, Beirut and Bat For Lashes making each lonely bar shift (it’s pretty lonesome when you guys head inside) that little bit more inspiring.

At the launch party we worked like speedy bar squirrels to make sure we kept up with your insatiable thirst but also played the part of ushers-come-maiden aunts, preventing the more inebriated punters (and staff) from initiating a health and safety nightmare. Live music and reviews floated back to us throughout the night and we felt like disco-Nazis when, after time was finally called, we had to heart-wrenchingly shoo out all the merriment. The usual perks of the job applied, like being to ask the actors all those niggling questions over a post-performance pint, but during Mayfest every query seemed a tad more bizarre. From “which character suits you best: dog, penguin or walrus?” (Polaris) to “how’s onstage nudity treating you?” (Kellerman), it all felt like pub banter between friends rather than pretentious hob-knobing.

Not only was there camaraderie behind the scenes but the audience too seemed far keener to get know the folk that tore their tickets. Whether it was the charming Mayfest regulars or hip, young things that hadn’t lingered about the theatre before, there was more post-play chitchat, complete with loving, loathing and liquor, than ever before.

One of the best parts of the festival was sharing with the you some of the Old Vic’s stunning and secret enclaves that we have the pleasure of wandering through every day. We led you backstage to our paintshop, an intimate space with an arty warehouse feel, perfect for animated puppetry of The Paper Cinema and playful DIY aesthetic of Our Father’s Ears. During The Weepers, you saw the exquisite and historically invaluable Theatre Royal from an actors-eye view and had a chance to witness the charming mechanics of lowering the iron. Kellerman may have sparked marmite-style reactions, but most agreed that the visually stunning blurring of the cinema/theatre divide helped to see a very old space in a startlingly modern light. And ushering for My World Is Empty Without You tested my commitment to contemporary theatre to the limit – I stood alone on a Clifton corner for several hours in squall and high-viz, like a weathered neon hooker – but I pulled through and was still smiling, mainly because my features had frozen that way.

Amongst Mayfest’s packed programme of shows, workshops and events, we were all entertained, inspired, touched, educated, provoked, impressed, intrigued, offended, excited and challenged. We shared drinks, opinions, ideas, debates, fish and chips, cycle rides in the rain and bacon sandwiches. We made new friends, made new discoveries and some were quoted as having had life-changing experiences. What more could you ask for from a theatre festival?

Sunday, 17 May 2009

MAYFEST: Polaris

A review of my Antarctic pilgrimage with Czech physical theatre company Adriatic, via Suit Yourself Magazine.

White-coat-clad scientists and relationship gurus alike have been telling us for years that up to 80% of human communication is nonverbal, but somehow it still seems astonishing when physical theatre – a form of drama that uses the body as a storytelling vehicle rather than the voice – can be just as, if not more, expressive, exploratory and touching than its talkative counterpart. Polaris, the creation of Czech company Adriatic, is one such breathtaking piece. A wordless pilgrimage to the harsh and eerie landscape of the Antarctic, Polaris transforms the black canvas of the sparse Old Vic Studio into an unforgiving wilderness, conjuring the Antarctic’s threatening and fragile geography through a number of charmingly performed tableaux.

Once surrounded by a hostile and otherworldly environment with nothing more than brotherly companionship and a whispering gramophone, the two explorers wearily struggle to survive the desolate climes and their frostbitten hunger. We witness their world seen and unseen, from their often thwarted attempts to find food to the moans of the women in their cold-inspired hallucinations.

But it is not just man’s interaction with the South Pole that Polaris captured; actors Vojta Svejda and Jan Benes-McGadie metamorphosised before our eyes into boisterously dancing walruses with their guttural calls and heavy blubber. Penguins waddled almost matronly about the stage, cheeping at each other in a shrill duet and at one point feeding a vulnerable fluffy-headed chick by mouth. Gulls swooped and dived through the sable black and the ice, imbued with Rime Of The Ancient Mariner style menace, rolled and roared as if alive. Comic and touching, each creature was rendered with such astute observation that one almost expected the dulcet articulations of David Attenborough to drift into the studio.

Although the piece was without words, it was anything but silent. The growling ice and the fauna’s cheeps, howls and wails were accompanied by a poignant score, complete with rich orchestra stirrings and occasional gypsy flourishes. The lighting and set was minimal but carefully chosen; glowing orbs and red hues brought out the delicate loneliness of the environment and ragged skin suits spoke of an empiricist past hinged on nationalistic pride and perilous scientific endeavour.

