Sunday, September 26, 2010

52 weeks, 52 fringe venues: Venue #6 New Diorama Theatre

I suppose it was somewhat inevitable that at some point during my exploration of Fringe venues I was going to get myself lost. If I’d been forced to put money on it I would have said it would be at a venue which was north of the river because I have north of the river blindness and have no idea how any of the pieces fit together. And – yes, I ended up lost on my way to New Diorama Theatre. Because there was a building site where google maps was telling me that there should be road and all I could see was a Virgin Active and then Starbucks and then the wrong street. Until I turned round and saw that I had unwittingly gone past the New Diorama about four times. Which given it is branded in bright orange is impressive.

It isn’t a lie that the New Diorama Theatre is new. It’s shiny and sparkling and pretty. It’s located amongst equally new and shiny shops and, once I’d gotten over the indignity of being lost, this filled me with a little bit of joy. As a girl who opened a temporary theatre in a market unit I have big, invested feelings about the fact theatre shouldn’t be segregated. Theatre, commerce, trade – it all goes together. And if Starbucks is souless then a theatre isn’t. If more arts spaces were included in more new builds the world would be a better place.

There's also the fact that for all its shiny 21st century ease New Diorama isn't about the easy - it's about the new and the difficult and the long term development rather than the short term hit. Their manifesto is ambitious in a way that provides real heart to its glossy building. Even its tagline - epic stories intimately told - makes me happy. In short - it all makes me a bit dizzy and I'm judging myself for not having visited them sooner. Also, were it not for the fact that I suspect all that glass might make for a chilly winter, I'd be moving in.

In many ways SPARE is a perfect introduction to the ambition of the space. From its title onwards SPARE is a jigsaw puzzle of a production. Concerned with power, consent and abuse it boldly challenges you to do more than sit and watch. It demands you think.

SPARE’s central conceit – that the actors have their parts cast randomly each night resulting in a bewildering 40,032 different combinations – is only part of the puzzle. It’s a good puzzle to begin with though, working as both a comment on the notion that everyone has the ability to wield (or abuse) power and as a binding device between audience and performer. You know the actors are being made to work – though they do so with such ease of purpose that it’s easy to forget that this play is never quite the same – but then so are you. SPARE twists and turns as it gives you its fractured narrative, forcing you to match it step by step. There’s a mystery to be solved as you tie together the characters connections, building the web that connects them all. Slouch and you’ll miss something. Stay with it and you’ll be duly rewarded.

SPARE is not, as its Writer/Director Sebastian Rex notes, about engaging sympathy and understanding – it wants to challenge you. If this, with its non-gendered, non-specific outlook, brings an occasionally too-cold detachment from events it also provides the perfect arena for Rex to air ideas of power and choice. Nothing is easy, everything (and every relationship) is up for debate. Free from clutter you can actually hear what the play is saying.

Fringe Quest Lowdown:

Production: SPARE by Sebastian Rex (acting like mad)

Type of space: New build of glass and orange. One good sized studio space.

Type of productions: Aims to present work of theatre companies and artistic collectives across the full range of genres. Committed to ongoing development.

Nearest Station: Lots of tubes but since I use trains, St Pancras did it for me (ten minute walk passing the British Libarary in the process, swoon).

Seating: Orange flip seats, comfortable with good leg space and an okay rake.

Condition of toilets: Didn't check but I imagine they are as new and shiny as everything else.

Bar produce: Coffees, alchohol and soft drinks. £1.60 for my can of diet coke and they didn't offer me a glass. That hurt a bit.

Other comments: Did you know that of the 53 shows I went to during Edinburgh Fringe this year I got a miserable total of 2 free badges? New Diorama Theatre has a jar of free badges on their leaflet table. I shall be wearing mine with pride.

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