Tag Archives: theatre

Fiona Banner: Stamp Out Photographie

Millie Walton speaks to British artist Fiona Banner about her Stamp Out Photographie exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery, which shines a new light on lesser-known classics

How did you go about selecting the artwork you wanted to include?

I’ve actually had the title of the exhibition in mind for ages; it’s something I stole from the Archive of Modern Conflict, a photo-based archive in West London that I’ve been working with. The first time I went there, I saw this poster with the words ‘Stamp Out Photographie’ and I took a photo of it and put it up on my studio wall. I enjoy that polemic, it relates to my own work as an artist. I play around with film and the photographic image through language and the verbal, always moving around the image, but not using it directly. Although I work with text, I haven’t rejected the image – I’m exploring my ongoing dysfunctional relationship with the photographic and filmic image.

So, in choosing pieces to include in this display, I was exploring that relationship and thinking about different ways of seeing reality, and how we confuse reality with the filmic and photographic. I hadn’t seen any of the work in flesh until very recently, I selected all the works for this show from small, photographic Stamp Out Photographie printouts. That was how the engagement started, and the final staging of the works references that. It’s a show about the printed image – or the image as reference versus the actual image and the slippage between the two – in our understanding, and in our perception.

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Bridget Riley, Stretch, 1964 © Bridget Riley 2014 Courtesy Karsten Schubert, London Image courtesy V-A-C collection

How did you go about that?

For this exhibition, I’ve transformed the gallery into a theatrical space. I suppose every gallery space is a kind of theatre for art, but here that is exaggerated through the lighting. Instead of the works being evenly lit, the lighting constantly changes from cyan, magenta and yellow to black, so your perception of the works is constantly manipulated. The light in the room refers to the colour system associated with printing: CMYK. Also within that the works go from visible to hardly visible at all. It sets up a perceptual game.

On paper the works sound very disparate, coming from different times, movements and locations. How did you find a way of logically connecting them?

There’s a dialogue between the works themselves and the characters featured. For example, there’s this huge portrait of Picasso by Rudolf Stingel, which is in conversation with Andy Warhol’s portrait of Jackie Kennedy within the display. The characters kind of create this alternative dialogue, which isn’t at all curatorial in the formal sense. Like I said, it’s a performance space so perceptions are constantly changing and that’s concentrated by the ever-shifting lighting and by this great soundtrack by Russian artist, Olga Chernysheva. It’s very theatrical and filmic.

So the works are all connected?

Yes, in a way. In this environment they all speak of the theme, which is universal and eternal. The oldest image is the Monet, the daddy of impressionism, which seemed to be the very beginnings of fracturing images and binding them in new a new language – the language of perception. Then there’s the Gerhard Richter piece, which is much more recent, but again there’s this ongoing interplay or conversation about the image, about gender and about photography. All the displayed art asks similar questions. How do works or images exist in our perception and memory? How do our minds alter reality? How do our eyes alter reality? Those questions, and the relationship to photography, is so strong that it almost overpowers the actual work.

We’re very familiar with many of the images on display because they’ve been reproduced in the media, or they’ve entered into popular culture. The Richter piece, Kerze, was used as an album cover for Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth. How does that affect the way we view those particular artworks? There’s a struggle for an authentic moment, an original moment with viewing artworks, but really we do not know what that is.

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Fiona Banner. Photograph by Mischa Haller

What are some of your favourite pieces from the display?

Well, I’ve never really understood Christopher Williams’ work. I’ve always been drawn to it for that reason, so it’s good to spend time with it in person and not through a computer screen. The big portrait of Picasso is just so interesting because it’s such a large image of a famously small man. It’s also surrounded by the myth of the artist and the history of the photographic portrait.

It’s hard to choose my favourite because, as the space is constantly changing, the images are never in a clear light. Nowadays, photographs are like words or air – there’s no materiality or stability and I think that is reflected in how I’ve dealt with the environment. It’s like the whole exhibition is a moving picture.

