Virtue in Virtual reality?

 

The Nether

Company of Sirens/good cop bad cop , Chapter , March-22-17

 

The programme tells us we are observing human behavior some time ‘SOON’. The Nether is an advanced development of the Internet. Into this cyber space we find a moneymaking success, The Hideaway. It seems to have been developed by Doyle, a middle-aged science teacher but is under the control of Sims, a successful businessman.

This startling and troubling play comes from the pen of Jennifer Hayley, now working in Los Angeles, originally from Texas. The Nether opened at the Center Theatre Group LA in 2013 in New York and at The Royal Court in 2014 then transferring to the Duke of York Theatre. In America the play received the Susan Smith Blackburn Award; here the play received an Olivier Award in 2015.

Maybe these were awards for ‘bravery’; it is certainly a very well crafted drama. Company of Siren’s Artistic Director Chris Durnall has never been one to shirk from strong work. Recent productions
Include Anthony Neilson’s Stitching and Mercury Fur In May by Phillip Ridley. His direction in this sparse set shows a delicate and sensitive hand allowing the silent gaps between every one of the scenes of the narrative to be equally as persuasive and atmospheric as the story itself. 

Sims, often referred to as Papa. His daughter, who he proclaims he loves dearly, is the ‘catch’ within his other world. With the essential help of Doyle, he has created a well-paying paedophilic playground. He seems proud of his perversity and of his virtual creation maintaining it prevents him from indulging his fantasies in the real world. John Rowley is so frighteningly convincing in this role but despite his logic and his charm he remains despicable.

But his adversary is having nothing of this. A young female detective, Morris is determined this virtual perversity is equally as illegal and punishable as the real thing. This is the question at the heart of the play and we all have to arrive at our own conclusions. Morris, played with a cool determination by the wonderful Stacey Daly, has no doubts about the illegality of these dreadful carryings on. Daly has worked regularly with the Company of Sirens over a number of years and it has been a joy to see her grow into the sophisticated actor who now has little time for Sims’ persuasive arguments. 

The other cop, never been sure which one was which, Richard Huw Morgan as Woodnut, a first time client, stumbles with nervous hesitation at the angelic ‘come ons’ from the much loved daughter Iris. Another perfectly judged performance from Non Haf. Huw Morgan’s awkwardness, we later learn hides the fact that he is an agent working on behalf of Morris. Papa and Iris interact with a sickening intimacy. He persuades Woodnut to go one step further with Iris and persuades him to raise an axe over her head. No problem, a new virtual Iris can be quickly recreated!

Up ‘til now the unity of the perverse logic has held but now things go awry. Doyle and Morris swap thoughts reflecting the tension between her and Sims. Now within minutes of the ending of the play she loses it, declares that she loves Doyle. Then we learn that Sims has virtualized Dolye into Iris!

In his final exchange with Sims, Durnall’s Doyle confirms this by talking in Iris’ voice. Here the director shows us that the acting abilities that have been on the shelf for quite awhile have by no means deserted him. 

This no hold barred, very successful work of theatre art worried my brain as I walked the dark streets home.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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The Nether, a science-fiction play by Jennifer Haley, received its Welsh debut at Chapter Arts this week. David Lynch went to see it.

AS with all good science fiction, The Nether takes a prevalent theme of today’s world and says “what if…?”

In this case the what if living in cyberspace, allowed us to live out dangerous fantasies.

The titular Nether is the successor of the internet in an unspecified time in the future, an infinite virtual space in which a large majority of people spend most of their waking lives hived off in self-contained worlds.

People work in virtual reality offices, children attend virtual reality schools, whole families live together in virtual homes.

The troublesome nature of the Nether comes to light in protagonist Detective Morris’ investigation into a realm of cyberspace called the Hideaway, where its programmer Mr Sims invites guests to explore paedophile urges.

“Just because it’s virtual doesn’t mean it’s not real,” says Sims as Morris looms over the interrogation room table at him at the start of the play.

With that line, you realise that the drama playing out will be a moral and philosophical maze.

This theme is carried throughout the play, as arguments are batted back and forth about the nature of reality, the rights to exploring socially unacceptable thoughts, and the dangers of assuming new identities.

The immediate premise of the play recalled elements from the 2002 Steven Spielberg film Minority Report, in which citizens of a future world were encouraged to indulge their more dangerous transgressions in virtual worlds to avoid being charged with thought crimes.

But big blockbuster The Nether is not.

The play’s sets are minimalist with two settings: the police interrogation room, and the virtual Hideaway occupying the same stage space and divided by a flick of the stage lights.

The cast is also small, with five actors making up the full cast, two of whom must be commended for moving between the roles of major characters and stage technicians, operating the lighting and sound in between their scenes.

With actors watching from the sides when not playing their parts and dipping into their scenes, the Nether feels like an interactive team effort.

The small inventory of props is also constantly in the audience’s eyeline, with some like the hatchet that rests in front of the lighting deck hinting at the dark desires played out in the Hideaway.

The Nether is a play that really makes you think about how we live our lives in both the real and the virtual worlds, and will make you question whether or not we should treat them as two separate things at all.

  • The Nether is showing in Chapter Arts until Saturday, March 25. See the Chapter website for details.

The Nether

Jennifer Haley

Company of Sirens / good cop bad cop

Seligman Theatre, Chapter, Cardiff

From 15 March 2017 to 25 March 2017

Review by Othniel Smith

The Nether 
Credit: John Rowley

Doubtless there are numerous books and theses currently being written about the emerging genre of plays whose action takes place, at least in part, in the digital realm. The Nether will surely be a key representative of this body of work.

Texan dramatist Jennifer Haley’s play won her the Susan Smith Blackburn prize in 2012, and has been much produced in the interim, including off-Broadway and in the West End. This, the Welsh première, is a co-production between Company of Sirens, known for their full-blooded productions of plays by provocative writers such as Philip Ridley, and good cop bad cop, who built their reputation in experimental, physical theatre, in conjunction with companies such as Brith Gof.

The theme of the play seems to be the distinction between heinous acts committed in cyberspace and in the real world. We are all familiar with video games in which the aim is to kill as many of our fellow competitors as possible, prompting concerns over their relationship with real-life violence (school massacres, drone warfare, etc). When it comes to virtual sex, the moral quagmire is even murkier.

In Haley’s play, set a little into the future, the Internet has morphed into The Nether, an all-pervasive, immersive network in which most of the world’s social and business interactions take place. In one of many hidden corners of The Nether, there exists The Hideaway—a place where people can indulge their paedophilic fantasies.

The play commences in an interrogation-room where Stacey Daly’s Morris, a young detective, is interrogating John Rowley’s Papa (aka Sims) about the Hideaway, which is one of his business interests. Resistant at first, Papa soon comes clean, blatantly admitting that the creation of this world is his way of dealing with his own tendencies; pointing out that the “children” with whom the participants interact are all adults hiding behind avatars; and arguing that there is no evidence that “virtual” transgressions of this nature lead to real-life consequences.

Action switches between the detective’s office and The Hideaway, a symbolically rendered green-screen environment (design by good cop bad cop), in which Iris, a petticoat-clad (costumes by Edwina Williams Jones) nine-year-old played by Non Haf (mercifully somewhat older than nine), dazzles her male suitors, including Papa and an awkward newcomer, Richard Huw Morgan’s Woodnut, with her innocence and precocious cleverness.

On the opposite side of the playing-space, a model of the fantasy Victorian house in whose garden we are meant to be is displayed. There are clear references to Lewis Carroll, although he is never mentioned.

The fifth character, Doyle, played by director Chris Durnall, is helping Morris with her enquiries. A respected teacher, his participation in Sims’s simulated universe is so all-embracing that he expresses a willingness to abandon his real family and reside there on a permanent basis.

As the plot progresses, and the nature of Morris’s investigation becomes slightly clearer, issues of identity come to the fore in ways which call to mind not only questions about the truthfulness of the various personas we create when online (even in relatively benign environments such as Facebook), but also news stories about undercover policemen losing themselves in their fake relationships. One also recalls cases in which detectives who investigate child pornography themselves become addicted.

Given the play’s “virtual” setting, the non-naturalistic nature of its presentation—with the actors remaining visible even when their characters are not at the centre of the action, and Rowley and Morgan manning the effects desk in plain sight—is almost a given. There are certain moments, though (like the decisive one involving an axe) where dramatic impact is lost.

