Thursday, 3 November 2011


"Invisible is a funny, moving and topical portrayal of the world in flux"

The audience found their seats and the production started with an effective and loud crowd sound effect. There were two long lights arranged above the set in an angular position, like an arrow shape. As the sound grew louder these lights had colours shooting from one end of the light to the other. In the middle of the floor was a raised platform with ramps on either side of it. At the back of the Drum stage (In the Theatre Royal) there are double doors, which they had opened and placed a frosted piece of glass, about 1 metre tall by 3 meters wide, across the doorway at head level.
When the actors were on the stage they themselves move the furniture and props around. This looked really effective as they did it so effectively with the sound. The sound design was excellent and really added power to the piece. The production was about the lives of 6 very different people, some immigrants coming to the UK for a better life and others from the UK and struggling with day to day living (mid life crisis etc).
An effect I thought was very powerful and beautifully executed, was the use of the frosted glass at the back of the stage, they had a light shining from the right backstage, so when on, the actors/actresses that walked behind the glass had a ghostly effect shining through the glass. They used this effect a lot during the immigrants ringing companies for work and their struggles to live in the UK. The frosted glass symbolised the unclear phone calls they had and how distance the operator could be.
I found the play all quite dark as it referred a lot to why human beings are really here and what is our purpose. It also reflected on peoples dreams but their miserable reality, and the audience knew in most of their cases, they would never live out their dream.
The club scene was very effective. Lights around the raised stage in the centre changed from pinks to blues to greens etc, and the two lights flashed all sorts of colours. The actors and actresses danced in slow motion with a very muffled club sound effect. This looked amazing, the slow motion dancing and lights almost sent me into a trance.
The play was lightened up at the end with the message of we should all hope and dream but we should focus most of our attention on the most valuable things in life, like connections and relationships with others and the fun times which can be found through the bad.

Albert and Equiano

"I found this one man show spellbinding: it confronts the audience with questions concerning

life, meaning, purpose and justice."

A couple of weeks ago, my friend and I went to a small local theatre to watch Albert and Equiano. I was intrigued because I had heard it was a one man production with just I was sceptical, however always enjoy a surprise.
I was surprised.
An old man came onto the stage wearing a caretaker outfit, all that was on the stage was a chair and lots of props around it. As he did his job of cleaning etc, he discovers a painting of a Nigerian man. The story was that the Nigerian man's spirit came through the janitor to share his horrendous experience as a slave from 10 years old, and the brilliance of him becoming a 'free man'. One could not quite think how an old white man could play a 10 year old, Nigerian child...but he did, perfectly. He played out many characters, including, cockney sellers, posh ladies, lords and other Slaves from the 18th century. Each character was captivating and I genuinely believed he was the character he was playing, it was beautifully narrated and acted out. The props he had were used inventively, the same cloth he used for the headdress of one of the posh ladies was also used as a ships sale. He engaged amazingly with the audience, and even had some of the audience sitting on the stage which had created a 'theatre in the round'. Myself and the audience were gripped from start to finish.
This production was great research for myself as I am looking into the importance of a set within the theatre. This gentleman only used props but still had us amazed and I personally think if a set had been constructed, it would have taken away our imagination for the areas he was in. He gave us a lot of narrative to work our own sets out.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Birmingham Royal Ballet - Autumn Glory

