Review: Bedlam, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Thank the Lord you ain’t in there with them”

The first play ever to be written for the Globe by a woman, Nell Leyshon’s Bedlam is the final play to open in this year’s set of offerings. A slice of life of those both in and around the Bethlem mental hospital in London, or Bedlam as it is better known. The plot as such centres around Dr Carew’s corrupt running of the asylum, concerned more with women and profit than observing the Hippocratic oath and actually caring for his patients. But the arrival of new patients and a much more socially aware doctor loosens his grip and soon everything begins to change.

It is huge amount of fun and Jessica Swale’s direction has a very keen sense of the possibilities of playing in the Globe, especially with the yardlings. Soutra Gilmour’s design has the stage in a circle with a ramp going up one side, but if you’re in the yard, be prepared for all sorts of interaction, both on the floor and on the stage and a range of bodily fluids and liquids to come flying at you from the sides and indeed above! And it is so wonderfully musical, taking advantage of the rich archive to pull out a number of songs like ‘A Maid In Bedlam’ and ‘Oyster Nan’, covering ballads to bawdy drinking songs, and it all really works. Continue reading “Review: Bedlam, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: This Is How It Goes, King’s Head

“The truth is just so damn…elusive”

Taking its title from the Aimee Mann song, This Is How It Goes is a Neil LaBute three-hander presented here by Rooster Productions at Islington’s King Head Theatre Pub. In the words of the playwright himself, it’s ‘a story about three people who ultimately take care of their own needs with a breathtaking ruthlessness’ but as with so many of LaBute’s plays, it is much much more as well.

Set in the US in a small Midwestern town, ‘Man’ has returned to his old home town and bumps into an old flame from school, Belinda. As it turns out she is married with children now to Cody the African-American high-school track champion from back then, but they have a room for rental and so ‘Man’ moves in and the three of them set about reminiscing about old times. The story is narrated throughout by ‘Man’, but from the word go he informs us that there is every chance that he is not the most reliable of narrators and what follows is an intriguing study of the nebulous nature of truth as scenes are played out to us from one perspective, then given explanations or qualifications to guide us closer to what is really happening, in some cases the scenes are even played again.

So we see everyone playing with truth in order to achieve what they want and to satisfy their own agendas. But figuring out quite what those agendas are is part of the pleasure of this play, as LaBute constantly pulls the rug on us, forcing the audience to question what we have seen and are thinking. LaBute is also such a pleasingly complex playwright, there’s a series of hints threaded throughout here, allusions to Othello, Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge and Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train, all suggesting subtle hints and clues as to how we should be interpreting what we’re witnessing.

There’s his trademark misogynism in here for sure, but there’s more insight when the race card is played. The discomfort around interracial relationships is cleverly played up and the spectre of racism is never far away, but what LaBute is astute enough to do is to show that not all black people are victims, indeed Cody takes advantage of and plays up his status of ‘the only black in the village’. But as our narrator begins to reveal himself as a shocking bigot, we’re also forced to look at ourselves and whether we have used the same language, the same justifications to get away with the unpalatable.

As Man, Tom Greaves is just outstanding, clearly determined to erase the mis-step of Henry V from my mind. From the opening scene, he fills the theatre with his affability and warmth so that we’re willing to go along with the conceit and his witty asides, vindications and rationalisations are perfectly played as we never quite get to find out whether the prejudices that begin to leak out of him are genuine or just part of his jokey character that he’s playing. Gemma Atkinson was a revelation as the quietly graceful Belinda, And last but no means least Okezie Morro did well with Cody, a difficult, rather unlikeable character full of contempt and coiled power.

Rhiannon Newman-Brown’s design makes the most of the limited space at the King’s Head, evoking a wide range of locations with just a few props and Aaron J Dootson’s suggestive lighting, which really comes into its own during Man’s asides to the audience, there’s the necessary clear delineation between his two roles. The only issue I had is what felt like a missed opportunity with the music. What has been chosen was sufficient, but as the special programme note tells us, LaBute was inspired by the music of Aimee Mann when writing this play and it would have been brilliant to use her songs to soundtrack the show (especially as I’m a bit of a fan, but I’m sure there would have been licensing issues etc)

Clever, exciting, thought-provoking, challenging yet ultimately very satisfying. This Is How It Goes gets the balance just right between eliciting dark humour from the tricky subject of race and exposing just how devious and self-serving people can be and whether you agree with his message or not, one has to admire the sheer skill on display here and admit that truly no-one is entirely good or bad. And delivered extremely proficiently by this cracking cast of 20-somethings, this production demonstrates the best of London fringe theatre: highly recommended.

Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)
Programme cost: £2Booking until 3rd October

                                                         Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews

Review: Pieces of Vincent, Arcola

“I remember a time when opinion and imagination were on nodding terms”

Pieces of Vincent is a new play from David Watson receiving its world premiere at Dalston’s Arcola Theatre. Vincent is a young man adrift in the world, looking for an ex-girlfriend and solace in London, he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and his life changes forever. The play takes us through how this affects a large cast of characters, from County Down to Birmingham to various parts of London, as we slowly see the impact he had and get closer to the truth of what has happened.

Es Devlin’s innovative approach to the design of this show has resulted in an unusual seating arrangement. The audience sit on cushions the floor in the middle of the theatre and the action takes place all around us, as film images are played, often in a highly effective 360° manner. Three of the sides have sets behind the gauzy screens and one has a blank wall onto to which a range of locations are effectively projected. Continue reading “Review: Pieces of Vincent, Arcola”

Review: Design for Living, Old Vic

“I love you. You love me. You love Otto. I love Otto. Otto loves you. Otto loves me.”

Design for Living was banned in the UK for six years when first written in 1933 due to its risqué content, possibly a reaction to the sexually decisive lead female character rather than the hinted-at bisexuality and threesomes contained within, Broadway had no such issue and so it played there first instead. This production launches the Autumn/Winter season at the Old Vic and marks the first of two consecutive trips there for Lisa Dillon (she’ll be appearing in A Flea In Her Ear with Tom Hollander there next). This is a review of the second preview, so bear that in mind as I go on about how fantastic it was!

The play is set in the 1930s, following the ménage à trois between Gilda, a wealthy interior designer, playwright Leo and artist Otto as they test the boundaries of relationships in pursuing their mutual love. Over a few years and from Paris to London to New York, we see the strains of defying social conventions and loving two people equally takes their toll but finally force all three of them into deciding what they truly want. Continue reading “Review: Design for Living, Old Vic”

Review: State Fair, Trafalgar Studios 2

“Our state fair is a great state fair, don’t miss it, don’t even be late”

Originally produced at the Finborough last summer in what was incredibly its UK stage premiere, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s State Fair makes a transfer to the small basement theatre of Trafalgar Studios. Partly recast and given a design refresh, it extended its run by a couple of weeks due to demand, meaning I finally got round to seeing it, having been on holiday for most of its run, both this year and last.

In the grand scheme of things, State Fair is a fairly simple play, it revolves around the Frakes, a rural farming family who journey to the three day Iowa State Fair to compete with their livestock and their condiments, and have a little fun too. It started life as a film with five Rodgers & Hammerstein songs in it, ‘It Might As Well Be Spring’ won them their only Oscar, but as it was developed into a musical in the late 90s, the score was substantially beefed up by the incorporation of a number of songs most of which had been cut from other R&H shows such as Oklahoma! and Pipe Dream. Continue reading “Review: State Fair, Trafalgar Studios 2”

Review: The Remains of the Day, Union Theatre

“Is it foolish to wait for the day that will never come”

You have to admire the ambition currently on display at the Union Theatre. Writing a new musical is hard enough at the best of times, but when your source material is a Booker-Prize-winning novel which has already had a much loved film adaptation made, then there’s quite a challenge ahead. But that is what Alex Loveless has taken on with his adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day.

Telling the story of Stevens in post WWII England, a long-serving butler to the late Lord Darlington who is struggling to deal with his new American employer, he identifies the solution as being retrieving a former colleague from Cornwall, Miss Kenton. As he sets off on a road-trip to try and persuade her, he also goes on a journey through his memories of the inter-war period where we discover that his employer was uncomfortably sympathetic to the Nazis and that his relationship with Miss Kenton ran far far deeper than that of just butler and housekeeper. Continue reading “Review: The Remains of the Day, Union Theatre”

Review: The Maddening Rain, Old Red Lion Theatre

“You think you can live by your own rules…”

Felix Scott, star of one man show The Maddening Rain, was apparently in Inception. I can’t say I noticed him but then I wasn’t looking out for him, IMDB says he was playing ‘businessman’ and looking back I think he was in the bar in the middle section of the whole dream sequence. But I did however recognise him from his numerous turns in the Tricycle’s Women, Power and Politics season of plays so was keen to see what move he made next.

