Theatre in Wales

Plays and dance productions in Wales since 1982...

How Soon is Now by devised by the company
First presented in 1998 by Alma Theatre
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   There is 1 review of Alma Theatre's How Soon is Now in our database:
How Soon is Now by devised by the company
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Chapter - Studio , Cardiff
How do we begin? Where do we start a novel, a theatre show, or a magazine review? Virginia Woolf opens The Waves, her poetic investiga tion of time and presence and the inspiration for Alma Theatre's latest production how soon is now?, with a simple evocation of something yet to happen. At the opening of Alma's per formance, the theatre has already begun. As the audience enters Aberystwyth's Theatr y Werin, three actresses in evening dress (Rebekah Gabittas, Leigh Hendra, Carri Munn) and a Robert de Niro-look-alike (Duncan Bett) are engaged in a tentative rehearsal of gestures and movements, surrounded by tables, chairs and a battalion of brown paper bags.

With this ironic non-beginning, Alma Theatre allude to the dilemma of their own working process: the problem of having to start all over again is familiar to every theatre company searching for a continuity of artistic practice on the basis of sporadic project funding. The Cardiff-based group, which was formed in t993 by former students of the Department of Theatre, Film and Television in Aberystwyth, has achieved a remarkable con stancy as a company through personal deter mination, economic sacrifice and the offer of free training to their performers Their work, however, is still characterized by a search for stylistic identity: an early yet surprisingly ma ture production of one of Certrud Stein's de cidedly un-dramatic plays (The Belly, 1994) was followed by a lightweight piece on female beauty devised around autobiographical nar rative and a sculpture (TIw Dress, 1995). And after their critically acclaimed site-specific in vestigation of place, identity and tourism (You Are Here, 1996), expectations for the new show were high.

But how soon is now? could not quite meet the promises of the earlier productions, nor the ambitions it had set itself. Director Rabab Chazoul's intention to explore "what it is to be present" is manifest in two leitmotifs which are played out recurrently: the question of what it means to be present in life when trapped between an impatient desire to have it all now and an impossible hope for future gratification, and the mystery of what it means to be present on stage, the secret of an actor's stage presence. Alma's characters are dressed up for a party that has not yet happened. They try on paper hats and rehearse their dances to a broken tune. They keep promising them selves the coming of great events: "Things will be different in the year 2000". And they con stantly need to assert themselves: "I am right here". An ingenious lighting design by Trevor Turton enables the actors to switch on and off the spotlights that illuminate their presence on stage. And when Bett first impersonates Robert de Niro and then dissects his perform ance in order to find the secret of his acting - "He's just there" - and Gabbitas tries out split seconds of spontaneity over and over again - "Surprise!" - the performance finds those rare moments in which conceptual idea and theat rical execution converge. For most of how soon is now?, however, Alma Theatre's concerns with time, presence, future and acting remain mere abstract assertions. Alma fails to make use of theatre's unique power to show us pres ence and make us experience time.

How do we finish? Where do we end a theatre show, a novel, or a magazine review? how soon is now? closes with stars, both those in heaven and those on earth. It claims that the eternal celestial bodies which defy the passing of time find their human counterparts in actors like de Niro who just "have" presence, "are right here". "Stars They do what they need to do and if it takes for ever, it takes forever but they're in it for ever if you know what I mean." When the lights go out, the stage remains illuminated by hundreds of glowing paper stars. They continue to shed their light even after the audience has left the auditorium.
Heike Roms

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