Review: Be Prepared, VAULT Festival

“I can’t get on the bus cos I’m waiting for this old man to call”

What is the right way to grieve? Is there even such a thing? Ian Bonar’s Be Prepared throws up such questions as we meet Tom, and by extension Mr Chambers, who are having a tough time of it.  Tom is mourning the death of his father, Mr Chambers the loss of his wife but thing is, they don’t know each other. The only reason they’re in contact is because the elderly Mr Chambers keeps mis-dialling Tom thinking he is a funeral director.

And as writer/performer Bonar takes to the stage in a brilliantly conceived opening, we get to see how this accidental meeting develops into something of a life-raft for the pair of them, a way of starting to process the discombobulation that accompanies the death of a loved one. The shots of weird dark humour that pop up in the most unexpected of places, the strange comfort that comes from unburdening to someone who doesn’t know you, the distressing weight that feels like it will never lift.

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Review: The Internet Was Made For Adults, VAULT Festival

“I’ve seen all my friend’s wieners”

It feels only too right that an emerging theme at this year’s VAULT Festival is a brutally honest depiction of what it means to be a woman in this modern world. And whether it’s #MeToo or #TimesUp or both, the voices of the young, inspired theatremakers corralled under Waterloo are perfect for capturing that zeitgeist and giving it gloriously full expression.

Hitting the Wall Productions’ contribution to the debate is The Internet Was Made For Adults, exploring how the greater potential for ‘connection’ facilitated by the internet has had a disproportionate and disconcerting impact on how we all – but particularly young women – see love and sex. Meshing cabaret with theatre, this all-female team make a vibrant impact.

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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.

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Review: Bicycles and Fish, VAULT Festival

“My favourite film ever was Beauty and the Beast until we learnt about Stockholm Syndrome in PSHE”

As she acknowledges from the start, Katie Arnstein’s one-woman show Bicycles and Fish is light on both bicycles, and fish. What it is heavy on, is the story of when, aged 16 in a village outside of Lichfield, she stopped being a girl and became a woman, a decision the world made for her. Blending wittily concise stand-up with songs that combine the musical comedy sensibility of the inspirational Victoria Wood with the characterful musicality of Gywneth Herbert plus the forthright power of the confessional, this is a seriously impactful hour.

And it is a well-constructed one too. Arnstein’s writing is so beautifully rich that you can’t help but get hooked on any number of fascinating details that pass as she evokes that feeling of possibility that comes from being a carefree kid. I’d happily watch a spin-off show about the Lichfield Song Contest, or the GPs’ receptionist and her blush-saving acronyms, or June and her broken egg, or the school photo – particularly the school photo!  Continue reading “Review: Bicycles and Fish, VAULT Festival”

Review: Think of England, VAULT Festival

“It’s my favourite thing in the world, dancing”

It’s 1942 and Bette and Vera have scored themselves a nice commission from the War Office to tour the country hosting tea dances to boost morale of the brave men and boys fighting the Nazis. But whilst they’re hanging the bunting and handing out barley sweets, it emerges that there’s more on offer here than just dance cards and as a group of three war-weary Canadian airmen turn up for the night, unexpected emotions threaten to bubble over.

Madeline Gould’s Think of England is beautifully written and in its opening two-thirds has an absolutely gorgeous feel to it. Tilly Branson’s production has a lightly immersive nature (don’t sit on the front row if you’re shy…) which sees us as active participants sequestered in this air raid shelter with the cast. And as we’re introduced to the cast, there’s a sensitive exploration of the massive impact of the war on a personal level – the relative freedom afforded to the women who can now work, the abject terror faced by boys tasked with the enormity of fighting an actual war when they’re scarcely adults.  Continue reading “Review: Think of England, VAULT Festival”

Review: Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Wyndham’s

“Who wants to see life as it is, if they can help it?”

Between scoring an Oscar nomination for Phantom Thread, returning to TV screens in superlative sitcom Mum and conquering one of the almighty stage roles written for a woman in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, it is safe to say that Lesley Manville is having a ‘moment’ as a potential queen of all media, and a well-deserved one at that – she is the kind of rare talent that is genuinely due this kind of adulation.

