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Sunday, 17 October 2021

REVIEW: A Splinter of Ice at the Jermyn Street Theatre

Growing up in the 1970s offers a smorgasbord of memories; tank tops, glam-rock and the three day week all jostle for attention. But the Cold War always loomed large, with the US and Soviet Union flexing their muscles as Britain’s global influence shrunk by the very day. Grim tales of red buttons and nuclear fallout shelters fed the paranoia. Happily the 1980s brought glasnost and perestroika; Michail Gorbachev and a birthmark that looked like the hammer and sickle. Spitting Image would have its wicked way but things were getting better. This engrossing play by Ben Brown picks up in Moscow and imagines a meeting between Graham Greene and Kim Philby. The former, a legendary novelist and latter an MI6 man who turned Soviet spy.

The Jermyn Street Theatre has a great sense of spatial awareness and makes the most of a compact performance area. The set is stocked with symbols and mementoes of a Cold War existence. A chess set with a game in progress, framed medals and a mural depicting the Moscow skyline. It's a brilliantly simple method of setting the mood and atmosphere. Graham Greene (Oliver Ford Davies) saunters onto set much like one of his greatest creations Harry Lime. He is in Moscow ostensibly to attend a peace conference. But business and pleasure soon become intertwined as he calls on former colleague Kim Philby (Stephen Boxer).

Sunday, 10 October 2021

REVIEW: Rat King at the Hope Theatre

There can be no doubt that we live in disturbed and troubling times. The landscape for young people has never been more challenging and aggressive. The quest for affirmation and acceptance leaves little room for any perception of failure. Is it any real surprise that kids will sometimes look for alternatives; an escape route from the expectation and pressure of modern life? This new play by Bram Davidovich explores these themes and many others, as two youths find their way in the life they have chosen. Jacko is streetwise and world-weary for someone so young. Kelly has just broken free of the parental control suffocating her with kindness. She is now the sorcerer’s apprentice as Jacko shows her the ways of a very different world.

Kelly (Matilda Childs) has a comfortable family home with well-meaning but overbearing parents. However, the regimentation of school and regular medication becomes a monotonous daily grind. Her inner demons dictate that she has to make a run for it. But what exactly is 'it'? Pure unadulterated freedom is the answer, and the sense she answers to no one but herself. Kelly soon meets Jacko (Melker Nilsson), a homeless young man who lives on his wits. His reasons for becoming a runaway are in total contrast to Kelly. Jacko was driven from his home by too little kindness and understanding. They gradually realise how much common ground is shared and have a similar emotional trajectory. A peculiar relationship develops between the pair, but can they survive the shifting sands of street life with their sanity intact?

Saturday, 18 September 2021

REVIEW: Relatively Speaking at the Jermyn Street Theatre

A sharp memory hit me as I negotiated the narrow stairway leading to the Jermyn Street Theatre. My last visit in March 2020 was just prior to the first lockdown; artistic director Tom Littler delivered a clarion call for patrons’ support, but was quickly overshadowed by the so-called ‘new norm,’ That was 18 months ago, it feels much longer but it’s good to be back at one of the West End’s hidden gems. The theatre is pretty much as I left it; an intimate space that naturally allows the audience proximity with the performers. Their latest production is a revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s first big hit on the West End stage.

The author is, without doubt, a heavyweight of British theatre, having written 84 plays over a career spanning six decades. Forty have made it onto West End stage with a further ten appearing on Broadway; a glittering record that is complemented by a generous helping of Evening Standard, Oliver and Tony awards. Relatively Speaking is set up on a delightfully old fashioned premise, but works a treat thanks to the brilliantly constructed narrative and a highly talented cast. It throws together a heady mix of confusion, betrayal and mistaken identity that is hard to resist. With a hint of farce and twist of Ayckbourn magic, it becomes a thoroughly enjoyable piece.

Sunday, 5 September 2021

REVIEW: The Good Dad (A Love Story) at the Hope Theatre

The online flyers for the Good Dad (A Love Story) appear quite daunting at first glance. Decrees to honour thy mother and thy father are spiritually demanding propositions; and mean many things to many people. However, it becomes evident this is a powerful story based on true events from the 1980s. It naturally gives the play greater impact because we easily connect with real characters. Be warned, this is no easy ride as it tugs at family dynamics and raw nerves exposed by conflict. For the audience, it will educate and enlighten before it entertains. With the ‘E’ words in that order, we know what to expect. 

Playwright Gail Louw pulls absolutely no punches in this hard-hitting one-woman show starring Sarah Lawrie. She plays Donna who awakes incarcerated in a cell. Over the course of the next 60 minutes, we get to find out exactly why. The audience are presented with the detailed exposition of a dysfunctional family; nothing unusual there, all families are, to a greater or lesser extent.

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

REVIEW: Tier Three Sisters at the Hope Theatre

The works of Anton Chekhov are always challenging even for the most erudite of theatregoers. Whilst his place in the pantheon of playwrights is assured he might be considered heavy going for some. I happily sighed with relief when an adaptation dropped invitingly through my inbox. A re-worked version of ‘Three Sisters’ is just the job for a long-overdue visit to the Hope Theatre in Islington. Based in the Hope & Anchor pub it was the complete entertainment venue pre-Covid; live bands playing in the basement, an excellent bar at street level and the theatre upstairs presenting some of the coolest plays on the fringe circuit. Like all theatre venues it’s beginning to find its feet again and a reassuring sign that normality is close at hand.

For the uninitiated, a brief cantor through the author’s work might be helpful. Anton Chekhov is now widely recognised as one of the great playwrights but was only properly appreciated after his premature death in 1904. His most notable works include the Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters which was first performed in 1901. Three Sisters tells the tale of siblings Olga, Masha and Irina. They live in a remote Russian town but dream of returning home to Moscow where they felt true happiness. 
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