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Monday, 23 November 2020

REVIEW: Hoard: Rediscovered at the New Vic (Online)

In July 2009, Terry Herbert, member of a metal detector club, discovered a breath-taking golden treasure: the Hoard of Staffordshire, now in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Hundreds of pieces (Herbert sometimes found 55 pieces per day) belonged to Anglo-Saxon military items – swords, helmets, hilts – that had been buried. Why were they buried there? Were they under attack? Why had no one found them before?

In the online production of Hoard: Rediscovered, the New Vic revives a production from the 2015 Staffordshire Hoard Festival and finds new ways of telling a story in play-like tradition, but using cameras. 

Theresa Heskins writes and directs this piece which seems to be for all ages (if it wasn’t for that one F-bomb!) thanks to its simplicity and positivity. First, we meet the metal detectors, then the members of staff from various museums who became interested in what was happening, as well as some people from the Dark Ages themselves who explain to us why what they like to wear is so colourful. I found this scene very interesting and personal, shining a light on a specific aspect from that era and how people may have behaved. For example, why does one bury treasure? Because one probably has to run, and fast! Why was military gear so colourful? Because there was so little light around already, why wear dark gear as well? Also, it was a sign of power.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

REVIEW: The Red Shoes at Sadler's Wells

What is it about dance companies that sometimes brings out a sense of horror, from “Suspiria” to “Company” and “The Red Shoes”? Is it the tireless work that the artists put in, the late rehearsals that end in someone walking home in the dark, or that one dancer with red hair who catches everyone’s eye and is too perfect for words?

The Red Shoes was my first ballet by Matthew Bourne and I was blown away by it – the costumes, music by Bernard Herrmann, ensemble, and that central dancer! 

This story was originally a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen (whose tales, as we know, can go very dark) and was adapted for the big screen by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in 1948. It follows a dance company and the obsession of two men for a red-haired dancer who will become possessed by her red dancing shoes. 

Friday, 25 October 2019

REVIEW: Some Like it Hip Hop at the Peacock Theatre

It is quite exhilarating when you go to a dance show and it ends like a rock concert! The atmosphere at Some Like it Hip Hop by the dance theatre company ZooNation is high-energy, with the audience bouncing in their seats, audibly reacting and ending up on their feet for the grand finale.

This show tells the story of a closed city whose governor (Christian Alozie) has blocked out the sun and created a place where books are banned and women are kept subservient to men. The only way for Jo-Jo (Lizzie Gough, also Assistant choreographer and Dance Captain) and Kerri (Saskia Davis) to live in the city and to attempt to prove their worth is to dress up as men. 

There are Shakespearian elements to the story, with a narrator accompanying the audience through rhyme, and the themes of cross-dressing and unrequited love (both between men and women and within families). I was often reminded of “As You Like It”.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

REVIEW: Matilda at the Cambridge Theatre

I had the great pleasure of attending opening night for the brand-new cast of Matilda at the Cambridge Theatre, which premiered at the RSC in 2010. This is a multi-award-winning musical inspired by the beloved book by Roald Dahl and tells the story of a young girl who is growing up in a family that doesn’t appreciate her great love for books and her incredible imagination. Her habit of losing herself in literature doesn’t protect her however from nightmares and rage. Funnily enough, I was reminded of Stranger Things’ “L”, as Matilda starts moving objects with her mind and terrorising her bullies.

Matilda is written by playwright Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics by the anarchic Australian comedian, musician and composer Tim Minchin, and direction by Matthew Warchus. The text and music are clever and ingenious, including humour for children and adults. This makes it the perfect treat for the whole family and will transport anyone to this familiar but dark world: indeed, it’s good to be reminded of how dark Dahl’s stories can be! 

Monday, 9 September 2019

REVIEW: The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“The British aren’t coming back, they have their own problems!”

The Arrows and Traps Theatre company returns with a new piece which will be touring the UK in the next months and is currently showing at the Brockley Jack Theatre. It is a new adaptation of The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde (originally written in 1885 by Robert Louis Stevenson), set around 2020 – The President of The United States has fallen, impeached for corruption and now awaits trial. As the American senate slides into chaos, election fever grips the nation. In the wake of yet another mass shooting, Mayor Henry Jekyll, a bold, young liberal announces his candidacy to run for the Oval Office. His one promise: to end America’s toxic love affair with guns.

