Author Archives: Tara Boland


About Tara Boland

A London based performer and theatre-maker working mainly in devised theatre and interactive performance, Tara has also worked extensively with children and young people as a workshop facilitator, director and writer and is interested in theatre for the young at heart, immersive theatre and theatre clown. She has performed at numerous venues, including BAC and The Old Vic Tunnels, and is currently training full-time in Lecoq method at the London International School of Performing Arts.

Barely Methodical Troupe - Kin - Photo by David Levene

Barely Methodical Troupe: Kin

Barely Methodical Troupe - Kin - Photo by David LeveneThe space is packed and buzzing, haze hangs in the air. The crowd’s excitement and expectation is palpable. Barely Methodical Troupe have gathered a sizeable following since their first show Bromance at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2014. Winning the Total Theatre & Jackson’s Lane Award for circus, the show ushered in bookings in abundance for an international tour that has rolled along ever since. Kin is their follow-up and the company has more than doubled in size. This time their premier headlines at the Roundhouse’s prestigious Circusfest and the pressure to deliver looms high over their young heads. The lights snap off and Let the Sun Shine blasts over the crowd. My hair stands on end, and a gleaming smile spreads across my face that persists for the next hour as towering expectations are met with a grin and a wise wink.

The lights flash up on a pile of scrambling male performers, hiding from the glaring eye of the only female performer, standing menacingly in heels and a macintosh. The audience giggle and I am entirely enamoured by the cast’s ability to be playful without being forceful, in evidence throughout. A strong and dynamic theme of the bumbling boys trying to impress our female judge as she scores them on an unknowable points system is established. Each of the six male performers is called upon to present their routine, each as whimsical and skillful as the last: from hand to hand balancing, through breaks and bum wiggling to Prince’s Purple Rain. The audience whoops with delight and I am made aware of the company’s sublime confidence to add in a tribute to the superstar at what must have been breakneck last minute speed and still manage to make this moment magic.

Other sparkling moments arise continuously throughout the rest of the show which flows seamlessly between beautifully choreographed battles. The show fuses breaking with parkour and contemporary dance to form a new physical language that is breathtaking in its ability to express and so skilfully performed that it seems to flow directly from the sinews and hearts of these performers. The return to power play between the cast, both within the male troupe and in the hard gaze of the female judge-cum-psychologist, provides an effective and fulfilling frame and a stillness that allows the movement to breathe. More and more probing questions are asked by Nikki Rummer, our female gymnast: ‘If you could escape, where would you go?’ ‘Tell me about your family.’ ‘What are you afraid of?’ These slices of vulnerable openness seem fundamental to me in demonstrating BMT’s inimitable ability to play with startling skill without getting lost in the tricks and physicality. They remain truly present and unguarded performers throughout: no moment is thrown away, they take their time and bare themselves for their audience, much to our delight.

The power play escalates, shifts, and changes, and individual routines go up against duelling pairs. Nikki is upheld as some untouchable, unknowable demi-god in a beautiful section to choral song that sees her walking skywards in spirals on the men’s heads until she is atop a three-person tower, draped in a long black gown that converts the tower beneath her into a fantastical cape of her own. I must mention the searing and completely intrinsic soundtrack here: every piece of music is powerfully eloquent and atmospheric, whilst challenging or driving the movement on stage. A brilliant example of this appears when Charlie Wheeler delivers a heart stopping cyr wheel routine to Bowie’s Five Years; the music is longing and lonely and his skill to choreograph with matching emotion in this form is breathtaking.

The show has been created with director and choreographer Ben Duke (Lost Dog) and the rhythmic influence of dance on the work is remarkable. The company play with pace and tempo, stillness and movement, space and fullness, as well as performing beautiful movement sequences. The grand finale – which sees the whole company moving in a magnificent routine of flips, acro, breaks, pirouettes and startling towers – is jaw-droppingly awesome. There are too many other impressive skill sets, including a slick sequence on a teeter board, to mention – this show must be seen to be believed. It is Barely Methodical Troupe’s ability to take pause between the movement that makes them stand out though, they allow us to savour the taste of every move, they play with us, laugh at themselves, and take their time, framing their skills with evocative emotion that lifts it beyond simply impressive tricks. A refreshing use of circus skill that blends theatricality with visual wonder.

