On this page, you'll find the written reviews reviewers typed about Scenes from an Urban Gothic and published online.
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"Unforgettable physical theatre in its purest form - the beating heart of the Fringe"
"Highly polished and engagingly performed, it might just be the cure for fear of mime."
"Cross is a pleasure, a riot and a marvel to behold from start to finish. An absolute delight."
"An astounding experience which sets the imagination free... Resembles roadkill sprawled onstage."
"Like a narrow path on the edge of a cliff: beautiful but dangerous."
"An outstanding piece of theatre."
words from Others
Scenes from an Urban Gothic by Theatre Imaginers will certainly appeal to those who have come to the Fringe in search of something different. Through no words or props, James Cross (with direction from Des Truscott) vividly depicts a man’s arrival in London from his countryside paradise. We see his fear and confusion as he adjusts to the culture shock. This hour-long display of mime combined with sound effects is funny, emotive and gripping.
It is hard to take one’s eyes off Cross as he performs. He comes to life like a cartoon character on stage and moves as if made of elastic. His bold energy remains consistent throughout the performance and his expressive face displays a wide range of emotions. There is nothing like watching an actor fully believe in the world they are inhabiting on stage, and Cross is in his element here.
The piece is divided into ten scenes and a list of these, with titles, is provided on entry. For the most part it proves unnecessary, as Cross sets the scene well through his movements and expressions. However, there are moments where the mime isn’t quite clear enough. This is the main danger of a show based purely on mime, and Theatre Imaginers need to be cautious of this, especially at the beginning of a piece when the audience is adjusting to the style. The sound effects and music are thankfully all well-chosen and Cross’s movement matches the audio perfectly. I dread to imagine the vast amounts of rehearsal time that go into such synchronisation, but the efforts make for a sleek and polished performance.
This is physical theatre in its purest form and it makes for an unforgettable evening. Unusual and innovative shows such as this make up the beating heart of the Fringe. Scenes from an Urban Gothic embodies what this festival is all about.
Written by Carla van der Sluijs August 2016
Written by Richard Stamp August 2016
To the average Fringe-goer, few words are more likely to trigger a mild sense of panic than “forty-five minutes of mime”. Don’t worry though: there are no Pierrot costumes or invisible walls in Scenes From An Urban Gothic, which actually proves an accessible, humorous, if slightly weird-and-wonderful show. Over the course of those forty-five minutes – accompanied by a soundtrack, but without using his voice – James Cross tells a tale of a rural idyll lost and then restored, as an anonymous country man travels to the big city but finds the pace of urban life more than he can bear.
Some of the mimed imagery is instantly accessible (travelling on the Tube, or walking down a busy street), while other passages are more oblique and creative. Just a couple of times I lost the thread; perhaps some of the cultural references aren’t quite as universal as the show’s creators believe. But the episodic nature of the story, with scenes announced through title cards, meant I never had to wait too long to get back on track.
The title’s presumably a riff on Grant Wood’s painting American Gothic, but I have to say I never quite got the connection. Gothic things do happen, however; this city is one of strange and fearsome forces, somewhere between the faceless inhumanity of Metropolis and the out-and-out horror of Quatermass. Religion gets a look-in too, through a climb up a bell tower and a Gregorian chant heard in the most unexpected of places. If I’m honest, I didn’t particularly enjoy these surreal touches, but that’s just a matter of taste; they’re well-integrated into the storyline and have an internal logic of their own.
Much of the humour derives from Cross’s exaggerated physical gestures and contorted posture – his body moves and bends in ways I don’t think mine ever did. I found the frequent Ministry Of Silly Walks leg-waving a little too obvious, but the subtler comic mannerisms were always enjoyable, and he’s not above a dose of childish toilet humour either. The character Cross creates is likeable, cartoonish, and easy to root for; he’s just trying to get on with his life, and his expressive responsiveness to things as mundane as an alarm clock going off give the show plenty of charm.
Perhaps it’s a mistake to look for deep meaning in a show like this one, but there is a basic message there, about finding time for quietness in life and the pleasure to be had from a return to simpler things you once knew. At the end of the day, this idiosyncratic show is big on heart and quirky spectacle, and that’s all it really needs to be. Highly polished and engagingly performed, it might just be the cure for fear of mime.
