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Monday, 1 October 2018

REVIEW: Point of Echoes at The Place

Drawing a fine line between dance and physical theatre, choreographer Ben Wright creates an accessible work, perfectly loyal to its original intent. Commissioned by the Rural Touring Dance Initiative, Warwick Arts Centre and DanceEast, Point of Echoesstems from a three-year project aimed at supporting the making and touring of contemporary dance in rural areas. 

To facilitate this purpose, Wright's evocative piece relies heavily on the use of spoken word and a relatable body language that all will find easy to read. Will Holt's design is equally adaptable, with a round wooden platform in the centre of a traverse stage, to recall the base of a lighthouse.

It's the year 1978 and Eric Valentine (Thomas Heyes) has been hired to assist Bernard Humphries (Dom Czapski) in maintaining the Echo Point lighthouse, somewhere off the coast of England. He's a simple-minded young man and his naivety clashes with Bernard's short-tempered mood and darker behaviour. After a slower first act in which we get to know the characters, the second half finally takes off and the plot offers some gripping twists and turns.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

REVIEW: Eugenius! at The Other Palace

Can a person make a living by working in a creative job? According to Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins's new musicalEugenius!yes, as long as one works hard and keeps believing. 

It's the year 1988 and Eugene (Rob Houchen) is a geeky schoolboy who dreams every night about his favourite super-hero, Tough Man. A superfan of comics, he sketches scenes of Tough Man's life on a scrapbook, hoping one day to become famous for his strips. His best friends Janey (Laura Baldwin) and Feris (Daniel Buckley) believe in his talent too and, when the opportunity to shine in front of a Hollywood producer arises, their support is crucial. 

Of course, the reality of the film industry is much less glamorous than what had seemed and, when experiencing it first hand, Eugene is compelled to review his life priorities. Furthermore, the evil that he thought was only a product of his imagination, turns out to be a real challenge for him and his friends.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: F**k You Pay Me at the Assembly Rooms

Joana Nastari's intoxicating femininity fills the room when she appears on stage. Like a modern priestess, she reads from an ancient book the ten commandments of her show and the audience cheers loudly when she gets to the one that says 'no shame'. This is the purpose of F**k You Pay Me, a performance intended to fight the stigma that surrounds sex workers and remind the world that 'sex work is just work'. 

Blending fiction with reality (more reality than fiction, me thinks) this is the story of Bea, a stripper in her late 20s whose family is about to discover her real occupation. We follow her to work, in the club where she needs to deal with internal politics and the competitiveness of the industry even before getting to talk to her first potential client. Opening up on what the profession entails, we learn about hefty fines for being caught chewing gum or using a phone. We also learn about tariffs and average income. 

Her portrayal of the men who attend the club is quite primal, although many will recognise in it some familiar features. She admits that she's picked up lots of dad jokes along the way, as her crowd is mainly composed by dads, and she emphasises the necessity to lie about her real name and age. The first to protect her identity from potential stalkers and the second to reassure her clients. '23 is the perfect age,' she says, 'if you're younger, that's creepy, and if you're older, that's desperate'.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

REVIEW: Angry Alan at Underbelly, Cowgate (Big Belly)

Fired from his unrewarding job and stuck in an ordinary life, Roger (Donald Sage Mackay) is scanning the internet for something interesting to read, when he bumps, almost accidentally, into some content published by the Men’s Rights Movement. What he reads makes sense to him and some videos, posted on YouTube by their motivational speakers, draw him into wanting to know more. Now actively reaching out to the Movement's comrades, he runs into the profile of Angry Alan, some sort of guru within the league who inspires a great change in his views.

This sudden mutation doesn't go down well with his feminist partner and, feeling misunderstood, he's even more convinced to support the cause, donating more than he can afford and hoping for special recognition from his peers. Meanwhile, his son has got something important to tell him.

