The Show Must Go Online: animating Arts at University of Southampton in the digital sphere

hrm199 (Siobhan Coen and Haroon Mirza), Dreamachine 2.0, 2019. Courtesy hrm199. Photo: Thierry Bal

During these challenging times and faced with the new normal, Arts at University of Southampton is joining our friends at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, in pledging that The Show Must Go On(line). 

John Hansard Gallery and Turner Sims are both exploring ways to focus their energies within the digital sphere, seeking to animate online spaces to bring you inspiring art and culture. Alongside this, Arts at University of Southampton’s digital channels will be dedicated to sharing with you the best of the arts to be accessed remotely. We’ll also be inviting the talented creatives and artists in our own team to contribute ideas and showcase their practice.

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Kindred: Thoughts on a Work in Progress

by Thea Hartman, Arts Ambassador

A well-known figure in the Southampton arts scene, as well as an Artist Facilitator for the University of Southampton-led project Connecting Culture (focused on understanding the impact of the arts on Southampton-based young people aged 5-25), Anna Carr is a theatre maker who works across different platforms to create autobiographical theatre experiences.

Kindred is one such experience. The self-produced show, exploring the story of Carr’s grandparents and seeking to understand the harrowing experience of abuse undergone by her grandmother, was part of the a celebration of Sotonian theatre, the Make it SO Festival. The festival took place in NST City’s Studio space across most of February and showcased 19 ‘work-in-progress’ productions, proving just how much exciting theatre is being made locally. 

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Review: The Three Musketeers at NST City

Audience reactions to The Three Muskateers at Nuffield Southampton Theatres

By Thea Hartman

I didn’t know what to expect heading into the NST for Le Navet Bete’s production of Dumas’ classic The Three Musketeers. Subtitled ‘A Comedy Adventure’ and with a poster with some rather striking facial expressions and a BMX, I wasn’t sure whether I was about to watch the actual musketeers being heroic or four men running around in musketeer outfits for children’s enjoyment.

As it turned out, it was definitely more of the latter, but without the negative connotation – I enjoyed the running around perhaps more than the children. The classic, exhibitionistic comedy acting was finely interlaced with a sterling production, and a script which is both timely and timeless. In a Nuffield Southampton Theatres spring season filled with literary adaptations, this production does not beat around the bush when it comes to questions of adapting a literary text and tailoring it to their audience. The apparently necessary aspect of historical and textual accuracy is dropped from the very beginning, when the four actors present themselves to their audience out of costume, breaking the fourth wall and clarifying that the production does not claim to hold the ultimate understanding of the 700-page novel, but just wants have as much fun with it as possible, without taking itself very seriously.

Whether or not this is a recipe for a great adaptation is a completely different, less fun conversation with likely no verdict whatsoever. The only conclusion I can get to is that it’s definitely a recipe for roaring laughter. The four actors were a delight to watch, having the time of their lives on stage, flawlessly switching between characters with quick changes of costume, and even when the changes weren’t as smooth as they should have been they acted so naturally that I doubted whether or not the mistake was actually planned. Stand-out characters were Madame De Winter, Cardinal Richelieu, and D’Artagnan, played with fantastic consistency throughout, but every single change of costume brought a fresh round of raucous laughter, whether caused by an oblivious Lord Buckingham or a vindictive nun. The sheer amount of events happening and the relations between all the characters were confusing, but instead of running away from this, Le Navet Bete flipped it on its head, aware of just how much was happening and having the characters explain things they did not understand themselves.

Audience engagement was a huge positive part of the show. The fourth wall, removed from the very beginning of the play, never returned, with the actors thriving when improvising reactions to the audience’s own. The funniest moment of the show required the audience to throw plush ducks at Madame De Winter as she was proving her hunting skills to Lord Buckingham. The willingness of the actors to improvise and the natural manner in which they did it really elevated the show.

The production value was also outstanding, from a simple yet versatile set, to the similarly versatile costumes. The stage was a constant whirlwind of moving props, flying costumes, and musketeers riding bikes instead of horses – and whilst it may have seemed quite natural, it required calculated coordination and elaborate choreography that did not go unnoticed. However, it was the sound that truly enhanced the comedic effect. For instance, if the shotgun sounds didn’t play exactly as Madame De Winter was ‘shooting’ the plush ducks, the effect of that scene would have been significantly diminished. The sterling synchronization between sound effects and the onstage acting deserved a standing ovation in itself.

