Thursday, 24 July 2014

Chapter 28: Tangerino's "The Red Shoes"

“Music is a playground in which audience and performer gets to explore”

Roundhouse Radio's Ros Fraser

The Vaults, underneath Waterloo Bridge, was our playground last night where Tangerino, the brainchild of sisters Lil and Kitty Rice, revived the tale Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of "The Red Shoes".  And when I say revive, wow, what a breath of fresh air.   These guys energised the scene with a network of creative friends bringing together music, art and acrobatics.  The idea behind the show is to recreate their ideal night out, and  “the kind of evening we enjoy out in London would include an exhibition, a show of some sort and great live music” (quote from the programme).  If I’d realised that before, it would have been the perfect end of term night out for my Circus Space classmates this week instead of the dive of a pub in Hoxton.   
This is Tangerino's third show, and each one has been in a different location  "each space has given the show a different aesthetic” (ibid.). I’m not familiar with the previous productions, but the cavernous grandeur of The Vaults is the perfect setting for this dark tale, and, as they say, if the show fits   In fact, it makes me wonder what came first, the location or the show?

It was my first time to The Vaults, and I was struck by the riot of colour as you descend into the tunnel.   I was in good company too with Anne, the friend who has travelled with me to Circus Space every Tuesday,  pictured here in glorious technicolour, displaying untapped equilibrium talents  in her red heels.  

We were greeted with the welcome “Good evening, now, what time were you expecting the show to begin?” Well, I thought 7.30, but the extra hour was very welcome.  One of the other punters announced he was off to score some D in the meantime then - we’re all Ecstatic about sunshine at the moment - while we used the time to browse the art on the walls, designed to compliment the show,  and got our Vitamin D from a bottle of Sol at the bar. The bar that sits atop a bath. Surreal. We really had scored. 

The bar was at one end of the performance space where ecclesiastical windows are silhouetted on the walls. Ahead, the chairs were arranged in pews for the congregation either side of a central aisle, that led up to a garden arch festooned with garlands of ivy and pairs of scarlet slippers.   There was a rope in the rigging and to the right an elevated platform for the musicians.  The stage is now set for the story of a young girl, Karen, who slips on the red shoes and just can't stop dancing.  It is presented thematically rather than through a plot, via the scenes of Pride, Vanity, Condemnation and Guilt.

Deadly sins the lot of them in my book, quite frankly.  A bit to close to the bone.  Unlike Anne, I didn’t dust off my red shoes for the evening, but I did wear my old pair of tango sandals.  Proper dancing ones from a life before kids, and though the suede sole is worn through now, putting them on again took me back to lessons with my then fiancé in a church crypt  in Farringdon.  Paul & Michiko still teach at El Once Club,  it would be great to go back.   In a distracted state (three kids, bed-time) I draped on a red dress that I haven't worn for years. It felt fabulous, and it wasn’t until I met friends, and their open jaws, at the train station, that I realised the the drape was a more of a gape, and there was a bit too much on display. Luckily Caro had a kirby grip to hand, and with a nip and tuck, covered up my immodesty.  

In the show, Pride comes dancing along before a fall into Vanity, who is as exquisitely graceful on rope as she is foolish in the presence of the Poe-faced Grimm Reaper.  Condemnation follows in the hand(stand)s of the most awesome acrobalancers, whose feats literally took my breath away.  I enjoyed having Anne to hand, who, as a student of the language of acrobalance, could decode the movements for me afterwards, explaining precisely why I was right to be impressed.

We were then ushered into the depths of the Vaults for the final scene where we find Guilt exposed.  We surround the contortionist, part voyeur, part judge and jury.  But as she begins to move, the balance of power shifts. The body twists into such  extraordinary shapes that it is the audience who is taken out of their comfort zone.  

Claudia Hughes, Contortionist and Hannah Tottenham, Violinist
In the actual tale - I read it on the tube this morning! - when Karen begins to fully comprehend the extent of the damage the red shoes are inflicting she begs an executioner to use his axe to sever her feet from her body.  Contortion illustrates this cleavage perfectly.  The head appears suspended in space while the body has a mind of its own, and the feet dance of their own accord.  At the end, crippled by Guilt?, it makes sense that she has to be carried off.

Redemption?  Well, it took the form of the Soul-Full live music afterwards, created by the fabulous voice of Lil Rice and all her band of talent.  You were invited to dance the night away, just be careful where that might lead ...

