Review: Warped, VAULT Festival

Martin Malcolm’s Warped at the VAULT Festival looks at the impact of institutionalised toxic masculinity on the young men of today, through the lens of the legacy of the Kray twins 

“You’ve put me right off my Monster Munch”

It’s interesting, isn’t it, to consider the figures that society chooses to lionise, the things we’re willing to forgive or forget once a shadow of historical distance appears. The Kray twins are a case in point, some adaptation or other of their story never far from our screens, serving to usher them if not to the status of national treasure then to a pantheon of questionable British icons (we’ll discuss Churchill another day…).

Russell Lucas (producer and director) and Martin Malcolm’s (writer) Warped challenges the romanticised commercialisation of that legacy by framing questions of contemporary male behaviour around it. Is it any wonder that toxic masculinity is rife when these are the myths that young men are encouraged to look to? Through the eyes of Aaron and Matty, whose idolisation has gone to extreme levels, we’re forced to face its consequences. Continue reading “Review: Warped, VAULT Festival”

Review: Ladybones, VAULT Festival

Sorcha McCaffrey’s Ladybones proves an incisive and insightful look at OCD without ever labouring its point 

“A can of Coke is just a can of Coke. Until it’s not.”

It takes real skill to write effectively about a subject without making your play ostensibly about that subject. A simplistic take on Sorcha McCaffrey’s Ladybones would be to call it an OCD play but that would be to deny its layers of subtleties and the depth of its actual subject matter which is far more wide-ranging.

McCaffrey plays Nuala, a junior osteology archaeologist whose quietly ordered existence is thrown into disarray upon the discovery of a skeleton which turns out to be that of a young woman. Throwing herself into finding out the story of the victim, she starts to identify with her, a journey that pulls too hard on the thread of everything holding her together. Continue reading “Review: Ladybones, VAULT Festival”

Review: And The Rest of Me Floats, Bush Theatre

Outbox Theatre’s And The Rest of Me Floats is the queer house party at the Bush Theatre that you didn’t know you needed

“Do you see me?
Do you really see me?”

Outbox Theatre’s And The Rest of Me Floats soars in its opening and closing moments. There’s not a word spoken for the first few minutes but as the company of trans, non-binary, and queer performers take their seats one by one on the stage of the Bush Theatre – full of unflinching direct eye contact with the audience – there’s such a powerful statement of intent about their unalienable right to take over this space.

And as the show winds to its climax just over an hour later, this already most unconventional of shows opens out into something of a game of ‘Never Have I Ever’ as performers and audience members alike are encouraged to share something of themselves. It’s a beautifully intimate and inclusive act, topped off with a raucous singalong to MUNA’s anthemic ‘I Know A Place’ – how my queer little heart filled with joy. Continue reading “Review: And The Rest of Me Floats, Bush Theatre”

Review: [title of show], Above the Stag

Four cracking performances make [title of show] a musical highlight of the month at the Above the Stag Theatre, more than holding its own with the West End

“A musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical”

In a month full of major West End musicals opening, [title of show] is a glorious example that bigger isn’t always better. In the studio at the Above the Stag Theatre, something special is on offer, perfectly suited to the intimacy of the space and highlighting some pretty serious musical theatre talent about which we should be shouting as loud as we do those with their faces on billboards on the Strand.

Hunter Bell (book) and Jeff Bowen’s (music and lyrics) meta-musical of musical theatre injokes as it depicts two guys called Hunter and Jeff responding to a call for submissions to the New York Musical Theatre Festival. And looking for inspiration, they decide to write a show about two guys called Hunter and Jeff responding to a call for submissions to the New York Musical Theatre Festival, using their own words verbatim and bringing two friends onboard as well.  Continue reading “Review: [title of show], Above the Stag”

Review: Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre

The highly anticipated musical Come From Away leaves me dry-eyed at the Phoenix Theatre despite a very strong cast

“There’s nothing to do, nothing to see
Thank god we stopped at the duty-free”

I didn’t check the merchandise stand at Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s Come From Away but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were seeing branded tissues, such is the weight of expectation that comes with this musical, set in the days after 9/11. But rather than New York, the show is set more than 2,000 kilometres away in the remote town of Gander, Newfoundland, where 38 planes with 6,579 passengers were grounded in the aftermath of the attacks. 

There, in a Canadian town that practically doubled in population overnight, we witness the unfolding of a tragedy but more significantly, the response of a community willing and able to do anything to extend the hand of friendship. Doors are flung open, shoulders proffered, bottles opened, an unquestioned barrage of hospitality seeking to envelop traumatised passengers who had been trapped for hours on their planes (in a pre-social media age remember), only to be released to find out the terrible news. Continue reading “Review: Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre”

Review: Marmite, VAULT Festival

My second open relationships in gay couples play at this year’s VAULT Festival, Marmite reveals a writing team with something to say about modern life

“Do you have a condom?
‘I have a Twix wrapper'”

After a meet-cute at the bar in a Bristol Wetherspoons, which sees them both dump the people they’re actually there on dates with, the future for Dylan and Eddie looks peachy. Both in their early 20s with chemistry rocketing off the chart, they’re soon living together and discussing how they’re going to get through Eddie’s sister’s hen do. But life’s never quite as simple as that, and an innocuous question about exclusivity reveals a fundamental difference in their approach to sex and love.

