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The Scoop Theatre Review

Ben Hodgkiss gives us the scoop on London's free open-air theatre

Written by . Published on August 16th 2011.

The Scoop Theatre Review

AN upside-down map, running late, Friday’s drinkers freed from work, the collective pop of top buttons set free. An alarming amount of Iron Maiden T-shirts on display (even if you are going to watch them live). A free pass, a ticket to ride, the South Bank’s shores, beneath dusk’s throbbing heat and threats of rain, barks worse than it’s bite.

Don’t get me wrong, I am neither calling into question the caliber of the acting nor the story’s validity, but perhaps it was the brief flares of overacting from one character or another or the excessive use of ‘bastard’ by the butcher, which derailed the scene, feeling a little too slapstick given the overall tone of the piece.

To The Scoop at More London for the treat of the two tales in one evening. The theme, dangerous journeys, performed by the same cast more or less, in quick succession and free to all the public. Seeing Jules Verne’s well-told and family favourite Around The World in Eighty Days paired with the less famous, yet just as important and entertaining The Mother written for stage by Bertolt Brecht, something I was keen to witness given my introductory knowledge of Brecht and the ways he is known to express himself. 

Around the World in Eighty DaysAround the World in Eighty Days

Returning for its ninth year in a row, the company performing to an ever-growing audience who watch from amphitheatre style seats. Delivering a thorough and versatile cast comprised of all meat and grit, capable of making believers out of all in attendance. I’m sure I need not explain the plot of Around The World… but for the unfamiliar we follow Phileas Fogg and his valet, Passepartout, as Fogg undertakes a wager set to him to travel around the world in… I forget, was it 90 days? Creatively executed and innovatively approached through playful actions, we the audience are transported from London to India to the Wild West on all manner of vehicles and treated to merry sing-songs further advancing the story as cast members take it in turns to make the scenery come alive.  

Aroundtheworld1Around the World in Eighty Days

The Mother on the other hand is firmly based in this reality, albeit another time and place. Showing worker’s woes in a place of corruption and confusion, when capitalism’s crush made dust of the bones who helped continue to keep the machinery in motion. Concerned by her son’s new friends and their worrying behavior, Pelegea Vlassova, (the mother) volunteers to hand our radical literature calling for strike action to save her boy’s continued association and away from trouble with the law. In doing so, she unwittingly starts in motion a chain of events that will see her spearhead to the forefront of the radical movement as some kind of prophet, dedicated to bringing about change and enlightenment amongst the willfully ignorant, the pious, the frightened and the uninformed. Excellent and arresting. 

The MotherThe Mother

Yet it was The Mother on this night which I unfortunately took issue with. For reasons which escape my understanding, and perhaps even run contrary to the notion of a review, I couldn’t help but feel it was lacking that certain something to fully convince me of its authenticity. Sure when asked to believe I was in a factory or prison I was there, but a certain something didn’t quite convince me. Don’t get me wrong, I am neither calling into question the caliber of the acting nor the story’s validity, but perhaps it was the brief flares of overacting from one character or another or the excessive use of ‘bastard’ by the butcher, which derailed the scene, feeling a little too slapstick given the overall tone of the piece. The flashing factory light and voiceover which punctuated each chapter of the story, which only served to remind me what I was doing, a disrupted fourth wall, wavering and upsetting my notions of what is and what is not, for I had gone along with them so far, both feet in the deep end only to be reminded that I was watching something rather than not having to think about it in the first place.

A victim of the cinema age, I can count on one hand how may times I’ve attended the theatre this year and such is the ceremony and experience that I always find myself asking why I don’t attend more often. To be stirred and touched so tangibly, to see this story unfold before my own grasp in Technicolor and 3D, really real life, a testament to their conjuring powers. Given the nature of the night’s performances, two very different stories executed by the same cast, it was wonderful to witness and be amongst such brilliance, from light-hearted whim to heavy-hearted grind, to see pompous swagger later transformed into downtrodden ache, grime and grace, poise and down right despair. True, now I am perhaps simply describing acting in its essence, but to see this transformation literally before my eyes was a triumphant experience indeed. A subtle glance sneer smile or frown, which perhaps ninety five percent in attendance would not benefit from, had me sold almost instantly 

Given the pleasure derived from the evening’s plays, I felt a little at odds walking away having not to have paid admission, for such is the level of the performances the acts put on and stories told that paying in some way would gauge and validate the emotions experienced and pleasure derived. If this year’s performances are anything to go by I look forward to seeing what their tenth year anniversary holds in store. 

Plays run from the 4 August – 5 September

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