"Punchdrunk meets Pepita! Chloe Doherty was an extraordinary Queen of the Eastern Lakes" - Graham Watts, Chairman of Critics' Circle Dance Section in UK (2018)
"This really is immersive theatre at its best" - The Mumble on Swell Mob (2018)
"The triumph of The Swell Mob is it’s entire cast... with the added benefits of impressive puppetry and artful physical theatre" - Ali Schultz on Swell Mob (2018)
‘Fascinating, funny and sad’ - 555/666 Horror Hot House on Frances Farmer: Zombie Movie Star (2018)
’A heartfelt, funny, campy horror show about a very real woman’ - On in London on Frances Farmer: Zombie Movie Star (2018)
’Sometimes comical, sometimes sincere and sometimes violent… The most enjoyable moments came from audience participation’ - London Pub Theatre’s on Frances Farmer: Zombie Movie Star (2018)
"It’s that intense look in the eyes of the living, human performer that will linger with you" - Tristram Fane Saunders on Somnai (2018)
"Beautifully written, performed and directed" - Show me Shows on Bridle (2017)
"Funny, explicit and challenging" - London Pub Theatres on Bridle (2017)
"Keeps audiences of its toes from start to finish... Revels in provocative statements" - Breaking the Fourth Wall on Bridle (2017)
"A full on assault of visceral, raw, intense emotion. Not for the faint hearted" - LondonTheatre 1 on Bridle (2017)
"Balls-out craziness... The piece was performed with such wilful disregard for health and safety that the person next to me evacuated their seat in terror - a ringing endorsement" - London City Nights on Lulu (2016)
"We Play Project come at this with a sense of humour and willingness to get a bit self-deprecating" - London City Nights on Crystal Me (2015)
"A smart, sharp, deeply intelligent and brilliantly designed and executed show, ‘A Modernist Event’ is a brutal, bitter, and brilliant satire on the representation of feminine sexuality, and a violent, ecstatic shock for its audience" - Edinburgh Spotlight (2014)
"Director Chloé Doherty deserves credit for the scope of imagination in her physical direction; all five performances are ceaselessly corporeal, and visually engaging" - EdFringe Review (2014)
"Chloé is an excellent director who uses her actors potential to its fullest, pushing them to achieve better and better performances. Her heavily physical and experimental style is refreshing to work with and if you are willing to give yourself fully to her performances, you will create fantastic art together." - Samuel Mant, Concierge Theatre (The Hotel, 2014)
"The performances of all actors were fiercely committed and remarkable. Extreme physicality, with animalistic, sexual, erratic, comical and sinister variations, as well as fearless and invasive interaction with the audience pervaded their roles" - BroadwayBaby (2013)
Swan Lake: The Great Masked Ball
By Graham Watts
Punchdrunk meets Petipa!
Come to a secret location, the invitation implored; don’t tell anyone, bring a mask and dress in something fancy! It was too tempting to resist.
The Great Masked Ball by The Lost Estate took place somewhere south of the River Thames in a place that one would never have found by accident.
Here was immersive theatre at its very best. Not intrusive but absorbing. Imagine dining at the Queen’s table waited upon by an
ensemble of outlandish characters, dressed and made up accordingly. At the heart of the experience was the story of Swan Lake with Liam Riddick as Siegfried, Zoe Arshamian as the White Swan and Chihiro Kawasaki as the Black Swan. Chloe Doherty was an extraordinary Queen of the Eastern Lakes and Fernando Mariano was the story’s narrator, Maximilian.
Choreographer, Eleesha Drennan, deconstructed and rearranged the traditional
narrative to put the tensions between the black and white swans at the core of her story , packing the central dance act with innovative and purposeful duets replete with passion and inventive partnered choreography. It was both a surprise and a real treat to see Swan Lake imagined in a different and fresh interpretation.
