On the Rocks Festival Theatre Review: Contractions

Chris Cannell reviews Contractions, directed by Fraser Craig and produced by Elise Gallois, which went up the 12th and 13th of April in the Barron Theatre through the On the Rocks Festival. contactionsTo call it Kafkaesque would be, for once, appropriate; to call it soul-scarring might also be true. That it calls your complacency into question—well, that too, and more.Originally adapted from a radio play, Mike Bartlett’s Contractions is—on the face of it—stark and simple: two women—on of higher status, one lower on the food chain—face each other in an office setting. The stark premise was accentuated in this particular production by some unorthodox—but inspired—staging and tech decisions made by Director Fraser Craig, and pulled off with panache by Producer Elise Gallois. In fact, I have never seen the Barron used better; a spotlit chair faced a floodlit desk at the top of the seating rake, and the audience sat on either side of an avenue between the two. Despite some lighting niggles and considering it was the first night, the technical side of the production was of a high standard, providing the show’s two first-rate actresses a fantastic canvas. My only criticism is that the staging decision made the show a little awkward to watch, the audience constantly having to turn their heads from one character to another. But I am an old man at heart with a neck that needs more yoga. The real problem was that both actresses were so eminently watchable that I couldn’t choose who to look at. It felt like a top-flight tennis match: tight, pacy, and unexpected.Poised behind the desk at the top of the seating rake (set before the audience came in), Sarah Pollock—as the manager—busied herself with papers, pens and managerial paraphernalia; all that was missing was a Newton’s Cradle. Her adversary is Emma—played with sterling élan and brilliant vulnerability by Charlotte Kelly—whose simple office misdemeanours (falling in love, having sex, being human) brought down upon her the wrath of “the company”, as personified as the practically inhuman Manager. The Manager’s brand of corporate-ese essentiallised and trivialised every argument, every emotion, that Emma—the underling—tried to convey. Corporations may be people, but they are people with terrible social skills and—it appears—no moral compass.Pollock shone as the manager, a caricature of corporate evil and the robotic inhumanity spawned by her position. Pollock’s balanced performance stopped what could have been a send-up from tipping into the realm of absurdity; it was a masterpiece of self-restraint and an all-round accomplishment. My only available criticism: I was so convinced by her character that I (at first) had trouble speaking to her afterwards. Kelly, as alluded to above, went all out on the emotional stakes, throwing herself at her automaton superior. While this could have backfired into melodrama through juxtaposition with the Manager’s complete facelessness, the contrast was superb and Kelly’s finely balanced performance held the audience’s eyes and emotions in a death-grip.The office procedural, for one like myself—who has only worked in an office ever so briefly—is a genre replete with associations, none of them good. Echoes of Kafka: the unknowable bureaucracy arcana, the veiled motivations, and the approach to the capricious, uncaring God figure lent sepulchral grace to the final moments of the play; we—as an audience—could understand the what, just never the why. That the audience understood what was happening as the supplicant climbed the step-pyramid to offer her sacrifice, but could not understand the motivation, speaks a volume to the ancient Greek term parrhesia. When Emma spoke out bravely trying to test the limits of the system, the system bit back, exposing new areas of her life for it to govern.The striking line “the way things are these days…”—a mantra oft repeated about the economy—could be applied equally well to the underlying assumption that we are all Emma, that “these days” we all must make sacrifices to faceless overlords, and that the only way out is to become them, to accept their version of the truth. Socrates died because he spoke against the consensus; none of us “these days” are as strong, we will give up our versions, our emotions, to world where love is defined in triplicate, just because we are told that is what it is, that this is what we are supposed to do. Chris CannellPhoto credits: Elise Gallois

