Nassim

Nassim @ The Bush

15/9/17

Each night, a new performer takes the stage for Nassim. This time it is Denise Gough, and the Bush is packed. There is a giddy feeling in the air and the audience bubbles with the idea that we will be sharing an intimate space with such a renowned actress. Already it seems on some level that tonight is not as much about Nassim Soleimanpour (our playwright) as it maybe should be. That’s not anyone’s fault, of course, it’s just a feeling I get. There’s a big group of women in front of me. They are dressed very well and all hold glasses of wine. They giggle and chat even as the lights go down. Already I’m annoyed that they aren’t so invested in this. I’m annoyed that they’re probably here for her, more than they are for him.*

Denise walks on stage to applause and an introduction and she seems nervous. Even from the outset, there are small quips and asides to the audience. She’s quick to jump on her own failings and wants us to like her. (This is emphasised when much later on, it’s revealed that the last picture on her phone is a glowing review from her last show. She jokes that even she gets insecure. I kind of feel for her in that moment and I understand her and her performance a little better)

*This all an assumption, of course. They might have been Soleimanpour’s biggest fans. I suppose my point is that it set a certain tone. For me, at least.

***

The premise of Nassim is a familiar one. The actor is unprepared and is given a script they have never seen before in an envelope on stage. Soleimnapour tricks us, but he also tricks the actor. The envelope contains one page, informing us all that the script is in fact in the hands of the playwright, who sits backstage. Denise is stuck between reading from the screen behind her and performing to us. Again, she is probably a little more vulnerable than she would like.

At various points throughout the show, the audience are one step ahead of Denise. We see the screen before she does and we spot her mistakes quicker. The script is playful, but her nervous and quick-witted persona disrupts what is ultimately a play about longing. I think this disruption is purposeful from Soleimnapour. He knows his actor will be on edge, and plays with their comfort zones, pushing them in and out of security.

***

Nassim was a deeply sad play, from what I gathered. But the audience laughed a lot.

Denise admits vulnerabilities and it is in those moments she is the most like us and without performance. Away from the stage, her nervousness subsides slightly. She opens a little more.

When she runs backstage to find him, he shares tea with her. It is a moment we aren’t allowed access to. I liked that. We see them through a screen and don’t see his face. She is less performative and I am more receptive.

How do we allow theatre to be those small moments of privacy?

How do we allow that small moment of sensitivity to be felt?

***

It was difficult to pin down a tone. I think it probably changed from night to night.

During the show I thought of Deborah Frances-White; a comedian. I thought of Tim Crouch; a writer and performer. I thought of Meera Syal, a wonderful Asian actor. How might her performance of Nassim, or White Rabbit Red Rabbit as she did at the Bush, have differed from that of the aforementioned white performers? Might it have been exactly the same?

***

I think there’s something about stories and translation and a telling. I can’t quite grasp it. There’s a lost feeling, a feeling of displacement.

There is the story through the actor, then through the physical script, then through the screen, then through the playwright, both in English and in Farsi.

I’m reminded of Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree; a story told through a number of parallel voices.

***

Maybe the audience should have been shut out slightly more? As an English speaking audience member, I and many others in this country are afforded the luxury of knowing what we are seeing and understanding what we are being told. Sometimes it might do us some good to be dropped in the deep end (see Gecko’s The Dreamer).

I have had my English words handed to me, and it is a luxury that they can be easily consumed by the majority that will watch them, and that this country allows us to perform them.

Perhaps this is missing the point and it’s more about translation and communication. Maybe we should share in our commonalities rather than shut each other out.

I can’t stop coming back to the thought that sharing is a gift.

***

I have one friend from Iran and I have known him for close to 8 years now. We’ve grown apart recently. I didn’t know that he spoke fluently in Persian as well as English until last year. It was a huge part of his life and his identity and I never saw it or knew it. I thought of him during the show.

I hope he’s doing okay.

***

So, we circle back to Denise, to the white women in the audience in front of me, giggling, and we circle back to Nassim standing on stage speaking to his mother in Farsi. She is omnipresent and also just really fucking far away. Denise cries, and she lets go of us and the performance. Soleimnapour chuckles a little as if he knows something we don’t. The women in front of me give a standing ovation. Maybe they were more receptive than I gave them credit for.

***

Nassim always knows something we don’t, and that is one of the best things about the show. Thank you for sharing.

