Review: Moments & Empty Beds, Hope

“Why are we talking about eggs”

A double bill of short plays by Julia Cranney, Moments & Empty Beds offer up a neatly incisive look at the modern world through the eyes of those whose stories aren’t heard as often as they should. Those having to shoulder the burden of a failing mental health system,  those who bear the brunt of society’s rudeness towards service workers, those who don’t have the support systems in place that so many take for granted.

Moments follows the unlikely friendship that blossoms between Ava – in her early twenties and living in London for six months now,  working in a call centre – and Daniel, fifty-something, somehow estranged from his family and paying the bills with a job as a car park security guard (and no, he can’t help you with your ticket). Nothing too much exciting happens in their lives but as they describe the minutiae of everyday life in all its unassuming banality, these details accumulate into a weighty portrait of two ever so slightly desperate souls. Continue reading “Review: Moments & Empty Beds, Hope”

Review: Gypsy Queen, VAULT Festival

“We’re all friends of Dorothy but you’re the cowardly lion”

Rob Ward has form when it comes to examining how homophobia is entrenched in the world of sport. His one-man show Away From Home looked at whether the Premiership might ever be ready for an out gay footballer with intelligence and integrity. But it is to the boxing ring that Ward now turns his attention with his play Gypsy Queen, already an award-nominated success after touring the UK and playing Edinburgh last year.

Dane ‘The Pain’ Sansom is the son of a boxing legend and a pretty nifty boxer himself, ‘Gorgeous’ George O’Connell is a bare-knuckle champion from the traveller community making his first steps into the world of professional boxing. And when George rocks up at the gym owned by Dane’s dad, sparks soon fly as their respective cockiness rubs up against each other, and sure enough, it isn’t too long before you can remove the -iness from that last bit as they get to know each other better in the shower. Continue reading “Review: Gypsy Queen, VAULT Festival”

Review: Collective Rage – A Play in Five Betties, Southwark Playhouse

“My PUSSY is not gonna do the acting. 
I am gonna do the acting. 
In THE THEA-TAH.”

As Collective Rage‘s sub-title suggests, there’s a whole lotta Betty in Jen Silverman’s play. From an Upper East Sider unhappy with her husband to a disillusioned Latina, a younger woman also unhappy with her husband to a genderqueer ex-con via a lesbian would-be mechanic, it turns out – in some ways – we are all Betty, #JeSuisBetty, #BettysArmy.

For these five particular and very different Betties though, being brought together by the power of theatre provides an opportunity to explore something more about their Bettiness. They investigate hidden desires, bristle at others’ ambitions, discover the power of their own vagina in one case, and with a raucous, drag cabaret inspired vibe, is punchily energetic.  
Continue reading “Review: Collective Rage – A Play in Five Betties, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Tumulus, VAULT Festival

“I’ve never had a lover die on me before”

Chemsex is one of those subjects that always seems to pop up at festivals and sure enough, in week 1 of the VAULT we find a new play on the very subject by Christopher Adams. But with a sparkingly fresh and darkly witty take and some intelligent and imaginative direction from Matt Steinberg, Tumulus emerges as a cracking piece of theatre, a “chilling queer noir” that entertains as much as it elucidates.
 
Anthony is well and truly addicted to the chemsex scene in London. He’s holding down his job as an assistant curator at the British Museum just about fine, though that promotion always seems to elude him, as his evenings and weekends are taken up with chasing the next amazing high, the next unmissable party, the next insatiable guy. This high-functioning addict has his certainties shaken though when his one of his latest hook-ups turns up dead on Hampstead Heath.

Continue reading “Review: Tumulus, VAULT Festival”