Jamnesty: Reviewed

IMG_2760St Andrews Amnesty International put on a good show, whilst keeping the message in the limelight.Venue 1 is half-canvassed and out of use, and the Union itself looks like a building site. As a result Venue 2, the erstwhile less-used room at the top of two flights of stairs, has taken on something of a cult following amongst the student population (let’s be honest: at two quid a pint, why wouldn’t you?) So it was that on the night of Wednesday 9th April, in Venue 2, St Andrews’ Amnesty International team held their annual Jamnesty fundraiser, an opportunity to raise awareness about human rights through shared libation and listening to St Andrews’ musical talent.The venue itself was perfect for this kind of event, plenty of places to put posters and Amnesty information, a decent stage big enough for live music to sound good, whilst not so big that intimacy is lost, and a bar that was easy to reach and did not suffer, like the main Union Bar, from horrendous queues. St Andrews Amnesty International has been at the head of many campaigns, most notably the Stop Violence Against Women campaign, and those championing gay rights and human rights in countries in which such things are often not enjoyed, particularly by women. Each campaign had its own sticker in fluorescent colours which were duly plastered everywhere, including on the Amnesty team. The real message of what people were here for was made clear, but the atmosphere still retained something of the small, intimate party of a close group of friends.The live music was good, beginning with a cappella group The Hummingbirds, who gave their inimitable take on classic pop standards, followed by singer-songwriter Josh Fuchs. Mad Jack, not the final band of the evening but certainly the highlight, followed and gave their folk-pop flourish to classics such as The Jackson 5’s ‘I Want You Back’. They produced a haunting rendition of Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’, alongside some of their own work, most notably ‘A Circle is a Line’ with a chorus that had a whiff of Bastille about it, and which one could readily imagine poking its head into the top 40. Following them were Ticho, who presented their smooth blues and pop set which, whilst next to Mad Jack felt like an after party following the main event, still gave its all and didn’t pull punches. The DJ was your standard fare, and opted for beats over tunes, which in a place like Venue 2 is always questionable, though the set was fine overall.But what really made the night stand out was the mission of all those involved; the sense that they truly cared about the cause was palpable. The Amnesty logo was visible on badges, posters, stickers and balloons, and you received a sticker with entry. Given that Venue 2 is well-known for being a less-than-great location, Jamnesty perhaps signals its transformation as a place that can hold its own with the best of them. Jamnesty certainly proved that it could deliver on all fronts, and leave people having enjoyed their night, and most importantly, remembering why they came.Find out more about Amnesty International and getting involved here.IMG_2751 Stuart McMillan Image Credits: St Andrews Amnesty International/ Stuart McMillan

On the Rocks Festival Theatre Review: Gallathea

gallatheaCalder Hudson reviews director Ben Anderson's production of Gallathea, which went up 4th-5th February in the Barron Theatre through the On the Rocks Festival. In the Director’s Note accompanying Gallathea’s program, Ben Anderson wrote that he “wanted the play to be fun for the actors and audience, engaging with a play they’ve probably never heard of.” Gallathea is certainly an (undeservedly) under-sung play, and although this production suffered a number of small stumbles, it was not without its own brand of flair and charm.Gallathea—John Lyly’s 16th century comedy—takes the ol’ love-and-gender switcheroo and amps it up a notch. For a production that ran under ninety minutes, the show had a sizable cast of characters—fifteen in total—ranging from the goddess Diana’s virginal entourage to their opposition, chiefly constituted by Cupid and Venus. The victims of the latter faction—most notably the titular Gallathea (Cara Mahoney) and Phyllida (Sarah Pollock)—shared a personal chemistry that benefited the show’s primary romance. Other members of the cast distinguished themselves admirably; Cupid (Andrew Chalmers), in particular, contributed a curious verbal-slapstick that proved a success with the audience.The show was augmented by an impressive number of technical assets, from its simple but elegant set to its dazzling array of lighting effects. Enabling a cast of fifteen actors to share an hour and fifteen minutes without chaos or confusion—on the part of the cast or audience—was an extraordinary organizational achievement, as was the surplus of personality granted to the show by its costumes, lighting, and setting. For this success, Technical Officer Colleen Layton deserves great congratulation.However, for all of its visual panache, Gallathea was beset by a number of bumps and more than a smattering of stammering. The latter proved a problem, as it evidenced some lack of familiarity with the script. This is, by itself, a largely forgivable issue; during On the Rocks actors juggle a sizeable amount of work (often across multiple shows) in a very short amount of time, so a few trips-of-the-tongue should certainly be permissible. What made the slips more problematic, however, was the lack of energy with which the show dragged past them. Unfortunately, Gallathea’s energy felt consistently closer to 85% than to 100%. To be sure, the rigorous On the Rocks schedule is, again, partly responsible here, but chinks in Gallathea’s armour became much bigger vulnerabilities as a result of the show’s scarce fuel supply. Additionally, some of the blocking felt unjustified and unmotivated, giving the play an undeviating, standardized progression that didn’t match the criss-crossing shenanigans of its characters.That said, Anderson definitely succeeded in his aims for the show. His representation of “what a modern staging of the play might look like” translated well with good use of his venue and resources. Anderson fleshed out the script’s surplus of wit well; his modern presentation of its content and look did not diminish the play’s inherent personality. It was a little rough around the edges, but minor blemishes could not truly disparage or endanger the distinct and laudable effort behind Gallathea.Calder HudsonPhoto credit: Katie Brennan  

