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Sunday, 27 November 2022

REVIEW: Cinderella at the Theatre Royal Stratford East

Cinderella is a classic children’s pantomime tale that has delighted audiences for decades. It is the epitome of the Pantomime genre with a comic Buttons, an earnest Dandini distributing invitations, the magic of the transformation into a ball gown and Shetland ponies pulling a carriage. You meddle with the stock characterisations as your peril which was obviously the starting point for the writer Leo Butler and Director Eva Sampson at Stratford East as they junked these elements and bodily reset the title in East Egypt. And why not? Well, how does setting it there, thousands of years ago, bring it into the modern day? Like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella playing with the audiences’ expectations is a great risk so you need to be very confident that your adaption will enthral and excite young families and offer the same shared joy as the original.

Their diverse audience certainly seemed to be up for it from the start and although some audience members seemed to be laughing when there was not even an obvious gag, the production swept us along in a brilliantly funny, inventive and wholly satisfying show. It quickly dispensed with prior expectations and showed a real sense of the essence of pantomime and a strong storytelling narrative which supported the heart-felt thoughts of believing in yourself with an underlying pollical message.


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.

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.

Thursday, 1 April 2021

REVIEW: Hysterical! The Hilarious History of Hysteria at the Theatre Royal Stratford East (Online)

Hysterical! is a wonderfully unusual production; it is equal parts personal, informative, and entertaining. Rebecca Buckle’s comedy lecture brings an important perspective to the long, troubling, and absurd history of hysteria, and sheds light on its modern-day consequences.

Hysteria is a difficult subject to handle well, but Buckle and director, Mina Barber, manage to find a good balance between the ‘hilarious’ aspects of its history and the seriousness of its implications. The history is at times ridiculous, even funny, but its consequences, the suffering the concept of ‘hysteria’ caused and continues to cause, are not. Buckle never loses sight of this and is able to lean into the more comic moments without undermining the gravity of the issue.

The film highlights how a long history of belief in ‘hysteria’, a diagnosis mostly levelled at women, continues to endanger women’s health today. Throughout the film, Buckle’s personal experiences of being patronised, disbelieved, and ignored by doctors for years intercut her lighthearted lecture with black and white flashbacks to GP appointments. Whilst at first these cuts can be a little jarring, due to the dramatic switches in tone, they ultimately give the history the real personal context which makes Buckle’s telling of it so effective. 

Sunday, 10 June 2018

REVIEW: Cafe Society Swing at the Theatre Royal Stratford East

The Theatre Royal Stratford is an iconic venue with a chequered history. Opened in 1884 it was faced with many difficult times but was made famous by Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop Company from 1953 to 1975. In 1993 it enjoyed yet another refurbishment which renovated and restored the original tongue and groove pine panelling cladding the stalls and was given Grade II * listed status. It glorious deep red colouring and beautiful chandelier (donated by Donald Albery in 1963) is a wonderful evocative setting for variety and drama but with the gently curved rows of stalls seats does not feel like a New York night club.

Cafe Society was an equally ground breaking venue in New York with a difficult history due to the political and social context of its time. The UnAmerican Activities Committee was investigating behaviours in a search for Reds under the bed and the club owners and many artistes were summoned to appear before it. Equally the media were trying to expose the clubs and its owner Barney Josephson. The club operated from 1938 to 1948 and was the first racially integrated jazz club in New York. As the narrator explains this was a time when the great Duke Ellington had to enter the Cotton Club via the kitchen and played in front of entirely white audiences.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

REVIEW: JOY at Gerry’s at Theatre Royal Stratford East

Joy (Imogen Roberts) wants to have a normal life and enjoy her independence like everyone else. Since she was born, her father John (Danny Scheinmann) and her sister Mary (Rachael Bright) did everything to shelter her from those who could take advantage of her goodwill, but the time to fly the nest is now rightfully approaching. Like other people around her, Joy wants to hang out with her friends, have her own house and get married to her boyfriend Paul (Deen Hallisey), but her family finds it hard to let her go.

In this sweet and inspiring coming of age play written by Stephanie Martin, a young girl with Down's syndrome claims her right to have an adult life, an academic career, a job, read romantic novels and join an art club.

"Disability is a shit word," writes Joy in a letter to her father. "I’m not using it anymore. So, I’ve decided, I am not a pet. I am just me. And I love being me."
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