Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Review: 'In the Republic of Happiness', Royal Court, 10th December 2012

Crimp’s latest offering opens with a promise of traditional festive fare. The dysfunctional family, porn guzzling Grandpa, two daughters, one pregnant, one volatile, deaf father and harrassed mother; have all united to bicker incessantly over their Christmas Dinner. This is until all is swiftly overturned by the arrival of the toe-curlingly unsettling ‘Uncle Bob’ (Paul Ready). Events turn progressively sinister as conversation nauseatingly begins to hint that this new visitor may be both Uncle and Father to the new addition to the family. 
For Crimp’s next bombshell, Miriam Beuther’s (incredible) set blasts open to make way for what appears to be the set of Jeremy Kyle. ‘The Five Essential Freedoms of the Individual’ is on a screened backdrop as all the cast members take a seat and proceed to talk over each other…for about 45mins, with musical interludes sung by the cast members
Needless to say, Crimp has no intention of breaking out Christmas Pudding and The Snowman in the Royal Court this year. However, chaotic, music-infused ‘Happiness’ somewhat loses momentum after the first 15 minutes of ‘Jeremy K’ time. Whilst one can see the merit in throwing an audience into an uncomfortable endurance test, I found myself disenchanted and bored with characters that had held such promise in the first half hour. Admittedly, given Crimp’s unabashed comment on the relentless, hollow pursuit of ‘individuality’, removing the characters’ quirks is probably the point.
Whilst I think I ‘got it’, the most telling comment I can make is that my only thought at the curtain call was deciding whether I needed a wee or not. Considering Crimp’s incredible preceding work, I was disappointed not to feel a mite challenged or unsettled as I left. 2/5

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Review: 'Three Sisters', Young Vic, 15th October 2012

Traditionalists seeking enchantment are well advised to steer clear of Benedict Andrew’s ‘Three Sisters’, a gutsy, slap in the face revival of Chekhov’s tale of impassioned, frustrated aspiration amid rural Russia.
Those wary should note that the adaptation, though radical, is sourced from a literal translation, seamlessly fusing familiar lines such as Irina’s lament that her heart is “like a piano that’s been locked away and the key is lost” alongside the less recognisable, “heard the one about why God gave women orgasms?” The three siblings, (excluding Mariah Gale’s marvellous yet unwaveringly staid Olga), are fascinatingly precocious and deplorable, yet little satisfaction can be gained from their inevitable downfall. Rather, the unrestrained decadence of the Nirvana and Bowie bellowing characters of the first act are fantastically juxtaposed in the second as the stage is deconstructed around them, the arena that housed such debauched revelry gradually erased until no more remains.
Understandably, a play stuffed so boldly is unlikely to universally please.  The tubby, slovenly ‘Vicky Pollardesque’ Andrey, for example, though unarguably striking, seems, at times, a bit much. However, for a production that provides a simultaneously chilling, compelling and thought provoking three hours, these minor disagreements can easily be forgotten. 4/5

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Review: Eastern Angles, I Heart Peterborough, Pleasance Courtyard, 24th August

As a born and raised Peterborian, Joel Horwood’s choice of title sold this to me from the off. I snapped up a ticket keeping one set of fingers crossed for dramatic genius and another partly hoping for a fabulous car crash, a) because I was at the fringe and b) what can one expect of a city that for a fair year or two was devoid of a functioning theatre?
The answer? An intense two-handed tale of strained paternal relationships, frustrated sexuality and floundering hopes and aspirations as two individuals sink into the monotony of the ‘nation’s beating heart of train travel’. 
The dusty 70s decor, and moth-eaten suited/gaudy sequinned protagonists contribute to a ‘Titanicky’ feeling that the last lifeboat pulled out of these two lives long before you entered the theatre. Horwood’s stars are Michael/Lulu (Milo Twomey), a transvestite so accustomed to physical conflict that she chuckles through smeared makeup as she regales further bloodshed; and Hew (Jay Taylor), Lulu’s formally estranged and clearly emotionally damaged son who earnestly battles through adolescence and ever-thwarted dreams of a musical career.
Horwood shapes his characters and his landscape with accurate bleakness and sensitivity. Indeed, Hew’s account of stumbling around outside the Met Lounge dazed and confused in the early hours of the morning harked back to occasions when my own teenage self sat in the same spot and sobbed my heart out on the pavement over one heartbreak or another. 
Whilst ‘I Heart Peterborough’ is far from the documentary, (much as every set of twins in Liverpool isn’t the victim of a fraternal shooting with a singing Nolan sister for a mother) what Horwood does in I Heart Peterborough is represent a long artistically-neglected region, a move which, ideally, will spark a deluge of writing from these under-represented regions nationwide. Here’s hoping… 
For those less emotionally and/or politically invested in the plight of nondescript midland towns however, Hew’s poignantly gut wrenching rendition of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up that Hill’ will continue to haunt you long after you stroll out the Soho Theatre, where Horwood’s gem will be from the 9th of October. 5/5