It has been a while since I saw a show where every single audience member was balancing on the edge of their seats in readiness to jump into a standing ovation but when given a slice of vulnerable, mature, scintillating new circus there is absolutely nothing else to do. I defy you not to want to run away with the circus.

Bikes+Rabbits - These Books Are Made For Walking

Bikes & Rabbits: These Books are Made for Walking

Bikes+Rabbits - These Books Are Made For WalkingAlice Allart, the creative driver behind Bikes and Rabbits, has been handpicked by creative producer Crying Out Loud as a rising star of circus arts, with a penchant for playing with circus and theatricality. Her company is interested in working with character, narrative, and filmic aesthetics in circus, and the show begins with all of these ingredients bubbling at the surface: smoke, shadow, and a set of precariously balanced ladders dominate the stage. Our first performer, Fabrice Dominici, enters and brings immediate likeability as he directly addresses the audience with a glazed eye that’s both knowing and cynical. He begins to balance piles of books on rungs of the ladders and a theme begins to emerge: of empty gestures carried out for seemingly unknowable reasons.

This is a truly curious world we have entered. The stage is filled with books but we never learn what’s inside them; Alice appears in a magical puff of red smoke and we’re unsure if she is a vision, a character from one of the books or flesh and blood; a man in a kilt with an electric guitar climbs up to sit with her simply to accompany her with whimsical riffs. The relationship of the trio is ambiguous – who they are and what they want is never made explicit and this fantastical world proves somewhat too enigmatic for me.

Dominici plays the would-be protagonist – he seems unfulfilled, grasping and frustrated, and the seesawing of the precarious ladders with his only stage companions, uninterested by his presence, elevated above him, presents a visual metaphor that suggests his inability to find concrete validation for his shifting existence. I would have liked to see this theme developed further, I understand his desire to reach Alice on top of the ladder, but I am left unsure as to why he feels it, or who she is in relation to him. The musical accompaniment from kilted Patrice Colet brings humour to our protagonist’s failed attempts to attract attention, and I thoroughly enjoy the live score throughout, regardless of who this character is or what he is doing wearing a kilt on top of a ladder filled with books. His ability to communicate musically gives him an easy and fulfilling stage presence. The dynamic between the remaining characters is where I am left with an appetite for something meatier. In a wordless world, circus can provide an excellent visual language for emotions: frustration, imbalance, longing, and falling, but the language here feels loose and ever changing. There is a short section of slack rope which comes at a point where we have watched the ladders tilt from side to side since the opening moments of the show, it is a little too little and a little too late to transport the audience onto a different trajectory. There are many beautiful pieces of design: ruffs made out of books, tutus feathered with pages, and whole outfits crafted out of book spines, but once again these pieces are used for a moment and then discarded and just as I think we are about to move off in another new direction we come back to a vague place of uncertainty.

Uncertainty can certainly create an interesting and gripping theme for a show and we don’t necessarily need a narrative as a vehicle when you are equipped with the visual language that circus can bring, but here it is me that is left uncertain as to what the show is really exploring. Many bright ideas and experimental moves are made and I see a potential for something poignant and beautiful. Perhaps if the dynamics of characters were made clearer and a greater focus was given to the themes that these balancing circus skills seem apt to articulate, a more cohesive show would emerge. Of course, perhaps Bikes and Rabbits don’t want cohesion, but greater clarity of expression would help the company to realise the great potential suggested in this show.

Vamos Theatre - The Best Thing - Photo by Graeme Braidwood

Vamos Theatre: The Best Thing

Vamos Theatre - The Best ThingInspired by the true stories of women in the 1960s forced to give up their children under pressures from the church, family, or community, Vamos Theatre present a visual narrative of one woman’s journey to discover her birth mother, beginning at her funeral.

An organ laments, an elderly gentleman enters. The stiff back and rigid knees (of Richard J.Fletcher) play the aged body of the accompanying mask with magnificent skill and detail, that continues to be demonstrated by all the performers who multi-role in full mask throughout. Physicality is heightened and powerfully combined with the mask’s exaggerated features to define characteristics that draw personality quickly and acutely. This is a wordless world where movement is what will move us through a very personal narrative.

