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Wednesday, 9 November 2022

REVIEW: From Here to Eternity at the Charing Cross Theatre



From Here to Eternity was one of the biggest Hollywood hits of the 1950s. Directed by Fred Zinnemann, it won eight Oscars including best picture and best supporting actor for Frank Sinatra. The film also featured the iconic embrace of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr on the beach with the tide lapping around them. There's absolutely no question it works on the big screen; but how does an epic movie work on stage as a musical?

The action begins at Schofield Barracks on the island of Oahu in November 1941. Captain Holmes (Alan Turkington) is anxious to move up the military hierarchy and the regimental boxing championship could provide the means of achieving his aims. When Private Prewitt (Jonathan Bentley) transfers to G Company he is earmarked as an outstanding welterweight who can make a difference. Prewitt is adamant he doesn't want to fight and has his reasons for abstaining. However, Holmes is outraged by a soldier who doesn't want to fight. Sargent Warden (Adam Rhys-Charles) acts as a peacemaker between the warring pair, but is complicated by a passionate affair with Holmes' wife Karen (Carly Stenson). Prewitt does at least have a friend in barrack fixer Private Maggio (Johnny Amies). Simmering tensions come to a boil on the eve of Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941 and their lives will never be the same again.
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Sunday, 23 October 2022

REVIEW: A Single Man at Park Theatre 200



Where historical snapshots are concerned 1962 was a momentous year. John F. Kennedy was US President and the Beatles released their first single. Marilyn Monroe died and the 1960s, as we came to understand them, were about to be unleashed. In October the Cuban Missile Crisis threatened Armageddon. East and West were locked in a deadly game of brinkmanship as the world held its breath. Set against this backdrop is a tale of love and loss hidden in plain sight. Based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man was turned into a successful film starring Colin Firth in 2009. This stage adaptation by Simon Reade now finds a natural home at Park Theatre.

George (Theo Fraser Steele) is an expatriate English professor in Los Angeles. He is still coming to terms with the loss of his partner Jim in a road accident the previous year. The story follows one day in his life, beginning just like any other. George still feels like an Englishman abroad even after 20 years on the West Coast. His neighbours are ever inquisitive about this erudite gentleman in their midst. Archetypal American couple the Strunks (Phoebe Pryce and Freddie Gaminara) wonder what happened to his 'friend' Jim. George is content to let them think he just moved away rather than explain his melancholy. He constantly fights loneliness and leans on fellow ex-pat Charley (Olivia Darnley) for comfort. However, his attentions are increasingly diverted by handsome, talkative pupil Kenny (Miles Molan).
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REVIEW: Something in the Air at the Jermyn Street Theatre



The ageing process can bestow many gifts. It gives us knowledge, wisdom and a greater appreciation of life. But it also steals time - the most precious commodity of all. We cling to memories as they fragment and lose their clarity but the past will always bring comfort. Peter Gill's new play lands in a care home and tells a charming story of lost youth and sad reflection. Two elderly gentlemen relate the tale of their greatest love whilst dutiful relatives ponder the future. The spectre of past love revisits to show who truly stirred their passion.

With a blanket draped across his knees, Alex (Christopher Godwin) describes a fateful first meeting in Hammersmith. Meanwhile, Colin (Ian Gelder) sketches a spikey and playful encounter in Soho. Both drift in and out of slumber as they discreetly hold hands. Twentysomethings Nick (James Schofield) and Gareth (Sam Thorpe-Spinks) appear in their dreams and recreate conversations from the past. Alex's son Andrew (Andrew Woodall) fills in his backstory whilst Clare (Claire Price) does the same for her uncle Colin.
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Monday, 3 October 2022

REVIEW: SUS at Park Theatre 90


Sus has technically been consigned to the history books, but was once synonymous with racial tensions between the police and local communities. It was eventually repealed by the Criminal Attempts Act 1981. Sus (derived from 'Suspect Under Suspicion') was the law that permitted a police officer to stop, search and potentially arrest a person in breach of the Vagrancy Act 1824. Despite its repeal, there are modern echoes in the stop and search provisions of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. A touch of legalese is important to understand why this 1979 play by Barrie Keeffe is still important and relevant today.

