Q&A - Grace Wranoski (Peeking in the Portrait)

GOLKK Theatre Company was founded in 2016 by 4 University of Kent Graduates (Grace Wranoski, Olaf Leiros, Luke Stokes, and Kristin Bacheva). A multinational theatre company, their work utilises dynamic physical theatre because of its universal nature, and seeks to bridge the gap between mainstream and fringe theatre audiences.
This year, GOLKK are bringing their show Peeking in the Portrait to the Lion and Unicorn Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe. Prior to opening night, I spoke to company member Grace Wranoski about how GOLKK Theatre Company’s Peeking in the Portrait came into being.
GOLKK Theatre Company
Can you tell me how GOLKK Theatre was founded?
GOLKK Theatre was formed 2 years ago during a project at the University of Kent, where we all studied an MA in Physical Acting. Olaf brought us all together with a vision of making unconventional physical theatre, and we ended up with a true ensemble who share a vision for theatre which is about being connected in the present moment, as performers and with our audiences. Our work uses subtle improvisation, and responds to the space - which makes every performance different!
How would you describe Peeking in the Portrait in your own words?
Peeking in the Portrait is really unlike any other physical theatre. It is less about flashy tricks and choreography, and more about the ways that we communicate with our bodies in everyday life - the glances you share with a stranger, the vulnerability of physical contact, the sudden potential in a hand stretched out towards you… We think that Peeking gives audiences a fresh taste of what ‘physical theatre’ means, and allows them the chance to make up their own narratives.
Peeking in the Portrait is inspired by a woman named Clementina Hawarden. What makes her such an interesting subject?
Clementina Hawarden was a photographer in the Victorian period. She used her daughters as models for some very curious - and for the time, very provocative - portraits. We were so inspired by how Hawarden had turned the confines of a domestic life into a space where she could freely express herself. In rehearsals we played with re-creating her portraits, and found that they gave us characters who all had such different relationships with the camera, which is so relevant for our current society. Whether you’re obsessed with selfies, or nostalgic about disposables, photography is everywhere in our lives - and we play with bringing Hawarden into this conversation.
Grace Wranoski in Peeking in the Portrait
The use of photography within the production is an interesting and unique one, as you use a camera to capture live snapshots of the performance as it takes place. What inspired the use of a camera within the production, and does it cause any difficulties for you?
Well we fell in love with the idea of using the polaroid camera as a fifth character - and for that we needed to use it! But of course, polaroid film is not cheap… we had to dramatically reduce the amount of photos taken during each show, but now they are in more poignant moments. And we have been lucky enough to be sponsored by Canterbury Camera Center! We always look for ways that we can combine theatre with other art forms, whether that’s visual arts or music or, in this case, photography. We find that merging art forms really opens up the theatre experience to be viewed in a different way, and our audiences have loved looking at our exhibition of polaroids- which you can see after the show!

GOLKK are an ensemble of performers who are ‘passionate about the universal nature of physical theatre’. What do you do as an ensemble to prepare before each performance?
We have a ritual called ‘Huddle and Hum’. Just before each performance begins, we join as a group to hum all together - it’s a very simple ritual, but it connects us all on a physical, mental and atmospheric level, and reminds us to be present.

Why should audiences come and see Peeking in the Portrait?
Peeking in the Portrait was recently described as a ‘breath of fresh air’. We allow audiences to make their own meaning, and find that audiences always come away with such a variety of experiences. If you want something ‘real’, ‘witty’, ‘solemn’ and ‘captivating’, then take a punt on our show! And we love to connect with our audiences, so we will be around after the show to answer all the questions that you will definitely come away with...

Review - OSCiLLATE (Sadler's Wells Theatre)

If there are any tap dance enthusiasts who haven’t heard of tap dance company Old Kent Road, they they’d do well to look them up. The synced up ensemble of passionate tappers, who claim to be raising the game in the UK tap scene whilst paying homage to the history and culture of their art form, star in OSCiLLATE, the first work by a British Tap dance company to be performed at Sadler’s Wells Theatre.
OSCiLLATE is a pounding piece of tap dance theatre which explores human interactions and the effects of communication on relationships.

