I’ll be working as “Arts, Culture and Student Insights Coordinator” which is a fancy title I came up with to look cool on LinkedIn. In reality, it means I’ll be working closely with Louise Coysh and Jen Harris in the University’s Arts and Culture team, alongside our venues John Hansard Gallery and Turner Sims, to look at how we can develop the student experience around the University’s arts and culture offer. This involves supporting the student voice in the Heart of Campus project and city-wide cultural development. I’ll be particularly focused on making sure we have extensive student consultation and input!
John Hansard Gallery and Turner Sims are both exploring ways to focus their energies within the digital sphere, seeking to animate online spaces to bring you inspiring art and culture. Alongside this, Arts at University of Southampton’s digital channels will be dedicated to sharing with you the best of the arts to be accessed remotely. We’ll also be inviting the talented creatives and artists in our own team to contribute ideas and showcase their practice.
A well-known figure in the Southampton arts scene, as well as an Artist Facilitator for the University of Southampton-led project Connecting Culture (focused on understanding the impact of the arts on Southampton-based young people aged 5-25), Anna Carr is a theatre maker who works across different platforms to create autobiographical theatre experiences.
Kindred is one such experience. The self-produced show, exploring the story of Carr’s grandparents and seeking to understand the harrowing experience of abuse undergone by her grandmother, was part of the a celebration of Sotonian theatre, the Make it SO Festival. The festival took place in NST City’s Studio space across most of February and showcased 19 ‘work-in-progress’ productions, proving just how much exciting theatre is being made locally.
I didn’t know what to expect heading into the NST for Le Navet Bete’s production of Dumas’ classic The Three Musketeers. Subtitled ‘A Comedy Adventure’ and with a poster with some rather striking facial expressions and a BMX, I wasn’t sure whether I was about to watch the actual musketeers being heroic or four men running around in musketeer outfits for children’s enjoyment.
As it turned out, it was definitely more of the latter, but without the negative connotation – I enjoyed the running around perhaps more than the children. The classic, exhibitionistic comedy acting was finely interlaced with a sterling production, and a script which is both timely and timeless. In a Nuffield Southampton Theatres spring season filled with literary adaptations, this production does not beat around the bush when it comes to questions of adapting a literary text and tailoring it to their audience. The apparently necessary aspect of historical and textual accuracy is dropped from the very beginning, when the four actors present themselves to their audience out of costume, breaking the fourth wall and clarifying that the production does not claim to hold the ultimate understanding of the 700-page novel, but just wants have as much fun with it as possible, without taking itself very seriously.
Whether or not this is a recipe for a great adaptation is a completely different, less fun conversation with likely no verdict whatsoever. The only conclusion I can get to is that it’s definitely a recipe for roaring laughter. The four actors were a delight to watch, having the time of their lives on stage, flawlessly switching between characters with quick changes of costume, and even when the changes weren’t as smooth as they should have been they acted so naturally that I doubted whether or not the mistake was actually planned. Stand-out characters were Madame De Winter, Cardinal Richelieu, and D’Artagnan, played with fantastic consistency throughout, but every single change of costume brought a fresh round of raucous laughter, whether caused by an oblivious Lord Buckingham or a vindictive nun. The sheer amount of events happening and the relations between all the characters were confusing, but instead of running away from this, Le Navet Bete flipped it on its head, aware of just how much was happening and having the characters explain things they did not understand themselves.
engagement was a huge positive part of the show. The fourth wall, removed from
the very beginning of the play, never returned, with the actors thriving when
improvising reactions to the audience’s own. The funniest moment of the show
required the audience to throw plush ducks at Madame De Winter as she was
proving her hunting skills to Lord Buckingham. The willingness of the actors to
improvise and the natural manner in which they did it really elevated the show.
production value was also outstanding, from a simple yet versatile set, to the
similarly versatile costumes. The stage was a constant whirlwind of moving
props, flying costumes, and musketeers riding bikes instead of horses – and
whilst it may have seemed quite natural, it required calculated coordination
and elaborate choreography that did not go unnoticed. However, it was the sound
that truly enhanced the comedic effect. For instance, if the shotgun sounds
didn’t play exactly as Madame De Winter was ‘shooting’ the plush ducks, the
effect of that scene would have been significantly diminished. The sterling
synchronization between sound effects and the onstage acting deserved a
standing ovation in itself.
Overall, The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure was a witty, self-aware show, unafraid of tapping into the childish side of all the audience members – children or adults – of questioning its own script, or of pushing the limits of what onstage performance is: if you get a line wrong, acknowledge it and do it again, it might make the whole scene funnier that it was meant to be intentionally!
Le Navet Bete provided a complete escape from the worries of everyday life – I laughed more than I have in a long time, and isn’t that what we all need?
The Three Muskateers: A Comedy Adventure ran atNST City from Tuesday 18 – Saturday 22 February 2020.
To our shame and huge excitement and curiosity, the opening night of ZoieLogic Dance Theatre’s Heist was the first time either of us had seen a dance-only production. And on top of that, whilst between us we have a few years’ worth of mostly amateur dance experience, we know nothing about contemporary dancing, which was the show’s predominant style. In a nutshell, we went to the opening night of this show with absolutely no expectations and completely ready to see contemporary dance with fresh eyes.
And that is
exactly what happened. As ZoieLogic Dance Theatre Artistic Director Zoie
Golding expertly put it (she created the show after all), Heist mixes “the adventure of Mission
Impossible, the gaming of Crystal
Maze, and a little bit of the heart of The
Goonies” – an emotionally dynamic, cleverly woven, action-packed show
bursting with the most graceful moves which kept us on the edge of our seats
One of the most
striking aspects of Heist was in the
way it established the tone so promptly and accurately from the very first minute
with the help of soundtrack and a villain with robotic moves, deeply unsettling
facial expressions and Matrix-like costume. We like to think that we don’t get
scared easily, but we definitely found ourselves huddling close into each other
as the villain slowly approached our end of the stage. This almost instant
characterization was also instilled into the four ‘good’ guys – despite there
being absolutely no words spoken for the entire duration of the show, we
quickly got a real sense of the dynamic between the characters in the first
act, as their movements started to organize themselves into patterns and motifs
to show their quirks and mannerisms, their teamwork and their willingness to do
whatever it takes to escape the prison.
storyline was quite minimalistic. Whilst the general plotlines were conveyed by
the characters’ interaction with the set, the soundtrack and the dancers’
movements and facial expressions, the lack of words brought with itself a lack
of specificity which Heist turned on
its head into a vagueness encouraging audience engagement. We did not know
exactly why the four men were imprisoned, or what they tried to set free at the
end of it, but when we talked about it after coming out of the show we both
thought it had something to do with identity. Whether or not that’s what it
actually was about is a different question.
The great thing
about the show is that none of this guesswork actually matters: you don’t get
brownie points for identifying one specific metaphor the author wanted to
convey. The focus was simply on how the incredibly skilful and graceful
movements affected the audience’s emotions (and trust us, they did). The plot
was merely shaped by some classic heist film tropes (e.g. the chase scene), and
the fantastically adaptable set which enhanced the experience of the show by
being as fluid as the dancers’ movements; the essence was all in the
relationship between movements and emotion. As the dancers were climbing the
prison’s walls showing some real parkour skills, we waited anxiously for them
to fall. As they supported each other through their feeblest sequences of
choreography we felt feeble with them. As they were running from the villain
through the set which became a maze we were rooting for them to get away.
For us, that was
the essence of Heist. It did not
matter that we knew close to nothing about contemporary dance. It only mattered
that we opened our eyes and hearts to see and feel this show, and we left NST
City all the richer for it.