Sitara: Reviewed

SitaracopyrightsitaraThe final show of St' Andrews fashion season didn't fail to dazzle, despite its problems.The last show of St Andrews’ fashion season, staged this time in Younger Hall, provided a refreshingly vibrant alternative to the poker-faced affairs of the other shows on offer. A fusion of models, dancers and actors occupied the runway, engaging the audience with a dramatic presentation of the Rama and Sita story, told throughout by two actors Lewis Harding and Anna Marie Burslem. The show opened with a dance performance that warmed the audience up, ready for the emergence of the models. The transition from dance to fashion was expertly choreographed, and the models walked with a confidence and conviction that matched the quality of the clothing displayed.The show often seen as the ‘underdog’ is planting itself increasingly as a real contender. Instead of stripping the male models back to six-packs and underwear, we saw them dressed in kimono-style outfits that were certainly more inspiring. The female equivalent was tastefully done and the models walked with a well-deserved confidence. The Asian-inspired fashion was exciting and varied, the clothing was beautifully chosen and the smooth transition between styles was polished and well executed. Unfortunately, the break between the show and the after party to dismantle the catwalk, which left guests waiting around on the streets of St Andrews, was slightly disconcerting; the mild weather made it tolerable, though this was certainly the biggest downside to the venue. The smaller size of the venue also made the event seem a little claustrophobic, and perhaps less professional as a result, but this was more than made up for by the charming and elegant decorations.Marketed as ‘Asian Fusion at its Best’, the constant flurry of movement and the chemistry between the various performers exceeded this promise, creating something even more eclectic. At times though the show was less seamless than it should have been due to various breaks, and this might have left a few of the audience asking ‘is it over already?’ However, this only slightly affected the experience, and the variety of performances alone made the two hours fly. The music ranged from Moby to Rihanna and provided a diverse, if slightly unambitious, soundtrack.The beauty of the clothing on show interspersed with dance and drama kept attention, each complimenting the other and creating a vibrant and gripping show. The professionalism of the models was exceptional, and the quality of the clothing itself was as impressive as it was varied. The interactive nature of the dance and drama performances left the models to really model and not compromise the integrity of their role; the focus on their part was very much the sartorial element. The symbiosis of the models, actors and dancers meant that the balance of ‘serious’ and ‘fun’ was maintained, and the entire show was pulled of with a finesse that all involved deserve congratulations for. The evening was enjoyable and well worth attending, and provided an impressive end to the season. Naomi Morrice Image Credit: Sitara

Glitterball: Reviewed.

