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SAPPHO …in 9 fragments by Jane Montgomery Griffiths transfers to The Rose, Bankside from 21st May to 2nd June, 2013. This politically-charged and visually-compelling solo performance, featuring the “magnetic” (RemoteGoat) Victoria Grove, achieved critical and popular acclaim with a sold-out extended run at the White Rabbit Theatre.

Rose“The Rose – part fringe theatre, part excavation site – is the perfect venue for a play about Sappho, whose extensive collection of poetry has been all but lost, save for a few fragments that suggest what might have existed; just like the foundations that permit us to imagine the theatre once used by Marlowe and Shakespeare” 

– Jessica Ruano, Director of SAPPHO …in 9 fragments

Following its two-week run in London’s historic venue, this “uncommonly exhilarating” (Exeunt Magazine) production begins a tri-city Canadian tour in June 2013, then plays at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2013 at theSpace Venue 45. 

Within a secluded cavern, Ancient Greece’s first love poet laments her erasure from history, while a chorus girl named Atthis is seduced into a modern-day Sapphic romance.

Featuring Victoria Grove as Sappho/Atthis and directed by Jessica Ruano, this production is designed by Ana Ines Jabares, with lighting by Sarah Crocker, sound by Luca Romagnoli, and aerial work by Jani Nightchild.

SAPPHO …in 9 fragments plays at The Rose, Bankside, 56 Park Street, London, SE1 9AS (near London Bridge Station) from 21st May to 2nd June, 2013, Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are £12 (£10 concessions) at wegottickets.com

For more information: 0207 261 9565, info@rosetheatre.org.uk, and rosetheatre.org.uk.

For a one-minute trailer of the show, please visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UN2E8j5UfiE 

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I’m not sure which title is more accurate. Probably the latter. Though I like to think of myself as a Londoner while I’m living in the city. I try not to unfold maps and wave them around in public (in fact, I’ve resisted buying a map to avoid that temptation altogether), and I try not to ask for directions too frequently. This, of course, has resulted in my getting lost on several occasions. But, hey, at least I’m wearing cute outfits while wandering around desperately searching for the underground.

I feel like I’m way overdue for a blog entry. My reasons for the delay are three-fold:

  1. LIFT Festival kept me busy! Oh my goodness, we’re talking about 12-17 hour days. Part of that is travel time: living in Upminster means it take 1-2 hours to get anywhere in central London. Also, there were a few complications with the company from Tunisia: set pieces and props arriving late, trying to organize rehearsal space, and arranging for media interviews in our few spare hours. Even after the company returned home, I was keen to attend other LIFT shows, including Home Sweet Home, Music for Seven Ice Cream Vans, Beloved and Haircuts by Children.

    Music for Seven Ice Cream Vans

  2. I’m still working on my thesis. Nuff said.
  3. I’m applying for jobs in London. Man, I hadn’t realized what hard work that can be! I haven’t actually applied for a job in about 5 years: in Ottawa, people have been nice enough to offer them to me based on my prior qualifications. Also, I’ve been in school, so I haven’t had to worry too much about having a full-time job that actually pays a full-time salary. I’m really hoping for this Assistant Producer job with the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill. Check out the description: isn’t it so perfect for me? They have a mini outdoors festival on this week, and I definitely plan to attend/participate in some shows.

Gate Theatre presents DOMINI PÚBLIC

So yes, if I do find an arts job, I plan to live here permanently for at least one year. I’m looking forward to this adventure, but there a few things I’ll have to get used to. I’m going to provide a list of London quirks for anyone thinking of visiting or living here in the near future. Perhaps some fellow Londoners would like to add some items in the comments section. But for now:

  • People see theatre. Like, it’s not a completely niche thing. There is an audience for professional theatre. There is an audience for community theatre. There is an audience for children’s theatre. And there is an audience for weird little site-specific outdoor pieces that take places in obscure corners of the city. I love that people are aware of the arts around them. It is very inspiring.
  • The underground (and all associated forms of transportation) is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, the trains are frequent and generally reliable — except when there is construction, which happens every weekend and some weekdays. In those cases, some lines are closed entirely and you have to reroute your trip. And then the tube stops running just after midnight, even on weekends! Thankfully there are night buses that are in operation across the city. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, I’m living in Upminster, which requires a long train ride to get home… which means my nights end before 11pm. Not much time for a post-show drink.
  • There is little to no public recycling. Plus most of the little Italian cafes charge extra if you want to “eat in”, so everyone gets take-out and just throws the waste in the garbage afterward. It makes me cringe so much.
  • Don’t bother asking for directions. Most people hardly know where they’re going, let alone where you’re trying to go. Just check the detailed maps at bus stops.
  • Bang Said The Gun satisfies my need for awesomeness every week. This loud and rambunctious series focuses on spoken word, but welcomes every other kind of art form and every kind of artist. The organizers were incredibly sweet with me, and they even added my name to the (competitive) open mic list even though I arrived a bit late – again, thanks to changes on the underground. Through this series, I found out that London is brimming with poetry shows, and I plan to attend as many of them as possible! Props also to Poetry Unplugged at the Poetry Cafe.
  • It doesn’t actually rain that much. Uh, knock on wood.
  • Very few people have commented on my accent. It seems like everyone in London has a slightly different accent, depending on the neighbourhood, or because they come from Ireland or Wales or Scotland or some other part of the world. Each accent is as individual as the people who carry them. It’s kind of beautiful, actually.
  • London to Paris by train takes just over 2 hours and costs £130 return trip – that is, if you book only two weeks in advance. Oh, by the way, I’m going to Paris for a few days in August. Yippee!

