Review: The View UpStairs, Soho Theatre

A vital piece of gay history is unearthed in LGBT+ musical The View UpStairs at the Soho Theatre

“In this kingdom we’ve found
Where the queens and clones collide
And though it reeks of cheap cologne
It’s my favorite escape from the world outside”

There’s something so powerful about the power of theatre to educate as well as ilustrate. The 1973 arson attack that took the lives of 32 people in a New Orleans gay bar was actually the most tragic hate crime until Orlando but it remains comparatively little known. So Max Vernon’s choice to use it as inspiration for his musical The View UpStairs is freighted with significance from the off.

And at its best, it is hugely powerful. A cross between a kind of oral history and musical theatre, it fleshes out the lives of gay people in 1970s USA in all its multi-faceted nature through its collection of what might at first be mistaken as stock characters. The aspiring drag queen, the sharp-edged hustler, the dreamy twink, the closeted musician, the lesbian ‘mother’, all are present and correct. Continue reading “Review: The View UpStairs, Soho Theatre”

Review: The End of History, St Giles-in-the-Fields

Site-specific theatre done right – High Hearted’s The End of History sits us in the beautiful surroundings of St Giles-in-the-Fields and really makes us think

“Why are we here?”

Marcelo dos Santos’ The End of History is not just performed in the church of St Giles-in-the-Fields but it is set there too, a quiet spot of calm in among the bustling Soho streets. And as Crossrail forces yet another upheaval of the immediate surrounding area, dos Santos and director Gemma Kerr ask us to locate this development in the wider scheme of things, in a history of constant evolution and ponder what might be lost in the process.

This they do by colliding two individuals – charity worker Wendy and Paul, seeking to make his mark in the world of property. They’re both having a shocker of a day – she’s coming out of a long-term relationship and searching for somewhere to live, he’s waiting on some test results and the battery on his phone is going down fast because he can’t quite keep off Grindr. Or Scruff. Or Hornet.  Continue reading “Review: The End of History, St Giles-in-the-Fields”

Review: Dust, Soho

A piercingly effective and surprisingly funny at the impact of suicide – Dust has already sold out at the Soho Theatre in London but returns may be available.

“I’ve been dead for three days”

If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Given that Milly Thomas’ one-woman show Dust is centred on a young person’s suicide, there’s a surprising amount of humour contained therein. It’s of the darkest, most mordant kind of course, but it does mean that the emphasis of the writing skates a little close to the surface.

Alice decides to end it all but when she wakes in a hospital, it turns out she hasn’t succeeded quite how she wanted. For though she is dead, she hasn’t passed on and is forced to observe the aftermath of her decision to end her life, bear witness to the impact it has on her friends and family, the loved ones left behind. Continue reading “Review: Dust, Soho”

Review: The Scar Test, Soho Theatre

“I just – I can’t believe this is England”

Hannah Khalil’s intelligent exploration of the Israeli-Palestine conflict Scenes from 68* Years was one of my top-ranked plays of last year and so I was delighted to be able to see her new play The Scar Test, albeit in the oppressive, claustrophobic heat of the Soho Upstairs at the height of summer. And with that knowledge of at least some of Khalil’s theatrical style, it was a pleasure to be able to sink into her idiosyncratic storytelling and be so thoroughly challenged by its subject matter.

Here, Khalil has turned her focus to the experience of female detainees at the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre and the many, many indignities suffered by those trying to work their way through the knots and prejudices of our immigration system. And as with that previous play, multiple verbatim strands are splintered into non-linear episodes, some coalescing into something approaching an overall arc, some disappearing into the ether, forgotten victims neglected by us all. Continue reading “Review: The Scar Test, Soho Theatre”

Review: BLUSH, Soho Theatre

“Cock, non-bio.
Cock, non-bio.
Cock, non-bio.

Charlotte Josephine’s BLUSH makes its way to the Soho Theatre after a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year and ahead of a tour across the South of England (and Birmingham). And it’s a play that manages to hit two of my bugbear phrases in theatre writing, in that it is both ‘darkly comic’ and ‘extremely timely’. But though reviewers and publicists may desperately overuse both terms, it doesn’t make it any less true here.

BLUSH is concerned with revenge porn, weaving together five stories of people who have found themselves swept up in this most modern of afflictions. An older sister looks on helplessly as her 18 year old sibling has intimate photos published online by a boyfriend, a father struggles with his porn addiction, a jilted lover is surprised at the reaction she gets when she posts her ex’s nudes, Josephine and her co-performer Daniel Foxsmith show us the many ways in which the issue can impact our lives. Continue reading “Review: BLUSH, Soho Theatre”

Comedy Review: Adam Kay – Fingering A Minor On The Piano, Soho

“I’m like a medical Anne Frank”

The title of Fingering A Minor On The Piano apparently stems from former doctor turned comic Adam Kay trying to ensure that none of Nicholas Parsons’ audience stayed on to watch the show when the two were programmed back-to-back at Edinburgh last year. It gives nothing away about what the show actually is, a fast-paced hour of journal readings from Kay’s hospital diary interspersed with musical punchlines, building to a gut-punch of a climax that flies the flag for our beleaguered NHS.

