Review: The Off Key, White Bear Theatre

A striking new musical that revels in the bittersweet nature of its examination of love, The Off Key hits the right notes at the White Bear Theatre

“I’ve been thinking a lot about narratives lately. And the stories we tell ourselves, y’know? Who’s right and who’s wrong? Anyway. This song is called Are You Leaving Me Or Are You Just Being A C**t?”

Some relationships just f*ck you up. Such is the one between Sam and Olivia that lies at the heart of new musical The Off Key. Friends on the singer-songwriter gig circuit, he’s long been in love with her but can only tell her (inadvertently) through the medium of song, specifically his newest song ‘I Like You, Break Up with Your Boyfriend for Me’. Thus starts an intense affair that is destined to only ever end one way…

Writer and performer Scott Mackie utilises the gig format well to inform his musical, packing worlds of passion and pain not only into the bluntly confessional songs but also into their brief introductions, the gig patter here is some of the most brutally funny I’ve heard in a good while. And as they shag and split, cheat and come back together, the emotional toll of this tumultuous relationship shapes their creative response. Continue reading “Review: The Off Key, White Bear Theatre”

Review: After(s), White Bear Theatre

The perils of midweek drinking writ large – After(s) examines what it means to be in your mid-twenties today at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington

“You’re an inspiration – you made a strap-on out of a banana”

It’s a little known truth that when two men kiss for the first time, Dolly Parton will start playing. Or so Scott Mackie and Santino Smith would have you believe in a witty moment early on in their new play After(s). It’s also a bit of a misdirect as where you think you might be getting a play that explores sexuality, it soon shifts that onto the back-burner as it delves into other issues.

The play is mainly an exploration of how no good can come from mid-week drinking, when recklessness crashes into responsibilities. Andy has just finished a long day in the office when he bumps into his best-friend-from-high-school-back-in Paisley-Yog and as a catch-up pint turns into shots into clubbing into afterpartying, the carefully ordered pieces of his London life come tumbling down around him in the most farcical of manners. Continue reading “Review: After(s), White Bear Theatre”

Review: Mission Creep, White Bear Theatre

Bee Scott’s very funny Mission Creep proves an impressive exploration of some of the more neglected facets of queer identities at the White Bear Theatre

“What the fuck do you think this is, The Handmaid’s Tale in space?”

It can sometimes feel like every day is marking something or other – it’s Black History Month, today is both #PronounsDay and #WorldFoodDay, next week is Asexual Awareness Week and while it is all too easy to roll one’s eyes at yet another date, there’s something invaluable about the opportunities they offer to open our eyes to the rich plurality of the world around us. So words like queerplatonic and asexuality are bandied around in Bee Scott’s new queer sci-fi play Mission Creep, it proves an educative as well as entertaining experience.

And it really is entertaining. For all the weighty themes here – a nuclear apocalypse rages around the characters – Paul Anthoney’s production is a finely calibrated comedy, fully embracing the ridiculousness that is sure to accompany the end of the world. Asexual Tess and bisexual Liam have clocked how to escape impending doom, by gaming their fertility to sign up to an intergalactic relocation project. They just need to convince the authorities that they’re a regular cishet couple ready and willing to procreate. Easy, right…? Continue reading “Review: Mission Creep, White Bear Theatre”

Review: Di and Viv and Rose, White Bear Theatre

Flying Rabbit Productions’s Di and Viv and Rose at the White Bear Theatre is a smart production of a play that has endured well

“I’ll be alright – won’t I?”

Amelia Bullmore’s Di and Viv and Rose is a play I’ve loved since its 2011 debut in the downstairs space at the Hampstead Theatre, from whence it graduated to the main house and from there into the West End. At each spot, it has been blessed with some superb actors – Nicola Walker, Claudie Blakley and Tamzin Outhwaite, Gina McKee and Anna Maxwell Martin, Samantha Spiro and Jenna Russell – so I was intrigued to see how it would fare in this off-West End production by Flying Rabbit.