Live music came from The Arensky Chamber Orchestra with additional music composed by Stefan Rees with sound designer, Fraya Thomsen. Imaginative and vivid set designs were created by Darling and Edge and the fantastic costumes were the work of Philly Noone. The whole arresting enterprise was directed by James Hurley.
I can only imagine the complex logistics of running an interactive performance around 350 people at a banquet being served a 3-course meal and drinks in amongst the action. Oh, and by the way the food was excellent - I didn’t catch the name but the imaginative menu was designed by someone connected to Masterchef.
I wish I could advise you to see it but I’m afraid it has gone - vanished into the ether along with Von Rothbart! But, watch out for more by The Lost Estate because if this was anything to go by future productions (Opera and Ballet) will be more than worthwhile.
The Swell Mob
By Ali Schultz
The year is sometime in the 1800s, it seems, or else 2018. The venue, a seedy taproom, or the basement of an Assembly George Square building, again, depending on how you look at it. And the experience, something like you’ve never seen before. Even among the varied repertoire of Flabbergast Theatre, The Swell Mob’s company, this show is a daringly unique experience, and one that surpasses any expectation you could have as you shuffle into that dim, mysterious room.
A perfectly bizarre, uncomfortable, unmissable show.
The Swell Mob is an immersive theatre show where your experience relies completely on your interactions with the actors, so no attendee will have the same one. Instead, it’s your choice whether you engage or lurk on the sidelines, just taking in the atmosphere. Even if you choose minimal interaction, the atmosphere is fairly spectacular. A total sensory experience, The Swell Mob transforms their space believably into the perfect 19th century aesthetic. And if you are feeling awkward, which is natural in the beginning, every one of the actors is deft at drawing you into the story. The best experience of The Swell Mob can be achieved by buying in completely, however, and asking as many questions of the actors as possible. The show is something of a mystery, often leaving one with more questions than answers. But the underlying mood of deliciously compelling unease is made all the better by talking as much as you can to the cast.
What’s going on at The Swell Mob taproom is never completely clear. You’re given “money” at the entrance which you are encourage to gamble with, even as a evangelical waif shouts at you and her peers that gambling isn’t right. You’re entranced into conversations by eager ne’re-do-wells, but they won’t give you a straight answer about who that creepy puppet is and why they’re so afraid of him. The triumph of The Swell Mob is it’s entire cast, with every character complex and rich in backstory, and even though they may never tell you what’s going on, they are masterful at making you frustratingly curious. And with the added benefits of impressive puppetry and artful physical theatre, The Swell Mob is a perfectly bizarre, uncomfortable, unmissable show.
The Swell Mob
By Ian Pepper
Underground I went as if entering Hades itself, down the steps and into the ground and through a grimy, dusty alley past contorted figures and raggedy dressed waifs and into a bustling, raucous gin den. At first I thought I was in some kind of bizarre Victorian theme-park, a kind of Westworld for the pox ravaged dandy in us all but it gradually became apparent that this was a far stranger and more sinister place than my first estimations. The background noise of music and chatter added to the queasy sense of unease making me feel as if I was already drunk. The lighting was low and helped create a dream-like ambience.
At first I stood around uncertain of what to do. Should I wait for something to happen? It soon became clear that although the characters will approach and engage with you if you stand around uncertainly the more you involved yourself in the action the more you would get out of it. It didn’t take me long to make some new friends. I chatted with the evangelical Evelyn who read to me from her Bible and flirtatiously anointed me with water from her tankard, and with Rose, the kindly ex-ballet dancer. I watched a performance from the vampish singer Madam Vestres and played a game of cards whose rules seemed far too complex to ever win. I joined in the dance to an old music hall number, encouraged by a fey young dandy. Though some of these characters initially appeared friendly there was usually a catch involving the play money we had been given at the door or sometimes a ‘favour’. Some of the characters such as the emotionally unstable musician Wolfgang or the impish Louisa seemed a little unhinged and there was a haunted feel to many of them which occasionally crept to the surface especially when The Master appeared. A grotesque little one eyed puppet he hovered around in the background keeping everyone – myself included ( I was chastised for being ‘insubordinate’ ) – in check and making sure they pay their debts. Speaking of debts I lost all my money in a rigged bare-knuckle boxing match between Amadeus and medicine man Dr Cornelious. I almost got myself into debt with sinister debt-dealer Peggy but was saved from a similar fate to the other poor beleaguered souls by the advise of artist, Alexander who drew me a lovely portrait – extra for the eyes – hurriedly as they called final orders.
