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Monday, 3 October 2022

REVIEW: Iphigenia in Splott at the Lyric Hammersmith

If you have followed Iphigenia in Splott from Wales to the rest of the UK, Berlin and New York, you won’t be surprised that this review will sing its praises. Over the last seven years, none of its biting commentaries has been lost as it embarks on its final outing at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Sophie Melville as ‘Effie’ makes large of the little moments that create a life. In a totally commanding one-woman performance, she takes the audience on a tour of their own preconceptions of the loud and provocative central character. Instantly, without warning, you are whisked away to the world as Effie chooses to see it, regardless of whether you hate it, love it, or are scared of it. The point is to try and understand it, as it is slowly compressed by an invisible austerity pressing down from above. Melville’s immense, boisterous physicality is dampened until, finally, she is still, with her every word bearing the tragedies that has made her so.

Thursday, 22 September 2022

REVIEW: For a Palestinian at the Camden People’s Theatre

When I stood for the ovation of For a Palestinian I was in floods of tears. Which is strange, because I have not stopped smiling since. I guess it’s true what they say: it’s the things you love that bring you pain.

For a Palestinian tells the story of Wa’el Zuaiter, a Palestinian translator who moved to Italy, fell in love and brought the Palestinian struggle to the Italian people. We meet his lover Janet, his 3 eccentric flatmates, and his elderly landlady. We also meet the play’s writer himself, Bilal, and his father, mother, siblings, and immediate and extended family. Oh, and it’s a one-man show. Forgive me for not mentioning that sooner, but if I’m honest I’d forgotten that fact by about halfway through. So effortless is the charming Bilal Hasna’s transition between characters that I had to make a conscious effort to remember that the whole time it was just one man talking to himself. His performance immediately grips you and will not let you go.

Sunday, 19 September 2021

REVIEW: Is This a Wasteland? at the Bridgewater at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

An old man with a Buddha statue, the three-man ski team with one ski each, two people with the shades off of old street lights, both compelled to put them on their heads, and me, with my padlock. 

We embark in a single file line to an empty plot in the shadow of East London’s high-rise neighbourhoods, the London Stadium and an M&S. The concrete stage is punctuated with weeds and piles of rubbish if you choose to see them that way, but Charlotte Spencer’s cast will challenge you to see them otherwise. Our headphones tell us the performance has already begun, and so the challenge begins. 

Narrated through headphones and ‘performed’ by the audience, Is This a Wasteland? takes a disused space and asks the audience to make of it what they will. This begins immediately, as you are invited to pick out an object from the ‘object shop’ of abandoned, broken and recycled relics of the tip. I don’t know why I picked up my padlock but I did, and then worried if I’d made the right choice, unsure what I would have to do with it. Many others were in my same predicament, swapping and changing their objects, seeing what they could be used for, sharing an instinct to put them on their heads. Once we had made it to the ‘stage’ the voice in our headphones tells us to abandon them; to just leave them with the other rubbish. That’s when I felt silly for pondering so long over my decision.

Sunday, 1 August 2021

REVIEW: Wilde Without the Boy at the King’s Head Theatre

Queer season at the King’s Head Theatre kicked off in sentimental style with Gareth Armstrong’s Wilde Without the Boy. 

A dramatized adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis”, the letter he wrote to his lover before his release from Reading Gaol, Wilde Without the Boy has everything you’d want from a spurned lover’s letter… and so much more. 

Yes, Gerard Logan’s Wilde is a tortured artist, yes, his hamartia is simply loving too much, but he’s also angry, spiteful and full of regret. Logan traverses this complex character with ease and introspection, flying from nostalgia to rage as the script meanders Wilde’s innermost turmoil. Although he was alone, the stage was full. Not only was the boy, his lover, vivid before the audience, but his vengeful father, jailor and judge all walked the boards with him. 

The subtle manipulation of set and props (two chairs, a table, a lantern and a manuscript) took us from high society London to Paris, and right back to the realisation that we are in solitude; alone in Reading Gaol. The sound and lighting design was similarly transportive, moving so subtly with the narrative that you didn’t know it was there until it was gone, once again plunged back into the reality of Wilde’s isolation. 

Monday, 26 July 2021

REVIEW: Bigot at the Camden People’s Theatre

I don’t often watch sports on TV but when I do it’s usually on my backside on the sofa with a takeaway. I sit and I think; ‘God I’m exhausted just watching them’. Well, if Bigot was a sport, Hassan Govia and Jess Pentney of Unshaded Arts are world-class athletes. 

There’s a lot to be said about actors with stamina, and the pair didn’t let the ball drop once. Their commitment was unmatched, their passion was palpable, and Govia put in one of the best cry-on-cue shifts I’ve seen in a long-time. Whatever they were selling I was buying, which is why I’m glad they went into theatre and not sales, because otherwise, the good people of Camden would all be broke. The performances were a home run.

Although the feeling of exhaustion watching talented people do what they do best is 50% inspiring, it’s also 50% taxing. The dialogue of Bigot, an absurdist take on online cancel-culture, was a barrage of clipped, censored, back-and-forth sentences that made up an hour-long argument. I appreciate how this bizarre interchange between two users/abusers reflects the stupidity of cancel-culture, but it was a struggle to keep up with. Although the actors were limbered up to take on this verbal tennis match, I was gasping for breath. Down for the count.

