They Will Be Red

Tue 29th January – Sat 2nd February 2013

reviews

James Roscoe

at 09:30 on 30th Jan 2013

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It had already begun when the audience entered the auditorium; it was already happening when we arrived at the theatre, indeed it seems this particular woodland has always been there.

This inability to distinguish immediately characterises a magnificent work that blurs boundaries and distorts theatrical preconceptions from beginning to end, or rather from beginning to beginning, or rather for the particular moment which I was lucky enough to be invited to witness.

The line between narrator and character is obscured as a vivacious storyteller plays a catalogue of individually charming caricatures, his depiction of an amorous Glaswegian and a French Casanova linger fondly. But there is profound depth: the wall between audience and theatre is flattened by interaction with and genuine attraction to our new friend Finn, the distance between music and theatre narrowed by the stand out performance of an inspired musician, the poles of tragedy and comedy slammed together with a powerfully magnetic portrayal of our protagonist Anna, the genres of realism and stylisation are ceaselessly merged to create a charming pastiche.

As Finn leads us through the life of Anna, we too are caught in the middle of her whirlwind adventure, we travel with her through forests and over oceans, we go to her first nightclub and meet her first crush, we write her university dissertation and endure her first job interview, we feel her joy at becoming an aunt and her despair at losing a loved one. We are taken through her life at breathless pace.

Our narrator becomes omnipotent and interweaves his roles as conductor, actor, playwright, choreographer and director with deft ability. His interchangeable web of parts and responsibilities is anchored by a powerful, convincing and ever present Anna. Whilst our soundtrack is created live on stage with an arts and crafts percussion that could rival an orchestra and creates its own symphonic accompaniment.

The allegro snare drum beats in the good times, the crescendo cymbal splashes when catastrophe strikes and the scherzo jam jars twinkle as a phone rings. I could feel the droplets of water as a cymbal was used to represent Anna’s shower. These seamless transitions between figurative beats and literal representations are visible everywhere we look. The set itself is covered in the leaves and bark of Anna’s beloved ash trees yet serves as an allegorical representation of the destruction and crumbling of life around her.

We can all relate to the story itself, and at times it is a painfully close portrait of contemporary adolescence. We cringe at Anna’s desire to find herself in India, and sigh as she insists she wants to make a difference in the world, yet the sudden juxtaposition of vibrant passion and spectacular theatricality changes the face of story with a clap of hands, a burst of light and the crash of a cymbal.

I’ll see you on the Southbank for Milja Fenger’s next offering.

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Suwita Hani Randhawa

at 09:59 on 30th Jan 2013

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The plot of this play is simple; perhaps a little too simple, at times. The story line essentially revolves around the life story of Anna, played by one of the two actors in the play, and in a mere hour, we are taken through key moments of her life - her childhood days, her adolescent years, her restless years as a young woman in her twenties and finally, her early thirties as a scientist dedicated to, and almost obsessed with, her research.

Through all of this, we encounter the different episodes of internal turmoil that Anna confronts in the various phases of her life. In some sense, the play rehearses a tale we are all quite familiar with - the tragedies that often mark a ‘coming of age’ story - and we know right from the start that things are going to fall apart. While the play may lack riveting dramatic twists, it does, however, make up for this through the broader themes that the story communicates.

It is rather fitting that this play is being performed in the university town of Oxford as issues like the politics of academia, the emotional struggles that consume a life in academia, and the injustices that arise as a consequence of intellectual passions being stifled and disciplined by research agendas are bound to resonate well with students who go to watch this performance.

This aside, the enduring theme of ‘the individual vs the collective’, which comes out forcefully in this play, will certainly provoke audiences to contemplate the contours of this dilemma. The play strikes at the very core of this eternal struggle and it poignantly reminds us of what is at stake when we fail to get this balance right. Moreover, because the central character is a woman, the play highlights, though perhaps not intentionally, how this dilemma sometimes plays itself out from a female perspective.

Anna’s success in academia is only possible because she chooses to prioritize her career, rather than devote her energies towards assuming the conventional female roles of wife and mother and also, because she prioritizes herself to the point that she neglects the obligations she has towards the people in her life. Yet, in the end, this success proves to be limited and fraught with distress; Anna’s obsessive personal goals only condemns her to loneliness, isolation and solitude.

What adds tremendous depth to this performance’s simple story line, however, it is the way this simple story has been chosen to be told. Firstly, live music in the form of atmospheric drumbeats and guitar strumming accompany the story-telling throughout the performance. The young musician, who sits in one corner of the set and alternates between his guitar, the drums and other nifty objects that are used to invoke sounds, does an excellent job of contributing to the rhythm and the pace of the story that is being told to the audience. I was particularly impressed with how perfectly all these musical additions were incorporated throughout the dialogue and the scenes of the play; the flawlessness of this aspect of the play makes it clear that a lot of effort was put into ensuring the smooth merging of the acting and the accompanying music.

In addition, the story-telling itself is marked by a constant shifts between audience interaction and the acting out of different scenes that form part of the play’s narrative. On the one hand, the story-teller, played by the male lead, gently, but authoritatively, nudges the audience into different parts of the story. We are explicitly told what to expect and to what to think and far from being patronizing, this actually proves to be quite entertaining: there is humour and wit throughout these audience interactions and at one point, the story-teller even leaves the stage to come sit next to some audience members.

On the whole, this contributes to the overall feel of the play - the constant shifts between the actual scenes and dialogue with the audience makes this play a much more involved performance.

The male actor, NIck Williams, however, has a dual role in this performance. He is not only the narrator or the story-teller but in addition, he is also the multitude of characters in Anna’s life story. And so throughout the play, he switches between these different roles and depending on the scenes, he plays the different people that have mattered in Anna’s story. Williams performs his dual roles extremely well - he was very adept at switching between the two roles throughout the performance -- and given that he assumes a central part of the play, the great skill with which he executes his roles and characters makes the performance both enjoyable and entertaining.

My impression of the Richardson-Sellers’s role was initially a little tentative. The female actor performs her role with great zest and dedication but somehow, her character seemed rather weak and uninspiring. This is compounded by the way Anna does not partake in the actual story-telling herself; the course and the pace of the telling of her story are exclusively determined by the story-teller and Anna simply responds to these directions. Initially, I found this rather oppressive: Anna’s character needed more power, more of a voice, and more control over her own story. However, by the end of the play, I realized that Anna’s character served to reinforce the essence of this play.

Ultimately, this is a play that centralizes the power of story-telling. And that it succeeds in doing this with minimal props, a simple set and with a cast of just two actors is particularly impressive. The play’s key strength lies in the way it demonstrates that what matters more than the story itself is the actual act of telling the story. In many ways, this play is a performance in and about story-telling. This comes across very strongly in the way that Anna, despite being the subject of the story, is herself held hostage, both throughout and at the end, to telling of her own story.

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