The tempo of a teenage girl getting ready in her swinging-60s bedroom is juxtaposed with her single father’s drawn-out penny-counting in his dowdy kitchen. A surly waitress waddles heavily across her cafe while her customers fidget, hairdressers cock their heads with clicks of scissors as their clients lazily flick through magazine pages. Director Rachael Savage brings an astute sense of the effectiveness of tensions illustrated through opposing rhythms – the choreography of these scenes plays beautifully. Highlights come in extended sequences of synchronised movement, one of which shows our young mother as she fails to keep up with her colleague’s accelerating typewriter dings; another where she frantically tries to sit still in a hospital birthing room whilst two older mothers plod easily through their labour.

There are many moments of tender humour and a good dose of heartfelt drama, endorsed by Janie Armour’s well-written score that melds musical genres from opera to Lulu. However, much of the meaty drama takes place in the second half and the opening would have benefited from some more dynamic changes of pace to really grab an audience and take us on board. The form of the full mask is used with great skill and successfully abstracts a personal story to make it accessible. I enjoy the physical characterisation but the moments where we push towards a form of masked dance theatre could be taken still further. Big emotions require bold forms and spaces and the set here, for all its fantastically lurid 60s stylings, seemed too clean and closed for the tragedy of the story. This is a touching piece of theatre, and it’s great to see the mask form being used so effectively to share this piece of social history, but it just falls short of fully punching me in the gut with the weight of its emotion.

Jessie Cave - I Loved Her

Jessie Cave: I Loved Her

Jessie Cave - I Loved HerI Loved Her tells Jessie Cave’s true story about making a baby with a one-date wonder, and salvaging a relationship from the fallout. Part character comedy stand up, part live art with cartoon masks and dodgy shadow puppetry, the shrill tension between the sharp subject matter and giddy form of this show makes it a unique and interesting clash of performance and private life.

Jessie adopts the character of ‘Jessie’ to deliver her tale: an unapologetically neurotic, quirky -in-the-constructed-way, fast-talking, over-sharing, social media obsessing twenty-something young mum. This heightened version of herself feels deliberately close to the real thing. Dressed in a frumpy frock with huge nerdy glasses and plaited pigtails down to her waist, she is styled as a pastiche child star, grown too big for her gingham. Cave shot to fame playing Lavender Brown in the Harry Potter films. Since then she has tumbled through theatre acting, youtube video making, drawing, and becoming a mother at high speed. The Jessie we encounter on stage embodies all of the chaos of a young woman growing up on Instagram in the blurry gaze of the public eye. She plays a Jessie who is so full of modern anxieties, whilst still being packed with the magical idealisms of a young starlet, that I can almost picture her clicking her heels together at any point and truly believing she might wake up in Kansas.

This is a storytelling show, in a loose sense, as Jessie recounts the basics of her fateful first date with comedian, and now father of her child, Alfie Brown, using the medium of self-proclaimed ‘shoddy’ shadow puppetry. The rest of the performance becomes more like a stream of consciousness weaving together snippets about her neurotic behaviours and anxieties in reaction to being thrown into parenthood and a relationship at speed. The intensity of her neurosis and demonstrations of her anxiety are painfully palpable and sometimes feel too much. Jessie’s unstoppable, full throttle delivery make her accounts somewhat more digestible. Her inability to hold back when she tells us that she ‘masturbated in-front of the Great British Bake Off’ before her first date with Alfie, along with other multiple over-sharings, offer humour and soften the madness, helping to keep the audience on side.

There are times when it feels a little difficult to stay with her though, or even keep up. The dizzying speed at which Cave talks seems fitting for the subjects she is exploring, however, I wonder if some moments of calm, stillness, emptiness might aid in making the frenetic movement of this show somehow sharper and the humour of her performance brighter. There are lighting changes and the use of music, but these never seem to alter Cave’s state, she is a runaway train, blazing towards telling you anything and everything she has ever thought. Of course some would describe this as the Lena Dunham-style charm of the show, but I am left with a niggling feeling of dissatisfaction. These are truly heart pounding, poignant slices of life that Cave is delivering to us, but they feel just out of reach to truly chew over for myself: perhaps I would like a little more space for my own reactions, or perhaps she really is just too fast for me. Either way, it’s surely worth attempting to catch up with her somewhere and I will follow her rapid movements with interest.

