Loughborough Echo, Lynette Watson, 28/3/14
“Imagination knows no rules” is a phrase that could apply to Shooting the Moon from Strangeface’s latest masked theatre production as it is an almost surreal piece of theatre inspired by the creative genius of Georges Méliès, an illusionist and early French pioneer of cinematic photography.
This was a brilliant full masked show and, I am sure, an entirely new experience for the mixed audience (me included) in the packed Kegworth Village Hall.
The four strong multi-talented cast each wearing several full distinctive face masks adopted numerous roles as they re-enacted the life of Méliès’ rise, fall and subsequent rise in the film industry through razor sharp mime, unbelievable illusions and highly skilled puppetry.
There was no dialogue in the piece echoing the silent film era as it was presented in an episodic style through informative black and white projections accompanied by a superb musical soundtrack.
All the action took place within a simplistic but versatile constructed set with one large window that when opened in one scene revealed a spell-binding fluorescent underwater mesmerising sequence using shadow, rod and flat puppets to full effect.
The four excellent performers interacted brilliantly encompassing pathos, humour and emotion throughout the eighty minute piece and the many complimentary comments I overheard from the audience as they left can be summed up in four words: “out of this world”.
The Stage, Susan Elkin, 28/2/14
This quirky, wordless, engaging four-hander tells the episodic story of the French film pioneer Georges Méliès in a series of “unreliable dreams” from his deathbed in 1938. A full mask show, each of its short scenes is in a slightly different style or mood but generally reflective of Méliès’ own genre, so we get lots of silent film-style music (by Mark Dean) with plenty of piano. All the movement is immaculately choreographed and synced with the soundtrack.
The whole point of masks – huge and exaggerated in this case – is that you cannot play with facial expression and the talented quartet on stage are all expert at signalling assent, disapproval, disappointment or whatever they like with the subtlest of body movements. The storytelling, assisted by a projected written commentary between mini-acts, is strong. Masks also ease doubling because anyone can play any character and even gender doesn’t matter.
One of the most interesting aspects of this entertaining show is the way it explores the relationship between masks, puppetry and film, and there is some very effective shadow puppetry and silhouette work along with some clever filmed sequences. And, rather well paced, it manages to be both amusing as well as poignant in places.
Masking My Ignorance
Last week I saw Strangeface Theatre Company’s Shooting the Moon at Theatre Royal Margate and reviewed it for The Stage. It was a charismatically intriguing and interesting experience with plenty of education mileage for several reasons.
First, this is the company, founded in 2001, which has now taken over most of the rural touring venues which Chalkfoot Theatre Arts took shows to in Kent and Sussex before winding down its business. Strangeface, whose style is very different but equally accessible to non-traditional audiences in, say, village halls, has financial support from Kent County Council and from Arts Council England. And the tour extends to the Midlands as well as a lot of shows in Kent. And anything which gets theatre out to the people is, in my view, a form of education and I’m all for it.
Second, I had never seen a full mask production before – although I have featured Trestle Theatre and often seen masks and half masks used as elements in shows. What an education! The movement work and physicality of the four actors in the cast of Shooting the Moon is utterly compelling and an enticing way of telling a story. So I was delighted to see a very mixed audience at Margate last week, including plenty of school students who appeared to be alertly curious about how this sort of theatre is created.
Third, everyone in the audience learns about the life – rise, fall and second rise – of French film pioneer George Méliès of whom, I have to admit, I hadn’t heard. In at the very beginning of film making and a visionary, he did well until he made a bad deal with Thomas Edison and lost nearly everything. But his star eventually rose again and he was honoured by the French government a few years before his death in 1938. So that was my education for the evening.
Fourth, for anyone interested in the performing arts there is a great deal of fascinating, implicit reflection in Shooting the Moon about the relationship between masks, puppetry and film and how they can inter react. No words are spoken in this piece. It works as an episodic silent film – reminiscent of Méliès’ own work with projection and a delicious musical sound track. Any child, drama school student, or indeed adult, could be inspired to tell his or her own story using this style and learn a lot from experimenting with it. Good news then that Strangeface offers drama-based workshops from age 8 upwards and takes part in residencies to devise work for GCSE, A level and BTEC courses. It also leads art-base mask-making sessions in schools and elsewhere.
Shooting the Moon tours until 4 April. Well worth catching – and learning from – if you can.
The Stage Columns, Susan Elkin, 3/3/14