Review: A Curmudgeon’s Guide to Christmas Round Robin Letters, Hope

“Jamie stayed and explored Peterborough, which has a Waitrose. He can’t resist a good Waitrose”
From the minute you walk into the Hope for A Curmudgeon’s Guide to Christmas Round Robin Letters, you know something special is afoot. Chairs are draped with blankets and cushions, bowls of Quality Street twinkle like fairy lights, and we’re heartily greeted like old friends by the couple whose front room we’re entering. It’s a warmly convivial beginning to a warmly convivial show.
A Curmudgeon’s Guide… is based on a book by the late, lamented Guardian diarist Simon Hoggart, where he collated some of the more extreme examples of the Christmas round-up-of-the-year letter that people have received. Gently poking fun at the humblebrags and hubris they contain, Scott Le Crass has fashioned an intimate two-hander which looks lightly at that all-too-human need to share.
That it does by having hosts Kate Russell-Smith and Claire Lacey break the ice with some cracker-pulling (no, the hat didn’t fit me, they never do!) and then proceeding to read out excerpts from some of their favourite letters, mocking the random level of detail included, the superhuman accomplishments of children, the luxury vacations that all these people seem to be able to take.
And wrapped around these recitals are the delicate hints of the relationship between the two. A sadness that is at first unspoken, then as the letters they read take a poignant turn – revealing a year’s worth of bad news in some cases – their melancholy bleeding out to force them to reflect on their own lives, their own experiences. At just an hour, this is done with a light touch but still manages a gut-punching level of emotion.
Jai Morjaria’s subtle lighting changes reflect these emotional shifts well but the best thing about this production is the fact that this is a lesbian couple is incidental. It is these types of stories that are invaluable in normalising LGBT+ cultural representation and Le Crass deserves credit for taking the action to change the original heterosexual pairing of his adaptation in this way. And if a lesbian-themed show at the Hope becomes my newest Christmas tradition then hell yeah, I’m down with that.  
Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 23rd December

Review: Privates on Parade, Union

“Everyone knows it’s the start of the Third World War”

Written in 1977 about events in 1948, there can be a temptation to dismiss the campery and dated gender politics and racial stereotyping of Privates on Parade as outdated and offensive. An argument could be made – and it is one that I have made myself before – that such notions need to be interrogated and challenged by productions. But equally, when the writing is intelligently nuanced and the direction sensitively done, audiences can be left to do this for themselves.
And so it is – I find – with Peter Nichols’ play with songs, presented here by Kirk Jameson at the Union. Take the time to delve beneath the surface and you’ll soon see there’s incisive commentary about the insidious nature of colonialism, about the personal freedoms that can be explored when released from the social strictures of home, about the contemporary lack of opportunities for women, about how war is an equal opportunities offender when it comes to shattering happiness, whether gay or straight. 
Front and centre here is Simon Green’s inimitable Captain Terri Dennis, leader of the Song and Dance Unit South East Asia (SADUESA), a British army entertainment corps stationed in Malaya at the end of WWII as the army tried to reclaim the country in the name of the Empire. Revelling in the club-like intimacy of this theatre, he nails the flirtatious nature and fierce integrity of a performer, of a man, seizing his hard-fought opportunity to be his authentic self. 
And as the personnel around him, he’s supported by a game and enthusiastic ensemble who maintain a cracking level of energy. Paul Sloss’ delightfully gormless Brummie Len is a peach of a performance, delicately moving too in the subtle romance that has developed with Tom Pearce’s (a mean pianist here) Charles. Callum Coates’ clipped officer Flack is particularly good in delivering his ‘letters home’, and Martha Pothen, as the mixed-race Sylvia, is a vital presence that doubly questions contemporary attitudes to race and sex, as well as probing notions of responsibility.
Musically, Nick Barstow keeps Denis King’s pastiche-heavy score feeling lively, Mike Lees’ design works well within the space to create an appropriately homespun feel, and Ben Jacobs’ playful lighting allows for some moments of real visual grace, especially in the performance numbers. Above all, Jameson ensures there’s a wonderfully affectionate feel for the piece here which works wonders. Recommended.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Headshot Toby
Booking until 17th December



Review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Apollo

“Go give the boys boners they won’t know what to do with”

 

 When Everybody’s Talking About Jamie made its debut in Sheffield earlier this year (here’s my review), hopes were high for a transfer, the news of which took a little time to be confirmed, leaving me worried it would suffer the fate of the gorgeous Flowers for Mrs Harris. But this sparkling new show has arrived in the West End and now sits on Shaftesbury Avenue at the Apollo as a proud piece of new British musical theatre and an equally proud piece of LGBT+ storytelling.

Written by Dan Gillespie Sells (music) and Tom MacRae (book and lyric) and adapted from a BBC documentary, Jamie casts off the archetypal coming out and gay bashing stories (though not completely ignoring them) in favour of a main narrative about an out and proud teen who is insistent that he’s going to his high school prom in drag but only belatedly coming to realise that his determination to be fierce has consequences for those who love him.

