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Thursday, 26 October 2017

REVIEW: The Lady from the Sea at the Donmar Warehouse

The Lady From the Sea was written by Henrik Ibsen 129 years ago. Validated by time and the fact that Ibsen is the second most performed playwright of all time after Shakespeare, it is no wonder that this play is still as fresh as paint. Elinor Cook’s version transposes the story from 19th century Norway to a Caribbean island, breathing some new and interesting undertones into the story. Coupled with the direction of newly appointed Young Vic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah, this was clearly a hot ticket. 

The lights go up on a modern looking stage, brightly lit and being decorated by two sisters Hilde and Bolette in honour of their late mother’s birthday. Their stepmother Ellida, also the protagonist of the piece, makes an effort to chime in but with a taut performance from Nikki Amuka-Bird we can clearly see tensions afoot; setting up one of Ibsen’s classic themes of social expectations at odds with the individual’s true feelings. We are then introduced to Doctor Wangel (Finbar Lynch), father to the girls and Ellida’s husband; an old friend comes to visit and the story begins. 

Saturday, 26 August 2017

REVIEW: A Rat in a Box at Courtyard Theatre

Rat in a Box takes a long hard look at the harsh realities of the renting market, for twenty something’s in London. The action unfolds in Edwina’s Kensington house, where she unashamedly rents out the box room to Nigel, small room to Greta and cellar to Cindy. Thrown into the mix the characters must navigating money, self-worth and highly volatile love lives with some explosive results. The set is sparse, with only plain cardboard boxes stacked high to signify moving, transience and basic living conditions familiar to renters. 

Edwina, a cross between Edina Monsoon and Cruella De Vil, is played by Ella Banstead-Salim who gives a compelling and highly charged performance with bags of stage presence. She wields her power as property owner with tyranny, but as with all tyrants we see insecurities and flaws that for all her prosperity leads no less to success than the intended minions she employs, under the guise of tenants. 

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

REVIEW: Mr Gillie at Finborough Theatre

Mr Gillie has not been performed on stage since 1950. The playwright James Bridie, is then an interesting choice on part of the Finborough. He was born in 1888, living in Glasgow and writing over forty plays in his lifetime, including Dr Angelus in 1947, which was also performed at the Finborough earlier this year. A high flyer in his day, he co-founded the Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow and was also awarded an honorary doctorate from Glasgow University in medicine, his secondary career. He wrote screenplays for Alfred Hitchcock, was chairman of the Scottish Committee of the Arts Council, was instrumental in the establishment of the Edinburgh Festival and also made CBE. Clearly a passionate and intelligent man, Bridie made huge contributions to theatre in Scotland and further afield, with Mr Gillie written and transferred to London’s West End a year before his death in 1950. It seems that the Finborough have also showcased other Scottish playwrights over the years, such as Robert Burns, J.M Barrie and David Hutchinson, which I suppose go some way to explaining this unusual choice of resurrection. 

Monday, 26 June 2017

REVIEW: The Enchanted at The Bunker

The Bunker on Southwark Street is one of those places that feels like a porthole to the Edinburgh Festival. A recently converted underground car park, transformed into a 110 seat theatre space with a snug bar, a thrust stage and definitely excellent results. The staff were warm and friendly and with cordoned off Borough Market a stone’s throw from the vicinity this felt welcome. In fact, going to see a show that sells itself as a meditation on death row and a contemplation on evil: “are monsters born or do we create them” felt eerily significant in the aftermath of London’s latest attack. 

‘The Enchanted’ is a novel by Rene Denfield, an American author who also works in the US prison system which puts her as well placed to discuss these issues of evil, clemency, punishment and redemption. What follows from Pharmacy Theatre’s adaptation is an intriguing hour and a half of choreography, puppetry and movement. We are introduced to the narrator who is on death row played by Brit School Corey Montague-Sholay. He is a high point of the show with a vulnerability and story telling capacity that shines. The movement of the show, directed by Connie Traves was smooth and has a Greek chorus like feel to it, sweeping us through the story of a human rights lawyer trying to save a prisoner from death row execution. 

Sunday, 18 June 2017

REVIEW: Richard Alston Dance Company: Tangent, Chacony & Gypsy Mixture at Sadler’s Wells

The Richard Alston Dance Company is a medium sized British contemporary dance company founded in 1994, currently presenting Tangent, Chacony, and Gypsy Mixture plus extra Glint over a two-hour evening on the main stage at Sadler’s Wells. A prolific choreographer for nearly half a decade, Richard Alston is renowned for his intimate relationship between music and movement, and as he came out and told us himself before the start of the performance, tonight would be no exception. His genial introduction included an ‘apology’ for what we were about to see and also a nod to current affairs, facetiously reassuring us that there was no disaster, and that seeing him on stage didn’t mean that something was wrong. 

