Infinity Pool

Infinity Pool by Bea Roberts is a subtly heart breaking piece that explores love, and the various emotions connected to it; happiness, attraction, lust, passion, obsession, rejection, shame. All with modest, and seemingly unintentional comedy.

Roberts presents the life of Emma Barnicott through a series of exchanges, conversations, imaginations, and an attempt at masturbation; which was an excellent opening scene – all through the use of projectors, monitors, audio recordings and a random selection of props. Overall creating a beautiful but strangely real notion of a person, yet because there is no live speech we are left to fill in some blanks about who Emma is.

Infinity Pool by Bea Roberts


Infinity Pool is inspired by Madame Bovary, and really it is a very good modern adaptation that is incredibly relevant to our social media and digitally distracted lives.  All the dialogue was displayed on screens, really emphasising the time spent on finding just the right words, which is in line with Flaubert’s quest for perfection.

Emma is in a dead-end job that she doesn’t seem to like, she has one daughter who is on the other side of the world having the time of her life, and Emma’s husband seems to have lost any passion he once had for her.

Through an innocent exchange of emails, as part of Emma’s job on the help desk of a bathroom and plumbing supply, company Emma begins on online affair. Flirting through email, and then moving on to instant messaging, she knows it is wrong but like anyone having an affair, there is an attraction that she can’t resist.

Emma also has other secrets she keeps from her husband, and an inner fantasy which reminds me a little of Muriel from Muriel’s Wedding. There is something a little depressing about her awakening from her delusion, and have to face a decision over whether to take her affair in to the real world, and suffer the consequences, or not. Although this only dawned on me as I left the theatre, as it is also really funny at times.

The incredible array of kit that Roberts uses to tell the story is really incredible, and it was all (or so it seemed) controlled by Roberts live on stage in real-time. There is real skill in coordinating two projectors – one overhead, three laptops, one monitor, a microphone and probably more. She created a sound scape to Emma’s life, and presents snapshots which created some kind of middle ground between live theatre and TV.

We never know what Emma looks like, although through a series of flirty photos she exchanges, we see female hands with painted fingernail, feet in high heels, a neck. So this gave the opposite to what most plays do, no visual of the person, but in incredibly detailed visual of her surroundings, through her eyes.  As though we are Emma.

This is very different to anything I have seen recently, and is a refreshingly good use of multimedia in live performance.  Bea Roberts did not let the tech be the star of the show, and made sure each clever visual trick, image, projection really contributed to the story.

Tonight is the last night of its current run – so dash down to the Tobacco Factory Theatre now! Or, after its sucessful tour of the South West, which included the Plymouth Fringe, I hope that the tour will continue.



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Pink Mist

Pink Mist is full of raw emotion, yet is an inherently real tale about the effects of war on people; as individuals, and as people in relationships and society.

The play, written by Owen Sheers, follows the story of three men tied together from childhood, as they embark as life as soldiers and are sent on tour to Afganistan. “Who wants to play war!”

They are heartbreakingly young and blindly accepting of what is to come as, one by one, they conscript. As an audience member you know it can’t end well because before the action starts there is a wheel chair on stage. In this context you know what it represents.

Each of the three stories is led by the female in their lives, Hads and his mum, Taffs’ wife Lisa and their child, and Arthur and his girlfriend Gwen.  The present day of this play is fireworks night, as it wreaks havoc on the mental state of Hads and Taffs who, with every passing firework, hear real rockets, grenades and gunfire.

There is a standout performance from Phil Dunster who plays Arthur, he is the main narrator, and he guides the play to its poignant conclusion.

There is a lot of beautifully horrific imagery, men flying through the air to their death; a bird of prey, eggs in a nest – stolen then crushed; life and then death.

This play is a contradiction, at times it is quiet, delicate, repeating poetically formed lines, echoed by movement. And then a bomb drops. Literally.  And everyone is sent flying and a sound scape of war emerges from nowhere.

Sheers has a wonderful lightness to his prose, subtly slipping in some rhyming couplets, at other times producing dialogue and character from nowhere in a matter of minutes. The section with a spoken dictionary of Afghan phrases was particularly effective – the foreign dialect being fired out, harsh with consonants, sounded like rapid gunfire.

At all times this piece was performed with absolute commitment and integrity. I have huge admiration for the actors who go out each night a bring this piece to life, this alone must be hard. Not forgetting the horrors of actually experiencing active combat as the men in this play did.

I could say a lot more about this piece, but I shall end here by urging you to see Pink Mist at Bristol Old Vic before it ends on Saturday 11th July. And I hope that BBC Radio 4 are aware of its success and are compelled to put on the radio play again.

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What Happens to Hope at the End of the Evening

What happens to Hope at the End of the Evening explores a friendship between two middle-aged men, and how society treats those who don’t conform.

The two friends; Tim and Andy have grown apart. One has followed a more ‘accepted’ route and grown up ‘settled down’ with a partner and had children.  The other had remained in his late youth, not settling with just one partner, still attending anti-fascist rallies the two friends once attended together.

