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Sunday, 23 October 2022

REVIEW: A Single Man at Park Theatre 200

Where historical snapshots are concerned 1962 was a momentous year. John F. Kennedy was US President and the Beatles released their first single. Marilyn Monroe died and the 1960s, as we came to understand them, were about to be unleashed. In October the Cuban Missile Crisis threatened Armageddon. East and West were locked in a deadly game of brinkmanship as the world held its breath. Set against this backdrop is a tale of love and loss hidden in plain sight. Based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man was turned into a successful film starring Colin Firth in 2009. This stage adaptation by Simon Reade now finds a natural home at Park Theatre.

George (Theo Fraser Steele) is an expatriate English professor in Los Angeles. He is still coming to terms with the loss of his partner Jim in a road accident the previous year. The story follows one day in his life, beginning just like any other. George still feels like an Englishman abroad even after 20 years on the West Coast. His neighbours are ever inquisitive about this erudite gentleman in their midst. Archetypal American couple the Strunks (Phoebe Pryce and Freddie Gaminara) wonder what happened to his 'friend' Jim. George is content to let them think he just moved away rather than explain his melancholy. He constantly fights loneliness and leans on fellow ex-pat Charley (Olivia Darnley) for comfort. However, his attentions are increasingly diverted by handsome, talkative pupil Kenny (Miles Molan).

Friday, 16 September 2022

REVIEW: Rose at Park Theatre 200

One of the most significant challenges for any actor is to carry a stage play single-handedly. No cast to support you, no props or special effects to divert the audience; just you, the script and a critical, expectant Joe Public. The actor effectively plays every character in the story; accent and demeanour continually adjusting; nuance and body language to build a mental picture. To hold the attention with confidence and sureness of touch is the trick. In the hands of Dame Maureen Lipman, it looks easy; therein we find the definition of talent - to make something extremely difficult look incredibly easy.

Rose tells the story of a strong Jewish woman born in 1920. With an air of contemporary poignancy, she was born in a Ukrainian village and began an epic journey around Nazi-occupied Europe. It is the worst of times as bombs and bullets rain down. Like many refugees, Rose eventually makes a new life for herself in America. The story in between is a bumpy and chastening ride but no less compelling, as one woman's life becomes a classic 20th Century experience. We start on the eve of the new Millennium as Rose, now a worldly 80 years old recounts a chequered and eventful life.

Thursday, 7 July 2022

REVIEW: 9 Circles at Park Theatre 90

We assume that wars are fought to protect a civilised and peaceful existence; unfettered by those who seek to destroy the lives we choose to live; but what about the men and women who are trained to achieve this objective. Do they understand who and what they are fighting for? Do they obey the command of their masters and assume morality is on their side? But are they simply state-trained killers indoctrinated by the preferred narrative. What really is the effect on soldiers who are programmed to kill the enemy? This intriguing play by Bill Cain explores these themes in forensic detail and delivers more than a hint of inconvenient truth.

The story begins in Iraq as soldier Daniel E. Reeves (Joshua Collins) is about to receive an honourable discharge. He verbally spars with his Lieutenant (Daniel Bowerbank) at the real meaning and both settle on a personality disorder. He later wakes up in a cell back in the US. The Public Defender (Samara Neely-Cohen) informs him of charges relating to his conduct in Iraq. Reeves falls deep into a mind fog as he tries to make sense of what has happened. The Defence Attorney (David Calvitto) is convinced he can get an acquittal if only he plays ball.

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

REVIEW: Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) at the Park Theatre

Staging a rock opera about the ups and downs of an individual's life, you’d expect a name that raises eyebrows. Whether you deem Tony Blair that name, it certainly raises an eyebrow or two. Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) tells the story of a man’s journey from band frontman to the prime minister and the subsequent warmongering that followed! 

Let’s start by getting straight to it, the show is bonkers. The over-the-top ridiculousness allows it to not be taken seriously and enables it to get away with the on-the-mark gags it throws around throughout the show. The cast does a good job of over-dramatising their characters and the political figures they all portray, making it comical and never too serious. A few standouts were Cherie Blair (Holly Sumpton), Peter Mandelson (Howard Samuels), John Prescott (Rosie Strobel) and finally of course the titular character, Tony Blair (Charlie Baker). Each life to their roles and always stole the eyesight whenever they took to the stage. Combined with Libby Watson’s set and costume design, topped off with the combination of comedic duo Harry Hill (Book) and Steve Brown (lyrics and composer) you have all the right ingredients to cook up something hilarious. 