Its election night: 3rd May 1979 and Margaret Thatcher is on the threshold of a landslide victory. The police station is in a state of frenzy as DS Karn (Alexander Neal) contemplates a new social landscape. His eager junior officer DC Wilby (Fergal Coghlan) is excitedly relaying updates via the staff canteen. However, they have the distraction of a suspicious death on their patch. Karn and Wilby have made their minds up and pull in luckless underdog Delroy (Stedroy Cabey) for questioning. It's not the first time he's been detained by the police and is unfazed by this latest 'collar'. However, devastating news turns this game of cat and mouse into something more sinister.
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Friday, 16 September 2022

REVIEW: Rose at Park Theatre 200



One of the most significant challenges for any actor is to carry a stage play single-handedly. No cast to support you, no props or special effects to divert the audience; just you, the script and a critical, expectant Joe Public. The actor effectively plays every character in the story; accent and demeanour continually adjusting; nuance and body language to build a mental picture. To hold the attention with confidence and sureness of touch is the trick. In the hands of Dame Maureen Lipman, it looks easy; therein we find the definition of talent - to make something extremely difficult look incredibly easy.

Rose tells the story of a strong Jewish woman born in 1920. With an air of contemporary poignancy, she was born in a Ukrainian village and began an epic journey around Nazi-occupied Europe. It is the worst of times as bombs and bullets rain down. Like many refugees, Rose eventually makes a new life for herself in America. The story in between is a bumpy and chastening ride but no less compelling, as one woman's life becomes a classic 20th Century experience. We start on the eve of the new Millennium as Rose, now a worldly 80 years old recounts a chequered and eventful life.
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Thursday, 4 August 2022

REVIEW: Monster at Park Theatre 90


Our lives should be dictated by choice, but fate inevitably takes a hand and creates a chain of events beyond our control. If we're lucky our parents will teach us right from wrong and provide a design for life. But sometimes a parent can be a catalyst for the badness that lurks deep within. Monster is a disturbing tale that is sadly never far away from the headline writer's keyboard. Author and co-star Abigail Hood has delivered an impressive piece with strong characters and sharp dialogue that maintains quality throughout.

Glasgow in the mid-noughties sees wild child Kayleigh Grey (Abigail Hood) playing in a wasteland strewn with tyres and rubble. Best friend Zoe Douglas (Caitlin Fielding) has crept out of school to look for the daring and wilful Kayleigh. Zoe is attracted by her friend's taste for anarchy. Kayleigh has been expelled from two schools and kept local police occupied with her misdemeanours. Teacher Rebecca Hastie (Emma Keele) is concerned for her charges but is heavily pregnant and her husband Steve (Kevin Wathen) stresses for her well-being. Kayleigh is goaded by abusive, Bible-quoting mother Hazel (Gillian Kirkpatrick) who has a nifty line in hypocrisy. A revelation causes Kayleigh to take action that will have far-reaching consequences for all concerned. The story moves forward fourteen years and Kayleigh is about to start a new life with her fiancé John (Kevin Tomlinson). But will the past affect their future happiness?
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Thursday, 7 July 2022

REVIEW: The Throne at the Charing Cross Theatre



We're all familiar with icebreakers on training courses. One question that often crops up is 'who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with?' Some may opt for the positive alternative, but the nightmare scenario is always more challenging and mischievous. The Throne presents the same proposition in an unusual and novel plot. What if an avowed anti-monarchist was trapped in a toilet with the Queen during her Golden Jubilee? It's certainly on message with the Platinum Jubilee celebrations still fresh in the memory. This new play by John Goldsmith is a witty take on extremes and how common ground can still be found. But it also raises valid questions about the value and role of the monarchy.