The performance styles differ, dependent on dramatic context. Haf’s Iris necessarily remains a charming, doll-like fantasy figure throughout, Daly’s icy detective gradually loses her composure, Durnall’s Doyle is plainly at the end of his tether, and Morgan’s Woodnut inevitably cagy. It is Rowley’s performance which is most telling—cynical and fatalistic whilst being interrogated, his Papa is notably more relaxed and “himself” in Iris’s company.

With its dark take on (primarily) male sexuality, a text which constantly barrages us with impossible ethical and intellectual questions, and an intentionally bemusing denouement, The Nether is a clever and audacious piece of work, and this production is entirely in that spirit.

 

 

The Nether review at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff – ‘a morality tale for the modern age’


by Jafar Iqbal - Mar 17, 2017

After a successful run at the Royal Court in 2014, Jennifer Haley’s controversial sci-fi drama receives its Welsh premiere, courtesy of Company of Sirens and Good Cop Bad Cop. Questioning whether simulated deviance should be treated the same as real crime, The Nether is a morality tale for the modern age.

Two men are being interrogated about their involvement in The Nether, a virtual world where users can lead an alternate existence. One such corner of this world is The Hideaway, where paying guests are given the freedom and anonymity to indulge their darkest fantasies with children.

Imagination is pivotal not only for the characters, but also for the audience. In a play so layered and complicated, Good Cop Bad Cop’s minimalist design and director Chris Durnall’s restrained direction are extremely effective. Something as simple as turning on a lamp is enough to determine who sits in the interrogation room, while The Hideaway’s Victorian setting is in fact a green screen on stage. The audience decides what this virtual reality looks like.


Durnall also stars in the piece as one of the detainees, but it’s John Rowley (as Sims, creator of The Hideaway) and Stacey Daly (as Detective Morris) who really shine. Rowley’s measured delivery makes Sims that much more sinister, while Daly shows great emotional range as the symbol of justice.

The cast never leave the stage, merely retreating to a corner to wait for their next scene. Like the audience, they become omniscient voyeurs in this disturbing world.



Verdict
Minimalist direction brings extra discomfort to Jennifer Haley’s dark sci-fi




THEATRE | THE NETHER (CHAPTER ARTS CENTRE)

Picking plays which delve into the darkest recesses of the human psyche, appears to be somewhat of a speciality for Director Chris Durnall, and The Nether is no exception. The futuristic world we are now populating is deftly and swiftly established; ‘In-world’ lives are slowly dissolving now the internet has morphed into an advanced virtual reality inhabited by online users known as ‘Shades’. New ‘Realms’ have been created, the most sinister of which is ‘The Hideaway’, which provides the opportunity for paedophiles to indulge their proclivities without consequence.

Centred on one of the most taboo subjects, Company of Sirens and good cop bad cop, have made a bold move in tackling Jennifer Haley’s controversial play, but under Durnall’s direction, the cast pull off an artful execution of an extremely difficult topic. With such a subject, a pervading sense of perversion is inevitable and the entirety of the performance treads a razor thin line. That paedophilic behaviour is taking place is incontrovertible, but The Nether always stops short of obscenity, mercifully sparing us the physical manifestation of any explicit actions.

The calculated casting serves to instil a strong sense of unease from the aesthetic element alone; John Rowley, as the perversely named ‘Papa’, towers above 5’1” Non Haf who plays his favourite child, Iris. Rowley’s extremely sinister air contrasts perfectly with Haf’s authentic innocence, driving the audience to the very edge of comfortable discomfort. A number of intimate gestures heighten the malaise; tender face stroking, spontaneous embraces and playful dancing with Iris balanced on the tips of a guest of ‘The Hideaway’s’ shoes. Each normally unremarkable action takes on a sickening significance, when placed in such a context.

Good cop bad cop’s staging is extremely minimalistic, leaving the actors completely exposed to the, admittedly infrequent, small slip ups in the delivery of their lines. For the most part, the cast are eloquently in control; Stacey Daly is poised and deliberate in her role as detective, pulling in suspects in her quest to shut down ‘The Hideaway’, providing an effective contrast to Richard Huw Morgan; jittery and ashamed in his role as a guest named Woodnut, visiting Iris for the first time.

The Nether brings a surprising beauty to a subject ugly in the extreme, providing a fusillade of philosophical musings on morality, the definition of reality, the realms of imagination and the dangers of a world absent rules or consequence. People are encouraged to do terrible things in ‘The Hideaway’. But if there is no consequence, is there any meaning? If there is meaning, does that make you a monster? Without consequence, have you done something, or nothing? The Nether is full of compelling and complex questions such as these.

Whilst the script has a dark yet delicate beauty, the transitions between The Nether and the real world feel slightly clumsy, hindered by the small space in which the play is staged. A bigger venue would allow for a more complex set, and would allow us to be truly immersed in The Nether. Engaging the audience at a higher level, rather than remaining spectators, still somewhat removed from the horror, would have a profound effect in such a play.

Rowley has taken on an exceptionally challenging role as Papa, and manages to provoke a disconcerting conflict of emotion as disgust battles with pity, for this man who has been “cursed with both compulsion and insight”. He makes a chilling argument for his creation of ‘The Hideaway’, presenting himself almost as a dark anti-hero, who has chosen the path of virtual immorality to save children in the real world. Whilst this content is fictional and taken to the extreme, the questions it raises are sadly far from irrelevant. Are sites set up for such purposes a horrifying but necessary evil to the alternative, or do they create a culture of legitimisation?

 

With technology moving so rapidly, and the increasing popularity of virtual reality headsets, the concepts presented within The Nether, which may have seemed fantastical just a decade or so earlier, are edging ever closer to realisation, with a terrifying sense of inevitability. Humanity needs to be prepared if ever it finds itself on the brink of entering a hideaway of its own.

"The purpose of theatre, some say, is to perturb, leaving the theater with some uneasy feeling that refuses to let go.. This is certainly how i'd would describe the experience of seeing a production of the Welsh premier of 'The Nether' by Company of Sirens and good cop bad cop This is one of the most stunning pieces I've ever seen, and one that has made me worry for days afterwards. Further proof of the success of any piece of art is that it stimulates you think about something in a completely different way. This play caused me to look at the boundary between the virtual world and reality in a new way.

 

Nowadays, it’s become popular in fiction to portray a dystopian future where the world is coping with the apocalypse - whether through film, novel or drama. This is the basis of this play, although this is not mentioned directly, as only the rich can afford grass and a few humans are left in the world anyway. The core of the play is to create an image of a distant future, referring to it as "soon", echoing famous films like The Matrix. Technology has developed to a point where the virtual world feels more and more real, affecting our feelings and senses. This innovative drama deals with people's desire to live permanently in this virtual world rather than hardship and mediocrity of real life. Here, people can transform their identity, and the rules of the human body no longer applies. In the other world, we see the alarming impact in how technology can prevent people from venturing out, mixing with other people and developing relationships."

 



Company of Sirens

Present the Welsh premier of

 

Dark Vanilla Jungle

By Philip Ridley

 

A beautiful and breathtaking new drama about one girls craving for family and home…and the lengths she will go to achieve them

Directed by Chris Durnall

Chapter Arts Centre Tuesday 3rd March – Saturday 7th March 7.30

Saturday Matinee 2.30

Tickets £10/8 

02920304400

Booking at www.chapter.org

Recommended for16 years and over

 

Andrea keeps getting asked if she’s ashamed.

Is she ashamed of what she did to the soldier?

Is she ashamed of what she did to the baby?

But Andrea’s not ashamed at all.

And she wants to tell you why….

 

“Shattering in its impact …blazing…sears the mind…a desperate Ophelia for our times”  Scotsman

 

“Philip Ridley doesn’t write plays so much as dark hallucinations in which the world is skewed through his penetrating vision, so we look at it through new eyes” Guardian

 

“Ridley is a visionary” Rolling Stone

 

Winner of Scotsman fringe first 2013

Critics Choice – Independent

Critics Choice – Financial Times

Best Solo Performance – Stage Awards

 

The opening night of Tuesday 3rd March will be followed by a question and answer session with Philip Ridley

 

Supported by the Arts Council of Wales the National Lottery and Shelter Cymru

By kind permission of Knight Hall Agency, London

Dark Vanilla Jungle – 15.09.15

BY JAFAR IQBAL ON SEPTEMBER 15, 2015  ( LEAVE A COMMENT )

As those familiar with his work will know, Philip Ridley isn’t one for uniform. Taking seemingly simple stories to unexpected places, the playwright’s ability to bring audiences along on a rollercoaster ride is second to none. Dark Vanilla Jungle, which first premiered back in 2013, is a prime example of this. The play follows Andrea, a neglected teenager searching for somewhere she belongs. Desperation leads her to all the wrong places, with increasingly darker consequences.

