A Curious Evening of Trance and Rap with the Ogden Sister

Wed 31st October 2012

reviews

Michael McLeod

at 01:03 on 1st Nov 2012

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Watching the three sisters make their comic entrance to the stage, it’s easy to think you’ve got the show sussed from the outset. It brims with the kind of quirky humour one would expect from the title. Don’t let yourself be fooled though; there are some surprises in store.

The premise of the performance is quite simple: it employs the increasingly popular format of a mock show, transporting us to Victorian Oxford to witness the Ogden sisters displaying their spiritual gifts. In some respects, A Curious Evening is typical of its genre, relying largely on the haplessness of our ‘hosts’, the Ogden sisters, to provide humour. They deliver their clumsy lines with varying degrees of conviction, and it must be said the appeal starts to wear thin quite quickly after hearing them muddle up their pseudo-Victorian English a few times. The sisters themselves fall into similarly predictable roles: the bumbling youngest sister Electra (who provides the psychic powers), the diplomatic middle sister Adeline, and the stern eldest sister Constant trying to keep everything running smoothly. Despite this, the characters themselves prove endearing, and Sally Crooks’ perfectly stone-faced Constant provides an exquisite foil for the silliness which inevitably abounds. Kyla Goodey is also particularly worth noting at this point, as her wonderful slapstick intuition (kept fresh by its sparing use) make for some of the evening’s funniest moments. The show is at its very best, however, when inhibitions are cast aside from both performers and audience members. The show employs audience participation to great effect; the blind-folded journey to the ‘spectral realm’ was certainly their master-stroke.

As the play continues, the more serious underlying themes emerge; quietly at first, before erupting in the climactic scene. Indeed there are many instances of very dark humour indeed, which the cast, particularly Crooks, carry off with aplomb. The cultural commentary underlying the show, using Victorian society to look partly at how far we’ve come, but so much more at how far we’ve yet to go, manages to be reasonably engaging. For the most part, writers Nick Whitby and Kyla Goodey avoid wallowing in the emotionally darker moments of the dialogue, allowing instead for the portrait of women of the era to form more subtly in the background of the comedy. It is only in the final scenes that they succumb to more explicit proclamations of their agenda. Whilst this can sometimes be a means to directly challenge an audience to think upon an idea, the message in A Curious Evening is somewhat glib, and isn’t perhaps explored enough to really give the audience something to take home with them.

A Curious Evening is an enjoyable comedy, eliciting both genuine laughs and, once or twice, screams from an audience who are undoubtedly entertained. The cast are charismatic, working well together and even better with their audience, and together they provide all the spooky absurdity one would hope for to kick off their Hallowe’en night.

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Ella Bucknall

at 08:36 on 1st Nov 2012

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A Welshman wandering around the audience complimenting men on their facial hair and handing out hats and fake beards - thus commenced the continually bizarre evening. A Halloween special at the North Wall Arts Centre, A Curious Evening of Trance and Rap with the Ogden Sisters is a silly, comical, surrealistic parody of Victorian sideshows, involving three morbid sisters, one of whom is allegedly a medium, attempting to summon a “manifestation” for the audience. While in the first act I found myself entertained by their farcical, mock-serious mysticism and use of audience participation, (at one point being compelled to blindfold myself with a provided ribbon and being taken on a multisensory, amusingly makeshift journey into another astral plain) by the second act I had become weary of the three sisters and their tirelessly ridiculous efforts to contact “the Beyond”.

There are, however, many laughs in Goodey and Whitby’s production and the audience seemed moderately entertained throughout. Immediately amusing is when these three women in black before us demonstrate their mystic powers by levitating or, as is comically obvious, standing on their tiptoes. Constant Ogden’s (Sally Cook’s) po-faced seriousness elicits many giggles, as she navigates the audience through the performance, and the sibling rivalry which makes up a lot of the interplay between her and Adeline Ogden (Adrian Mercuri – yes, he was in drag) is also often comical. However, it is their constant shabby smoke-and-mirrors trickery which provides the majority of laughs throughout the play, perhaps the pinnacle of which is actually making the audience turn around at one point in order to set something up onstage, and there are a few cracking one-liners. A particular source of entertainment is the sisters’ recollections of their guardian Mrs Scunt who was “as broad as she was short with the face of a badger” and later turned Catholic and “consequently died of guilt”. Amusingly adopting Victorian stereotypes, Adeline warns the audience that the ladies may at times scream so “ladies brace yourselves and gentleman...brace the ladies.”

While the ensemble are polished as a threesome, Goodey’s performance of Lettie Ogden, while often provoking much laughter, also falls flat at times and the particularly disappointing moments of the play are those in which it bids for poignancy and even meaning. The culmination of the production is a strange visit from “the Queen of Utopiana” and a performance of the “Utopian dance of hope” which seems to be a bizarre attempt to provide a feminist message. However, abiding by a Victorian male fear about women, Lettie’s sexuality is connected to her insanity, undermining any feeble stab at feminism. However, it is not a play to be taken seriously and, in fact, any attempt at a message would be crushed under the ridiculousness of the comedy in this play.

I felt throughout that perhaps their slapstick and absurd comedy might be more suitable for an audience of children, especially when Constant Ogden compelled the audience to “purify” the psychic atmosphere by releasing air from their orifices which, needless to say, involved a crude amount of whoopee cushion antics. At one point, Lettie Ogden came into the audience to sniff out the sceptics and, in order to convert one particular man, she placed a headband of belief on his head which (albeit very humorously) sent an “astral egg” flying at the force of the new-found psychic energy. However, I am afraid that in her search Lettie overlooked one audience cynic and, indeed, I remain sceptical about this production.

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