Lil Rice and Ollie Clark

Ones to watch:
(click on names for links to sites where given)

Director and Producer:  Lil Rice 
Art Director and Producer: Kitty Rice
Assistant Director:  Luke Hallgarten


Dancer - Olivia Leek
Rope artist - Maisy Taylor
Hand to hand - Floria De Silva
Hand to hand - Arthur Parsons
Contortionist - Claudia Hughes

Lil Rice (Director and Producer)

Ollie Clark - Guitar and Piano
Hannah Tottenham/Rosie Kohl - Violinist
Ed Johnston - Drummer
Austin Cooper - Trumpeter
Hidden Charms Band

Friday, 18 July 2014

Chapter 27: The Gender-Bending Circus of Shakespeare In Love

"Writing is a love affair not a solitary pleasure.  There must be a connection between you and the material."

Jeanette Winterson
(tweeted by @WomenWriters)

This observation could have been written for "Shakespeare in Love",  the stage adaptation of Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard's screenplay, currently on at the Noel Coward theatre in the West End.

Picture the opening scene in an Elizabethan playhouse.   Will Shakespeare is sitting at a writing desk, quill poised, surrounded by the expectant faces of his friends, and he is struggling.  He grasps at words that Kit Marlowe, seemingly effortlessly, plucks from the air.   And it's not because Will can't write,  you understand, but because he can't connect.  He is struggling to write a love sonnet, but he hasn't yet fallen in love.

Enter stage left Viola De Lesseps.  Having always wanted to run away to join the circus theatre and be a real player, Viola dresses up as a boy, Thomas Kent, and auditions for the part of Will's Romeo.  She will soon desires to also play his Juliet.  Tom Kent's audition is successful because s/he has already connected with Shakespeare's poetry, and with that level of engagement s/he not only "gets" the role of Romeo, s/he incarnates him.  And Will quite clearly falls for the boy who so embodies his text.  The fact that he is later revealed to be biologically a girl is pretty much an irrelevancy.  The naked truth is that Will Shakespeare worships the muse who has engaged him, who has reconnected him to his material, and released his pen.  

Liam Brennan' Duke Orsino, Johnny Flynn's Viola
"Twelfth Night"

Viola is a great role in any incarnation.   I played her once in a school school talent contest (nul points!) where Viola meets Desdemona and Lady Macbeth in heaven, and a debate ensues as to which is the greatest of Shakespeare's heroines.  For the record, my money will always be on the girl who finds liberty, equality, and, ahem!, fraternity in  stepping outside the constraints of her corset for laughs. (cf. burlesque in The Polelogue).   Then last year it was the turn of the delectable Johnny Flynn playing Viola in Mark Rylance's all-male production of "Twelfth Night".  If music be the food of love, then his singing voice is pure ambrosia to be devoured.  The Greek sort that is, nectar of the gods, not the UHT devon custard.

But I digress.  While in this production Lucy Briggs-Owen as Viola enchants as she goes a-musing,  Abigail McKern's nurse entertains, and Anna Cateret's Queen Elizabeth is a commanding presence,   "Shakespeare in Love" is not really about the fair sex at all, but rather a celebration of manhood in all its guises.   First up, Tom Bateman's Will Shakespeare.  Oh sweet heaven, a tower of sexual charisma and a relentlessly exciting presence on the stage.   And  I was Wilde about David Oakes' Kit Marlowe, his ready wit and steel, feeding lines to a starving friend in need, brotherly love paired with Eros' roving eye for a pretty boy. Doug Rao's rakish Ned Alleyn, cast as Mercutio, is electric.   Colin Ryan's hilarious and creepy Webster, a scene-stealer.

The play is a study in unzipping masculinity in other ways too.  It is not just Tom Kent who sheds the doublet and dons a frock.  Alistair Petrie's superbly arrogant Wessex, Viola's betrothed, finds himself cuckolded, unmanned.     Paul Chihadi's put-upon Henslowe, Shakespeare's patron, is being held to ransom by Ferdy Robert's loan shark Fennyman, and finds himself mincing across an economic tightrope, on occasion dangling.  Fennyman in turn is disarmed on being cast in the play as the apothecary, oh vanity of vanities.  The cross-gartered Lord of Revels, a future Malvolio, is thwarted in his attempts to close the playhouse and stuffed through the trap door, only to emerge impotently raging "I will be revenged on the whole pack of you."