Thursday, 20 January 2022

REVIEW: The 4th Country at Park Theatre

Any story told against the backdrop of Northern Ireland has an in-built drama; as the region lives with the past and ludicrous understatement known as The Troubles, it also deals with the present fallout replete with its social, economic and political consequences. This play written by Kate Reid comes direct from a successful run at the Vault Festival in 2020. The Plain Heroines Theatre Company specialise in funny plays about difficult subjects and has certainly hit the mark here. Playing upstairs at the always sleek and inviting Park Theatre, it has an intimate space perfectly suited to the subject matter.

The story begins within the confines of Stormont as Shona (Aoife Kennan) a stressed civil servant in the Department for Health begins another long day. The power vacuum in Northern Ireland has left them in charge of fighting various fires. Melanie (Kate Reid) is already in the office, eager to start her internship. A baptism of fire lies in wait as calls become increasingly frantic and Melanie is confronted with a familiar face from her native Derry. The bad stuff is about to hit the fan when Conor (Cormac Elliott) bursts in. He slips out of character and begs them to explore the back story. His sister Niamh (Rachael Rooney) emerges from the wings and supports his argument. The cast agrees and duly skip back five months as their characters are fleshed out.

Thursday, 18 November 2021

REVIEW: Little Women at The Park Theatre

Jo March (Lydia White) has a small dream, to write stories and provide everything for her three sisters Meg (Hana Ichijo), Amy (Mary Moore) and Beth (Anastasia Martin). Though her societal demands make this a challenge in a world where a woman is to marry rich and powerful, relying on a man to support her. As she conquers rejection after rejection from publishers due to her unconventional stories, a suggestion to make her stories more personal may just be the answer she needs. 

To bring Louisa May Alcott’s book to life on stage would require transporting the imagination of the audience back to the period in which the story is set, of course, if the set and costumes are designed well then it’s a simple task to guess when and where we are. something that Nik Corrall exceeds in. Designing an intimate set and visually attractive costumes, remarkable feet to design both and excel at both. Considering the size of the theatre the set was both small and large at the same time, allowing the cast to move freely around the space, but creating a stunning backdrop for the many scenes. 

Though the story centres very much around Jo, who it has to be said is played with enthusiasm and brilliance by White, each scene she’s in she steals the spotlight, a powerhouse performance both in her acting and vocal ability. The show does very well to weaving in other characters at just the right time to add something extra to the show, be it their song or words. 

Sunday, 9 February 2020

REVIEW: Time and Tide at the Park Theatre

"Time and Tide wait for no man" is a quote from a Geoffrey Chaucer tale, meaning that people can't stop the passing of time and should not delay doing things. It is a perfect title for this charming exquisitely written play which explores with a gentle humorous caring touch the lives of four people stuck in their daily lives in a cafe on Cromer pier in Norfolk. They bottle up their emotions and true feelings as they go about their usual routines until one of them decides to leave for college in London. James McDermott, the author, draws heavily on his own experience in a Norfolk cafe and the conversations he overheard as he started his career as a writer after university. The result is the creation of four totally believable, emotionally engaging and brilliantly crafted characters and a simple plot dynamic that touchingly explores and reveals their true feelings and motivations. It is an extraordinarily good piece of writing.

The excellent cast of four rise to the challenge of bringing it to the intimate Park 90 stage with great skill. Director Rob Ellis ensures the action is carefully paced, taking its time to establish the characters and then explodes into moments of wonderful theatre as the true feelings spill out over the Cafe Floor. 

Thursday, 16 January 2020

REVIEW: Rags The Musical at Park Theatre

Set in the Spring of 1910, Rags is often described as the ‘sequel’ to Fiddler on the Roof. Written in the 1980s by Joseph Stein, and recently revised by David Thompson, Rags tells the tale of Rebecca Hershkowitz (Carolyn Maitland), her son David and new friend Bella (Martha Kirby), arriving in New York City from Eastern Europe by boat. Rebecca is taken in by a kind family and manages to sustain herself in a world of poverty and discrimination. As first-generation immigrants, they must fight to secure a steady life amongst anti-Semitic discrimination. Directed by Bronagh Lagan, the musical is set to a score by Charles Strouse and Stephen Schwartz. Despite the dark themes of Rags, overall it is uplifting, incredibly funny and heart-warming too. After a successful run at The Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester, Rags is taking over Park200 for four weeks. 

