33

Wed 10th – Sat 13th July 2013

reviews

Natasha McGregor

at 22:51 on 10th Jul 2013

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When you go to the theatre to watch a show about 33 men encased in a mine shaft underground for 52 days you expect a sombre affair with deep messages about the meaning of life and how relationships fair under pressure. While the Wardrobe Ensemble does confront this it is with a far from sombre voice. There are moments of lightness, even humour, in the hour long performance which takes you underground, overground and through the minds of some of the most tortured men you can imagine. They are trapped with little knowledge of what is happening on the outside world and with almost no contact with their loved ones.

The actors conveyed a variety of characters convincingly, each person they became having a unique voice. Their minimalist costumes, with a patterned scarf or baseball hat symbolising a new character, was simple and effective, if a little clumsily changed at times. The actors remained on stage almost constantly throughout, most of the times blending in perfectly. Unfortunately at times their removing or putting on of overalls took the attention away from the main action. The appearance of Elvis, played with obvious delight by Edith Woolley, was unexpected and yet perfectly acceptable. James Newton's mentally cracked Edison was as confused as the audience but his desperation was palpable throughout their reckless and, at times, terrifying scramble across the stage. More than one audience member jumped in their seat with each perfectly choreographed punch and chair throw. I don't recall ever seeing a fight scene so well performed and with such trust and confidence.

Tom Brennan's direction shines particularly brightly during the numerous movement sections. From news reporters to 'the masses' watching reports on television at home, the gestures are wonderfully choreographed and performed with gusto. There is little synchronicity between the actors, but their frantic and passionate moves show that this was their intention.

The ensemble worked well with the large amount of sound and camera equipment on stage. Showing the movement through the mine shafts on the projector was inventive and useful for the audience, with the added humour of James Newton's running man on stage (which much be seen to be truly appreciated). On a personal note I feel the production would have been much cleaner without the added distraction of the tech desk on stage. Though it was well out of the lights and the technician was subtle my eyes strayed more than once to the distant corner when much more interesting stuff was happening right in front of me.

Live music was a great addition to the show, and performed beautifully by various members of the cast. The spanish guitar gave a great sense of place, and combined with the two saxophones to really fill the space with mood and atmosphere.

All in all, 33 was a fascinating piece of theatre which tackled its subject matter with tact and sensitivity. The audience was a mixed bag but all seemed to thoroughly enjoy the evening. Though the show was not completely what I was expecting I took pleasure in trying to understand a (as the cast explained at the beginning) translation of a version of events that has already been commented on many times. I wish the company every success and urge you to catch this show, if not in Bristol then in Edinburgh next month.

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Anwen Jones

at 10:55 on 11th Jul 2013

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Although a regular audience member of many Bristol Old Vic shows, I had not experienced work in the smaller, darker space of the Studio until I turned up at the Wardrobe Ensemble's premiere of '33'. As it happened, it appeared the absolute perfect venue to produce the chillingly realistic portrayal of the Chilean miners accident, which trapped 33 men under 2300 feet of ground for 69 days.

It was clear from the offset that the ensemble were keen to make an impression, jumping quickly into blue work overalls and immediately embarking on a rapid succession of physical movements, all in synchronised time, to demonstrate the collapse of the mine. This physical impact is something that punctuated the whole play, showing not only the cast's determination to show different aspects of story-telling but also their irrefutable energy and enthusiasm. I particularly liked the way movement was used to embody the press; the quick shuffling off feet, the occasional jump in the air, and the punching of paper effectively portrayed the overly-animated media which relayed the story to people all over the world. After numerous costume changes in the space of around 5 minutes, I was left feeling exhausted wondering how on earth they managed it.

Indeed, it was the high calibre of the cast which really made this production stand out. The story itself could have, at times, fell a little short - after all, 69 days trapped under ground does not provide the most exciting backdrop for a theatrical piece. However, the company and their innovative re-imaginings of the men and their stories, meant the hour or so performance achieved the almost impossible task of whizzing through 1656 hours, multiple character perspectives and numerous technical props in a way that kept the audience engaged at all times.

It was funny, at times fantastical, other times distressing, dark, heart-warming, clever and fresh. I've never seen such a blend of conscious theatricality with believable sketches of real life.

It's a production that offers a wealth of emotions and interpretations; the mental hallucinations of Edison (James Newton) and his subsequent breakdown, the intelligent use of camera equipment and sound (praise goes to Tom Brennan for his skill in this area and for his almost faultless direction), the sickly, but yet darkly comedic edge of Iturra (Jesse Meadows), and the hilarity of the geeky man with wifi (Ben Vardy) are only a few examples of the strengths of this company. I want to mention them all, but I'm afraid my word count may not let me. Let it suffice to say that the cast was like one large chameleon, blending into a dozen different roles as if it were second nature.

All in all, it is a production close to perfection. There were parts of the piece that lacked the impact and effect of others and therefore, at times, momentum fell a little but with some changes and attention to detail I have no doubt that this company and production will have rave reviews when it hits Edinburgh this August.

Showing at Bristol Old Vic's studio until Saturday 13th, I strongly recommend you to get down to see it, if only for the opportunity to see something entirely different from your usual theatre experience.

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