views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Gated Community
The New Diorama
5th June 2016


Sarah-Jane Wingrove and Diana King in Gated Community

Photography provided by Handheld Arts

We're all living in increasingly smaller spaces these days. I've rented what used to be someone's living room and even what used to be a utility room. Entire houses are being converted into teeny tiny flats, and buildings are becoming more and more dense with people. In Gated Community, when a small family gradually pass away one by one, their grand old ancestral home is turned into eight flats, all behind well, you've guessed it from the title, a gate. How very modern and exclusive. Sarah-Jane Wingrove and Diana King bring this tale to life blending intricate shadow puppetry, narration and live performance.

Devised and designed by Wingrove and Alex Garfath, the shadow puppetry is impressively detailed and the strongest element of the production. The floor is covered in carefully stacked piles of slides and props which frankly must cause all kinds of headaches in pre-show setup and post-show dismantling, with Wingrove and King working from an old-school overhead projector at the front of the stage. Although there is some pre-recorded video, the majority of the action is completely live, leaving the co-stars with nowhere to hide. Sometimes some very complex pieces are used for only the briefest of moments, with a huge amount of effort always afforded to each scene, regardless of the potential payoff. The attention to detail is truly quite incredible.

Whilst the backstory is enjoyable (the Jack the Ripper design and the arrival of the three children are especially entertaining), it feels like there's no real link between the first family home and the eight flat conversions that follow. The plot just needs something to bring everything full circle and link the different characters together. Gated Community could be a clever social commentary on the state of housing today, or simply a dark adult fairytale, either would work, just a callback or two about the original house towards the end would be more satisfying. A stronger conclusion is all that's required.

The narration is charming, which goes a long way to mitigating the clumsiness of some of the lines, however the artificial constructions and often forced rhyming nonetheless do grate from time to time. It's debatable whether the rhyming should be improved or simply done away with altogether. I do think though that spending more time on the language would elevate the overall finish of this production considerably.

Clearly a phenomenal amount of planning has gone into Gated Community, but I would like to see Wingrove and King more open to the idea of improvisation. When a fly landed on the projector during the PAL-9000 mini story, there was an opportunity to react to it, however the performers stoically carried on, ignoring the intrusion. Live theatre frequently doesn't go to plan and given the light-hearted tone of this particular show, reacting to any unplanned happenings would go down a treat with the audience. It's a fun piece - they should have even more fun with it!

For me, the most successful arc was The Intruder, due to the underlying darkness and spot on song choice. It reinforces the concept of this being a sort of fairytale for grownups told with all the whimsy and charm of a children's story, but fewer happy endings and rainbows. At only 45 minutes straight through, Gated Community is a short foray into life in Orchard Mews, delivered by two very personable storytellers with a natural flair for performing.

Gated Community opened on 5th June and runs until 6th June 2016 at the New Diorama.

Nearest tube station: Great Portland Street (Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan, Circle)

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