It’s no surprise that the writing is tremendous – Ridley has already earnt his place as a treasure of British theatre. Dark, frenetic and scathingly funny, genuine humour is mined from very difficult subject matter.

However, this particular production doesn’t belong to Philip Ridley. It belongs to Seren Vickers.  The young actor, making her professional debut, is superb. She is a firework on stage, full of an unbridled intensity. Watching Andrea’s transformation from innocent to broken is heart-breaking, primarily because Vickers’ dialogue delivery and body language are so convincing.

Director Chris Durnall’s best decision was to scale back on the pizzazz. There is use of sound and lighting, of course, but it’s simple and kept to a minimum, as is the set design. He rightfully keeps the spotlight on his lead actor, and she seizes it with both hands.

Dark Vanilla Jungle may be difficult viewing, but it’s essential viewing. The play will ultimately be lauded as another Ridley triumph, but Company of Sirens deserves every credit for bringing it to stage so successfully. And, more specifically, giving Seren Vickers the opportunity to steal the show.

FIVE STARS: That perfect mix of sharp writing and measured direction taken to another level by a revelatory lead performance

Dark Vanilla played at The Riverfront from Friday 11 – Saturday 12 October
http://www.companyofsirens.com/

Writer: Philip Ridley
Director: Chris Durnall
Cast: Seren Vickers
Technical/Design: Bethany Seddon (designer); William Basinski and Carter Tutti Void (sound); Dafydd Wyn Roberts (company stage manager)

Dark Vanilla Jungle

Company of Sirens , Chapter , Cardiff , March-05-15

 

This is something that I usually do, and I don’t do it very often, in the last paragraph of my reviews. But go and see this remarkable, unmissable performance now! Seren Vickers, a second year student at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama is only about to leave her teenage years behind but she gives the most, captivating, strong and charismatic performance as the besieged teenager, Andrea in this extraordinary, award winning, troublesome, play by Philip Ridley.

She greets us with a beguiling smile and starts to tell us about the time she was stung by a wasp. “…I have to start somewhere.” And so off we go on this this compelling and gripping adventure. Highly acclaimed writer, artist and film director, Ridley is a master of strong graphic writing. In this production, with its fine and subtle direction by Company of Sirens Artistic Director, Chris Durnall and Vickers’ totally engaging performance we see and feel his stark, dark pictures hit the back of our brains. 

She is just fifteen when we first meet her. Her mum helped her with the wasp sting. The eleven year old Andrea has a warm relationship with her mum. Andrea tells us her mother is beautiful but she is not. Her mother sings professionally, Andrea cant sing. Andrea’s mum meets a man. Soon they are gone, leaving Andrea alone. Andrea takes us with her on her graphic, fantastic, colourful, mainly very dark colours, search for love.

I want to leave the content of the play there for you to go on Andrea’s journey and experience it with her.

At the beginning of the play the stage is brightly lit and the house lights are on; audience and performer are in this big room together. She holds us in a very natural conversation with her innocent smile. Each member of the audience has the feeling of sitting beside her on a stool in a bar. Another fine quality with this performer is that although she is totally convincing in her characterisation we remain aware that she is an actor giving us a very fine performance, this enhances this first class, total theatre experience. 

Through her body she gives us the whole range of human emotions, the strength and force of her reactions are very powerful yet we seem to remain somewhat ambiguous in our sympathy for the character. She does have a very tough time and we leave her in one of her many, seemingly hallucinogenic moments and wondering what will happen next. 

 

Review: Dark Vanilla Jungle, Chapter Arts Centre

Ciara Rafter explores humankind’s need to belong with the help of Philip Ridley’s gripping Dark Vanilla Jungle, performed by Wales’ own Company of SIrens.

Playwright Phillip Ridley’s critically acclaimed Dark Vanilla Jungle premiered at Edinburgh Festival in 2013, featuring Gemma Whelan of Game of Thrones, stunning viewers with a powerful performance on the topic of home and belonging, and the opposition of this concept – isolation.

From the 3rd– 7th March, the play makes its Welsh premier presented by Company of Sirens at Chapter Arts Centre,Cardiff, introducing Seren Vickers in her first professional debut. With Whelan’s success of performing the monologue of 15 year old Andrea, expectations and anticipation were high, but Vickers’s take on the character showed her absolute passion and ability through her intense and dramatic, yet humorous performance. The sold out show cleverly gripped the audience with its surprising relatability and sudden topic shifts, contributing to the character of an obsessive and psychotic ‘teenage girl gone off the rails’. The compelling performance expresses people’s innate need for comfort and belonging and more specifically, the demons that take hold of the mind and soul when these necessities are stripped away from us.

Seren Vickers Credit: Kristen McTernan

Seren Vickers
Credit: Kristen McTernan

Andrea’s frantic personality is built on throughout the play, beginning from the moment the audience steps into the dark, eerie, isolated room, with Vickers scribbling chalk on the slate slab in the center of the stage. The atmosphere feels hauntingly unwary as the audience take their seats, only for Vickers to change the mood through visionary, chirpy anecdotes of her mother’s melodic singing and the love story of her parent’s meeting. The change in atmosphere, contributed by the lightening, music and pitch of voice, allows Vickers to compel the audience into her dark and twisted yearning for home.

The play swiftly transitions from childhood stories of motherhood and first kisses with Tyron to an isolation of parental supervision and unconditional love. The topic shifts may be frantic but the juxtaposition of Andrea’s reminiscence of the happier days and the struggle of coping with the lack of nobody to rely on helps to establish what the play is truly about.

The play focuses on numerous aspects of struggles, but an important feature that Ridley plays on is perception of women; particularly, the struggles of a girl’s adolescence into adulthood. Social expectations of women’s reliance on men are shown in an extreme light, featuring the topic of rape, the fear and loneliness women endure when there is “not another girl in sight”, and obsessive, traumatising thoughts that every men is an attacker. His extreme expressions on this matter leave the audience questioning what belonging really means and if a companion necessarily equals comfort and home.

Moreover, Dark Vanilla Jungle ultimately expresses the effects of a damaged childhood and an unsupportive home and what the abandonment of this can result in. Dark Vanilla Jungle is insightful interpretation, written and performed in a powerful way to express that it is human nature to crave to have somewhere to belong, with the play ending with Andrea in harmony in ‘the island’ she has always dreamed of being.


Dark Vanilla Jungle

Philip Ridley

Company Of Sirens

Chapter, Cardiff

From 03 March 2015 to 07 March 2015

Review by Othniel Smith

Dark Vanilla Jungle 
Credit: J H Andersen

It’s probably safe to assume that the inboxes belonging to those theatre companies who have an interest in new writing are currently bulging with scripts inspired by the ongoing child sexual grooming scandal affecting several UK cities. In the world of Philip Ridley, however, it’s already old news—hisDark Vanilla Jungle premièred in Edinburgh in 2013.

This production is brought to us by Company of Sirens, which last year presented Welsh premières of Ridley’s nightmarish depictions of relationship heaven/hell - Tender Napalm—and urban decay—Mercury Fur. Dark Vanilla Jungle, a ninety-minute monologue, is equally confrontational.

The first thing we see on entering the space is a young girl scrawling with a stick of chalk on the slate slab upon which she is stationed. The only other noticeable feature of Bethany Seddon’s bare, cell-like set is a single light-bulb hanging from the ceiling.

The girl is Andrea, who has an unfortunate tale to tell. The ingredients are commonplace—a neglectful single mother with a succession of male friends whom Andrea has to call “Uncle”; a departed father, whose return causes problems; an embittered grandmother who is compelled to take the child in; a glamorous older male who uses drink and drugs to entice the youngster into a world of parties which then turn out to be somewhat less than celebratory…

Ridley being Ridley, things then grow progressively weirder. Reaching a point of crisis, Andrea cunningly inveigles herself into the family of a gravely injured soldier. This attempt to seize control in a world where she has come to feel sorely oppressed on all fronts (there are numerous subtle references to examples of sexist repression worldwide) does not end well.