And on second viewing, it was the idea of family being the ones you choose to surround yourself with that really resonated. Josie Walker is outstanding as Margaret, the single mother who has scrimped and saved and sacrificed so much, trying her best to understanding towards a son whose journey of self-discovery seems to be taking him further away from her. And the relationship with Mina Anwar’s best friend Ray – simultaneously comic relief and a pseudo-parent figure for Jamie – is beautifully drawn.

And the camaraderie between the local drag queens shouldn’t be underestimated either, from Phil Nichol’s Loco Chanel to James Gillan’s Tray Sophisticay. For all their bitchy one-liners to one another, you just know they’d defend each other to the limit and that’s another form of family to which Jamie is drawn, as he sets about establishing his own drag persona. John McCrea’s title character is a wonderfully self-possessed streak of petulant precocity and maintains our sympathies even when he’s all me me me…

I’d also forgotten just how funny Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is. Directed by Jonathan Butterell, MacRae’s script is jam-packed with zingers from pretty much everyone, although the Emmeline Pankhurst / Beyoncé analogy stole it for me. And Gillespie Sells’ pop-influenced score is an absolute breath of fresh air, from Walker’s elegiac torch song ‘If I Met Myself Again’ to McCrea’s catwalk strut through ‘Walk of Art’, Tamsin Carroll’s inspired Betty Boo-esque rap midway through ‘Don’t Even Know It’ to the quiet beauty of Lucie Shorthouse’s ‘It Means Beautiful’.

Shorthouse’s Pritti, Jamie’s best friend, is also worthy of mention, emblematic of the matter-of-fact diversity in this ensemble, and a brilliant – and all too rare – example of an everyday Muslim character. This is a musical for today, reflecting the Britain of today – you really need to go see it now!

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Alastair Muir
Booking until 21st April

 

Review: Drip, Bush

“Dive, dive, dive right in

Dive, dive, dive, dive, dive right in…”
On the one hand, I think I’d like to see Tom Wells really surprise us with something completely different. But on the other, he does what he does so bloody well that I kinda never want him to stop. Drip sees him playing with form, as it is a one-man musical but thematically, we’re once again in the world he has explored so affectingly in plays such as Me As A Penguin, The Kitchen Sink and Jumpers for Goalposts
Our protagonist is Liam, a 15 year old from South Shields who has moved to Hull cos his mum is seeing a guy named Barry who lives there. Making fast friends with Caz, the ‘other queer student’ at school, he throws himself into helping her with the annual project prize presentation that she is so desperate to win. Only thing is, she’s planning Hull’s first synchronised swimming team and Liam can’t swim… 
Drip is presented as a musical being performed by Liam as part of a school assembly, a device which works well in stringing together short scenes that take us through his past year since moving to Hull. And these vignettes mean that there’s mahoosive room for Wells to fill his book and lyrics with the kind of wry observational humour that he does so well, particularly as it relates to the awkwardness of being an adolescent gay kid.
Working out if a crush on trainee lifeguard Josh might turn into anything, deciding whether synchronised swimming is too – well – camp even for them, figuring out how friendships can be mended even after the biggest of strains, trying to make Spiderman proud of you… At just an hour long, Drip is short and incredibly sweet, delivered perfectly by Andrew Finnigan with his guitar, full of hesitations and self-doubt that is perfectly pitched.
Matthew Robins’ songwriting is necessarily simplistic – these are songs that Liam has written in his bedroom after all – and an additional reason for that becomes apparent later on, but there’s a heartfelt tenderness to them that works. And Jane Fallowfield’s direction encourages a playful naturalism that is impossible to resist, especially in the gentle audience participation that raises a chuckle throughout. Created as a Script Club production in partnership with Boundless Theatre, Drip is another feather in the cap for Wells & co and is definitely one to look out for if and when it returns (it must return right?!). 