Watching the fortunes of these players unravelling, passion unbuttoning, creative juices unleashing, I was transported for the duration.    At the end of the day, though, just another Passenger, along for the ride. 

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Chapter 25: Circus School for Kids, Airborne Circus and a Real Education

"We are revolting children, living in revolting times."

Have you seen "Matilda the Musical" in the West End?  Roald Dahl's story brought to life on stage tells the tale of a neglected child prodigy, Matilda Wormwood, who stands up to the local school bully - that happens to be the school's headmistress, Miss Trunchball - and ends up living happily ever after with her dream teacher, Miss Honey.  If that sounds too cloyingly sweet for you, hold on.   It's essentially Roald Dahl after all, sharp and witty, while Tim Minchin's music consistently hits the right note, and his lyrics are acutely funny.   The costumes and staging are a dark delight, it is hilarious, disturbing, touching and uplifting.  And the scene on the swings in the photograph above, from the number "When I grow up..." is, ironically, in part responsible for me signing up for the trapeze at circus school.  A whole new education.

The kids have been asking for it as well - circus school, that is - so on Monday I took them to a trial class at Airborne Circus in East Finchley, North London.  "Are we in, like, the North of England, Mum?" the kids wondered, as the tube emerged overground. The journey had taken a good hour. Worth every minute.

Halo Adam at Airborne Circus
(Photo:  Classes 4 kids website)

Airborne Circus was set up by Adam Cohen, and the Monday morning classes in the Finchley Youth Theatre (another converted church, hallelujah!) run for children the whole year round.   I hadn't fully appreciated that we were crashing a course run by Adam for the local home education community.  "So, how long have you been doing home education?" asked one of the mothers.  "Oh, we  don't, we go to a private school down in South London" piped up my son.   Having been avidly following the Wimbledon tweets for the tennis finals at the weekend, I could almost hear commentator Rufus the Hawk twittering away ha! #hawkward.

Only I'm quite shameless, and before long we were swapping contact numbers and talking about a group outing with the kids to the circus-themed Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition (see link here) at the Tate Modern. Adam, himself home-schooled, is passionate about the benefits of home education, sure,  but he also reaches out to schools as well, running circus workshops.   As well as being fun, the key value that I see in promoting circus skills, and yoga, as part of any educational curriculum is the development of core strength, the back-bone to good posture and long-term health.  From what I see, games lessons at school generally favour competitive sports, with emphasis placed on sports like football or netball rather than more gymnastic activities that are generally extra-curricular, and over-subscribed.   I wonder how much of that is parent-driven in the desire to see little Jane or Johnny "succeed", or schools seeking to demonstrate they are top of the league, where glory can be quantified in goal-scoring.  Just a thought.  Who knows?

So, back to circus school.  My daughter went into the 4-6 year old class first, and then my son went into the 7-10 year old class that followed.  Our Toddler didn't need to join a class - she is already a demonstrably accomplished Escape Artiste.  While her siblings were in class we breakfeasted on Turkish delights and dates in the cafe opposite, and then browsed in the second-hand bookshop next door.  It turns out that Black Gulls Books was formerly in Camden,  and used to have a theatre attached long before the Roundhouse was up and running, so there were plenty of performance-related texts to leaf through.  Needless to say, we came out laden.   And Brian, who was running it, has grandchildren himself so was very relaxed, more so than me!, about the circus acrobatics the Toddler was performing on the library ladder.

What her older siblings got up to is best illustrated in their own words:


Daughter:  "So when Adam, our teacher walked in, he said my name and told the class that I was new.  Then we did the register and we played a game.  In fact, when your name is called you would have to run like a spider to the end of the room, then back, backwards, and then you would warm up.  Then we played a game,  we did hula-hooping, juggling, handstands, forward rolls, and we can do the trapeze another time. My favourite bit was the hula-hooping, I chose a yellow and white one.  The other children were really nice and kind to me.  I made lots of new friends."

Me and my Diabolo

Son:  "Well, first of all we had little exercises to do, games, and handstands with alternate legs.  Then I started off with backwards roll, followed by some bunny hopping through hoops. I really liked how Adam taught me the diabolo, how to start it off and throw it.   There are loads of cool tricks to do, but I can only throw it in the air and catch it.  We did some juggling.  Well, I tried some juggling anyway.  I thought that everything was going to be really hard, but it ended up being easier than I thought.  The time went really quickly.  When are we going back again?"

