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Friday, 20 August 2021

REVIEW: Tell Me Straight at the King's Head Theatre

Tell me Straight is an original new play championing queer and working-class voices making their mark on the independent theatre scene produced by Gartland Productions and as part of the Kings Head Theatre queer season. Written by Paul Bradshaw and directed by Imogen Hudson-Clayton, together with the rest of the team they have produced a charming piece of theatre that will speak to a generation of LGBTQ people in London navigating hookup culture, getting older and sexuality.

Writer, Bradshaw, also stars in this work, he plays a millennial gay man determined to find some new perspective in his life. He decides the only way to do this is by putting himself on a self mandated 30-day detox from sex, booze and fast food. This attempt at a sober existence forces him to examine his work life, past relationships and to confront the prospect of new ones. It becomes quickly evident, in regards to his love life, that he has a type, ‘straight’ men working out their own identity. Alongside Bradshaw is George Greenland who takes on a multi charter role to represent these past and present flames. As the story unfolds, tales of optimism and romance are met by constant disappointment and this man willing to put himself on the line in the name of love, is forced to question why he finds himself as a sort of testing ground for these other men who are not yet ready to fully confront their own sexuality.

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.

Saturday, 22 May 2021

REVIEW: AAAAA (FiveA) at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre

Kicking off post-lockdown theatrics at Lion & Unicorn Theatre is Proforca Theatre Company and their mysterious new show “AAAAA” (FiveA).

The company have taken on the noble task of bringing audiences back into Fringe theatre. In true fringe style fashion, they have found a novel way of reminding us to leave all expectations at the door. No specific details about this production are offered to the audience before the performances. Their intention, “ re-capture the mystery, tension and anticipation of the return of live fringe theatre…”. In this case, they also boast that no two shows will be the same. This review, therefore, must paint a less vivid picture of what you might expect from this production for the benefit of your experience. Once you have seen the show, keeping their secrets makes you implicit in the storytelling.

Shaking us out of the sheltered lives we have been enduring over the last year, this concept shrouded in mystery offered by Proforca supports the human need for storytelling without the world of marketing dictating and preparing us for what we are about to receive. The most satisfying stories we tell each other in our day to day lives are often the least expected, the ones that shake up our day with laughter, shock or excitement. AAAAA is a sensitive and generous offering to audiences from a well-oiled team that does just that written by David Brady, Jack Albert Cook, Gabrielle Nellis-Pain and Kim Scopes, directed by Jess Barton and David Brady and with a committed performance from Daniel Rainford. 

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, 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.

Thursday, 11 August 2022

REVIEW: Closing Party (Arrivederci e Grazie) at Dance Base at the Edinburgh Fringe

Closing Party (Arrivederci e Grazie) marks the last instalment of Alessandro Bernardeschi and Mauro Paccagnella’s Memory Trilogy AKA Fifty-somethings. It follows Happy Hour (Luminux for Theatrical Moment and Total Theatre awards) and El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido. The performance I saw at the wonderful hub for dance at Edinburgh Fringe, Dance Base, featured Bernardeschi and Carlotta Sagna as the main duo, with an appearance from Ares D’Angelo. 

Without fanfare or grand celebration, this is a work about two middle-aged people, who are ready to farewell a part of their life which has now ended. They do this with nostalgia, acceptance and a little bit of hope for whatever might come next.

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.

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. 

Tuesday, 8 February 2022

REVIEW: Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch Kontakthof at Sadler's Wells

Undoubtedly an icon in the world of dance theatre since the 1970s, Tanztheter Wuppertal Pina Bausch has played a large role in changing the landscape of modern dance with a ripple effect that can be felt through contemporary dance and theatre today. The late, Pina Bausch, a maverick of the arts, through her choreography has the ability to transcend movement into an expression of the human condition which is raw and pure. The latest remounting of the pivotal piece Kontakthof by the company at Sadler’s Wells this February is an important reminder of how, truly great theatre, can transcend time and context. 

Kontakthof was originally premiered in 1978 at Operahouse Wuppertal and has remained, for many, to be one of the most important pieces in Bausch’s canon of work dealing with themes of desire for contact the need to be seen, appreciation and equality. Provoked by the pandemic, social issues such as sexism, racism and cultural appropriation, have also been largely explored by the company for this latest version. Moving forward, you can’t help to think there are themes of gender too yet to be tapped into.

