Friday, 25 September 2009

Unmasking Trestle

Trestle theatre company will soon be appearing at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol, so a couple of weeks ago I trundled off to St Albans to talk to the Artistic Director, Emily Gray.

You can read about my visit and the face behind Trestle's mask on Theatre Bristol. Click here to read the article.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Brewing Up a Theatrical Storm

It's not a picture of someone drinking at a brewery, it's actually 'Rum &Vodka' which runs Wed 14th - Sun 25th October
Googling ‘Brewery Theatre Bristol’ it’s a bit disappointing that, so far, the opening of such an important space appears to have flown under the radar. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting it to make the News at Ten, and I did find a short article on Original FM’s website, but for there to seemingly be no online article from any Theatre commentators is a real shame.
With so little online reportage (I am excluding Theatre Bristol’s coverage – they do appear in the search results!), you may wonder why I think it is so important. I don’t blame you. How can an audience or a city understand what it could mean for them if they have no idea of what is happening?

'Full Twist' runs Wed 28th October - Sun 8th November

If you live in the Southville area, on one Thursday night you may have spotted several people dotted around North Street wearing badges and red carnations, pointing other people down the road, towards the old brewery: they were our chaperones. It was a bit like being part of a secret society, we were directed to the rear of the building where we found ourselves in a bright open space with graffiti art on the walls and freshly made bread and cheese on a table (I never quite made it to this table as I spent most of the night talking, but I did hear some very good reports). The bread is from the bakery that will reside in The Brewery and be a quirky addition to the experience. The space I have just described is not the theatre space, but the rear part of the building, where additional plans are afoot.

I arrived just in time to hear a very funny talk from the Tobacco Factory Theatre Manager, David Dewhurst about the new venture. He made the speech instead of Artistic Director Ali Robertson, who was preparing for his own ‘launch party’ as his wife had gone into labour earlier that day. After this we were finally allowed into The Brewery.

It is brilliant. It’s a small, black, ninety-seater, studio space with huge potential, which puts me in mind of The Green Room in Manchester. In addition, as an audience member, joy of joy, there are no pillars. I would also venture to say (having tested them briefly) that the seats are rather comfy. But why is a small theatre space in Southville potentially so significant?

'Gizmo Love' runs Wed 16th - Sun 27th September

Think of The Brewery as the BBC3 of theatre in Bristol. The Tobacco Factory has been producing some great work and developing its standing over the last few years, but the closure of the Bristol Old Vic really allowed it to blossom by throwing light on its work and giving it the space to grow as the city’s main theatre venue. Like BBC1 or 2, there’s a large capacity (250 – 300+ for this space, depending on the type of performance and use of space), and is great for established companies. However, this can present a problem for new, un-established companies, without a recognised piece or a strong following. These companies need a space with a smaller capacity that can allow them to run for longer to develop the work and audience support. This is where the similarity with BBC3 lies. Think of the number of shows that have been trialled and allowed to grow their audience before transferring to the ‘main channels’, including my current favourite, Bristol-based Being Human. The Brewery will hopefully work in a similar way and this is why it is so important to Bristol: it can encourage and support development in a city with a strong tradition of companies creating nationally and internationally renowned work.

'Mrs Gerrish's Christmas Stocking' runs Wed 2nd - Sun 13th December

Anyone who attended Tom Morris’ talk at the Bristol Old Vic will know that he has similar plans to develop small spaces within ‘his’ theatre, which is equally as exciting, but the spaces he wants to utilise will be very different to The Brewery, and at a time when it feels like the city is on the cusp of change over the coming years, there is plenty of room for all of these much needed performance spaces. In addition, whilst Tom Morris and Emma Stenning have very exciting plans for the future of the Bristol Old Vic and its place within the community, George Ferguson, Ali Robertson and the Tobacco Factory team are already engaging with the community rather successfully and this new venue allows them to develop that further and bring new work to their loyal audience.