Lyla Saifi on St Andrews' LGBT, black tie, glitterati-filled affair.Glamour.If I had to describe the LGBT society’s Glitterball in a single word, it would have to be: glamour. As I walked into the Old Course Hotel I was directed by the concierge to the Champion’s Hall. A feeling of class already surged through my thoughts. However, I was hesitant as to what to expect. Was I underdressed? Was I glittery enough? Would I be out of place?20:00 VIP ReceptionBeing greeted with a flood of bright colors, sparkles from every corner of the room, and fizzy champagne transformed my hesitance to comfort. The hosts were dressed beautifully from head to toe, radiating with confidence and charisma. Flashes from cameras reflected off their dresses as they warmly greeted guests slowly making their way in. We were soon lured into the barroom by mystic music. It was Ruairidh Bowen, covered in an opaque black cloth, seducing the audience with his charm. Before we knew it, boldly, the cloth came off revealing a sexy, strappy one piece. Soon after the lovely and beautiful ladies from Just So, Hannah Risser, Emma Taylor, and Lucy Coatman entertained us with both covers and quirky original songs. The reception concluded with energetic acts from Jack McMillan and the Jazzle Sisters who set the mood for the rest of the evening.21:00 Standard ReceptionGlitter, glitter, everywhere! Lacking sparkle and shine, I was directed to the face paint and glitter station where I and many other guests were generously sprinkled with a variety of colorful glitter. Just think Tinker Bell, pixie dust, happy thoughts, and flight. And that’s how the rest of the night went, magical as ever. Smooth sounds of jazz brought in a sense of sophistication and class, courteously of the talented, university-based Jazz Works. Bottles of shimmer and colorful balloons complemented the tables alongside a plethora of gin & tonics, which seemed to be the drink of choice for most, perhaps because it was one of the cheapest for Old Course standards.22:00 — closeThe night officially kicked off when Lady Gaga stepped on stage draped in a rainbow flag. Our Glasgow impersonator of the pop star could have easily passed for the real deal; I myself had to take a couple of ‘stare breaks’ to eliminate any confusion. The performance was energetic and got everyone on the dance floor moving to Gaga’s most famous hits. Being perhaps one of the most horrible dancers St Andrews has set eyes on, my moves were appreciated irrespective, and the entire crowd seemed to be having the time of their lives. After an hour-long set, a DJ took over. Unfortunately, the choice of music could have been better. He started off with hits from the 80s that seemed unending, and my foot tapping got slower and slower as the music seemed to get more and more monotonous. However, mid way through his set things started to pick up, and he ended with Christina Aguilera's Beautiful, leaving us all with good vibes. As we left, you could feel the glitter in the air, as well as on our faces. That, I think, was what they were aiming for, and they delivered. Lyla Saifi Image Credits: Lyla Saifi

DONT WALK 2014: Reviewed

DSC03740Enshrouded in the mystery of a secret venue departing from the Kinkell standard, this year’s DONT WALK fashion show sparked in me a rather strong curiosity. Unlike FS, which kept us up to speed with photo shoots, behind-the-scenes snapshots and model daywear, DONT WALK kept its production details under wraps, leaving everyone in anxious anticipation of what they had in store. And deliver they did, in an elegantly executed and visually stunning show.  DSC03769Upon arriving at the Bow House, we were greeted with a striking all-encompassing view of the venue enabled by the open square space. Patterned kaleidoscope-like lights danced around the expanse of dance floor, walls and tables; Calvin Klein-esque photos of the models illuminated the catwalk; and a cool chrome color scheme laced with black light made for a chic ambience. Unfortunately the chilled tones of the color scheme manifested equally in the temperature of the venue—the heaters for which were no match for the size of the Bow House nor the shortness of our dresses. However the gradual influx of the attendees and their body heat eventually warmed us in time for the show. Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 11.53.50 PMEmerging from below the stage in matching white outfits, avant-garde headdresses for the girls and silhouette-producing screens, the models appeared together on stage in an impressive show opening. The girls strutted with dexterity in admirably high heels, while the boys (men?) marched with virile gusto alongside them, and together they executed a poised and thoughtfully arranged choreography. Their outfits displayed with enthusiasm and enjoyment apparent on their faces, the models pulled off with ostensible effortlessness an exhibition of fashion-forward artistry. Tastefully complimenting them were the powerful music and energetic light display, producing a thoroughly well rounded performance.DSC03774Though the division of the catwalk into thirds was an artful feature that also facilitated the models’ ground-up emergence of the opening sequence, its extensive width meant for a somewhat laborious viewing of the show. But aside from this—and a bout of heaving coughs brought on by the smoke machines, the show was an impeccably polished and well-executed affair.The lull between between the show and the after party meant the dispersal of spectators to the tented outdoor smoking area or the portable loos, giving us an opportunity to peruse the tables and goodie-bags. They bore photos and information on the charities—the multiplicity of which was a first for DONT WALK: the African Network Against Illiteracy, Conflict and Human Rights Abuse based in Cameroon, and Croatia’s Coalition for Work with Psychotrauma and Peace.DSC03743Having never attended a DONT WALK show, I had no prior experience to which I can compare Saturday night, but I can nonetheless say that I would go again next year. From the compelling choreography to the striking stylistic features of both the models and venue, this year’s show was a visually impactful and overall immaculate event.Sunny LightImage credits: Niamh Brady 