Thursday, 21 July 2022

REVIEW: Sh!t-faced Shakespeare presents: Romeo and Juliet at The Leicester Square Theatre

Shitfaced Shakespeare is a Shakespeare company with a twist and a stumble that has been luring audiences since 2010 with a simple yet effective concept. Each night, one selected cast member from whatever show they are putting on, is made to drink for 4 hours before stepping on the stage and the curtain rises. The rule is that they must be well and truly ‘shit-faced’ by this point. The remaining ‘sober' cast members are then required to accommodate their inebriated peer by justifying and improvising around them and also to continue to drive the action of the ‘actual’ play. It could be a comedy or tragedy being performed, but the drinking game, as it were, remains the same. 

For my first experience of a Shitfaced Shakespeare performance, I went to see their un-holy latest take on Romeo & Juliet and my lucky drunk was none other than Juliet herself. As a comedy show having originally found its feet in the fringe scene, this is a pared-down version of the classic but keeps in all the much-loved key scenes of the play like the balcony scene, death of Mercutio and final death scene. Along with the five actors, the show also incorporates a compare into the mix to help the drunken proceedings along. This is done mainly by making sure the inebriated actor stays that way by handing them more drinks (with help from the audience). Overall the show, also, takes artistic liberties to promote more bawdy and comedy-driven antics. 

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

REVIEW: Hamlet at Ashton Hall, Saint Stephens at the Edinburgh Fringe

One of the most talked about shows leading up to the 75th Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year has undoubtedly been Peter Schaufuss’s concept ballet of Hamlet, starring the formidable Sir Ian McKellen. Directed and choreographed by Schaufuss, this 75-minute production is mostly dance-driven showcasing his company Edinburgh Festival Ballet except for selected monologues, McKellen as the titular character, recites. All in all, it is a very traditional retelling of one of Shakespeares' great tragedies with added novelties.

Two of the biggest questions surrounding the production have been how McKellen, who first took on Hamlet in 1971, will represent the young prince at 83 years of age and how he will interact with the dancers on stage. 

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.

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.

Monday, 21 March 2022

REVIEW: This is How You Will Disappear by Gisele Vienne at Sadler's Wells

What happens when you create a giant forest on a stage and put into it a gymnast, her serial killer coach, a rockstar and throw in a real-life wolf for good measure? Despite spending 80 mins in said environment, I am none the wiser. First created in 2010 for the Festival d'Avignon, This is how you will disappear is an ambitious stage production that straddles the identity of art installation, dance and theatre by Gisèle Vienne and is part of Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels at Sadlers Wells Theatre. Although this work is undoubtedly engrossing and boasts imagery that will last in my mind for a long time to come, the overall structure of the work rests unclear, diluting whatever the intention it is meant to have. 

The narrative of the work follows a young gymnast in the forest who is training with her serial killer coach. It is then intertwined with the story of a rockstar who has recently killed his girlfriend and is dealing with the psychological stress of his actions. The ending, with the wight of a great message that is never revealed, introduces a man with a bow and arrows and a live dog/wolf. This together with an epic forest installation shrouded in mist and an assaulting soundtrack that fills the auditorium instantly conjures up horror movie vibes from beginning to end. There is no denying that the design of this work, is spectacular. It not only explores the effects of epic visuals and sound on an audience but also stimulates ones touch and smell senses as the mist onstage (a fog sculpture by Fujiko Nakaya), bellows out into the audience in a cool damp cloud and fills the space with the smell of foliage. There are several sequences that involve no performers at all and these design elements are allowed to take the spotlight. 

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, 30 January 2023

REVIEW: Frantic Assembely’s Othello at The Lyric Hammersmith Theatre

A tragedy fuelled by jealousy and revenge, Othello, can be seen as one of Shakespeare’s most challenging works to navigate. Loyalty and love lose out too dark thoughts and desires that lurk in the best of us which performers and audiences alike must confront in themselves. 

