Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Critical Voices Project. December 2012.

Just before Christmas I took part in a workshop with The Puppet Centre at Battersea Art Centre in London. The Puppet Centre champions and preserves puppetry theatre through means of workshops, festivals, bursaries and by publishing an online magazine: Animations Online. This is regularly updated with reviews from puppetry enthusiasts around the world.
The Critical Voices Project workshop focused on how to write successful reviews for the stage, in particular the art of puppetry. We were are asked beforehand to bring in a review that we loved or hated. I brought in a review from a Country exerpt from The Guardian. Although not stage related the beautiful descriptions and utility of the brambles and the animals dwelling in them gave an alternative look at how something natural can be reviewed.
The workshop also included some guest speakers including the editor of Cabaret magazine, and previous editor of Puppet Notebook, Eleanor Margolies. The workshop included different tips on how to review, such as writing in between intervals rather than during a show. We were thrust into our first assignment that night which was to write a review on the play Midnight's Pumpkin by theatre company, Kneehigh showing at the BAC for Christmas. I found the show very enjoyable to watch even with a critical eye. I think the most useful advice I received was to write naturally, to be critical but not too critical and most importantly to be concise.  It is also crucial to think how would the performers or directors may feel reading your review. This is something I considered when re-writing my review on the character of Midnight, who on my first draft I knocked down for being too quiet and dull. After helpful advice from my mentor Eleanor I was able to offer a more constructive and now positive look at how potent Midnight's role was. This was an excellent workshop and I gained a lot from it. I look forward to writing more reviews for The Puppet Centre soon.

Midnight’s Pumpkin

Kneehigh at BAC 8 December – 13 January 

The opening phrase of Midnight’s Pumpkin “Out with the old and in with the new!” exchanges the traditional tale of Cinderella for a new show biz style of storytelling. With a dash of pantomime and exuberant narrative including a talking pumpkin, dancing mice in dressing gowns and live musicians providing a pop soundtrack, Midnight’s Pumpkin shows typical traits of a Kneehigh production.

The character of Cinderella, named Midnight, is played by Audrey Brisson .A timid girl dressed in thick hipster glasses and a stripy jumper . She is given little script but her bland costume and mouse like gestures powerfully contrast to the slapstick stepsisters who strut in with artificial accents and artificial wigs. Midnight’s aerial skills and astounding singing voice also give her character strength and dynamism which makes her stand out amongst the louder characters.

The talking pumpkin narrates the story, interacting with the audience, actively commenting on the stage directions and placing his pumpkin costume on hapless audience members. The interaction continues during the two intervals when the wooden crates on stage are opened and audience members become part of the show by dancing, dressing up and singing with the actors. This gave the show an almost amateur and slapdash feel but directors Mike Shepherd and Emma Rice’s focus on participation is particularly strong in bringing the show to life and smiles were spread across the Battersea hall.

Midnight’s Pumpkin is a festive and experimental show. The contrast between Midnight and the exuberant  stepsisters and girlish Prince Charming give Midnight a subtle and human focus. Her movement and outstanding singing voice are able to shine above her lack of dialogue. It does feel at times the show was trying to fit too much in; with two intervals and little opportunity for character development, but the show provides a fast and fun retelling of a classic fairytale by a becoming classic theatre company.


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