Being There: A Ship of Fools

Feature in Issue 22-2 | Summer 2010

A threeway view of Karavan Ensemble’s A Ship of Fools as seen at Coachwerks during the Brighton Fringe, May 2010.

It’s Monday (day five) and the show is still on its journey of becoming. Theatre has always been for me a magical experience and when working with such a big group – ten performers from various ages, backgrounds and nationalities – the objective is to find the fine-tuning, in order for them to have the pleasure of playing together like an orchestra.

A Ship of Fools is not only a performance, it is an event that invites the audience to make choices, to be curious and open for anything that might happen by slowly opening their hearts. As I put on my ringmaster’s makeup, I can hear Rachel’s kids helping Alex, our resident chef, preparing the oven for the pizzas. Renee Ansell, our jazz queen, arrives and I welcome her in my polished Russian gentlemen accent. The Big Lemon Bus arrives and I wait, as the ship is about to open its doors.

I loved this audience – they were totally open to receive the madness that we were offering. They were walking through the installations with patience and bewilderment. Our partners for the night were without preconceptions. I loved them.

The energy was nicely building up…

But when the show began a sadness filled my heart. The final magic did not happen; the instruments were out of tune and no fool was able to save the ship. Performance for me is a constant process of renewal – I am always looking for surprises and putting myself on the edge where there is no safety belt only a small vertigo from which the audience and the performers can live a unique experience that will bind us together.

After a slice of thin-crust pizza shared with some members of the audience on the long table at Coachwerks I knew that tomorrow would be a new day with new challenges and that this magic will eventually – possibly, hopefully – be there again.
Yael Karavan, artistic director, Karavan ensemble

The ship and its fools are on a constant reflective journey, navigating changing constraints and freedoms every time they set sail. Yael’s initial reaction was to be dissatisfied with tonight’s performance. Parts felt flat. In my opinion, this dissatisfaction is actually a tribute to the contradictions and risks of work focused on movement and interactions as they come into being, rather than pre-conceived notions of a finished product. By emphasising process the work is kept alive: the emotions and energy shared with the audience reflect the real-time emerging experiences of the artists. But of course there is a tension between allowing this experience to be unanticipated and the desire to ensure a particular engagement of the audience. Trying to provide structures that facilitate certain outcomes whilst not stopping the performance extending beyond these is an impressive task.

On these journeys something new can always be discovered and something previously found always lost. This evening the freedom given to my fool resulted in the acute expression of a personal anxiety which had been kept in check outside the performance by reflective rationalisation. Unexpectedly, the audience and I experienced a blunt exposure of myself. But if there ever comes a time when we know what is coming, when we are no longer dissatisfied or ecstatic at each particular performance, then it can only be because it has died.
Jo Donaghy, responsible for company critical documentation and first-time performer for a Ship of Fools

The sense of special event is palpable as we are met on a busy main road in the centre of Brighton by an intriguing, delicate performance. Dancing in the late afternoon sun to the refrain of a goggled accordionist, a doe-eyed romantic twirls her full skirt wistfully whilst a sombre French bus conductor murmurs instructions.

Transported to the rickety charm of Coachwerks, Brighton’s newest artist-run venue, we can’t help feeling the caché. May Bank Holiday strollers stare as a barefoot male performer in a pea-green maxi-dress, carrying two buckets of rubber balls, chases the bus up the road.

It can feel tricky to renegotiate our roles as audience to the series of performative installations that inhabit the architecture and energy of the venue (using Butoh, dance and clown) after such an open introduction. There’s a rich and committed atmosphere here as the space is animated.

When the audience are reunited, theatre-style, we are treated to a round of wartime classics from Brighton treasure, jazz singer Renee Ansell. It’s a surprising and charming clash of performance styles that is somehow very right. Later, we are given a showcase of the emerging fools’ characters, played out in delicately nuanced solos and duets with occasionally explosive ensembles, all scored live. This is a big group – eight fools (plus musicians) all jostling for our attention, and this can limit both our focus and the depth of exploration.

But the company create a memorable and meaningful experience that successfully harnesses the irreverent power of the fool to detailed choreography and an unleashing of site. The evening feels generously curated (Yael Karavan herself in a tour-de-force as the eccentric Russian ringmaster) and collides genuine experimentation with really engaging demotic entertainment.
Beccy Smith

Karavan Ensemble’s A Ship of Fools was presented at Coachwerks during the Brighton Festival Fringe 2010. The performance reviewed took place 3 May 2010.

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Issue 22-2
p. 28 - 29