Scenes from an Urban Gothic

Fri 5th – Sat 27th August 2016

reviews

Izzie Fernandes

at 09:02 on 12th Aug 2016

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I leave the Theatre Arts Exchange bewildered and mesmerized. Brought to the stage by Theatre Imaginers, we have just witnessed some utterly bizarre, flawlessly rehearsed and truly original physical theatre.

For three quarters of an hour, James Cross entrances the audience on a black box stage. Communicating with only sharp movements and an imitation of every movement cast as a on a crisp white sheet, behind him, scenes eccentric urban life antics unfold. Journey with Cross through the Underground, into a park, down city streets and into a shopping mall in an utterly mysterious and absorbing experience; he does not disappoint.

Execution of physical discipline is the tantalizing centerpiece of this performance. Cross’s suppleness surpasses what I previously think is humanly possible for the human body. His being human or animal is questionable for at moments the suited man quivers and contorts so as to resemble road kill sprawled on the stage. This performance is a combination of raw talent, admirable attention to detail and unwavering concentration. Think femur to fingertip. Cross mobilizes every muscle and, I catch myself thinking, this must be a work out no gym can offer.

Amidst the minimalism, a sense of daily reality is added to the piece through aptly placed sound effects. Onomatopoeic sighs, puffs clicks and chuffs signpost moments along this urban journey. Watching, I welcome these pointers for whilst Cross’s sustained energy is faultless, at times he runs the risk of losing the audience in his fast flowing physical transitions.

Without words, movement from a public toilet to a church is not immediately obvious and so familiar sounds of traffic, church bells and a meowing cat marry the extraordinary physical elements with the ordinary urban antics of the storyline. Perhaps a second watch of the show would create greater clarity of the events and allow heightened attention to every physical nuance, there's a challenge.

This creative marvel exudes originality and if you will excuse the cliché for a second, sets the imagination free. My mind runs circles whilst my eyes are glued on the energized center stage. Where is he now? Were will he go next? Could this be a dancing Mr Bean or it that just me? This seems an effortless performance. Only the beads of sweat dripping from his perspiring forehead indicate the physical strain demanded of this matchstick man. Every scenario, scenes and speculation is executed with razor like precision.

If at times the storyline becomes foggy, do not forget, at its core, this is a physical phenomenon. Truly original and totally wacky, Cross is likely to bust moves worthy of sending you into a hypnotic trance.

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Kate Nicholson

at 11:31 on 12th Aug 2016

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Mime is no easy feat. To mime for a whole performance, alone, and to hold an audience is an even greater one. Yet, James Cross does exactly that, moving around the stage with no aid other than a little music and lighting, occupying a minimalistic set with just a white backdrop and a black floor.

Cross himself is a bit of a wonder. Dressed as a typical city commuter, his movement is fluid and perfectly in sync with the music, his own sound effects accurate and consistent. His facial expressions are vivid, active and enacting the worlds conjured up by Des Truscott (Director) and James Cross himself, creating a piece of physical theatre which is quite unlike anything I have seen before.

He reminds me of a real-life stick man, or some kind of Tim Burton cartoon; apparently the rules of real life do not apply to him, as he is completely defiant towards the rules of gravity which the rest of us humans have to obey. At one point, he somehow manages to be dragged across the floor by one foot – pulled along by nothing but his own ability to glide. Is this man real? Is he human? Does he have functioning joints?

Described in their programme, as an ‘increasingly nightmarish world’, Cross certainly put us in his perspective and shows us exactly how bewildering – and surreal – the city can be to a newcomer. It is truly engrossing – even if a large amount of the time I am trying to figuring out exactly what scene he is enacting at that precise moment. Every scene has some peculiar, nightmarish features, as Cross’s character is forever out of his depth, pushed around by the invisible people accompanying him on stage, mocked by children in the street and altogether, quite dysfunctional in urban life.

There is no obvious plot, but this is an abstract piece which is entertaining through its acting methods alone. There are also a lot of very odd moments – such as an invisible cat which is thrown with gusto from scene– which adds to the randomness of the performance. Whilst some comedy is attempted, it is only successful in part since the foolishness of Cross is consistent and repetitive. It is difficult to laugh at the same thing over and over again.

Even so, if you would like to explore the quirkier edges of the Fringe, go to this show; even if just to watch open-mouthed at the perfection of the choreography and to explore the eventualities of being a stranger in the monstrous metropolis, rather than the conventional joys of a plot.

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Comments

Jim Barney; 12th Aug 2016; 15:01:22

I thought this was a wonderful show, and as it happens, I saw it on the same night as your reviewers. Really, in the interests of full disclosure, and to understand your reviewers' account a bit better, it would have been good if they had mentioned that they arrived ten minutes after the show started, wearing their Edfringereview sweatshirts, and causing a little distraction to those there from the start. It might be that missing the beginning caused them a little difficulty in following the narrative, which was probably clearer to those of us who arrived promptly. It may also be because she was a bit flustered that Kate Nicholson has committed the cardinal sin for a reviewer of getting the name of the actor wrong at one point - a look at the programme handed to all who arrived on time shows that he is James Cross, not Scott, as Kate says in her second paragraph.

Ed Grimble; 13th Aug 2016; 21:18:53

Fear not Jim, I've corrected the errors and given the pair of them a stern talking to for their tardiness. By the sounds of it Cross gives a fantastic performance and there are a few of us here who are jealous that we didn't get to see and review this play ourselves.

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