We learnt snippets of their lives outside from conversations; Andy meeting his wife, Tim’s affair and broken marriage, which is possibly the catalyst that made him re contact Andy after a break in their friendship.

As the play progresses Andy talks of life generally, his interaction with Andy is interspersed with direct monologue to the audience. All the while Andy is seated and not always in the live action of the play, while Tim actively plays a character.

Andy talks about his relationship with theatre and what it can do in society, how we should all just focus on being with one another. And yet he doesn’t take the time to be with his friend, and really be there for him when he needs it.

This play tells a story about what happens when there is a change between two people. There is a tension between Tim and Andy as Tim wants things to be they say they once were, and he puts Andy in an awkward situation trying to recreate times once passed. Rethinking too much, releasing his anger and frustration in the situation in violent bursts, in a world he has literally constructed – moving the furniture around while Andy sits and watches.

It made me contemplate the longer lasting effects on society, some people are left behind and refuse to change, left isolated. What happens to them.

Andy being the narrator helps us to identify with him, we are internal within Andy him looking out at the character of Tim. And the general structure worked well. Although having seen other work by Crouch I was expecting the play to dig a little deeper.  All the narrative about theatre was just distracting from the real human interactions that were being played out on stage before me.

As a quiet piece which explores a concept, this play was interesting and enjoyable.  The performance from Crouch was incredibly strong. I expect to see this play on again somewhere in the UK soon.

I saw this at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre, and you can find out more about Tim Crouch here.

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Mass by Amy Mason

Amy Mason created her own religion, and tonight I attended her Mass. Not some weird kind of cult, but something based loosely on her ideals of religion from growing up in a catholic family, and it was beautiful yet so simple.

Performed at Bristol Old Vic and presented by Ferment, this was an uplifting show.  I have never felt an alignment with any particular faith but through story and sharing her own view on belief and faith and it’s purpose in our society. Mason made me realise the vacant space in my life that could be filled with religion, or a faith of some kind. If only there was something that I could identify with.

Mass was that thing. It didn’t tell of miracles we could never achieve, or set ideals of perfection we can never live up to.  Instead the sermon was about an unassuming moment of bonding between father and daughter. The prayers were common sense messages about appreciating your friends and family, even if they are a bit shit sometimes.  Each prayer ended in a ‘Hooray’, rather than an ‘Amen’.

Most of all, Amy Mason’s Mass showed how different society is now. In the past people would have been brought together with their faith during a crisis, and faith could have been a guide. But now, we can’t all rely on having that shared thing.

Performed mainly by Mason, with a little help from her brother, an audience member, Otis Redding, and some cider, the performance required minimal staging. I left enlightened and determined to be just a little more considerate to others.

Highlight for me, was having my prayer read out and getting a hooray from Amy, and sharing a common moment with others. Judging from the reaction throughout, and applause at the end, I certainly wasn’t the only one who enjoyed the experience.

There is more from Amy Mason here.

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Black Box at Kelvin Players Studio

Black Box is five quite different plays, gathered together in one night of performance, a new venture by The Kelvin Players of Gloucester Road, Bristol. It is a space for learning, exploration, and experimentation.

Ghosts of Bedlam by Arthur Aldrich, set in a supposedly empty mental asylum. A civil servant is showing around a film maker who is creating a film about how the national health service has progressed. Set in the 1990’s, this play is a little dated.

However, the issues explored within the play are still very prevalent: no one wants to take ownership of the mentally ill.  It paints a sorry picture of how things were, but suggests that things may not be better now. Despite the shiny new facilities that have been built.

Performance of the night was from Caroline Mitchell, who played Milly. She created an authentic character suffering from dementia, who was troubled by other issues she has encountered in life. Mitchell also found humour in the character too.

Make Yourself Comfortable, written and directed by Mat Rees, he clearly had a vision of the characters he’s written. The actors become absurd caricatures, reminding me of Disney Pixar animations, alive with such vivid facial expressions. My favourite moment was the start of the play, when Bernard first discovers what he has been coveting for so long. A chair.

In contrast to the previous play, the main theme of this was desire to own something; a basic human right to have a chair to sit on. It was quite silly on the surface but alongside the more somber Ghosts of Bedlam, I couldn’t help but seek out the deeper meaning. To me this play spoke of the impact of ‘ownership’ on social hierarchy, specifically ownership of homes in modern British society.

Make Yourself Comfortable was also very funny, had a great rhythm to it, and a strong influence of Beckett. Three people trapped in limbo, in a world that doesn’t seem to have any context or time frame, they are all fixated on something which seems totally ridiculous. Much like Waiting for Godot.

Speaking of Beckett, the second half of performances were; Come and Go, Ohio Impromptu and That Time, all written by Samuel Beckett. Beckett has such a haunting, and poetic beauty to his plays, these are three of his shorter plays, and as a result there is not much to play with. As a director you have to really stick to the stage directions and clutch at every little morsel of content Beckett has provided to try to get to the deeper meaning.

