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Friday, 2 April 2021

REVIEW: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a rehearsed reading for the SHAKE Festival

Arriving on the scene in 2019, SHAKE is a Festival born in Suffolk headed by creative director Jenny Hall and promotes workshops, films, talks, music, dance, performance and more on all things Shakespeare. Despite ambitious live programming not possible during the pandemic, the festival has transformed into a digital platform for the meantime which curates online performances. Previous online events include a reading of The Tempest and Sonnets & Carols for Christmas. SHAKE Festival now take on one of Shakespeare's most beloved comedies A Mid Summer Nights Dream, for a live one night only rehearsed reading. Full of magic, love and misunderstandings, the work often lends itself to elaborate imagery, physical comedy and appeals to audiences of all ages. In this rehearsed reading, despite some limitations caused by available technology, the highly talented cast offers an evening of skilful storytelling full of warmth and play.

Set in ancient Greece, the main plot of A Midsummer Nights Dream revolves around four young lovers; Hermia (Máiréad Tyers), Lysander (Barnaby Taylor), Helena (Daniel Bowerbank) and Demetrius (Louis Rudnicki). 

The play begins with Theseus (Dan Stevens), duke of Athens, preparing for his extravagant marriage to Hippolyta (Rebecca Hall), queen of the Amazons, until Egeus, a nobleman, swiftly comes to him with a problem. Egeus wants Hermia, his daughter, to marry Demetrius, who loves her but Hermia is in love with Lysander and refuses. Egeus requests from Theseus that she comply or face the full penalties of the law. Forced to consider her options she is given till the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta to decide what to do. Seeing no other option Hermia and Lysander decide to run away together into the woods. The only person to know their plan is Hermia’s best friend, Helena. However, to make matters more complicated, Helena is in love with Dimitrius and, although loyal to her friend, finds herself compelled to tell Demetrius of Hermia’s betrayal. He subsequently follows Hermia and Helena follows him.

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

REVIEW: Chronic Insanity's Flavour Text (Online)

Read the comments! Something I steer well clear of these days, however, Flavour Text, Chronic Insanity’s latest instalment of their ambitious year-long digitally-focused project 12 plays in 12 months, mandates that you take the plunge and do just that. Your reward will be falling into a vortex of carefully curated dark corners of the web on a unique, virtual journey to uncover the truth about why your favourite Italian restaurant is closed!

The Nottingham company aim to tell stories about digital worlds that are becoming increasingly important in our lives. Launched on March 29th, Flavour Text is described as an internet-wide narrative treasure hunt written by Megan Gates, Charlotte Holder, Ruth Mestle, Harry Smith and Sophie Whitebrook with design and direction from Joe Strickland. As stated above, it begins with finding out that your favourite Italian restaurant has closed and somehow ends up making you complicit in a web of lies, government cover-ups and the story behind a series of missing persons via the convention of falling into an internet rabbit hole.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

REVIEW: Scaramouche Jones or The Seven White Masks, Online at Stream.Theatre

On the evening of December 31, 1999, we are invited into a dressing room of the ageing clown Scaramouche Jones. Born on this very day in 1899 at midnight, on the brink of his 100th birthday, he recounts his life story full of tall tales that stretch across the globe. From the time he was born to his gypsy prostitute mother in Trinidad, to his time on the high seas and enslavement, dalliance with Italian royalty and sobering experience in the concentration camps of Europe, his story is one stained by the turbulent 20th century. Being a peculiarly white-faced boy, he is also condemned to the life of a misfit from the start in a time where stability rarely exists. It takes 50 years to make the clown and 50 years to play the clown.

Available to stream on Stream.Theatre until April 1, this latest digital production of the one-man show written by Justin Butcher and directed by Ian Talbot is an immersive and spellbinding storytelling experience. Following in the footsteps of the late great Pete Postlethwaite who made the role famous, Shane Richie (EastEnders; The Entertainer; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here), stars as the titular character and takes complete ownership of it with all the innocence, pathos and tragedy required. Butcher’s lyrical prose dances effortlessly through Richie while the simplicity and restraint of Talbot’s direction and the production design by Andrew Exeter create an intimate portal into a century uncertain in every way.

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

REVIEW: Ada Campe: Unexpectedly Cheerful at the Phoenix Arts Club (Online)

It has been a year since the first lockdown shook up our lives and produced the most surreal 365 days, I for one, have ever experienced. This (temporary) reality we have been forced into has mandated we adapt to unimaginable novel conditions and that human contact transform into a virtual concept. For some, the choice has been to ride out the storm quietly in solitude but, if you expect a global pandemic to keep a cabaret down, think again! 

The Phenix Arts Club, known for entertaining entertainers, is the definition of a London theatre institution steeped in history and renowned for welcoming in the who's who of the West End and up and coming performers alike. The journey through its side street doors and down its dark stairs to discover an array of weird and wonderful entertainment has been sorely missed by many during this strange time so to combat this separation anxiety, ONLINE from the Phoenix Arts Club has been launched on Friday nights. Streaming in HD from February 26th, this series brings some of Londons most beloved verity acts into your home completely live.