Hallam Breen & Phoebe Simmonds’ Marmite follows Open as another exploration of open relationships in gay couples at the VAULT Festival but ultimately, its strengths are most evident in depicting the minutiae of modern gay life. Theo Walker and Ned Costello both have an easy charm about them and as they navigate the ‘getting to know you’ stage, there’s something quite touching in their innate fondness for each other, deepened by their varying revelations about coming out to family (or not), and their contrasting views on Cher. Continue reading “Review: Marmite, VAULT Festival”

Review: The D Word, VAULT Festival

The D Word proves a bit of a disappointment for me, a first at this year’s VAULT Festival

“I’m a modern man: I eat hummus and suck cock”

There’s something a bit awkward about reading that a play is deeply autobiographical after not having really believed it. So I should probably apologise in advance to Jordan Waller. His story certainly is remarkable – a gay man born of lesbian parents via sperm donation – exploring notions of identity and self when your upbringing is far from conventional. So why did The D Word leave me cold.

I think it was something to do with the tone of the show, caught somewhere between comedy routine and confessional. A brusque vein of brutally smutty humour runs throughout the hour (weirdly focused on Bible-bashing jokes at one point) that keeps the audience somewhat at arm’s length rather than embracing us fully into his story. Tales of being outed by his birth mum at 11 raise a chuckle but his growing emotional distance from his other mum Dawn once their relationship ends is left unexplored. Continue reading “Review: The D Word, VAULT Festival”

Review: Avenue Q, New Wimbledon Theatre

This Sell A Door tour of the excellent puppet musical Avenue Q shows just how well it is standing the test of time

“You should be much more careful when you’re talking about the sensitive subject of race”

I do love Avenue Q. It was one of the first musicals that I fell in love with after moving to London, tracking it throughout its West End-theatre hopping run with multiple visits (a recap can be found here) and then popping in here and there to catch the occasional touring version. And it is a show to which my reactions have shifted: 13 years ago when I first saw it, its quarter-life crisis was directly recognisable; a little way down the line now, I’m the one saying ‘these kids are so much younger than me’ about this youthful company!

Premiering in 2003, the show – music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx and book by Jeff Whitty – benefited hugely from coming into life in a slightly more innocent pre-social media time, a moment when Generation X didn’t face half as much opprobrium as millennia are forced to shoulder nowadays. And revisiting the show now, as this Sell A Door production kicks off a major UK tour scheduled to last most of the year, it is just lovely to be reminded of simpler times, of such uncomplicated good feeling. Continue reading “Review: Avenue Q, New Wimbledon Theatre”

Review: Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist, VAULT Festival

You will never hear Keanu Reeves the same way again, Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist is a hilarious highlight of the VAULT Festival

“I don’t do maths, just cheekbones”

The more you think about it, Cate Blanchett probably is the mortal enemy of Tilda Swinton. Such are the thoughts that will run through your mind as you ponder the many and varied delights of Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist, the kind of extended comedy sketch that really shouldn’t work but turns out to be second-Oscar-winningly good.

Byron Lane’s play is the kind of thing that defies description, or rather description fails to do it justice. I could say bubble-wrap coat but that’s nothing compared to the swishiness of it in real life, Similarly, the wearing of lace tablecloths and scarves…both moments of inspired comedy and that’s just scratching the surface of Tilda’s outfit.   Continue reading “Review: Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist, VAULT Festival”

Review: Bleach, VAULT Festival

An arrestingly forthright show about life as a rent boy, Bleach proves one of the VAULT Festival’s more compellingly acted one-man show

“Do I look like a piece of meat to you”

Truth be told, there’s not the hugest amount of originality to Dan Ireland-Reeves’ Bleach  – the literal ins and outs of an aspiring rent boy feel two-a-penny (though maybe that speaks more to the kind of plays I pick to see…) – but what does set it apart is the fierce commitment with which he performs his monologue, and the unsparing complicity he demands from us as his audience.

That kind of connection is vital to the success of a one-man-show, to create the kind of atmospheric storytelling that pulls the audience into the palm of their hand and then dares them to look away. And that’s what’s on offer here with the story of Tyler – a young lad from the sticks who moves to London and, tired of scratching a living as a waiter in Chinatown, hops over Shaftesbury Avenue to become a rent boy in Soho, as you do. Continue reading “Review: Bleach, VAULT Festival”