This is a very clever rewriting of the original (which I haven’t read I must admit – must get on that) with even the tiniest elements being transposed into our times of divided societies and difficult debates. Utterson’s original analysis of handwriting is now done by an app, and Edward Hyde’s trampling of a young girl turns into a case of paedophilia (a theme Utterson herself – played here by the versatile and excellent Lucy Ioannou – is also dealing with in her own way).

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

REVIEW: Queen of the Mist at Charing Cross Theatre

Queen of the Mist is an operatic treat for anyone who’d like to spend an evening surrounded by beautiful voices, live music, a kick ass main character and lots of emotion. I say “surrounded”, as the audience is split into two parts, and seated on both ends of the stage. This creates quite an interesting effect of looking through a glass ball into this very particular time.

We are in upstate New York at the turn of the 20th century, in 1901. This is the story of 63 year-old Anna Edson Taylor who, in an era of daredevils and sensational performers (Houdini’s reputation was growing across Europe), announces she will be the first person to cross the Niagara in a barrel, even going over the edge, something no one has ever come out alive from before. Many tried in various forms of boats, but the barrel is a new idea. With the help of her manager Frank Russell (Will Arundell), she will spread the word, and succeed, not even hurting herself. 

In the second part of the show, things take a slightly darker turn. We see Anna getting older, losing her eyesight, and trying to hold onto her dignity by refusing to share her emotional memories about this unique experience.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

REVIEW: Equus at Trafalgar Studios

Peter Shaffer is one of those amazing playwrights whose work is timeless, and I was so pleased to finally see Equus (written in 1973 and directed here by Ned Bennett) after hearing about it for so many years. 

This is the story of a 17-year-old boy, Alan, who lands in a mental institution after he’s pierced the eyes of numerous horses at the stable he’s been working at. A long series of sessions with psychiatrist Martin Dysart starts, and we slowly realise that his awful act is the result of a god-like obsession and sexual attraction to horses and his paranoia about being constantly watched by them.

Speaking of horses, these are played on the Trafalgar Studio 1 stage by actors who perfectly embody the noble animals thanks to movement choreographed by Shelley Maxwell. The two main horses are Keith Gilmore and Ira Mandela Siobhan. One special touch is when Siobhan snorts out smoke through his nostrils. 

Sunday, 21 July 2019

REVIEW: One Giant Leap at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“That’s one small step for man…” Neil Armstrong.

If you are familiar with the Arrows and Traps theatre company, you may associate them with vivid, dramatic and sometimes scary theatre, but this time, in “One Giant Leap”, expect laughs and slightly whacky and bonkers content! It never ceases to amaze me how this repertory company keeps coming back with new innovative shows multiple times a year.

This is the (probably!) fictional story of a TV studio in Hollywood in 1969 whose main alien-related show has just been cancelled after only one season. Its director Edward Price is on the edge, having to work with actors who are too demanding for his taste and a co-producer who happens to also be his ex-wife. One day, a CIA agent arrives and offers him a ton of money to create a fake moon landing. Indeed, because of the pressure up on the moon, cameras wouldn’t be able to actually film the landing. But how is Edward going to convince his team to produce this kind of footage with everything falling apart around him?

Monday, 8 July 2019

Review: Shadows at the Tristan Bates Theatre

The Tristan Bates Theatre is always a good place to go to see new writing and strong emerging artists. This time, before they head up to the Edinburgh Fringe with their two-person play Shadows, Want the Moon Theatre presents us with a story by Dan Sareen who, in a non-linear way, tells of two twenty-somethings in London who happen to start working at a pub together. 

Through lighting changes designed by Joe Pilling, we are told different versions of this story, how their friendship could have gone different ways, the miscommunication which happens between the characters and the way a canvas can only be repainted on so often. This is very interestingly illustrated by a set which has objects painted all in white. This is the blank canvas, which even has film projected onto it in between sequences. The short pieces of film show the two protagonists Nat (Madeline Hatt) and James (Ross White) in love, getting married and having a child. Meanwhile, we keep seeing Nat at a piano, playing classical and modern rock music.