The production gets off to a slightly sluggish start, but soon the outstanding cast of 9 are tapping with an almost superhuman frantic energy. Crisp choreography by founder and artistic director Avalon Rathgeb and co-choreographer Dre Torres draws attention to the precision of the craft, and the immense talent of the cast. In particular, Torres shines in an exasperated solo at the top of the show, which establishes an air of emotional volatility which continues to reappear again and again throughout the production.

Lighting design is also used to excellent effect. Strong flashes of neon lighting emphasise the wild atmosphere of the production. Additionally, one particularly memorable moment sees the entire cast on stage employing the use of spotlight lamps as part of their routine, flicking the lights on and off to draw attention to each dancer in succession. The resulting intimacy of the lighting juxtaposes the bustling crowded stage, and gives the whole routine a feeling of loneliness and isolation. A crowd of strangers externalising their internal emotions. It’s a genius combination of production design and choreography.

The camaraderie of the cast is plain to see as they tap in perfect unison, and when each cast member is given their own moment to shine, they do so effortlessly, but never at the expense of the expertly fashioned choreography.
For dance enthusiasts, Old Kent Road’s innovative work should not be missed.

Review - Che Malambo (Peacock Theatre)

After touring the US and Europe, Che Malambo has arrived in the UK. The all-male Argentinian percussive dance and music group is ruled by a performative macho energy, which sees various company members take part in dance based standoffs, drawing inspiration from the traditions and duelling culture of Argentinian gaucho cowboys.
Che Malambo
Photo credit - Robert Torres photography
There’s drumming, rhythmic stomping, body percussion, and perhaps most impressively, the hair raising boleadoras, a throwing weapon made of twine weighed down with a stone, which is whirled about over the heads of various company members in an arresting display.
The immense skill of the company is plain to see from start to finish. From the perfectly synchronised Argentinian bombos which opens the show accompanied by simplistic but striking lighting, all the way through to sizzling finale where all of the elements previous displayed come together, Che Malambo keeps the eye trained to the stage at all times. Astonishingly, at times the dancers move their feel with such speed and precision that everything becomes a bit of a blur, and the sheer pounding energy and meticulousness of the whole company is one of the most impressive aspects of the entire show.
Che Malambo
Photo credit - Diane Smithers
That being said, running at a relentless 80 minutes and full of almost uninterrupted stomping, fighting and singing, Che Malambo does occasionally start to feel a bit repetitive. Thankfully, there’s a fair amount of variety which keeps everything moving forward, with one lovely understated moment featuring a single vocalist accompanied by a guitar. More moments like this would help to diffuse some of the unyielding intensity of the production.

Che Malambo presents a completely unique entertainment experience which combines several impressive traditional Argentinian dance and music elements to staggering effect.

Review - Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Disney Fantasia (The Vaults)

In the labyrinth of tunnels which make up The Vaults, one of London’s most exciting and versatile performance spaces, a new immersive music concert experience is hoping to enchant audiences old and new with a combination of gorgeous classical music, stunning set pieces, and entrancing performances, inspired by Disney’s 1940 classic Fantasia.
The Vaults Presents Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Disney Fantasia
Photo credit - Hanson Leatherby
In the foyer at the entrance to Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Disney’s Fantasia, audiences don a set of headphones playing binaural recordings, and roam freely through 5 dreamy rooms, inhabited by all manner of wonders. There’s an enchanted garden where flowers glow and a disembodied voice whispers in the air, a room where a destructive volcano pulses in the pitch darkness, and a couple of iconic characters from the original film also make appearances too. But Disney fans take heed; the famous mouse does not make an appearance.

What’s immediately obvious is that Sounds and Sorcery would benefit from more structure. After queuing to be let into the attraction, audiences are met with several glowing clocks, which denote whether each room is ready to be entered or not. There’s a lot of milling about aimlessly, waiting for a room to be ready, and it does feel a little anticlimactic.