I plan to return to Ottawa on August 16. Until then, I’m going to discover some London hot spots! Keep you posted.

Shakespeare's house for rent. Anyone?

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Will Somers and Bryony Etherington (in the other cast)

Will Somers and Bryony Etherington

Just last night I realized I have seen “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” 6 times. That’s right, 6! That means consistently once every year since Grade 11. Does that make me some kind of expert on the play? Hardly, but it makes for some interesting commentary when comparing one version with another. And I don’t even care about one version being much better than the others. Rather, I like to look at the choices made by the director and the actors, and how that creates a unique performance of this play that people may have seen dozens of times. In other words, what is the artistic team doing to keep this play from becoming banal?

I managed to catch Salamander Theatre’s Shakespeare Young Company in their first indoor performance of “Dream” in the NAC 4th Stage. For most of this summer they have been performing in various parks and secret locations around Ottawa, earning their keep by passing the hat after the show has concluded. This company is very special because it provides opportunities for young actors (teens to twenties) to work intimately with Shakespeare’s text, and because they use the entire text for their productions. And that is why I uneasy about the idea of them putting on “Hamlet,” which can amount to 4 hours in its entirety.

I should also note that this production has two casts, which means that certain actors may be playing entirely different roles depending on which performance you choose to attend. Tuesday’s performance featured Tom Blazejewicz as both Duke Theseus and Bottom the Weaver… and you can figure out the rest when you look at the program. And here is a brief plot synopsis.

Now, let’s take a look at what made this production interesting…

1) Hermia’s father, Egeus, is wearing a zanni commedia dell’arte mask

This may have been simply to hide the fact that the actress playing Egeus was also playing two other characters. But so were several other members of the cast, so I’m not sure why that would have been an issue here. Also, I’m not convinced that the mask was chosen correctly because a zanni character in Italian comedy is supposed to be a servant, not the master of a household. I think this choice could have worked if more characters had been in mask. As it stood, I found it rather random.

2) Helena is pregnant

Wondering why Helena wanted Demetrius so bad? She needs a daddy for her unborn child, of course! I really enjoyed this choice because I found it gave Helena’s character an entirely new level, and increased her desperation to have Demetrius as husband. Not only was her love at stake, but also her reputation and her baby. However, considering the time of the play, I’m not sure how realistic it would have been for a pregnant girl in Elizabethan times to be let out of her house, let alone tramping (ahem) around the woods at night. Also, the text makes a direct reference to her virginity: the actor speaking that line tried to make it seem accidental or ironic, but the play didn’t seem to support it fully. But, like I said, I thought Helena’s onstage pregnancy was an fascinating experiment.

3) Robin Goodfellow (or Puck) is played as two characters, by two actors

I’ve been searching through my first folio (Shakespeare’s original text) just now, and still have not figured out the mystery of that “shrew and knavish spirit.” Director Eleanor Crowder explained to me that Robin Goodfellow and Puck appear to be two separate entities, each with distinct characteristics. According to a Wikipedia page, Puck is an aspect of Robin Goodfellow, and not necessarily the same being. True enough, in Shakespeare’s folio, there is Robin who speaks a number of lines and Puck who speaks the rest. However, also in the folio it is mentioned, for example, that Puck enters – but it is Robin Goodfellow who speaks the lines. Is it presumed that if one enters the other one is present? Or are they, in fact, the same person? After all, Bottom is also referred to as “Clowne,” but that doesn’t mean he is two people. If anybody else is more knowledgeable in this topic, I would certainly appreciate some insight.

Having Puck played by two actors created an interesting dynamic when it came to playing tricks on the Queen of Fairies, Titania. They name themselves Peaseblossom and Mustard-seed, and have a grand ol’ time entertaining the Queen’s new bed-fellow, Bottom in an ass-head. But then I thought perhaps some magic is lost in not having just the one, unique spirit. Just like the emcee in “Cabaret” — could you ever imagine his likeness?

4) Double Casting

I’ve already mentioned that the Robin/Puck duo played fairies, but they also played members of the mechanicals and the royal court. In fact, all the roles – excluding the 4 lovers – were doubled or tripled among the cast members. This offered these aspiring actors ample challenges by playing numerous parts, and provided some complex stage relationships for the audience. For example, it is referenced that Titania once had a crush on Theseus: and the same actor playing Theseus also plays Bottom, who becomes Titania’s bestial lover. Pretty clever, eh? If you know the play well enough, you’ll be able to make all sorts of fun connections like that.

5) Sounds Effects and Vocals

The cast has clearly been sharply trained musically. Perhaps my knowledge of musicality is limited, but to my untrained ear, their choral work was both energetic and tuneful. Bouncing melodies introduced us to most new scenes, and the songs found in the original text were incorporated beautifully. The only bits I found distracting were the bursts of “fairy power” that punctured Titania’s “These are the forgeries of jealousy” speech. I was keen on listening to the beautiful language, but was turned off by the excessive movement and sounds. This play is filled with gorgeous speeches, but I felt this production focused more on the comic elements – which, despite my longing for a slightly more elegant delivery, worked just fine.

In terms of a brief critique, I was very impressed by most of the performances and how they used the intimate cabaret space to their advantage. I was much less impressed by the actors playing the lovers (Hermia, Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius) because I felt they lacked any sort of sincerity in their roles: the girls were melodramatic, and the guys were emotionless logs. I found myself looking forward to the mechanicals and the fairies, all of whom were very appealing performers – especially Anna Lewis as Titania and Will Somers as Oberon and Snug (the lion).

Salamander Theatre’s Shakespeare Young Company presents A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the NAC 4th Stage until August 30th. Check out http://www.salamandertheatre.ca for more details.

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