And I have to say it stood up really rather well, a mark of the strength of its writing. The play follows the developing friendship between three women thrown together as undergraduates who move to a houseshare in which a real kinship is formed, connections which are tested by the trials and tribulations not only of student life, but through into the ‘real’ world as well. Did the Spice Girls really get it right? Does friendship never end…?  Continue reading “Review: Di and Viv and Rose, White Bear Theatre”

Review: Mouldy Grapes, White Bear

“I’ve been dipping my spoon in both the chocolate and the vanilla ice-cream”

The thing with open relationships is that everyone needs to be on the same page. The eccentric Roo has a fear of going outside as well as wearing trousers so the agreement has been made that his boyfriend Liam can sleep with other men. But when the person he brings home one particular night turns out to be a woman, the gobby Jess, that openness flicks over into much more complex terrain.

Such is the world of Mouldy Grapes, the assured debut production from new company Break The ‘Verse, a group of recent East 15 graduates. Directed by Dom Riley and written by Monty Jones and Ellie Sparrow and “enhanced through devising”, what surprises most about the play is the way in which it manages to combine its smart study of the fluidity of sexual identities with a classic comedy model, and pull both off successfully. Continue reading “Review: Mouldy Grapes, White Bear”

Review: The Test, White Bear

“How do you define consciousness?”

The world of artificial intelligence may feel like the realm of sci-fi but in reality is closer than we think, the next frontier in the progression of scientific knowledge. And Ian Dixon Potter’s new play The Test shows the human race right at the point of breaching it, as ambitious scientist Dora and eager hacker Josh combine forces to harness the global computing power of the web in order to create ‘Mother’, the first truly conscious AI. What could possibly go wrong…?!

It is a formidable concept to explore in an hour of fringe theatre and to set up this world of advanced science and technology, Dixon Potter is caught between two stools, particularly in the opening scenes. Either characters rattle off complex ideas which threaten to fly over our heads, or they dumb down too much – the dictionary definition of the Turing Test is a case in point, or lines like ‘I need you to hijack the internet’ which recall nothing so much as this brilliant bit of comedy.
The Test is much stronger when it tackles the more ephemeral issues around human nature and ethics, the value we place on each other, the tolerance needed to make a diverse world prosper. There’s a neat suggestion of karmic comeuppance as Dora’s dismissiveness towards those less scientifically advanced is played back on her tenfold, as the cold logic used to create Mother wends its way to its inevitable endgame. It is the human challenges rather than the technological that prove more affecting.
Janet A Cantrill-Smith’s design is faced with the task of conjuring sci-fi level aesthetic on a pub theatre budget and it does manage this aurally – the heavily processed, disembodied voice of Mother (provided by Zara Banks) proving superbly disquieting. Visually, it’s not quite as effective with shadows constantly blighting the data projector used to display the screensaver-like effect used here.
Natasha Killam’s Dora does portray the zealous fervour of a pioneer well, unable (or unwilling) to calculate how reckless her actions have been as it is all in the name of what she considers progress. And Duncan Mason does well to humanise her accomplice, the one quicker to realise the gravity of what they have unleashed on the world. Some thought-provoking work here on a play that probably needs a bigger canvas.
Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 30th September

Review: Bunny, White Bear

“I prefer surprise to suspense. 
But that’s basically because I feel suspense all the time”

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has catapulted Jack Thorne’s already fast-rising star into the higher echelons of British writing talent, so it is always interesting to look back to earlier work to see if the seeds of success can be spotted. Perhaps with this in mind, newly formed company Fabricate Company have opted to revive his 2010 Fringe First-winning one-woman play Bunny at the tidily renovated White Bear (pub grub definitely recommended, as is the exceptionally friendly bar service).

