To Avoid Precipice Cling to Rock

Sun 7th – Sat 13th August 2011

reviews

Natalya Din-Kariuki

at 02:00 on 14th Aug 2011

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Babolin Theatre company's devised piece "To Avoid Precipice Cling to Rock" skillfully integrates physical theatre and musical numbers in a production which bravely, delicately captures the spirit of the Fringe. The piece charts the journeys of a group of women returning to the mountain on which their dear friend Bertha fell to her death. Firstly, the script is superb - an engaging, clearly delineated plot with unequivocally sharp writing - and the actors certainly do it justice. At the beginning of the play, the cast are frozen in a tableau - women hidden under a heap of camping bags. The women leap into action and song, and manage to sustain their vigour throughout the captivating one-hour performance as each character is given voice, stepping forward to tell her story. Their plights include Mimi's (Nobahar Mahdavi) drug habit, Frieda's (Hannah Morrish) panic attacks and Hilda's (Josie Dale-Jones) obsession with Mr. Darcy. This is bizarre in the most wonderful way. Their gorgeous vocals are complemented by music by on-stage musicians Tom Penn and Philippa Hogg, as well as by Trudi's (Lotte Tickner) stunning forays into cello playing (which include playing the cello whilst suspended in air).

The production's use of a predominantly empty set, enhanced by the intimate space of the Bedlam Theatre - populated only by the actors and pieces of camping equipment as props - made facial and physical expression fundamental to the success of the piece. The cast rise to the challenge, continually changing pose and posture in order to imitate the mountainous landscape of the piece. Each actor is astonishingly limber and strong, creating the curves and steep angles of a mountain through movement (and moving with grace even under the weight of heavy mountain gear). The actors transform into various combinations of mountain men, the deceased Bertha and their former selves with ease, their comic facial expressions making the audience roar with laughter. As Alberto, the mountain man, Alice Hewkin shines, shrieking and grunting on stage and truly bringing to life our encounter with a creature both very different and exactly the same as us.

This group is evidently extremely close-knit, trusting in each other without hesitation as they fling and carry each other across the stage. They watch and listen carefully to each other, moving and singing in unity whilst simultaneously successfully developing highly individualized characters.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that this cast was not a group of groomed and polished drama school students - as I had immediately assumed, based on the quality of their production - but students fresh out of Sixth Form. After being interviewed in the "Hall of Power" towards the end of the play, one of the "Precipice" characters declares that there is "No fate, no destiny other than that which is in our own hands". The destiny of this talented young group lies in their hands, and I can't wait to see what they do with it. No doubt they'll climb mountains, calmly side-stepping any zany mountain men that come their way. I am reluctant to single out particular individuals as the cast was, without exception, fantastic; they all deserve commendation, and they are: Hannah Morrish, Josie Dale-Jones, Alice Hewkin, Sophie Wallin, Tiffany Clare, Esther McNiel, Nobahar Mahdavi, Lotte Tickner and Miriam Willmott.

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Bethany Knibb

at 12:01 on 14th Aug 2011

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“To Avoid Precipice Cling to Rock” is quite simply a sensation.

This original piece follows nine women as they undertake an expedition in remembrance of “Berta” – a friend they lost to the hills. The stage is set by the live piano and violin (Tom Penn and Philippa Hogg respectively) and the pile of bags, centre stage, which become so significant in the ensuing drama. Having previously known that this was going to be a show about hillwalking, I was admittedly skeptical as to how Babolin Theatre Company might actually make it good, but the hilarious script by Richard Fredman enforced by impressive acting skills from the cast make this a very, very successful show.

The first thing that grabbed me about these girls was their strength as a team – having seen mainly student shows, I have become adept at discerning who in the group is not as comfortable doing the singing bit, or dancing bit, or even sometimes the acting bit... there's always one. But while there were definitely highlights within the cast, everyone was at the very least good and as a member of the audience, this was a bit of a luxury.

The second thing I noted was the energy with which they were flinging themselves (and each other) around the stage. Even in physical theatre, it’s uncommon to see this much bounding around – and especially considering they’re all in skirt suits. I was both exhausted and enthralled watching them.

In my view, the piece loses its way a little in the middle; I think the weakness is in complicating the storyline – but this diversion does not last long, and I didn’t even have time to check my watch.

The girls individually had done a lot of character development, clearly, and “To Avoid Precipice” stood out for me in particular because each of the girls played their characters – and their individual eccentricities – with the skill and integrity of professionals. They take time to introduce themselves, which gives each of the girls a chance to shine. In particular, I was very impressed by Gitte (played by Tiffany Clare), Alberto (Alice Hewkin) and Frieda (Hannah Morrish) – all of whom had incredible characters to play and did it with vitality and innate skill.

Their singing as a group was powerful, too, with Morrish in particular providing a silky tone that rounded off the ensemble beautifully. The song (a lighter take on yodeling, and much more pleasant to listen to) was the perfect accompaniment to the rest of the production and a number of the girls showcased their musical talents on the guitar, cello and piano during the production.

It’s unbelievable that these girls are school-age – they carry off “To Avoid Precipice Cling to Rock” with the panache of professionals.

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