The play opens on the theme of music, with the two playing a guessing game at the pub to pass the time. Nat reveals that she wants to be a classical pianist, and is auditioning, sometimes failing at rising to the next level. In the film, we see her sometimes struggling to press the piano keys. This theme struck me, because things can go very well in your love life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the artistic life will flourish, and that is a painful thought. However, you can’t choose between one or the other. Moreover, while the videos are playing, Nat is actually sitting on the stage watching them, while James goes backstage: she is faced with herself and the course of her life, watching how things unfold. Is this what she wants? Can she really accept James’s love, a question violently posed at the end of the play?

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

REVIEW: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Arundel & Ladbroke Gardens

What a wonderful idea to bring Shakespeare to private squares across London. It’s a dreamlike opportunity to enter these squares we never get to access but try to peek into discreetly when we happen to walk by them (who doesn’t want a private garden, right?). And when the show is A Midsummer Night’s Dream shortly after actual midsummer, you can’t ask for a better occasion to go out. During the show I attended, the sunset provided excellent lighting, shining through the trees and landing elegantly on the actors’ faces. I actually looked up to check whether that wasn’t just light attached to one of the trees above me.

Director Tatty Hennessy places the play during the 1920s in Britain, a country bruised by battle and economic hardship. Theseus and Hippolyta are a British-German couple rigidly following order and law, preventing the young lovers Hermia and Lysander to marry. Meanwhile, a group of actors are chaotically preparing a play to present before the Duke and Duchess. A few miles away, deep in a magical forest, fairies are quarrelling, disturbing nature, and casting spells on each other and the humans who enter the forest.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

REVIEW: The Rubenstein Kiss at the Southwark Playhouse

Is it me or is communism and the Cold War becoming a trend in theatre and film right now? More precisely, the force that communism seemed to represent even in territories that were its “enemies”?

The Southwark Playhouse’s latest production, The Rubenstein Kiss, is a tense and wonderfully acted play written in 2005 by James Phillips. In 1953, Esther and Jakob Rubenstein were executed by the American government for being spies and informing the Soviets on American secrets regarding the atomic bomb. One of the characters in the play, Anna Levi, says “this is a James Bond” film! The topic around spies sometimes does seem too good to be true, but this is a true story and fascinating for that reason. Also, the play does not just focus on a grand theme, but on the Rubenstein family, their relatives, friends and life in New York City. We meet headstrong, intelligent and proud individuals who enjoy parties and love each other deeply. When they are accused of betraying their country, their insistence on their innocence costs them their lives.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

REVIEW: Do You Love This Planet? at the Tristan Bates Theatre

I was just listening to a lecture about film that explained how during World War II, there were some notable films that preferred to praise the importance of fighting for a cause than for personal desires. And then, I walked into this play.

“Do you love this planet?” is a three-person play revolving around Rachel (Lucy Lowe), a 30-something mother who we meet as she wakes up next to her husband Schumann. She’s proud to have recently been appointed the position of PR officer for an environmental defence group, FFF. The group’s slogan, “Do you love this planet?”, has been on her mind. She’s taking it very seriously, as one should, really, except that so many of us don’t! As the play progresses, we understand how each word in the slogan has its importance, and how we should really ask ourselves whether we love our planet like we do our children. 

Rachel’s teenage son Alan, hooked on his smartphone and of the generation that no longer believes in privacy, has a curiously close relationship to his mother, and the trio who live under the same roof seem less and less suited to each other as we learn about them. While screens show the characters being filmed, sometimes they seem more like animals than humans. 

Saturday, 2 March 2019

REVIEW: Smack That (a conversation) at the Ovalhouse

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this. As you enter the Ovalhouse theatre for Smack That (a conversation), created and choreographed by Rhiannon Faith, you are entering a party. Helium-filled balloons are hanging from purple chairs, which are placed into a large square for the audience to sit on, we are offered drinks, candy and popcorn, and six performers in grey wigs and short dresses are inviting us to make ourselves comfortable. They even give us nametags. We are all called Bev, with a little something extra as well (I was “New shirt Bev”, as I mentioned I was wearing a new shirt). The gentleness and friendliness of the grey Bevs set the stage for a warm and solidary environment where you leave shame and any sense of ridicule at the door. This is so refreshing. 