The show is compelling from start to finish and has an exceptionally strong cast. From ensemble to lead, the talent on stage is truly brilliant. Actress Carolyn Maitland deserves credit for her extraordinary performance as Rebecca, who seemingly lacks empathy at times, but shows immense motherly selfishness to create a better life for her son. The friendships and romantic relationships in the musical are refreshing and surprisingly not too cliché. Strouse and Schwartz’s music is stunning; how they have combined Eastern European sounds with American Ragtime, Jazz and Street music into one score is incomparable. The riffs are catchy, although borderline repetitive. They have brought in violinists, an accordion and clarinet player to be the ‘traditional’ Klezner band onstage, this livened up the scenes and incorporated the ensemble into the action nicely. 

Monday, 13 January 2020

REVIEW: Shackleton and his Stowaway at the Park Theatre

Two hundred years after the discovery of the Antarctic, the Park 90 presents the story of Earnest Shackleton's epic voyage south from Buenos Aries via South Georgia to the ice cap in order to complete the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition with a crew of 27 men on the wooden hulled Endurance. It is an astonishing story of foolhardy bravery and endeavour to achieve the impossible and survive the forbidding conditions and landscape at sea and on land. It creates equally insurmountable problems to stage such a journey in the tiny black box of Park 90 on an Edinburgh Fringe budget.

Writer Andy Dickinson's play seeks to achieve this feat through two hander play with Shackleton confronted by a Welsh stowaway. We never meet the other twenty six crew members although they feature heavily in the story. The script calls for long passages of narrative to describe first the journey south in 1914 thorough the roaring forties seas until they get trapped in the ice flows. Then the extraordinary escape with three lifeboats and a dingy when the Endurance is crushed and sinks, followed by the journey across the seas to Elephant Island where 22 men are left while six attempt to return to the whaler's on South Georgia. The timeframe spans eighteen months in harsh winters conditions. 

Thursday, 22 August 2019

REVIEW: The Weatherman at the Park Theatre

The Weatherman is the debut play by Eugene O'Hare and the Park 200 presents this dark depressing insight into an unpleasant seedy subculture of Britain without holding back. The dilapidated, barely habitable one bed flat in a block of flats in London is the current "home" of Archie and Beezer.

Archie played with a controlled intensity by Alec Newman is the more dominant male but harbours dark secrets that spill out in a long soliloquy in Act 2. It is a painful admission of mental health problems and failed relationships that goes some way to explain his anger and his behaviour. 

Beezer, The Weatherman, played by Mark Hadfield, is his drunk companion who he shares a bed with for convenience but not sexual gratification. They are two lost souls drifting through life without purpose or meaning. 

At times there is a Pinteresque feel to the relationship between Beezer and Archie although the humour is more muted and the pauses shorter but it is reminiscent of Aston and Davies in a modern day Caretaker.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

REVIEW: Napoli, Brooklyn at the Park Theatre

Theatre can be powerful and emotionally engaging when you have a great script, brilliant cast and a strong production and a story routed in reality but with a strong message for todays’ society. Napoli, Brooklyn at the Park 200 Theatre is such a production – faultless moving storytelling and a message for all of us to “learn to take people how they are”. Written by a woman, directed by a woman and with a mainly female cast it does not really need the mother to tell us “women are the strongest ones”.

Meghan Kennedy’s story is set in an Italian immigrant community in New York in 1960 and the simple but effective set by Frankie Bradshaw creates the sense of location from the start with the Italian meat hanging above the cooker, four catholic Virgin Marys dotted around the stage and a Bush radio on the table. We hear the kids playing outside as the planes fly overhead. It seamlessly and quickly doubles for other locations in the community, the butchers, the factory, and the convent with precise tight lighting by Johanna Town.

Into this space we find the Italian Mamma, Luda (a wonderful performance from Madeleine Worrall), no longer able to cry even with an onion held against her eye, her emotions suppressed by the powerful towering figure of her bullying husband Nic (a strong gritty performance from Robert Cavanah) and the responsibility for bringing up her three daughters. You feel her love and fear in equal measure.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

REVIEW: Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough at the Park Theatre

Everyday we are subjected on TV and Radio to the embarrassing spectacle of our failed politicians in endless circular debates over Brexit which demonstrates the failure of the political classes. Coalitions in hung parliaments are impossible to operate unless there is a genuine unifying goal and most people seem to feel the two party system has fallen out of favour. Where did this catastrophic state of affairs arise from?

This new play by Ben Alderton "Hell I'm tough enough" takes us back just a few years to the 2015 election campaign at the end of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition, in an outrageous parody of the main players in that campaign. It is so obvious it is almost libellous. 

