Monday, December 14, 2015

'The Christmas Wishlist' at the Yard Theatre, 13th December 2015

Feels like it's been a while since I last sat in a drafty Hackney Wick warehouse watching East London artists at play. Christmas Wishlist, organised by Theatrefullstop, is a smörgåsbord of the arts; encompassing theatre, dance, monologues, comedy, circus acts, poetry and burlesque. 

First up is We Play Projects with what is ominously described as an "avant garde musical". That's the kind of phrase that sends a chill through any critic's bones, imagining some impenetrable chunk of po-faced obscurantism. Fortunately, We Play Projects come at this with sense of humour and willingness to get a bit self-deprecating. As two performers lasciviously writhe around one another, while another chants "this must be art", a third annoyedly exclaims that she's not getting paid for any of this, worries about losing her wallet (then finds it) and finally heads to the bar to order a drink and gossip with the bartender. The performance ends with a bit of puking; to their credit I'm not sure whether it was real puke or not.

We Play Projects
Next up is Jessica Andrade, who emerges to the rattlingly 90s tones of the Spice Girls' Spice Up Your Life. This is The Brownie Club, a comedic circus piece about the performer's memories of racism in school. Andrade proves to be impressively chameleonic, the most impressive moment coming as she dons a sari and, for a couple of minutes, plays the stereotypically submissive Asian girl, before lapsing back into her Londony tones.

Following that is the confessional Sex With Your Ex by Ese Ighorae. Raw and ragged, Ighorae snowballs from emotionally bruised to wounded to half-dead, explaining that to her ex she's "Lidl not Sainsburys". Ouch. Things only get darker from there; a performance infused with white-hot fury and miserable regret at those who've taken advantage of her, and worse, at herself for allowing them to.

More dance next with Emi Del Bene, fusing contemporary dance with Bharatanatyam. A likeable stage presence, she endears herself to us the moment she off-handedly remarks about how cold the floor is on her bare feet. To Fabrizio De André's Il sogno di Maria, del Bene expressively twirls and gesticulates, her motions translated into sound by the jingling bells on her feet. De Andre's song is about profane and anarchic readings of Christian religion, so it's appropriate that her dance includes ritual dancing from a different cultures. Perhaps it was a touch too literally choreographed (touching her back when the song mentions vertebrae for example), but given that the majority of the audience won't speak Italian, this is an easy criticism to duck.

Prior to the interval we get a spoken-word monologue from Adam Tyler. The organisers have been asked beforehand to tell us as little as possible about it, but from the first minute or so it's obvious what's going on. Tyler's playing the biblical Judas, out to explain himself and moan that he's become the byword for betrayal. In the delivery I detected more than a whiff of Tony Blair; behaving as if fancy rhetoric can paper over crimes against humanity.

Post interval, the next performer was Cici Noir with a short burlesque performance. To the rolling electric guitars of Carrie Underwood's Before He Cheats Noir squirms all over a chair and to slightly muted whoops partially strips. I haven't really got anything against burlesque, but this performance felt out of place amongst the other pieces. The best 'arty' burlesque has some kind of twist, but this was just someone taking off their clothes to MOR soft-rock. 

Letters to Centre Stage
Fortunately the next piece marked a definite up-tick in quality. Letters to Centre Stage, set within a Nigerian girls boarding school, consisted of an extended debate over Western reactions to the abduction of schoolgirls in Nigeria. The central character, played by Ese Ighorae, is a London born and raised girl unhappily relocated at the will of her uncle. She attempts to defend her position against the incisive comments of her classmates. Evocatively written and performed, the piece probes at the edges of British quasi-racist apathy to events in Africa, the lingering aftereffects of colonialism and the ineffectiveness of 'feel good' gestures in the face of genuine evil. It was brill -  thrumming with the precise kind of electric directness I crave.

Dois Stupid Girls
Next up was Dois Stupid Girls, with a circus themed comedic performance. I think the plot was about a girl wishing for an elf, then the two overcoming their suspicions with each other and becoming fast friends. Considering the generally festive tone of the invitation and venue, the night was up to this point a bit lacking in Christmassyness. Stupidity made up for it, a gentle and heartwarming piece that reminded me a bit of a live-action Pixar short.

The final performance was the balls-out craziness of Ugly Collective, with a "circus sex tragedy". In practice this involved some seriously dangerous looking stunts, involving walking across a broken glass and lying down in it, before charging about the stage with sharpened kitchen knives with reckless abandon. It's a bit scary to see something that looks genuinely dangerous on stage - reaching a height when they attaching carving knives to a woman's feet and encouragie her to wobble across the room like a particularly stabby penguin. The piece was performed with such wilful disregard for health and safety that the person sat next to me evacuated their seat in terror - a ringing endorsement. There were hints of Nietzsche throughout, but frankly I've got no goddamn idea what this was about. Fun to watch though.

Ugly Collective
All in all a pretty damn fine night out. Grab-bags like these may be of variable quality, but common to all was a spirit of adventure and willingness to experiment. Also, I won a bottle of wine in the raffle, so there's a nicely alcoholic cherry on top of the cake.

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