This is pretty much an immersive show, with the lighting design by Azusa Ono including the audience into the show and with games being played – never have I ever, pass the parcel. Between scenes, we are invited to share with our neighbour, just say hi, participate and dance. At the end of the show, I felt a strange connection to everyone in the room, like everyone was more open than when they had entered. 

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

REVIEW: As a Man Grows Younger at the Brockley Jack

The new play “As a Man Grows Younger” written by Howard Colyer is a one-man show of 70 minutes which introduces us to Italo Svevo (1861-1928), one of Italy’s most famous twentieth century authors and also a friend of James Joyce, who he met many times and thanks to whom he learned English. The monologue is set in Italy in the 1920s, a time when Mussolini’s fascist party was rising without being taken too seriously yet, and Svevo (played by David Bromley) struggled to write his next piece for fear of being prosecuted. 

Fear is the operable word here. It is omnipresent in this play. There is a fear of going to prison, of where the country is going, of anyone related to the government. Whenever Svevo feels afraid, frog croaks sound through his head, and even come out of his mouth. They announce danger, and keep him on his toes, but also make him wonder what it would be like to ignore them. He’s just written a new book about a man who doesn’t age, referring to Mussolini’s hope for a young Italy. He doesn’t know whether the next vehicle riding by will be the paperboy with a new review, or the police. Svevo also smokes a lot, calling each cigarette his “last one”. I took this as representing a fear of letting go of the past too. His brother, whom he lost in his twenties, tried to get him to stop smoking. There is also a fear that tomorrow he’ll be dead and that it will indeed be his last, a never-ending circle. 

Thursday, 21 February 2019

REVIEW: Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train at the Young Vic

The Young Vic is one of those theatres in London where you are sure to encounter bold directing, great acting and new writing as well as revivals that are given a new flavour. The 2000 play by Stephen Adly Guirgis “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” is given a worrying and relevant new dimension, giving voices to underrepresented actors on stage and showing police brutality in US prisons.

Director Kate Hewitt and her set designer Magda Willi take us to a prison on New York’s Rikers Island where instead of seeing bars and iron everywhere, rooms and cells are separated by large glass windows and doors, which move up and down the traverse stage as the scenes progress. 

The story introduces us to Angel Cruz (played by quite angelic face Ukweli Roach), who is awaiting a verdict after he is suspected of shooting a priest in the buttocks. Every day, he is allowed one hour on the roof to take in fresh air and light. That’s where he meets Lucius Jenkins (Oberon K. A. Adjepong) who, while Angel is not really looking for a new friend in this prison, becomes a voice he gets used to. Lucius killed eight people, is very religious and believes he is truly loved by God, at least that is what he says. The prisoners are bullied by guard Valdez (Joplin Sibtain) in cringeworthy scenes of psychological violence.

REVIEW: Can-Can at the Union Theatre

“I used to be a Tour de Force – Now I’m forced to tour!”

In the latest production of The Phil Willmott Company, we flash back to the “naughty nineties” (1890s) in Paris where the Orpheus Theatre Troupe lives through ups and downs as company members join and quit, and the bankers have the power to ban performances in the whole city. Indeed, after the rich Monsieur Bontoux decides to close down the Orpheus, the troupe goes to the provinces to continue their art. In the meantime, Jane, the star of the show, leaves the troupe to marry Bontoux’s son, only to find out that a life outside the theatre is not worth living.

“Can-Can” is a joyful and comedic musical with music by Jacques Offenbach and his contemporaries and loosely based on a plot by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero, adapted by Phil Willmott. I have to admit this wasn’t really my style: while the dancing was beautiful, the show lacked depth and true provocation. Then again, we are asked to transpose ourselves in a time when what was shocking really isn’t now: the decision to live a life of uncertainty through the arts, homosexuality, and revealing corsets. 