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Five Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist

Sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic, self-disclosure

Sam Ward is a bisexual, sleepy guy that tells us about five sexual encounters he has via a site called Craigslist. Sam and the audience begin an hour of exchange. It is an exchange of trust more than anything else. We become closer to Sam and to the other bodies around us. We didn’t plan to reveal any of ourselves, and we don’t have to, but we see Sam’s vulnerability and in exchange we let ourselves be vulnerable for him.

Craigslist is essentially a personal ads website that is sometimes used for sex. Sam talks to us about the sex bit and boy, is there a sex bit. There’s no money involved in Craigslist, any adverts that are sexual and involve money are shut down pretty quickly. But much of the sex that happens via the site is short. The encounters last no longer than an hour usually, and it’s unlikely that they’re ever repeated. It’s sort of like a theatre show. Within the performance realm, there’s no acting, there is simply storytelling and metaphor. In each encounter that Sam takes us through, gently, he asks if someone doesn’t mind helping him. So then some audience members become those on the other end of his encounter, and what we see is a creation of connection forming and moving within the theatrical space. The participants, for the most part, are the metaphors. They peel carrots into microphones, confess their love for each other, and pop balloons.

Sam also tells us about Elaine and Arthur Aron who wrote a paper called ‘The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness’, a psychological research paper that investigated how you can become close to another person. They stated that there were 36 questions which allow for the level of intimacy needed to feel truly connected to another person. The first time I saw this show, I was asked a few of these questions and it was not until the end that I realised the affect they had. I felt opened out, like a really old library book that hadn’t been read for a while. Sam is so welcoming, so warm, and the relationship he creates is not between performer and audience, but a communal exchange of intimacy.

An exposure lives at the heart of this piece. A vulnerable and delicate exposure that if mishandled could end up tearing a rift in the tender gap between audience and performer. It is not mishandled here, in fact, that gap seems to fade altogether and what is left is just us, in a room. As we are asked the questions and told of the encounters, our walls splinter and crack, leaving us bare but warm. It seems trivial to say this show was an exploration of how we connect to each other. It wasn’t a show so much as a telling and re-telling, a revealing of body and heart, a shape moulded by experience and by audience; by people. Elaine and Arthur Aron state that a key pattern in the development of close interpersonal relationships is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic, self-disclosure. Perhaps this is what happens in that room, and as we hear his story, a relationship moulds itself in the spaces in between.

Cherry

Cherry, from Loose Cannon, is a verbatim piece focusing on virginity and sex. Why do we have a name for it? Why is it so important? Is it a social construct? Does it have to be special? Do vaginas always bleed the first time? It feels so important when you’re going through puberty, and even after it. Loose Cannon read stories from forums, audience members, and anonymous submissions. We get a picture of something that’s actually a very vulnerable and personal moment, and one that differs for everyone.

There’s a bed in the middle of the stage and behind it is a skrim, held up by a metal bar. There’s a projector in front of it, one of those old ones we used in school, and the lighting creates shadow and movement on the screen. It feels quite makeshift but in a lovely way. It’s like we are in a bedroom, and we’re telling secrets under a blanket fort. The audience are safe and included, and the actors too, although far more vulnerable than us.

I had two favourite moments. The first was when two of the performers (Layla Madanat and Mikey Tsoukkas) played their violins, manipulating and scoring the scene in front of them. The second was when Lizzie Annis sat in the middle of the bed, fairy lights extending out of her at five angles. The brutality of the story juxtaposed the lights and the gentle tone of her voice.

The sensitivity and simultaneous hilarity of the writing and performances are a massive credit to Wain and Brett, the directors. I loved this show, and would highly recommend it to anyone at the fringe, because we’re all virgins once right?

See Cherry @ theSpace 45 11th-26th August

These Walls

These Walls is a simple and clean play that follows the lives of three women who are all imprisoned by some kind of cage. Most of them are metaphorical cages, and they were all based around being a woman. Abortion, sexual assault, domestic abuse. This could have felt gratuitous, like all of these issues were thrown in for the sake of it. However the show was delicately handled, and the sensitive themes were shared with care.

It follows the lives of three women, their lives weaving together in small and precious ways. Isla Cowan’s script feels like a kind of lyrical naturalism, giving the piece a lovely poetic depth.

