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Pulse 2011 – Four More Days

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The good news is that, about two-thirds of the way through, Pulse 2011 has achieved its attendance target. The (slightly) bad news is that the work presented was of somewhat uneven quality. The best shows which I saw during the second week seemed to be those which were movement-based.

Agnes and Walter: A Little Love Story is a gentle piece which draws you into the world of a long-married couple, themselves when young and the fantasy world each has created to make a dull, uneventful day-to-day existence just that bit more interesting. His dreams have all to do with derring-do; hers with Hollywood glamour.

Sarah Lewis and Dan Canham are the young couple, swooping across the stage both lyrically and energetically. Elizabeth Taylor and Ronnie Beecham are their older lter-egos, with a nice line in synchronised steps. [Margaret Pikes is the singer who acts as a sort of stage manager for what we see, gently manipulating people, set pieces and the overall mod as – dreamlike – one time sequence morphs into another.

You can catch Epic at the Colchester Arts Centre on Thursday 9 June. I felt that it needed a larger stage than the New Wolsey Studio affords. Chloé Déchery and Lucy Foster have made a word, film and movement piece from their own family histories. Edward Rapley and Pedro Inîs are the other two performers.

There’s an ironic nod to Brecht throughout, for these are the stories of people on the periphery of world-changing events, from the 1918 assassination at Sarajevo to the Nazi occupation of Paris, a torpedoed ship and the fall of Salazar’s dictatorship in Portugal. Pia Nordin’s choreography is free flowing, even athletic at times. The final tableau winks gently at all those monumental French history paintings of the pre-Impressionist era.

Deaf Men Dancing has, as you might expect from the ensemble’s name, a strong sense of rhythm. Sense of Freedom begins with four dancers in sharp business suits, sporting black quiffed hairpieces and dark glasses. They gradually become less formal, ending up wearing simply singlets and trousers.

Their movements also become less jagged and angular and more fluid, all the time incorporating British Sign Language gestures. These seem completely natural in the context, a sort of extension of the mime familiar from classical ballet. Danielle Morris speaks the hard-metre verse which alternates with music as an accompaniment. The choreographer is Mark Smith who also performs with Joseph Fletcher, Kevin Jewell and Anthony Snowden.

Traditional Indian dance and music invests Shane Shambhu’s Leaving Only a Trace. A young man is packing up his possessions before moving – it seem to a far away country and a completely different culture. There’s an ever-increasing discard pile, but the past is not so easily rejected or obliterated. As Shambhu attempts to throw away the past, it flutters back with increasing urgency.

It would be unkind to say that Stella GibbonsCold Comfort Farm came into my mind as Jonathan Lichtenstein’s Darkness developed. This was a rehearsed reading, so it is very much a work in progress. People have been prophesying the end of the world for millennia with the recent “Rapture” simply the latest prominent manifestation of the phenomenon. The Book of Revelations has a great deal to answer for. Here we are not in the USA but in East Anglia, in a clearing surrounded by forest on Ascension Day.

Patriarch George has a wife, two sons and a daughter. Because one son has left home (we gradually discover why), his timber-felling business needs an extra pair of hands. The new recruit is a young man from Croatia, slightly astray in his new country and completely bewildered by the fundamentalist beliefs of this tortured family. The cast, led by David Tarkenter, Barbara Peirson, Emma Jane Connell and Andrew Livingstone, treat it all with the utmost seriousness.

Timing of fringe events is a very fluid matter, so I only caught two of the four Soho Shorts. From what I did see, these ten-minute playlets made up a bill of contrasts. The New Wolsey Theatre’s Young Associates contributed a commissioned work, Party Piece, about four teenagers. It’s aimed at their non-theatre-going contemporaries and suggested every concerned parent’s worst nightmares. The young audience took it to their hearts.

Of the two one-man shows in Arlingtons’ Darwin Room, Chris Thorpe’s High Speed Impact Test Number One gave us two cautionary tales about plane disasters. The narrator of the first is a man who pre-records all those soothing yet cautionary on-board announcements. The second brings to mind the old fable that “for want of a nail…the kingdom was lost”. Only in the 21st century, it’s because of a spilled cup of breakfast coffee. It’s worth indulging Thorpe’s initially quirky presentation, as it gets better as it goes on.

Not really what one can say for Hannah Jane Walker’s This Is Just To Say. It’s a conversation with its audience, seated around a dining table with wine glasses, pens, paper and playing cards. The audience participates as the poet presenter uses it to gather material for what one suspects will be another show of the same type. I’m al for the right to experiment and the right to fail. I just don’t like being conned.


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