Making her professional debut, Seren Vickers gives a remarkably assured performance—vivid, intense, and startling. Leaving aside the feat of memory required, it’s a tricky role to pull off. Andrea is understandably spiky and unstable, but there are moments of child-like charm. She clearly belongs to the “underclass”, but is highly articulate and intelligent; almost parodically well-spoken, as though Ridley and director Chris Durnall are reminding middle-class theatre-goers that even their children are not safe.

Ridley’s text maintains its grip on the attention by being largely narrative rather than reflective; one is voyeuristically curious to discover what fresh hell Andrea will find herself mired in next. The writing is ripe and uncomfortable, occasionally, if necessarily, verging on the prurient.

Durnall’s direction keeps the audience constantly on edge. Ben Stimsom’s lighting effects cleverly reflect Andrea’s quicksilver mood-swings and the script’s abrupt changes in tone. William Basinski’s creepy sound design is all the more effective for its sparseness.

Dark Vanilla Jungle is an emotionally draining experience. A cleverly written, beautifully acted and slyly surreal take on a regrettably familiar story, it is, however, a strangely rewarding one.

Dark Vanilla Jungle, uncompromising tone with an innovative hand

by Sam Pryce

Prior to this, my only experience of Philip Ridley’s writing was through his rather generic and transparent plays for young people which, as a GCSE Drama student, we were given to study. Such toothless works as Sparkleshark and Brokenville did not exactly hold Ridley in my mind as ‘a visionary’, as others believe. This play, however, showed a much darker, twisted side to this playwright. Ridley here creates monsters in the mind rather than the ones you find beneath your bed.

Company of Sirens, who are clearly well-acquainted with Ridley’s theatre, handle Dark Vanilla Jungle’s uncompromising tone with an innovative hand. Audiences enter to find a girl manically scribbling ‘MUM’ and other childlike drawings on a chalkboard floor – a stroke of genius from director Chris Durnall and designer Bethany Seddon. Lighting from Ben Stimpson is understated yet effective, as is William Basinski’s discreetly ominous score.

Ridley retains his apparent affinity with the youth here by making his focal protagonist a damaged but animated young girl called Andrea (Seren Vickers). Performed entirely as a gutsy monologue, Dark Vanilla Jungle comprises Andrea’s distressing experiences as a vulnerable girl who only wants to be told that she’s beautiful. As a result of this desperation for love, Andrea has done some bad things, but she’s adamant to convince us why she is not ashamed and why it all isn’t completely her fault. Ridley addresses issues of sex trafficking as Andrea is seduced by Tyron Evans, a seedy man-of-mystery, who ends up taking her to a very different, perverse kind of party. We then hear of the reverberations of this event and how it drove her to commit some horrifying acts – what she did to a wounded soldier, what she did to her baby… In Andrea, Ridley explores the vulnerability of a young girl in an increasingly sordid society and, in doing so, reaches nauseating, if implausible, conclusions.

Seren Vickers gives an intense and impressive rendering of Andrea, veering between gossipy chatter to stomach-turning hysteria in seconds. Vickers offers an assured interpretation of the character that could only have been achieved through intense rehearsal and analysis with director Chris Durnall. However, the sheer endurance of her performance can only be her own. In Ridley’s more humorous passages – such as the musing that nativity paintings of childbirth are always so clean – Vickers can tickle an audience with her barefaced silliness. And in scenes of devastating trauma, Vickers gives explosive depictions of grief and torment.

The play itself never quite reaches the profundity it should. The plot is somewhat predictable and the writing a little stilted. But Ridley’s sincere desire to tell the story of a damaged and defenceless young girl, shunned and ignored by those who should love her, shines through. Company of Sirens outshine the play’s troughs with their earnest objective to make great theatre.

Dark Vanilla Jungle is at Chapter Stiwdio until 7th March.

Sam Pryce | March 5, 2015 at 4:24 pm | Tags: Chapter, Chris Durnall, Company of Sirens, Dark Vanilla Jungle, Philip Ridley | Categories: review | URL: http://wp.me/p5JpwA-aZ

 

 

DARK VANILLA JUNGLE | STAGE REVIEW

 Added on March 10, 2015  admin  alex wren , cardiff stage review , cardiff theatre review , Dark Vanilla Jungle , Dark Vanilla Jungle review , wales stage review , wales theatre review , What's On Cardiff , what's on wales

DARK VANILLA JUNGLE | STAGE REVIEW

Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, Fri 6 March

Company of Sirens are fast gaining a reputation for producing ‘uncompromising contemporary texts’ and their 2014 production of Philip Ridley’s play Mercury Fur controversially dealt with gang culture, drug addiction and infanticide, set in a post-apocalyptic London. Their production of Ridley’s one-woman play Dark Vanilla Jungle follows similar unsettling territory.

The play is told through the eyes of Andrea, a young woman who may – or may not – be incarcerated in a mental asylum as the play begins. Her first piece of bad luck was to be born in Croydon, compounded by the fact that she has a dysfunctional and abusive mother and absent father. As memory and fantasy begin to merge through the use of extended flashbacks, we encounter a world devoid of hope or love. Ridley tests the bonds between parents and children and the yearning to belong and be loved, and as the action develops we realise that love is not something that Andrea is used to.

Andrea becomes romantically involved with Tyron, a wannabe hoodlum who exploits her desperate longing for affection. Their relationship culminates in a disturbing scene that forms the core of the play, and everything that happens afterwards is a consequence of this terrible event. What follows is bleakly comic, as Seren Vickers beautifully captures Andrea’s mental breakdown as she responds to her trauma through enacting a sexually inspired domestic fantasy with a comatose maimed soldier, whom she encounters in a hospital. The final action of the play is both poignant and horrific, a suitable coda to end the play with.

The play is impressively and imaginatively realised through sensitive direction by Chris Durnall and a stunning performance by Vickers, who captures Andrea’s penchant to turn from confidant to accuser with verve and vocal dexterity.

With a theatrically effective set by Bethany Seddon, evocative side lighting by Ben Stimpson and discordant sound effects by William Basinki, Dark Vanilla Jungle is a gut-wrenching theatre experience that confronts the audience with the shocking reality of child sex exploitation and the tenuous link between existence and fantasy. It won’t be to everyone’s liking, but theatre like this usually isn’t.

words ALEX WREN 

 

Performance in Review: Dark Vanilla Jungle

Posted in Culture by Ciara Rafter on March 9, 2015
Tagged: chapter, Company of Sirens, Dark Vanilla Jungle, Philip Ridley, theatre

Ciara Rafter explores humankind’s need to belong with the help of Philip Ridley’s gripping Dark Vanilla Jungle, performed by Wales’ own Company of SIrens.

Playwright Phillip Ridley’s critically acclaimed Dark Vanilla Jungle premiered at Edinburgh Festival in 2013, featuring Gemma Whelan of Game of Thrones, stunning viewers with a powerful performance on the topic of home and belonging, and the opposition of this concept – isolation.

From the 3rd- 7th March, the play makes its Welsh premier presented by Company of Sirens at Chapter Arts, Cardiff, introducing Seren Vickers in her first professional debut. With Whelan’s success of performing the monologue of 15 year old Andrea, expectations and anticipation were high, but Vickers’s take on the character showed her absolute passion and ability through her intense and dramatic, yet humorous performance. The sold out show cleverly gripped the audience with its surprising relatability and sudden topic shifts, contributing to the character of an obsessive and psychotic ‘teenage girl gone off the rails’. The compelling performance expresses people’s innate need for comfort and belonging and more specifically, the demons that take hold of the mind and soul when these necessities are stripped away from us.

Seren Vickers
Credit: Kristen McTernan

Andrea’s frantic personality is built on throughout the play, beginning from the moment the audience steps into the dark, eerie, isolated room, with Vickers scribbling chalk on the slate slab in the center of the stage. The atmosphere feels hauntingly unwary as the audience take their seats, only for Vickers to change the mood through visionary, chirpy anecdotes of her mother’s melodic singing and the love story of her parent’s meeting. The change in atmosphere, contributed by the lightening, music and pitch of voice, allows Vickers to compel the audience into her dark and twisted yearning for home.

The play swiftly transitions from childhood stories of motherhood and first kisses with Tyron to an isolation of parental supervision and unconditional love. The topic shifts may be frantic but the juxtaposition of Andrea’s reminiscence of the happier days and the struggle of coping with the lack of nobody to rely on helps to establish what the play is truly about.