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Review: Milk Presents, A Real Man's Guide to Sainthood, 19th August, Underbelly Cowgate

Busting into Edinburgh complete with bicycles, ketchup, ping pong balls, music and manliness, ‘Milk Presents’ gift this years fringe with ‘A Real Man’s guide to Sainthood’, a self-proclaimed ‘disembowelling’ of the legend of Saint George. The piece niftily hijacks the national legend in order to comment on the prevalence of suicide amongst young men in the UK. Hand-drawn projections, multi-roling bicycles and a doe-eyed ‘George’ combine with a motherload of energy to provide entertaining, endearing and poignant food for thought. This is an hour that you’d definitely like to have in your life. 4/5

Monday, 6 August 2012

Review: ‘Bitch Boxer’, Snuff Box Theatre, 4th August 2012, Underbelly, Edinburgh

As someone who sped away from London a week ago, donning sunglasses and flipping Vs in the direction of Stratford, a show whose blurb opens with ‘London, 2012. The Olympics’ wasn’t likely to ignite great anticipation. However, ten seconds into this one woman show, written as a response to the overturned ruling which had previously barred women’s participation in Olympic boxing, my cynicism was officially KO’d. 
Forming part of Underbelly’s Old Vic New Voices Edinburgh season, Charlotte Josephine’s writing is in turn hilarious, heartwarming and moving, a simple style which unearths the tender vulnerability of a protagonist who struggles with grief, loss and exhaustion whilst allthewhile anxious to preserve a tough, steely exterior. Having taken up boxing to inform her early creative process, Josephine herself takes on the role of the protagonist, putting herself through her paces and performing admirably lengthy and strenuous boxing routines which yield their fair part of sweat. Indeed, most compelling is Josephine’s genuine exhaustion, (any performer whose takes a bow shrouded by a halo of steam deserves a pat on the back) a committed performance which powerfully reflects an individual’s painful, unrelenting commitment to an end goal. Nothing to fault. Dead good. Go see. 5/5.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Review: Antigone, National Theatre, 18th June 2012

The most compelling element of Antigone is the ethical conundrum it presents, does one sympathise with the noble king fulfilling his duty? Or to the loving sister protecting the honour of her brother who dies as an enemy of the state? That said, Polly Findlay’s mid 20th century setting of a country ripped apart by civil war seems a perfect sphere in which to capture the steadfast mutual destruction brother against brother, uncle against niece, each battling earnestly for what they see to be a just cause.
This in mind, the most frustrating element of Findlay’s production is the fact that Christopher Eccleston’s Creon is portrayed as a tyrant from the off, and, far from being the respected leader, is an individual who garners little fear or respect from his subjects who, in fact, generally slag him off at every available opportunity. 

Also grating were the frequent misogynist quips which, though faithful to the original context and an admittedly fascinating topic to explore, were played gratuitously for laughs, what could have been an effectively jarring depiction of unapologetically chauvinist society was instead reduced to “oh…women!” with only a sly wink at the audience missing in order to seal the deal. Here though, I’ll admit that it becomes difficult to assess whether criticism should be levelled at the belly laughs that erupted from the audience or at the performances that triggered these reactions…bit of a head f***, (forgive the eloquence). 