Recounted by the breathlessly energetic and recklessly teenage Katie, Bunny takes a snapshot of her life in the racially divided estates of Luton over the course of a hot summer’s afternoon. A messy encounter between her older boyfriend Abe and an Asian kid on a bike spirals into something more profoundly disturbing when Abe’s friends get involved and she goes along for the ride, knowing full well there’s more than just a dropped ice-cream at stake here. Continue reading “Review: Bunny, White Bear”

Review: Don Quixote in Algiers, White Bear

“Don’t blame the bridle for what the donkey did”

They say you should live before you start to write and there’s no doubt that Miguel de Cervantes did exactly that. His legacy as one of, if not the greatest writer in the Spanish language was secured by his novel Don Quixote but in the years before it was published, de Cervantes was, among other things, a tax collector, a purchasing agent for the Spanish Armada, a resident of Seville jail, and a soldier who was captured by Barbary pirates and held captive for five years between 1585 and 1580.

And it is that period of captivity in the Ottoman-ruled city of Algiers that playwright Dermot Murphy has chosen to set his play Don Quixote in Algiers, imagining what life might have been like and how his experience shaped crucial aspects of his creative thinking. It’s a bold concept and a formally adventurous play, but also one that proves difficult to crack as its fragmented narrative is more impenetrable than playful and the weight of its detailed research rarely allows the piece to fly. Continue reading “Review: Don Quixote in Algiers, White Bear”

Review: Top to Bottom, White Bear

“One night with your face down in the pillow doesn’t make you less of a man”

Kennington’s White Bear Theatre has been at the mercy of a considerable overhaul of its parent pub over the last few months, but has now been relocated upstairs in a brand new space and a resumption of its programming. That includes development nights in their Sunday/Monday slot for emerging theatre companies and first up is Tripped Theatre Company with Top to Bottom by Lewis Chandler.
Playing out in real time, it starts off as a dinner party gone awry. Alison and Jeff have gone over to Mark and Tom’s for dinner and as they knock back glasses of wine and amuse-bouches, both couples seem to be getting on fine. But a chance remark from Alison shatters the mood and instead of tucking into their main course, the foursome carve up each other as accusations and acrimony dominate the air.
Then as quickly as the argument blew up, Alison and Jeff are out the door. But the aftershocks of the evening prove to be just as disruptive as the main event as fault-lines in Mark and Tom’s relationship are laid bare and painfully excavated. Chandler’s shifting of the narrative from heterosexual prejudice – what it’s ok for straight people to say to gays, to put it bluntly – to probing at internalised homophobia – what can the gays get away with saying to each other – is thus fascinatingly done.
As a work-in-progress, Top to Bottom certainly shows promise and at just 45 minutes long, still has plenty room to develop in both of its halves. The indignation of Louisa Smith’s Alison, outraged at what she sees as a misinterpretation of an innocuous remark, could be pushed even further, especially from the feminist angle which is touched on briefly. And the already vivid clash between Mark and Tom, both well played by Joseph Blunt and Edward Tidy respectively, could yet go harder and deeper.
Directed by Georgia Leanne Harris, the play has a lot that is interesting to say, especially around taking ownership of potentially offensive language versus just taking offence, and also in its look at notions of learned (homo)sexual behaviour, something that is rarely discussed. There’s a slight issue in the idea that Mark and Tom have apparently never talked about their sexual history despite being together for several years, the one time that credulity is stretched but otherwise, a promising start for the new White Bear and Tripped. 

Running time: 45 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 28th November

Review: The Two Noble Kinsmen, White Bear

“They cannot both enjoy you”

Shakespeare completists should rejoice as Instant Classics are mounting the first major production of The Two Noble Kinsmen in London for over 15 years. Missing from the First Folio and co-credited to the Bard and John Fletcher, it often finds itself omitted from cycles such as the Globe’s Globe to Globe season back in 2012 but Wikipedia assures me it is kosher and given the chronology, it is more than likely that this tragicomedy was indeed Shakespeare’s final work. 

It is often the case that lesser-performed works by playwrights collect dust for a reason and in the case of The Two Noble Kinsmen, it isn’t too hard to see why. Director David Cottis has trimmed it down to a sleek couple of hours and plays it in non-specific modern dress but it remains at its heart something of an oddity, an issue that this production can’t really address, even as it identifies a rich seam of bawdy humour and a brutal sense of sexual frustration. Continue reading “Review: The Two Noble Kinsmen, White Bear”