When I was returned back to the real world I was left with a sense of bewilderment the same as a mortal who’d spent an evening with the fairies might feel. For the show had been truly magical. A dark, sinister magic but one that was certainly spellbinding. Both the sets and costumes gave the place an atmosphere that hinted at a Victorian past without being so specific to time or place. We were in some strange sunken world beyond the ravages of time it seemed– a kind of purgatory in which these damned souls were forever doomed to repeat the same acts. The attention to detail was fantastic from the pewter tankards used at the bar to the printed play money. Nothing was allowed to break the spell least of all the actors who never for a second broke character. In fact one of the wonderful things about the show was that it was almost entirely improvised with the performers responding directly to the audience, talking to them, engaging them in conversation. No two performances would be alike. It meant that we ceased to feel in any way like we were witnessing a mere theatrical performance. In fact it would be fair to say that this show expects much from its audience. It’s not for the shy or the faint-hearted and it certainly isn’t something you can sit back and simply watch – you really do have to join in. The fact that the actors are clearly giving it their all with such conviction compels you to do the same and suspend your disbelief at it all. If you fancy spending an evening in a strange and seedy Victorian dream-world full of beautifully bizarre characters then come and join the Swell Mob for this really is immersive theatre at its best.
By Joanna Hinson
We entered to see a bare stage, a single microphone, a woman in a horse mask reading a porn magazine.
I’d seen the blurb and thought I was in for an hour or so of thought provoking drama regarding women’s sexuality in contemporary Britain. Instead I was treated to a mix of stand up comedy and monologue which slowly unravelled into a very 21st century tale from the Clamour Theatre Company, with all the drama hitting home via what we learned about our complex and flawed sole character.
The play begins as ‘Evie’ is detained by people unknown for an act she wasn’t aware of was a crime; the charges remaining ambiguous. Her reminiscences and explanations, her disclosures about her private life, loves and relationships, are slowly laid bare and the audience begins to build a picture of her. Modern grey areas such as sexting and stalking are explored and encroaching political censorship as well as social parameters are acknowledged.
Evie is likeable, honest and funny in declaring her past, she reigns nothing in, making you wonder if she’s a victim or a manipulator. While veering between laughing at her and with her, the play poses some familiar issues regarding ‘attention seeking behaviour’, attitudes to women who are open about life/love/sex, the female virgin/whore dichotomy, and feminine vs. feminist stereotypes. Through Evie’s revelations the audience questions where social ideas of ‘normal’ stem from – it lays bare the judgements we are all constantly either making, or are open to, without declaring what the verdict ought to be.
Stephanie Martin was very good as Evie, relaxed in the role and able to adapt the script around a small amount of audience participation/interaction. She held everyone’s attention and kept the narrative flowing.
If the applause at the end is a gauge, no one was disappointed with the performance. There is no resolution, vindication or damnation of who Evie is, she is in many ways all of us rolled into one – and as a woman watching the show I realise much of what it highlights is, or has been, real life to far too many friends, relatives and colleagues. That said, with both feet firmly on the entertainment stage the loudest laughs came from the males in the audience, even if one or two looked a little uncomfortable at first, so don’t dismiss this play as solely for a female audience.
In fact go see for yourself what an UN-Bridled woman has to say.
By Dionne Farrell
Arrested and imprisoned in an unknown place for an unknown crime, Bridle’s heroine, Evie, is dressed in a black jumpsuit – a far cry from the lingerie and a horse’s head she dons in an opening dance sequence - with Christina Aguilera’s ‘Dirty’ blasted at irregular intervals to her growing consternation. As the play develops, we glean from an anonymous voice that she is being punished – for being ‘dirty’, and failing to conform to traditional notions toward female sexuality.
