Review of Hometowns – by Nick Chowdrey

Review by audience member, Nick Chowdrey.

How do our surroundings affect who we are? How does our place of birth and where we are raised influence our nurture? Do we form permanent bonds with the places we reside, or can we move about freely, paying not much heed to what we have experienced in the places that we leave behind? These were the questions posed by ‘Hometowns’, a devised, light-hearted, multimedia extravaganza performed by the young, Exeter-based theatre company, SourDough, premiered in Barnstaple and performed at The Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter, as part of the Exeter Fringe Festival.

The informal nature of the piece was encouraged from the moment you entered the theatre: the more familiar setup of an empty stage with the hushed rustlings of the audience underscored by non-offensive musac replaced by a relaxed, up-beat atmosphere and a warm greeting from the cast, who were already on stage. This set the tone for the entire piece which, although not delivering any particularly poignant message, was so delightfully light-hearted and visually interesting that the 45 minute piece whizzed by, leaving me enjoyably satisfied by the bows.

The piece took the form of disjointed scenes, following no through-story or characters, but instead exploring the theme of Hometowns through a variety of means, including shadow-puppetry, physicality and monologue. The scenes were delightfully playful, indeed, sometimes so playful that their relevance to the piece was somewhat confusing – a scene involving a Stone Henge made of cereal particularly coming to mind. This being said, the manipulation of light and the use of multimedia in the piece was nothing short of inspired; the ideas so varied and interestingly imaginative as to truly do credit to the art of devising, and specifically to the uniquely creative working relationship of this particular company.

Overall, I feel that ‘Hometowns’ embodied the essence of  what a true fringe performance is meant to be – an original idea communicated in an original way that challenges what the general public’s perception of “theatre” – something that, unfortunately it seems, can only be given a proper airing as part of a fringe festival. Although I don’t think the theme of the piece carried enough weight or substance to produce anything that imposing; indeed, I very much doubt that this was the company’s intent, the execution of the performance was slick, professional, funny and intriguing, leading to a thoroughly enjoyable 45 minutes of theatre and, at the end of the day, £5 very well spent.

06/07/2011

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End of Summer Festivals

Phew! An exhausting few weeks have just ended in Devon. What with the Barnstaple FringeFest and the Exeter Fringe going on it has all been go, go, go down here.

We have ended our first year by creating two shows. Hometowns, which was shown at both festivals and Four Man, which we took to the Exeter Fringe.

Exeter Fringe

Fringe TheatreFest

Both festivals were utter successes, we all saw lots of other people’s work and it was an excellent opportunity to be able to see lots of new and exciting shows and performances. It was inspiring to see so much good stuff and it gives us that infective itch to start producing more. The buzz in the air was palpable in Barnstaple as soon as you were within five minutes of the venues, seeing people scurrying about between shows and discussing upcoming, and recently seen, work. In Exeter I was gobsmacked by the sheer number of audience members –spread out over six venues- that the festival managed to attract and, more importantly, maintain. It shows that those involved were doing things right if people kept coming back and back for more. So a big thank you and well done to all those involved in organising and running the two festivals, a lot of people owe you a lot of thanks!

Four Man

As far as SourDough goes, it has been an awesome year for us all, working on a huge swathe of projects whilst trying to pin down precisely what it is we are all about as a company. We’re definitely heading toward finding that out and after every project we have a chat about the process and performance and each time we’re that little bit happier about it all and that is obviously the direction we want to be carrying on with.

Next up for us is a couple of weeks to think about what we want to do next as a company and then we will be back on the research run to start generating some material for a show which we hope will be ready for showcasing in autumn. There are a few ideas already for what this will be coming out of the SourDough Bakery and I, for one, am very excited to see what the rest of the guys come up with.

Catch Up

I haven’t blogged in a really long time. And suddenly on this sleepy Saturday afternoon I feel a great need to. So here goes,  this is what’s been happening  with SourDough Theatre in the last couple of months.

The Bloodline

After the final performance of The Bloodline on Saturday 2nd April, SourDough Theatre hung up their sheep skin coats, wiped their faces clean from make-up, packed away their set, their complete works and moped the floor free from spaghetti. On Monday 4th April (My birthday!) at 6.30pm, we were back in the rehearsal room with a new show!

