(Between Brackets)

Thu 4th – Thu 11th August 2011

reviews

Ellen Marsh

at 10:54 on 12th Aug 2011

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(Between Brackets) describes itself as “a deconstruction of ‘Pygmalion’” which “portray[s] one woman’s struggle to be heard through an already dying language”. Five female actors take on the role of Eliza Price and various narrators in this exploration of ‘Broken Britain’ and the English language. The connection to ‘Pygmalion’ is clear in its use of elocution phrases, which are sprinkled throughout the script.

All five actors are superb, giving everything to their performances, even with the audience less than half full. The energy they give deserves a bigger crowd. Their vocals and physicality were spot on. Each actor has to employ a variety of accents, which they all pull off at precisely the right moments. Their dedication to the play is clearly evident in sequences where timing is essential – for instance in their use of ballet poses while reciting tongue-twisters. Not one of them slips up throughout this sequence, and it’s a pleasure to watch such well rehearsed physical work onstage. A sequence in which all five actors balance books on their heads again demonstrates the focus on the physical performance aspect of this production. It is unfortunate that the technical team cannot maintain the same level of professionalism – a laughing fit at the light and sound desk in the middle of the show managed to distract every audience member, while the actors continued working excellently. The performers’ high standard is maintained throughout, and it is very clear that these are five actors with heaps of talent and confidence.

It is just a shame that they are not backed up by solid material. There are lots of ideas packed into (Between Brackets), but there are too many, and they are never communicated clearly, so the message of the show becomes lost. The production tells rather than shows Eliza’s journey, often making it difficult to engage with this distant reported action. The visual and physical aspects of the play are symbolically related to the text, rather than direct representations, making it even more difficult to get a sense of what exactly the production is trying to communicate. It seems to want to say something terribly important – it just isn’t entirely clear what it is.

With lesser actors, (Between Brackets) would most likely receive two, or perhaps even one, stars, so it is entirely down to the five performers that I have found it deserving of three. Expect more from these actors from Maiden Theatre in the future.

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Rhiannon Kelly

at 11:43 on 12th Aug 2011

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Through a plethora of energised and well-choreographed explorations of modern life, ‘(Between Brackets)’ depicts a common girl, Eliza Price, and her struggle to better herself, inspired by Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’. Each of the five actors effectively narrate and embody the life of Eliza, showing vignettes into her comic and tragic struggles with the “broken Britain” we live in.

The company’s strength lies in creating strong visual images; the dance routines and ensemble work was slick, and despite having a small audience and a less-than-desirable performance space (a conference room in a hotel) - the cast must be commended for keeping the energy high throughout, as not one of the girls ever dipped or lost focus. Despite this, the ensemble work seemed to override the direction of the piece. As the play progressed, it felt a bit like physical-theatre-by-numbers. Exaggerated face expressions? Check. Synchronised movement? Check. Slow motion? Soundscape? Check. Check. As with a lot of devised pieces, they were ticking all the boxes but failing in narrative progression.

Don’t get me wrong, there were real inspired moments in the performance. I particularly enjoyed Eliza’s “pissed off” list, the ‘match.com’ sequence and the playful cockney slang routine. The company’s confident and brash use of dark humour was mostly effective, but sometimes went too far, as a handful of distasteful jokes (“he likes casual rape, and hopes you do too!”) were too casually thrown in for my liking, ruining some of their other deliciously satirical observations.

The piece was entertaining and light-hearted; you could tell that the girls were having fun, which immediately transposes itself onto the audience. Whilst the monologues were well delivered and believable, it was too easy for the girls to slip into caricature and stereotype, and this lack of depth prevented the play from being the evocative “horror story” that was promised. Whilst clearly lamenting the society that we live in by scrutinising social oppression and consumerist culture, it was not clear what exactly the cast wanted to bring out by highlighting these issues. Despite having a few humorous sketches incorporating slang, tongue twisters and diction, it was especially unclear what this had to do with the “cold blooded murder of the English tongue”. The company describes itself as “sugar-coating” problematic concerns by glamorising social themes, and it is this glamorisation that prevented the girls from evoking sympathy or a deeper meaning.

Maiden Theatre Company are a group of clearly talented performers, and what they lacked in direction they made up for in energy and enthusiasm. Perhaps a little less sugar next time would help create more of a thought-provoking performance.

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