Monthly Archives: November 2012

Theatre: Fraulein Else

These days there must be few well-to-do women holidaying in Italy who are forced to consider selling their bodies between tennis and dinner, but for Fräulein Else this is as much a part of her reality as piano recitals.

Director/ designer Anna Ostergren and Foteini Georganta’s adaptation of Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler’s 1920s novella captures the self-obsession of a heroine who is clearly a product of a world where women are only as valuable as their looks. While Else’s father is accumulating debts, it’s left to his daughter to solicit the affections of the affluent Herr Von Dorsday – a “disgusting man,” played by a snake-like Thomas Thoroe – in order to pay them off.

Sheena May, as Else, brings some welcome variations of tone to dialogue filled with self-analysis and angst, but it’s very difficult to like a character that spends only slightly less time gazing at her navel than her face. The rest of the cast mimic the clipped accents of the period, but struggle to bring out the people hiding behind them. Ostergren’s immersive set design makes imaginative use of the recently reopened space at the Drayton Arms, but as the action ping-pongs across the room it’s sometimes difficult to see what’s happening. Else’s plans to spectacularly subvert Von Dorsday’s demands end up disappointingly chaste, but are less depressing than the other options she’s given – a bottle of pills and a window to jump out of.

Drayton Arms, London. Until 24 November

Written for The Stage

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Theatre: Shelf-Life

Whether or not the abandoned BBC London Studios building is an apt place to explore the ‘meaninglessness of life’ depends upon your perspective, but where once DJs broadcast to the capital, now tentative visitors wearing hard hats take part in something much more extreme – immersive promenade theatre.

From being ‘born’ through a large vagina to ‘dying’ on a windswept rooftop, young company HalfCut have created a series of experience-based vignettes that rattle through life’s familiar stepping stones; school, university, jobs, marriage, holidays, old age and death. In association with Theatre Delicatessen – the studio’s resident company – they playfully contrast childhood dreams with adult reality, moving from the madcap and surreal to something more profound.

The cast’s performances have the rough-and-ready exuberance that comes from improvising much of what happens on the spot, but lack the polish of something more rehearsed. The characters we meet are almost as hastily sketched as the faces we’re told to draw on balloons – and it’s these balloons that steal the show in an uplifting final scene. Written records of our achievements end up a hotchpotch of personality traits, jobs and actions. This might resemble real life, but real life, sadly, rarely resembles drama – although a wedding reception drinks-do has all the awkward pizzazz of the genuine thing.

Marylebone Gardens, London. Until 10 November

Written for The Stage

Theatre: Bunnies

The badgers may be winning in Westminster, but in Kieran Lynn’s smart little allegory it’s bunny rabbits facing a farmer’s shotgun – and they don’t stand a chance.

The British, it is often claimed, care more about animals than they do about people, and Bike Shed Theatre’s deliciously gruesome production – which won the Peter Brook Empty Space Award and has now transferred to London – takes full advantage of this.

Cosy rural life, set to Paul Bull’s initially twee soundscape, is blown apart when landowner Stamper decides a radical solution is needed to get rid of the “non-native” species he believes are destroying his farm. As with another kind of solution – one preceded by the word ‘final’ – this leads to systematic mass murder.

While the Nazi analogy is obvious long before rabbit skin lampshades start popping up around the farmhouse, Lynn’s writing has heart as well as satire, with the spirit of George Orwell emerging as quickly as Stuart Crewe’s delightful fold-out set. Richard Pulman gives a surprisingly touching performance as Stamper, who inadvertently moulds his directionless son Max – the increasingly wild-eyed Jolydon Westhorpe – into a monster. Annette Chown has less to work with as sister/daughter Eva – the only animal lover amongst them, but when Stamper sings “it’s time to take our country back” into a blooded knife, it’s a chilling reminder that it’s not just wood pigeons and natterjack toads under threat.

New Diorama Theatre, London. Until 12 November

Written for The Stage