However, the bar is always open, and therefore the hilarious Dance of the Hours, which takes place in the bar area every few minutes, is the most easily accessible first stop. And one of the most enjoyable! The whimsical Dance of the Hours is an adorable segment which sees a parade of animals take to the stage to show off their dancing skills, there’s a clumsy knock kneed Ostrich, an attention seeking hippo, a noble elephant, and a fearsome crocodile. Miranda Menzies’s aerial silks display as the hissing croc is a particularly exhilarating moment, and when the animals take their bow and exit the audience is definitely left wanting more. At least there is a particularly inventive themed cocktail menu to peruse in the gaps between performances.  
The Vaults Presents Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Disney Fantasia
Photo credit - Hanson Leatherby
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is also great fun, combining the instantly recognisable symphonic poem with an engaging live action retelling of a cleaning spell gone awry and anthropomorphic brooms turning on each other, all set within a dank candlelit cavern.

Without a doubt, it is the cast of fantastic live actors who bring Sounds and Sorcery to life, and both the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Dance of the Hours are delightful. However, as a result, the rest of the exhibition, which seeks to engage audiences through solely the use of music and otherworldly visuals, falls slightly flat. The psychedelic garden is mystical (and very instagrammable thanks to Kitty Callister’s ethereal designs), but even so there’s not much to engage audiences for more than a few minutes, despite the gorgeous tones of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite playing through their headphones. The same goes for the room containing an inhospitable volcanic world, which is underscored Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The world looks visually stunning, and sounds magnificent, but there’s not much to do other than stand and listen, and wade through a few foam blocks symbolising cooling magma, and so audiences quickly move on.
The Vaults Presents Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Disney Fantasia
Photo credit - Hanson Leatherby
Additionally, the venue does look and feel quite rickety in places, with crackling headsets, sheets blowing back to reveal backstage mechanisms, and at one point, a rather sad looking bubble machine foaming up a black curtain which was seemingly put in place to keep it hidden. While these issues are mostly seemingly minor, they do rather deteriorate the atmosphere of the experience, which should feel entrancing from start to finish to achieve the desired effect.

All in all Sounds and Sorcery is a production of two halves. Some magical high points combine music, production design and performance to great effect, and showcase the exquisite orchestral recordings of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. But the sparsely populated word which frays at the seams at times leaves the attraction feeling a bit underwhelming.

Review - Kinky Boots (Adelphi Theatre)

After the sudden death of his father, Charlie Price is forced to abandon his life in London and return to his hometown of Northampton to take care of Price & Son, his family’s failing shoe factory. Thankfully, after a chance run-in with a gaggle of drag queens, led by the glamourous Lola, Charlie is struck with the genius idea to start manufacturing ‘a range of shoes for a range of men’. But tensions rise in the lead up to a make-or-break fashion show in Milan, and Charlie finds that pulling off his plan may not be as easy as he'd hoped.

The cast of Kinky Boots
Photo credit - Matt Crockett
Having joined the cast at the most recent cast change, musical theatre star Oliver Tompsett takes on the role of Charlie Price, bringing with him an interesting new interpretation of a character who has the misfortune of coming across as a bit of a square. At least to begin with. Costumed in muted browns, navies and beiges Tompsett's Charlie is the polar opposite to Simon-Anthony Rhoden’s outrageous and larger than life Lola, whose wardrobe, artfully designed by Gregg Barnes, is filled with electric azures and animal prints, and accented, of course, with pillar-box red!
Nevertheless, Thompsett embraces Charlie’s awkwardness and uncertainty, and lends his effortless voice to some of the musical’s most show stopping numbers. Rhoden is equally impressive as Lola, with buckets of stage presence which keeps the audience’s eyes glued to the stage at all times.

It’s impossible not to have fun with Kinky Boots. Especially when it features one outstanding musical number after another. Songwriter Cyndi Lauper’s bubble gum pop music translates perfectly to the stage, and captures the party atmosphere which Lola and the Angels leave in their wake, as well as the more grounded numbers needed to bring light and shade to the musical’s plot.

