SYS THEATRE.

Till Death Do us Part. 

Bristol Old Vic - Report. 

  

This is a highly refreshing piece of writing – particularly welcome for its experiment. Much theatrical work today is forced to belong to either the literary camp or the devised/experimental camp, and ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ is both verbally dexterous and theatrically alive and physical. Verbally we get the strong sense of characters whose utterances are all that is left to them – they spin poetic, composed, polished phrases, expressing their decorum and a brittle sense of self. Their language is also sprinkled with allusions to other writers or fictions: ‘Shall not go gentle into that good night’ and ‘Oh look how radiant you look Miss Bennet’ conjure up Dylan Thomas and Jane Austen. Yet with all of this verbiage we feel that the characters are self-creating constantly and self-projecting, while their core is sad, scared, and hollow.

Quite quickly childlessness as a couple appears to be a partial explanation for their Beckettian filling of the space with concocted language, social rituals, petty hierarchy, and quaint decorum that covers an inner scream. The dressing / puppeteering of cardboard boxes as their guests is both bizarre and sad – and in theatrical terms an exciting stage image, harking back to Theatre Of The Absurd.

The writing is well paced with the threat at the door (a knife unseen by the couple slicing through the tape; and later footsteps, then the rattle of the door jam) placed effectively. We have enough time to be distracted and absorbed by the other absurdities of the characters for the next ‘door incident’ to be a renewed fracture and shock.

The European names that James and Melanie concoct for their cardboard guests serve a number of functions – betraying a pretentiousness on the part of Melanie and James, while actually making their English suburban obsessions feel quite small in comparison with this international clientele; and finally it adds a nod to European theatre – Ionesco and the theatre of the absurd.

The flashback versions of James and Melanie are effective, and add another major demand on the actors – part of the enjoyment of seeing this play would be the tour de force required from the actors: characterisation (in two ages), puppet and object work, and physicality drawn from elements of deadpan clowning and cabaret.

It is a surprise that a third actor actually arrives to play Amelia, and this doesn’t seem to fit the scheme of the play where all influences on James and Melanie (past, present, and imagined) are conjured up by them. However, this inconsistency seems a valid disruption to keep an audience questioning what’s set out in front of them, and would no doubt create post-show debate: is she really in the room with them, is she also captive in their relationship?; did she figure so large that she went from cardboard guest to flesh and blood?

The ending is very powerful, presaged by the realisation that James’s poem are just

fragments of legal letters and warnings. Then with the playing of the unheard answerphone messages, the logic of the outside world’s unheeded needs and demands begin to cast a level of naturalistic legibility on the behaviours and story we’ve seen enacted. There’s a memorable poignancy in this conjunction – in death – between two characters who’ve long been locked away and lost to the world inside their relationship, and the outside world that has damaged them and that they’ve damaged.

This is bold writing, and although there are some clear similarities (influences) from Ionesco’s ‘The Chairs’ it is enjoyable to see something that could only exist in the theatrical live form

 

Till Death Do Us Part

 

Female Arts Magazine           http://femalearts.com/node/405

 

 Till Death Do Us Part - Theatre review by Sophie Porter

  'Till Death Do Us Part" - a poignant title for a devastating story, less of love or hope, more of loneliness and partnership through pure desperation - there were no false pretences from the very beginning and not a dry eye in the house at the very end.

Naia Headland-Vanni - Founder, Director, Writer - creates dialogue with such clear imagery and unadulterated playfulness.She manipulates the realms of both past and present with seamless scene-changes that feel so natural and logical, I can't comprehend any better way of representing this naive world of love lost and empty solace found.

Graham McGowan plays the seductively somber "James" - recently left too close to the altar for the benefit of his recovering sanity - an English Teacher and frustrated poet who gets caught in the middle of a triangular storm between "Melanie" (the devoted Dhaniella Mauger) his current wife and "Amelia" (the lusciously long-legged Sabina Cameron) the love of his life. Apparently. As the only man of the performance and playing the protagonist, Graham McGowan had quite a responsibility weighing on his shoulders to carry the audience through this tantalising journey, safely; a task which he completed with nothing less than charm, wit and, indeed, grace.

Similarly, Dhaniella Mauger and Sabina Cameron brought such elegance and sympathy to their roles that I don't think anyone in the house could help but empathise, conflictingly, with both of them. Miss Mauger as the tragic "Melanie" was childish and lovable, whilst Sabina Cameron - "Amelia" - her stern, pragmatic counterpart.

