monster. : Unnervingly Hypnotic

Review

I think the best way to begin talking about monster. is to talk you through my posture. It’s a play that has to be experienced, lived through almost as you undergo a watching experience that is bodily. I experienced it hunched over, my head resting on my fists, my elbows on my knees, finding myself leaning further and further forward. Then back, suddenly, joining the audience in collective gasps and tight lungs, eased just as quickly and unexpectedly by laughter. When the curtains closed and the rapturous applause subsided, we all sat for a moment, letting our bodies calm.

Watching monster. felt like a sharp inhale after a strong peppermint. It takes you by surprise, hurts almost, but you still want to do it again.

monster., written and directed by James Huxtable, is played out by three plotlines, the most notable being the story of an elderly couple, Annie and Martin, who are harboring an unknown creature in their basement. Without spoiling the plot, Huxtable shows his merit as a writer by expertly weaves these storylines together, letting the audience like and dislike each character, making the finale even more intense as all the prior opinions and emotions are culminated and questioned. The ability to leave the audience completely in the dark until the final moments is a huge merit to the cast and Huxtable alike.

The promotion for the show was minimal and cryptic, leaving the plot largely unknown. But from the off-set it was clear that the minimalism of branding and promo, did not reflect in preparation. The work and development gone into characterisation was apparent, especially in the case of Emily Bowles, playing the elderly Annie. Bowles’ performance was in a word, show-stealing, due to her full body and mind characterisation. She appeared almost engulfed by the frail, anxious Annie, appearing to shrink more and more as the character falls deeper into her worry. Her performance, capturing the personal torture of trauma, pill abuse, and psychosis, is unnerving yet graceful, you can’t help but feel for Annie, desperate for her to find some ease in their isolated life. Credit in part is due to Charlotte Schofield for incredible make-up, managing to turn the 20-something into a 60-something, but my eyes were always on Bowles, twitching in the corner and spiraling into insanity.

Emily Bowles and Jack Hewitt’s anxiety-provoking performance as the couple try to live with the beastly secret, was perfectly aided by the shows clever use of sound and lighting. The most effectively used feature of the set was the door to the basement where the creature was kept, which glowed red as shrieks filled the theatre, sending us all shooting backward in our seats. It was the use of sound that brought me fully into Huxtable’s chaotic nightmare. When Bowles, Bevan and the shadows broke into a dance scene, disco dancing along to Sweet Jane, I thought I might be the one who had lost their mind.

From the hellishness of Annie and Martin’s beast, Lucy Bytheway and Jake Bastable’s performance as Angel and Lamb, a young married couple failing to conceive, moved me from fear to near tears. Jake Bastable’s performance was both vast and deep. His range of emotions from pure joy and love as we meet the enamoured couple, to deranged desperation as he tries but can’t make his wife happy, is astonishing, with each performed as fully and believably as the last. The chemistry between Bytheway and Bastable was natural, perfect casting for the volatile couple. While Annie and Martin’s plight is scarily unknown, the struggle of Angel and Lamb is upsetting due to the audience’s complete understanding. The woman, longing for a child, for something to give her love to, Bytheway brought that pain to life in a gut-wrenching performance, adding a real-world element to the seemingly otherworldly aspects of the play.
Lorna Dale’s performance at the young girl brings relief to the darkness. The character’s infectious naivety and joy is, as she says, ‘a nice thought’. However, Dale performance captures a sense of instability in the girl’s eyes, a frantic happiness on the edge of a cliff. The multi-layered performance managed to be both a relief and an unnerving warning. The character proves Huxtable’s talents for the highs and lows, showing his range in the switch between the young girl’s monologues on love, Angel and Lamb’s intense arguments, the comic relief of the nurse, and the pure darkness of Annie and Martin. Each of his characters moves in and out of good and bad, they’re complex and developed to the point that the audience isn’t quite sure what to make of them, as though who are we to judge these people?

monster. isn’t easy to discuss through free of revealing too much. It’s an intricate web of clues and links, coming together in the last moments and closing the curtains on a gasp. The merging of the complete unknown and conventionally scary ‘monster’, and the all too familiar problems haunting the characters, show the sophistication of Huxtable’s writing, tackling major issues in a plot that is as uncomfortable as it is gripping. It’s unnerving, but you find yourself leaning into the chaos. A real merit to all involved, monster. is student theatre at its finest, hypnotising, challenging, and new.

