Reviews of the Ephemeral

Review: Glasshouse by Kate Tempest 28/02/13

In Interactive Literature, Performance Poetry on March 13, 2013 at 2:23 pm

– reviewed by Karl Niklas

glasshouse

Glasshouse, written by Kate Tempest, is a piece of forum theatre produced by Cardboard Citizens. It is currently touring hostels and various other venues and their next public showcase is at Rich Mix this coming Saturday 16th of March.

The worlds of performance poetry and forum theatre seldom meet, which is, to me at the very least, a little surprising. Both styles and art forms look to ask the questions that one often dares not ask, empowering both the audience and a performer with truths in the most unique of ways, and both certainly seek to challenge.

Those unfamiliar with Forum should know that once the main action of the play has finished, the designated ‘Joker’ or facilitator encourages the audience to make comments on the action, find moments where the action could be altered by characters making a different choice, and then bringing that audience member out to replace the actor and improvise the scene in this different direction.

This permission to voice truthful concerns plays neatly into the company’s choice to employ a performance poet as a playwright. Kate Tempest, the current ‘what’s hot’ in acceptable urban street culture, perhaps best known for her viral poem ‘My Shakespeare’, has penned a script that neatly combines and reconciles these art forms. Her style and voice come through most clearly during the impromptu monologues, though it must be said that on occasions her authorial voice cuts in too clearly, leaving the audience well aware that they are quite literally hearing someone else’s words in the characters’ mouths. The pointed ‘two fingers rap gesture’ even made a mild appearance.

The poems on their own paint a picture of nights unwanted, disorientated figures struggling the streets with nowhere to turn. Her style is classic performance poetry, dropped word endings, half rhymes and off beat rhythms, very much in the style of the New York scene, but bringing her English twists and idioms to the fold.

These aside, the actors handle Tempest’s script with aplomb, shifting roles with ease, making a whirlwind of the characters (please excuse) tempestuous lives. The play runs at a breakneck pace, perhaps a little conscious of the time limit needed for the full forum experience, and the need to fit in the three viewpoints that ultimately inform the scene that descends our heroine into homelessness.

Though the styles are neatly combined on the whole, whether the story itself is open enough for Forum is a different matter entirely. While there are obvious and fairly succinct moments that should be altered to make Jess’ life better, Tempest’s plot line is so neatly wrapped up that it feels like there is little room to move for those willing participants that come up from the audience.

This said, it is indeed an interesting experience to have the audience so involved in affecting the action. Ultimately the show works towards providing those audience members from the hostel with an experience that may have elements that reflect their own story, and the chance to help inform the characters will reinforce the knowledge of the real world services that work with the homeless.

Cardboard Citizens have created a wonderful show, filled with engrossing, chameleonic performances, most notably the fragile mother portrayed with a sublime and subtle frailty by Jo Allitt. In spite of the brilliant and charismatic Joker Terry O’Leary making her facilitating presence well known, the play itself falls short of the mark as a life changing piece of forum, but succeeds as a tightly knit drama that is performed with skill. It just never felt like we as the audience could change enough to make a real difference.

a picture of nights unwanted, disorientated figures struggling the streets

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  1. I agree with your review entirely! Interesting that you say that Kate Tempest is hot from what’s ‘acceptable’ street culture. I would say she is accepted as hot by middle classed theatre goers, who like to imagine this to be something close to street culture. In my opinion, her work is not, and she is not really representative of street culture. She rhymes sometimes. That is it…

    The parts where the actors were doing spoken word/ performance poetry were too close to the narrative voice of the writer, and involved no character. The function of these moments came across as quite cheap, and just told me what was going on, as opposed to showing me.
    As a piece for forum theatre, the story was a major fail, with there being hardly anything that could be changed for a better outcome.

    The actors, and the direction were superb, and I’d watch it again for the skill, and charisma of the actors alone. They were great as improvising with the audience within the forum sections. The work Cardboard Citizens have done with this script is superb, and overall it was for me, a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

  2. I agree with your review entirely! Interesting that you say that Kate Tempest is hot from what’s ‘acceptable’ street culture. I would say she is accepted as hot by middle classed theatre goers, who like to imagine this to be something close to street culture. In my opinion, her work is not, and she is not really representative of street culture. She rhymes sometimes. That is it…

    The parts where the actors were doing spoken word/ performance poetry were too close to the narrative voice of the writer, and involved no character. The function of these moments came across as quite cheap, and just told me what was going on, as opposed to showing me.
    As a piece for forum theatre, the story was a major fail, with there being hardly anything that could be changed for a better outcome.

    The actors, and the direction were superb, and I’d watch it again for the skill, and charisma of the actors alone. They were great at supporting the audience through the forum theatre parts of the production.

    The production did make me think about whether or not some things and outcomes are inevitable, as this play did not really have many other avenues to explore for the characters.

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