Showing posts with label Andre Anderson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Andre Anderson. Show all posts

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Review: Paisley (Tea Party Party, GM Fringe)

Sunday 15th July 2018
LEAF on Portland Street

Another new GM Fringe show review from me today… this time it’s Tea Party Party’s new production, Paisley.

Written and directed by Andre Anderson, and co-created by Emeli Hartness, Paisley uses an all-female cast to explore questions of culture and oppression. The information I got before the show prepared me for a focus on women’s experiences of culture and tradition; it also prepared me for the all-women cast and the ‘feminine’ setting (a girl’s bedroom, as she gets ready for a party). But I really wasn’t prepared for the unusual performance style or the range of talents showcased in this piece.

Paisley (played by Jordan Chisholm) is on the verge of getting married, but she’s having doubts. As she delays getting ready for a party, she’s joined in her bedroom by her mother (played by Rowan Birkett), her mother-in-law-to-be Kira (Mackenzie Clapperton) and her friend Gaby (Alice Woodsworth). Paisley tries to articulate her doubts, and in turn each of the women tells their own story of societal oppression.

Paisley’s unexpected element comes in the decision to use a variety of performance techniques to tell each of the stories. We begin with Paisley’s mother’s story, which flashes back to her childhood in India. Although the story begins with Birkett offering some scene-setting narration, the story quickly moves into a Bollywood-inspired interpretative dance sequence, which describes a young woman’s terror at discovering the meaning of ‘dowry’ and the reality of arranged/forced marriage. An ambitious and well-staged sequence, the dance is arresting in both visual and narrative terms.

Next up, Kira tells the story of her abusive first marriage. Again, the story begins with the actor’s narration, but quickly develops into something quite different. The bedroom’s fireplace moves aside to reveal Japanese-inspired shadow puppets, and a tale of escalating domestic abuse and violence. Elegantly rendered and performed by Hartness (who manages both the shadow puppets and the 3-D figures that move in front of the sets), this is both moving and compelling – while both stories speak of women’s oppression by patriarchal structures of marriage, the first two stories are markedly different in tone and style.

Finally, Gaby shares her story with the other three women. Here, we have a story about sexuality and family pressures. Gaby is gay, and her family have disowned her. This story is told through a haunting bilingual song, with lyrics moving seamlessly from English to Spanish, beautifully performed by Woodsworth.

The ambition of Paisley is truly impressive. For a new company to attempt such complex staging and diverse techniques is really quite exciting. But this ambition would have fallen flat were it not for the strong performances from the cast and Anderson’s careful direction. Dance moves were sharp, the puppetry slick, and Woodsworth’s singing pitch perfect (and very moving).

The show’s finale is a tad heavy-handed in its message – the cast members join to intone a statement that, to be honest, has already been clearly conveyed in the rest of the play. I felt that Paisley was strongest in its ‘show, don’t tell’ sequences, and in the way these diverse stories were brought together in the evocative space of a young woman’s bedroom.

One of the key elements of Paisley is that each of the characters has a different cultural background. In the first sequence, this allows for traditions and oppressions not common in the UK (particularly dowry payments and forced marriage) to be highlighted. In the case of Kira and Gaby’s stories, the issues presented transcend culture and so the characters’ backgrounds are used to more to introduce the type and style of storytelling. Or perhaps it’s the other way around… we imagine different cultural backgrounds for each of the characters precisely because of the techniques used to tell their stories.

The set and design of the show – the bedroom that is so key to the storytelling – is also very carefully done, and there is a real style to Paisley’s staging. In fact, I’d say that the use of set design here is the most elaborate (and, that word again, ambitious) of any of the GM Fringe shows I’ve seen this year. However, this did mean that I felt the limitations of venue more keenly than in other shows. While LEAF has a very nice performance space, there were some issues with sound, lighting and audience view (some people on the back row had trouble seeing the fireplace puppetry set). Fortunately, good performances and direction distract from any minor venue niggles.

Overall, Paisley is an enjoyable and striking piece of theatre, which showcases the range of talents of its cast and crew. I definitely look forward to seeing more from Tea Party Party in the future.