The play focuses on numerous aspects of struggles, but an important feature that Ridley plays on is perception of women; particularly, the struggles of a girl’s adolescence into adulthood. Social expectations of women’s reliance on men are shown in an extreme light, featuring the topic of rape, the fear and loneliness women endure when there is “not another girl in sight”, and obsessive, traumatising thoughts that every men is an attacker. His extreme expressions on this matter leave the audience questioning what belonging really means and if a companion necessarily equals comfort and home.

Moreover, Dark Vanilla Jungle ultimately expresses the effects of a damaged childhood and an unsupportive home and what the abandonment of this can result in. Dark Vanilla Jungle is insightful interpretation, written and performed in a powerful way to express that it is human nature to crave to have somewhere to belong, with the play ending with Andrea in harmony in ‘the island’ she has always dreamed of being.

 

Dark Vanilla Jungle review by Tracey Rhys

 

“I was stung by a bee once.” So begins the opening to Philip Ridley’s most current play, the powerful one hander Dark Vanilla Jungle, performed by Company of Sirens. A story with a sting, Ridley’s play is topical indeed, arriving as it does in the wake of child abuse scandals throughout the country. Nineteen-year old Welsh College of Music and Drama undergraduate, Seren Vickers, plays sixteen-year old Andrea, who might have been one of the Rotherham girls, with a story to match. Vickers gives a staggering performance, her youth and physicality devastating the bare stage whilst she chalks words and images onto a raised block.

The script is a tight monologue, a feat of memory from Vickers, who whisks the audience on a fractured, painful journey that ekes out moments of humour. Leading us through a pleasant all-girl childhood with her single mum, to a life of neglect heralded by the return of her oppressive father, Andrea falls into the hands of child sex exploiters who deal her like cards to ‘friends’ in squalid sex parties.

The damaged and pregnant Andrea eventually escapes her abusers by switching her affections to a gravely injured vegetative soldier she discovers in hospital, embedding herself into his family in a misplaced attempt to gain protection from the only type of man she can trust.

Uncompromising to the last, these scenes square up to the audience and dare us to look away. We don't, and what we are faced with is an indictment on all of us; a challenge to middle class theatre-goers to think again about the subjugation of women in the universal context and our impotence in the face of it.

Another piece of unmissable theatre from Company of Sirens, their third in a series of Philip Ridley plays.

 

 

 

Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff 22nd -26th April @ 7.30

Mercury Fur – Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Writer: Philip Ridley

Director: Chris Darnall

Reviewer: Jacqui Onions

Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur explores the very worst in human nature, taking the horrific situation of a war torn country and its inhabitants beyond the extreme and into the surreal, yet never straying too far from the plausible and always mirroring reality in a way that gives this play a dark and twisted edge.

Ridley’s text provides an opportunity to observe from the outside the things people are driven to in desperation. In a world where people turn to hallucinogenic butterflies to escape reality, people begin to crave a real live experience similar to the violent, erotic hallucinations that the butterflies provide. And where there is a demand, there is a supply – but are the organisers of these parties as depraved as the party guests or are they just doing what they need to survive?

This Welsh premiere does its best to shock the audience – and it more than succeeds, with people hiding their eyes, squirming in their seats and letting out audible gasps of fear and disgust. There is blood, violence, profanities and gun shots all right before the eyes of the audience, making this production not for the faint hearted or the easily offended. Most of this is used to great effect, pushing the audience to just the right level of discomfort and maybe just a little further, with the exception of the bad language. Of course there is a place for this here, and Mercury Fur would not be believable without it, but it feels overdone in the opening scenes; needlessly trying to shock the audience when it is nothing in comparison to what lies ahead.

On entering the auditorium we are faced with Elliot (played by Oliver Morgan-Thomas), shiftily searching the performance area by torchlight. Unfortunately, any atmosphere that this pre-show was intended to build is lost due to the show being oversold, leaving the audience wandering around looking for places to sit. However, Morgan-Thomas soon recaptures that atmosphere and tension when the action begins with Elliot’s verbal torrent of abusive bullying towards his brother, Darren (played by Jacob Prytherch). The whole cast work brilliantly together as an ensemble, making their surreal lives and situation wholly believable, and maintaining the tension throughout.

The set, designed by Bethany Seddon, places the audience at either side of the action with the performance area in the middle. This does well to bring the audience right up close to the action in a piece where the fourth wall is very much in place, like a fly on the wall. It’s downside is that the actors nearly always have their back to someone in the audience so on rare occasions some of the tongue twisting, fast paced dialogue is lost.

Disturbing and edgy, Mercury Fur is not going to be to everyone’s taste but this is a very strong presentation of Ridley’s work.

 

 

Mercury Fur – Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Writer: Philip Ridley

Director: Chris Darnall

Reviewer: Jacqui Onions

Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur explores the very worst in human nature, taking the horrific situation of a war torn country and its inhabitants beyond the extreme and into the surreal, yet never straying too far from the plausible and always mirroring reality in a way that gives this play a dark and twisted edge.

Ridley’s text provides an opportunity to observe from the outside the things people are driven to in desperation. In a world where people turn to hallucinogenic butterflies to escape reality, people begin to crave a real live experience similar to the violent, erotic hallucinations that the butterflies provide. And where there is a demand, there is a supply – but are the organisers of these parties as depraved as the party guests or are they just doing what they need to survive?

This Welsh premiere does its best to shock the audience – and it more than succeeds, with people hiding their eyes, squirming in their seats and letting out audible gasps of fear and disgust. There is blood, violence, profanities and gun shots all right before the eyes of the audience, making this production not for the faint hearted or the easily offended. Most of this is used to great effect, pushing the audience to just the right level of discomfort and maybe just a little further, with the exception of the bad language. Of course there is a place for this here, and Mercury Fur would not be believable without it, but it feels overdone in the opening scenes; needlessly trying to shock the audience when it is nothing in comparison to what lies ahead.

On entering the auditorium we are faced with Elliot (played by Oliver Morgan-Thomas), shiftily searching the performance area by torchlight. Unfortunately, any atmosphere that this pre-show was intended to build is lost due to the show being oversold, leaving the audience wandering around looking for places to sit. However, Morgan-Thomas soon recaptures that atmosphere and tension when the action begins with Elliot’s verbal torrent of abusive bullying towards his brother, Darren (played by Jacob Prytherch). The whole cast work brilliantly together as an ensemble, making their surreal lives and situation wholly believable, and maintaining the tension throughout.

The set, designed by Bethany Seddon, places the audience at either side of the action with the performance area in the middle. This does well to bring the audience right up close to the action in a piece where the fourth wall is very much in place, like a fly on the wall. It’s downside is that the actors nearly always have their back to someone in the audience so on rare occasions some of the tongue twisting, fast paced dialogue is lost.

Disturbing and edgy, Mercury Fur is not going to be to everyone’s taste but this is a very strong presentation of Ridley’s work.

 

 

Tender Napalm – Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Tender Napalm is a mind-blowing piece of writing from Philip Ridley. Clever, witty, poetic and emotive, this play has it all. In its Welsh premiere from Company of Sirens, enter the fantasy world of an unknown couple in an unknown place and see reality trying to rear its ugly head in their dreams as we explore their relationship in the face of atrocity.

A two-hander, Tender Napalm is performed to perfection by Matthew Buglo and Jannah Warlow. This hugely wordy piece is a massive undertaking for just two actors and, although quite long for a one-act play, Buglo and Warlow are thoroughly engaging throughout and both bring great depth to their characters. They each express a plethora of emotions both internally and towards each other,  taking the audience on a roller coaster ride that takes your breath away and leaves the watcher stunned by the experience. Warlow also demonstrates that she has a beautifully haunting singing voice that is a pleasure to listen to.

Costumed in light coloured outfits that are stained and torn, their design cleverly gives a sense of trauma without giving away a place, era or any indication of what that trauma might have been.

The auditorium is set up with audience members seated either side of the performance area which works well to draw the audience in, with Chris Durnall’s direction suiting this well. Bethany Seddon’s set design is perfectly minimalistic and coupled with Jane Lalljee’s subtle lighting, the actors are given the blank canvas they need to beautifully blur the lines between fantasy and reality, imagining everything from memories of a party to unicorns and serpents.

The soundscape follows the same subtly effective theme; complementing but never detracting from the drama. It is used to particular effect as the audience enter the auditorium and – coupled with Buglo and Warlow being in the performance space from the outset; pacing, fidgeting and staring – creates a feel of unease and anticipation.

 

Contemporary and edgy, Tender Napalm may not be to everyone’s tastes, but it is undeniable that  Company of Sirens have produced an incredible piece of theatre in bringing this play to Wales for the first time.