This woman, who confesses that she is ‘a bit much’, proceeds to open up about her past loves and relationships, debunking those very ideas, and moving the audience to consider their own attitudes toward pornography, the female body, and shame. Through simply staged one-woman show – with only a microphone, a horse’s head, and some magazines – Stephanie Martin moves us humorously through one woman’s journey in a relationship that doesn’t always succeed in satisfying her needs, and her thoughts about the constraints that are figuratively put upon women in relation to sex, and physically put upon her during her prison sentence. Though the writing doesn’t always move fluidly between each scene or theme, Martin has a command of the material and audience that makes the infrequent lack in fluidity forgivable, and plays into the character’s awkwardness.
A funny, explicit and challenging addition to a growing canon on female sexuality, Bridle is necessary viewing that I hope goes on to have a long life on the stage!
A Modernist Event
By Mark Bolsover
A brutal, unnerving, and yet incredibly smart, wry and exhilarating borderline assault, in ‘A Modernist Event’ The Lincoln Company present a deeply intelligent and awe-inspiringly brave and committed piece of absurdist physical theatre.
Drawing on Artaud’s conception of the ‘theatre of cruelty’ (—the piece, in part, represents a new rendition of Lincoln Company’s avant garde piece, ‘Artaud: A Trilogy’), as well as on Modernist drama and poetry, at its heart ‘A Modernist Event’ represents a harsh, guttural and bitter satire on the representation of women and, more particularly on the social mores, dogmas, and stigmas surrounding feminine sexuality. Utilising a bare set, with a few pieces kitsch sixties furniture and props, the show is woven together from a number of fits, focused around this central concern.
The first of these, based on the company’s production, ‘Gas Heart’, forms a kind of parody of nineteen sixties fashion. The audience is introduced to a soundtrack of, initially, predominantly Beatles tracks, which segues into generic sixties instrumentals, uniformly well-chosen and suitable, inobtrusive accompaniments to the brief sequences of this part of the show.
The cast, immediately visible, are ranged around the space in authentic nineteen sixties period costume, in the form of psychedelic glamour model bathing suits. From the outset there is a strong element of textual self-consciousness and self-reference. The sequence takes the form of physical and dance performance and is accompanied by very slickly produced and well-executed and integrated multimedia projections which play well on silent film and Surrealist cinema traditions (with style and visual cues alluding to, amongst others, Dali’s Un Chien Andalou) and sixties film, initially featuring the cast though transitioning through the ironic appropriation of stock and—cleverly dubbed—documentary footage.
The cleverly written and performed, absurd, disjointed and fragmented dialogue plays on Modernist poetry (particularly the likes of T.S. Eliot), but also on Dada, relying for its tremendous and well-played comedic value, on repetition and the gradual decay of sense and meaning.
The show does well here to cleverly play the Modernist tone and style and sixties fashion and representations of women off against each other, the company’s smart and hilarious performances in the guise of sixties fashion models highlighting the pretensions of the former and the absurdity and crudity of the latter.
The show then transitions through a very classily produced short film featuring the cast in, which plays brilliantly on surrealist cinema and certain tropes from pornography. During the film, on stage, the cast disrobe from their sixties glamour swimming costumes, alternatively stripping down to their underwear or to knowingly crude sexual role play outfits. The audience is invited to participate in this, though it is left open to what degree this participation stretches.
From here the show descends into the sequence from which it derives its true and raw power. The sequence incorporates elements of the surrealist-mock-pornographic short in an increasingly disturbing and disturbed, feverish, almost nightmarish bacchanalia.
The cast begin to leave the stage, and to cavort amongst, and over, the members of the audience, stopping to harangue and molest them. Male members of the audience are dragged out onto the stage, and are made, mutely and involuntarily, to participate in—or, rather, are subjected to—an hysterical (in a sense veering continually between extreme humour and emotional and physical disturbance) mock-sexual assault, somehow managing to cleverly incorporate repetitive, ritualistic physical and dance performances.