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Last night was a very memorable night at the Theatre. The Birmingham Royal Ballet, had performed a, 'Triple Bill', and they performed three very different and wonderful shows.
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The first show was, 'Checkmate'.
"A Dramatic War of Lust Betrayal"
The curtains rose to reveal only the front section of the stage, and sitting in front of a beautiful 1930s style back drop, were two players at a chess board. Their arms moved slowly and gracefully around the chessboard as their legs stayed in statue, in a very heroic, powerful position. The curtains dropped, and rose again to reveal the huge stage, and the floor was a huge chess board.
The stage then lit up with red hues and 8 pawn pieces danced onto the stage. Their costumes were beautifully designed with an iconic 1930s look, the colours involved golds, reds and oranges, so it gave a very warm feeling. As other red pieces danced and glided over the stage. The warm colours of their costumes really reflected on the personality of this side of the chessboard, as each piece looked out for one another in their dance, against their opponents.
The other side of the board were ballet dancers dressed in black and silver costumes (The queen is previewed above in the poster). The lighting for them as they danced were light blues and silvers, so gave a very cold feeling, which was perfect as this side were devious and shared no mercy to the red side.
Each dance was a representation of the moves in the game of chess the two players at the beginning were performing. As they went through and performed each chess move, we quickly realise the darker side are very powerful and are winning.
The performance ended with a very dramatic but beautiful, 'Checkmate' scene, where the stage was lit darkly and all of a sudden a strong white light is shone from the level of the stage up onto the ballet dancers, the dark side are holding sticks and trapping the king in a 'cage', and because of the flood light, it created a huge shadow of the king, the cage and the opponents onto the large backdrop. Then suddenly the large orchestra (set under the stage) built up the tension for the queen as she enters gracefully but dramatically. She then kills the king and it is a huge beautiful, symbolic end.
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25 minute interview
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The second show was, 'Symphonic Variations'
"A Timeless Masterpiece"
This short ballet production was absolutely stunning. It really was a privilege to see a piece written by a master choreographer, which is well known for being, " of the greatest masterpieces of English ballet."
Six dancers were dressed in golds and pearly whites, the three women had pearly white ball headdresses and floaty short dresses. The men had similar headdresses but they were more masculine, and complimented their white leggings and smart white and gold tops.
The show was amazing.
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25 minute interview
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The final show was, 'Pineapple Pole'
This was a comedy ballet, it was about a captain and all the women fall in love with him and fight over him to get his attention. He has all his attention on one woman, the woman he is engaged to. The set was fun, it was done in a cartoony style, we had a town and the view on a ship. It wasn't to my taste, it didn't compare to the sophistication of the,'Checkmate' set.

The Triple Bill was an amazing experience as they were three very different shows from The Birmingham Royal Ballet, to analyse and enjoy. Checkmate was personally my favourite, it was so beautifully written, the costumes worked perfectly with the set and it gripped me from start to finish.

Monday, 24 October 2011

The Importance of Being Earnest & Travesties

Travesties By Tom Stoppard &
The Importance of Being Earnest By Oscar Wilde

I feel very privileged, that I was given the opportunity by a dear friend of mine last week, to watch two shows backstage, at The Birmingham Old Rep Theatre. He introduced me to all of the cast and showed me how the set for both shows was constructed.
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The beauty of this set was that the same set was used for both productions.
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I arrived into Birmingham at approximately 1:30pm and was quickly whisked off to the theatre for the first showing of the day, The Importance of Being Earnest. As I approached the Old Rep stage door, I was taken inside and introduced to the Company Stage Manager, the Deputy Stage Manager and the Assistant Stage Manager. They all welcomed me in and my friend, Tom took me onto the stage. As I turned to my right, I was in ore, in that moment I could see why actors/actresses adore facing out into the crowd. It was clear that the theatre is celebrating it's 100 year anniversary next year. It had aged beautifully, a Proscenium Stage, and the seats, red velvet seats, all leaning in over me as they were so steep, stacked over each other.
Tom took me round the set and showed me how it was constructed. It was square in shape with book shelves constructing the three walls, they went from the floor, rising up very high so they disappeared into darkness at the top. On either side of the stage 3 revolving book shelves had been constructed to allow access for the cast, and to create depth on the set. They could shut to make a closed room with book shelves, or turn 90 degrees to create 'aisles' of books, where the cast would enter and leave.
The colours used in the set were stunning, painted in beautiful colours, mauves, delicate pinks and golden creams. So the props and costumes of the actors/actresses, looked amazing against the set as they were ranging from burnt oranges, auburns and emerald greens.
I was sat off-stage right next to the Deputy Stage Manager who was readin
g SX and LX cues.
The show was really well executed and writings from Oscar Wilde were acted out wonderfully and complimented the impressive set.
One part of the set which excited me was the huge, oversized letter and rose which were flown in (by Tom) over the set. This abstract feel is something I aim for in designing sets. It adds 'Spectacle' to the set which the audience love and hope to see, and don't expect.
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After a spot of lunch, I watched as the crew set up for Travesties , The bookshelves became aisles to create a library. The furniture had swapped around, and I realised that Travesties used a huge letter in their set as well, another one, addressed differently. This had created a marvellous link between both shows.
Travesties was rather special, it is a play based in World War I in Zurich. It is shown through the memory of Henry Carr (Consular official). There was a spectacular seen when he reflected on the DADA Movement. A shelf at the back of the stage (behind gauze) moved off stage to reveal a huge DADA piece, and the actors were quickly dressed in amazing cardboard DADA pieces, very similar to this gentleman:

However, in Travesties, their cardboard costumes were bright reds, which matched the shining, red 'DADA' words on the back of the stage. The pale set allowed bright red lights to illuminate the stage so differently, so the set it self looked completely different. The sudden dramatic change into the 'DADA' scene, was fantastic, and made an impact, very much like the actual artistic movement.
The use of gauze in the set allowed different atmospheres to be created by lighting. It had a very authentic feel and added depth and perspective into the set. I've always been a huge fan of gauze so seeing a lot of gauze being used in one set was fantastic.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Coco's Review

As I enter these doors, into a darkened room, something remarkable is hanging before me, around 100 bulbs of all different shapes and sizes, some are lit, some are dimmed. These hang above an empty space on the floor which is surrounded by chairs, chairs which look identical, all dark grey with wear to them, revealing the wood which once was before they were covered with this colour. As I take my seat, I notice something peculiar with the chairs, each has a piece missing, each different.
The production begins. Four actresses, they all wear the same pale blue dress, and have similar voices, so we get the feeling that they may be the same person. They all work so well, flowing off one an other with their sweet, calm voices. It unravels beautifully into a story of a wonderful woman named Flora, but she suffers with dementia. Melanie Wilson portrays dementia in a delicate but very realistic way, using four actresses as Flora at 4 different ages in her life.
Throughout the play the bulbs dance with light as Flora pieces together parts of her memory. They flash dramatically and suddenly blacken when she is frustrated or lost in her thoughts trying to make sense of the world and what has happened to her. Having Flora at four ages allows the audience to see how her thought process has worsened over time.
Melanie Wilson studied sound well, and one can tell through out the play. She uses muffled, confused noises and under water sounds to create a very alone feel. As the play moves forward we realise the doors were almost the entry to Floras mind and we watch how her head works as she looks back to the past at all her ages to piece her life together.
There is a chilling moment in the play when all the lights dim and the four Floras stand in a line, the light flashes and a young Flora is suddenly seen weaving through her older self/s. Her silhouette is seen in the doorway and she disappears. The room goes black and the audience are left in Flora's fear. Golden light is shown through the circular windows from the outside and leaves golden circles on the floor with the Flora's talking again looking at the windows. It is at this point I realise the symbolism of the doors. "We are very much inside Flora's mind, and the doors symbolise the outside world, the lighting bulbs above bare resemblance to neuroelectric currents inside of Flora's body, and the sound represents her confusion and panic." I thought.
The play continued to excite and interest me and gave me a great insight into the complex disease that is, Dementia, and how we should approach it with much more patience and insight.

So kind of you to come...

Madame Coco and the Living Picture.

Tableau Vivant? It is French for Living Picture. In the 18th century it became apparent that historical paintings combined with theatrical performance created the most elegant, social entertainment of that period. It was a clever and beautiful thing, to place together two types of artistic forms. Two forms, performance and art, and they worked so spectacularly well.

Madame Coco's fascination lies in the bringing together of the two art forms, mixing the artist's chosen style and the performance. Many Artists have done this and succeeded, such as David Hockney's 'A Rake's Progress' (Image A.) The idea of actors being in and around objects which look as though they have been picked out of a sketchbook, blown up to life size and placed on a stage is simply beautiful.
Below (Image B.) is a still of Madam Coco's first Set Design, for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Everything was to look like a giant sketch or etching. Costume and Make-up was to blend into the set, creating her very own, first, Tableau Vivant.

Image A.
(Madam Coco's favourite Set Design to date.)
Image B.