Monday, 22 February 2021

REVIEW: Hamlet - The Radio Play by The Melbourne Shakespeare Company in collaboration with The Victorian Theatre Companies

The world has seen and will see countless adaptations of Shakespear's catalogue of timeless plays. From traditional Elizabethan style productions to futuristic, technological or physical theatre interpretations, I am in constant awe of the new ideas artists can extract from the texts. However, the solely auditory experience of Melbourne Shakespeare Company in collaboration with The Victorian Theatre Companies radio production of Hamlet offers something more fundamental than a new interpretation of the play. Like a warm hug, be it one engrossed by blood and tragedy, it is a return to the purity of Shakespeare’s poetry. 

Set in medieval Denmark where the king has died, Hamlet Prince of Denmark is emphatic that his father has been murdered and shall, therefore, be revenged. A tale of paranoia, revenge and man's existence, Hamlet is considered by many to be Shakespeare's most powerful work. Being jam-packed with dark and atmospheric imagery also makes it perfect for a radio play. 

Under the direction of Kurtis Lowden and featuring a robust fabric of Melbourne performers, the entire ensemble understand the clarity, nuance and pacing required for the medium they have chosen to work with and offer a commanding performance. 

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

REVIEW: Good Day Bad Day By Karen Featherstone online at Graeae

Graeae Theatre Companies Crips Without Constraints: Part Two has been showcasing some of the UK’s finest up and coming disabled writers and directors every Tuesday since January 16. Yesterday, February 10, Good Day Bad Day, was released and marks the end of the series. After the success of the first season of Crips Without Constraints, streamed online in Spring 2020, Part Two has consolidated the concept into a simple yet challenging format of five online short plays all innovative, thought provoking and entertaining in their own right. I can say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the privilege to review the majority of them.

Good day Bad Day written by Karen Featherstone and directed by Alexandra Whiteley is a short n sweet, sophisticated concept that offers an insight into the objectification of a disabled body and the continuous inner battle one has to go through to overcome it. 

Using the device of a split screen, a disabled woman played by Cherylee Houston (Coronation Street) is duplicated and shown conversing with herself. The first version of the woman has an optimistic point of view about ‘everyday’ interactions she has had with people uncomfortable or ignorant about her disability and the other has a pessimistic one. There is no right response presented here, just two extreme reactions debating balance amongst inequality.

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

REVIEW: The Gift online at Graeae

Trigger warning: Themes of sexual assault 

Graeae, the UK’s leading disabled-led theatre company launched Crips Without Constraints, an online weekly series of new works championing deaf and disabled artists, in Spring 2020. Following its success, Crips Without Constraints: Part Two, a series of five new online plays, graces our screens this winter. Each play is not only written and directed by some of the finest up and coming UK talents, but they also star a selection of UK’s first-class performers including; Dame Harriet Walter, Sharon D. Clarke, Mandy Colleran, Naomi Wirthner, Cherylee Houston and Julie Graham. 

The first two plays presented by Crips Without Constraints: Part Two, How do you make a cup of Tea? and Flowers For The Chateau, have been a pleasure to watch. The latest instalment of the series, The Gift, written by Leanna Benjamin, directed by Cheryl Martin and starring Sharon D.Clarke and Saida Ahmed, is no different. The Gift presents a touching and heartbreaking moment between a mother and daughter as they come to terms with the challenges and reality of a situation no family should ever have to deal with. 

Friday, 22 January 2021

REVIEW: Ram of God for the Living Record Festival Online

Designed in response to the debilitating effects of Covid-19 on the live arts industry, Living Record Productions have created Living Record Festival, a month-long Digital Arts Festival showcasing over 45 original pieces from independent artists and theatre companies across the world. The content of the festival has been purpose-built for a digital platform and includes theatre, dance, circus, comedy, documentary, spoken word, binaural sound and music.

Ram of God is an alternative film and the creation of Theodora van der Beek with Soho Theatre and notably, nominated for Best Comedy and Best Actress at the Alternative Film Fest. Self categorised as comedy/feminist folk horror it follows the story of a "milk-based" cult set in the middle of the countryside. The cults prophet/leader, part man part sheep, goes by the name Ram and claims to be the saviour of all those who follow him when the apocalypse comes in 2028. His most favoured followers, all female, are to commit their lives to him. They are to do this by; drinking only milk as a lubricant to escape sin, by not cutting or washing their hair, not wearing makeup and literally give over their body and soul to Ram.

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

REVIEW: How do you make a cup of tea? Online at Graeae

In Spring 2020, leading UK disabled-led theatre company, Graeae launched Crips Without Constraints, an online weekly series of new works championing deaf and disabled artists. Following its success, on January 19, Graeae launched Crips Without Constraints: Part Two, a series of five new online plays. Each work will star a selection of UK’s finest performers including; Dame Harriet Walter, Sharon D. Clarke, Mandy Colleran, Naomi Wirthner, Cherylee Houston and Julie Graham.

