Review: TARO, Brockley Jack

Arrows & Traps’ TARO is a beautiful tribute to a historical figure we have sorely neglected, playing now at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“In the lens it looks different”

If TARO is to be Arrows & Traps’ final production, then it’s a hell of a high note to go out on. Bringing together so much of what has made them an enjoyable and enlightening company to follow, it’s a swansong to be proud of as the #FemaleFirsts season turns its attentions to Gerda Taro, a pioneering photojournalist whose distinction as the first female war photographer killed in action proves to be far from the most interesting thing about her.

Born Gerda Pohorylle in Stuttgart 1910, the rise of Nazism splintered her Jewish family as she, her brother and her parents were forcibly ejected to different countries. Finding herself in Paris, a chance encounter with fellow refugee Endre Freidmann sparked an interest in photography which they then parlayed into careers in war photography that revolutionised the genre. Their work covering the Spanish Civil War was the fateful making of them. Continue reading “Review: TARO, Brockley Jack”

Review: Gentleman Jack, Brockley Jack

Arrows & Traps’ #FemaleFirsts season kicks off with the striking Anne Lister biography Gentleman Jack at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“This is Paris
This is England
And this is Yorkshire!”

The temptation with biographies – particularly of those of trailblazing figures – can be to treat them with the kind of reverence that smooths away rough edges, excusing behaviour that would otherwise be questionable and questioned. So it is pleasing to see that Ross McGregor’s new play Gentleman Jack respects its subject enough to give a full picture of their life.

That subject is Anne Lister, a nineteenth century Yorkshirewoman whose determination to buck societal convention earned her the sobriquet of the “first modern lesbian”. Her daring lay more than just in her open sexuality though; as an heiress and landowner, she redefined expectations of what women could achieve society as she and her partner sought to break into the mining industry.

Continue reading “Review: Gentleman Jack, Brockley Jack”

20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

Review: Dracula, Brockley Jack

An imaginative take on a familiar tale – Arrows & Traps’ Dracula is good Hallowe’en fare at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“I am counting down the days until we get to Whitby”

On National Coming Out day, there’s something rather delicious about the first act climax of Dracula being set to a haunting remix of Britney’s ‘Toxic’. He may be fangs-deep in Lucy and longing to make Mina his countess but we all saw how taken he was by Jonathan as he set up for a shave. Love is love is love, right, or should that be a vein is a vein is a vein… 

Arrows & Traps have turned their hand to horror before, with a fearlessly inventive take on Frankenstein which lit up the Brockley Jack last year. So adaptor/director Ross McGregor turning to Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula makes sense, not least as at offers ample opportunity to refresh its rather dustily antiquated take on gender. Continue reading “Review: Dracula, Brockley Jack”

Review: The White Rose, Brockley Jack

Arrows and Traps hit the mark once more with the deeply moving The White Rose at the Brockley Jack Theatre

Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg? Wollt ihr ihn, wenn nötig, totaler und radikaler, als wir ihn uns heute überhaupt erst vorstellen können?”* 

How do we make the choice to resist? At what point do we decide that enough is enough in the creeping erosion of our democracy? When former foreign secretaries rip up ministerial codes or chief whips ignore Commons voting conventions? When presidents attack their own FBI and defend despots? Some 250,000 bodies may have thronged the streets of London last week to register their disapproval of the US Commander in Chief but what happens when the ‘other side’ has won, when the act of peaceful protest becomes civil disobedience.

It is into such a world that The White Rose throws us. It is 1943 and having insinuated their way into every level of German society and instituted a systemic indoctrination of much of the population, the Nazis have been in power for a decade. But the tectonic shifts of World War II have finally started to fall in the Allies’ favour and finding safety in like-minded numbers, students of the University of Munich have coalesced into an underground movement, publishing anti-Nazi leaflets and distributing them across the Fatherland. Could such amazing courage go unpunished? Continue reading “Review: The White Rose, Brockley Jack”

Casting for Arrows & Traps’ The White Rose announced

Arrows & Traps Theatre announce The White Rose: The Story of Sophie Scholl as their new production, along with full casting

Seven-time Off West End Award Nominated Arrows & Traps Theatre have announced their return to the Brockley Jack Theatre after their sold-out run of Chekhov’s Three Sisters earlier this year.  There, they will present The White Rose: The Story of Sophie Scholl, written & directed by Ross McGregor.