With an original soundtrack, forefronted by Dhaniella Mauger's sexy, husky voice, SYS's talents are quite obviously never ending. As you read this, you're probably wondering where the faults in "'Till Death Do Us Part" lie. Being a Writer, Critic and simple audience member, I can't really say. I struggled not to fall in love with every aspect of this play. Even the Co-Director - Marie Sennyay - took such care of the somewhat minor details with the delicate hand of a rising master.

In summary, SYS is a must-follow theatre company whose beautiful performance of "'Till Death Do Us Part" will make you laugh, cry, hate, love and question humanity in the most humbling of ways. Not for the faint-hearted, you will leave this performance feeling utterly fragile and simultaneously uplifted as they take you warmly by the hand and guide you through what can only be described as a masterpiece.

Smoke Yourself Slim... Sensuous, youthful, sensitive.

(c) Sophie Porter 2013

'Till Death Do Us Part'
The White Bear Theatre, Kennington
Sunday 10th March - 20:45
Monday 11th March - 19:30
£12, £10 (Concessions)
138 Kennington Park Road London SE11 4DJ

Cast
Performed by Dhaniella Mauger - Melanie
Graham Mcgowan - James
Sabina Cameron - Amelia

Creative team
Written by Naia Headland-Vanni.
Directed by Naia Headland-Vanni and Marie Sennyay.

www.systheatre.co.uk
http://www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk

Author's review: 

 

ENCOUNTERS

Naia has written a subtle, poetic play which examines the difficulty of starting a relationship.

James and Amelia have met on an internet dating site.    Their backstory suggests that there has been some interaction but not much. Why they are in Matthew’s flat (sorry: his sofa) is left a little uncovered? It might be as a meet, it might be for sex, or it might be for the start of a deeper relationship. Just as one doesn’t know how a meeting may evolve in life so the plays careful structure echoes this.

Naia’s characterisation is strong and clear. She is most conscientious in her writing, giving actors almost speech diagrams for the words and silences. I found this play full of harsh poetry-‘No distinguishing between a dagger and a kitchen knife when being stabbed in the heart’ @Let’s kiss in front of the firing line’. Are mere examples of a lot more?  It sound as if the commitment at the end needed a lot of choice and energy and this could well be true of relationships today. I wonder if this isn’t a play for a niche market, for an audience who could relate to the young people involved and may I encourage Naia to have the freedom to place it elsewhere. It would make a very good film as the detailed emotions could be captured well and film scripts are rarely as poetic as this.

Stratford Fringe would like to internet publish plays of merit under its banner. Naia has written a most competent play and this reader would like Naia to be approached for permission to publish

Michael Eden. 

Waiting

 

I really enjoyed tonight's performance!  It had humour as well as incredibly insightful observations about human insecurities and relationships.  From what I have seen I would definitely recommend 'Smoke Yourself Slim' as an up and coming theatre company who should be closely watched.  I look forward to your next production and hope to see you at next year's Fringe!

Richard, Henley 24/07/2010   

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What a fantastic performance tonight it was! Amazing talent on every level. So engaging and entertaining! Great observational writing, fantastic soundtrack - you guys have got it!! Good luck with it all. We so much enjoyed it! In fact, we may come and see you again on Saturday it was that good!

Antonia Wren, Henley 21/07/2010  

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Great to meet you and your troupe yesterday evening. We really enjoyed your show. Clever observational and thought-provoking writing, plus a thoroughly engaging performance. Wonderful to be able to enjoy such a rewarding experience in such a relaxed, intimate setting but so sorry you didn't get a larger audience. We have been telling everyone how good it was! Best of luck for the rest of the week

Michael, Henley Fringe 23/07/2010   

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I saw 'Waiting' twice, the 1st time was in London and the 2nd, at the lovely Lovibonds micro-brewery in Henley during the Henley Fringe.  They were 2 very different performances for 2 very different audiences but I thoroughly enjoyed them both.

As always Smoke Yourself Slim were innovative, thought-provoking and fresh.  They always manage to create scenes we can empathise with and relate to. There is pathos and humour in equal measures!  Naia Headland-Vanni is a keen observer of humanity and this comes across in her scripts.

Ghislaine, Henley 24/07/2010   

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REVIEW: 

 "I never knew how heavy emptiness could feel" 

Peter Carrington for remotegoat on 23/02/10


At first the silence is only punctuated by the sipping of wine, but before long conversation flows with it, bringing the audience expertly into a familiar world of choices, memories, romance and ambition. Once the dialogue gets going it flows naturally and laughs are found in many ways, like an enjoyable evening with good friends.