5 stars – intense, comic, and clever. Huxtable is one to watch.

monster. is playing at Sheffield University Drama Studio until 17/11/2018. Read more HERE

Beaker’s Place : Dark, Strange, and Hilarious

Review

If I could save an art form, I would pick theatre. I would save the puzzlingly intimate relationship between actor and audience, the goosebumps of dimmed lights and carefully selected sounds, the aim to immerse; to engulf the watcher through dialogue, costume, setting, things explained and things understood. I would save theatre, for all the sensations you can’t get through a screen.

 
That’s why my heart lies with student theatre, and writers who choose to mould their words into lines in alternating voices. So when James Huxtable, a contributor for KILORAN, actor and writer, announced that his debut play; Beakers Place would be going to Edinburgh Fringe, taken there by the theatre company, Only Lucky Dogs, which he set up with his peers, I was immediately excited. But James revealed nothing, keeping the plot a mystery, revealing minimal clues or information about his characters, so I saw it fresh-eyed and free of expectation as they previewed the play ahead of the Fringe.

 
The first thing that struck me was the minimal set; only a table, shelves lightly decorated with an urn labelled ‘paul’, and two chairs with a noose hanging above one. There’s little to rely on, but when Matthew Bevan, playing the titular role Beaker, starts to speak, you quickly realise he needs nothing. Eloquently and with-ease, Bevan slips into mania, switching in seconds between humour and hysteria, each as believable as the other. Talking to himself in a tone that’s reminiscent of a modern-day Macbeth, the audience is introduced to the inner turmoil facing Beaker, as the confident and charming character lightly contemplates his suicide plans. Revealing the name on the urn, Paul, to be his dead cat, Beaker’s one-sided conversation with his lost companion opens up the challenge to the audience; you can’t help but like this psycho. Bevan’s faultless presentation of turmoil, moving seamlessly between fast-paced raving coated in dark humour to tears, builds dimension upon dimension, confronting the audience almost instantly with a character so intense and real, I wasn’t quite sure how to react except to let myself go. I laughed at Beaker’s mindless thoughts on Hitler’s art career and felt myself ache for him as he dusts his feet, before climbing onto the chair in front of the noose.

 
The one thing we know for certain about Beaker is that he disposes of bodies, knowledge that prompts the arrival of the not-dead Drew, played by Lorna Dale. Again, the audience isn’t sure what to do with this character, as Dale’s initial presentation is one of innocence with a sinister aftertaste. The two characters interactions start almost as weirdly as they end, with Beaker sharing too much and Drew stabbing back with brutal one-liners, asserting herself as an outright, no-bullshit presence in contrast to the frantic Beaker. Paul Simon’s Call Me Al makes it, providing the strangest soundtrack to the strangest meeting of two of the strangest characters, a sickly sweet backdrop to total mania as the characters yell at each other.

 
Strange is the perfect description. Huxtable’s characters are a constant conflict, both in the plot and in the mind of the audience. You should hate them; you should hate Beaker who talks pleasantly about Hitler and Drew who is unphased and unsympathetic to the signs of Beaker’s suicidal thoughts. While the play deals with difficult subjects like suicide, depression and loss, Huxtable’s character are insensitive, making them all the more captivating.

 
Lorna Dale as Drew was especially captivating as the character begins to unravelling, undoing all the earlier misconceptions of her innocence and naivety. I found myself unblinking during her monologue about Pandora’s box and the danger of curiosity, a moment that suddenly crescendos. It’s poetic, displaying Huxtable’s merits as a writer, and again is reminiscent of Shakespeare as Dale has the intensity of Lady Macbeth in her eyes. You can’t help but feel a little guilty as an audience member, undeniably curious about these two characters, secretly willing them to boil over and reveal the reasoning to their condition, to open the box and release it. The addition of sound effects, used sparingly in the rest of the show, heighten Drew’s sudden transformation, dragging the audience into whatever sinister trance the character is lost in. The goosebumps change to sweaty palms.

 

The only thing that I could criticise was the speed of the ending. The intensity deserves more, Huxtable’s talent for writing complete chaos deserves a longer time in its climax. I would’ve liked a slightly slower unravelling, and to hear more from Beaker during the finale and a pause to check in on his mental state since we first meet him in a suicidal state. However, Dale and Bevan carry the mania off perfectly, never slipping up and fully diving into the confusion and hysteria of the scene. Despite the sudden increase in pace in the final moments of the play, the quirks and personalities of the two characters remain, allowing them to stay complex and challenging even as the action picks up. Down to the last second, the audience is still left unsure whether to like or hate them, and whether to celebrate or mourn the outcome.