Without the safety net of language to express a thought or emotion, there is a dangerous tendency in physical theatre to stray into over-acting. Polaris however, felt entirely natural, honest and unpretentious. After waiting for rescue that never comes, the final moments of the play provided a tender communion between the human and animal kingdoms. The explorer’s frozen body sinks majestically to the bottom of the ocean accompanied by a tentative Lou Reed melody and is gently investigated by a lone fish. It’s a moving end to an awe-inspiring journey, made even more perfect as snow magically issued from the Studio’s heavens.

Monday, 11 May 2009

MAYFEST: All the fun of the fair

A review of the tremendous Carny-ville courtesy of Suit Yourself Magazine.

Sinister magicians, bearded ladies, pox-infested nightwalkers, a cage fight between a seal and lion: it’s probably not your average Saturday night out in Broadmead. Existing in a dream-like realm between a party and a play, Carny-Ville was an old-fashioned circus-style romp masterminded by the overwhelmingly skilful Invisible Circus, a now Bristol-based collective of circus and street performers. Complete with Dickensian rogues, popcorn stall-lined dance floors and oozing faded gypsy glamour left, right and centre, Carny-Ville offered a night of devilish entertainment that encompassed a variety of circus treats from fire dancers to old-school fairground games. Over 200 volunteers came together to transform the former Police and Fire Station, now a collection of studio spaces known as The Island, into a giant den of debauchery for three nights only. Roll up, roll up… the circus of your nightmares has come to town!

In the vast outdoor area gypsy beats, dance troops and many a weird spectacle could be seen on stage, as the entertainment only paused for breathtaking sets from trapeze artists – who incidentally seemed to get more androgynous as the night went on – and death-defying tightrope walkers. The master of ceremony, a captivatingly belligerent bearded lady, teamed up with a drag queen DJ to keep the party alive and caused clouds of fire to spew from the twisted Victorian lampposts at moments of intense excitement. In the main theatre glitzy showgirls performed flamboyant cabaret and seductive hula tricks, whilst others gracefully entwined their athletic bodies in trapeze ribbons before swinging dramatically from seemingly perilous heights. Performers sinisterly mingled with the crowd, although many punters got into character so well it was often hard to distinguish your average ne’er-do-well from the actors.

Dotted around a warren of delight-filled rooms was an assortment of other wonders. Put your pennies in his slot and the human jukebox would issue you with a charming rendition of any tune from an extensive list, including his own covers if you asked nicely. Behind an unmarked door, noticeable only on account of incongruous sack of peanuts outside and the excess of shifty characters about, was the animal brothel.

After a tentative knock, you were led to meet a menagerie of creatures, including the feline king of the jungle, a vain peacock, hyperactive and mischievous ape, child-like seal and a bolshy pimp, who would ask punters in a indistinguishable eastern European accent whether they wanted to ‘spend time’ with some of his ‘pretties’. After propositioning your beast of choice, you arranged a price (mostly in monkey nuts) and then ventured into the caravan, yes caravan, to get your money’s worth. Inside portraits were penned, philosophy was discussed and no doubt many an animal lover was worked into a frenzy by some heaving petting, if you’ll excuse the pun.

For the spectacular finale, ghost-like maidens abseiled from the building’s heights as another seemingly peddled across the outdoor arena on an imaginary bicycle immediately above the audience’s heads. Meanwhile a mass of fire-dancers gyrated and performers cackled; captivated onlookers had no choice but to pinch themselves in disbelief. After the main acts were over, revellers danced late into the night, pausing to rest their weary bodies on a lush collection of sofas, beds and the odd coffin. In the taxi queue a charming gentleman fresh out of nearby Syndicate asked me where the hell we’d come from. I simply answered, ‘another world.’

Friday, 8 May 2009

May I?

The super-cool, super-beautiful, super-super May issue of Suit Yourself Magazine is now available online here.

Look how smart and shiny they've made my Antony and Cleopatra review, the clever things.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The June issue of the super chic, vintage-tastic BBC Homes and Antiques magazine is now ready for your reclaimed and lovingly restored coffee table. Check out my One-Minute Guide to French porcelain masters Sevres on p. 21, along with more beautiful interiors than you can shake a Georgian, whalebone heirloom at.


A review of the launch night of audio/visual treat Pattern at Start the Bus, Bristol via Suit Yourself Magazine.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Mayfest is here!

Mayfest, the brainchild of University of Bristol graduates Matt Austin and Kate Yedigaroff, is a manic two-week romp though some of most exciting and challenging contemporary theatre of the moment, taking place at numerous venues around the city. Ranging from intimate one-on-one perfomances to ambitious theatrical endevours, whatever you see, it'll be anything but ordinary. Visit the Mayfest website to find out more.