The videos projected in between scenes are excerpts from genuine propagandistic material that appeared on the internet. In these, a bunch of enraged men denounce the 'oppressive gynocratic regime’ and accuse women of being the first cause of male suicide. Whilst watching, everyone in the room laughs out loud, but a chill runs down my spine. It is disturbing to think that these people really exist.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: Stardust at Pleasance Dome (10Dome)

Colombian artist Miguel Hernando Torres Umba is building a cultural bridge between Latin America and the United Kingdom and has started his mission by addressing his country's greatest stigma: the production and export of cocaine. Weary of the joking comments he receives about his nationality and the endless checks he's submitted to, every time he goes through an airport, he analyses the subject-matter with verve, offering 60-minutes of pure exhilaration and piercing truths. 

His solo performance is deeply rooted in the responsibilities that western countries hold towards Colombia. From the Hollywood and Netflix glamorisation of narco-trafficking to the soaring demand generated by those supposedly-conscious consumers who turn vegan, reduce plastic, use hybrid cars and snort cocaine as regular features in their trendy lifestyle. 

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

REVIEW: Gauhar Jaan, The Datia Incident at Omnibus Theatre

The opulence and contradictions of the Indian culture revive in a fascinating tale of female pride and strive for independence.

Born in 1873, singer and dancer Gauhar Jaan gained widespread fame for her talent, as well as for her defiance of a male-dominated society. Her position of courtesan, likewise her European counterparts, gave her access to better education and a relative freedom of making her own choices, which, inevitably, clashed with the authoritarian attitude of her patrons. Feeling entitled by gender and status, these men would attempt to rule her artistic career, as well as more private aspects of her life.

Referred to as 'the Datia incident', one of these notable attempts is reimagined by playwright Tarun Jasani and relates to a biting altercation between 'the Queen of the Arts', played by Sheetal Kapoor, and the Maharaja Bhawani Singh Bahadur of the kingdom of Datia (Harmage Singh Kalirai). At the time of the incident, Gauhar Jaan had been invited into court to perform for an official celebration but would categorically refuse to submit to the direct requests of the monarch. Determined, as she was, to establish her right to self-determination.

Friday, 13 April 2018

REVIEW: I Wish My Life Were Like A Musical at The Crazy Coqs

The raise to stardom of a musical performer is the object of mockery in this side-splitting revue written and composed by Alexander S. Bermange, and directed by Paul Foster. Each song representing a career milestone, like a hopeless and nerve-wrecking audition or the downsides of becoming a diva.

Walking around the room and mingling with the audience, the stunning quartet formed by Suzie Mathers, Oliver Savile, Liam Tamne and Diana Vickers contribute with their outstanding performances to the magical atmosphere of The Crazy Coqs, whose 1920s splendour offers a perfect background to the show.

Hidden in the basement of Brasserie Zédel, just off Piccadilly Circus, this intimate cabaret is a true architectural gem, with all the character and elegance of a Belle Époque den. Patrons sit around small tables, which are covered with black clothes and decorated with red flickering lamps. All chairs are facing a narrow stage, where a grand piano stands out against a red velvet curtain. There is just about enough space for the singers to sit on high stools and step forward when is their turn to perform.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

REVIEW: The 4 Clowns of the Apocalypse at Canada Water Culture Space

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have arrived on earth and look very different from how we imagined them. Announced by a clap of thunder, they appear on stage wearing colourful capes and clutching their essential tools. Conquest is holding a bow, War brandishes a sword, Famine swings a weighting scale, but Death is nowhere to be found, although his scythe is laying on the floor.

Without uttering a word, the three mates start enjoying themselves freely, playing dangerous games whose fatal injuries turn out to be reversible, thanks to the absence of Death.

The desolate landscape is somewhere in between an abandoned seaside resort and the Far West. A beach hut with red and white curtains is flanked by an assortment of old fashioned camping gear and other furnishings. A pan is mounted on a tripod to stand over an unlit pile of twigs, besides stands metal bucket full of bottle caps, a milk churn, a watering can and a chair sawn in two halves. Sand covers the floor, and a dead tree stump is upstanding in the corner, offering support to a couple of deckchairs, a bird cage and a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. Empty wine bottles, crushed drink cans and a beach ball are scattered around, as well as a Nokia 3310 kept together with electrical tape. Tarnished cutlery, a piece of rope and a snake-charmer basket complete the picture.

