Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Four Ladders, Seven Brothers And A Couple of Brooms

Rough Cut Theatre
Oh! Art Centre,
The Oxford House
(2004)

Four Ladders performance shot

The Oh! Art Centre in the newly refurbished Oxford House just five minutes walk from Bethnal Green tube is quite a discovery. It has a pleasant atmosphere and a large well-equipped performance space. This is just the type of fringe venue that should be on the theatrical map of London, but it has yet to catch the attention of audiences and critics.

With a title like Four Ladders, Seven Brothers And A Couple of Brooms Rough Cut Theatre certainly tickle the fancy. This is a young company devising theatre with movement and bricolage high on their aesthetic agenda. As they explain in their programme, they came together to 'train in and explore the worlds of physical theatre, visual theatre, dance and theatrical martial arts.'

Their source material heralds from India and is evolved from the folktale Kora and His Sister. This is a rather sad tale of masculinity running amok as a destructive force destroying the lives of the protagonists and much of the natural world around them. Kora is the eldest of seven brothers, sons of a despotic king. All are warriors except Kora who eschews the martial arts for Nature; a gentle young man with green fingers. His brothers fight for brides, but Kora makes a vow to win a wife through his love of flowers and in doing so is obliged to marry his own sister.

Rough Cut Theatre is a company with imagination. Ladders are transformed into trees and sieves and whisks into a puppet child. A battle is orchestrated with comedy of the more inventive kind and the cast has obviously made an effort to parody Jackie Chan, much to our amusement. There is a great deal of enjoyable humour, but the production falls flat at those crucial moments that call for pathos. Craig Blake is an engaging Kora, but the Sister fails to elicit any sympathy at all, nor empathy with her devastating experiences. There is no real character there, just an actress playing the idea of an emotion, and a touch too preciously at times for comfort.

Perhaps this production is too ambitious given the limitations placed on young British companies by time and funding. Certainly, the sweep of the narrative requires more attention from the director in terms of pacing, the rhythms of the spoken text and a more fluid precision in the movement. It seems at times that the cast is illustrating a point or rushing to help the narrative along, rather than engaging us in a journey. And at such moments the mechanics of transformation become obtrusive and they lose us.

Having said that, there is some young talent evident in this performance and isn't it just a tragedy that young British companies are constrained by short rehearsals and lack of means from fully realising their capacity for ambitious invention?

"Four Ladders" plays until 24th July.

Reviewer: Jackie Fletcher