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The Show

20 December 2013

The Show

BYT Experimental Theatre Group

Castelnau Community Centre

20th December 2013

Review by Mark Aspen

 

The week before Christmas, what could be a better time to pay a visit to a very friendly workshop? But here no Santa and no elves, for BYT’s is a toolmaker’s workshop.  It was almost possible to smell the cutting oil and see the sparks as the tools were formed and honed.  But here the tools being made were the tools of an actor’s craft.

Director, Ed Cottrell has, for 42 years now, been developing the skills of young (and not so young) actors by means of improvised pieces. The Christmas shows give a chance to see examples of this work-in-progress.   Consequently, neither the audience, nor the actors themselves, know at the outset what the outcome will be.

For this year’s offering, called simply The Show, the cast unwrapped some gems.  There were some very witty and intelligent contributions from a cast that had good ensemble coherence, in spite of the impromptu nature of the work (and indeed of the composition of the cast itself). Of course with actors thinking on their feet, the pacing was down to start with, but once in their stride it fairly cracked along.

 

Particularly good were Ben Faulkner (whom we have seen grow up on the stage with BYT over twelve years now) and a newcomer, Mazin Shawish, a fine actor with an expressive physicality. The fine mixture of impulse and inventiveness was greatly complemented by the other members of the cast, Haris Shah, Shireen Mirza and, fresh to the group, Anand Kumar.

 

The techniques used by BYT give to an audience a clear window into some of the methods actors use in “getting into” a character. In the BYT approach the actor is primed by an external stimulus, a word, a prop, some music (or even just a sound effect), or an imposed situation. Often such exercises offer greatly entertaining watching for the audience, as we found with The Show. Our actors were able to use the skill that has been popularised by stand-up comedy, of being able to find spur-of-the-moment humour.

 

Hence, we saw word “luxury”, offered from the audience, being developed into a taut plot around disability in the family; and a scenario of two men marooned on an island create a great line in quick-fire quips.   A “hot-seating” exercise, in which one actor is obliged to respond to questions, managed to sweep an audience member into the action on stage. However, this was Joan Salmon, fondly regarded as BYT’s unofficial patron. Illustrating BYT’s genius loci, by being totally unfazed by the spontaneity of the moment, she helped create an instant bad-cop-good-cop police drama.

 

However the highlight of the evening was a story with mime about a King without a Kingdom, which was acted out with great physical characterisation, and had the audience totally gripped as the drama spontaneously unfolded. It was summed up in the Director’s closing remark, “I wish I had thought of that”.

 

Having seen an enjoyable evening’s entertainment, I did again however come away feeling a little frustrated. The basis of the BYT concept of extemporised work serves it well, but what about a complementary BYT+? I had witnessed great acting, skilful directing, imagination and humour, but I felt that it would be good for them all, one day, to be freed of the burden of creating the plot. I would love to see what they could do with a script, for I know that I would not be disappointed.

 

It was fascinating to wander from the Christmas snow, away from Santa, into BYT’s toolmaker’s workshop, but what wonders could these tools produce in that factory of imagination that is the theatre?

 

 

 

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