The curtain raiser Glint was apparently created at a difficult time for Alston back in 2016, where he suffered from a decrease in hearing. Not being able to hear high frequencies he turned to percussion, using John Cage’s rich tapestry ‘Second Construction for Percussion’ that starts with a rhythm seeming largely Latin American but then is constantly interrupted by irregularities, all ostensibly intended to upset any sense of order. The ensemble of eight perform a structured and dense dance with costumes akin to a Zoom lolly or European flag, giving it a communist rally or somehow nationalistic feel. The dancers drew together then splintered like pick-up sticks, creating a busy and hypnotic effect. 

Sunday, 4 June 2017

REVIEW: Ordinary Days at London Theatre Workshop

It’s good to know that there are Fringe theatres in the city, providing much needed contrast from corporate life. The London Theatre Workshop is a theatre above the New Moon pub currently showing ‘Ordinary Days’, a musical by Adam Gwon – a rising musical theatre writer and composer. Since it’s inception in 2009 ‘Ordinary Days’ has done the rounds on Off-Broadway and the West End, and now is picked up Streetlights, People! Productions founded by Jen Coles and Nora Perone (performer) who are both alumni of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Streetlights, People! Productions promotes itself as “empower[ing] young artists and performers to generate their own opportunities instead of waiting for the phone to ring” and this sense of adventure, connection and discovering the tools to navigate the murky waters of youth is exactly what ‘Ordinary Days’ is all about. 

Sunday, 28 May 2017

REVIEW: Jam at Finborough Theatre

The Finborough Theatre has a small but mighty reputation, and gives the impression of a highly curated programme under the artistic leadership of Neil McPherson (I Wish to Die Singing, 2015 and It is Easy to Be Dead, 2016 nominated for 13 awards including an Olivier). Matt Parvin, the writer of Jam, was part of the Royal Court Young Writer’s Programme and similar at the Arcola and Orange Tree Theatre. As such, I was looking forward to a strong debut ensconced by an award-winning venue, probably London’s finest example of ‘a theatre above a pub’. The only other thing I knew about this play, was that it was about a pupil-teacher relationship that goes wrong, and I was interested to see what Parvin had to contribute. 

The black box stage felt claustrophobic and slightly oppressive, particularly in the round. A large red structure like a climbing frame was the only set and as we took our seats Bella, played by Jasmine Hyde (Not Moses at Arts Theatre and Pericles RSC), sits on a plastic school chair seemingly marking or taking notes. Her clothes and demeanor are unmistakably teacher-like and Hyde does an excellent job at maintaining this persona throughout the action (complete with classic world-weary view and sense of regret at not choosing a more rewarding profession). The ex pupil - Kane - is played by Harry Melling (King Lear at The Old Vic and Hand to God Vaudeville Theatre), who brilliantly succeeds in drawing a complex and highly wrought individual, damaged and deranged, but likeable enough to keep us wondering if he really is guilty, and to add serious complexity to the moral layering of the story. 

Thursday, 25 May 2017

REVIEW: My World Has Exploded a Little Bit at Ovalhouse

How should we deal with death? What is the procedure? Is there a script? Are questions asked by Bella Heesom’s autobiographical debut on the subject of mortality, loss and parental bereavement.  As we enter the auditorium, we are greeted warmly by a handshake from Bella and Eva Alexander her comedy sidekick, comes to say hi as we take our seats. The atmosphere is fun, personable and safe. We are then cheerfully informed that “everyone we love is going to die” and the action begins.

A bespectacled and didactic Bella offers us a 17 step “logical and philosophical guide” as to how we should behave in the event that we find ourselves confronted by death. This host-like character is juxtaposed with non-bespectacled Bella, and through savvy layering and sharp storytelling the rational versus the emotional response to death is played out, as Heesom gently takes us by the hand and leads us along this incredibly intimate and personal journey.

Friday, 5 May 2017

REVIEW: Romeo and Juliet at the Union Theatre

It can be argued, that homophobia in football is one of the last taboos in our society. Although significant efforts have been made by institutions such as Stonewall FC and Chelsea FC announcing the first LGBT fan group in 2016, there still remains the painful fact that not one player has come out whilst in the Premier League. Activists have encouraged players to come out all at the same time, or through campaigns such as #rainbowlaces attempted to change the culture of reception rather than place focus on the individual, but as the programme for Andy Bewley’s Romeo and Juliet reminds us the ghost of Justin Fashanu lingers. 

With this highly-charged and laudable backdrop, I was looking forward to seeing how the issue would be dealt with and what I might learn from a gay retelling of Romeo and Juliet in Southwark’s the Union Theatre. With Amy Warren (Mind Over Matter Theatre Collective) as Movement Director and Abram Rooney (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) this proffered an interesting premise for how the beautiful game might be woven into this age old tale of lust, conflict, youth and tragedy.
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