REVIEW: Mirrors at Leicester Square Theatre Lounge

In a relationship for six weeks, ShyGirl is excited to share the news with her online followers and, whilst waiting for her beau to pick her up, starts recording a video to post on her vlog. Little does she know that her date won't show up, leaving her alone in the room with her own phantasms. Stood up and heart-broken, she spends the evening drinking vodka directly from the bottle and binge-eating crisps and houmous, whilst assailed by a horde of alter-egos that embody her anxieties and guilts.

The most powerful of these personas is the maleficent witch Shivvers who, provoked by her own talking mirror, embarks on a quest for the woman who stole her title of "most beautiful in the world". Shivvers's unconditioned faith in her mirror – which happens to have the voice and the name of a man – says a lot about the harmful consequences of his judgement and, despite being a strong and charismatic woman, her confidence wavers when confronted by his unfavourable feedback. Even the happiness of the most gorgeous woman in the world depends on the opinion of a man!

Monday, 19 March 2018

First look: Ruthless! The Musical at the Arts Theatre

Ruthless! is about to open at the Arts Theatre and the company has opened the doors to the rehearsal room to offer a sneak peek on the most outrageous musical that has ever graced the West End. Acting as the executive producer and general manager for the London run, the Menier Chocolate Factory is currently hosting the star-studded cast, who we found tirelessly going over the dazzling musical numbers. 

A frothy Kim Maresca reprises her role as Judy Denmark, after a successful off-Broadway run. During the taster event, she interpreted the opening motif Tina's Mother and was soon joined on stage by the delicious Dancing on Ice judge Jason Gardiner. His presence in drag as Tina's agent Sylvia St. Croix is a guaranteed recipe for success.

Tina's drunken grandmother is brought to life by the legendary Tracie Bennett, whereas the protagonist herself, the eight-year-old Tina, is played in turns by four exceptionally talented young performers: Charlotte Breen, Lucy Simmonds, Anya Evans, and Fifi Bloomsbury-Khier.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

REVIEW: Party Skills for the End of the World at Shoreditch Town Hall

The world has become an unsafe place to live in and, as well as strengthening our social skills, we need to acquire new essential expertise. Our survival depends on both.

For a start, we must learn how to make the perfect Martini: two parts gin and one part dry vermouth, shaken with ice and served straight with an olive. This is the best prop to hold if we want to look smart, whilst casually chatting to strangers. 

We are then instructed to mingle with others and, conveniently, a projection on the wall of the Shoreditch Town Hall council chamber lists some helpful tricks to remember someone's name. Repeat it immediately, use it regularly – but not too often – and commit to it. 

Sunday, 18 February 2018

REVIEW: Boys at The Vaults

The eight-strong cast of Boys brings to the Vault Festival a flamboyant celebration of boyhood, made even more momentous by the excruciating lack of representation that young adults suffer in mainstream theatre. 

The gang bursts on to stage, accompanied by an upbeat track, before one of them stops everything to address the audience directly: "The best way to start a show about boys," he reckons, "is to pick a fight." The scene rewinds and the clan erupt on stage again, pumped and ready for a scuffle, only to find out that their victim is refusing to play. A discreet chatter amongst themselves and the fight scene can resume. The audience cracks immediately, setting the tone for the gleeful and empowering hour that follows. 

Despite its playfulness, this isn’t a performance that should be judged by its cover and there's much more to it than mere entertainment value. It is, in fact, a deep piece of devised and physical theatre, used to share personal histories and showcase pride for a heritage that is rooted in beautiful countries like Jamaica, Cameroon, Afghanistan, India and the Philippines. 

REVIEW: Statements at the Bread and Roses Theatre

There are shows that you take in like a deep breath, and Statements is one of them. Essential and seamless, it offers an invaluable insight into the poorly understood facets of special educational needs.

