The Bear Space
"Highly wrought… brilliantly grotesque… a love letter to theatre itself"
Beccy Smith, Total Theatre
A man explains the nature of the theatre to his daughter in the 17th century and the audience gamble with puppets in the 21st century is how the show was described. Instead we got a wonderfully fresh production about Tudor theatre and entertainment without a single name check for You Know Who, this 400th anniversary year of all things Bardy. It was a seriously engaging fun and electric performance that changed from improvised audience participation, serious reflection on the nature of cruelty, violence and harm in the name of entertainment, some touching sweet puppetry and an utterly bizarre dénouement that ended up with us being plunged into a bear pit re-enacted with audience members a huge bear and some rather menacing undertones. FoulPlay Productions winners of the Brighton Fringe ‘Best Outdoor Event’ 2014, return to the Festival with a winning but bloody tale of bards, barks and bears.
Foul play use a combination of styles; comedy, serious acting, clowning and crowd engaging skills to pull the audience together into the ‘bear space’ and their deft handling of some of the more robust audience participation was a pleasure to witness, always kind, with a hint of direction. This company knows how to pull the best experience from both venue and audience and it’s a treat to go out and see such a sharply written, well acted and funny show with such a gory, shocking punch at the end.
That ending (which I won’t reveal as it’s a big part of the experience and possibly changed with the performance on the night) was emotionally charged leaving us pondering on what we had seen, wanting more and wandering out into the evening feeling slightly repulsed by the whole concept of entertainment and it’s visceral relationship with cruelty both historically, as portrayed on the stage, and currently in it’s many forms of film and TV violence and harm and what that therefore makes us, the audience, for both facilitating, desiring and consuming it.
Thought proving and funny, in equal measure and never fully tipping from one to the other, a high wire of narrative balancing which is not an easy mix but one which FoulPlay produce with verve, style and very funny and engaging performers. Great fun. Recommended.
ERIC PAGE for GScene
The Bear Space is a pleasingly enigmatic affair – and it behoves me to write a similarly enigmatic review. A lot of its delight lies in the surprises; surprises it would, therefore, be criminal to spoil. But I can say that the show is built around bear-baiting, the heartless mediaeval “sport” which pitted a single chained bear against a pack of dogs trained to fight. I can say that it features brutal puppet hounds – which snarl and bite at a huge, loveably vulnerable, puppet bear. And I can also say that it’s far more funny and charming than that blunt description makes it sound.
You have to wait a fair while to see those puppets, because the first part of the show is an introduction set in the present day. And it’s in this scene that some of the most memorable theatrical magic happens; we’re shown a procession of objects, all purportedly belonging to a mysterious society whose aim is to restore the “elegant and noble art” of the bear-pit. A very clever piece of audience interaction serves to focus your attention on these artefacts, and stresses their macabre desirability as relics of a bygone age. There’s an irresistible cuteness to some of the objects themselves, and together they tell an entertaining but horrific back-story, about a real-world London bear garden and the cruelty practiced therein.
It’s master of ceremonies Ulysses Black who makes this first part of the show sparkle, humorously bigging up the items he’s displaying while glossing over their self-evident weaknesses. As time goes by, though, we see another side to his character; for him, these are not just historic artefacts, but subjects of almost religious adoration. And soon, in an elegant visual sequence, he takes us back in time – to hear a hauntingly cynical monologue from a sixteenth-century bear owner, and finally to witness the reality of the “sport”, courtesy of puppeteer Annie Brooks.
FoulPlay Productions’ previous Brighton Fringe show was essentially an outdoor game, and that experience building interactive entertainment is evident here as well. They excel at giving the audience creative things to do; one necessary on-stage hiatus was deftly covered up by having Black reappear as a barker, hustling us to place bets on either the dogs or the bear. The opening scene, similarly, is magnificently conceived, building a sense of fun and friendly competition while cleverly drawing attention to the emerging storyline...And despite (or maybe because of) its hideous subject matter, this is a witty and warmly humorous show; and so, if you enjoy the unconventional, it’s a bear necessity for you.original and fun performance that takes a risk and comes out smiling.
Theatre has some pretty bloody antecedents and these are the subject (and lurking subtext) of interactive Brighton-based company FoulPlay’s latest puppet-centric feast for Brighton Fringe.
We begin in an auction room where the bids (ours), for a host of relics from a certain Elizabethan entertainment establishment, are coming thick and fast. In 2014 the company won the Fringe’s Best Outdoor Event for their Roald Dahl-homage race around the city centre, The Fantastic Fox Hunt, and the ghost of outdoor languages can still be felt here. Smart crowd management strategies draw us into the world of the play and make it look easy to oversee our extensive interaction with it.
The world has been lovingly crafted, from the handmade artefacts that the auctioneer touts which include original artwork and homespun lace collars, down to the homemade and specially designed currency we can pay, and play, with. This is a company of artists and their influence – in the costumes, puppets and detailed design – can be felt throughout.
The heart of the play, though, comes when we move out of the auction room and into the past it so reveres. Jack Stigner’s long monologue of a showman defining the nature of his sport to his innocent yet curious daughter is a really densely worked and enjoyable piece of writing. It ambitiously takes on a Renaissance tone (complete with Shakespearian homilies) and rises to the challenge while feeding us a lot of both history and character. Stigner’s performance as the hinge between the two worlds is precise and convincing: his transformation from gormless no-mark to wily hustler boldly drawn in the simplest of sequences with a smart use of sound. Ulysses Black’s hilariously emollient auctioneer has a nice streak of repressed violence.
