Review: Circa, Old Red Lion Theatre

Tom Ratcliffe’s Circa feels just too fragmentary and ephemeral at the Old Red Lion Theatre to really convince

“Most people get to be happy with one person. I don’t see why I should have it any different”

I was a big fan of Tom Ratcliffe’s VELVET at the VAULT Festival and so was intrigued to catch this production of his debut play Circa at the Old Red Lion Theatre. But where VELVET taps right into contemporary culture with its gay perspective on the #MeToo era, Circa feels curiously dated.

The play follows the amorous adventures of a gay man at different stages in his life, ostensibly tracking the way in which gay relationships have developed over the decades. It’s a nifty conceit but one which struggles to come to full fruition here, one man’s shags over 30 years not necessarily equating to the evolution of modern gay life. Continue reading “Review: Circa, Old Red Lion Theatre”

Review: On Your Head Be It, London Horror Festival at Old Red Lion

My first foray into the London Horror Festival sees me take in On Your Head Be It at the Old Red Lion Theatre

“Do you want to be caught by the police?”

There’s nothing quite like being smacked around the head by the brilliance of a theatre company and that was my experience the first time I saw Out of the Forest Theatre with their striking take on the story of Lizzie Borden – Bury the Hatchet. So of course I was delighted to find their newest show popping up as part of the London Horror Festival at the Old Red Lion.

Written by and starring Joseph Cullen and Sasha Wilson, On Your Head Be It – A Cautionary Tale is the story of a couple trying to enjoy a bit of holiday in deepest Wales, a break from the old routine. After a rocky journey there and a few bottles of sauvignon blanc have been downed, it soon becomes clear to what extent Stuart and Eleanor are no ordinary couple though. Continue reading “Review: On Your Head Be It, London Horror Festival at Old Red Lion”

Review: Hear Me Howl, Old Red Lion

One woman, her drums and a whole lotta rage against the patriarchy, Hear Me Howl is a defiant roar at the Old Red Lion Theatre

“Drum-roll please…”

Jess is pretty sure she’s a grown-up. She can make a granary loaf from scratch; she’s got a steady job (even if she’s forgotten to order the paper clips); hell, she’s even got an ISA. It might only have fifty quid in it but baby steps… She’s also booked in for her first smear test but when the results come up with something unexpected, she decides that she’s in a rut she wants to get out of.

Only problem is, everyone has a lot to say about that. Lydia Rynne’s solo play Hear Me Howl is about a woman’s right to choose. About if and when to become a mother, if and when to adhere to societal conventions, if and when it is ever right to get lost in the noise of a drum solo… And performed with uncompromising directness by Alice Pitt-Carter, it demands that you listen. Continue reading “Review: Hear Me Howl, Old Red Lion”

Review: I Am Of Ireland, Old Red Lion

I Am Of Ireland proves a knotty and thought-provoking look at Irish society at the Old Red Lion theatre pub in London

“A hundred thousand welcomes”

The ambition behind Seamus Finnegan’s I Am Of Ireland is awesome in its scope, as it tackles the last century of modern Irish history in all its myriad complexities. And the intent that lies behind it is equally laudable, as Finnegan delves deep into the national psyche to analyse what deep-seated religious and political partisanship means for society in a contemporary Ireland.

With the Troubles under the microscope, Finnegan provides us with a dizzying kaleidoscope of stories – some inter-connected, some not, but all touching on the way some kind of conflict has impacted on life. Nationalism curdled into racism, faith challenged by abuse, the legacy of a life governed by terrorism moving forward into a future that seemingly only wants forgiveness.  Continue reading “Review: I Am Of Ireland, Old Red Lion”

Review: Plastic, Old Red Lion

A brutal and bleak look at teenage dreams and experiences – Kenneth Emson’s Plastic is playing at the Old Red Lion before a short run at the Mercury in Colchester

“Think Columbine, think Sandy Hook, think Virginia Tech…”

Deeply poetic, densely constructed and deftly performed, Kenneth Emson’s Plastic finds itself in the unfortunate position of being considered timely. In its depiction of the way violence insinuates itself into society through schoolhood trauma, and disproportionately affects teenagers, it has a horrible currency reflected in the rising crime rates that Amber Rudd apparently knows so little about.

