Review: Much Ado About Nothing, reFASHIONed Theatre

“Is it not strange…”

The Faction weren’t kidding when they said they were breaking out of the rep model that has characterised their output for the last few years. Earlier this summer saw them take Vassa Zheleznova to the Southwark Playhouse and now they’re appearing at the reFASHIONed Theatre. What’s that I hear you cry, why it’s a pop-up space on the lower ground floor of Selfridges just past the luggage where a newly commissioned version of Much Ado About Nothing is paying its own tribute to Shakespeare400.

Director Mark Leipacher and co-director Rachel Valentine Smith have slimmed the play down to a neat 90 minutes, without too much damage (unless you’re a big fan of the Watch) and with a nod to the sleekly contemporary surroundings of the reFASHIONed space, introduced digital cameos to supplement their 9-strong cast. So Simon Callow and Rufus Hound pop up on CCTV footage as Dogberry and Verges, and Meera Syal appears regularly onscreen as a reporter for Messina News, filling us in on the breaking news whether on TV or on Twitter-streams. Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, reFASHIONed Theatre”

Review: Vassa Zheleznova, Southwark Playhouse

“You’re quite something, aren’t you”

The Faction are probably best known for their repertory seasons, running over the early months of the last six years at the New Diorama, brightening up dark wintry nights with their inventive reimaginings of classical plays. Their tenure there has now come to an end though and so they’re branching out to alternative venues and times of the year, popping up now at the Southwark Playhouse with a new version of Gorky’s rarely-performed Vassa Zheleznova.

Adapted by Emily Juniper who has transported the play to a Liverpool in the midst of the dockers’ strike of the mid-90s, Sian Polhill-Thomas’ Vassa is the tough-as-nails head of a shipping company whose grip on power is slowly being loosened. The business belonged to her husband’s family but he’s long been busy failing to be a rock star, so it has been her guts and determination that has built the firm’s success, but at some considerable personal cost and as crisis looms, things don’t look to be getting any easier. Continue reading “Review: Vassa Zheleznova, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Joan of Arc, New Diorama

“You can’t slaughter what you cannot kill”

In amongst everything else that the Faction do, they’re also steadily working their way through Friedrich Schiller’s plays with the aim of staging the complete canon of his work. I’ve seen them take on Mary StuartFiesco and The Robbers in recent years but their 2015 rep season features Joan of Arc, a free adaptation of The Maid of Orleans which was one of his most frequently performed plays during his lifetime. Its fiercely militaristic tone speaks to its popularity back then but the Faction, playing very much to their strengths in this thrilling and thoughtful version, make a sterling case for its pertinence today.

The play tells its own variation on Joan’s life – one could hardly argue it is historically inaccurate – which repositions La Pucelle as a defiantly active warrior in the Dauphin’s forces as the French Crown struggles against the combined forces of the Duke of Burgundy and Henry VI of England. That she was a peasant girl who received religious visions only added to her allure when her talismanic presence proved decisive in turning the military tide but the natural suspicion of anything different, combined with Joan’s internal dilemmas about the validity of her spirituality, allows the seeds to be sown for her downfall (even if it plays out in an unexpected manner). Continue reading “Review: Joan of Arc, New Diorama”

Review: The Talented Mr Ripley, New Diorama

“Do you like our new refrigerator?”

For an ensemble company that is so focused on, well, the ensemble, The Talented Mr Ripley seems a curious choice for The Faction to include in their 2015 rep season. Patricia Highsmith’s tale of homoerotic obsession, impersonation, murder and swanky new fridges features a tour-de-force performance from Christopher Hughes as Tom Ripley at its heart but in the final analysis, it doesn’t always feel like a show that really plays to the strengths and artistic potential of this group of actors and creatives.

Part of the issue seems to flow from the literalness of Mark Leipacher’s adaptation which runs at nearly three hours with the interval coming at the first hour mark. As you can imagine it thus retains much of the integrity, and detail, of Highsmith’s novel but it also consequently lacks theatricality. So many key story points are endlessly repeated – the day trips where Ripley gets ever closer to the luminous DIckie Greenleaf, the highly symbolic luggage that he carries with him, the various policemen who chase him through Italy – to little cumulative impact. Continue reading “Review: The Talented Mr Ripley, New Diorama”

Review: Romeo and Juliet, New Diorama

“What sadness lengthens Romeo’s hours?”

The Faction return to the New Diorama for their now customary annual repertory season, having seriously shaken up their line-up for the first time – just two core ensemble members remaining along with directors Mark Leipacher and Rachel Valentine Smith. What remains though is an equally serious streak of inventiveness that marks them as one of the more adventurous and exciting theatre companies out there. And it is that sense of innovation that sustains their fresh and spiky Romeo and Juliet which clocks in at a healthy three hours and fifteen minutes.