Overall thoughts. Acting; great. Set; Amazing (60s military bunker, suitably grim). Antigone? Not quite. Though dealing with a text that’s older than Jesus allows you to contort and interpret as you will, I’m not sure if I agree with the decision to glaze over the omnipotence of higher power and the concept of fate when approaching Greek tragedy. To summarise pretty crudely, the Gods are gonna get ya. Whether its possible for any modern production to encapsulate this, I don’t know, but it’ll be interesting to find out. 3/5.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Review: Little Bulb, 'Operation Greenfield', Battersea Arts Centre, 12th June 2012

The best sentence I can think of to summarise Little Bulb’s ‘Operation Greenfield’ is, ‘like an Okay Go video after fifty red bulls’ (1. Yes, that wasn’t a sentence. 2. If you’re not familiar, have a look at these…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTAAsCNK7RA ,http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qybUFnY7Y8w ) 
Witty, energetic and bursting with primary colours, adolescent angst and forest fruit squash, ‘Operation Greenfield’ depicts the squirmingly awkward tale of a teenage Christian rock band and their ardent quest to win the annual Stokeley talent contest. The production is satisfyingly stuffed with an eclectic mix of slick choreography and live music provided by a cast that reveal an increasingly incredible scope of musical talent as the show progresses.
The only thing that left me frustrated was a tendency towards over imposing backing tracks, it would been great if they binned these and embraced more of those painful, socially bewildering silences. 90 minutes of intermittently hilarious and heartwarming cringeworthiness, packaged in a (literally) all singing all dancing production. If you want to buy tickets to Little Bulb’s next production, no queue jumping, or I’ll kick off. 5/5

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Review: 'The Suit', Young Vic, 4th June 2012

Husband catches wife in bed with another man. Man swiftly does a runner in his pants. Husband takes revenge. How? By forcing his wife to treat her lover’s abandoned suit as an honoured live-in house guest. Of course.
Such is the promisingly odd premise at the core of Peter Brook’s ‘The Suit’. With clothing racks serving as buses, windows, doors, and furnishings implied merely by gesture, the performers relentlessly bound through a performance area which is typical of Brook’s ‘Empty Space’, weaving a tale of adultery and manipulation against a backdrop of a black community’s struggle against apartheid in 1950s South Africa.
Bluesy music is provided by onstage musicians who frequently take on minor, slapstick roles throughout. Brook’s choice of music reflects a clever observation of the parallel ethos between the spirit of blues and that of the marginalised black community in 1950s South Africa, a theme that is brought home most poignantly by a gut-wrenching monologue relating the grisly tale of a black musician who challenges this unjust regime. 
However, for a play that revolves around masochistic manipulation amid hideous tyrannical rule, a sense of danger is somehow evaded. Though making no hesitation towards confronting audience members; handing out shots and dragging them onstage, one always feels perfectly safe and unabashedly entertained, the latter which in hindsight, sits a little bit ill. The above mentioned monologue is really the only substantial allusion to the play’s context. Whilst I appreciate the benefits of not having a point shoved down your neck, the near relentless humour (musicians donning elaborate hats to become gushing female house guests for the near final scene) comes across as a little excessive and unnecessary. 
An exciting concept that unfortunately, though enigmatically and entertainingly performed, does not quite deliver. 3/5

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Review: 'Hay Fever', Noel Coward Theatre, 28th May 2012

Howard Davies’ scatty, bohemian set much reflects the demeanor of Noel Coward’s monstrously melodramatic Bliss family, the unit at the centre of this 1924 script. Lindsay Duncan dominates as Judith Bliss, the matriarch, an actress past her prime with a voice so chocolatey you want to eat it; whilst Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Freddie Fox bulldoze the stage as the intermittently languishing and impassioned siblings Simon and Sorel.
The play revolves around an unintentionally overcrowded evening in the family’s country home. Pinter pauses and squirming expressions abound, the effect is much one of that slightly sadistic glow you get when you gleefully observe someone trapped in a corner with ‘that guest’ at a party, think Abigail’s party with quadruple the Beverlys. 