The cast of Kinky Boots
Photo credit - Matt Crockett
And because Kinky Boots is not a musical to do things by halves, it has not one but two eleven o’clock numbers! When it looks like all hope for Price & Son is lost, the factory may have to be shut down, and Charlie and Lola go their separate ways, Charlie’s angry, sorrowful Soul Of A man is followed in quick succession by Lola’s goosebump inducing Hold Me In Your Heart. 
Similarly  Jerry Mitchell’s scintillating choreography is a deluxe visual treat which complements the stage commanding presence of Lola and the Angels, giving their every appearance a bit of extra pizazz, and contributing to what is possibly one of the most uplifting finales in all musical theatre.

It’s no wonder that Kinky Boots continues to entertain audiences in the West End. With plenty of heart, and even more sequins, this stellar musical is a joyous celebration of self-love and acceptance which inspires audiences to ‘just be who you wanna be.’

I was invited to review Kinky Boots thanks to www.londonboxoffice.co.uk.

Review - Knights of the Rose (Arts Theatre)

Set in a fantastical Medieval England alternate universe, Knights of the Rose is a rocky romantic tale which follows the exploits of a dashing band of Knights, who return home after 5 long years at war. Combining snippets from iconic Medieval and Early Modern literature with the music of bands such as Bon Jovi, Muse, and No Doubt, Jennifer Marsden's Knights of the Rose is a new musical with ambitious scope.
Andy Moss and the cast of Knight of the Rose
Photo credit - Mark Dawson
Prince Gawain of the House of Rose makes the mistake of introducing two of his trusted friends to his sister, the golden haired Princess Hannah, and just like that an all-consuming love triangle ensues as the bright eyed and princely Sir Hugo and the dark and dangerous Sir Palamon fight it out for the fair maiden’s hand. But danger is just around the corner, and a brewing battle against the House of Rose’s greatest enemies spells peril for all three of the fledgling love birds, and sets Sir Palamon down a shadowy path.

It has to be said that the plot of Knights of the Rose is not its strong point. It’s an extremely severe and aggressively masculine tale, inexcusably told by an all-white cast, and filled with back slapping, wench wooing, and sword swinging. In every sense. The writing is also needlessly wordy, with creator Jennifer Marsden weaving together phases borrowed from Chaucer, Marlowe and Shakespeare to create an olde worlde patter which may very well be impressive and intricate on the page, but doesn’t always work on its feet. Ruben Van keer’s bard John, the narrator of the piece, just about pulls off the unwieldy shtick, but more often than not it just comes across as clunky.

The script is also less than kind to its female characters. Princess Hannah, the king’s ward Lady Isabel and their handmaiden Emily are a vocally electric trio of castle dwelling young women who announce themselves early on with an earth shattering rendition of I Need A Hero. It’s a moment that really gets the heart pounding and director Racky Plews’ simplistic synchronised choreography gives it a rather epic girl band vibe. What a shame then, that from that moment on they really have little else to do but pine after knights, swoon over knights and then worry about the knights of the Rose when they head off to battle again. Bleu Woodward’s Emily does have an interesting moment, wherein Sir Palamon uses knowledge about Emily’s sexual past (which he himself plays a part in) to blackmail her into silence after she catches him mid-dastardly monologue, and for a brief moment it seems as if Jennifer Marsden’s writing intends to explore and critique the dominant hegemonic masculinity within the story. But unfortunately the thread peters out, and never reaches a fulfilling conclusion. 
Rebekah Lowings, Bleu Woodward and Katie Birtill in Knights of the Rose
Photo credit - Mark Dawson
It must be said though, that whilst the plot leaves much to be desired, some moments do bring a welcome light-hearted streak to the proceedings. When Sir Hugo falls instantaneously in love with Princess Hannah for example, he wastes no time wooing her with some prime Enrique Iglesias. Hardly in keeping with the musical's classic rock vibe, intentionally or not it’s one of the musical’s most light-hearted scenes, and it’s pretty irresistible!