Complicite - The Encounter - Photo by Robbie Jack

Complicite: The Encounter

Complicite - The Encounter - Photo by Robbie JackComplicite have built a reputation as master visual raconteurs. Their body of work has almost come to define the term physical theatre as they have etched a unique style that fuses physicality with a deconstructed stagecraft, supporting gripping narratives. In their latest piece The Encounter they not only uphold this reputation but break new theatrical territory. With the magical use of binaural technology Simon McBurney brings us sensory storytelling like nothing I’ve ever seen or heard before. It’s not that binaural technology hasn’t been used in theatre up to now, David Rosenberg and Glen Neath have been playing with it for a while and use it for both of their shows Ring and Fiction. The difference here is that we pair this audio wonderland with a visual marvel that is both breathtaking and beguiling.

Although the clever technology is impressive, what is truly marvellous about this piece is the narrative. McBurney brings us a passionate account of a true story that necessitates something unique for its retelling. Inspired by the book Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu, this is a wildly intriguing story about the journey of National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre into the Amazon, where he is stranded and becomes reliant on the hospitality of the Mayoruna tribe in order to survive.

McBurney frames this narrative with an exposition about his personal relationship with his children, and the ways in which their lives are documented, with masses of photographs in contrast to previous generations. Mapping the development of their existence with a constant stream of evidence and proof that they do exist, watching their brains develop as they begin to understand this themselves, amongst the notion that others too exist. This touching insight begins to probe at the overriding themes of the story. McIntyre wants to document an undocumented people. The Mayoruna have never had extended contact with the outside world, they are an unknown and their understanding of existence, communication, and time is unique to themselves, breaking down McIntyre’s very grasp on consciousness and being.

McBurney uses a plethora of innovative audio technology to bring this story to life. The entire audience wears headphones throughout, a voice tool enables McBurney’s voice to switch between his own as the narrator and the voice of McIntyre, a deep drawling American accent that switches us into first-person narrative. As we watch McBurney become McIntyre he uses sound loop pedals to record rustlings of the jungle made with VHS tape and his own body to create layers of forest sound percussion. The effect is startling, binaural technology replicates audio in the way that the human ear receives it, making us feel that sounds are coming from all around us. Of course, in true Complicite style, McBurney has already explained that to us at the beginning, we are as aware of the trickery as we are of the simple ways that the sounds are being made, and yet, this feels like some kind of magic.

As McIntyre travels deeper into the jungle with the tribe, his grasp on what he thinks of as reality and time begins to warp. Whisperings of the jungle, death, and rituals surround him and he establishes a relationship with the tribe’s chief in which they begin to communicate in telepathy. The entire back wall of the expansive stage is covered in rubber-looking asymmetrical blocks that produce a warped grid, and digital projection onto this creates a hypnotising visual effect. The dark, slithering jungle is transposed via this back wall into a rippling, pulsing mass of green as McBurney trudges on stage in a visualisation of McIntyre’s gradual journey into a liminal reality.

This is a theatrical feat. It is clear that an amazing amount of time, passion, research, and manpower has gone into its creation. There are perhaps some visual elements still to be found as at times I find the stage almost too big for this one-man show, but there is no doubt that the huge effort it has taken to realise this piece has been well worth it. I am moved, amazed, enthralled and engaged throughout. McBurney has dreamed a theatrical vision for a story that grasps at the very fundamentals of existence: with a theme this big it is a wonder to see how Complicite have realised a production that can handle it. The chief of the Mayoruna asks McIntyre at one point why they would want any contact with ‘white man’, as ‘they will come with their planes, their guns and alcohol,’ and I leave feeling shaken by the shoulders, questioning all that we think we know and what our understanding of consciousness has lead us to in the ‘developed’ world. McIntyre shouts ‘I have never been part of nature!’ and the driving question of how we have engaged / disengaged with our existence is posed with deafening strength. This show is powerful, provocative and beguiling. A truly transformative masterpiece that demonstrates just how moving and relevant theatre can be.