Eden (Becky Shepherdson), a seventeen year old aspiring to be a medic.

Chrissy (Imogen Osbourne), a twenty something dancer in a club

Althea (Cecily Pierce) a thirty something girlfriend.

All broken, all have something missing and are eventually at the expense of the men in their lives.

The set is interesting, a jagged metre of ‘wall’ separates the women from each other and keeps them to their own worlds. They do cross over these barriers but only very occasionally.

The acting was sensitive and played a careful balance between humour and devastation. The direction was a credit to the script, and each complimented each other well. There was perhaps a slight lack of drive in the show as a whole, but this seems to only be teething problems. The company have great potential, and I’m excited to see their next piece.

That Moment

Following the life and struggles of a young actress, That Moment, is a funny and honest look at what it’s like to be young and work in theatre. Obviously, this was very relatable to my life and so much of what Dougie Blaxland wrote felt like it had come right out of my brain. Alicia Harding (played by Madeleine Gray) auditions for a show with a top director, and ends up having to dog sit for him instead of getting a role. Playing around twenty characters in the whole show Gray is a triumph. Her sincere and hilarious performance is a credit to both her and the team behind her.

I needed an escape for an hour on that night, and this show was exactly that. I could be absorbed in Harding’s world of messy dogs, northern kind-of-boyfriends, and useless agents. Obviously, the audience were completely besotted with their heroine. She giggles and shouts and says all those things we want to say but can’t. The writing and performance never let up once. There were no slow moments, and there didn’t seem to be a weak link in the chain.

I’d highly recommend this show as a way to absorb yourself in pure, talented comedy for an evening. I expect really good things for BlueLeaf Theatre if they carry on like this, making shows of joys and mishaps in our world.

See That Moment @ C Cubed, venue 50 @ 10.20pm, everyday

Rock and Hunt

Rock and Hunt, from Sonder Theatre, follows six people in their quest for love, sex, validation, and happiness. Over the course of an hour we hear six monologues, each from people leading seemingly unconnected lives. The stories are sometimes sweet, sometimes gratuitous, sometimes upsetting. First we hear from Laura, played by Anoushka Kohli, who lost her baby in childbirth. Then each character interrupts the next, and slowly their lives are revealed and we learn more about them.

As an examination of humanity and contemporary Britain, this play does well. Helena Jacques-Morton creates voice expertly, weaving separate lives into a cogent piece. Each character is well defined and the actors execute their roles with confidence and sensitivity. None of the characters are stereotypes or caricatures, and each holds a different drinking vessel (mug, beer can, teacup, plastic glass). Sonder Theatre focuses on individual lives, and what we so often miss in knowing and seeing other humans.

However, when watching this I felt static. When making, watching, or writing theatre, I always ask ‘Why this and why now?’ For me, this show didn’t seem to know the answer to that question. That question doesn’t mean all shows have to be political, that would be boring, but it’s about urgency. A question of why are we performing this, why does this have to be seen? The lack of answers to those questions came across in the direction; all the actors were sat down, facing us for the whole show. It was a good image but for 50 minutes I started to wonder where the spark was. There was no driving force behind the writing or the direction. Maybe this isn’t what the company wanted, in which case, all power to them. But I think I wanted a little more play/spontaneity/drive in this piece.

See Rock and Hunt @Paradise in the Vaults, 5.50, 10-12 and 14-19 August

Open Road

Open Road follows three relationships, each of them compatible, each of them falling apart. Ecce Theatre’s new show gives an insight into predetermined grief, love, and how far we will go for a happy life. The central couple are two women and it was never about that, which was quite refreshing. It was treated exactly the same as all the other relationships on stage.

The naturalism of the show was so close to real life that it often didn’t feel like much had been dramatized. The general premise of the show was that these couples are together because they have similar life spans. Each person is aware of the year of their death. This is a time that could be now but isn’t. It’s the heat of the debates, with secrets and lies revealed as the dinner party continues.

So this dystopian twist was the hook, but it felt half-hearted. The world wasn’t fully realised, and although the characters had ideological debates about it, the fantasy seemed like an afterthought. I love science fiction theatre, but this was underdeveloped in its execution.

I want theatre which challenges me to think differently about my world, myself, my identity. Perhaps this may have worked better with a change of form, exploring how theatre itself reflects the disintegration of our capitalist society. Pretension, I know, but at least it creates debate.