Dave Carter is the champagne swilling Eton educated conservative leader , Nick Clog, his partner in crime and opposite them is Ned Contraband, the paper thin leader of the Labour Party. Unseen is the threat of Nigel Garage of the Ukrap party. But the political leaning of the author is clear with the mysterious Obi wan kenobi figure, Corbz, who seeks to guide and comment on the protagonists between scenes while sweeping up the popular vote and emerging butterfly like from his chrysalis at the end. 

Friday, 26 April 2019

INTERVIEW: Summer Strallen, currently appearing in Intra Muros at the Park Theatre

Summer Strallen is a celebrated and treasured Musical Theatre star, she is currently in Intra Muros at the Park Theatre. Her Television and Film includes: Five-A-Side (Emerald Films), Casualty (BBC), The Land Girls (BBC), Hotel Babylon (Carnival Fims), Beyond The Sea directed by Kevin Spacey and Hollyoaks (Lime Pictures). Theatre includes Young Frankenstein (Garrick Theatre), Hysteria (London Classics Theatre Tour), A Damsel In Distress (Chichester Festival Theatre), Life Of The Party (Menier Chocolate Factory), Top Hat (Aldwych Theatre and National Tour), Olivier Nominatrion - 2013 Best Actress in a Musical. Love Never Dies (Adelphi Theatre), 2011 Olivier Nomination for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical, The Sound of Music (London Palladium), The Drowsy Chaperone (Novello Theatre), 2008 Olivier Nomination Best Actress in a Musical, The Boyfriend (Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park), 2007 Olivier Nomination for Best Supporting Role in a Musical, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park), Guys and Dolls (Piccadilly Theatre), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (London Palladium), Cats (New London Theatre and National Tour). We spoke to her in rehearsals... 

You’re about to be featured in Intra Muros at Park Theatre, tell us a little bit about the play. 

The piece is a reflection on what life is like in prison for both the people incarcerated and the people on the outside. At the heart we try to help people understand how acting is a part of every human beings life in some shape or form.

You’re playing the role of Alice, tell us about her. 

Alice is a relatively new to the job social worker who organises a theatre workshop for prisoners. Alice is young and enthusiastic but has had a strange upbringing whereupon she feels there are secrets about her that she has not been privy to. 

The Park Theatre is a much more intimate space than you’re used to in some of the theatres you’ve played, what are you most excited and frightened about?

The only worry I have is that I have to strike chairs off stage and a couple of times I’ve thought I might trip over their feet or poke someone in the eye! Other than that it’s rather nice being so intimate with the audience!

Thursday, 7 March 2019

REVIEW: We're Staying Right Here at the Park Theatre

Suicide by men under 50 as a result of mental health issues is becoming a new cause celebre but rarely does a play pack such a powerful emotional punch as this debut play by Henry Devas. We're staying right here takes us into the boarded up flat and confused mind of a depressed comedian who has never recovered from the death of his father from cancer and the guilt he feels over his newly born daughter Ellie.

Jez Pike directs and has audience lurching from moments of silly comedy to high drama and tension in a roller coaster of emotions hurtling towards an uncertain ending. 

Danny Kirrane plays Matt, who we first meet on stage in a cape in his stand up routine before he is overwhelmed by an explosion of despair that forces him to barricade himself into his own flat in a battle for his future.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

REVIEW: Honour at Park Theatre

As soon as the lights come up on Henry Goodman as George, a journalist who has been married for thirty two years to Honor, as he is interviewed for a new book by a young attractive journalist Claudia, we are interested and engaged. His intellect, humour and self absorption is immediately clear in the charming amusing way he describes himself to the interviewer. You can see in his eyes he is attracted to her and she flirts and panders to him to get the story which she wants to build her profile and career. Over the subsequent two hours the playwright Joanna Murray-Smith uses these characters in a succession of short scenes, usually one on one, to explore feminist attitudes to career and marriage. 

Honour, played with a powerful heart wrenching intensity by Imogen Stubbs has given up her writing career as a successful published poet to support George and their daughter Sophie. They have a seemingly successful partnership and marriage until the Tuesday when he announces he is leaving and by Friday he has established a new life leaving behind his bewildered and heart broken family. I was in no doubt that the audience was divided in who they sided with depending on their gender and age. The writing was sharp witty and truthful and the alternative attitudes to women's life choices were balanced and insightful. It is suggested that marriage is "just the way two people grow old together " and that loyalty in marriage is " used to justify the absence of self ". 