Mercury Fur

At the very beginning of Mercury Fur, as one character calls out for directions to a rendezvous, he is directed to “step over the dead dog…”. Immediately it’s clear we’re in for something of a rough ride.

Philip Ridley’s play caused controversy when first presented in 2005, but is now regularly produced worldwide—this, from Company Of Sirens, is its Welsh première. The central protagonists being a group of weapon-toting, hoodie-clad youths, it’s easy to suggest that the play predicted the outbreak of urban rioting a few years later. The points it appears to make, however, seem more wide-ranging.

We find ourselves in London, a few years after an unspecified catastrophic event has led to complete social breakdown, violent gangs roaming the streets with impunity, drug-addiction endemic. Except that the drugs are exotically-hued butterflies, and give people lifelike, sometimes self-destructive visions.

Bethany Seddon’s newspaper-strewn set depicts the living-room of a derelict flat. This is where aggressively intelligent, butterfly-dealing Elliot and his needier younger brother Darren are preparing to entertain guests. They are soon joined by an interloper—the improbably naïve Naz, who helps them to clean up.

The plot grows darker with the arrival of the transgender Lola, local kingpin Spinx, and the visually impaired Duchess, who may or may not have a familial connection with Elliot and Darren. The tension cranks up a few notches when the Party Guest arrives and it becomes clear that he has some highly disturbing entertainment in mind.

The tone of the piece is bleak, but Ridley’s language is vividly, brutally poetic, and not without humour. One imagines that it’s quite hard to keep the piece from coming across as too absurdly nihilistic to be believable, but director Chris Durnall manages to maintain its intellectual discipline, with the aid of Dan Lawrence’s spare, doomy soundtrack, and lighting effects—from Jane Lalljee—which summon up a variety of apocalyptic scenarios.

Oliver Morgan-Thomas is impressively commanding as the focal point, Elliot, with Jacob Prytherch equally effective as the weaker brother. Each new arrival raises the emotional and narrative stakes: Jared Lawthorn’s Naz, all boyishly wide-eyed not-quite-innocence; Edward Bluemel’s guileless, glamorous Lola; Hamish Rush as the brutish Spinx; Caroline Bunce’s tragic, addled Duchess; Samuel Ward’s rapacious party Guest.

There is much violence in the play, both physical and verbal. The most disturbing episodes, however, take place either off-stage or in the reminiscences of its troubled characters, as it slowly becomes clear that the societal collapse depicted is not universal. The Party Guest works in The City which appears to be functioning normally; as do, ominously, the Armed Forces…

Mercury Fur confronts us with a segment of society which has been abandoned, its inhabitants turned feral when left to their own devices. I suspect that the author is drawing our attention to the fact that this is a situation which is being played out in war-zones and refugee camps worldwide.

Given that Ridley was the screenwriter of The Krays it’s hard not to view Elliot and Darren as their contemporary equivalents—siblings from the underclass, making their way in an amoral world, sustained only by their love for one another. It is this love which rescues Mercury Fur from being easily dismissible as a piece of clever, headline-baiting sensationalism; this is bracing, merciless, but humanistic theatre.

 

Company of Sirens, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, 

April 22 - 26

Writer: Philip Ridley

Director: Chris Durnall



Company of Sirens’ latest production offers up a superb, breathless vision of 

Philip Ridley’s powerful two-hander, Tender Napalm, in this Welsh premiere of 

the acclaimed play. 

Set amidst a landscape of desolation, a man and woman pick at the bones of 

their starving relationship in a place without name or time. Matthew Bulgo and 

Jannah Warlow deliver flawless performances in the two leads, delivering the 

brutal poetry of the language with childish aplomb. The simplicity of the set, 

which comprises of two chairs, physically liberates the actors and allows the 

dialogue to ring. 

In his opening night discussion on the play, Ridley spoke of the script 

as a foray into the violent language of love – an exploration of its extremes, 

where, “I could squeeze a bullet between those lips,” becomes something

akin to the everyday language of broken hearts and love tearing us apart.

This is an unapologetic and unflinching portrayal of love’s brutality. Poetry 

literally runs through the piece. As the sea ebbs and flows through various 

fantastical wreckages, the characters are locked in a dance of violent fantasy 

and memory, where the imaginary struggles for dominance and threatens to 

drown the real reason for their casting adrift – the death of their child. 

Initially, the notion of the child seems as unreal as any of their flights

of fancy – a tsunami, a serpent, an alien abduction, a giant octopus. But

Ridley reels us in to the tangible sorrow of their waking dreams and nods at 

their place in our own world, sometime, somewhere. The final sequence, 

beautifully lit and rooted in memory, is both painfully tender and crushing.

This is important theatre and feels like it. See it! 

Reviewed by Tracey Rhys

·                                 Ian Rowlands
Company Of Sirens
Chapter, Cardiff
From 01 October 2013 to 05 October 2013
Review by Othniel Smith
Caroline Bunce,Jannah Warlow,Rebecca Knowles and Caroline Bunce,
Troyanne3
Caroline Bunce 
Credit: Claire Cousin
In his programme notes for Troyanne, Ian Rowlands references the selfishness of the writer, remarking on the potential for dramatic invention inherent in the most horrendous news headlines. The play is set in the small town of Troy, Ohio—not too far from Athens, which is also referenced. We are being prepared for tragedy of epic proportions, which is duly served up.

Inspired by stories of accidental family shootings in smalltown America, and with Middle Eastern wars as a backdrop, this could easily have been a shallow, self-righteous rant about US militarism and gun culture. The fact that it is a more nuanced work than the prior publicity suggested is a testament to Rowlands’s humanism.

This is a “bare-bones” production in Chapter’s small studio space. The small audience is seated on either side of Bethany Seddon’s sparsely decorated set, comprising a porch swing, a tree-stump, and a bench. As we enter, a young woman is idly making patterns in the soil on a summer’s day; she is joined by two older women, and they start chatting in a genial manner. Then, a shot rings out…

The central character is Hannah, a woman whose husband and son, both soldiers, have survived foreign conflicts, only to die in their own home. Caroline Bunce gives an immensely powerful performance as a woman eaten up with grief and fiercely angry with a God who has abandoned her. Rebecca Knowles plays Tory, her neighbour, who has suffered losses of her own, but has found a degree of spiritual equilibrium.

The first half of the play is reflective, as the two muse on past happiness and misfortune. Just as it seems in danger of floundering, a verbally maladroit but well-meaning police officer (Dick Bradnum) appears, bringing more bad news, and the dramatic temperature rises. The young woman, Hannah’s disliked and traumatised daughter-in-law (Jannah Warlow) returns; further unfortunate events ensue.

Director Chris Durnall marshalls his resources with skill and sensitivity; Dan Lawrence’s sound design is especially clever, every element—a barking dog, gunshots, emergency sirens—seamlessly synchronised with the text. Jane Lalljee’s lighting effects are also highly effective, especially at a crucial, climactic point.

The text only briefly acknowledges that such tragedies as are depicted in the play also occur in corners of the world less subject to the mass media spotlight than the USA. Nevertheless, the fact that Hannah and Tory occupy divergent philosophical positions means that we are treated to more of a debate than might have been expected—possibly down to the author having gathered testimonies from the real women of Troy, as part of the play’s development process (in conjunction with The Lark Centre in New York).

It’s hard to imagine that a “full” production could be any more potent—the proximity of the actors and the bareness of the performance area mean that the audience has no choice but to focus on the characters and their pain. Its bleakness may not appeal to everyone, but Troyanne is a compelling piece, and Company of Sirens certainly deserves to be successful in its attempt to attract funding for a future, extended run.

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·                                 Troyanne

Ian Rowlands
Company Of Sirens
Chapter, Cardiff
From 01 October 2013 to 05 October 2013
Review by Othniel Smith
Caroline Bunce, Jannah Warlow, Rebecca Knowles and Caroline Bunce,
Troyanne3
Caroline Bunce 
Credit: Claire Cousin
In his programme notes for Troyanne, Ian Rowlands references the selfishness of the writer, remarking on the potential for dramatic invention inherent in the most horrendous news headlines. The play is set in the small town of Troy, Ohio—not too far from Athens, which is also referenced. We are being prepared for tragedy of epic proportions, which is duly served up.

Inspired by stories of accidental family shootings in smalltown America, and with Middle Eastern wars as a backdrop, this could easily have been a shallow, self-righteous rant about US militarism and gun culture. The fact that it is a more nuanced work than the prior publicity suggested is a testament to Rowlands’s humanism.