Written by Jonny Sweet August 2016
You might be forgiven for thinking that mime is an outdated medium; out of fashion and out of touch with the struggles of the modern world. Enter James Cross, the confounding contortionist behind Scenes from an Urban Gothic. In a remarkable piece of physical theatre, Cross brings the form into the 21st century by communicating the disillusionment and disorientation of living in a big city through mime, music, sound effects and lighting.
Cross knows his strengths and plays to them well. He’s been blessed with rangy limbs, an elastic posture and the unnervingly hilarious ability to do that thing with his eyes (you’ll know it when you see it). Channelling the deportment of Gru from Despicable Me, the gait of John Cleese from Monty Python and the mannerisms of Mr Bean, Cross is a pleasure, a riot and a marvel to behold from start to finish.
As its name suggests, the narrative underpinning the performance is somewhat linear, but it’s important not to get too bogged down in the sequence of events. Instead, it’s better to simply absorb the ten vignettes which make up the show as they are. A programme is doled out to each audience member at the start of the production to help them avoid getting lost (mime is a tricky form, after all), though for the most part, Cross’ eloquent movements speak for themselves.
The piece opens with Cross departing an apparently idyllic lifestyle in the countryside (although there are suggestions that things aren’t quite as perfect as they might seem) for an overwhelming existence in the big smoke. The Tube, public toilets, cramped apartment spaces and humdrum menial jobs are all dealt with wittily and effectively, and Cross throws in enough oddball elements to keep the audience on their toes.
These weirder aspects might confuse some people and detract from their enjoyment of the piece – but just go with it. If you’re willing to accept Cross’ fantastic fantastical world and everything in it, you’ll emerge from the Theatre Arts Exchange with a smile on your lips, a distaste for urban life on your palate and birdsong hovering on the edge of your hearing. An absolute delight.
Ed Fringe Review
Written by Izzie Fernandes August 2016
I leave the Theatre Arts Exchange bewildered and mesmerized. Brought to the stage by Theatre Imaginers, we have just witnessed some utterly bizarre, flawlessly rehearsed and truly original physical theatre.
For three quarters of an hour, James Cross entrances the audience on a black box stage. Communicating with only sharp movements and an imitation of every movement cast as a on a crisp white sheet, behind him, scenes eccentric urban life antics unfold. Journey with Cross through the Underground, into a park, down city streets and into a shopping mall in an utterly mysterious and absorbing experience; he does not disappoint.
Execution of physical discipline is the tantalizing centerpiece of this performance. Cross’s suppleness surpasses what I previously think is humanly possible for the human body. His being human or animal is questionable for at moments the suited man quivers and contorts so as to resemble roadkill sprawled on the stage. This performance is a combination of raw talent, admirable attention to detail and unwavering concentration. Think femur to fingertip. Cross mobilizes every muscle and, I catch myself thinking, this must be a workout no gym can offer.
Amidst the minimalism, a sense of daily reality is added to the piece through aptly placed sound effects. Onomatopoeic sighs, puffs clicks and chuffs signpost moments along this urban journey. Watching, I welcome these pointers for whilst Cross’s sustained energy is faultless, at times he runs the risk of losing the audience in his fast flowing physical transitions.
Without words, movement from a public toilet to a church is not immediately obvious and so familiar sounds of traffic, church bells and a meowing cat marry the extraordinary physical elements with the ordinary urban antics of the storyline. Perhaps a second watch of the show would create greater clarity of the events and allow heightened attention to every physical nuance, there's a challenge.
This creative marvel exudes originality and if you will excuse the cliché for a second, sets the imagination free. My mind runs circles whilst my eyes are glued on the energized center stage. Where is he now? Where will he go next? Could this be a dancing Mr Bean or it that just me? This seems an effortless performance. Only the beads of sweat dripping from his perspiring forehead indicate the physical strain demanded of this matchstick man. Every scenario, scenes and speculation is executed with razor like precision.
If at times the storyline becomes foggy, do not forget, at its core, this is a physical phenomenon. Truly original and totally wacky, Cross is likely to bust moves worthy of sending you into a hypnotic trance.
A laugh-out-loud one-man show that combines excellent execution with some highly imaginative and partly obscure content.
Pros: James Cross is a one-of-a-kind physical actor with exceptional command of his body.
Cons: I found some scenes quite hard to grasp, which made the performance drag a bit.
Between January and March, the Vaults – an arts space underneath Waterloo station – opens its doors to a diverse programme of live events, theatre, stand-up comedy, circus and even opera. The Vault Festival – which had a soft launch in 2012, before becoming a staple in the London theatre scene – now sees hundreds of artists presenting their material in its several tunnels during a six-week span, with thousands of spectators flocking there every evening.