Based on a true story, The White Rose recounts the final days of Sophie Scholl, a 21-year-old student, who led the only major act of German civil disobedience during the Second World War. Sophie, along with her brother Hans, published underground anti-Nazi leaflets calling for the peaceful overthrow of Hitler. Continue reading “Casting for Arrows & Traps’ The White Rose announced”

Review: Three Sisters, Brockley Jack

The ever-inventive Arrows and Traps company return to the Brockley Jack Theatre with a beautifully acted interpretation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters

“We know too much”

Now in their fifth year, Arrows and Traps have been building quite the reputation as a shining example of how to do fringe theatre. Cultivating relationships with theatres (they’re once more at the Brockley Jack) and creatives (beyond notions of repertory, it is pleasing to see familiar names pop up in production after production and not just as actors) and above all, producing theatre that people want to see. 

And Chekhov’s Three Sisters, presented here in a new version by Ross McGregor, continues that strong tradition, paring back the starch to locate a real emotional directness to the trials of the Prozorov sisters. Trapped in the cultural desert of the provinces, far from the beloved Moscow of their childhood, the rise and fall of their hopes and dreams are traced over four crucial years. Continue reading “Review: Three Sisters, Brockley Jack”

Review: Frankenstein, Brockley Jack

“Beginnings…are difficult”

You may think you know the story of Frankenstein – in the 200 years since Mary Shelley wrote the novel for which she is most famed, it has received countless adaptations and sunk deep into the collective consciousness. But chances are that Arrows & Traps’ version will disarm you and make you consider it anew as it introduces a new, crucial character into the narrative – Mary Shelley herself.

Writer/director Ross McGregor’s reinterpretation of this tale is masterfully done. Framed as something of a fever dream, a hallucination by the older Shelley who suffered from a brain tumour for more than a decade before her death, the story here is split in three. We follow the story of the Creature and, separately, of Victor Frankenstein; but we also explore Shelley’s life too, the experiences that led up to her creation of such an epic piece of literature while still a teenager, the curious darkness that stalked her thereafter. Continue reading “Review: Frankenstein, Brockley Jack”

Review: Crime and Punishment, Brockley Jack

“The art of investigation is…um…freeform”

God, Russia, booze, ghosts, vomit, legacies, tables, blood, metal, tears, redemption, hatred, cruelty, love, sex – the programme notes couldn’t capture Dostoyevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment any more succinctly if it tried. So it is remarkable then, that in Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus’s 90 minutes-straight through adaptation presented here by Arrows & Traps, there’s a second distillation of the Russian epic that similarly captures so much of what has made it an enduring literary classic.

This it does by fashioning something new, something theatrical, out of the narrative. You could while away the hours pointing out what has been ‘missed out’ from the book but at over 600 pages long, your bum will be thanking you for exactly that. For it speaks to what makes a good adaptation, a version that is canny enough not to attempt to slavishly recreate every detail of every page, but rather embody something that is undeniably of its spirit but takes a bold step or two of its own as well. Continue reading “Review: Crime and Punishment, Brockley Jack”

Review: Othello, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

“O god that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains”

Playing in rep with Twelfth Night at Highgate’s Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre, Arrows and Traps’ Othello sees them take a slightly different approach to the tragedy, one which is closer to the way in which they reimagined Macbeth earlier this year. Modernised and musicalised, Will Pinchin’s movement plays a key role in the elegant tenor of Ross McGregor’s visually stimulating production.

Much less of an ensemble show than Twelfth Night, Othello offers an interesting contrast in featuring leading performances, even if they are somewhat uneven. Spencer Lee Osborne’s Othello is fascinatingly insecure which offers a route into his emotional journey, if not quite convincing that he could ever become a general. And Pippa Caddick’s Desdemona responds well to this intensity, playing up her innocence but never cloyingly so. Continue reading “Review: Othello, Upstairs at the Gatehouse”