CATWALK 2014: Reviewed

CATWALKHaley Scheer was at CATWALK 2014 as Semester Two kicked off with a bang.I admit it, I entered the Union hesitantly. Given the current renovations, I was skeptical as to how Venue 1 was going to be transformed into the scene of a fashion show. On walking in, my ears tuned in to the upbeat sound of The Accidentals, one of St Andrews’ award-winning a cappella groups. But from the moment the serenade became audible as we stepped inside, the contagious energy of the evening was quickly felt. Turning the corner into Venue 1 I was impressed, to say the least, by the transformation. They had done an incredible job with a not-so-incredible venue, and a friend visiting from out of town was equally in awe. A makeshift bar was set up on the right, and the VIP tables were abundantly decorated with colourful surprises, down to the very last detail of jars of sweets with handwritten labels saying ‘eat me,’ (an Alice in Wonderland reference, for all you Lit. fans). Colourful tablecloths embodied the theme “Life in Print,” fresh flowers in vases, sparkling perry and bottles of Barefoot Wine adorned the tables, along with goodie bags for each guest.The goodie bags did not disappoint, with numerous vouchers for local shops and restaurants, packets of Tunnocks Caramel Wafers, and trinkets in the shape of notebooks, pens, and packs of gum. In addition, not to leave their stadium-seated guests feeling left out, vouchers and a pack of sweets awaited them upon sitting down. As the evening progressed and guests filled their seats, the start was positive, leaving me wondering why I had never attended in previous years.CATWALK2Though the show was late to start, guests did not seem to mind. People were happily mingling, satisfied with the drinks provided on the tables and available at the bar. When the show finally began, it was to enthusiastic cheers as models dressed in black lined up single file down the catwalk. People quickly left their seats to get close-up views, and the tables were soon abandoned. St Andrews’ most famous female DJ, April Vellacott, won the crowd over instantaneously with wild cheers as she began her set, keeping the energy of the show consistent throughout the night.As the show progressed, models displayed clothes embodying the theme ‘Life in Print’ from a wide range of brands, mixing local with more well established international brands. St Andrews brands such as Elizabeth May were included, as well as the likes of Joules and Anthropologie. The energy of both the crowd and the models seemed to be on a steady incline, reaching an all-time high with raucous cheers accompanying the underwear line, and verging on the out-of-hand with bottles of sparkling beverages sprayed and several smashed glasses on the runway. But hey, what’s a fashion show without a few broken champagne bottles?As the show drew to a close, the night, it seemed, was just beginning. Guests were given wristbands for an ‘official after party’ at The Vic, where admiring attendees could gawk and mingle with the models and committee. It is safe to say I am regretting not having been in previous years, as it was a night well worth attending, and definitely more affordable than most St Andrews events at £15 (not including V.I.P. tickets). There is no doubt about it – CATWALK 2014 was a success, thanks to the obvious hard work of the student committee. It was a phenomenal end to RAG week, with the additional satisfaction that all of the ticket money from the sold-out event goes towards the three nominated charities: Doctors Without Borders, Macmillan Cancer Support, and Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres.Well done CATWALK –you exceeded expectations and kicked off second semester with a bang. Those hoping to steal the coveted position of highlight of the semester will have a way to go, it seems. DON’T WALK and FS might have some tough new competition. Haley ScheerCATWALK3Image Credits: Lightbox