Review: Medea, Written in Rage, The Place

“Maman est avec vous

Maman est avec vous 
Pour toujours…”
Nothing becomes Medea (or at least this version of her) as much as her entry into the world. Into a liminal space shrouded in smoke, summoned by a clarion call from the ether, an unknowable shape emerges. Obscured by lush swathes of fabric, movement governed by improbably high platforms, this figure casts extraordinary shadows (stunning lighting work from Chahine Yavroyan) until they arrive centre stage to finally deliver their story.
And though Euripides’ enduring classic may be familiar, it’s not likely one has heard it told quite like this. Medea, Written in Rage was reimagined by the Haitian-French Jean-René Lemoine and has been translated and adapted here by Neil Bartlett, to be performed by the Frenchman François Testory. A dancer and singer of some considerable renown, he submerges us into a queered-up, highly-politicised sonic experiment of a piece which is, at times, hugely arresting. 
Though still rooted in Greek mythology, the beauty in this Medea is how she fucks with our perceptions – of gender, of victimhood, of immigration, of sexual agency, of the patriarchy itself. The dramatic golden silk (by corsetier Mr Pearl) of her gown coils around her like the history of the legendary women she invokes; the live sound work and vocal sampling (by Phil Von) elevates the tale into her own version of epic, elemental storytelling that cannot be denied.
For by queering the pitch (as it were) in her giving her her own voice, so vibrantly told by Testory, we gain a new perspective on the vengeance she wreaks on those who have wronged her. Shaped by the damage she wrought on herself to secure Jason, and the damage she wrought on herself to keep Jason, the repercussions of her colonisation and abandonment reverberate with real resonance as an indictment of Western behaviours, of male behaviours. An undeniably intense experience.

Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Manuel Vason
Booking until 7th June, then touring

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

After over 178 productions and over 28,000 audience members through the door since moving to the Bedford in 2015, Theatre N16 is looking for a new home from December 2017. Whilst they search, you can support the folks there by donating here.
Theatre N16 was set up in 2015 to be a stomping ground for new companies and a place to try out new work, offering affordable deals on rehearsal and performance space. It has offered a ground-breaking, risk-free deal to all companies, which 95% of our guests have taken, guaranteeing that creatives do not leave our space owing the venue money. This is all under the auspices of an Equity Fringe Agreement, with Theatre N16 one of the few London venues to have signed up to the deal to guarantee pay to all creatives working for the venue.


Live at Zédel have launched their Autumn/Winter season at The Crazy Coqs and it’s heaving, once again, with incredible new talent and established acts from across a whole host of disciplines including live music, musical theatre, cabaret, comedy and spoken word. John Owen-Jones, Tiffany Graves, Clive Rowe, Anne Reid and Dillie Keane are just some of the names on offer.


Nina Sosanya has joined Suranne Jones and Jason Watkins in the cast of Bryony Lavery’s Frozen.


Rehearsals began this week for the next show at the Gate, Suzy Storck – directed by celebrated French director Jean-Pierre Baro in his debut UK production, the cast features Kate Duchêne, Caoilfhionn Dunne, Jonah Russell and Theo Solomon, in this haunting new play from Magali Mougel.


Artistic Director Josie Rourke and Executive Producer Kate Pakenham have announced three new productions at the Donmar Warehouse for late 2017 and through to 2018: a new play by Amy Herzog, Belleville, a revival of Peter Gill’s modern classic, The York Realist, and a new production of William Congreve’s Restoration comedy The Way of the World.
  • The Donmar will host the UK premiere of American playwright Amy Herzog’s acclaimed play Belleville. The production will star James Norton and Imogen Poots as New York newlyweds living in Paris, opposite Faith Alabi and Malachi Kirby. Belleville is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst who is making his Donmar Warehouse debut.
  • Donmar Associate and Sheffield Theatres Artistic Director Robert Hastie returns after his hit productions of My Night with Reg and Splendour to direct a revival of Peter Gill’s The York Realist. Revived 50 years after the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, The York Realist will star Ben Batt, Lucy Black, Lesley Nicol, Katie West and Matthew Wilson., and will be a co-production with Sheffield Theatres.
  • The final production will be William Congreve’s Restoration comedy The Way of the World. James Macdonald returns to the Donmar after his acclaimed production of Arnold Wesker’s Roots, directing Linda Bassett who will play Lady Wishfort.
  • Donmar Associate Artist Tom Scutt will curate Donmar on Design, a week-long festival celebrating the power of design in theatre, and the designers who make it happen.