Drawing from first-hand experience, writer and performer Samuel Clayton depicts a multi-dimensional world where Asperger's, Down Syndrome and Emotional Behavioural Disorder are seen through the eyes of three young boys and those who surround them. Each of these characters seem to live inside Samuel, who effortlessly shapes them with an impressive repertoire of inflexions and body language. He oozes innocence, worry, indifference, loneliness, joy with such a moving candour that is hard to believe this doesn't come straight from his heart.

Daniel is nine and has Asperger's, which might, or might not be considered within the Autism spectrum. He really likes music, and, for this reason, he can often be found humming and tapping away. Many people don't like this habit he has but, as a matter of fact, we all have habits and, at least, his are clean. He finds it hard to emotionally relate to other people and can't quite work out the true meaning of metaphors, until the day his mother decides to take him to his first live gig and a world of colourful patterns and shapes explodes inside him translating into tears. Clayton paints this scene with such vivid colours that I felt entirely transported to the venue, as if I was listening to the jazz concert sat beside him.

Monday, 12 February 2018

REVIEW: Think of England at The Vaults

Love, patriotism and women's self-determination are at the epicentre of Think of England, a play that suitably exploits one of the Vaults' tunnel-shaped performing spaces to recreate a WWII underground refuge.

Audiences are invited to the party organised by Vera (Madeline Gould) and Bette (Leila Seykes) for the soldiers based in the city, which is described by the creatives as an immersive Blitz experience of love, scandal and swing dancing. Sat along the two walls of the tunnel, onlookers are subject to what I call a "tennis-court effect", where, to follow characters talking from opposite ends, they are forced to continually rotate their heads from left to right. String this out for 110 minutes and you'll appreciate how likely it is to return home with a sore neck. A better use of the space, would have considered the opposite sides for different scenes. 

When the two women are joined by three Canadian air force officers, the drama takes a turn. Bette gets involved in a romance with the timid Corporal Frank Lamb (Stefan Menaul), whilst Vera more explicitly seduces the arrogant Lieutenant Tom Gagnon. Less relevance in the plot is given to the Lieutenant Bill Dunne (Matthew Biddulph), who pops in an out of the room before actively contributing to its unfolding.

Friday, 2 February 2018

REVIEW: The Grift at The Town Hall Hotel

Born from a secret relationship between an Englishman and Marylin Monroe, Ben (Kevin Moore) spent his entire life sheltered within the walls of The Town Hall Hotel, pampered by the staff and keeping his real identity under wraps. On his deathbed, he has left a video-recorded last will, where he incites its executors to take revenge against a ruthless grifter called Eddie 'The Hammer' (Ged Forrest). 

Gathered at a drinks reception, after having received a colour-coded wristband and a lanyard with a key, ticketholders are shown the video and introduced by the host (Mark Oosterveen) to the life of the hotel's most iconic guest. Divided in teams, the participants are to prove their intelligence, following some written directions and solving a series of puzzles. Along the way, they meet the grandchildren of those who contributed to young Ben's welfare and education: the nanny, the bellboy, the chambermaid, the pool's attendant and the barman. 

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

REVIEW: The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk at Wilton's Music Hall

Picturesque visuals and evocative lighting offer a vivid portrayal of early modernist painter Marc Chagall (Marc Antolin) and his wife, Yiddish writer Bella Rosenfeld (Daisy Maywood). A white canvas, fragmented like the artist's famous stained windows, is used as a background for the gentle brushstrokes that, in the form of brightly coloured floodlights, are superimposed to create striking tableaux vivants.

The couple feature the same characteristic outfits of the many paintings where they're shown flying above fields and houses, propelled by a whirlwind love. A bright green blouse, worn over black trousers and white spats, and a floating black dress, adorned with white collar and cuffs.