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

REVIEW: BKLYN The Musical (Online)

How much do you think it would cost to hire five actors to follow you around and sing the soundtrack to your life? Asking for a friend. 

BKLYN is a musical within a musical. Five street performers tell the fairly-tale of Brooklyn; a young Parisian ballerina who crosses the Atlantic in search of her long-lost father. The story has everything you could want from a good ol’ tragi-romance; love, death, mystery, a Parisian summer fling, and, I know what you were thinking, a sing-off, of course. It’s whimsical, heart-warming fun, with a touch of magic for good measure. 

There are many things to say about the online Lambert and Jackson revival, but the one thing I simply cannot get over is the cast. I would kiss the casting director if I could. ‘Powerhouse’ barely does them justice, but we shouldn’t be surprised. Sejal Keshwala (Faith), Emma Kingston (Brooklyn), Jamie Muscato (Taylor) and Marisha Wallace (Paradice) have a list of well-deserved credits taller than me, and Newtion Matthews (street singer), who, admittedly, I did not know before today, deserves the most illustrious career there is going. As soon as Matthews opened his mouth I was enamoured with him, and when he was joined by the cast in some soaring 5-part harmonies, I was utterly lost in their world. 

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

REVIEW: Showstopper! An Improvised Musical at the Garrick Theatre

‘I’m the safety inspector at a nuclear power plant in the former Soviet Union’ wasn’t the punchline I was expecting when I walked into the Garrick on Monday evening but I laughed none the less when I got it. 

It might be my worst nightmare to go on stage in front of about 350 people without a single idea of what to say, but The Showstoppers didn’t miss a beat. The ‘improvised musical’ really does what it says on the tin. The audience sends in suggestions for story, character, place and style and then get given what they ask for. In my case, that was a musical about out of work actors who can’t help but make their new jobs a show. Ouch. Despite it hitting a tad close to home, myself, the 6 person cast, 2 piece band and 349 other out of work theatre people laughed at our own misfortune for 75 minutes straight. 

The cast was led confidently by chairman Dylan Emery and, with fabulous versatility, sang their way through the stylings of The Rocky Horror Show, Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King. In isolation, each and every cast member boasted hugely impressive voices, and in pairing this with their impeccable comic timing, they couldn’t really go wrong. It would be remiss of me not to applaud the funny bone of my fellow audience members as well, who were not short of inspiration for the show, somehow making Chernobyl a call back for the characters, which came out of nowhere but somehow worked… (you had to be there). I guess that’s what’s great about improv shows though. They’re totally unique and that makes the night special.

Sunday, 6 December 2020

REVIEW: Tales From the Front Line… And Other Stories, Talawa (on Youtube)

It’s very rare to leave me speechless, believe me, but Tawala and their Tales From the Front Line have managed it. And you might be thinking, I’ve heard it already. I’ve heard everything I can about Covid, I’ve watched the news, I’ve seen it on Instagram, I’ve lived it. But, if, like me, you’re a part of the readership who’ve sat on furlough for 6 months and are as white as snow, you haven’t. Of course, it hasn’t been easy for anyone, but gaining new perspectives is so important in times like this, and Tales From the Front Line gives you perspective in buckets. The short films use verbatim interviews to ‘explore the historic Covid-19 crisis and its seismic impact on those at the front line’; and its impact on black key workers specifically.
The first film stars Jo Martin, speaking on behalf of a teacher. It’s incredibly candid and incredibly personal. On an artistic level, it’s performed so subtly that if you didn’t know Martin from her other work you’d believe she’d been a teacher, this teacher, all her life. You get very natural dialogue paired with quite moving physical interpretation from Rhys Dennis and Waddah Sinada of FUBUNATION. Their delicate and guarded movement fills in a world of unspoken emotion, which makes vulnerable the strength of the unknown woman talking. It’s emotional, and perhaps it’s my ignorance/naivety/privilege that makes it that way, but I believe it speaks a universal truth nevertheless. We must be kinder, more empathetic, more understanding, towards black children.

Thursday, 26 November 2020

REVIEW: Unfamiliar at Home, The Place, Bedford (Online)

Dear reader, I feel it’s important you know I’m a literature student, so I can analyse things till the cows come home. Sometimes I’ll do it without meaning to… but this one? This one lost me.

Unfamiliar is the abstract telling of Victor Esses and Yorgos Petrou’s journey to becoming a family. It’s a love story first and foremost. It’s heart-breaking and heart-warming in equal measure, and it’s important. They ask what it means to be a family, a queer family specifically, in intimate detail, and open the door for understanding if you’ve never had to deal with internalised homophobia or a medical system that doesn’t believe you can be a family at all. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a reaching out, a hand to hold, for those who have. It’s the writing more than anything else that creates a piece that feels this significant. I would happily buy a manuscript so I could go over, and probably analyse, the beautiful, eloquent monologues that lay this story bare. 