Stamp Out Photographie runs at Whitechapel Gallery until March 2015

This article was originally written for and published in Port Magazine: http://bit.ly/1Co4Fk5

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Dressing the Part: Juliet & Romeo at Sadler’s Wells

As the theatre’s Nordic Dance season gets underway later this week at Sadlers’ Wells, Millie Walton talks to costume designer Magdalena Aberg about dressing and designing the set of Shakespeare’s most iconic love-story

As part of the Sadler’s Wells Nordic Dance season this autumn, the Royal Swedish Ballet brings their interpretation of Romeo and Juliet to London following a successful tour across Germany. This new adaptation of Shakespeare’s timeless love story has been given a modern twist by set and costume designer, Magdalena Aberg, whom I skype with from her studio in Stockholm late one evening. “I’ve personally never seen Romeo and Juliet as a ballet before” she tells me, “and Mats Ek, the choreographer, has a very special landscape in dance which makes it very unique. It’s an unusual ballet.”

This is Magdalena’s first time working with Ek and an experience that she describes as “very inspiring”. Together they have updated the tale and brought it into the modern world: “You have to make a decision about what you want the universe to look like. The world you see in this production is quite dark and urban. There’s a beauty in the theatre itself which is often disguised, or goes unnoticed because of there being too much set. It’s about making the audience recognise beauty but also giving the dancers space in which to work – as they move, they pull and push the walls so the room is constantly changing.”

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Though the set design was fairly straight forward, comprised only of bare, black walls, Magdalena found that the costumes were an altogether more demanding challenge. Without much previous experience working with the dance industry, she explains, “I’m used to theatre and opera, where the actors don’t have to move so much, and therefore you don’t need to wash the costumes. But in dance, the costumes need to stretch and because of that the choice of materials you can use is quite limited. It also has to be really, really strong.”

Magdalena used the Renaissance period as her starting point in the design process, stripping back the ornateness of the period to bring it closer to contemporary culture. However, elements of Renaissance dress are still visible through her use of “silhouettes”, i.e the capes the dancers wear in the party scene, as well as “metal-colouring of the clothing” worn in the war scenes, which evokes traditional armour.  Fabrics, like the stretchable velvet for the chain-mail armour, were then dyed in specific colours to match her characterisation.

“Researching the characters in depth is a very important part of my job” Magdalena stresses. “It’s also important I see who who’s going to play the part – that’s half the costume, which maybe differs from general fashion. In theatre you need to know the body you’re designing for.”

Describing Juliet’s costume, she says: “Juliet wears a short yellow dress. At first, I was quite unsure about that particular shade of yellow, but I think that it’s very vivid and unusual on stage. She’s a rebel, you know – love makes her a rebel  – and she goes against everything, she offers everything for Romeo. It would have been easier to put dress her in white, like a virgin, but I wanted to get away from that. Yellow is so vivid and so young.”

Romeo in comparison “wears a very simple long knitted, light grey sweatshirt. With both Juliet and Romeo, you need to dress them in a very pure way because they are so young; the audience needs to see them as pure. [Clothing is a strong visual prompt for the audience, and] for that reason, they are very simple, using only one colour.” Smiling, she adds, “Light grey is also very beautiful with yellow, and the combination gives a natural sense of togetherness.”

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How important, or commonplace is it for the dancers to rehearse in their costumes? “Well, they rehearsed with their capes throughout. They are very long and wide, and we made them first in another material, but chose a better one after watching rehearsals because they weren’t following the body in the way I wanted.”

Similarly, the coloured threads used in the warp and weft of Magdalena’s woven fabrics are deliberately different, so they catch and work with the lighting of the set. “Different colours are obviously more visible under different lights”, she explains, “ I gave the lighting designer all of the fabrics so he knew what we were using, but you can never fully predict how it will look. It’s a puzzle working out how all the colours interact with each other and the lights!”

How gratifying the opening night must be then, that moment when the beautiful and complicated world Magdalena has envisioned comes to life.