 

Without stumbling, Huxtable’s writing flows between these two states; humour and intensity, full of the honesty and uniqueness evident in his poetry too. The concept would be laughable if it wasn’t executed so well, circling serious topics around the focal point of a dead cat, with Paul’s ashes sitting centrally in the story. Peaks and troughs of mania and humour, comedy and tragedy, power shifts and moments of intimacy all sit around this centre point, rocking back and forth between the two like a lunatic in the corner. While the storyline is fiction and exaggerated, the anxieties that float between these two characters are real and reflective, confronting the audience again and again when we suddenly start to see ourselves in the carelessness of Drew or the obsession of Beaker. Beaker’s place is exactly what I love about theatre, it’s controlling, making me laugh, cry and gasp on cue. All the jokes land, all the twists are shocking, and the characters, with their complete lack of morals, make you question your own stability in this world. I won’t forget it in a while, I’m still contemplating whether the curiosity would get too much, whether I would open the box.

Rating: 4.5 Stars – Unique, unexpected, and captivating; add it to your Edinburgh Fringe itinerary immediately.

Cast & Crew

Beaker – Matthew Bevan
Drew – Lorna Dale

Writer – James Huxtable
Director – MichaelSalibaa
Technical Manager – Iz Potter
SX – Conal Gallagher

More information and tickets HERE

Germination : Lucy Harbron

films, visuals

s p r i n g

Germination is a piece about taking time. It’s a self-affirming message of accepting rest after hurt, waiting and then getting back up. Not a rebirth, just a regrowth, a rejuvenation.

‘I will be still til spring.

I will be still til spring.

and I allowed myself the wait’

Poem by Lucy Harbron, film by Lucy Harbron, Penny Eastbury, Samara Sajid and S. J Zhu

‘Lakehouse’ : The Rose Affair tackle loss

Interview, Music

With their unique mix of art and indie, The Rose Affair are back with a new video for the release of their newest single, ‘Lakehouse’.

Possibly more ambiguous than their other tracks, singer Lucas Jones dances his way through nuances lyrics of specific sensations and locations; soundtracking a sombre tale of love and loss, being in-between dependence and independence, with a track that is as catchy as ever. With jingly riffs, high production values, multiple levels and incredible vocals, we’ve come to expect nothing less from our favourite band. Lucas’ writing spills perfectly into song, creating tunes that are profound and poetic as they are ambient and sing-along worthy.

But the video raises the song, bringing it to life while also adding an entirely new perspective that you felt in the song but couldn’t quite put your finger on. Lakehouse is brought to life by the narrative of loss of childhood, solidified by the loss of the one thing that might symbol childhood more than anything, your home. The soft light surrounding the protagonist and her younger self is cut through and rudely interrupted by an ominous figure in a black suit, threatening her with the end of youth.

The Rose Affair never settle for anything less than cinematic, with even the shots of the band performing are dipped in aesthetically pleasing pink light, and aren’t removed from the narrative. The band are never at the forefront of the video, handing their work over to the higher power of a bigger, ongoing narrative weaving its way through all their releases and urging fans to connect the dots. In the video, they turn their crowd into a confrontation forcing the protagonist to face her final conclusion, a stack of moving boxes.

For Lucas, ‘The house is life. The place where all of the main character’s (Nikki) memories exist but in a non-linear sense. Basically how our minds are – it’s all happening and being remembered at once on an infinite loop consciously or subconsciously. The story focuses on the stage in our lives in which we (like it or not) have to face the reality of letting go of our childhood. The man in the suit is the estate agent who Nikki associates with ‘taking’ her childhood house from her. The people in black are Nikki’s subconscious, trying to attack her / defend themselves from being erased from her memory by time.’

But regardless of the intricacies, the video is beautiful. The light that switches from white, to pink, to blue, and the silky camera work makes for a product of envy, far superior from what you’d expect of an unsigned band and clearly a product of passion.

Ending with photos from our PAST issue, The Rose Affair sign off on the statement about loss with a stare that says ‘to be continued’, a hint that this video joins the rest in a yet unresolved story.

The Past Us : Lucy Harbron

films, visuals

The Past Us is a poem about the realisation that your love has changed. It’s a poem about looking back at a relationship and realising it’s become so misshapen over time, it hardly looks like love at all anymore, it doesn’t really even look like companionship.