Overall, The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure was a witty, self-aware show, unafraid of tapping into the childish side of all the audience members – children or adults – of questioning its own script, or of pushing the limits of what onstage performance is: if you get a line wrong, acknowledge it and do it again, it might make the whole scene funnier that it was meant to be intentionally!

Le Navet Bete provided a complete escape from the worries of everyday life – I laughed more than I have in a long time, and isn’t that what we all need?


The Three Muskateers: A Comedy Adventure ran at NST City from Tuesday 18 – Saturday 22 February 2020.

For more details of NST’s literature loaded spring season – featuring Pride and Prejudice (sort of), War of the Worlds, Wuthering Heights and more – click here.

Review: Heist at NST City (or Our First Dance Show Experience!)

By Thea Hartman and Kate Briggs-Price

To our shame and huge excitement and curiosity, the opening night of ZoieLogic Dance Theatre’s Heist was the first time either of us had seen a dance-only production. And on top of that, whilst between us we have a few years’ worth of mostly amateur dance experience, we know nothing about contemporary dancing, which was the show’s predominant style. In a nutshell, we went to the opening night of this show with absolutely no expectations and completely ready to see contemporary dance with fresh eyes.

And that is exactly what happened. As ZoieLogic Dance Theatre Artistic Director Zoie Golding expertly put it (she created the show after all), Heist mixes “the adventure of Mission Impossible, the gaming of Crystal Maze, and a little bit of the heart of The Goonies” – an emotionally dynamic, cleverly woven, action-packed show bursting with the most graceful moves which kept us on the edge of our seats throughout.

One of the most striking aspects of Heist was in the way it established the tone so promptly and accurately from the very first minute with the help of soundtrack and a villain with robotic moves, deeply unsettling facial expressions and Matrix-like costume. We like to think that we don’t get scared easily, but we definitely found ourselves huddling close into each other as the villain slowly approached our end of the stage. This almost instant characterization was also instilled into the four ‘good’ guys – despite there being absolutely no words spoken for the entire duration of the show, we quickly got a real sense of the dynamic between the characters in the first act, as their movements started to organize themselves into patterns and motifs to show their quirks and mannerisms, their teamwork and their willingness to do whatever it takes to escape the prison.

Interestingly, the storyline was quite minimalistic. Whilst the general plotlines were conveyed by the characters’ interaction with the set, the soundtrack and the dancers’ movements and facial expressions, the lack of words brought with itself a lack of specificity which Heist turned on its head into a vagueness encouraging audience engagement. We did not know exactly why the four men were imprisoned, or what they tried to set free at the end of it, but when we talked about it after coming out of the show we both thought it had something to do with identity. Whether or not that’s what it actually was about is a different question.

The great thing about the show is that none of this guesswork actually matters: you don’t get brownie points for identifying one specific metaphor the author wanted to convey. The focus was simply on how the incredibly skilful and graceful movements affected the audience’s emotions (and trust us, they did). The plot was merely shaped by some classic heist film tropes (e.g. the chase scene), and the fantastically adaptable set which enhanced the experience of the show by being as fluid as the dancers’ movements; the essence was all in the relationship between movements and emotion. As the dancers were climbing the prison’s walls showing some real parkour skills, we waited anxiously for them to fall. As they supported each other through their feeblest sequences of choreography we felt feeble with them. As they were running from the villain through the set which became a maze we were rooting for them to get away.

For us, that was the essence of Heist. It did not matter that we knew close to nothing about contemporary dance. It only mattered that we opened our eyes and hearts to see and feel this show, and we left NST City all the richer for it.

Watch the trailer for Heist below, and catch ZoieLogic Dance Theatre’s next show @zoielogic or at www.zoielogic.co.uk.

Apply NOW for a UoS Creative Internship

Arts Ambassadors Shanelle, Nicole and Louise with Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair of Arts Council England at John Hansard Gallery. Photo Jon Banford

Are you looking to gain valuable experience and build your networks in a creative environment? Is your career ambition to work in the arts, cultural or creative industries?

The University of Southampton’s Careers Service have opened their new season of paid Internships with a brilliant range of opportunities in Southampton’s cultural sector for enrolled UoS students and graduates *.

Read on for details of the creative and cultural internships on offer and hurry, applications close on 27 October 2019.

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