I have compared these Bristol venues in isolation, but the reality is that when the Bristol Old Vic reopens we must see each one as a component of a whole, and support them as a whole (without excluding other venues in the city such as the Alma Tavern) because that is the only way they will achieve their full potential and enable our city to continue to culturally flourish.

I opened by bemoaning the lack of local and national coverage of The Brewery’s launch, but after discussing its importance, I wonder if it is better to slip under the radar? That way the theatre can do its own thing and there’s no expectation of the outcome. However, people won’t support it, if they don’t know it exists and despite the current lack of coverage, the national press have been particularly supportive of Bristol and the Bristol Old Vic, so I hope that it won’t be long before word gets out and audiences everywhere are aware of its arrival on the theatre scene and head over to check out their exciting new programme.

Tobacco Factory
Bristol Old Vic

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Review of Stephen Mottram's 'The Seed Carriers'

I love the Tobacco Factory space, but I really loathe the pillars. Sometimes they can be cleverly worked into pieces and sometimes they just get in the way. I knew one pillar would be in my sightline, but I had no idea until the show began how it would impede on my viewing. It turned out to be in exactly the right position to block out the first ten minutes of the show.

There are no words, only music, and thanks to the pillar I feared that my inability to draw the piece together into a cohesive narrative was because key moments kept disappearing. The after-show talk shed more light on the sections I had missed and I was able to find my own understanding through Mottram’s discussion of the origins of the piece.

One word: fascinating. It’s hard to describe because it’s not a linear narrative piece; there is a connection between the images, but they are, as Stephen Mottram described them, a ‘series of installations’ that evoke emotion and that emotion or reading, is entirely an audience member’s own.

Originally created in 1995 as a response to the sudden death of his father, Mottram explained that he wanted to create characters that cannot be clearly defined as good or bad, they merely do what they have to do in order to survive. The world of the characters is simple: everyone contains seeds and everyone wants those seeds in order to gain ‘new life’. The production is dark in both content and lighting design, as the whole piece is performed in a half-light, expressing the inherent ambiguous unease. But there is lightness to be found in some of Mottram’s enchanting marionettes. When asked why one of the seed-carriers disguised itself as a stork, he explained that the idea grew from a joke about ‘bending over backwards to survive’.

Mottram is more of a magician than a puppeteer: he epitomises the notion of bringing an object to life. He even showed us the mechanics of some of his puppets, but it didn’t take away from them, if anything, it made them even more magical.

Although I really enjoyed it and cannot recommend it highly enough, I couldn’t help but think it would have been better suited to the new Brewery space, as you need to view it front-on to see all of the action. I also think a more intimate space would have heightened my connection to the piece, but, most importantly of all, there would have been no pillars!

Review of Green Ginger's 'Rust'

‘The doors are closed’ said my friend and she wasn’t wrong. We’d somehow managed to beat the insane Bristol traffic and arrive early (it was the day the bridge at Avonmouth was closed causing chaos across the city). Meaning we entered the auditorium in good time and eagerly anticipated the start. The auditorium was crammed full and it seemed like it was taking forever for everyone to sit down, but finally it was time for Rust to begin. I’d read the blurb, so I had a general idea of what to expect, but then again, I had no idea what to expect:

‘Rust is the salty tale of two pirate radio stations anchored in the same murky waters, just off the South Wales coast’.It also involved kidnapping, murder and plenty of humorous songs, my favourite being ‘Claustrophobe in a Submarine’.

Within minutes it was clear that it would be enjoyed by young and old as one scene consisting of a giant underwater poo floating along, complete with musical accompaniment, sent ripples of laughter through the audience.

It was completely madcap and thoroughly enjoyable. The set design was fantastic and allowed practically seamless transitions between scenes, whilst the lighting captured the darkness of the tale. Their use of perspective illustrated their skill as storytellers and the puppeteers were brilliant, moving quickly between characters and accents.

Rust sold out last time it was at the Tobacco Factory and it did it again this time around, so if you spot it appearing again, don’t hesitate, grab a ticket while you can and prepare yourself for a really enjoyable, slightly crazy evening.