The action takes place in 2002 as Dudley Goring School is excitedly planning for a visit by the Queen (Mary Roscoe). However, Derek Jones (Charlie Condou), the school's Head of Science can muster no such enthusiasm. A committed republican and dedicated socialist, the last thing he needs is a royal visit. Meanwhile, headmaster Peter Carr (Michael Joel Bartelle) can barely contain himself as he surveys a specially installed Portaloo for the Queen's personal use. With impeccable timing, Derek uses the Portaloo just as the visit begins. Inevitably she catches Derek on the throne. But they are subsequently locked in by terrorists who have planted a bomb underneath. Any attempt to escape will detonate the bomb. As they wait for fate to take its course how will they cope in such close proximity to each other?
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REVIEW: 9 Circles at Park Theatre 90



We assume that wars are fought to protect a civilised and peaceful existence; unfettered by those who seek to destroy the lives we choose to live; but what about the men and women who are trained to achieve this objective. Do they understand who and what they are fighting for? Do they obey the command of their masters and assume morality is on their side? But are they simply state-trained killers indoctrinated by the preferred narrative. What really is the effect on soldiers who are programmed to kill the enemy? This intriguing play by Bill Cain explores these themes in forensic detail and delivers more than a hint of inconvenient truth.

The story begins in Iraq as soldier Daniel E. Reeves (Joshua Collins) is about to receive an honourable discharge. He verbally spars with his Lieutenant (Daniel Bowerbank) at the real meaning and both settle on a personality disorder. He later wakes up in a cell back in the US. The Public Defender (Samara Neely-Cohen) informs him of charges relating to his conduct in Iraq. Reeves falls deep into a mind fog as he tries to make sense of what has happened. The Defence Attorney (David Calvitto) is convinced he can get an acquittal if only he plays ball.
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Thursday, 23 June 2022

REVIEW: Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World at the Theatre Royal Stratford East


The celebration of sisterhood can take many forms, but we don’t need to flip back very far in the history books to see how women have changed the world. This new musical is based on the award-winning picture book by suffragette descendent Kate Pankhurst. It seems the influence of Six is bearing fruit as an all-female ensemble brings to life some of history’s greatest women. This show is bursting with sass and attitude as they deliver a large slice of edutainment; that delectable blend of entertainment and information. The Theatre Royal Stratford East unsurprisingly drew a youthful contingent as this tight 90-minute musical kicked off with a real sense of purpose.

The story begins with the instantly familiar and infamous school trip to the museum. Jade (Kudzai Mangombe), an inquisitive 11-year-old has slipped away from her party. She is coping with her parents’ separation and wishes people would notice her. Wandering into the Gallery of Greatness she enters a space devoid of time. Jade encounters a range of fantastic women who have changed the world. Twelve characters burst on stage and show Jade how she too can be great and change the world just like they did. Emmeline Pankhurst (Kirstie Skivington) emerges in a funky, glittering military uniform while Amelia Earhart (Renee Lamb) is the super confident aviator. Marie Curie (Jade Kennedy) is the genius who discovered radium and Jane Austen (Christina Modestou) is the wordsmith with crystal clear delivery.
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Wednesday, 15 June 2022

REVIEW: Cancelling Socrates at the Jermyn Street Theatre


Growing up as a callow youth Socrates was the chain-smoking, midfield genius that played in the great Brazilian football team of the early 1980s. I’ve since learned he was also the founding father of Western philosophy. Two entirely different geniuses that require a unique response. The crowd-pleasing footballer was simple to read and understand, but the philosopher who deep dives into the soul is another matter entirely. Both individuals are rightly admired in their respective fields, but the latter is the subject of this new play by Howard Brenton. It draws tantalising parallels with modern events as the trial of Socrates in 399 BC is re-evaluated. 