Despite its 88 year old script, the production avoids feeling dated, partly because neither Sorel or  Simon would look too out of place if they decided to bust over to Shoreditch mid-performance. Most compelling though is Davies’ marvellous awareness of the thin line between humour and desperation, one which he uses to bring out the excruciatingly painful atmosphere of this evening from hell wherein every one of the Bliss’ guests finds themselves amorously propositioned by one or another of their hyped up, histrionic hosts. Refreshingly unlike many of its contemporaries, the performance gets the laughs without once relying on pantomimesque winks at the audience. A refreshingly relevant revival. Get on it. 4/5

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Review: '18 Plays, 6 Nights, 1 Stage', LOST Theatre, 30th May 2012

Each year, LOST theatre present their One Act Festival which seeks to promote young writers. It’s on until tomorrow, I’d definitely recommend cruising down to Stockwell if you can, new writing and a fantastically cheap bar, it's win win.

As a new-ish writer myself, I found myself in a bit of an emotional quandary whilst approaching these reviews, the last thing I want to do is to cast my opinion and send someone spiralling into a pit of self-deprecating despair (though in this instance the writer would certainly be giving my opinion far more credit than it’s due). Yet similarly, I know that whilst criticism is a god-awful at times to receive, it’s significantly more useful than vacant praise. That being said, if anyone involved in any of the three pieces reads these reviews and vehemently disagrees/fancies a fight, please get in touch so that we can chat it out. Cheers!

‘Fallen’ by Ella Greenhill
Focusing on the topic of post-traumatic stress syndrome, Greenhill’s script interweaves the stories of a middle aged woman coping in the aftermath of a stillbirth and the more ambiguous tale of a girl recovering from an unspecified incident. As the play progresses, it becomes intriguingly unclear whether the characters in life of the latter exist beyond her own perception. An ambitious topic with imaginative locations, (putting characters on a big wheel? I’m a big fan) though at times the dialogue feels clunky and unnatural. The performances also rely a little too much on the cliched stock gestures of those portraying ‘mental illness’, something which seems counterproductive to the serious issue at the core of Greenhill’s writing.

‘The Workers Last Tango’ by Alex Steedman
Steedman’s two hander opens with a man, alone, switching the radio to Justin Bieber and busting out some strong moves (disregarding the choice of music…we’ve all done it). Yes it’s simple, but it’s funny. Largely performed in mime, ‘Last Tango’ shows us the slapstick conflict between a worker and a gruff curmudgeonly cleaner. Imaginatively diverting into the surreal, (including a spontaneous Tekken-style showdown complete with hard trance soundtrack, marvellous) Steedman’s work demonstrates strong self-confidence and a willingness to experiment. However, alarm bells which sounded from the preface ‘written, directed and starring Alex Steedman’ were somewhat justified. At times the piece came across as a little self-indulgent, a classic example of matey banter highjacking artistic merit and ultimately, a consideration of purpose. The piece would benefit from both a little objective criticism in the rehearsal process and hefty cuts, by the end it feels like a two minute sketch that outgrows itself. There’s potential there, but this would have benefited from a mid-rehearsal poke in the ribs.

‘Belief Beyond Hope’ by Stewart Schiller & Zoe Michel
‘Can a sane man love a seal?’ I assumed I’d misread the blurb…nope. Quirky and certainly different, the endearing relationship between the straight edge optimistic protagonist and his perpetually doped-off-his-face roommate is perhaps the most enjoyable element of this offbeat piece, though the script’s constant referencing to weed (‘come on, let’s get you stoned’) seems a little excessive and unnecessary for a performance that doesn’t seem to be making an established comment on recreational drug use.
Physically, the characters conduct themselves frustratingly monotonously, though perfectly in keeping with the aggressively excitable protagonist and conceivably his love interest, I find it hard to reason why somebody baked off his face would be jumping around, constantly waiting by the door in eager anticipation of his roommate. The piece becomes visually very flat, it would have been fantastic if the physical realisation of the piece delivered more justice to the offbeat, eccentric dialogue. Interesting script, but direction that veers a little too much towards the safe side.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Review: ‘The Irish Giant’, Cartoon De Salvo, Southwark Playhouse, 22nd May 2012