Richard Eyre’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s classic play was first seen at the Bristol Old Vic in 2016 (have a gander at m’review here) and it transfers to the Wyndham’s pretty much intact – Manville and Jeremy Irons leading the cast once again as the troubled Mary and Joseph Tyrone, with Rory Keenan and Matthew Beard stepping in as their sons. The returning Jessica Regan rounds out the cast as housemaid Kathleen. Continue reading “Review: Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Wyndham’s”

Review: Cirque Beserk, Peacock

Cirque Beserk aim to combine a centuries-old tradition of the touring circus troupe with a contemporary approach to staging, and with a company of thirty-five performers from at least ten countries demonstrating over thirty circus skills without safety devices, they certainly have a good shot at it. From the cascading antics of the Timbuktu Tumblers to the oiled machismo of the Tropicana Troupe on the springboard, there’s definitely enough here to make you roll up, roll up.

In some ways, the classics remain the best. The speed and accuracy with which Toni hurls knives, axes and flaming whatnots at his twirling wife is just gobsmacking; the outrageously flexible Odka’s contortionist work has to be seen to be believed, particularly once she starts using a bow and arrow without her hands; and just nudging into the most impressive position for me, the charismatic Germaine Delbosq’s footjuggling is a marvellous thing indeed, proving without doubt that women can do it all 😉  

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Review: Out Of Love, Orange Tree

“I’m the only person whose ever loved you”

Reflecting the impressive balance of their Roundabout season (an ensemble that’s 2/3s female and two out of three playwrights being women as well – see artistic directors, it can be done!), Elinor Cook’s Out Of Love places female friendship at the heart of its storytelling. 30 years of love and loss, dreams and betrayals, wrapped into a fractured narrative which denies nothing of how complex a thing friendship can be. 

Lorna and Grace have been great pals since as long as they can remember. But given the structure of the play, as soon as they’re declaring that they are going to be friends forever and that nothing can tear them apart, we’re 10, 15, 20 years down seeing exactly that. The one steals a creative idea and scores an amazing job, the other steals a boyfriend and ends up with a baby, people die and they’re brought back together but much has changed. Much keeps changing. Continue reading “Review: Out Of Love, Orange Tree”

Review: Black Mountain, Orange Tree

“I think we can only heal if we’re both hurt”

There’s acres of atmosphere in Brad Birch’s Black Mountain – the eerie luminosity of Peter Small’s lighting piercing the dark and bursts of Dominic Kennedy’s sound design curling around unexpected twists and turns. But for all of the creative invention at work here, James Grieve’s production can’t quite cover the feeling of something frustratingly incomplete about the writing, resulting in a hollowness at the heart of this would-be suspenseful thriller.

Part of the Roundabout Plays (with How To Be A Kid and Out of Love), Black Mountain starts off promisingly. We meet Rebecca and Paul as they take up residence in a rural cottage where they’re attempting to work through some problems in their relationship (“I didn’t come on a fucking holiday with you”). Sleeping in separate bedrooms, it is clear there’s something seriously awry here as evidenced by the tension in their every interaction (“you’re saying it with a tone”), even as they’re ostensibly trying to fix things. Continue reading “Review: Black Mountain, Orange Tree”

Review: How To Be A Kid, Orange Tree

“Some people expecting you to be very grown up and some people treating you like a kid”

It’s a mark of Paul Miller’s reinvigoration of the Orange Tree that it doesn’t feel too much of a surprise to hear Katy Perry and Little Mix playing in the theatre as you enter. In this particular case it is for a play for seven- to eleven- year olds but still, it feels wonderful that this artistic director has introduced this note of unpredictability to this Richmond institution.

Sarah McDonald-Hughes’ How To Be A Kid arrives here as part of Paines Plough’s trio of Roundabout Plays (along with Black Mountain and Out of Love), a co-production with Theatr Clywd and the Orange Tree which uses an ensemble of three actors to deliver three shining examples of new British writing. And as the opening salvo in the three-show press day, it proved an entertainingly strong start. Continue reading “Review: How To Be A Kid, Orange Tree”