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Pulse 2012: The first weekend. Day one

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How do you pick the opening show for a fringe theatre festival such as Ipswich’s Pulse, I wonder? By order of application/ the luck of the draw? or just the need to fit a succession of very different productions into one theatre space?

Under Stokes Croft, written and performed by Jack Dean proved to be an interesting choice. He has taken the framework of Dylan Thomas’ 1954 Under Milk Wood – a day in the life of a single community – and grafted onto it the Bristol suburb of his title for one April day in 2011. Dean precipitates his own, very effective verse to us in combination with a clever animated projected background of Hannah Jane Morley’s evocation of the cityscape.

Some of his people-portraits are excellent – the old woman remembering the Second World War, the over-the-top business consultant, the student with exams looming and a cramming mind gone blank. It’s perhaps just a little too frenetic, but it’s certainly good theatre. I suspect it also reads very well.

The Fens are one of East Anglia’s marvels, nature’s watery expanses regimented by man. The Romans had a go at draining them but it took the 17th century’s entrepreneurs (Oliver Cromwell’s family among them) to reclaim them through dykes and ditches. Dan Canham has recorded people whose forebears have lived through the generations in this marshy landscape for what you might describe as the soundtrack to Ours Was the Fen Country].

That’s quite interesting, but I’m not so sure about the dance-drama movements which are presumably designed to illustrate this history. It’s still a work-in-progress (this useful phrase is extremely elastic), so this may clarify over time.

Remedios Varo’s painting Harmony is a surrealist work relating objects to sound – they’re depicted as though they were notes on a musical stave. So far, so interesting. Granted that this was the first performance of Holly Rumble’s attempt to bring this to life with her Audio Guide, I’m afraid that it’s going to need some radical revision before it stops hovering over the ‘pretentious nonsense’ abyss. And why wear a microphone if your audience still has to strain to catch what you’re saying?


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