Socrates (Jonathan Hyde) is a philosopher who has seemingly run out of credit. His enemies are baying for blood and have brought charges against him of worshipping false gods and corrupting the young. He finds a sympathetic ear in Euthyphro (Robert Mountford) who pleads with Socrates to soften the tone and secure a lighter sentence at trial. His wife Xanthippe (Hannah Morrish) bemoans the tendencies of her errant husband; while Aspasia (Sophie Ward) is the wily courtesan and torch bearer for equality. The people have suffered plague, war and political incompetence (ring any bells?) and now just want to get back to normal (bells getting louder?). What they don’t need is an atheist in their midst who thinks too much.
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Wednesday, 4 May 2022

REVIEW: Orlando at the Jermyn Street Theatre


Hushed tones of reverence surround Virginia Woolf as a leading purveyor of modernist writing and membership of the Bloomsbury Group logically marked her for greatness. However, applying such complexity overlooks her skill as a communicator of ideas. Woolf was years ahead of her time, not only inspiring feminism but the ability to tell stories with great originality. Orlando was published in 1928 and is thought to be one of her lighter novels. It was written in honour of lover Vita Sackville-West, whose aristocratic family history provided the template for this time travelling frolic. This new stage adaptation by Sarah Ruhl gives the novel a makeover with satisfying results.

Our story begins in the 16th Century during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. A three-strong chorus (Tigger Blaize, Rosalind Lailey and Stanton Wright) relate the machinations of Orlando (Taylor McClaine). The nobleman and aspiring poet soon catches the attention of good Queen Bess. Orlando becomes a favourite at court but later falls in love with seductive Russian princess Sasha (Skye Hallam). They romance each other at the frost fair on a frozen River Thames. However, Sasha later returns to Russia and a crestfallen Orlando seeks comfort in his poetry. The years tick by as a new monarch takes the throne; Orlando is later dispatched to Constantinople as an ambassador. Whilst there they fall asleep for many days and cannot be roused. When he awakes Orlando has turned into a woman. As she lives through the centuries what will Orlando discover about the world as a woman?
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Sunday, 1 May 2022

REVIEW: Witness for the Prosecution at London County Hall


At the risk of going out on a limb, most homes will have an Agatha Christie novel buried in a cupboard. With masterful plotting and subtle clues dropping like well-timed grenades, there are few writers who can hold the attention as well. Christie’s style lends itself to stage productions where the narrative can be distilled into key scenes. ‘The Mousetrap’ remains the world’s longest-running play. Every tourist has the show on their ‘to do’ list such is the author’s enduring appeal. Witness for the Prosecution was adapted from a short story by Christie and looks set to join the ‘appointment theatre’ club. Originally staged in 1953 it was eclipsed by the Billy Wilder directed big-screen version. Released four years later the film became a classic featuring Hollywood icons including Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Power. 

County Hall is a magnificent building on London’s South Bank and was formerly home to the Greater London Council. Designed by Ralph Knott in the Edwardian Baroque style, a beautiful chamber emerges as the play’s setting. With an ornate finish in wood and marble, it becomes a perfect stand-in for Court no.1 at the Old Bailey. A subtle, haunting soundtrack kicks in as the lights dim and the story gently unfolds.
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Wednesday, 6 April 2022

REVIEW: Anyone Can Whistle at the Southwark Playhouse



How exactly does a gifted composer like Stephen Sondheim follow up three smash hits on Broadway; especially when one of them was West Side Story, a seminal work that set the benchmark for all that followed it? Astronauts that fly to the moon do not even begin to describe the dilemma in which he found himself, as Anyone Can Whistle opened at the Majestic Theatre on Broadway in April 1964. Negative reviews sadly killed the show off after only 9 performances. In the US critics appear all-powerful and the public will take it hook line and sinker. In the UK, audiences are more likely to make up their own minds and see the show before passing judgment. But its stage history since then has been patchy and inconclusive. This new production from The Grey Area and Alex Conder bubbles with confidence and a sureness of touch so typical of a Sondheim musical. 
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Monday, 7 March 2022

REVIEW: After the End at the Theatre Royal Stratford East


With tragic events unfolding in Ukraine, there is something deeply prophetic in this new production of Dennis Kelly’s play depicting a city under nuclear attack. The threat of nuclear warfare has hitherto been confined to the history books; those old enough will recall chilling public information films advising what people should do in the event of an attack. The spectre of a new cold war gives this play a grim resonance, and is a bitter reminder of the parlous state in which civilisation finds itself. So how do two survivors cope in the aftermath; more importantly how do they cope with each other?

