views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Hen and Chickens
14th August 2018


Publicity photo for Alexa

Photography provided by Calenta Theatre

We must do something about Alex. We must find out why she does things, what motivates her, what makes her what she is. We must not upset her. We must reason with her. We must tame her, disarm her, neutralise her. We must not let her continue being Alex. Calenta Theatre presents Alexa, a dark and emotive discussion on reason, agency, control and power.

The three protagonists represent three crucial elements in the discussion - Alex (Alice Lucy) is the feminine side asserting its own agency, whilst Alexander (Max Curtis) signifies a masculine envoy of the patriarchy that expects her to explain her actions. Toby (Filippo Panigazzi) is a vehicle for the male memory, men's priorities and urges, which clash with those of Alex. A voiceover then plays the role of the patriarchy itself, demanding that its minion does everything he can to overpower someone deemed out-of-control.

I have to admit to becoming slightly irritable very early on - the voiceover talking to Alexander has a serious case of 'mouth noise' in the initial exchange. Any actor used to recordings should know this is a crime against audio, and there are both dietary and technical ways to mitigate against it. Thankfully, it's less apparent later.

Barring that admittedly niche irritation, there is little to criticise. Phill Stanley's script is fascinating - a constant barrage of questions about the current order, cleverly woven into the characters so that the discussion always happens in first person, which makes it instantly digestible. Movement is crisp, flowing and natural throughout - Stanley and movement director Jazz Brown clearly have an extremely keen eye for this. Having Lucy and Curtis frozen on stage as the audience files in creates a suitable tension. Costume design by Anne He is simple yet effective - Lucy and Curtis's relatively formal black outfits add to the darkness of the piece, whilst Panigazzi's bohemian appearance creates deliberate contrast, his Toby being the antithesis of Alex's carefully-controlled persona.

Lucy is glorious. You can see the naughty child from Alex's past in her eyes - a burning appetite for mischief that will never be sated. She is always in charge - she controls, manipulates, returns every challenge with a greater one herself - and appears to relish every second of it. She stands taller than her height, with unfailing self-assurance. She speaks in a voice that intimidates because it sounds so effortless. I watch her as Alex, torn between an urge to marvel at her and the acknowledgement that I never, ever want to meet her. Curtis has a certain solidity and presence at the beginning that gradually crumbles to reveal naivety and barely-concealed frustration as Alex erodes his character's reasoning, an effective metaphor for the fragility of male dominance. His facial expressions are subtle but powerful and full of feeling. Against the tension created by Lucy and Curtis, Panigazzi brings a more innocent and disinhibited energy - and a little comic relief - to the piece, flying around the stage with apparently little forethought, his body on automatic until inevitably put in his place.

The dances deserve a special mention of their own. During Lucy's three routines - two with Panigazzi, one with Curtis - she dominates with such apparent ease and such callousness that it mesmerises. It's at once aggressive and incredibly elegant, and (perhaps crucially?) can't be described as either feminine or masculine in nature - it's just there, and it's amazing. Curtis's pain as he is forced through the paces is palpable, the tension and discomfort visible from his brow down to his feet. Panigazzi portrays Toby's sexual energy with real fervour, throwing himself into his moves in a way that feels truly spontaneous. All of this serves to create the most incredible atmosphere - we were no longer an audience watching a show from a distance but there in the room, feeling every movement with them. I have seen little like it in my time.

Alexa is an extraordinary show - it's heavy, unpredictable, strangely cathartic and satisfying, and it carries a powerful political and social message whilst remaining firmly a piece of art. The attention to detail is extraordinary. It is truly a feat.

Alexa opened on 13th August and runs until 15th August 2018 at the Hen and Chickens, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Highbury and Islington (Victoria, Overground)

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