Come and Go is full of disappointment, three women betray one another, meeting as though they are the three witches from Hamlet.  Something has bound them too one another, although much in their lives has changed over the course of their friendships.

Ohio Impromptu plays with the idea of nostalgia, with two identical men sat at a table. One reading from a book, the other intently listening.

That Time is similar to Krapp’s Last Tape, a sole male performer’s head is all that is visible. Unlike Krapp, this man wasn’t listening to recordings he has made, instead it feels as though we are listening to his internal monologue, flashback’s of moments from earlier in his life.

Overall, I can see why these five pieces were presented together. Each play took a different perspective on the inner workings of the human mind, wanting control, taking control, regret, disappointment, hope and fear. I am intrigued to see what the Kelvin Players do with the next Black Box.

I am also anticipating more of the dark humour in their next performance of Moliere’s Tartuffe, which is on at The Tobacco Factory Theatre in April.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseLewReviews

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Ferment Fortnight January 2015

Ferment fortnight January 2015, at Bristol Old Vic Theatre , showed just as much diversity and talent as always. This time I only managed to catch 2 shows; Little Waves written by Theo Scholefield and Hotel Limbo by Tin Shed Theatre Company.

The beauty of Ferment is that these 2 incredibly different pieces were showcased one after the other, in one night. And yet the similarity was that they were both so detailed with their story telling.

Little Waves has 2 female characters, and on this occasion the performers sat on high stools and read from the script. Although it was clear some time had been put in to getting to know the text and develop characters by the actors Felicity Montagu and Tilly Steele.

This was a simple but beautiful play which told the stories of two women, one younger and one older. The stories weaved around one another, and rolled over peaks and troughs in a natural way, keeping me engaged. The piece explored the close relationships the women had with their family members, dysfunctional relationships told at such close proximity that they seemed to be more normal. And although both women were troubled, Scholefield somehow opened a door so we could see their inner workings and follow their journey without questioning their thought process. I somehow found myself identifying with these women, as we covered a relatively short period of time in quite minute detail.

Hotel Limbo on the other hand, were looking at a much bigger picture. They explored themes of hope, loss, ambition, disappointment, life and death. The detail in this physical performance came from the focus of the performers to devote themselves entirely to the moment. The highlight being the moment they bring a doll to life as a puppet. It was hilarious because of the personality they created, but I hung up my sense of realism and for those few minutes, that doll was a real life baby, checking in to a hotel.

Hotel Limbo was very short, as it is in a much earlier stage of development. I was very disappointed when it abruptly stopped, and am keen to see more. Tin Shed Theatre Company are now very intriguing, I have not had the opportunity to see them before. But I will certainly look out for them again.

As for Little Waves, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ferment team and their development team continue to work with Scholefield to create a more polished performance, and show this piece again soon.

There is usually at least one more showcase for Ferment work later in the year, so keep your eyes peeled!

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Enemy, directed by Denis Villeneuve, is an intense film that explores identity, the relationship we have with ourselves, and mental health. With sepia toned hazy urban landscapes and a haunting, cello heavy, soundtrack.

This is the sort of film that plays on your mind, it seemed to have an abrupt ending and I walked out feeling a little robbed of an explanation. But now – 2 days on I feel I can appreciate its mastery having let it settle.  The film began as a sexual psychological thriller. Having not read much about the film prior to seeing it, I thought it was going to turn in to a sci-fi at one point. As this film progressed the tension and suspense remained but my concerns about the risks, and what was going to happen felt more personal. I was more concerned for the mental well-being of the characters and the long-term effect on their lives. Rather than an immediate response to the action, which is what Hollywood often goes for.

The main story line was quite simple. The path’s of two men, both played by Jake Gyllenhaal, cross when one of them; Adam, see’s the other; Antony, in a film and feels compelled to meet him as they look identical.  Their lives seem polar opposite. Adam is a shy reclusive academic, a bare apartment and lack of commitment in his relationships, he seems to lack drive.  Where as Antony is out going, confident and a risk taker, he owns a lush apartment and a motor bike. His wife is 6 months pregnant and they already have the nursery set up.

There are clues all the way through the film, some of which I didn’t immediately pick up, which suggest that things are not as they seem. Particularly in a scene with Adam and his mum. However the ended is still un expected and the meaning and purpose of the film aren’t rammed down your throat.

Gyllenhaal offers a strong performance as each man, both with their own idiosyncrasies. The women have little scope to show personality, but the wife in particular manages in a very short space of time toward the end of the film to show heart breaking commitment to her love.

The musty haze over the play, and the limited environment we see give an impression that these men lead lives in very small circles. In an environment with little inspiration, and lots of tower blocks.

This film is certainly worth watching, but I would recommend not watching it alone and not watching it too late at night. Otherwise you may end up pondering your own existence.

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