We felt very lucky to have an exciting new addition to the team; Dr Jerri Daboo as she invited us to work with her on staging Red Oleanders by Rabindrath Tagore to mark the celebration of Tagore’s 150th Birthday.

Jerri had been asked to stage something  for the Tagore Festival at Dartington, and for some reason she chose SourDough Theatre to be her actors in her chosen Tagore play Red Oleanders.In Rehearsal

Red Oleanders  was a totally new challenge for SourDough. Jerri had chosen it because the story paralleled to some current world issues, which forced us to present some bold political statements with the piece. Some of us were more comfortable with this than others in the group and it stirred some passionate debate.

We, as a group, had not yet attempted to be particularly political with anything else we’ve made this year. I’m not sure why really, but there tends to be a reluntance or prickliness between us when a political observation or interpretation is suggested. Lack of bravery perhaps.

Red Oleanders

So, with Red Oleanders, we had to find our comfort with the statements we were making which was a great challenge and by the end I felt really refreshed by it and looked forwarded to seeing how it would be received by an audience.

I couldn’t wait to perform at Dartington Hall for a lot of reasons. A few weeks before, I’d attended part of Jerri’s Michael Chekov conference at University of Exeter. She presented a film about the Michael Chekov Years at Dartington Hall. The film was so recent in my mind, I couldn’t help let the history of the place capture my imagination as we were there setting up before our performance. I was looking forward to performing to some Tagore experts, if not a little intimidated. Tagore’s writing was something I hadn’t come across before our process with Jerri, so I was certain the audience knew a lot more about the brave decisions Jerri had made in adapting the piece and I was eager to see how it would be received.

We were the only performers of the festival to perform one of Tagore’s plays. So we were privileged to be described (by someone, it might not have been true) as the head-liner of the day. Bizarre!

The Great Hall is massive! We had great fun performing there, we had to work really hard to fill the room with sound and energy and for me it was quite funny how much our performances changed or rather grew in intensity. Our little company probably won’t get the opportunity to play in such a large room for a while, so we owe Jerri a huge thank you for giving us that gift.

We learnt a lot, as always, about our group dynamic during this process. The big challenge and the thing that is an ongoing learning curve for SourDough is the sheer mass of the group. We are a LARGE company of 9, and we are used to working very collaboratively and in each process experiment with different approaches to and levels of facilitation.  To work with an outside director was an important move for us and it was great that we had the chance to work with someone as experienced and trustworthy as Jerri. She was one of our lecturers at University and even though she didn’t teach all of us, she still was able to carry an authority from the student-teacher dynamic and managed to mediate discussion and debate in ways that hadn’t been possible within SourDough before.

On reflection, it was nice to hear responses from Jerri throughout the process along the lines of  ‘it’s nice to work with a fully formed ensemble, it makes my job easier because you are all so comfortable with each other’ and I think it was only in working with an outside director that I realised how in tune we have become as a company.

By experiencing what it is to have our trust in a director’s vision and being able to focus more our individual roles, I think we are now able to understand better the ways in which we work collaboratively. With Rogues and Wanderers and The Bloodline, there came a point in the process in which we felt the need to map the ‘peaks and troughs’ of the  dramaturgy of the piece. This would be a group exercise where we would spend as long as it took to reach an agreement of where the journey of the piece should lie, where the light and dark needed to be placed and at which points in the piece the energy needed to shift. We would do this because it would be important for us to have a collective understanding and agreement of the dramaturgy. In Red Oleanders, because of our trust in Jerri’s vision, this collective understanding and agreement wasn’t always necessary and we could see the work Jerri was doing to make those decisions herself as the director.

For us, this discovery highlights the importance of exercises like that (that being merely an example) when you’re are working collaboratively without a director, and perhaps teaches us to have greater trust in the importance of these exercises. I really feel more and more that we are discovering our own practice as a company, which is a nice feeling. It gives us a foundation to keep growing and developing from.

Next is a piece called Home Towns, that we are developing for the two Devon fringe festivals, Barnstaple’s Fringe TheatreFest and Exeter Fringe Festival. It is a piece that will explore each other’s histories and memories of our Home Towns. Again we are treading new ground here in search of ways to make something that has a strong relevance to us as a group and perhaps even a stronger access point for our audiences . . . who knows.

Monique Luckman