Cartoon De Salvo combine the factual and the surreal to tell the stories of Charles Byrne, a ‘freak’ of Georgian London who enjoyed short-lived popularity showcasing himself as ‘The Irish Giant’ before dying drunk and penniless at 22, and John Hunter, the surgeon fascinated with abnormal body types and their posthumous dissection. The dank, dripping tunnels of the Southwark Playhouse Vaults are ideal for this production depicting the seedy, grimy underworld of Georgian London and the clandestine business of bodysnatching. Pleasingly living up to its namesake, the company frequently burst into live music, switch accents at the drop of a hat and project rudimentary cartoons onto the walls of its delightfully juxtaposing surroundings. Traditionally grim subject matter is transformed into an endearingly silly and creative package.
This being said, the performance is marred by frustratingly avoidable flaws. At 1 hour 40 minutes with no interval, the cod-Irish accent and over characterised twitching of Byrne lose their initially novel appeal, the same can be said of the clich├ęd cockney warblings of the chief bodysnatcher. The booming songs delivered with such gusto in the first half hour seem disappointingly hollow 90 minutes later. Such a project requires a sparky cockiness, an ‘up yours’ to straight-laced historical re-enactment. In this instance the performers lacked that energy, beyond all other confirmation were the dejected faces at the curtain call. I couldn’t help thinking that the frequently referenced laudanum bingeing may have been a useful tactic for raising a bit of pep.   
For such a likeable, dynamic company, I’d wager that low audience numbers was the damning factor on this occasion. Refreshingly different, yet a little plagued by its own self-doubt. It’d be interesting to see if larger audiences in the future trigger a more self-assured performance. 3/5.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Review: 'Hip Hop Othello', Q Brothers, The Globe, May 6th 2012

Fully prepared for some cringey spectacle, (‘look kids, Shakespeare is COOL’). I was pleased to find that my fears for Q Brothers ‘Hip Hop Othello’ were wholly unjustified. The four performers bust out an Othello performed entirely in rap, delivering a production which, running at 90 minutes, is energetic, slick, and compact. The first intentionally funny production of Othello that I’ve seen (we won’t speak of the others), the success lies in the unashamed disclaimer that they’ve found out the ‘funny bits’, (is it just me or is everything somehow funnier in rhyme?). However, tragic content is equally confronted; the inspired decision to omit Desdemona’s onstage presence reinforces the fact that Othello’s fears and doubts fail to exist outside of his manipulated psyche. However gimmicky the concept appears, minimal props and uniform grey jumpsuits guarantee that the focus of this production is firmly on language and story. Fantastic, a company to watch. 5/5

Monday, 14 May 2012

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Review: 'Macbeth', Teatr im. Kochanowskiego, The Globe, 8th May 2012

Teatr im. Kochanowskiego’s disclaimer ‘very adult content’, certainly doesn’t fail to disappoint; throat burning shots handed out by lascivious transvestites, King Duncan’s wrinkly birthday striptease and the unsettlingly realistic and bloody rape of Lady Macduff are just some of the attractions handed out in this ‘camp-tacular’ Macbeth.  One key criticism is Kleczewska’s decision to extend culpability of the murders to the witches, Ross and Lennox. The wider court’s complicity in the murders undermines the intense, claustrophobic and escalating depravity of the Macbeths’ relationship; the murders become not so much symptomatic of a couple’s sexualised pursuit for power but the collective actions of a ready-corrupted, shagging, powder sniffing court. Whilst the debauched cokey rave setting was a great choice, the group dynamic of the murders seemed to come at the cost of one of the most compelling elements of the play. Why not keep the character’s coked up and have them induced into paranoid, twitchy wrecks who are plagued with the suspicion that Big Mac’s started killing everyone? A solidly enjoyable production, but chaos took over from plot a little too often. 3/5

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Review: ‘Can We Talk About This?’, DV8, National Theatre, 9th March 2012

