Locks, Crops and Two Smoking Hotcombs / The Holiday / The Corrupted Angel

Lindbury Studio Theatre
Royal Opera House

For a week the Royal Opera House, in collaboration with the Helen Hamlyn Trust, has opened up the Linbury Studio space to young, unrecognised talent and audiences who would ordinarily never dream of getting into a ROH show for a fiver. This is heralded as the first Festival of Firsts and is a worthy initiative. There are seven performances spread over the week with additional entertainment in the bar after the show.

Yesterday evening's performances were preceded by a series of short speeches, courtesy of performance artist Ursula Martinez and her accomplices, including the chairwoman of the local residents association, concerned with the noise, litter and urine produced on her doorstep by patrons of the Opera House, and a spokesperson, a clown, for a fund for distressed former thespians. This was a tongue-in-cheek parody of the usual self-congratulatory claptrap that accompanies High Art, high-profile events. It was very amusing, but hardly qualifies as performance art: more like traditional fringe theatre spoofing.

First up was a ten-minute piece from Wild Roots Collective, a new dance company established under the leadership of Maria Ryan. The performers blend movement with text and audience participation in a dance-theatre piece of unusual subject matter: black women's hair. As the title indicates (Locks, Crops and Two Smoking Hotcombs) it is a witty view of an obsession, at times very funny, and is pleasingly performed by accomplished dancers with potential for further development.

The star of the evening is Benji Reid. His 15-minute solo piece The Holiday is a fine showcase for a talent that should go far. It is original, verbally skilful, and his physicality, a type of abstract mime of raw emotions and confused states of the mind, based on body-popping techniques, is deliriously divine. This is a piece with a remarkable blend of the hilariously funny and the seriously disturbing, welded with pathos and seamlessly integrated with earnest poetic commentary.

Benji Reid is described in the flyer as a 'performance artist, stand-up tragedian and body-popping comic', and this is apt. By the time you read this, you will have missed this performance which is only staged at this venue on 22nd and 23rd, but do not despair. He will be performing a double bill of his pieces 13 mics: b like water, style for free and The Pugilist at the Lyric Studio, Hammersmith, from 7-25 October.

The third piece, a full seventy minutes from Base Chorus, is the disappointment of the evening. The Corrupted Angel, a basic thesis expertly explored by Wim Wenders in his film Wings of Desire, promises an 'innovative combination of text, physicality and exhilarating soundscape', but fails to deliver. There is very little here that is innovative that has not been tried out before with more originality and success. The soundscape, composed Patrick Dineen, who doubled as writer, is, indeed, good, but the cast are traditionally trained actors, with day jobs in traditional theatre and TV, who are unconvincing as physical performers. Do they tell them at acting school that the elderly hunch their shoulders and walk with short, rapid, Chaplinesque steps? I've never seen a senior citizen walk like that? Do little old ladies always clutch their hands in front of them? Clichés! And there is so much excellent physical theatre out there that unfavourable comparisons are inevitable.

The ROH and Helen Hamlyn Trust should be complimented on offering young performers the opportunity to take a risk on a prestigious stage, even if, as in The Corrupted Angel, further development is necessary.

Reviewer: Jackie Fletcher

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