Frantic Assembly’s two-hour adaptation of this complex text finds a way to make it relatable as they bravely tackle challenging aspects of the human condition amplified in it with gusto for a modern-day audience. It is a visual retelling of the story as much as an exploration of classical language with a contemporary tung and has something to offer any die-hard lover of Shakespeare or those more intimidated by the Bard.

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.

Saturday, 26 March 2022

REVIEW: Somnole at Sadler's Wells Theatre, part of Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels

Over a period of nearly three weeks between March 9-23, Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels is the first edition of an exciting festival celebrating choreography in modern and contemporary dance in partnership with The Royal Opera House, Tate Modern and Sadler’s Wells. With a plethora of influential works on show this year (seventeen to be exact) and I was fortunate to catch French choreographer Boris Charmatz in his solo performance, Somnole, at Sadler’s Wells Lilian Baylis Studio last Friday evening.

Somnolence is the feeling of being on the brink of sleep and in this hour-long dance piece, Charmatz explores this idea through movement and sound. The entirety of the piece involves a mediative quality anchored by continuous whistling from Charmatz and on occasion is broken up by moments of audience interaction and humour. Whistling in particular is the key feature in this work. Sometimes it is ambiguous and it’s difficult to understand where the sound is coming from or sometimes it resembles a well-known tune like Morricone’s The Good The Bad and The Ugly. In both scenarios, however, it interrogates the physicality required to produce such a sound and demands from its performer an impressive stamina. As the sound intertwines with the movement which is often repetitive, spiralling and circular, each element influences each other and takes the viewer on a journey between what feels like concise and unconscious moments but never lingering on either one for long.

This work is performed in a black box theatre space, stripping any possibility of placing it in a concrete environment. For the most part, I remained in the theatre space without entering any visual dreamlike state, despite the invitation through familiar tunes and gestures. I question, therefore, is a feeling of Somnolence one of purgatory, neither here nor there? 

One of the most successful moments of the work came when the fourth wall was well and truly dropped and Charmatz began a slow dance with an audience member before conducting us in a whistle orchestra. Unfortunately, it was a long way in before this interaction was made and it felt like it was over before it began.

The lighting design by Yeves Godin was a simple silvery state supporting the minimalist aesthetic of the work nicely and the costume by Marion Reginer, a skirt made of different patterned strips of material, helps to give the movement a lightens in contrast to the heavier muscular physique of the dancer. 

My main criticism of the piece relates to the quality of the movement. Although engrossing with a clear flow and cohesive structure, it lacked any dynamic and stayed on one note for the most part in a middle ground of wight, tempo and texture. Repetition is interesting but without some evolution or nuance, the piece becomes stagnant in many moments.

Somnole is a dreamlike experience that sits on the edge of reality. As an audience member you are subject to the ebb and flow of its affective mediative quality as Charmatz draws you in then leaves you to float alone.

Review by Stephanie Osztreicher

Rating: ★★★

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. 

Sunday, 1 May 2022

REVIEW: If. Destroyed. Still. True. at The Hope Theatre

No matter where you come from or where you choose to live, the concept of home or where one identifies with throughout their lifetime is in constant flux. Moments of growth are met with moments of stagnation, people we love move at different speeds and even when some sort of peace is made, there is no way of knowing how something unexpected might unravel everything you know. In the intimate space of The Hope Theatre, Jawbones, an upcoming young company celebrating new writing, attempts to start a conversation about these feelings of disconnection in their latest production If. Destroyed. Still. True.

The play is set on the coast of Essex in a small town where everyone knows each other's business. It is here we meet John (Jack Condon) a born and bred local young man, who, like a kid on Christmas Day is revelling in the return of his best friend James (Theo Ancient) who has moved away for Uni. It becomes evident early on, however, that with little direction in his life John can't quite move on from the fun and chaos of their adolescence while James has clearly settled into his newfound academic life with a steady girlfriend Charlotte (Whitney Kehinde) by his side. A divide opens up between the two friends and each struggles with feelings of resentment, loss, a longing for the past and/or future and ultimately, the uncertainty of life becomes overwhelming for both when tragedy marks their final chapter. At the heart of the story is a friendship between two young men who have grown disparate from one another yet at the same time are forever connected by the tangled roots of their youth.
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