Any A level or undergraduate theatre studies student who’d been shadowing me for the last week or so would have got a wonderful and highly educative taste of theatre in all its infinite variety.
Three astonishingly talented men perform “circus for the next generation” - in a dark, untidy garage. It’s a blend of breathtaking acrobatics, trampoline, pole work, combat, dance, acting and edgy cartoon-style comedy. It’s the sort of show which brings audible incredulous gasps from the audience. And those hypothetical students would have learned a lot from the atmospheric lighting (by Juho Rahijaravi) and from the quirky sound (by Tuomas Norvio and Maksim Komaro).
After that, for a complete contrast, it was off to Garsington Opera at Wormsley in Oxfordshire for Don Giovanni (pictured above). Garsington Opera, 22 years old this year, has a policy of offering performance opportunities to young singers, so in a sense, the whole concept is about education and training. This Don Giovanni, as my colleague Edward Bhesania who reviewed it for The Stage is minimalist and modern with several fine singing performances and some magnificent playing from the band under Douglas Boyd.
Garsington runs a special training programme for its understudies and is about to launch a community opera project, both of which I shall write about later in the year. Meanwhile it is Mozart’s marvellous music which is still running round my head, the cold and mud of garden opera in inclement early June almost forgotten.
My next port of call was Stratford (upon-Avon, this time) for In a Pickle, a delightful charm-laden introduction to Shakespeare for two to four year olds by Tim Webb, co-produced by RSC and Oily Cart. Based — sort of — on The Winter’s Tale, as I explained in my review it focused heavily on sheep - not usually, it has to be said, quite the main characters in the play. But golly, how it entranced, educated and entertained the young audience.
First there was the future cabinet minister, brain surgeon or high court judge, aged all of three, who informed the assembled company that if the lost baby was going home to her parents, the king and queen, she’d have to go to London because that’s where the palace is. Then there was a tiny child who anxiously insisted that the crying baby be given some milk because that’s what babies need. Most moving of all was a boy with a disability - probably an extreme form of autism. He had no speech but very eloquent eyes. It was a privilege to see him learning from, and relaxing into, the sensory experiences in this lovely show. He enjoyed being part of the story telling too.
Then, my imaginary theatre studies student in tow, I went back to London and Unicorn Theatre for the fascinating and beautiful experience of Something Very Far Away by Mark Arends, which I also reviewed for The Stage. Puppetry, with puppets in hand-knitted clothes, is enacted downstage and projected onto a backscreen to tell an exquisitely moving story about an elderly man whose wife dies. An enthusiastic astronomer (think tiny telescopes, suspended planets and space ships) he finds solace in exploring time and space as an upbeat and quirkily attractive story of grief, bereavement and positive thinking. It’s a fascinating theatrical concept too.
Four completely different shows then - and a great deal of learning. A good week.