Presided over by the figure of a nun almost inarticulately barking derogatory moral condemnation of female sexuality, and incorporating pornography, role play and sexual fantasy, the cast’s performances can, nonetheless, by no means be described themselves in any way as titillating or sexual. The show goes far too far, but this above all is its strength. The intelligence of the piece and of its cast is always brazenly on show here.
The show’s descent into orgiastic frenzy, and the admirably commited and really very brave performances of its cast are, at all times, clearly incredibly and intelligently controlled. Apparently highly sexualised, there is, nonetheless, nothing sexual about the performances. And this is this is, ultimately, the point. The portrayal of heavily sexualized young women, deliberately and anachronistically adopting the roles ascribed to women in pornography and sexual fantasy, while the figure of the nun loudly remonstrates against sexual license and pleads for virginity and chastity, coupled with the brute and almost animalistic performances, reveals the cruelty and violence inherent in or to these forms. And this is where grounding the show in Artaud’s concept of the ‘theatre of cruelty’ is shown to be a stroke of genius.—The discomfort, objectification, and humiliation at stake in these forms is transferred here onto the members of the audience, and in particular onto the male members of the audience brought onto the stage.
Being subjected to the continued disturbing and yet smart, controlled and hilarious assault, with its attendant discomfort, shame and humiliation, is genuinely absorbing. There is an authentic, thoroughgoing and (apparently) shared experience of ecstatic transport here—an exhilaration and a being pushed or forced over some kind of barrier or limit, with an accompanying disturbance and dilation of time, that takes some to dissipate once the show itself is over.
A smart, sharp, deeply intelligent and brilliantly designed and executed show, ‘A Modernist Event’ is a brutal, bitter, and brilliant satire on the representation of feminine sexuality, and a violent, ecstatic shock for its audience.—Very strongly recommended.
A Modernist Event
The Lincoln Theatre Company presents an avant-garde evening, jam-packed with the surreal. The theatre-goer who seeks tranquillity and meaning will definitely not find it here. Rules are thrown out the window, because in this absurd world anything is possible. This play is not for the faint-hearted, so expect to be shocked.
The actors are present onstage as the audience head to their seats. There are five females resembling frozen mannequins in psychedelic 60's swimwear. Or six, if you include the creepy skeleton in a wig. They all have big hair and equally big grins. As the swinging 60's music plays something suggests that this is the calm before the storm.
As the hour unfolds things soon disintegrate into chaos. The company’s clever use of lighting is in tune with the surrealist feel. Film projections are shown from strung-up sheets adding another weird and wonderful layer to the performance. The play mirrors the disjointed nature of the 20th century modernist art movement and the action varies from a strange dreamlike calm to a wild frenzy. Terrifying moments include when the actors choose audience members to join them onstage and when they urge everybody to take off their shoes and their socks.
During this performance there is a multiplicity of different acting techniques. The effect is deliberately disorientating. The strange voices and peculiar slow movements juxtapose the madness and hysteria. Movement is intrinsic to this production. The actors organically work as one in numerous ways - from creating giant flesh-like shapes with their bodies to individually walking in sync in a floating manner. Throughout the performance there is a good group dynamic.
The Lincoln Theatre Company successfully challenges traditional theatre conventions through a combination of comedy and elements of surprise. References are made throughout to popular avant-garde artists Tristan Tzara and Antonin Artaud. Do they succeed in creating a modern age theatre of cruelty? At times there is almost too much happening. The production is also quite long so after a while the shock factor wears off and the bizarre becomes the norm. But ultimately it is up to the audience to decide.