How Do You Make a Cup Of Tea? written by Kellan Frankland and performed by Dame Harriet Walter and Mandy Colleran is the first of the bunch to launch. Clocking in at just under twenty minutes long, it is a powerful, frank and necessary expose of issues regarding the representation of disabled people by non-disabled actors in film and theatre. It takes the form of a dark comedy masterfully jostling between absurdity and realism. Frankland ultimately serves up a sobering reality experienced by many.

Thursday, 24 December 2020

REVIEW: Sunset Boulevard in Concert - at Home by the Leicester Curve (Online)

There are no ushers to take me to my seat and no murmur of the audience as the house lights go down and the overture begins, yet, as I close my living room curtains, dim the lights and the title credits roll, I feel the same buzz I get sitting in a theatre while simultaneously being taken back to rainy weekends spent watching old movies with my family. Provoked by the novel restrictions placed on theatre at this time, Sunset Boulevard in Concert - at Home presented by Leicester’s Curve theatre have transformed a beloved musical into a hybrid cinema/stage experience like no other. You can’t keep this diva down!

Originally a film Noir masterpiece by Billy Wilder then adapted into the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Black & Hampton followed by a further adaptation of the musical onto film, Sunset Boulevard lends itself to both screen and stage with authority. Set in 1950’s Hollywood it tells the story of struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis (Danny Mac) who finds himself entangled in the manipulative and delusional world of ‘has been’ silent film star Norma Desmond (Ria Jones). Unable to come to terms with reality Norma dreams of returning to the screen. It is dark, melodramatic and all the old Hollywood romance one could want.

Sunday, 13 December 2020

REVIEW: Sasha Regan's All-Male Pirates of Penzance at The Palace Theatre

While much of the West End continues to suspend in the air, or transform into a virtual medium, ever so cautiously we are beginning to see more and more action return to the empty stages. Resilience from the performing arts industry in the face of this global pandemic is finally paying off. A perfect foray back into the theatre, to remind us of the pure joy, laughter and escapism it can bring is Sasha Regan's all-male ensemble of The Pirates of Penzance. 

Arguably Gilbert & Sullivan's most famous operetta, The Pirates of Penzance is full of wit, romance and iconic music largely standing the test of time. Regan’s delightfully physical and novel version of the beloved show manages to uncover a simplicity and new comic layer in it. Premiering at the Union Theatre in 2009, the show has endured success in London and Australia rightly giving the multi-award-winning director and producer a reputation as once of the UK’s innovative theatre-makers.

Set in Victorian England, the overall triumph of this version is the never faltering and highly comic ensemble. Bouncing between pirates, ladies and awkward policemen, it was from the moment they entered as the young women all dressed in white singing Climbing over rocky mountain in a soaring harmony, I didn't want them to leave the stage. Sporting visible chest hair, five o’clock shadows and masculine physiques in corsets, gender became irrelevant. The simplicity of the set design by Robyn Wilson-Owen allowed the ensemble to transform the space physically and choreography and movement by Lizzi Gee and Lee Greenway sophisticatedly showed them off as a collective of clowns. A special mention goes to ensemble member Matthew Facchino (Ensemble) and Lee Greenway (Connie) for their excellent and consistent comic timing and energy from start to finish.

REVIEW: Frostbite, Who Pinched My Muff at the Garden Theatre

A moment of taking things a little less seriously, after a year that has been downright difficult in so many ways we can all agree is needed. Never has the tradition of going to a Christmas pantomime held such gravitas for our sanity and that's for the adults. Frostbite, Who Pinched My Muff is an adults-only pantomime full of all the kitsch, silliness and energy you are craving but with dirty jokes thrown on top.

Proudly claiming the spot for the UK’s first production to open after lockdown during summer, the Garden Theatre is a beacon of light amongst the dimly lit theatre scene. They have slickly created a formula to put on socially distanced live shows in their outdoor heated and covered space that is not only comfortable and entertaining for an audience but that even stands up to the traditionally interactive nature of pantomime. From the moment I entered The Eagle, I was confident I was in good hands.

Frostbite, Who Pinched My Muff is set in a Germanic alpine village of Vaüxhallen where all is happy and well until the Demon Frostbite (Nathan Taylor) embarks on a mission to freeze the hearts of all mankind! In a battle between good and evil, we are introduced to an array of larger than life characters who steal our hearts, and innocence, as they endeavour to save their village. Dame Herda Gerda (Dereck Walker), her son Garbo (Shelley Rivers), Fairy Snowflake (Kingsley Morton), snowman Lumiukko (James Lowrie), the youthful and edgy Gretta (Bessy Ewa) and her wealthy father Bergermeister Kai (Tom Keeling) become our eccentric warriors.
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