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Review of Fun Palaces at Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending the best part of eight hours floating suspiciously and observing around the Royal & Derngate experiencing the very first Fun Palaces event. Born from a sadly failed thought of Joan Littlewood in 1961, Fun Palaces is a dynamic, pop up extravaganza of theatre, dance, music, face painting, singing, dressing up and the erecting of tents (12 at Royal & Derngate). Through this inventive collection the theatre was filled with the absolute total of demographics. Bustling with activity, everyone who attended was able to find something to amuse themselves.

I myself rather boringly refrained from climbing into tents, putting on silly hats and having his face painted. Mores the pity. I was generally there for the theatre performances and a little added dance one for good measure. Five of which I saw during my stay.

The first was appropriately entitled One, a short half hour or so of five little plays that had been written by members of the public that very morning, in a workshop as part of the Fun Palaces. These were plays based around the news of the last 24 hours or so and were all great fun and of a very surprisingly good quality considering everything involved. The reoccurring theme was interestingly the Northampton Lift Tower and some plans for a giant screen to be attached. I loved the line from the lady who thought a lift tower was for lifting weights and asked whether it was "a gym for giraffes" in particular. These were all excellent pieces from all five writers and very well performed by the two actors under the direction of Subika Anwar.

The second performance I saw was the aforementioned dance piece Full Circle from Parlor Dance. This was a short and fascinating little piece telling the story of a man leaving his wife/partner (or possibly going to the shops). Fun with some audience interaction, especially for one young girl. Despite it being made to look very easy, it was all very physically impressive. A neat little fifteen minutes.

My third show was the equally neat and snappy little Sprout Boy. A fleeting five minutes of silly antics featuring THE MAN (tie fiddle) and THE WOMAN (slather face) and their odd little baby which bears an uncomfortable resemblance to, you've guessed it already. Written and directed by Erica Martin and performed by Meryl Couper and Mark Farey this is an excellent and bizarre play with some surprisingly dark touches. Also special mention for the lighting which was performed by the participants of the afternoon's Light It Up workshop.

The fourth performance I saw was also the longest, clocking in at almost 90 minutes. Stateless written by Subika Anwar and directed by Alex Rex was an incredibly relevant play about Denny (Richard Harley), returned home from serving in Afghanistan and a meeting at his place of work (gatekeeper at a Psychiatric Hospital) with a young woman called Kat (Sharan Phull). Although already very current as a subject, the tragic news of the night before had made Stateless so much more of a tough watch. Harley, who I have had the pleasure of seeing twice before live via his Northampton BA Actors performances (so good in Animal Farm) was once again excellent in a role that shifted dramatically in balance from light-hearted to tense as the play evolved. Phull's character likewise shifted tremendously as her true purpose became clear and her performance was excellent as the at first effervescent and playful individual before finally becoming the true person underneath. It was all superb quality and very well performed despite it being a reading from the script performance.

My final show of the day was another reading of a script, this time written by Antonia Roberts. The Knowledge Of Imagination was a play in development and this performance was just the first part which left us guessing at the end of the performance. As members of the audience we were asked to participate in offering ideas and actively encouraged to interrupt proceedings (of which being a reserved audience, this didn't really happen). We were also offered the chance to become the reader of one of the parts, but no one else did this and thankfully I myself refrained from shouting out "Can I be Nancy?" at any point, and dignity was maintained. It was a mysterious play involving six people rather bizarrely trapped in a barn in the fifties, while one of their number was dressed from the seventies. We were assured by the writer and performers that this all became clear in the second act, but as time ran out we left still none the wiser but perhaps with ideas brewing. It was good stuff and potentially an interesting play once the opportunity arises to hear the complete package.

The Fun Palaces was a quite wonderful day, which as well as all the wonderful events also allowed my generally mysterious and quiet self to introduce myself to some of my Twitter contacts, including the boss man and one thankfully not wielding a golf club. They were as you would expect, wonderful and welcoming people and the pleasure was all mine. Perhaps this was the true impact from a day like this. It was a wonderful social event getting people successfully interacting with the theatre and when it all comes around again next year, I might stick my neck out even further and put on a silly hat in the dressing up tent.


For details about the Fun Palaces go to their website at http://funpalaces.co.uk/
Date attended: 4th October, 2014

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