A poem by Lucy Harbron, and a film by Lucy Harbron, Penny Eastbury, Samara Sajid and S. J Zhu.

The Hand : Lucy Harbron

head talks

It was stamped all over me,
a hand, two hands;
gigantic and red and smothering.
Stamped, again and again,
with a force that made my skin convex,
pushed me into the shape.
My cells pulling, trying to avoid it,
but thinner skin will bruise easier.

You slipped your hand into the hand,
began to wear it as a puppet,
acting like it had a life of its own.
But you touched me still,
caressed me with the same look in your eyes,
the same taste of compliments dripping off your tongue in the shower.
I guess sometimes you’re left, sometimes you’re right,
sometimes it was the hand.

It must have been,
because here I am still bruised and moulded.
A push from my elastin, a push from your hand, in the hand,
a pressure too hard that maybe I became it after
it touched, you touched, it touched again.
Then you look at me in disgust when I am it,
when you can’t see me as anything other
than the hand.

Water Birth : Elizabeth Evans & Lucy Harbron

head talks, visuals

 

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His dad’s dad had built the boat, age 15. His dad swapped the wood for plastic as a project, after spreading the ashes of the man that raised him, and taught him how to sail. He decided to keep the tradition afloat, but couldn’t do that without dragging the boat into years its creator would never see. He worked until it was safe to sail again, and he had begun to feel easier. The hands of grief slipped with each blow of the hammer; respecting the past, building for the future. A legacy of material and water. But life caught up and he had to work. The garage door shut.

The boy went looking for the key, on the day the girl he loved said she didn’t feel the same. He dragged the boat over the small field, and lifted it over the stone wall, creating a slight dent on the bottom left of the yellowing outer shell. He walked it to the water’s edge, checked his bag, nodded and sailed. When he thought the water looked deep enough, using only the darkness of the blue as a guide, he let out a line.

The sky was beginning to burn when he resigned himself to failure. He threw the stick to the ground, causing a black scuff on the peeling paint of the blue inner wall; the day had melted and he had felt no bite. ‘I can’t do it and I never will’ he muttered, stomping his feet out of failure to find any other way to release his anger. He looked out, acknowledging that he may have sailed a little too far from shore for an amateur, but aware that the feeling in the pit of his stomach still pulsed with the breaking of the waves.  Suddenly, he took off his shoes. He took off his coat, his jeans, but left on his shirt, insecure about his skinny, teenage chest.

He stood up on the ledge and stepped off, falling into the water that enveloped him. He had decided that if he could not catch them, he would join them.

The grey blue of the morning sky had returned, on the 215th time he emerged on the surface. He had grown neither gills, nor a fin to allow him to swim better than a mediocre level, deemed acceptable in primary school swimming lessons.  He saw that the boat had floated back towards the stones of the shore.

‘Maybe when our loved ones die, they become our Gods. The wind of our lives become controlled by them, the sights of the sky spun by them. Each to our own religion, of family morals and memories. Grandad wants to keep his boat.’

He distracted himself from the water, which had become significantly colder in the morning air, with thought. He wondered whether his grandad would recognise him, for he’d only met him a couple of times as a baby. He thought maybe the cold was a punishment for the stranger that stole his boat. The wind an attempt to get his old livelihood away from the boy that could neither fish, nor be a fish.

He noticed his dad’s car parked on the beach, just out of reach of the tide. He pulled the boat out of the water, as his dad rolled down the window, only to say ‘I’ll meet you back at the house’.

To remind himself, he made a mental note; ‘teach the children how to fish and sail this boat.’

(Photography by Elizabeth Evans, Words by Lucy Harbron)

The Scene : Sheffield & Vultures

Music

In the wake of the industrialisation of music in an X-Factor, generic pop generation, we must seek shelter from the after-shocks in the comfort of our local scene. Each one individual, each one growing.

I moved to Sheffield in September’16 and instantly found an active independent music scene engulfing not only bands but venues, writers and festivals. When you think Sheffield you might think Pulp, or Arctic Monkeys; I think Vultures.

I caught up with front-man, Luke…

Tell us a little bit about the band. Who are you / how did you form?

We’re Vultures, a 5 piece psych band hailing from Sheffield. We formed in late 2015 after myself and Nathan’s previous punk project wasn’t going where we wanted it too, we decided to make a new band and try out a new sound neither of us had worked with before.