Defying gravity, a sloped stage is surmounted by gnarled bare logs, from which hang ropes, flower pots, a small bell and a pendulum. The space is overloaded with props that pay tribute to the artist's most recognisable artworks, like a green cow and a colourful cockerel.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

REVIEW: Bunny at Tristan Bates Theatre

Sparking controversy since 2010, Jack Thorne's Bunny is a challenging play on both sides of the stage. During a seventy-minute single act, audiences are taken on a rollercoaster monologue of casual violence, discrimination and shame, led by a confused but certainly outspoken schoolgirl from Luton. 

Katie (Catherine Lamb) has just turned 18 and is enjoying her first proper relationship with a guy who's older than her and black. Luckily, her parents read the Guardian, therefore open-minded enough to tolerate his ethnicity in a town where black, Asian and white people don't mix. 

Since the playwright has been frequently accused of promoting racism and social division, the delivery of these lines is vital to their interpretation as a sarcastic criticism of the current climate, rather than a way of endorsing it. 

Thursday, 11 January 2018

REVIEW: The Crystal Egg Live at The Vaults Theatre

Stemming from H.G. Wells’s homonymous short novel, The Crystal Egg Live is an ambitious project that aims reviving a passion for literature, with the use of theatrical performance and the powerful visual language of cinematography. In doing so, Old Lamp Entertainment directs its attention in particular to the millennials, who have grown detached both from the stage and the literary tradition. 

Breathing life into this Victorian sci-fi story, a cast of eight, floats around the audience, invited to gather in one of the tunnels inside the cavernous Vaults. This appears to be a public square devoid of its central monument. A tramp – impersonated by the play's adapter and producer Mike Archer – informs me that we are in Seven Dials, where the council has unscrupulously removed the column to sell it to a different borough. As a result, many of the shops have been forced to close and all that's left is a violinist, playing a heartbreaking melody in the distance. 

When a fight between the trump and a younger bearded man called Charley (Desmond Carney) breaks, we're all invited to take a seat inside a shop, full of antiquities and oddities. The business belongs to Mr. Cave (Mark Parsons), a gaunt man with a visible limp and a vicious cough. 

Friday, 29 December 2017

REVIEW: A Christmas Carol at Middle Temple Hall

No other piece of British literature, tale or urban legend sums up the spirit of the festive season like Charles Dickens's masterpiece novella A Christmas Carol. I went to see this production from Antic Disposition at the Middle Temple Hall on Christmas eve and it has immediately become the cherry on top of my theatrical year.

The venue itself was known to Dickens, who considered pursuing a career as a barrister and had access to the Hall for over 15 years. In those times, the building was already 300 years old and the writer describes its beauty in a chapter of Barnaby Rudge. If this wasn't a good enough reason to pay it a visit, within these very walls, William Shakespeare offered the premiere of his Twelfth Night, and the table where all members sign when they're called to the bar is made of the hatch-cover of Sir Francis Drake legendary ship The Golden Hind.

Surrounded by this magical atmosphere, directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero create an unforgettable experience, dense with the scent of mulled wine coming from Bar Humbug, and sparkling with a cast of stars, led by stage veteran David Burt as Ebenezer Scrooge.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

REVIEW: The Book of Darkness & Light at Camden People's Theatre

For The Book of Darkness & Light, the auditorium of the Camden People's Theatre is bare and semi-dark. Centre stage, a wooden crate is standing upright and serves as a coffee table for a pewter tankard and three artificial candles. These emanate a pulsing orange glow, strong enough for me to see the violin laying on the floor. On the other side of the crate, there's an empty chair.

First to walk onto the stage is Ben Styles, whose accompaniment at the violin is the undiscussed highlight of this 60-minute ghost stories showcase. Like a lament, his first note echoes from wall to wall, tearing the silence before drowning in darkness. A second longer note floats in the space like a slow cry, sending chills down my spine.

When the door opens again, another man slowly walks in, holding a lantern high up and inspecting, one by one, the spectators sat on the front row. He's wearing a black suit, with a white shirt and a black tie, his overcoat is also black, but his scarf is red, and his shoes are brown. For a second, I get distracted by this detail and I start wondering about the odd choice.
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