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Posted by : TimothyRamsden on May 18, 2015 - 09:35 AM Archive

by Gemma Paintin, James Stenhouse and Nick Walker.

Runs 1hr 20min No interval
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 May at West Oxford Community Centre.

Small-town American optimism expressed and given perspective in sport.

Beautiful, peaceful, by the Appalachians; what’s Hoke’s Bluff, Alabama, done to attract the attention of British theatre twosome Action Hero (Gemma Paintin and James Stenhouse)? Is it the town’s proclaimed sporting prowess - state champions in several sports - nine times at Baseball? Or is it simply a convenient name, implying both hokum and bluff?

William Russell enjoyed this show last year in London, without apparently knowing quite why. And now I think I understand what he meant. There are three people on stage, but the two who form Action Hero theatre do the talking, shouting, cheering and running about as all-American aspiration works itself out through physical energy and razzmatazz. Winning is important, and offers a purposeful vision to the young and fit.

Hoke’s Bluff Alabama has the Eagles; here, it’s the Wildcats who energise the sports-hall setting, the audience seated round in a single row. There’s a lot of speed, action and cheering, and details of team members’ sporting lives, past and present. These remain fragmentary, the impact increased by polite English accents, which the American characters retain even at the most emotional moments.

Audience members become caught-up in the fervour, occasionally by taking a simple part for a moment, more usually by being identified momentarily as team members, and generally by being encouraged to root for the team, including by the Wildcat-clad mascot one or other actor becomes at times, easily identified inside the full-body wildcat costume from Paintin and Stenhouse’s different statures.

Contrasting their often frenzied activity and sense of the small community they represent, often standing on the sidelines – certainly not inhabiting the Wildcat ‘skin’ - with a sense of judgment, there’s Laura Dannequin's presence, at times helping, at others seeming to assess all the dash and dazzle. It’s an intriguing role, part of the show yet separate from the action and the head-on involvement to which the others commit.

Hoke’s Bluff ingeniously creates its little world, invites audiences in, but leaves a sad sense of transience, increased when the youthful keenness is put into a longer perspective by brief stories of the team’s later lives.

Performers: Gemma Paintin, James Stenhouse, Laura Dannequin.

Dramaturg: Deborah Pearson.
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