Laura Gabriella Perkins and Dhaniella Mauger play the good friends, spending their evening Waiting for something to happen. With Lauren Wigmore as the barmaid all are very comfortable in their roles, pulling the audience into the characters worlds and how their orbits have intertwined. Each of them have charm and wit, yet give us three points of a personality triangle. Within that triangle, Lauren Wigmore slips the most into portraying the various memories of the characters, giving life to childhood hopes and dreams, teenage angst and young adult confusion with a vivacity that makes many of her lines moving. With the memories playing before the audience and in the minds of the girls, the characters are reminded how they came to be where they are, how they came to be the people they are and the difficulties in choosing a path. In doing so, the audience becomes aware of their own choices and paths, but this is never forced, as the characters are so easy to relate to.

The production is understated, with the audience sat as if in a bar, without complications that would distract from the messages of the play this works well. The homemade feel is endearing and suits this small but well formed play written by Artistic Director Naia Headland-Vanni

In the comfortable space, with no barrier between audience and cast this insightful piece leaves the audience dwelling on their own memories and paths.

 

 

Cigarettes and Excuses

Right now, the Lion and Unicorn Theatre is the venue for a show called "Cigarettes and Excuses" by a young company called Smoke Yourself Slim, and the very modest ticket price of £7.00 includes a dose of secondary lung cancer. However, it's one of the best shows I've ever seen.


This small group of 21 to 25 year old drama/dance/music graduates has come up with a concept for a show that I would have formerly dismissed as "wanky", but I have fallen for, head over heels. I've been boring mates stupid about how good it is. Now it's your turn.

In a nation where popular culture doesn't distinguish between talent and celebrity, and lead roles are given out as prizes on panel shows, it's fantastic to find young people who still believe in what it's all about; good ideas, ability, hard work and yes, talent. Smoke Yourself Slim have a lot of it, and this little black duck is very proud to be doing their lighting and helping out with stage management. After being out of theatre for a few years, I have now returned home.

It's impossible to describe this show in a way that does it justice. It's not a Play, or a Musical, or Performance Art in any of themselves. The company's "antitheatre" background steers it away from putting things into boxes, under rules and boundaries, and separation between performers and audience. See what I mean about "wanky"? It's not at all.

The text is partly written by the director (Naia Headland-Vanni) and by the very people speaking (developed by the director - who can also be credited with the original idea).   Sometimes they interact, and sometimes they float about concurrently, to very well chosen music. It's highly emotional, from extremely funny to pit-of-the-stomach emptiness, and sometimes, members of the cast just break down crying. From my position next to the audience, I can sometimes hear people in the audience openly sobbing. Some nights, it's not really sad at all.


Currently, the show can take between 65 and 75 minutes to run, depending on what floats them along on any given night. Audience involvement is a very big part of the show, and I have never seen an audience more willing to participate, due to the comfort level this clever troupe gives them from the start. No one has to leave their seat.   the show is bound to vary, and could seriously crash were it not for the strong, brave actors


Thursday night, out of the blue, managed to include the best scene I have ever seen on any stage, in my life, and I have seen the inside of a few theatres! The audience were riveted and silent at the end, the only sound came from those who were weeping, then they exploded in applause, bringing the exhausted actors back for a second bow, and then the room rang for half an hour with incessant chatter. No one wanted to leave. One girl; the youngest actor; had hit a new level and was visibly shaken. She said to me "F* k! It's scary to believe we can have this much power! I felt sorry for the audience."


I've been really affected by this show (can you tell?) and some readers may just assume that I am biased, being on the inside, but it's important to remember that I didn't have anything to do with putting this together. It was finished and ready by the time I arrived.

 
Feedback:

“Thank God I have my wife to go home to! All the pain of my dating years came flooding back to me. Although it was only for an hour it truly made me remember all of the torment and excitement of being in love in my twenties.”

Alistair Pearce – Principle of Rose Bruford College  

 

"I don’t know much really about modern theatre. Normally, I fear that moment at the end of such performances, when I have to pretend to have an opinion. But I can honestly say that this piece struck a chord with me. It was not pretentious in the slightest, just honest. It felt like I was watching my every emotion relayed to me on stage.”

Sahar Elize   

“This was a staggeringly orginal piece of theatre... [It’s] sheer compassion and understanding of humanity in its truest sense, reduced me to nothing more than a blubbering fool when the lights dimmed, leaving me with an image that will haunt me of its familiarity for years to come… The world needs to know about Smoke Yourself Slim.”

Sam West – Piccadilly Theatre  

 

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