Scenes From An Urban Gothic is appropriately staged in a tunnel called ‘The Cavern’, presumably for its dark and moist appearance, and the show relies heavily on the nature of the venue to gain resonance. The result can be imagined as the theatrical response to Fritz Lang’s silent film Metropolis. Arguably a site-specific piece and entirely devoid of speech, it features the unavoidable overhead rumbling of the trains that go to and from the busy terminal, which emphasises the already oppressive sound effects with unsettling realism.
Devised by Theatre Imaginers – Des Truscott and James Cross – and performed by the latter, this physical piece follows the journey of a man through a city that feels so uncanny that it appears surreal. ‘Gothic’ in the supernatural sense of the term, we’re shown thirteen isolated scenes in which the protagonist is confronted and eventually swallowed by a roaring and hostile metropolitan landscape.
Wearing a white shirt, striped blue tie, black jacket, super-skinny black trousers and pointed formal shoes – and using only a foldable chair as a prop – James seems to shrink progressively under the invisible weight of his helplessness, to the point that his body surrenders and is sucked into the depths of an eerily-lit auditorium. His strides, gestures, facial expressions and even the movement of his eyes are so vivid and engaging that I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I only wish the final scene had been played with one of Philip Glass’ mind-blowing scores!
Occasionally, the sequences become a bit too obscure, referring to situations or contexts that are hard to guess from the entirely bare set. But this is a worthy risk to take whilst otherwise brilliantly representing a world that is partly detached from reality. Episodes involving the hectic streets of the city, an overcrowded train or a faulty ticket barrier are strongly evocative and easy to relate to. Regrettably, the performance loses momentum when the allusions aren’t properly defined and, on a few occasions, I found myself making an effort to work out what was happening on stage.
Scenes From An Urban Gothic is a hypnotising blend of mime, clowning and physical routines which benefits from many comic highlights, but equally and willingly causes discomfort. Miming quintessentially calls for immediacy and surrealistic miming is like a narrow path on the edge of a cliff: beautiful but dangerous. Theatre Imaginers have chosen an almost unexplored route but, with their highly imaginative contents and excellent acting, they have all the potential to produce some seriously innovative theatrical wonders.
Written by Marianna Meloni February 2017
The Play's the Thing UK
Written by Jo Trainor February 2017
No words, no set, one man and one chair. Using soundscape, lighting and actor James Cross’ elastic limbs, Theatre Imaginers have created an innovative physical performance of a man’s disorientating journey through an overwhelming city.
Cross has perfected physical comedy. From literally losing his head during an altercation on a busy train, to creating the tallest clean glassware pyramid in record time, Cross’ sound effects and cartoonish expressions and gestures will have you laughing out loud.
There is a programme on every seat with the scene order. Most of the time the performance clearly shows exactly where Cross is and what he’s doing, even if it’s as bizarre as him locating a Gregorian choir in a man’s bathroom. In some ways Scenes from an Urban Gothic follows a linear structure: a man leaves his rural home to travel to the big city and find work. But the penultimate piece is certainly more of a stand-alone tale, which is a little jarring at first glance. One particularly beautiful scene is ‘The Tower’ as Cross climbs a never ending bell tower with increasingly small doors. The tolling bell, bright orange circles projected onto the floor, and Cross’ endless climb is near hypnotic.
The Cavern itself is a stunning space – it’s enormous, with a mysterious open door way at the back and water dripping down the walls. It’s no wonder that Cross and director Des Truscott want to use the whole of the room. This only causes an issue during one of the final and most surreal scenes of the piece, where Cross is shovelling something through the growling, fiery door – he’s just a little too far away from the audience. During the rest of the story there’s a real sense of claustrophobia for Cross’s character and the closeness between actor and audience helps enforce that. But mostly it’s difficult to see what is actually happening, and that’s such a shame because the lighting, noise and what we can see of Cross conjure up a disturbing scenario.
In an interview with the Reviews Hub whilst Scenes from an Urban Gothic was at Edfringe, Cross and Truscott said that the performance was inspired by characters like Joseph K from The Trial, and there certainly is something Kafkaesque about the show. There is an underlying feeling that there’s something sinister going on, even when Cross is birdwatching through hand glasses. It’s this combination, along with the stage effects and Cross’s absurd physicality, that makes Scenes from an Urban Gothic an outstanding piece of theatre.