Images of Romeo and Juliet, performed by the Royal Swedish Ballet. Courtesy Gert Weigelt

Juliet and Romeo runs at Sadler’s Wells from 24 – 27 September with a free post-show talk with Mats Ek on Thursday 25 September. The Nordic Dance series runs until 14 November. Click for tickets and further information

This piece was originally written for and published by PORT Magazine: http://bit.ly/1DsH54A

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Theatre Review: The Play That Goes Wrong, Duchess Theatre

I’m always slightly dubious of comedies. I think this is probably because they’re actually harder to master than tragedies. I mean it’s pretty obvious if the audience sit stony faced in silence that your joke has fallen flat.

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Mischief Theatre Company have chosen to tackle an even more difficult genre than straight up comedy: “deliberately dreadful drama” (FT). The art of this is to convince the audience that the collapsing walls, unconscious actresses and badly placed props are all the result of disastrous misfortune when in fact, of course they are the result of endless rehearsals and clever set design. This is meta-theatre at its most complex and effective.  And all in all, they got it pretty spot on. Posing as the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society performing a murder mystery play entitled ‘The Murder at Haversham Manor’, the cast’s battle to stay true to the plot despite the onslaught of mishaps and casualties was very amusing. My laughter was somewhat contained compared to my surrounding spectators whose sides were dangerously close to literally splitting at the sides, but nevertheless it made me smile, chortle and occasionally snort. At times it verges on the absurd and predictable, but it’s pleasantly enjoyable and stress-free to know what’s coming next – the definition of easy watching.

Nigel Hook’s set design is fantastically unreliable, falling apart at the seams just at the right moment (how coincidental!) and the cast’s performances are all very strong or rather, appropriately weak in the case of the only actress who is knocked out and replaced by a “stage hand” reading the script out of a book. Dave Hearn stands out as the smiling idiot who gets carried away by the applause as does Henry Shields (one of the plays co-writers alongside Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer) as the apologetic, deadpan director come inspector.

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Image source

The joke does tire but thankfully by that time there’s an interval – a chance to step back into solemn, comfortable reality – and when the bell rings you’re ready to enter back into the hilarity of it all.

It’s well worth seeing and Friday’s probably the best night for it after a few post work drinks to loosen up the facial muscles.

For more reviews head to www.officialtheatre.com

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Live Review: ‘Wet House’, Live Theatre, Newcastle

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Paddy Campbell’s first full-length play, ‘Wet House’ is quite possibly one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen this year. Based on the playwright’s own experiences as a previous employee in a wet house, the play reveals with, frightening reality, what goes on inside a residential facility for chronic alcoholics. When the young and inexperienced Andy (Riley Jones) starts work at in the house, his intention is to improve the lives of the residents, or inmates as it is perhaps more appropriate to label them, by providing them with support and care. As he soon finds out, a wet house is not to be confused with a  care-home. The main difference being, the residents aren’t in there to be cured of their alcoholism, they’re there because they can drink in peace. Slowly the depressive, bleak environment infects Andy and he finds himself turning to drink along with his colleague, Mike (Chris Connel) just to get through a shift. He also learns that to leave his traditional morality and views of respectability at the door; here people steal, attack and fall asleep in their own piss. The sheer authenticity of the piece from the script itself to the set to the phenomenal acting, makes it, at times, uncomfortable to watch. However, whilst the action is often disturbing and the subject matter challenging, the production manages to find humour buried in the bleakness. As Campbell tells of his own experiences, ‘Day to day life in the wet house was horrific and hysterical in equal measures’ and this is something that is well reflected in the play. Dinger (Joe Caffrey) is the main source of laughs with his raucous, inappropriate behaviour and general uncleanliness, yet Caffrey finds a profound sadness in him. Whilst we laugh at his uncontrollable shaking and obsession with the woman who works at ‘Beads World’, we also acknowledge the bleakness of his situation as he no longer possess control over his body and will probably never find love. It is Spencer (David Nellist), however, with whom the audience most sympathises. Though a convicted paedophile, his vulnerability and child-like humility is almost unbearable to watch and it is impossible not to share in the pain that radiates from his very presence.

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Though the play is nearing the end of it’s run in Newcastle, keep your eyes and ears open for it’s almost certain to have a life after this one.