Two workmates find themselves in a fallout shelter; it is a morning after the night before of epic proportions. Louise (Amaka Okafor) has a vague memory of being in the pub with Mark (Nick Blood). Gradually their recollections slowly take shape and begin to make more sense. Mark had rescued Louise from the epicentre of the attack and taken refuge in the fallout shelter attached to his flat. They have water, rations, a radio and a camping stove to last two weeks underground, after which they can safely emerge from their incarceration. A shelter with two bunk beds soon loses its charm as the pair gradually get under each other’s skins. Bubbling tensions race to the surface as water-cooler moments in the office begin to take on an entirely new dimension.
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Friday, 18 February 2022

REVIEW: Rain and Zoe Save the World at the Jermyn Street Theatre


War, pandemic and terrorism are common distractions for the world’s politicians; it now seems that climate change is creeping towards the top of their ‘to do’ list. Inevitably, it is the youth who lead the way as inheritors of an increasingly bitter harvest. Future generations rely on what is done now and Greta Thunberg has come to symbolise the fight to save the planet. So what happens when two teenage activists set out on a motorcycle journey to join a group of oil protesters on the East Coast of America? That is the premise for this intriguing drama now receiving its premiere at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

Rain (Jordan Benjamin) and Zoe (Mei Henri) are two high school kids from Washington State who share the same sense of adventure. However, Zoe is determined to make a statement and prove her credentials as a climate activist. Rain is hesitant when she suggests they take his motorcycle to the east coast. Duly convinced they both head off on the protest trail. Along the way they learn something about themselves as their personal motivation becomes more obvious. Zoe is driven by the example of her mother, a long-standing activist who has set the benchmark for her daughter. Rain meanwhile is guided by his father's spirit as he struggles to stay on the same wavelength as Zoe. They don't fly under the radar for long as their activities soon become the focus of attention.
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Thursday, 20 January 2022

REVIEW: The 4th Country at Park Theatre



Any story told against the backdrop of Northern Ireland has an in-built drama; as the region lives with the past and ludicrous understatement known as The Troubles, it also deals with the present fallout replete with its social, economic and political consequences. This play written by Kate Reid comes direct from a successful run at the Vault Festival in 2020. The Plain Heroines Theatre Company specialise in funny plays about difficult subjects and has certainly hit the mark here. Playing upstairs at the always sleek and inviting Park Theatre, it has an intimate space perfectly suited to the subject matter.

The story begins within the confines of Stormont as Shona (Aoife Kennan) a stressed civil servant in the Department for Health begins another long day. The power vacuum in Northern Ireland has left them in charge of fighting various fires. Melanie (Kate Reid) is already in the office, eager to start her internship. A baptism of fire lies in wait as calls become increasingly frantic and Melanie is confronted with a familiar face from her native Derry. The bad stuff is about to hit the fan when Conor (Cormac Elliott) bursts in. He slips out of character and begs them to explore the back story. His sister Niamh (Rachael Rooney) emerges from the wings and supports his argument. The cast agrees and duly skip back five months as their characters are fleshed out.
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Wednesday, 19 January 2022

REVIEW: Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story at the Jermyn Street Theatre


There’s nothing more gripping than a good murder mystery. On stage and screen, it’s kept a voracious public happy with tales of greed, ambition and revenge. Characters with a shady past and an even more suspect present keep us glued to the action. Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story has the added dimension of being a true story. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were two wealthy students at the University of Chicago. In 1924, they kidnapped and murdered 14-year-old Bobby Franks in Chicago. It was predictably dubbed the crime of the century as the so-called ‘thrill-killers’ believed they committed the perfect crime. On the face of it, not a great subject on which to base a musical; but Stephen Sondheim proved the macabre can be tuneful with the legendary Sweeney Todd. Similarly, Stephen Dolginoff has written this compact musical that gives the darker side of human nature a distinctly original spin.