This is a “bare-bones” production in Chapter’s small studio space. The small audience is seated on either side of Bethany Seddon’s sparsely decorated set, comprising a porch swing, a tree-stump, and a bench. As we enter, a young woman is idly making patterns in the soil on a summer’s day; she is joined by two older women, and they start chatting in a genial manner. Then, a shot rings out…

The central character is Hannah, a woman whose husband and son, both soldiers, have survived foreign conflicts, only to die in their own home. Caroline Bunce gives an immensely powerful performance as a woman eaten up with grief and fiercely angry with a God who has abandoned her. Rebecca Knowles plays Tory, her neighbour, who has suffered losses of her own, but has found a degree of spiritual equilibrium.

The first half of the play is reflective, as the two muse on past happiness and misfortune. Just as it seems in danger of floundering, a verbally maladroit but well-meaning police officer (Dick Bradnum) appears, bringing more bad news, and the dramatic temperature rises. The young woman, Hannah’s disliked and traumatised daughter-in-law (Jannah Warlow) returns; further unfortunate events ensue.

Director Chris Durnall marshalls his resources with skill and sensitivity; Dan Lawrence’s sound design is especially clever, every element—a barking dog, gunshots, emergency sirens—seamlessly synchronised with the text. Jane Lalljee’s lighting effects are also highly effective, especially at a crucial, climactic point.

The text only briefly acknowledges that such tragedies as are depicted in the play also occur in corners of the world less subject to the mass media spotlight than the USA. Nevertheless, the fact that Hannah and Tory occupy divergent philosophical positions means that we are treated to more of a debate than might have been expected—possibly down to the author having gathered testimonies from the real women of Troy, as part of the play’s development process (in conjunction with The Lark Centre in New York).

It’s hard to imagine that a “full” production could be any more potent—the proximity of the actors and the bareness of the performance area mean that the audience has no choice but to focus on the characters and their pain. Its bleakness may not appeal to everyone, but Troyanne is a compelling piece, and Company of Sirens certainly deserves to be successful in its attempt to attract funding for a future, extended run.

Review: Just how shocking is The Censor?

19 Sep 2009 00:00

The Censor at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

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The Censor at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

HHHHI

CONTROVERSY for its own sake is worthless but challenging theatre that sparks a debate is worthwhile and when South Wales company Faction Collective elected to stage Anthony Neilson’s play it was always going to raise eyebrows.

But the talking point of this production is not the infamous finale, but the decision of director, pictured left, Chris Durnall to screen a pornographic film on a big screen at various points throughout the play.

It has a relevance beyond shock value. The play concerns downtrodden husband and film censor Frank (Nathan Sussex), who is physically and intellectually seduced by female adult film-maker Miss Fontaine (Stacey Daly). Fontaine asks him to look beyond the obvious graphic visuals of her film and see its artistic merit by reading more deeply – which is what The Censor asks of its audience.

It wants you to look beyond the controversy to ask yourself what is art and who should determine its boundaries and if censorship was abandoned, would people know where to draw their own boundaries.

Interestingly, in adding this other level of debate, Durnall takes the emphasis away from the usual climactic talking point and allows the audience to see it more contextually.

The decision, for me, is a valid one but if Neilson’s play has a problem it’s in what happens after that, a strange shift in one character and a jarringly open ending that generates debate of its own, misdirecting its audience from the main questions at hand.

Despite that it still works, thanks to some very funny dialogue and brave acting in a play that asks explicitness. As Fontaine, Daly brings out the vulnerability and likeability in her intriguing “artistic visionary”.

Sussex captures Frank’s jittery repression well, but as the character unfolds perhaps he doesn’t throw off enough of the vocal monotony, playing it stylistically at odds with the naturalism of Daly and Julie Barclay. Whether The Censor shocks you will depend on your constitution, but it certainly sparked debate in our group which achieved its aim.

The main question is whether The Censor is a valid artistic proposition or simple perversion, but the point is that you decide for yourself by drawing your own boundaries.

The Censor’s final performance is at Chapter tonight at 8pm. Tickets cost £6-£10 from 029 2030 4400

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Censor

Faction Collective , Chapter Arts Centre Cardiff , October 3, 2009

 

In light of the kerfuffle a few months back between Patrick Jones (or, rather, his latest book release) and Stephen Green of Christian Voice, the producers of Patrick’s previous play, Revelations, wasted no time in putting their weight behind The Censor which played at Chapter last week.

In producing a play involving full-frontal nudity (albeit on a screen behind the live action) and what can only be best described on a website for young folk as 'adult themes', the Faction Collective and director Chris Durnall have done a stand-up job in highlighting the dangers of modern censorship.

Starring the two cast members of Revelation – Stacey Daly as Miss Fontaine and Nathan Sussex as the titular censor, who reprise their roles as cheerfully unhinged and downtrodden respectively – The Censor is a short, sharp, spiky piece of visceral theatre that is economic on both time and compromise.

As in their previous production, Daly and Sussex have chemistry in spades, which is interrupted only by third and final cast member Julie Barclay who plays the screeching, frustrated wife of the woefully denial-ridden censor. 

From Miss Fontaine’s shift from focussed siren to aloof victor, to the censor’s succumbing to her charms and sexual advances only to find he’s been played like a pubic teen, The Censor, much like Revelation, offers many questions but no easy answers.

We can’t help feeling that the Faction Collective are onto something with their thread of plays, which jolt their punters into on-the-spot moral decisions usually reserved for boorish pub flippancy. We look forward to seeing what comes next. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A production that raises important questions

 

The Censor

Faction Collective , Ustinov Studio, Bath Theatre Royal , March 23, 2010

 

In November 2008, Welsh writer, poet & film-maker, Patrick Jones hit the headlines when a Christian activist group, Christian Voice, succeeded in shutting down the launch of his collection of poems, Darkness is Where the Stars Are in Waterstones, Cardiff. Christian Voice, the vociferous organisation behind the campaign against the BBC's screening of Jerry Springer the Opera, regarded Waterstones' decision as "a triumph".

A year later, in September 2009, Jones' own theatre company, South Wales' Faction Collective, elected to stage Anthony Neilson's hard-hitting plat, The Censor, in Cardiff's Chapter Arts, as a response to the debate this incident had engendered. The company are now performing the play in Bath's Ustinov Studio, to packed houses.

This is a controversial piece in its own right, bound to leave a significant proportion of the audience shifting uneasily in their seats. It's the story of a Miss Fontaine, (Stacey Daly), a female film maker, and her efforts to persuade the Censor (Nathan Sussex) to pass her explicitly pornographic movie for general release. The two enter into a graphic love affair, in which the pair infamously confront the censor's secret fetish.

But this production takes the controversy to a new level. Director Chris Durnall has here elected to screen excerpts from a pornographic film at pertinent moments throughout the play.

It's a decision which has paid off. Yes, some scenes make for uncomfortable viewing, but it undoubtedly serves an interesting function. Running like a mantra through the text, Neilson urges the censor - and the audience - to "look beyond the image", to see the emotional interaction and not simply the sexual one.

The images on screen as the audience walk in - including scenes of a man trickling petals onto a woman's genitals as Nat King Cole croons, "A Blossom Fell" - are at first invasive and distracting. But by the end of the evening, you become aware that the images on screen have become secondary to the relationship that is unfolding on stage between these two. The sex is secondary to the story; what was simply porn has at least been given a context. As an audience, you have been cajoled into seeing beyond the images.

Nevertheless, the director's choices here, more than ever, stand or fail according to the quality of the performances. This is a challenging play and anything less than complete conviction in the characterisations would have the piece descend into seedy titillation.

Sussex excels as the Censor. His repression, his self-censorship, is evident in every nuance of his physicality and in the inflexion of his voice. He steels himself against a world of emotion with which he cannot engage. His interactions with his wife, a quietly commanding performance from Julie Barclay, are tortured and dysfunctional. Stacey Daly is a captivating Miss Fontaine, striking a perplexing balance between her sophisticated, demure femininity and her strikingly forthright attitude to sex and sexual encounters. They make an affecting ensemble.

There are certainly some difficult and contentious ideas running through the heart of Neilson's text. None more so, for me, than Miss Fontaine's assertion that our nation will not come of age until "every man, woman and child" can sit in any multiplex cinema in the land and watch her film. Art it may be, but it's art for an 18+ audience. I doubt I'm alone in feeling for the censor on this point at least, when he tells her, "I cannot see what you see".

