Wednesday, September 15, 2010

52 weeks, 52 fringe venues: Venue #2 Croydon Warehouse

I'm sitting in the bar at Croydon Warehouse and the voices on the table behind me are building. Then I hear:

"I not only had the idea I FUCKING BLOGGED ABOUT IT"
I snort out loud because not only is it totally incongruous, I also want the phrase on, if not a t-shirt, then at least a mug. Ear tuned to the conversation I realise the three men - one of whom has a grey ponytail which is almost as long as my hair - are talking about the Conservative Party conference.

Though I quickly deduce that Ponytail and his friends are hangers on with little chance of a private line to "Dave", listening to them is like listening to The Thick of It. In as much as they talk politics and say stupid things and think they have more influence than they actually do. Oh, and they say "fuck" a lot. Given I like The Thick of It a lot we can consider this a good thing.

See - I am merely two venues into my 52 weeks, 52 fringe venues challenge and already I have been plunged into unexpected (and undreamed of) pleasures. Listening to Tories who blog. You don't get that at the Royal Court.

Maybe I'm enjoying this even more because of our surroundings. The bar of Croydon Warehouse is a bit like a well worn jumper, much used but with holes in the elbows and an unidentifiable stain on the right cuff. However, lest you should get the wrong impression, this is a bar which offers olives and, when I entered, contained a man reading The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Croydon Warehouse - you have style. There's a new building in the offing, increasing the size of the auditorium and, I'm sure, fixing some of the space problems that using a converted Victorian warehouse brings and I hope the theatre gets its new space. But I also hope it keeps its character. I'm a hoarder afterall, I keep my holey jumpers.

What the theatre shouldn't be keeping is its website. Don't say I didn't warn you if you chose to click here. It looks like someone threw up over geocities in 1997 and they kept the result. I have one word: wordpress. If not for themselves, then for my retinas.

What they do better is new work - so, yes, I'm still on my bias and easing myself into this journey. They've even a grandly titled annual International Playwriting Competition.

The real reason I ended up visiting Croydon Warehouse so early in the process, however, was because of the show that was on. In Edinburgh Ovid's Metamorphoses was one of the shows that can proudly claim to have had the nerves-of-steel required to get past my London-demeanour and actually flyer me. That I sort of let them do this because they were young, cute boys in 40's clothing is neither here nor there. Nerves of steel. Even without this, though (and I confess I didn't make it to a single show I was flyered for) there had been good buzz about the show. And, as if they needed more of an and, with WBN I'm doing a long-term Ovid Reworked Project. I heart Ovid. I have read ALL of Metamorphoses. And that is many, many pages. I inform you of this fact because one of the paybacks for reading long books is being able to tell people that you have read them.

Only today I also tell you because I suspect knowing Metamorphoses intimately (and having worked with more writers than I want to count on their adaptations plus those three adaptations I've written) made me (once again) an annoying audience member. Because you're going to have to work to surprise me. And then I'm still probably going to look you in the face and go: well, what about this?

The reason that Ovid's Metamorphoses works is because of its staging. There's a wonderfully slick inventiveness to the production which immediately made me think of a pared down Kneehigh. The attention to detail is utterly charming whilst Lucy Egger's jazz-soaked music soars and talks of Ovid more eloquently than anything else in the production. The 1940's wartime England setting, with its overt sense of danger, proves an unexpectedly satisfying home for Ovid. Everything is on the verge of chaos, ready to fracture at any moment.

The reason I didn't love the show though? With the possible exception of the story of Theseus and the Minotaur it was the style rather than the story which was doing the work. Take away the slickness and what you're left with is a fairly straight telling of the stories. I think the reason that so many artists (in the broadest sense of 'artists') are drawn to Ovid is because of the kaleidoscope that you can view them through. Take the stories and tell me something I haven't thought before. Through the haze of charm I don't think I saw any of the stories in a new way.

If that sounds harsh for something that is unashamedly entertaining and ambitious (and a show which, had I been starring, would have probably given 4/5) then I think the show can withstand it. What I don't say with such good humour is the ending which whacked the audience over the head with ideas about climate change that weren't really supported by the way they'd told the stories. In the scoring guide I'd have docked them 0.5 for that.

What this did make me think about was that, two venues in, my writer bias has crept in. I've a huge mistrust of devised shows which don't credit a Dramaturg. It's not just that I want jobs for writers/ Dramaturgs but I think there's a reason or two why you ignore us at your peril. Whilst there was a tightness to Ovid's Metamorphoses that I can't dispute (it was too long, but then most things are) it lacked the inventiveness in the writing to match everything else going on. Me being me, that meant we'd never fall in love.

Fringe Quest Lowdown:

Production: Ovid's Metamorphoses (devised by Pants on Fire)

Type of space: Converted Victorian Warehouse, with cafe/bar.

Type of productions: New work, both inhouse and for hire.

Nearest Station: East Croydon, with it being, even at my pace, about two minutes from the station. Ironically from where I live in South East London it's easier for me to get there than to any central London location. Lesson learnt.

Seating: Individual padded seats on suitable rake. Heard woman behind me say that she was sitting there because the "lady in front is small". So you probably don't want to be sat behind a man mountain. But then, when do you ever want to be sat behind a man mountain?

Condition of toilets: Women's toilets = one disabled toilet. Expect to queue.

Bar produce: Got distracted by the Tories and didn't write down what my (soft) drink cost me, but I do remember that it didn't make me vomit.

Other comments: Spending your evening with characters from The Thick of It = optional extra.

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