Sunday, 30 September 2018

REVIEW: The Other Place at the Park Theatre

There seem to be a great number of plays in London about mental health issues at the moment. Distance at Park 90 and Dust at Trafalgar Studios 2 deal with suicide. The Height of the storm opening soon at the Wyndham's is by the same author as The Father and both deal with dementia. Each while explaining the illnesses deal very dramatically with the impact of the sufferer’s condition on friends and family. It is a very worthwhile topic feeding the debate about how to support sufferers but also lends itself to dramatic treatment. 

The Other Place by Sharr White at Park 200 is the latest to tackle the subject and is the best of the bunch in exploring the symptoms and impact on the lives of the families of those suffering these illnesses in a totally engaging and dramatic piece.

Juliana is a witty intelligent neuroscientist who has patented a drug that mitigates the effects of dementia and now lectures and promotes it to groups of medical practitioners. Her husband Ian is an oncologist and therefore has some understanding both of her as a person and the science she promotes. The play brilliantly explores through a series of flashbacks and memories their life and the development of the illness. It first becomes apparent as she lectures for the umpteenth time on her topic to a conference in St Thomas in the Virgin Islands and she has what she calls an "episode".

Monday, 17 September 2018

REVIEW: The Distance at the Park Theatre

Distance by Alex McSweeney is an intense, dramatic experience as we follow the journey of Steve on an express train to Manchester Piccadilly station and through a series of flashbacks begin to understand his mental illness. It is moving , thought provoking and a cry for help for all those who suffer from such illness and have contemplated suicide. The shocking statistics that suicide is the biggest killer of under 45's in the UK and that 75% of all UK suicides are male provide the context to the new play.

We meet Steven, played with a frightening intensity by Adam Burton as he jumps from the top of a building and then quickly reset to the train journey that preceded that moment. Here he meets an old friend, Alan (Abdul Salis) who he discovers is on the train for the same job interview . After their initial awkward meeting , Alan can sense something is not right, but initially is more concerned about his preparations for the interview. Steven is intellectually superior and better researched but he willing helps Alan. 

Saturday, 24 February 2018

REVIEW: A Passage to India at the Park Theatre

Based on the renowned E.M. Forster novel, this period drama centers on the dynamics between British colonials and native locals in India during the 1920s. 

‘A passage to India’ has been beautifully adapted for the stage by Simon Dormandy, and flawlessly directed by Dormandy & Sebastian Armesto. Helped seamlessly along by Original Music by Kuljit Bhamra.

As a lover of Forsters novel I was hugely impressed by this stage production. I felt it really captured the essence of Forster’s language and his descriptive narrative was perfectly coherent through the Beautiful amalgamation of adaption, direction, performance and music. I was transported to a hot Indian summer and was swept along the warm breeze by a really sensational performance from Asif Khan as Dr Aziz. He was funny, endearing and perfectly cast.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

REVIEW: There or Here at the Park Theatre

It is not every day that theatre with characters of Asian descent, whether South Asia or East Asia, are portrayed in a well-rounded and non-stereotypical way, especially within stories that are often overlooked.

This month at the Park Theatre, a real first-class off West End Theatre, you can see “There or Here”, a play by American writer Jennifer Maisel, directed by Vik Sivalingram and produced by Special Relationship Productions, which strives to find work that features underrepresented demographics and casts and hires talent in line with this.

The play presents characters from around the world, emigrants and travellers, who are honest and searching for their truth and emotions. The stories centre around Robyn (Lucy Fenton) and Ajay (Chris Nayak), a New York couple that decides to go to India to outsource their pregnancy to a local woman after they find out they can’t have a child of their own. 

Thursday, 9 November 2017

REVIEW: The Retreat at the Park Theatre

The Park Theatre programmes its two venues to appeal to a wide audience demographic in the Finsbury Park borough . This year we have seen a diverse mix including Hot Coals' wordless comedy "Finders Keepers", Giles Brandreth's cut down "Hamlet" and the strange goings on of Orford Ness in " Fishskin Trousers". On this occasion "The Retreat" a first stage play by Sam Bain targets the fans of TV comedy shows Peep Show ,Fresh meat and Gimme Gimme Gimme with its sophomoric base comedy. It is directed by Kathy Burke who has a fine comedy touch.

The opening sounds of the toll of bells and bird calls with muted light streaming through the small window effectively places us in a remote location.From my vantage point perched high up in the circle, peering down like a Scottish eagle hovering over a rather large basically furnished Scottish crofters hut, we meet Luke, a successful city trader.He has decided to covert to Buddhism and has travelled north to prepare sending his older brother,Tony, a postcard "Starting Retreat, please pay bills and redirect post". Tony smells a rat and can't understand why he would give up a life where "you were probably getting hooker Nectar points".
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