Review: Knock Knock at RADA Festival

Now in its seventh year, the annual RADA Festival brings together past graduates and a network of theatre-makers from different backgrounds in a ten-day celebration of new writing, emerging talent and the possibilities of theatre today. Key among the aims of the festival is to ensure that theatre is open to all; in line with this objective, tickets start at £5 and the three headline shows each place a strong emphasis on accessibility.

For Hot Coals Theatre, this is nothing new: since 2008 the company has specialised in work that’s fully accessible to d/Deaf and hearing audiences, and their latest show Knock Knock is also designed to be accessible to all ages. highly visual performance style, combining comedy, clowning and physical theatre, removes any need for spoken word or sign language while still ensuring the story and its message are easy to understand.

Photo credit: Hot Coals Theatre

Modern fairy tale Knock Knock tells the story of a woodcutter whose solitary existence is interrupted when a woman he’s never met before knocks at his door. It’s love at first sight, but when they both succumb to the pressure to live up to “traditional” gender roles, the happiness of their perfect union is threatened. Can they see past what’s expected of them and live the way they want to, or is their relationship doomed?

It’s impossible not to be charmed by the story’s loveable characters, who are brought beautifully to life by Hot Coals founders Jo Sargeant and Clare-Louise English. Spoken word proves to be unnecessary as the two communicate their thoughts and emotions through movement and facial expressions (Sargeant’s twinkly eyes above her bushy beard are a particular highlight). We share all their joy and heartbreak, and also enjoy some moments of cheeky humour that lift the characters out of the two-dimensional fairy tale world and make them real, imperfect human beings we can relate to.

A meticulously observed set also aids the storytelling, dividing the stage in two so the characters can move easily between their cosy living room and the mysterious, magical woods just outside their door. The structure of the show is based around the establishment of patterns; the opening sequence takes turns to introduce the two characters in their individual routines, while the second half of the story shows how their domestic activities change little by little as each day passes. Visually this works very successfully to demonstrate the gradual transition in their lives – we can see the way things are going long before they do – although the musical soundtrack does start to become a bit overbearing by the third or fourth repetition.

Photo credit: Hot Coals Theatre

Sweet, funny and with a powerful and very topical message for audiences of all ages, Knock Knock packs a surprising emotional punch. Within minutes, I was completely caught up in the story and rooting for the characters to resist the stifling social expectations that stand in the way of their happy ever after, both as a couple and as individuals. All in all, it’s a very worthy headliner for the RADA festival, and hopefully a show with a great future.

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Interview: Les Femmes Ridicule, In The Gut

Les Femmes Ridicule are Alice Robinson, Siobhan McKiernan and Margot Courtemanche, who together aim to create highly entertaining, moving and fresh work that directly engages with their audience. Following recent performances at the Brighton Festival, the trio are about to bring their show In The Gut to London for a short tour.

“In The Gut broaches the subjects of pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood; tackling tragic themes, such as miscarriage and infertility, with a thoughtful and comedic approach,” explains director Alice Robinson. “The audience will be introduced to different scenarios that offer alternative perspectives and approaches to the subjects – from the ridiculous and strange, to the dramatic and poignant.

“The show came about as an off shoot of another project that failed, which we’re really glad about! The three of us found we had so much to say on the topic of fertility and potential motherhood, and that we shared a slightly dark and silly sense of humour.”

In The Gut, Les Femmes Ridicules

In The Gut is Les Femmes Ridicules’ first show as a trio, and they’ve enjoyed working together. “It’s been really good! We’ve devised the show from our collective imaginations and passions, and that’s always a big process. As devisers our process is ongoing as we meet our audiences and continue to respond to them. We’ve laughed a lot in rehearsals and been really honest throughout, which is essential.”

The company hope to raise awareness for miscarriages in all relationships and are delighted to have the support of the Miscarriage Association and the Maternal Mental Health Alliance. “They really helped us in the research stage and opened our eyes to the impact of miscarriage on men, women and their families. We have been handing out Miscarriage Association leaflets at the shows and hope to promote the incredible services that they offer.

“In the Gut is direct in its staging of the fears around pregnancy. It doesn’t take sides, or preach, it’s unafraid of looking ugly, of moving its audiences and of playing with them.”

The RADA-trained trio’s creative process starts with simple improvisation. “I just shout things – ideas, thoughts, questions – at the other two and they plough on, adapting to what’s said in their own way. We all feed off each other’s ideas and we ended up with something we could never imagine on our own. Everything starts with a hunch, a question or something really silly like trying to outdo each other with a mime of the worst birth possible… and off we go!

“We think comedy is a brilliant way to open up a discussion, to heal and to set us free! There is humour in everything and releasing or acknowledging that is more interesting than ignoring it. Our audiences have taken the show really well, in that they have responded differently and personally. They have laughed and been moved. We’ve had midwives, parents, grandparents, people who don’t want children, young adults, people who do and people who can’t. There’s something for everyone, and everyone has an opinion on the subject matter, which is a great start.”

In The Gut is at the London Clown Festival on 12th June, the Blue Elephant Theatre from 14th-18th June, and the RADA Festival at John Gielgud Theatre on 25th and 29th June.