Punching in with Martin Amis’ weighty question, ‘do you feel morally superior to the Taliban?’ is DV8’s latest production, ‘Can We Talk About This?’. With only around 10-20% of the audience raising their hands in response, the titular question is thrust into debate from the outset in a production that uses real voices and factual evidence to confront the issues of censorship, freedom of speech and oppression within extremist Islam.
A sense of danger is played on throughout, yet this is frustratingly hampered by the choice of the 900 seat Lyttleton. The shock factor of the (planted) audience member who hurls fecal matter at the stage condemning the performance as ‘Islamophobic shit’ is a device that may have audiences releasing their bowels in the Cottesloe, yet it is commuted to the league of minor disturbance in this bigger venue.
Undoubtedly one of the most memorable moments of the performance is Joy Constantinides’ speech, delivered whilst she sits on her co-performer who transports her in all manner of angles using his body, allthewhile never unsettling her cup of tea, fantastic stuff. Yet, asked to recall what Constantinides’ was talking about, I draw a blank, (my research reveals it was Shirley Williams’ parliamentary speech on forced marriages and honour killings, pretty important stuff). Whilst performances are strong, it feels as though at times the physicality eclipses the message. With many audience members leaving the theatre ‘oohing’ at the physical prowess of the performers rather than musing on the subject matter, it feels as though this production is a classic case of style over substance.

Political agenda aside, as a piece of theatre ‘Can We Talk About this’ was dynamic and entertaining, a visually stimulating and tightly choreographed performance, and irrespective of any nitpicking one can provide on the end product, it is encouraging to see companies confronting issues which spark controversy and debate. The coherency of the message is blurred through the medium, but credit is due for tackling subject matter that others afraid to ‘talk about’. 3/5.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Review: 'Othello' and 'Much Ado About Nothing', So it Goes..., Etcetera Theatre, 24th February 2012

I’m a massive fan of cheap, charming, sketchy looking venues. Being skint as anything, It's always nice to find a dingy little pub theatre or an exciting venue at the end of a dodgy alleyway. The Etcetera Theatre ticks all these boxes. Situated above the busy Oxford Arms a stone’s throw from Camden Town tube station, the entrance to the theatre is tucked at the back of the pub between the Gents and the Ladies. Entering the theatre, a chirpy gentlemen who constituted the front of house staff encourages theatre goers to grab a drink to take inside and handed me a raffle ticket which would allow me to return upstairs after the interval. Mood established, I took my seat in the tiny theatre upstairs and awaited with anticipation ‘So it goes…’ somewhat unusually paired double-bill of Much Ado and Othello.
Othello was, in the most polite terms possible, a car crash. The ‘Blood Brothers’ style opening of a wordless enactment of Desdemona’s murder was unoriginal, condescending and pretentious. One could almost mistake the thudding of the pub music below for the sound of a death knell. Philip Nightingale’s Iago maintained a stock evil smile throughout, demonstrating none of Shakespeare’s delicious psychopathic  and manipulative charm. Perhaps most exasperatingly was director Douglas Baker’s decision to cut the play’s original ending, the devastating shock revelation of Iago’s devilish scheming was apparently not deemed an important enough element of the text for this production.  Forced to highlight a favourable element of this performance, the stage fighting between Cassio (Fergal Phillips) and Roderigo (David Bevan) was sharply choreographed; though the need for swords in the first place was questionable.
It was difficult to choose whether to use the raffle tickets which had initially held such promise, or to pass them on to an enemy bearing one of Iago’s ‘evil grins’. We stayed, and that was a good choice. Director Zoe Thomas Webb’s ‘Much Ado’ demonstrated none of the self-indulgent hallmarks of its predecessor, and the actors bought an energy and vitality which had previously been lacking. Eva Lea was a perfectly adequate Beatrice, though I would have loved to have seen Amy Butterworth in the role, who instead played a gutsy and hilarious Margaret. Similarly, the outlandish femme fatale incarnation of Don John was a little distracting for a character not nearly so fleshed out as others within the play. Though admittedly this Much Ado was lively and enjoyable. Perhaps the most memorable moment of the play came in the final scene in an adlibbed apology to Don Pedro (Harry Anton) from Benedick (Richard Popple) over a malfunctioning electric candle. This provoked all round corpsing, which, though perhaps unforgiveable in a professional venue, was less a negative and more an unprecedented exposure of a pleasant synergy between a hard-working cast.