Francesca Haydon-White delights in Wrong Tree’s Foundations, a devised play about technology, love, and bad dancing, told through physical theatre and puppetry.

A factory above, a factory below. Two worlds, existing side by side – until someone crosses the boundary.

MJ is a human who is sick of moving boxes around all day like a robot. Pins is a robot who doesn’t fit into the underground. When they meet in the space between their worlds, they form a friendship that blurs the boundaries of human and machine. Are we becoming machines? Are machines becoming too much like us? Is there another possibility? 

Wrong Tree’s newest show, Foundations, is truly a unique delight amongst student theatre. While it has all the markers of a classic Wrong Tree production, Foundations is still fantastically individual and unlike most of the theatre you would see on the Assembly Rooms’ stage.

Directed by Anna Bodrenkova and Aimee Dickinson, Foundations tells an original story devised by the cast and crew about two worlds, interwoven with wonderful sections of physical theatre. A common criticism for physical devised work is that the physical sections are not seamless with the show or seem to come out of nowhere, but this is certainly not the case with Foundations. The physical theatre is integral to the production and works cohesively with the script. The physical theatre itself was sometimes repetitive across sections; however, that can be forgiven when you consider that it is portraying the same mundane processes of a factory. The actors’ movements were generally always in sync and clearly well-rehearsed, meaning the sections were smooth and told the story convincingly.

I cannot review this show without mentioning the incredible puppeteering, with the puppets themselves incredibly made by hand by Co-Director and Technical Director Bodrenkova herself. Olivia Swain and Rory Gee were outstanding in their work with their puppets, Pins and Bolts. Their handling of them was flawless and characterisation superb, truly bringing them to life. I thought Gee’s use of tone and accent for bolts truly made him an individual, and Swain’s performance as Pins has a charming sincerity that left us rooting for her right from the start. I particularly enjoyed that the puppets outfits matched the outfits of their puppeteers – a nice touch. Puppets are rarely seen in student theatre, but they were used so successfully in Foundations that the show has left me wanting to see their greater use.

Charlie Culley and Olivia Swain. Image credit: Wrong Tree.

Praise must go to Charlie Culley for her energetic and engaging portrayal of MJ, a 16-year-old girl working in the factory ‘above’. Culley’s charisma kept the show going – though, at times, I felt MJ’s character in the flashbacks to her 10-year-old self or occasionally as her 16-year-old self were played a little young. Hannah Lydon gave an impressive and powerful performance in her role, and she was a particular stand out in the physical theatre sections.

A special mention must go to composer Josh Powell who created an entirely original score (including all the sound effects!) for the show. The music tied the whole show together and worked beautifully with the movements. The show really would not have been the same without it, and Powell should be hugely commended. However, the consistent use of music and sound did mean that the cast needed to project slightly more as lines were lost at times.

A true standout of the show was the tech. A massive well done to Bodenrekova and sound operator Jay Figueredo for some of the most well done and seamless technical operation I have seen in Durham. From the individual lightbulbs hung from the rig flashing in time to the height of the apron, it was all so clearly well thought out. It is easy for tech to become an afterthought of a show, but it was evident that the technical elements had been planned from the conception, making a real difference.

It cannot be ignored how much time and thought goes into a devised show. A show as impressive as Foundations has clearly been a labour of love for everyone involved and should be appreciated as such. Foundations is truly one of Wrong Tree’s finest: an outstanding five-star performance that should not be missed.

Foundations performs at the Assembly Rooms theatre from 17th to 19th June at 7pm. Tickets are available for purchase here.

You can read more about the inspiration for the show in Bodenrekova and Dickinson’s directors’ note

A more relaxed moment in rehearsal. Image credit: Wrong Tree.