Presented as part of The Outsiders Season, this production benefits from a close almost claustrophobic set design. A pianist perched in the corner provides the sole musical accompaniment as a sinister tale steadily unravels. It begins in 1958 as prisoner Nathan Leopold (Bart Lambert) faces his latest parole hearing. He is asked for mitigation to justify his petition. A change of jackets and subtle adjustment in lighting and we are back in 1924.
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Monday, 29 November 2021

REVIEW: A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic Theatre


The warm glow of the festive season draws closer as we find comfort in a rich cultural landscape. Most of all we have the flawless beauty of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Written in 1843, there have been countless adaptations for film, TV and the stage; a highly successful musical written by Leslie Bricusse has also been a regular fixture in the West End. This timeless story of hope and redemption is rightly woven into the fabric of Christmas. The Victorians were largely responsible for the traditions we now hold dear; so what could be better than an evening in the company of our favourite curmudgeon Ebeneezer Scrooge! There is an expectation that Old Vic productions will be good, and this one satisfies on every conceivable level.

The Old Vic has a natural glamour and the atmosphere is obvious from the second you cross the threshold; it is the perfect venue for the perfect story. Picturesque lanterns hung from the ceiling offered a lilting glow as a Victorian gentleman handed out free mince pies. The faint sound of a solo violin could be heard as the auditorium gradually filled with expectant patrons. A platform extending from the stage puts the audience very much in the centre of the action. The functional set is brilliantly lit but packs an unexpected surprise for the finale in Act 2.
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Saturday, 6 November 2021

REVIEW: Footfalls & Rockaby at the Jermyn Street Theatre


There are some playwrights who naturally invoke a sharp intake of breath. Samuel Beckett is one such example with a rich canon of work that stretches across stage and screen. A Dubliner who traded the Emerald Isle for Paris, Beckett is the most influential of modernist writers. To reject conventional plotting in favour of deeper analysis might be a big ask for some, but keeping an open mind will pay dividends. The Jermyn Street Theatre has now brought together two of his lesser-known works entitled ‘Footfalls and Rockaby’. Although constrained by a painfully short running time of 40 minutes, it easily does justice to the most singular of writers. With smart direction from Richard Beecham, the production also benefits from the presence of Dame Sian Phillips and Charlotte Emmerson, who deliver wonderfully controlled performances. 

The performance area of the venue looks different from its usual aesthetic lightness. The stage walls are entirely black with a catwalk linked to a broader platform encased by a square metal frame. A solitary rocking chair sits in the middle as white strip lights occasionally illuminate the structure. Both props are used to haunting effect as the performance develops.
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Friday, 29 October 2021

REVIEW: Tender Napalm at the King’s Head Theatre


A visit to the King’s Head Theatre in Islington always feels like a lesson in theatrical history. Since its inception in 1970 the venue has become the big daddy of fringe theatre. Panning around the bar is a visual amble to savour. The walls are covered with pictures of past productions featuring the great and good; it is very much an actor’s theatre and familiar faces can be spotted mingling in the wings. This performance has added expectation in the staging of Tender Napalm by Philip Ridley. A significant talent who could never just be called a playwright, Ridley has excelled in poetry, photography and children’s literature. He also wrote the screenplay for the hugely successful film ‘The Krays’ starring Gary and Martin Kemp.

Ridley’s plays have often been tagged as ‘adult’ and ‘in-yer-face’, Tender Napalm is no exception as a man (Jaz Hutchins) and woman (Adeline Waby) communicate with passion and intensity. Health warnings adorn the publicity blurb and signs displayed at the door make the position abundantly clear. There are 'scenes of a sexual nature' which sets the bar at a predictable level. The black interior was suitably lit by red and ultra violet lights as dry ice spread throughout the room. Our protagonists took the stage in white vests and combat pants. Man and woman begin an exposition of their lives with a narrative that is both explicit and challenging. They are a couple in love but contrasting emotions clash as reality crosses with fantasy. Tales of tsunamis, serpents and UFOs give expression to feelings of anger, frustration and grief. There is reference to a desert island and armies of monkeys serving mangoes and passion fruits; it makes for a hazy but compelling narrative.
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