A Modernist Event
"This is the fringe experience I have been looking for for 3 weeks And yet not a single review from an audience member?? You know...the ones that really tell you what you need to know. Why? Oh yes, these reviews are from people who have actually bought a ticket. Hi there! (The company have not made the mistake of blocking audience reviews as so many companies have this year although this is only the 3rd write-up in 3 weeks I have felt compelled to write). AME (that's what I'm calling it) is one of those finds that are a little further out - allow 20 minutes to get up Nicolson Street until it changes its name and keep going. This distance thins out the audience but this is no fault of the professionalism of the cast and quality of production. Which is. First. Rate. There is a nudity warning. I have to say I didn't expect the nudity would be mine following being disrobed on stage and I apologise to the rest of my audient colleagues. We were strongly warned against photography, so hopefully nobody captured an image of the J-machine's 6 pack. In the dark lights it was hard to make out all 6, I will grant you, or in fact any more than one, but let's press on. The show was full on engagement from the first frame to the last. I knew little of the genre, but 'absurdist' describes it perfectly. I felt safe and unsafe in intended measure in the hands of the performers. I know 'stars of tomorrow' is a cliche and it is my fault I had never registered the Lincoln Company (I'm only a lowly fringegoer). I will be looking out for them from here on in. I am not much on stars - generally 3 plus is fine but I would find it hard to give less than 5* for the full on way the extraordinary cast drove every beat...From dolls to devils, porcelain to persecutors, a hugely appealing sound design and imagery melded to standards that exceed most professional productions in a edgy fourth wall-breaking experiment in colour, theatre and nightmare. I think Modernism may be a Vintage idea reflected in the Retro costuming. And it is a good vintage. If this 'A Modernist Event' was a brand new experiment, I think today they'd call it an "A Star" Modernist Event. Does an absurd production have a moral? It does for me. Don't date an actress involved in one. They'd just have too many tools in their bag."
Artaud: a Trilogy
by Isla VT
Going to see a production of Antonin Artaud’s work can be a daunting prospect because you know by default that it will a disturbing experience: either disturbing because it hasn’t been done well, or disturbing because it has. Using excerpts from Artaud’s screenplay The Seashell and The Clergyman, as well as material from his plays Spurt of Blood and The Cenci, The Lincoln Company have created a bold, potent spectacle and experience. Artaud’s theory of the Theatre of Cruelty is hurled into the 21st century in an impressive and impactful way, whilst remaining true to the essence of Artaud’s idea: that the cruelty of the theatre is the violence of showing the audience what they do not wish to see, exemplified in this production as the depths of human depravity.
The audience were asked for the benefit of ‘the experience’ to remove our shoes and socks, any anxiety from the audience was justified by what this part of the experience entailed (although I won’t ruin it for you). The space was essentially a black-box theatre, with a sheet tinged with a blood-like colour at the corners, onto which was projected the black and white film of The Seashell and the Clergyman which began the production. This film consisted of a series of abstract scenes and impressions, accompanied by ambient, but bizarre music, which was humorous at points and unnerving at others: the perfect opening to the edited and combined plays we were about to witness.
The performances of all five actors were fiercely committed and remarkable. Extreme physicality, with animalistic, sexual, erratic, comical and sinister variations, as well as fearless and invasive interaction with the audience pervaded their roles. Audience interaction and inclusion in the piece was a huge focus of this production, no matter where you sat you were not safe from being touched, screamed at, lead up on stage, sat on or kissed. My only serious critique of the performances is that, in their complete commitment to the performance, they sometimes seemed to confuse intensity of character with intensity of volume in line delivery, which occasionally masked Artaud’s fascinating language and was a bit much. The set, although minimal and intimate, was fitting for the piece, as there was always so much to look at onstage. An interesting moment of quiet beauty was the scene with the Perspex screen which created the effect of a translucent mirror between two lovers for a breath of calm in the madness of the piece.
If I were to summarise the essential feeling you get as an audience member watching this piece it would be something akin to witnessing a violent orgy at an insane asylum. Bold, maniacal and disorientating, The Lincoln Company succeeds in performing the ‘unperformable’ in a daring and memorable way.