Was there a specific moment when the band really solidified and you knew you were onto a good thing?

Well it took us about 4 months to find a solid line up, however we always felt there was something missing. We invited John McCullagh down for a practice with us and it went down a storm, and ever since then we seem to gel perfectly as a band.

Who are your main influences as a group?

Nick Cave n the bad seeds, Joy Division, New Order, The Cure, Tame impala we could go on forever

What do you like most about the Sheffield music scene?

It’s like a bit of a family really. The scene has really come together over the last couple of years and you’ll find that most the crowd at local gigs are in fact members of other bands.

Having all come together from past bands and musical ventures, do you think that experience helped? Or was it hard adapting to one another?

The experience definitely helps. John had a successful solo career before joining us and his knowledge of the touring scene has definitely helped us when it’s come to gigging. When we were recording our first single, we found it quite a struggle to get the sound of us across properly because the sound we wanted was pretty new to us, but we felt we got it across in the end

What’s your favourite song to play live? Why?

I think the others may disagree but mines probably the song we always end on, Swarm. I get on bass for it and our bass player Dillon goes onto synth; it’s just a big climax to our set and we always leave the stage on a huge high.

There was a rumour floating round that Vultures was over but you’re back. What’s changed / what’s new about vultures 2.0?

We never really went, well maybe we did, or maybe it was a marketing ploy, I’ll leave it to your imagination. We’ve come back with a new attitude more than anything else, before we had a break we’d hit a bit of a writers block, then when we had our first practice back we wrote probably our 2 best songs in the space of 3 hours.

Do you think the music industry in general has become more welcoming to up and coming, local bands? Or do you think having industry interest and deals etc is less necessary now?

Not at all, it’s near impossible to get a major deal outside of London and to a certain extent Manchester. There’s so many amazing bands outside the capital that just don’t get the attention they deserve down the fact major labels rarely look outside London. There are a lot more small indie labels popping up which are out there to help new bands though, I’d say if you plan on recording an album label backing is needed, but for singles/EP’s in a band our size it’s easy to get away with it without label help.

Who are some of your fave local bands?

Femur, The Blinders, TRASH, Beat the Bandit, The Vellas, ROOD, Saints.


Facebook – VULTURESBANDUK

Instagram – @vulturesband

I Am My Mother : Lucy Harbron

head talks

Through the silken haze of red, pink, blue,
and all since
I have breathed what she gave me;
nourished and nurtured on the feast of warmth
which is both cave and atmosphere.

Past the liquefied emotions and
power in the emergence;
she worries I am no longer hers
as she can no longer hide me from the threat.
No longer can she used her skin as an armour,
building barriers of bone and flesh,
stretched and cracked.

But I am my mother in each inhale
and exhale when i cry.
I am her skin,
shades altering and pulled to the day
but still hers when i catch it in that mirror
in that place she was photographed, age 6.
I was a dream then, but still there.
Still here when a hand brushes her stomach,
changed like a landscape after a storm,
A field in rejuvenation.
I am my mother each time my bones ache with
the growth;
pulsing out a prayer to the god
that turns to me and smiles,
waiting to hear the door open.

Wolf : Lucy Harbron #WorldPoetryDay

head talks

I emerged
grey and screaming. Howling
my wolf’s howl;
calling to a mother that didn’t understand
and a father that looked on with drooped eyes,
blinking hard, as if to wake up and try it all again.

I lay in their arms but itched
irritated, their soft unbroken skin catching
under my crowning claws.
I guess he saw them first.
Only holding me briefly, never to let me pierce;
never to let me mark him,
for that might make it real, I harm
therefore I am.

I learnt to walk on my hind legs as told,
clipped my nails, hid my fur.
They adapted as all did and held me when I was hurt,
hunted me when I hurt them.
I saw myself, gradually, in the mirror;
saw the forest fires in my eyes,
the habitual predator looking back from me,
the eyes of my father blazing
from my face, a sheep’s face
with wolf eyes.

I growled as I heard him growl at midnight,
every third Tuesday when I would not sleep.
I ate as he ate, when one fell behind.
I grew teeth as he’d bite.
I took his coat;
wrapped in it, swaddled like a baby
merging with the instincts of their parents.
I evolved as he did, for if you wear a coat so long
it becomes yours.

Alone in a pack, I transform
as he challenged me to,
White wool to grey fur in the full moon
of a living room lamp.