The show definitely leaves us wanting more... as the past and present of the form collide we can glimpse traces of what made and makes the live experience so exhilarating.
BECCY SMITH for TOTAL THEATRE
The FoulPlay Fantastic Fox Hunt
“One of the stand-out highlights of the festival. It was brilliantly inventive, extremely original, multi-layered and hugely addictive production. The premise is very simple and immersive attracting children and adults alike.”
Julian Caddy, Managing Director Brighton Fringe 2014
WINNER: Best Outdoor Theatre Event
Latest Festival Awards 2014
The Office of Correspondence
“... a theatrical and stylish 1930s office, the audience are thrown headfirst into their roles... This was an absolutely brilliant and wonderfully innovative show”
*****Jessica Nero, Three Weeks, 2008
An original and fun performance that takes a risk and comes out smiling.
The great thing about taking pot luck in the Fringe Review hand outs is you never know what you are going to stumble into next. The Office of Correspondence bills itself as "The only interactive 1930’s office theatre. Part-time audiences required with good and bad typing skills." As Kitty Chattalot and I are wondering where to get drinks (it seems the komedia bar has closed) we are handed a job application form to fill in and hustled into the Komedia studio bar where we are greeted by the formidable receptionist who prepares our file and invites us to take a seat in the waiting room.
It’s at this point that the less intrepid audience applicant may feel a little bit nervous and begin to wonder what they have let themselves in for, but fear not, relax, sit back and enjoy the ride. If you have ever been to a murder mystery or if you have ever found yourself in the middle of a festival in fancy dress then you’ll feel right at home. In fact this group of performers from Brighton and London have been offering their officious outings at festivals and have obviously decided to see how it works in the theatre.
First things first, it’s a lot of fun. I like this kind of thing anyway but Kitty who is a little more wary perhaps found herself joining in and getting into character, "you just can’t help it".
There’s a hustle and a bustle and a sense of commotion about the room as audience applicants are lead from the receptionist to the ego massage area, the typewriter tests, the special assignments. Shady characters doing dodgy deals mingle with flirty flappers and prim and proper secretaries and every now and then spontaneous applause breaks out for the employee of the minute. The actors cleverly use the audience as their extras, weaving them through the room to cue and generally mixing it up with little scenes and sub plots.
Does it work in the theatre space as well as it might at a festival? I would have liked to see some stronger plotting and a through line for each of the characters but the improvisation, the games and tests work really well. I can see this piece developing into a Los Vagueness style party tent where every one turns up in costume ready to have fun with a live band, or into a piece of interactive street theatre.
This show gets four stars for it’s originality, for the attention to detail in the publicity and printed materials- it’s all been thought through really well- and because if you’re up for a guaranteed fun night of random play this is your best bet this weekend.
Highly Recommended Show Fringe 2008
The Devil, Chess: A Burlesque
“Provocative yet elegant... A triumph, a witty script, great dancing and accomplished acting…The cast achieves the impossible: they made chess exciting...” **** Three Weeks
*****The British Theatre Guide
Its not often that the game of chess is equated with anything other than dry, dusty academics or child prodigies. With that in mind, the idea of transforming an 80 year old Chess stratagem guidebook is an unlikely one. However, as is so often the case, the unlikeliest ideas have proved the best.
With conventional ideas of theatre, structure and style thrown to the wind, director Jack Stigner has created a symphony of sensual decadence, peppered with literary allusions and sardonic humour. From the first moments when the audience are picked one by one by the burly horse-headed Knights and literally manhandled into the dark theatre on either the black or white side of a folding chessboard screen, through the sultry acts of the cavorting corseted dancers, till the final stand-off finish , there is no let up in the dark beauty of the performance.
We are led by Stigner, narrating in ever changing costumes, through an exploration of the nature of war, sex, death and the Devil himself using the medium of Chess as both metaphor and depiction. He rails and waxes as the dancers and Knights strut amongst the audience
and fling themselves at each other through the masterful choreography of the quite delicious Astral De La Mare. Adding in the amount of naked skin on display and the hot and close environment of the setting, makes this certainly the sexiest and most arousing piece of theatre at the Fringe, and a must see to anyone who dares call themselves a fan of Burlesque.
The Devil, Chess A Burlesque is a robust burlesque performed at Pressure Point on Grand Parade.
The stairs from bar were flanked by diabolical, hoplite,
chessmen in black and white horse masks. The audience were beaten and carolled
into the auditorium and commanded to ‘move!’. Writhing harlots flaunted
themselves in the stairwell. The writhing harlots looked ravishable and need
little more explanation.
Pressure Point’s upstairs bar is like a sleazy whorehouse. The perfect venue for a show about sex sleaze and the Devil. The show began with a blast of Revel’s Bolero. The harlots reappeared to writhe in the corners of the bar. There was a screen projecting various related images. I like the fact that a separate show was going on at an oblique angle to the audience. Many people missed this but it contributed to the richness of the experience.
The Devil (Jack Stigner) appeared as a transsexual purveyor of sadomasochism in the Tim Curry style. What ever he said escaped me. There was a narrative but what it was about I’m not sure and either were the rest of the audience but that wasn’t so important. The Devil Chess is an experience of raucous spirit rather than exquisite prose.
The show must have gone on for about an hour and it was enthralling. Foul Play Productions hope to take to Edinburgh. It is one of those things that could be expanded in scale. I could see this working in a warehouse or a gig devoted to depravity like Torture Garden.
Outstanding Show Fringe 2007
Reviewed by CD 13th May 2007