Greyscale in association with Northern Stage, Hull Truck and Almeida
Northern Stage, Newcastle
You need to have a great deal of confidence in the theatre where it's showing or in the producing company, Greyscale, or, perhaps, a sense of adventure, if you are to part with your hard-earned money to buy a ticket for Theatre Brothel.
The problem is, you see, that you have no idea what you're going to see. You know there are a number of short plays on offer in various locations within the theatre but you don't know what they are (or, at least, most people don't know what they are: those who have friends who've been on another night will know some of them) and you don't really have a choice about which you're going to see.
You wait in the bar until 15 minutes before the start and then, in twos, you are led through the backstage area to a place where you are asked questions by someone who turns out to be one of the performers. The questions seem a bit weird - "Are you allergic to...?" "More is less or less is more?" "Do you have a magic word?" - and, on the basis of your answers, you are given two tokens of different colours. The first indicates the show you are to see first and the second the show you are to see next. You are then led by a member of the staff to the performance area and, when everyone is in place, the show starts. After the interval, you go back to the original meeting place and are then led to your second show.
At Northern Stage there were six shows on offer. All are one-person shows; some are of local origin and will only be seen in Newcastle and others will tour to the other two venues. I know this because, as a reviewer, I was given a list of show details, but only afterwards. At the start, like everyone else, I had no idea what to expect!
So I saw:
What Would Judas Do?
Based on an original idea by Stewart Lee with additional material by Greyscale
Performed by Elspeth Brodie, directed by Lorne Campbell and Selma Dimitrijevic
Elspeth Brodie is Judas. She's a very teens/twenties girly Judas: you feel she might have come from High School Musical or perhaps Legally Blonde. That's how she talks: "I was like, what do you mean?"
Judas was the Disciples' bagman and she shares the stage with a plastic carrier bag and a length or rope with a noose at one end. She begins by asking, "What do you know about Judas?" Silence. People are not ready to join in yet so I answer, "He betrayed Christ." I am rewarded with a packet of nuts from the bag. So was that why I was asked if I am allergic to nuts?
More questions, more rewards, and gradually she tells the story, from being sent by Jesus to get the donkey on which he will ride into Jerusalem ("Like, Jesus wants me to steal a donkey?" followed by a mime of dragging the recalcitrant donkey to Jesus) to the moment when she (or should I say he) hangs her/himself. Along the way we meet other disciples, whom she mimics hilariously.
Brodie creates a warm, relaxed atmosphere, making instant friendly contact with the audience, getting them laughing and on her side whilst still getting across the story from Judas' point of view. This is not the traditional evil betrayer nor the duped Judas of Jesus Christ Superstar, but someone who totally believes he is doing what Jesus wanted and is willing to accept eternal vilification if it will bring about the immediate foundation of God's kingdom on earth.
It's funny but sad, superficially light but actually deep, and Brodie gives an first rate performance.
Tonight Sean Campion Will Lecture Dance and Box
By Sandy Grierson with Lorne Campbell
Performed by Sean Campion, directed by Lorne Campbell
Writing this about 18 hours after the show finished, I am still bemused. Bemused, amused, entertained, but definitely bemused.
Tonight Sean Campion Will Lecture Dance and Box is a surreal mixture of lecture, story-telling, physical theatre and audience participation. It centres around his Great Grandfather Arthur Craven whom he met in 2010 in Lisbon. Arthur's been around for a long time, since before the First World War. And he's been a boxer, an artist, a lover, a woman...
Lots of audience participation, from chatting up a couple of women to getting a young lad to turn the pages of a flipchart, from getting a man to take part in a boxing match to having the entire audience do a bit of origami. And by the way, if, like me, you are topologically challenged, it is good to have someone sitting next to you who can keep you right, as I had. (Thanks to that good lady, whoever she is!) Campion does encourage us to help each other.
So what's it all about? The moment you think, "Ah! It's about...", you suddenly realise, "No. It's about..." And so it goes on.
Does it matter? Not really, for you are caught up in a whirlwind of possibilities and ideas, carried along by stream of images and improbabilities, consistently amused and - of course - bemused. Where does Oscar Wilde fit in?
Campion gives a hugely physical (and physically demanding) but perfectly controlled performance.
My companion saw two different shows - Tea Is an Evening Meal and A Prayer - and thoroughly enjoyed them. It's definitely worth taking the risk, even though you haven't the faintest idea what you're going to see. In lesser hands, this could have been a disaster but the buzz in the interval and after the show from audience members and visiting industry professionals alike conveyed the message loud and clear: give it a try; take the risk.
"Theatre Brothel" is at Hull Truck from 14th 18th June and at the Almeida, Islington, from 6th 16th July
Reviewer: Peter Lathan