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

REVIEW: Coming Clean at Trafalgar Studios

Run down to the Trafalgar studios before it’s too late and see this revival of Kevin Elyot’s comedy “Coming Clean”, led by four fantastic actors and gifting you with laughs, shock, love and friendship.

Written in 1982, Elyot’s play tells the story of Tony, his American boyfriend of five years Greg, his good friend Will and their cleaner (who is also an actor) Robert. Set entirely in Tony’s sitting room, we enter a smoke-filled and cosy 80s London apartment with its filthy walls and messy couch. Tony and Greg are in a loving but open relationship, and Tony likes to have casual sex and go to bars with his friend Will to pick up men. Things seem fine for the couple until Robert enters the picture and their intimacy and relationship pact start to suffer.

Over the course of two hours, we are highly amused at the banter and warm friendship between Tony and Will, and also slightly betrayed when the young Robert becomes Greg’s lover. It’s as if a bubble has been burst, and between Will suffering from a homophobic attack and Tony wondering about monogamy, things are shifting. 

Saturday, 12 January 2019

REVIEW: An Enemy of the People at the Union Theatre

“If the only way I can be a friend of the people is to take charge of that corruption, then I am an enemy!”

This is one of my favourite plays. The last time I saw a production of it was about five years ago, and I think every time you revisit it, it will be relevant to the time you are living in. 

Director Phil Willmott starts 2019 with three plays within an Essential Classics Season called “Enemies of the People”. It starts with Arthur Miller’s version of Henrik Ibsen’s timeless political and human play about a doctor who wants to save his town by stopping the opening of a new Spring due to his discovery of unclean waters. The Spring however is a promise of new economic life in the village, and the local mayor and soon the local newspaper’s board will do everything to stop Dr Stockmann from spreading his new-found information. 

Friday, 21 September 2018

REVIEW: Eyam at Shakespeare’s Globe

Warning: Eyam is not a light show to take in, but it will certainly shine a light on how the plague spread around England in 1665, particularly in a small town in Derbyshire called Eyam, with only a few hundred inhabitants. 

The story written by Matt Hartley tells of the arrival of Reverend William Mompesson and his wife Katherine to the village and his initial struggle with finding his place as a respected reverend. Indeed, Philip Sheldon seems to be leading the show around town, making the villagers rely on him for their livelihood, similarly to the Butcher in the film “Gangs of New York” – a reference that comes up in one quick moment in this play. When the plague reaches the village, its inhabitants must decide whether to live under quarantine or to leave, risking to infect neighbouring villages.

The set design by Hannah Clark coats the Globe’s boards with a thick black carpet, possibly influencing the way voices reverberate around the space. The costumes, also by Clark, are richly textured, also all black. Most actors are wearing hats and wigs, with men wearing long hair. The wigs were particularly striking, with the overall design really taking me to another time.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

REVIEW: Blood Wedding at Omnibus Theatre, Clapham

If you want to be surprised and leave the naturalistic British theatre for a little while, go down to Clapham to see Blood Wedding, the first part of what some have called the “rural trilogy” of Spanish playwright Federico García Lorca. Even though this new production by George Richmond-Scott is set in the urban jungle of London, the tone of Blood Wedding and its multicultural cast give it a true sense of foreignness that I greatly welcomed. 

The story tells of the Son and the Bride who are getting married very soon. They are being intently watched by the nervous Mother and Leo, the bride’s secret ex-lover. The play is full of symbols, passionate and dramatic elements that fuel its other-worldliness. This lends itself well to the Spanish heritage of the characters, swaying between tradition and the future. In addition, musical interludes elevate the play and remind us of the importance of slowing down – especially in this city.

The Son’s Mother has been mourning her husband and worrying about her son’s fate every day. On the wedding day, she is very aware of how bad omens could take over. On the Bride’s side, the Friend is a joyful presence, very happy go lucky and encouraging about the future. On the other side of town, Leo and his Wife, who have been invited to the wedding, are threatening the day’s peace. The wedding party ends with the Bride and Leo, who are secretly in a self-destructing love relationship, running away into the night after the ceremony.
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