It’s a strong combination – there’s endless dark humour in the snippets of life as a medical professional, climbing the ranks from inexperienced house officer to registrar in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology, as he deals with any number of complaints from eye-wincing penis injuries to spots on the tongue (taste buds!) whilst acknowledging the strains it puts on trainee doctors with their 16 hour days and the struggles it imposes on trying to maintain a normal life and relationship at the same time. Continue reading “Comedy Review: Adam Kay – Fingering A Minor On The Piano, Soho”

Review: Andrew Hunter Murray – Round One, Soho Theatre

“This year we won’t have a practical round after last year’s ‘Can you put out a chip pan fire?’ debacle”

It’s no secret that I’ve tumbled hard for the Austentatious guys so it should come as no surprise that I’m now stalking them at their solo shows too. Rachel Parris brought us her Best Laid Plans last week and Andrew Hunter Murray has also been appearing the Soho Theatre with his Round One (which has just announced two more dates later in March). The former really makes the break from improvised work with her scripted show and with its looser sketch format, it’s interesting to see how Hunter Murray’s seems to work best when it is involving the audience.

The show is built around a pub quiz, The 15th Annual Rose and Crown Pub Quiz Championship Final no less, but its content actually comes in the spaces inbetween the rounds, where Hunter Murray works through a roll-call of character sketches. There’s the impromptu seated samba class with Arturo Flame which is huge fun, the representative from the crime and erotic book group who talks only in rhyme (the pineapple/Miss Marple couplet is a thing of joy) and these sections fizz with life as he clearly relishes sparking off the interactions with the front row. Continue reading “Review: Andrew Hunter Murray – Round One, Soho Theatre”

Review: Rachel Parris – Best Laid Plans, Soho

“You have to laugh now, you have to”

Who knew you could email the Samaritans? You learn something new everyday and often in the most unexpected of places. Rachel Parris may be a familiar to name to those who follow Austentatious and my minor obssession with this hilarious improv troupe but Best Laid Plans sees her step towards the script with her own solo comedy show, seen in Edinburgh last year and now touring the UK, including the sexually frigid (or so we hear) town of Guildford.

And though the show starts off brightly with amusing anecdotes about the trials of being a single piano-playing 30-something with endless wedding invites (“I’m not Elton John”), we soon see that the show is rooted in a deep sadness, the break-up of a long-term relationship whose true impact only hits like a sledgehammer months later. At this point, Parris began her communications with the Samaritans and began the painstaking reassessment of her life. Continue reading “Review: Rachel Parris – Best Laid Plans, Soho”

Re-review: Fleabag, Soho Theatre

“You look stressed.
‘I’m successful'”

Phoebe Waller-Bridge would have every reason to look stressed as she has certainly been keeping busy – writing and starring in two TV shows this year alone – and she also point to extraordinary levels of success too, as the entire run of this return of Fleabag to the Soho Theatre sold out in less than 10 minutes. Riding high on its very well-received television adaptation from the summer, its a canny piece of programming that has paid real dividends.

In some ways, I shouldn’t have gone back. Not being the hugest fan of the original production due to my issues with Waller-Bridge not giving me the kind of eye contact that other monologues have given me so effectively in that very same studio, I was then pleasantly surprised by how brilliantly the TV show worked. So I didn’t need to return to the stage show, but a friend had a spare ticket at the last minute and I’m rarely one to turn down a freebie. Continue reading “Re-review: Fleabag, Soho Theatre”

Review: The Glenda J Collective, Soho

“Who needs men?”

In advance of the return of the real Glenda J (Miss Jackson if you’re nasty…) in Deborah Warner’s King Lear for the Old Vic, The Glenda J Collective proved to be most entertaining. There’s no real connection (indeed I’m not entirely sure where the name comes from) but more importantly, The Glenda J Collective can call itself an improv supergroup and not be anywhere near overstating its case, featuring as it does the luminary talents of Josie Lawrence, Pippa Evans, Ruth Bratt and Cariad Lloyd.

And as with any improv show, it takes a far better writer than I to capture the ephemeral nature of the quickfire comedy which comes in the form of non-stop sketches and songs (the group is accompanied on keys by the fabulous Duncan Walsh-Atkins) that flow uninterrupted for a good hour. Suffice to say that it was consistently funny, frequently hilarious and often sidesplittingly genius. From a talking CD player (hello Toshiba…) to the 2 Wisconsin radio DJs coming up with songs for the other 2 performers to make up on the spot, Lawrence’s tie to Cariad Lloyd’s pregnancy bump, it was a cracking hour and one I hope to revisit as soon as new dates are announced. 

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Further dates hopefully to be announced…soon?