Dante's History of the Banished

Mon 14th – Sun 27th August 2017

reviews

Amaris Proctor

at 12:05 on 22nd Aug 2017

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This bathetic production is nothing if not scrappy, and does its very best to make a dollar out of a dime. Charlotte Martin, the lead of this one woman show has a wealth of personality, and her passion for people who have suffered exile means you do root for her. However, regrettably the piece was radically unpolished. This whirlwind tour, which introduces you to Dante, Napoleon, King Lear, and Eve frequently tumbles from quirkiness into cringy territory.

The writing itself isn’t exactly trailblazing. The narrative, which possesses an admirable feminist bent, has some engagingly bare and gutsy moments. However, it often feels like it is preaching to the converted. While during her embodiment of Eve as a stand up comedian Martin dished out some superbly punchy home truths about women’s exile from history and the realities of the patriarchally structured working world, an educated guess may posit the audience had likely read enough Guardian articles that they were familiar with the rhetoric. Unhappily the portion where she assumes the character of Napoleon and attempts to improvise amusing advice for the audience also fell flat. The two-minute condensation of King Lear is similarly patronising, and would have been more appropriate in a GCSE classroom. I know the visual pun of representing Shakespeare’s Duke of Cornwall with a wall with some corn attached was supposed to be so bad it’s good, but I’m not convinced it wasn’t just bad.

Throughout the play the props, costuming, and filmic accompaniment had a highly home-made vibe. King Lear wore a paper crown and bathrobe, and the powerful effect of the infamous storm was achieved by having the audience fan the stage with bit of cardboard while firing water guns. While this did come off as quite naff, maybe that’s the point. She constructs a show completely from outcast elements of society - the fringes no one has any use for. A fortuitous aspect of the show is the way the name of the venue ‘Paradise in The Vault’ jives with the piece’s content. Martin revelled in the subversiveness of reviving Eve in a parodic reinterpretation of the very space from which she was banished. It was the perfect act of vengeance.

Ultimately, if you’re willing to tolerate a Shakespeare character being reduced to a block of cheese with goggly eyes, an affection for the small acts of bravery in this play might just worm their way into your heart.

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Adele Cooke

at 12:09 on 22nd Aug 2017

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Encompassing a potted history of banishment, Charlie Martin takes her audience through a historical journey of exile- beginning with Dante, and traversing through Napoleon and ‘King Lear’ before climaxing in a stand- up performance by Eve. The show adopted a highly linear structure, alternating between performances from Dante with a historically based film. This was effective if a bit monotonous. However, at the close of the play the change of genre from storytelling to stand up completely altered the tone of the production, which marked a welcome change from the repetitive structure we had previously seen.

My prime criticisms pertain to Martin’s Italian accent, which was more comic than authentic. I also felt at times that her performance lacked polish, as the show opted for cheap gags over sophisticated comedy. This was especially evident as Martin punned on The Earl of Gloucester with a block of cheese, and the Duke of Cornwall with corn on the cobs- both of which solicited groans from the audience. However, throughout the performance Martin sustained a high energy and her personality clearly shone through. It is very evident that Martin enjoys performing, and relishes the opportunity to be in front of an audience. I also appreciated the high level of research that must have been undertaken in the construction of this performance, as Martin provided facts about the number of refugees in the UK, the date transportation was ended and many details about the lives of the characters she presented. This allowed the show to adopt both informative and entertaining modes. However, I felt that this information may have been better conveyed in a thesis essay rather than a performance. Although, the film footage of Martin in various locations explaining the historical significance of the banished was well researched shot and produced. This enriched the performance, marking a break from the actor- audience relationship that was previously evident.

Martin also cleverly used set to enrich her work, for example replicating the infamous storm on the heath in King Lear with water guns and cardboard. Producing many laughs from the audience, this was very successful in outlining the plot, and highly comical. Audience participation was at the centre of this production, as at one point Dante himself offered to give his audience advice on their problems- ranging from issues of love to advice on Lemsip. However, this appeared slightly erroneous to the focus of the show, lengthening the performance but not enriching the audience’s understanding of the subject. This was the hallmark of the production, as frequent tangents detracted from the quality of the acting and sadly the show.

Overall this was a show with great content, enthusiasm and energy, but was more farcical than professional in execution.

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