But what this production forces us to confront is that one man's porn is another woman's art; just as one man's raw and provocative poetry is another man's blasphemy. And that these, surely, are the shades of grey that breathe life into our culture?

Censorship may or may not be an exact science but Faction Collective's assured production does what all good theatre should do: raise the important questions. It's up to us to decide on the answers.

Reviewed by: Allison Vale (British Theatre Guide)

 

Matthew's Passion
Sherman Cymru
Thursday 25th July 2013 

Whilst there has been many films, books and documentaries on autistic spectrum conditions about, which look at the issues surrounding those diagnosed, very rarely has any awareness made it onto the stage and actually exercised the limits of autistic characters into new and complex scenes that interact with the audiences senses (not to mention perceptions)... until now.

Matthew's Passion is the theatre production held from Wednesday 24th to Saturday 27 July 2013 at the Sherman Theatre. It looks at the life of a church family with a son named Matthew, whose interest in birds and relations with his community is challenged by unfolding events around him that is vivid for the audience to get a true "autistic eye" for the scenes as they progress. This eye-level above all is what sets this production apart from others into a well-choreographed and freely-flowing performance, as well as always making sure the audience is questioning at all times what is really going on throughout, always daring to take the situations Matthew's character has to face to new levels.

[Warning: Contains Spoilers!]

Even as an autistic adult myself, I was faced upon first entering the theatre with a mirror of myself. As if without direction, as people were getting seated to enjoy the performance, I was immediately bombarded by the sound of birds and smoke filling the room like morning dew fog, and as if it were just a typical day our protagonist Matthew is sat listening and patiently observing a countryside setting that was being formed - well before the suggested "start" of the performance.

The actor playing him maintains this characteristic throughout, which added a realism and consistency that never disappears till the end despite the apparent mundane simplicity of his routine. The character from the off is so refreshingly alive, as if passively shouting at the world, "I'm fine thanks - I don't need you".

At this point, if it were not for the conclusion of all the events he's about to face from those around him, then I would have been happy to conclude it there. However, the events that follow are so dramatic that we almost feel like we know him and want the simplistic calm he brings us to never end.

At the start of the performance, we are presented with the supposedly "perfect" rural church community that his parents and their friends live in: This is a veneer that peels off scene by scene - all the while Matthew maintains with dedication his routine, which is interrupted every now and again by his family who want him more involved in their "perfect" world and following the footsteps of his father in the church.

Inevitably the protagonist and the antagonistic outside world is doomed to repeat an initial comedy of errors and misjudgements, which is further complicated by the intervention of a suggested visitor (Martin) that has been brought in to help Matthew broaden his interests and assist his understanding through music.

It is made obvious that this "perfect" community that Matthew is increasingly encouraged into is about to fracture - the only constant still being Matthew's routine that perpetuates regardless.

His professor-like understanding of birds that is his only basis for what is happening around him may sound vague and naive, but like a good poet, is far better at explaining the where, what, how and why of each situation, even if the other characters cannot attune themselves to hear his often cryptically wise words. The truth of the matter is that you see that he listens far more to the community he lives in, far more than they ever do for him - even life altering decisions are plucked cruelly from him just because his community thinks he isn't even part of the scenes playing out... but he always is, in one form or another, still observant and very real.

The other characters' lives are in upheaval:

  • The reverend father, who has looked through rose-tinted lenses without care until now, finally coming to terms that he was selfish and naive all along... but maybe not in any deliberately obsessive way (suggesting he may well be more like Matthew in many ways, trying to find that calming routine in his life through his priesthood work)
  • The mother, who despite secretly wanting to up and leave Matthew and his father, is drawn to realise that she should have done more to find her own calming routine and followed her heart to find happiness through her son, but is too late to stop losing everything she treasures...
  • The lay-preacher, whilst being caring and devoted to her work is sometimes overpowering and completely overlooks the impacts of her actions, as she thinks that will provide some routine to the community, despite the fact that events in her life are decidedly worse than that of the community she serves (and they don't really think much of her either - providing some of the most comical scenes in the entire production)...
  • The visitor Martin, whose life is also uprooted by the "perfect" community that he entered into, forcing him out of a strangely familiar routine to escape the ensuing chaos, and ousted from Matthew's life, where Martin provided him the only real help understanding and joining in the crazy world around him - his voice is the one we hear to retell this drama with painful reflection...

I know what you're thinking, yes, I did mention "routine" in all four character overviews - because it displays itself as a primary goal of all characters - the goal that only Matthew has perfected with seamless ease until now...

With his community's world in pieces and the future uncertain and scary for the new discoveries he made, he clings on mortally to hope: and for the last time, he goes into his calm, always constant routine. Then we're hit with a big shock when the routine mutates into action, where every face in the audience turns to shock, and as a mother realises too late the love for her son, as this correct but naive young professor puts his theory into mortal practice.

Routine and calmness is replaced by silence more unpleasant than the loudest sounds, and with it a part of the world that Matthew was always part of disappears forever like a bird on the wind.

Conclusion

The acting was fantastic from the off, the portrayal was extremely engaging and three-dimensional, the comic relief elements were deliciously deceiving plot-lines that added to the unfolding drama, the use of multi-scene acts in the performance added both depth and a unique view that expanded for the audience events as they happened, the use of similes and literalism between the conversations with Matthew and the rest of the cast showed clearly the difficulties that both aspies and "normal" people have to overcome and compromise around on a daily basis to make their lives work together.

Above all, unlike other portrayals in film and TV in the past, the accurateness of our principle character and protagonist was both faithfully accurate, endearing and especially living - a living, breathing and observant autistic individual - an actor that performs so well his role that he makes you forget he's a performer and more like any other human being on the spectrum (I had to pinch myself to not feel naturally uncomfortable with someone who would act very similar to myself - but this only added to the enjoyment and realism of the performance). It was also convincing right up to his rather unexpected demise that continued the comedy of errors to a heart-wrenching conclusion, leaving always a question...

Are we the ones who are right or is he right?

It is a question and dilemma that will continue to be asked well beyond that night, haunting those supposed "experts" in society that think that they know what autism is - and for that, I thank the performers, the writers, to the National Autistic Society who were on hand in the foyer with information leaflets to educate the public as they saw the performance, and to my fellow aspies who inspired the work of Mike James who with the whole production team made this all possible.

You have set the standard for further works of this kind and for that I salute you.

SEAN TYRONE | THEATRE REVIEW

Chapter, Cardiff
Sat 18 June
★★★★★
Like all good traditional tales, Mark Ryan’s Sean Tyrone is coiled tightly around themes of lust, birth and revenge. Its delicious phrasing tempts you to cling onto every utterance and its dark and gripping themes constantly express a great debt to the oral narrative tradition. In short, Sean Tyrone just begs to be passed on, proving that the need for storytelling is still very much alive within us.

But in the criminally rich Sean Tyrone, it’s not just stories that run through the generations. A deep and uncanny sense of ancestral guilt and bitterness is also strongly felt. As loyal Jack travels from Ireland to the Welsh Valleys to follow in his father’s footsteps, he is coaxed and manipulated by three anachronistic shape-shifters who exploit his every regret and desire. Throughout, numerous tensions are constantly present with the most striking being that between the now and then. This tension is far from simplistic. Naive and determined, Jack provides the fleshy embodiment of now. However this focus is complicated by parallels made to Jack’s allusive father, foregrounding a link to the past which seems impossible to sever.

Against this cruel flux, the uncanny trio play on their temporal swing. One wears the now-tatty clothes of a former ringmaster, another is dressed in a garish red basque and the third stumbles along with a missing shoe. Together, they hint at what was once a great show. Now, with an animalistic urgency, they claw at Jack’s clothing, instantly recognising the rare scent of something new. As taunting sentences escape from their crudely painted lips, these unsettling beings evoke the problem of regression, painting troubled pictures of how we come to understand our ancestors. Now, all that remains of yesterday’s glamour is a faded pride, framed by backcombed hair, missing shoes and ripped jeans.

The production’s dazzling musicality and chilling playfulness entertains as much as it unnerves. Twisting words against the backdrop of bold, clashed notes and progressive echoes of Balkan folk, the trio wields a manipulating power over language. This power, in turn, is used to manipulate Jack. Pregnant with a devilish exploration of what was lost, what can never be found and what would be better forgotten, Sean Tyrone is a nightmare from which you don’t want to wake.