The Paradise, BBC One

The final episode of The Paradise, an eight part period drama on the BBC, was a fitting ending to a show I am glad to hear has a second season promised. Set in Newcastle during the 1870s, it depicts the very first department store and the lives of the people who work there. We follow the main character, Denise, through the ups and down of working at The Paradise.  Relationships were certainly the theme of this final episode. Not only do we watch the Denise/Moray relationship reach its climax, we also see Miss Audrey and Mr Lovett get together. This in particular I was extremely relieved about. Every time Miss Audrey visited Mr Lovett, I hoped it was the episode they finally made amends for the years they have spent apart because Miss Audrey declined his proposal decades earlier. Finally, after eight long weeks, my wish was granted and they shared a long overdue kiss. And to top it all off, Pauline even found herself a man. After weeks of lamenting over Sam, it looks like she has found someone who will make her very happy. The only person who I am glad is still very much alone is Clara. She is a selfish, spiteful, bitter character who cannot accept true happiness for other characters.  She is jealous that her relationship with Moray was never strong enough to make him marry her. Well, maybe if she was a nice and kind and selfless as Denise then that wouldn’t have been an issue. But then Clara wouldn’t be Clara and who would we have to hate? I hope she becomes nicer when as The Paradise comes into its second season.

I love period dramas, and after watching the BBC adaptation of Great Expectations last year, I cannot wait to see what else the BBC has to offer in this genre. The Paradise is written by Bill Gallagher – the same man who brought us Lark Rise To Candleford, another popular period piece which ran from 2008-2011. The Paradise is based on the novel Au Bonheur des Dames by Emile Zola. The full first series is available on BBC iPlayer until 20th of November. If you haven’t seen it, there’s still time to catch up!

Abbi Outen

FREEDOM- Jasmin Vardimon Company

Freedom of speech, freedom of youth, freedom to explore, free love. Jasmin Vardimon always makes her work into a collage of every fibre of its theme. She not only plays with possibility, but pushes the boundaries – of her performers, of design, and of her audience.

As the dim yellow lights barely illuminate the stage, I find that the set (a collaborative effort of Vardimon and Guy Bar-Amotz) captivates me immediately. With childlike wonder I drink in its jungle of hanging white tubes, green cables and knotted paper, and what appears to be an ivy-covered boat downstage. Júlia Robert Parés enters – her delight at finding herself there rivalling the excitement in my eyes – and she climbs the ‘boat’, which begins to wobble and respond to her stepping and tumbling. Before long it has melted to the ground, and the dancers which once created its form are revealed, slithering into the undergrowth and dragging Robert Parés with them.

At first, ‘freedom’ is explored in its most obvious interpretation – dancers yell excitedly, leaping and tumbling in that physically gruelling, repetitive floor-based unison work which Vardimon does so well. There is ‘free love’ as a couple gaze at one another, running in circles interrupted with passionate leaps into each other’s arms.

But of course, as with so much of Vardimon’s work, the mood quickly turns bittersweet as we see the male partner of the couple (Estéban Fourmi, perhaps the standout of the night) use the female as a surfboard, her unmoving smile seemingly hiding gritted teeth. It is hugely entertaining, and one of those simple yet inventive uses of the body which leave me questioning why I have never seen them before. The biggest laughs come when he props her up straight and thoughtlessly chucks his towel over her head, to which she remains stock still. But this is undoubtedly a feminist comment, which Vardimon’s work is rarely short of.

Another mark of her work is highly advanced creativity in technology and design, and Freedom replicates one of the projection-interaction concepts used in 2003’s Lullaby, a fluorescent lizard appearing to crawl across one performer’s body, under his clothes and into his mouth. This time Vardimon also offers a fresh take on shadow puppets, interrupting the movement with a narrated myth about an entrapped mermaid who tried to swim free of the sea.

I wait for the majority of the work to see something truly unnerving, Pina-Bausch style – and I am not disappointed. As Kai-Wen Chuang bourrées across the stage in her tutu and pointe shoes to Hawaiian Rainbow Singers’ version of Over the Rainbow, we are charmed into false pretence. She sashays with two of the dangling tubes on the set, rippling them like the wings of the swan she dreams of representing, only to become a screaming mess as she realises her limits – and just as the vocalist happily belts out, ‘why can’t I?’ A very intelligent meeting of references – and very difficult viewing. Darker still, we later see Fourmi scrambling and crying desperately for Robert Parés, but remaining mere feet away, entrapped in green cords. The final moments re-enact the illusory opening with the human ‘boat’, but instead, as Robert Parés stretches out her arms in a totally ‘free’ expansion, she tumbles off the back, met by gasps in the audience.

Vardimon has a very clear signature style: a scrapbook of powerful images in Vaudeville format, depicting endlessly creative interpretations on politically or socially-charged themes. Her works are performed to full houses, and attract the sorts of audiences seen at theatrical shows. But the most exciting direction she could now take would be to break free of her own conventions.

Charlotte Constable