Review: Rope, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

“I have committed passionless – motiveless – faultless – and clueless murder”

Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 play Rope has a special place in my heart for it was the 2010 Almeida production that properly introduced me to the marvel that is Bertie Carvel and Roger Michell taking that theatre into the round – when such things were still a novelty to me – was a properly memorable experience. So the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch had a job to do and Douglas Rintoul’s expertly-tooled revival has much to commend it.

The story centres on the nefarious antics of two idly rich Oxford undergrads who murder a fellow student just for the hell of it, in pursuit of some Nietzschean ideal. And not just that, they host a dinner party hours after they committed the deed and stuff the corpse into a chest which they then use as a dinner table, even going so far as to invite the victim’s mother. Darkly comic throughout, the play soon winds up into something of a proper thriller as the pair walk a very dangerous line. Continue reading “Review: Rope, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

Review: Angry, Southwark Playhouse

“What are you looking at?”

On the one hand, you want to be supporting efforts to take a fresh look at gender in our theatres. On the other, you want there to be clarity and real understanding about what is being done. A big selling point of Philip Ridley’s Angry, a set of six monologues, is that they’ve been written to be gender-neutral and depending on the night you go, they’ll be performed by a man or a woman.    

Admirable an enterprise as it is, the term gender-neutral feels like a misnomer though. For the roles are still firmly gendered as variously performed by Georgie Henley and Tyrone Huntley. So in the same way that the Bridge Theatre or the Young Vic whacks up an all-genders sign right next that for the gents or ladies, it is missing the point in not moving to a place that is actually free of the construct of gender. Continue reading “Review: Angry, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: The B*easts, Bush

“Essex-y, but not from Essex”

There’s a temptation to raise an eyebrow when a well-known actor gets a writing commission. 2013’s The Herd was a perfectly decent play but would it have got the same attention were it not written by Rory Kinnear? Who knows. Also at the Bush, we now have Monica Dolan’s The B*easts but over an intense hour, there’s little doubt about the quality here.

Dolan’s monologue takes a long hard look at how the increased sexualisation that has seeped into the very marrow of Western society and how not even our children are immune from its effects. She plays Tessa, a psychotherapist who has been called in to assess a mother who has been placed under the spotlight for allowing her daughter to have breast implants. Her daughter who is eight years old. Continue reading “Review: The B*easts, Bush”

Review: Girls and Boys, Royal Court

“If it gets difficult – and it will get difficult – I want you to remember two things: remember that this did not happen to you, and that it is not happening now”

Credit where credit is due – Es Devlin’s design for Girls and Boys, aided by Luke Halls’ video work, is simply stunning – the simplest of ideas realised with perfect execution. A modern flat smothered in dreamy turquoise, punctuated at each scene change with a flash of the ‘real’ flat superimposed on top. The effect is literally blink-and-miss-it but somehow sears onto the retina, as if caught in a hallucination or reverie.

But such deceptive simplicity is far from effortless as no less than four associate set designers are credited – Jack Headford, Jed Skrzypczak, Angie Vasileiou and Machiko Weston – and two associate video designers – Charli Davis and Zakk Hein. No matter how the work was divvied up, all should get to take a bow as it is deeply thrilling work (I want someone to write a longform piece on the subtly changing orange objects). It also helps that Dennis Kelly’s monologue, delivered by Carey Mulligan, is exceptional. Continue reading “Review: Girls and Boys, Royal Court”

Review: I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream, VAULT Festival

“We don’t need a book, what we need is action”

The publicity for Abi Zakarian’s I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream puts it better than I ever could – it’s “a play-performance-art-protest-thing.” With one of the funniest lines I’ve heard in a theatre this year, involving Sean Bean. Directed by Rafaella Marcus, the show has all the raw energy of devised work but also carries with it the weight of something much more deeply considered.

I Have A Mouth… is an attempt to “address every single feminist issue in the space of sixty minutes” and does so, with its company of six, in a mightily anarchic manner. These are women who are just as likely to spit in a mirror, throw a tampon at you and bite the head off a wedding bouquet than sit quietly in the corner and put up with the patriarchy any longer and fuck knows, they’ve got every right to be angry. Continue reading “Review: I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream, VAULT Festival”

Review: Tiger, VAULT Festival

“It’s a good idea, some people might find it funny”

Grief does funny things to people. Different things too. Some retreat into themselves, trapped in a fug of isolation they can’t see a way out of. Others go out of their way to show the world that everything is fine, going so far as to dress up in a tiger suit, even if they’re dying on the inside. Joe Eyre’s Tiger, directed by Will Maynard, brings the two together with some cheesecake, some yoga, a whole lotta David Bowie and a brand of neatly intelligent comedy.

Comedian Alice is the one experiencing the first kind of grief. Utterly poleaxed by the death of a loved one, she’s completely withdrawn from the outside world and even from her doctor boyfriend Oli, whose patience is being stretched to breaking point after six long months. The hunt for a flatmate brings a man dressed as a tiger to their front door replete with a suite of knock knock jokes and a chink of light in the darkness of Alice’s depression.  Continue reading “Review: Tiger, VAULT Festival”

Review: Elsa, VAULT Festival

We coulda had it all…or so they told us. But though Elsa is a graduate, she’s also an aspiring actress in a city full of aspiring actresses and so she’s jobbing in a coffee shop, listening in on the exhausting pace of a world where art is being devalued in the face of picture-perfect Instagram feeds.

Isobel Rogers’ Elsa is a one-woman song and story affair, a paean to the joys of eavesdropping but also beautifully reflective on the state of the world, and Elsa’s own place in it. Snippets of personal dramas breeze in and out of the coffee shop doors and Rogers captures them perfectly with a scathingly funny sense of humour.

Continue reading “Review: Elsa, VAULT Festival”

Review: Gundog, Royal Court

“Just make them shag each other and sell all the littluns to rich people who want pets of something”

There’s something unremittingly bleak about Simon Longman’s Gundog that makes it a real challenge. It’s an impressively bold depiction of the complete decline of a way of life, the kind of rural farming that the Common Agricultural Policy hasn’t managed to reach and protect. None of the loneliness or impoverished desperation is spared in what can feel a tad like punishment by the end. 

After the death of their parents, and with their grandfather’s illness and their brother’s listlessness, sisters Anna and Becky find themselves landed with the thankless task of looking after the remotest of farms in an area that can’t even sustain a local pub. The arrival of a foreigner with a nifty line in knitwear is a rare harkening of the potential of change but we’re never allowed to forget that times really are tough.   Continue reading “Review: Gundog, Royal Court”

Review: Again, Trafalgar Studios 2

“It’s like asking a halibut to understand a panther”

Most families have a story or three, the kind of tales that go down in folklore, destined to be repeated at family events no matter embarrassing for the parent/sibling/etc involved. I doubt many will have as good an anecdote as the Barcelona suitcase story which crops up midway through Again, making its world premiere at the Trafalgar Studios 2 in this Mongrel Thumb production.

The ways in which families tell and retell stories, communicating or struggling to communicate to each other, lies at the heart of what writer Stephanie Jacob is trying to achieve here. Married to a playful theatrical structure that emphasises how tricky saying the right thing can be (or unsaying the wrong thing…) but also which allows for infinite possibility, Again makes for an intermittently striking evening. Continue reading “Review: Again, Trafalgar Studios 2”