The show being streamed live from the couple’s home made everything seem more intimate; voyeuristic, even. Almost like something I shouldn’t have been watching. This only added to the feeling of importance that the story was being told. They did incredibly well in adapting the piece for the screen, unlike many shows I’ve watched online. There were four cameras in different parts of the house, and as the pair moved between each, the dynamic shifted from the vulnerability of isolation to the sanctuary of togetherness. You could see the intricacies of domestic life and love play out in real time, which probably wouldn’t play to the same effect in a neutral theatre space. 

Saturday, 21 November 2020

REVIEW: Falling Stars (Online) at the Union Theatre

Falling Stars opens with Peter Polycarpou musing down the camera about an antique shop he wandered into a couple years back. I could tell immediately we were going to be friends. He haggles for the songbook that will eventually score the show, and glimmers of the wit, talent and passion that will define Falling Stars begin to show themselves when the shop owner makes him sing for the best price. As his partner in crime, Sally Ann Triplett, makes her unmissable entrance, these glimmers burst forth into a dazzling song cycle of bygone melodies, that traverse the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Irving Berlin and Meredith Wilson. 

Cosy, is what I felt watching this show. There is something comforting about simply watching talented people be talented, especially when they are equally grateful for being watched. The enthusiasm and expertise the pair have for the music they sing through is infectious, and, you are warmly invited to revel in that excitement with them. Although boasting hugely impressive careers, there is no pretension from Polycarpou or Triplett, which leaves space for a connection that I was amazed to feel through my tv screen. I can only imagine the atmosphere there would be if I had a drink in my hand, under the warmth of the Union Theatre stage lights, with the pair talking to me in person. 

Monday, 16 November 2020

REVIEW: Laura Benanti – Self Titled Album

God, I miss slow dancing with my Parisian lover on a candlelit balcony after a few too many Merlots… And now you can too!
Perhaps it’s the jazz classics, or the wistful orchestration, but Laura Benanti’s self-titled debut album makes me feel nostalgic. It’s a wonderfully cohesive collection of jazzified contemporary numbers and humorous takes on timeless melodies, which Benanti traverses effortlessly. The Tony Award winner herself says of it; ‘You could put it on at a dinner party or listen to it in the bath. It could speak to so many different possible moments’, and I couldn’t put it better myself (though it’s my job to try). 

The album opens with a Rufus Wainright cover, Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk, which admittedly I’d never heard before. It sets the tone of the album wonderfully, with instrumentals that sound straight out of Midnight in Paris… or Ratatouille (which isn’t a bad thing, believe me.). The album is punctuated with these quintessential jazz and swing arrangements which would indeed accompany both dinner parties and baths. 

At risk of targeting a very specific audience, which, to a degree it does, these movie-worthy melodies are interrupted by covers of the likes of Selena Gomez and the Jonas Brothers. I use the word interrupted purposefully, as two of the three forays into pop don’t particularly hit the mark for me. This isn’t to say that they aren’t sung beautifully, but compared to songs like Go Slow, where I couldn’t imagine anyone else’s voice doing more justice to them than Benanti’s, the cover of Lewis Capaldi’s Someone You Loved strangely reminded me of the opening to an Evanescence ballad; make of that what you will. I know I said the album made me feel nostalgic, but I didn’t mean for my emo phase. However, the swing version of The Jonas Brother’s come-back hit Sucker was arguably one of my favourites on the record, so perhaps it’s more testament to Benanti and Gil Goldstein’s (arrangement) mastery of swing and jazz than a disappointing misadventure into 21st Century pop. 

Monday, 21 September 2020

REVIEW: Woyzeck at Theatro Technis

There comes a time in every theatre-makers life where they decide to take on some existential German tragi-comedy. This takes artistic bravery on a good day, but during a global pandemic? Well, you’ve got to be bridging the gap between crazy and genius.
The show follows the descent into madness of the titular character, Woyzeck, who is based on a true to life murderer in 1800s Germany. It’s full of all of the class-wars, metaphors and military whores you’d want from a healthy dose of 19th Century expressionism, but if you don’t know what you’re in for, it’s just a bit weird. The Acting Gymnasium have decided to follow the script quite closely so it only feels apt to describe this production in the same way; a bit weird. 

Gavin McAlinden’s cast did incredibly well in drawing out the subtleties of the story, as you couldn’t help but feel sympathy for Woyzeck; a victim of fate and circumstance, portrayed by a wonderfully sensitive Andreas Krügserson in the lead. His fragility was framed perfectly by his larger (and louder) than life Captain (Clayton Black) who, in the outstanding performance of the night, managed to capture all of the absurdities of the script in one character. Unfortunately, this commitment to the absurd began and ended with Black. When the show opened in a dimly lit cabaret bar with a jazz singer in full flapper get-up offering me some ‘eine kleine nachtmusik’ with a wink, I was ready for the darkly humoured, intriguing and voyeuristic Woyzeck I know and love. This atmosphere died very suddenly, however, and no-one managed to bring it back. The jazz interludes, although beautifully sung, seemed out of place, the transitions between scenes were clunky and the ensemble failed to bring the show to life. It became a collection of scenes as opposed to a unified play, a victim of the Zoom society we live in now.
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