Book tickets until Saturday: http://www.live.org.uk/whats-on-book/wet-house

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Live Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Apollo Theatre

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Simon Stephen’s adaptation of Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel about a 15-year-old boy with “Behavioural Problems” (Haddon resented the words ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ appearing on the book’s front cover when it was first released) is quite simply ingenious. Sidestepping any urges to “narrate” the book word for word, Stephens’ dramatic conceit convinces us that what we are watching is a school play based on Christopher’s own book. Whilst Bunny Christie’s clever stage-design continually discredits it’s own ostensible simplicity with toy trains puffing round the stage, an escalator appearing up a wall and a host of other nifty tricks.

Never once does the play fall flat on its face in front of the book. Rather it acts as a beautiful tribute, acknowledging the poignancy of Haddon’s tale whilst also accentuating the humour and making, the protagonist’s, Christopher Boone’s “Behavioural Problems” strikingly relatable: his need for control, his fear of the unknown, his bafflement at life. Who hasn’t felt the way Christopher does, standing in the middle of Victoria train station: overwhelmed by the noises, people and billboards? Sometimes you just want to curl up and cry (or in Christopher’s case moan). But we don’t we carry on. And so does Christopher.

5. Mike Noble (Christopher Boone) and Trevor Fox (Ed)_credit Brinkhoff_Mogenburg

It is Mike Noble’s astonishing performance as Christopher that carries the show. He’s uncomfortable to watch in the moments of distress, but also shows his character’s extreme courage and intelligence; at the age of 15 Christopher sits an A-Level mathematics exam on no sleep and barely any food and achieves a top grade. His perspectives on the world are alarmingly insightful, if a little bizarre, and his inability to lie both hilarious and touching.

The supporting cast also give impressive performances, especially Christopher’s parents who poignantly convey the hardships of having a child who can’t bear to be touched. However, it is Noble, or rather Christopher who leaves the theatre with you.

VERDICT: Whilst a film is never as good as the book, ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ proves that theatre can be. Plus there’s a real puppy and a rat (on stage – I’m not implying the Apollo is rodent riddled).

Watch the trailer here:

Book your tickets here: http://www.apollotheatrelondon.co.uk/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time/

And here’s a nice little interview with Mike Noble from http://www.officialtheatre.com:

All images were kindly provided by the editor of www.officialtheatre.com

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Live Review: August Wilson’s ‘Fences’ (Duchess Theatre, London)

Lenny Henry has come a long way since the 1980s; with his days of slapstick comedy far behind him, he’s fast becoming a reputable name in serious theatre.

ImageLenny Henry the comedian in the 1980s

Following his critically acclaimed performance as Othello back in 2009, Henry has recently taken on the role of the bitter and wounded patriarch, Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s award-winning drama, ‘Fences’. Set in a period of barbed peace, between the Korean and Vietnam wars, ‘Fences’ is a story of domestic struggle and the fragmentation of man.

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Although the play gets off to a fairly slow start as the family’s background is unravelled through a series of drunken, slurred exchanges between Troy (Henry) and fellow garbage collector, Jim Bono, the dialogue is strong and the entrance of new characters, namely Troy’s teenage son, Cory (Ashley Zhangazha),  soon accelerates the pace.

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Henry’s performance is outstanding as the play sees Troy grow from a failed athlete to a despotic father who’s determined to crush his son’s dreams in the world of sport. Henry manages to make Troy truly repellant whilst also bringing warmth to the character, which forces the audience to perceive him with, if not compassion, at least pity. Tanya Moodie makes a similarly excellent and fiercely poignant performance as Rose (Troy’s wife).

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Whilst all members of the cast have a secure tonal grasp of the Pittsburgh “Hill District” accent circa 1957, key parts of the dialogue are sometimes lost and replaced by generally effective, but occasionally stereotypical gestures. That said, the immense physical performances by all members of the cast deserves praise and makes for a very entertaining piece of theatre.

VERDICT: Dealing with issues of betrayal, resentment and racial discrimination, August Wilson’s play retains a universal power that is enhanced by the intimate setting of the Duchess Theatre and a uniformly excellent cast.

‘Fences’ runs until 14th September at the Duchess Theatre, London. You can buy tickets via the theatre’s box office or London Theatre Direct: http://www.londontheatredirect.com/play/1210/Fences-tickets.aspx

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