Life's a Game

Mon 8th – Sat 13th August 2011

reviews

Bethany Knibb

at 09:55 on 11th Aug 2011

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“This is your LIFE… enjoy it”, says the programme. And I’d say a good way to start is by going along to Canvas Theatre’s production of “Life’s a Game”.

Admittedly it wasn’t quite what I had expected – perhaps naively, I’d taken the title literally and had thought I was going to be watching a real-time game unfold in front of my eyes, but what I saw was something much more creative.

This group of recent Performing Arts graduates has created a piece of physical theatre that has been planned and choreographed to within an inch of its life. A very sensory and emotionally-charged production, “Life’s a Game” is largely a showcase of the Players’ ability to act through dance, which they do extremely well. The Game is introduced by a Show Host-style voice that transports the players chronologically through time at each roll of the dice, allowing them to live through some major historical events, which begin in the lead-up to the Great War.

I particularly enjoyed the mixed media aspect of this production and it’s definitely what sets this show apart from any other physical theatre in the Fringe. As a dancer myself I can appreciate good choreography alone, but an hour of it tends to be exhausting to watch. Instead, Canvas Theatre employ the use of original movie footage, new film edits, both instrumental and popular music, and iconic images during and alongside the live performance. With all this on the agenda, I was astonished when the cast started singing too – and singing well. One or two of the girls (all thin and pretty, without exception) sing particularly well, and the overall effect is very impressive. Possibly my only criticism would be that I felt very little was gained from the second song – it did not seem quite as relevant or as inspired as the first. A small reservation, but I found little else to quarrel with!

Touching on some pretty controversial topics (there’s a masked Hitler dance to “He’s got the whole world in his hands”) it’s amazing that the production still holds onto its energy and integrity. It would have been quite easy, covering this type of material (and especially amidst the all the current rioting in the UK), for the play to have left the audience feeling despondent, but “Life’s a Game” magically stimulates discussion over historical events without triggering fear and anger.

The actors never break character and, excepting a couple of slightly questionable accents, play their roles very convincingly in this clever and elaborate piece of physical theatre. On the programme it says “Live your dream and wear your passion”, and these actors seem certainly to be doing that.

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Ryan Sarsfield

at 09:59 on 11th Aug 2011

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Life is a game; its course depends on the roll of a dice. This rather worn conceptual metaphor forms the basis of Canvas Theatre’s ‘Life is a Game’. The programme also threatens at being overly affected with its ‘Instruction Manual’ filled with annoyingly vacuous epigrams (‘open your mind arms and heart to new things’, ‘getting lost will help you find yourself’). Add to this the fact that I’m not a huge fan of dance based theatre and suffice to say, I wasn’t expecting much.

I’ve been converted. With their fusion of singing, dancing, acting and projected film footage to enact various epochal events, from 1914 to the present day, it’s impossible not to be drawn in. Apart from one instance of a dodgily stereotyped German accent and the odd messily cut sound cue the cast are pitch perfect. In all aspects they’re extremely well-rehearsed and they reap the benefits of some fantastically fitting choreography. Their devised pieces are both touching and hilarious – from The Wall Street Crash to the split up of Take That, from the outbreak of World War II to the 1966 World Cup Final, the Canvas Theatre never fail to impress. They’re innovative, fun, nuanced, and they use Frank Turner as backing – it’s hard to find anything to dislike.

Particularly impressive is their depiction of the 2010 Student Riots to a montage of footage from the event. Their performance is aggressive and violent; it’s pumped up with an electric atmosphere. One of the great things about the Canvas Theatre is that they’re not afraid to stick up two fingers in the face of adversity. With intelligence they root out the emotional core of their various subject matters and with their progressive philosophy you cannot help but feel refreshed on leaving the theatre. They may deal with some horrific events, but they take control of the last century to craft a forward looking narrative which cannot help but make me feel a hint of optimism for the future, and the state of student run theatre.

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Comments

Jon Travers; 14th Aug 2011; 20:34:22

It is so good to see such positive reviews of Canvas Theatre. I have watched this group 'grow' over three years, and the 25 hours plus a week they have put in, week after week, (year after year), shows in their professional performances. I am biased, but well done Canvas for these deserved independent critiques, JT

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