When indeed.  By popular demand, the kids are now going back for the next couple of Mondays and have signed up to a two-day holiday workshop at the end of July.   I see it as an investment.  We have the circus-themed Camp Bestival to look forward to straight after that, and I'm working out the kids' charge-out rates ...

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Chapter 24: From Circus Space to Dream Space - Midnight Circus

"A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world"

 - Oscar Wilde, 1888.
 in The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

It's 5.30am on Saturday morning.  After a sultry, humid few days the weather has finally broken and the rain is flooding down.  I'm here at my laptop, still in a dream state.  I have been woken by the Toddler, aka The Escape Artiste, looking cherubic, but the early hour was my punishment nonetheless.

The moonlight in question radiated from AirCraft Circus' show "Midnight Circus" last night, at Jacksons Lane, up in Highgate.  It was a stunning ensemble of contortion, acrobalance, aerial and pole skills.   

"And fire.  Lots of fire." As the programme promised.

It was a funny old route getting to Midnight Circus.  It started with this blog, specifically Chapter 19:  The Snake Charmers (see link). Getting back in touch with Stormy to ask for permission to use the striking photo of circus performer Katrina Lilwall for the blog, she then mentioned the show Kat is currently in.  The radar that had already started flashing from general Twitter buzz/feed on Midnight Circus, then started going into overdrive, siren sounding.  Actually more like a blast from the Eigenharp that heralded the beginning of the show, belonging to the show's musician, Dave Kemp.  The instrument is an electronic cross between piano, sax and drum, no strings attached  - click here for BBC feature and video - and apparently there are only six in existence.  


Getting to Highgate for 8pm was no mean feat, as I pegged it barefoot to the tube and halved my normal running time down the concrete brick road.  That's halved, even factoring in the time it took to sit down on the school wall round the corner from the tube entrance to strap myself into a pair of Louboutin sandals.  From ruby slippers to scarlet soles, my token gesture to the night ahead.  Red is the mascot colour for circus after all - a nod to Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus: where the followers, or "rêveurs", of the Circus of Dreams, aka the enchanting "Le Cirque des Rêves", sport red scarfs.   Funny that the parallel only occurred to me much later on the way home. 

Jacksons Lane is a former church, and it's a heavenly space.   Every time I see a converted church it reminds me of Iain Banks' "Espedair Street",  that charts the rise and struggles of a rock star, now living in a Victorian church folly in Glasgow.  It's a book that made me howl with laughter, and if it had only been written a couple of decades later, I bet the novel Eigenharp would have featured.   Jacksons Lane is a welcoming space too.  Only that morning its Artistic Director had picked up on Twitter, via a throwaway comment, that I had misplaced my tickets, and immediately offered to sort out replacements. That type of thoughtfulness speaks volumes about the set-up there. 

The performance space itself was intimate, and it was free-seating.  By the time we wandered in, we found, in rather typical British fashion, that the audience had arranged itself so that the prime seats at the front were still free, oh the joy! The staging was vintage circus, atmospheric, dry ice rolling in.  While we were waiting my French companion, the surprise skateboarding juggler mentioned in Chapter 21, asked me what I know about the improv scene in British theatre.  I think comedy, back to Josie Lawrence duetting with Tony Slattery to Clive Andersen's delight in "Whose Line is it Anyway?" years ago.  Beyond that, I'm sorry I haven't a clue. But if we are talking immersive theatre, that's another story, and maybe another post.  All I will say here is that it should come to no surprise to any reader of the "The Night Circus", see the trailer below, that the immersive theatre experience of the Punchdrunk company, whose current Hollywood Fable: The Drowned Man ends tomorrow night, is cited in the closing credits to the novel.

My impressions of the show were of sheer skill and adventure.  The proximity to the cast creates an immediacy that envelopes the audience, who feed off the creative juices flowing with vampiric gusto and are energised as a result. My husband was a case in point.  Dead after work, watching the show really brought him back to life.  So afterwards, in the bar, it was fascinating, and not a little exciting, to learn that The Hangar where AirCraft Circus train in North Greenwich is also a teaching space for adults and children alike. If the performers are anything to go by it is flexible, familiar, innovative circus space creating dream works.

I loved the suit whose jacket reverses into a motley affair, part tramp, part company fool.   Doesn't that apply to us all? The sleek striptease and sharp intake of breathe as a red dress slithers to the ground leading into the most  sizzlingly beautiful of lovers' duets on silks.  