In fact, any time Knights of the Rose leans into its overblown and over the top elements it’s kind of hard not to be temporarily won over. After all, who doesn’t want to hear some of the most beloved classic rock songs of all time, performed by a cast of immensely talented vocalists, going full throttle? But for every fun and breezy moment there are several overly earnest ones. To put it simply, the musical is let down by its solemnity. Even the hapless knight Sir Horatio, introduced as a bumbling underdog desperately lovesick for his childhood friend Lady Isabel, eventually falls in line and becomes just as stoic as his brothers in arms. Matt Thorpe is excellent in the role though, with his rendition of Bon Jovi’s Always standing out as a particular musical highlight.

Despite all of Knights of the Rose’s aforementioned pitfalls, the cast do an incredible job of keeping the show marching along. Andy Moss undoubtedly gets the short end of the stick as the rather dry Prince Gawain, but the cast work well as an ensemble and there’s not a weak link amongst them. Although its Oliver Savile and Chris Cowley as Sir Hugo and Sir Palamon respectively, whose paint stripping vocals make the biggest mark.

Knights of the Rose features an enticing song list, which fits Jennifer Marsden’s story to a fault, but the unnecessary complexity of the book, and overly sincere tone, prevent it from soaring. The cast salvage what they can with committed performances and thrilling vocals, but unfortunately it's rarely enough.

Review - King in Concert (Hackney Empire)

It's been 50 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King, one of the most influential and inspirational historical figures of all time. Although many may be familiar with the legacy of King, his personal life is decidedly less well publicised, and yet it is equally fascinating. Happily though, 30 years after its single public performance at the Prince Edward Theatre, Martin Smith's musical King was revived for just two performances at the Hackney Empire, featuring a story which spanned from King's time at university right up until his untimely death on the 4th of April, 1968.

Cedric Neal and Debbie Kurup in King
Photo credit - Nick Rutter
Getting to understand what drove King, initially a very reluctant leader, to become the iconic figure he is now seen as, was clearly at the heart of actor Cedric Neal's performance, as his embodiment of Martin Luther King was full of nervous energy, but also teamed with immutable power and conviction which only grew as the story went on. 

The supporting cast were equally strong, with especially affecting vocal performances courtesy of Jo Servi, Daniel Bailey, Adrian Hansel and Adam J Bernard. The quartet's touching a cappella number Freedom On My Mind stood in sharp contrast to the rest of the show, and provided a somber moment of reflection during an otherwise rather fast paced story. 

The story's pace may have been King's only real downfall. It moved so swiftly from one moment in Martin Luther King's life to another, touching on so many of his triumphs as a Civil Rights Movement leader that there was very little room for any deeper exploration of the events, and how they affected King and his family.

In fact, Coretta King, who was initially established as King's equal and even partially narrated the prologue and epilogue, was shunted to the side quite a bit throughout, which was a shame given the extraordinarily nuanced performance by Debbie Kurup, who was a statuesque marvel in the role. It may have been nice to see more of Coretta and the part she played in the Civil Rights Movement, independent of her husband.

The cast of KingPhoto credit - Nick Rutter 
That being said, the musical still packed plenty of painful punches, and the addition of archival images and video footage of the events taking place in the story was an inspired touch by Reuben Cook, which proved particularly potent during the Act 1 closing number; a musical interpretation of the emotions stirred by King's I Have A Dream speech. 

As is always the case with London Musical Theatre Orchestra productions, the orchestra was utterly faultless, embracing the verve and jubilance of Simon Nathan's orchestrations wholeheartedly, under the baton of conductor and London Musical Theatre Orchestra founder Freddie Tapner. Additionally, the voices of both the Hackney Empire Community Choir and the Gospel Essence Choir helped to bolster the already strong cast, and made large ensemble numbers soar even higher.

50 years after Martin Luther King's tragic death, his legacy still lives on, and King explored just exactly why that is. The man who rallied for the Civil Rights Movement, using his skills as a master orator to inspire crowds and arrange peaceful protests, will always be remembered for the part he played in changing the world, and in 2018 reviving a musical like King in order to honour him seems like the least that can be done.