Set in Emson’s native Essex, at a secondary school where old friendships have been recalibrated along new tribal lines, Plastic examines not just the faultlines that emerge from being bullied, but the hopelessness that accompanies the thought that being the popular kid might just be as good as life will ever get. Brutal and bleak, it is uncompromising about how desperate life can get for those feel left behind. Continue reading “Review: Plastic, Old Red Lion”

Review: Under The Skin / Is This Thing On?, Old Red Lion

Under The Skin and Is This Thing On? make for a feminist double-bill worthy of your time at London’s Old Red Lion Theatre

“I liked it…until I didn’t like it”

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, the folks at the Old Red Lion are putting on a double-bill featuring up-and-coming female theatre-makers – Tik-sho-ret Theatre Company’s Under The Skin and Frigg Theatre’s Is This Thing On?. As they’re both relatively short, it’d be rude not to take ’em both in.

In the wrong hands, a story such as Under The Skin could be incendiary – a love story between a Nazi officer and a Jewish prisoner, and a lesbian romance at that. But Yonatan Calderon’s play has its basis in extraordinary truth and directed here by Ariella Eshed, it has a lot to say to about the complexity of human nature and how identity can be too easily pigeon-holed. Continue reading “Review: Under The Skin / Is This Thing On?, Old Red Lion”

Review: The Moor, Old Red Lion

“It’s rained all week and the peat has risen”

The Old Red Lion may not look like the most flexible of spaces, especially since the seating is not, but it seems to inspire designers to come up with most inventive work. And Holly Pigott is no exception as she evokes the dark and brooding mystery of an unforgiving moorland, enhanced by the striking lighting design from Jamie Platt.

And it provides an ideal setting for the psychological thriller that is Catherine Lucie’s The Moor. Bronagh has lived there for most of her life but is far from immune from the strangeness that the landscape inspires. Trapped in a fug of post-natal depression, grief from the death of her mother and the torment of an abusive relationship, she’s beginning question what is real.

Continue reading “Review: The Moor, Old Red Lion”

Review: Tiny Dynamite, Old Red Lion

“I know what fucking surf and turf is”

It is always fascinating to revisit the early work of writers who have gone on to bigger things and Tiny Dynamite offers that chance with Abi Morgan, screenwriter of such hits as Shame, The Iron Lady and Suffragette. This play, revived by David Loumgair for Time Productions, is somewhat of a challenge in the forthrightly enigmatic way in which it has been written and a set of creative decisions that show a pleasing affinity for taking risk.

As ever, not all of though decisions pay off. But when they do, Tiny Dynamite is full of small surprises. Anna Reid’s design introduces water onto the small stage of the Old Red Lion to powerful effect, especially when combined with the electric effect of Zoe Spurr’s lighting. And the gender-swapping of one of the three characters demonstrates the kind of active commitment to redressing gender inequality that remains all too rare in the theatre industry. Continue reading “Review: Tiny Dynamite, Old Red Lion”

Review: No Place Like Hope, Old Red Lion

“Remember, hope is a good thing. 
Maybe the best of things. 
And no good thing ever dies”

On a night when the big West End opening of the evening is an absolute testosterone-fest, it is rather gratifying to see people actually doing something about it, to try and start to redress the balance in their own way. Producer Holly Donovan is one such shining light, using her own negative experiences of gender bias to act as an impetus to finding a play that passed the Bechdel Test and then building a production around it that uses an all-female creative team.

Callum McGowan’s No Place Like Hope is that play and what a delicately moving thing it is, depicting an unlikely friendship between two women reeling from the tragedy that life has thrown at them. Becca is a troubled young woman who is carrying out her community service at a hospice and Anna is a cancer patient there and from inauspicious beginnings, a kinship is recognised as they each find in the other something to cling onto, something that might alleviate their despair. Continue reading “Review: No Place Like Hope, Old Red Lion”

Review: Talk Radio, Old Red Lion

“I want you to start telling the truth”

Does Katie Hopkins possess a single ounce of remorse? How does Ann Coulter really feel about the audiences she continually bates? Does Piers Morgan have any self-awareness? Eric Bogosian’s play Talk Radio may date from 1987 but in its dissection of shock jocks and their role in manipulating media and fomenting the rise of the kind of right-wing ideology that has taken hold either side of the Atlantic, it can’t help but ring with resonance today.

The talking head of the day in Sean Turner’s excellent production is the jaded Barry Champlain, a no-holds-barred late-night talk show host who is coming to both revel in the prejudiced depths that his callers sink to and be repulsed by them. An offer to syndicate his Cleveland-area show nationally sets off a long dark night of the soul, where not even the glass walls of his radio booth seem to offer the same sort of protection that they once did.  Continue reading “Review: Talk Radio, Old Red Lion”