Thursday, 27 April 2017

An-Ting Chang "The Tenant" Kings Weston House Wednesday/Thursday 26/27 April 2017

Martin Bonger: Gilbert Markham/Arthur Huntingdon
Emily May Smith: Helen Graham  Diana Brekalo: Piano
An-Ting Chang: Director  Jessica Macdonald: Writer
Pam Tait: Costume Design

On Wednesday night An-Ting Chang's "Classical Collision" came to Kings Weston House in Bristol. During the five weeks since her "Carnival of the Animals" concert at Glenorchy, An-Ting has been working on her new production "The Tenant", based on Anne Brontë's novel "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall".

The story was adapted for two actors by Jessica Macdonald and brought into collision with the piano playing of Diana Brakalo by Director An-Ting Chang. The two actors, Martin Bonger and Emily May Smith were spectacular in their rôles, weaving a distressing tale of romance and despair.

Martin Bonger
(Photography Paul Blakemore)
Martin Bonger introduced Exeter audiences to his distinctive brand of physical theatre at the Bikeshed in July last year. His own creation "Fat Man" mixed stand-up, audience participation and athletic performance with the classical tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. In "The Tenant" his distinctive style was perfect for the starkly contrasting parts of Gilbert Markham and Arthur Huntington. Gilbert, the gentle self-effacing romantic, is almost the diametric opposite of Arthur, a dissolute and uncaring brute.

With the help of excellent costumes designed by Bristol Old Vic Historian Pam Tait, Martin slipped seamlessly between rôles. As Gilbert he is gentle and personable. As Arthur he is a shocking abuser, his shameless sociopathy descending into the self-pity of the habitual bully as his misdeeds catch up with him.

Martin Bonger & Emily May Smith
(Photography Paul Blakemore)

Bristol Old Vic graduate, Emily May Smith, is Helen Graham, a talented, sensitive young woman, full of lively enthusiasm - but also vulnerable. Her natural desire to enjoy a creative and romantic life attracts the wrong kind of attention, which leads to a repressive and brutish existence. With incredible determination and resourcefulness, she survives - somehow. Emily's passionate portayal of Helen's crushing predicament totally commands the audience's attention.

Gilbert Markham
meets Helen Graham
at Wildfell Hall
(Photography Paul Blakemore)
Integral to the action is the very effective use of the performance space. Wang Jing's set design brings ornate and extravagantly large picture frames into a room already filled to the ceiling with austere family portraits. Helen, a painter, moves between scenes by stepping through the frames, with the audience sometimes looking in from outside, sometimes also in the picture, immersed in the action.

Helen Graham - Painter
(Photography Paul Blakemore)
With only an easel and two chairs as props, Martin and Emily, under the additional direction of Movement Director Ben Hadley, create an endless series of engaging and emotional tableaux, the climax of which is a scene of violence so magnificently and cleverly staged that the actors create genuine terror, without a hair out of place. Martin's impressive strength and gentleness is matched by Emily's athletic grace. Together they almost cross over from acting into dance as the play progresses.

An-Ting Chang & Diana Brekalo
(Photography Paul Blakemore)
Throughout the performance Diana Brekalo is playing the piano. The familiar music of Mozart, Brahms and Scriabin fit so neatly into the action that Diana often seems to be improvising to fit the mood of a scene. Sometimes a distant accompanist, she is also able to overpower the actors with her own passionate outbursts which occasionally become the centre of attention. In a brilliant additional twist, Diana becomes one of the off-stage characters, Annabella Wilmot. The confusion of this surprising switch works every time, a very neat little addition to the play.

Emily May Smith
at Kings Weston House
(Photography Paul Blakemore)
In an echo of Martin's "Fat Man" show, where unsuspecting audience members find themselves participating in the action, one audience member becomes a very significant but non-speaking character in "The Tenant", Frederick Lawrence. The actors are very gentle with him, however, and allow him to stay comfortably in the background. The intimacy with the audience which this creates is further enhanced with other interactive scenes where viewers become extras in the play. Body language changes as passive observers come to expect, and want, to be included in the story.

An-Ting Chang, who is just completing her PhD in Performance Practice at the Royal Academy of Music, seems to be endlessly creative. Her combination of classical music and theatre is unique and elicits the maximum effect and enjoyment from both. Her current team are equally talented and work together spectacularly. Martin Bonger and Emily May Smith light up the stage with their outstanding and complementary expressiveness. Diana Brekalo is clearly a very professional concert performer, but with an energetic sense of adventure perfectly suited to An-Ting Chang's "Classical Collision".

"The Tenant" continues in matinée and evening performances at Kings Weston House today (Thursday 27 April)  before moving to the National Portrait Gallery in London for a 6.30pm performance on Friday 28 April and the Drill Hall in Chepstow at 7.30pm on Saturday 29 April. Three more performances are scheduled in Bury St Edmunds, Salisbury and Bath at the end of May. Details and online booking are on 'The Tenant 2017' website.

An-Ting Chang Concert Theatre
King's Weston House Bristol
Wednesday 26 April 7.30pm
Thursday 27 April 1.30 & 7.30pm
Director: An-Ting Chang
Piano: Diana Brekalo
Scriptwriter: Jessica Macdonald
An-Ting Chang
Actors: Emily May Smith
              Martin Bonger
A stage adaptation of Anne Brontë's
"The Tenant of Wildfell Hall"
for two actors accompanied by
Alexander Scriabin: 24 Preludes
W A Mozart: Sonata K. 378
Johannes Brahms: Rhapsody Op 79 No 2
Tickets: £12 (Concession £10)
Online BookingWednesday/Thursday

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