It may seem like a strange combination – such fidelity to the fullness of the text yet such exploratory theatre-making as led by Valentine Smith – but it provides some lovely moments such as the setting of the Act II prologue to music which is sung beautifully by the full company. Keeping the majority of the company onstage at all times allows for some fascinating, and wordless, extratextual exploration of relationships – the sex and violence of Capulet and Lady Capulet’s tempestuous marriage is compelling to watch and the genuine affection, love even, between the Nurse and Peter makes perfect sense.

Continue reading “Review: Romeo and Juliet, New Diorama”

Review: Reptember – Triple Bill A, New Diorama

“Can we discuss what makes great art”

The Faction theatre company have now become well established with their yearly rep season at the New Diorama so it was something of a pleasant surprise to see them pop up with something extra – Reptember, another rep season but this time made up of single-person shows. Over the next few weeks, they’re presenting three diverse triple bills, featuring new adaptations of some well-known works as writers and actors alike put a Faction-able spin on the world of solo performance. It’s a challenging evening to be sure, closer to three hours than two, but there’s wonderful variety within the programme as the three performances inhabit completely different aesthetics.

First up is Kate Sawyer and Rachel Valentine Smith’s modern take on Lorca’s Duende, an “interactive lecture” on the profound forces that drive the soul of true artists. Its presentation (acted by Sawyer, directed by Smith) is ingeniously conceived and comes as a marvellous surprise. Suffice to say, it demands an expressively physical performance from Sawyer and she fully delivers, vividly entertaining but with a tragicomic note that blooms beautifully late on. Lorca may not have referenced Penélope Cruz, Simon Cowell or Nick Cave directly in his work but the updating is beautifully done and makes great artistic sense. Continue reading “Review: Reptember – Triple Bill A, New Diorama”

Review: The Robbers, New Diorama

“He’s the apple of your eye but if that apple do offend, then pluck it out” 

The final piece of The Faction’s 2014 Rep Season 2014 is a revival of their 2011 successful take on Schiller’s The Robbers, which slots in along Hamlet and Thebes in playing through February at the New Diorama. As Schiller’s first play, it has something of a rawness about it in the way that brings together a surprisingly mature (for the 1780s) debate about state versus revolution, intervention versus anarchy, with the kind of histrionic family drama that at times recalls Shakespeare at his most bafflingly obtuse.

The play bounces between antagonistic siblings, Franz and Karl von Moor. The devilish Franz has hoodwinked their father into disinheriting the older Franz and so is allowed to grasp for power and money in court, whereas Karl flees to the forest where he becomes the head of a vicious band of robbers who are determined to start the revolution. Interestingly, the two never meet but their actions impact strongly on those around them as class, religion and society are indicted in melodramatic style. Continue reading “Review: The Robbers, New Diorama”

Review: Thebes, New Diorama

Let this blood here be the wash of Thebes’ redemption”

The ancient Greek stories of Thebes have proved some of the most enduring, inspiring theatremakers across the years to relate the tales of power-crazed, war-torn tragedy in their own ways and to their own experiences. Here, Gareth Jandrell ramps up the epic quotient by splicing together works by Aeschylus and Sophocles to create his own new play Thebes which spans the entire misbegotten dynasty, and forms the second play in The Faction’s 2014 rep season at the New Diorama.

So we see Oedipus’ crazed descent as the terrible truths uttered by the Oracle unknowingly shape his destiny as a most tragic king and we then move swiftly into the aftermath of his death, the power vacuum that emerges that his two sons and Creon battle to fill. Which in turn unleashes its own trail of chaos in the form of Oedipus’ vengeful daughter Antigone who will stop at nothing to do what she feels is right. All the while, the city of Thebes pulses in the background – bearing witness, making comment, passing judgement. Continue reading “Review: Thebes, New Diorama”

Review: Hamlet, New Diorama

“What a piece of work is a man”

The Faction’s annual rep seasons at the New Diorama have gone from strength to strength, winning increasing critical and commercial acclaim, and so in the relatively dry spell of early January openings, they are a welcome highlight. Their 2014 season opens with a fresh take on Shakespeare’s perennial classic Hamlet, directed by Mark Leipacher in an adaptation that takes its time to find its feet and its oeuvre but once it does, it exemplifies much of the best of the Faction’s work, anchored by an excellent lead performance from Jonny McPherson.

Early on, the most arresting feature of this production is the ingenious use of a digital Simon Russell Beale to play the ghost. Leipacher comes up with a novel method of displaying Martin Dewar’s projection work, the ensemble making it somehow float in the air but for all its resourcefulness, it never feels truly integrated into the show, a distance is forced between reality and artifice which undermines the emotional current that ought to pull so strongly. And generally, the first half feels slow to start, competently played to be sure but not quite essential. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, New Diorama”