I am wild about the girls duetting in leopard print on the static trapeze, who, it turns out, seamlessly brought in a touch of improv to the act, respect.   The turn on pole made me nostalgic (see The Polelogue) as well as being sexy as hell. Sizzling sapphic embraces. Straps, ropes, nets and tumbling bodies. The synchronicity of the trio on trapeze, tart fizz, eye-popping candy.   The disco-lit (somewhere-over-the) rainbow flashing hula hoops are still a blur. 

We marvelled at the dexterity and simplicity of their lines lover's duet in the contortionist's bowl.  I coveted the gold hareem pants, and it's good to know the multi-faceted Kat had designed and made all the costumes, so I can get my order in. 

The golden fire, burning bling, I've never seen anything like it. The whole company was aflame at the end.   Wheels of fire are clicked together so that sparks fly.  I loved the tease of the flame swallowing, and the devil taunting our motley fool with fire sticks, the spinning circlets of fire and the industrial-strength spark shooters.   Before you know it, the show ends in a flash.  And the audience is left to smoulder out.  Illuminated.

Aircraft Circus.  MIDNIGHT CIRCUS.  18th June - 12th July 2014.   
Jackson's Lane
Photos: courtesy of Stormy Sloane at Rebel & Romance
Further review here in Kate Kavanagh's The Circus Diaries

"There is so much that glows in the circus, from flames to lanterns to stars."

- Friedrick Thiessen, 1894.
The Night Circus, Erin Morgernstern

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Chapter 23: Vintage Circus and a Star Turn ...

Photo: courtesy of Broken Down Doll
Hat:  Jess Collett, Milliner

It's the first day of the school holidays for my son (yes, already!), though not for the girls.  He's just walked into the kitchen asking for my help fixing together a crown he is making. He has designed, cut, and decorated it, and now it is time to put it all together.  Boy is it fiddly.  Crowns, top hats for fancy dress parades at school, party head-gear, I've tried my hand at the lot, with limited success. Strictly limited.  So I take my hat off to anyone that does this for a living, and for me, head and shoulders above the rest is the milliner Jess Collett - check out her website here:  Jess Collett Milliner.

Over the past couple of years I've worn Jess's fedora on the school run, her panama hat on South Beach, Miami, her cocktail hat as a guest of The Grand Budapest Hotel, her vintage combs to Glyndebourne, and regularly steal back her star clips in a myriad of colours from the nests of my little pair of magpies.  

Jess Collett's studio, an Aladdin's cave of textiles, colour and inspiration, is on the corner of All Saint's Road, just across from Book and Kitchen, an oasis in the desert of independent bookshops, and around the corner from Portobello Market, the hub of vintage. 

Vintage and circus are natural bedfellows, complementing the Vivienne Westwood School of Thought. The whole idea of stepping out of the mainstream to create your own original, is an empowering one. Circus on the fringes provides a space to rescue skills passed down through families and generations, and breathe new life into them. Take for example the invention of the Cyr Wheel in 2003, built on age-old principles.  The Cyr wheel is a stunning discipline founded by Daniel Cyr, who also created the fabulous Cirque Eloize.  Their last pulsating show at Sadlers' Wells was ID and focussed on the idea of tribes and identity in the City. BMX's and street beat, skipping ropes and chair-stacking balancers. Building on old foundations, with new interpretations.

In fashion terms, vintage for me is about retrieving and recycling gems from bygone eras (or giving the illusion of so doing) that resists the contemporary mainstream trend to use and discard.   So I was delighted to see the photo on Instagram of Jess's hat as part of a fabulous shoot announcing the Broken Down Doll Boutique's Festival of Fabulous, held at Phoenix the best friend to any bird with a broken wing (see Chapter 16: Bird with a Broken Wing)  looking for new feathers.  The phoenix rising, indeed.

So roll up, roll up for

 "statement sequins, superhero worthy capes and classic cocktail wear"

It starts TODAY! and is on until 13th July at Phoenix on 67 Golborne Rd, W10.   With an added twist of a hibiscus marguerita tonight and next Thursday 6-9pm, The Pied Piper of Vintage is calling ...

And speaking of finding your way, I have just heard about all the benches cropping up over London dressed as books.   My favourite, the one I will search for first (clues welcome!) is the one celebrating Monica Ali.  Who knows where it will lead, but sometimes life is a case of just following the Yellow Brick Lane ...