The Maddening Rain is a monologue from Nicholas Pierpan, following the fortunes of a man who arrives in London from Leicester and is soon swept up into the cut-throat world of corporate finance with its endless chasing of women and profit. As the financial crisis hits the City though, we then see the impact of the global recession from a different perspective. Continue reading “Review: The Maddening Rain, Old Red Lion Theatre”

Album Reviews: Elena Roger – Vientos del Sur + A Spoonful of Stiles and Drewe

Now for something a little different. Whilst on holiday, I listened to a lot of music whilst lying by the pool, and I’ve been raving about much of it since my return so I thought I’d pop a couple of brief cd reviews on here, mainly musical theatre records or at least cds by musical theatre people. And if it’s well received, I’ll work my way through my cd collection!

Continue reading “Album Reviews: Elena Roger – Vientos del Sur + A Spoonful of Stiles and Drewe”

Review: Clybourne Park, Royal Court

“Fitting into a community is what it really all comes down to”

Clybourne Park is the latest play to open downstairs at the Royal Court, written by Bruce Norris whose The Pain and the Itch also played here a few years ago. This play opens in 1959 with Russ and Bev who are selling their house in Clybourne Park, Chicago for a quick move, thereby enabling the first black family to move into the neighbourhood. This is not going down well with their friends and neighbours and tensions of all sorts are brought to the fore as threats are issued and secrets unfolded. We then flip forward to 2009 where young couple Lindsey and Steve want to buy the same house but knock it down and build from scratch. These plans also do not go down well with the neighbourhood and whilst change has occurred, the same tensions begin to emerge.

Norris wrote this play partly as a reaction to A Raisin In The Sun as a way of looking at how white Americans have dealt with issues of race in the past and how in this post-Obama world, whether anything has really changed. And he does it with such style and acerbic wit, it makes it easy to overlook the slight weaknesses in the plotting. One I cannot reveal because it is too spoilerish but waiting four years, really? Another was spotted by someone cleverer than I, with inconsistencies about US behaviour in the Korean War and the last I go into more detail about later in the review. I flag these up now because otherwise this would be a purely rave review as it is fantastic. Continue reading “Review: Clybourne Park, Royal Court”

Review: How To Be An Other Woman, Gate Theatre

“After four movies, three concerts, and two-and-a-half museums, you sleep with him. On the stereo you play your favourite harp and oboe music. He tells you his wife’s name.”

It’s a long quote to start off a review with I know, but it made me chuckle for ages and it is still raising a smile now as I look at it. This marked my first visit to Notting Hill’s Gate Theatre, a tiny 70 seater above a pub but with an impressive reputation for attracting talent. Based on a short story by Lorrie Moore, How To Be An Other Woman is about Charlene, a young New Yorker who falls into an affair with a man who happens to be married and despite her best intentions, she finds herself fulfilling all of the clichés around being a mistress.

The story reads as a set of instructions and so lends itself quite well to being acted out, but in Natalie Abrahami’s adaptation, the character of Charlene seems to be used as an everywoman figure, rather than telling the story of an individual, as we start off seeing four shop assistants who then take us through the play. Morris’ writing is wry and funny and if I say it reminds me of early episodes of Sex and the City, then I mean it as a compliment, this is Carrie before you wanted to slap her. There’s a pleasing briskness to proceedings, very little maudlin soul-searching but rather a self-awareness to the protagonist who despises her behaviour even as she does it.

The cast of four cover all the characters and even rotate playing Charlene and her lover, the balletic changing into the beige raincoat that marked an actress becoming Charlene was just lovely and I was a little disappointed when they stopped doing it in the middle of the play. The use of movement and dance was mostly effective, though the mix of choreographed routines and more expressive movement didn’t always work for me (I liked the ‘putting on the coat’ move, I did not care for ‘expressive climbing into bed’), but most crucially, in the brilliant montage of cheesy dance moves at the New Year’s Eve party, the running man was omitted: unforgivable!

Fresh from the triumphant run of After the Dance, Faye Castelow impressed here, especially in her narrating role as she does wry humour extremely well; Cath Whitefield was probably the best at slipping into the role of the male lover disturbingly convincing at times and Samantha Pearl was also strong. Unfortunately, Ony Uhiara has lost her voice so whilst she was onstage acting, her lines were being read in for her which was the first time I have actually seen that happen so it took a little getting used to.

As a preview, it seemed in very good shape already, but it felt like the ending could use some work, tightening it up to provide a more definitive conclusion. Altogether though, it was quite a nifty little piece, imaginatively staged and attractively presented and a good introduction to a new venue which I will have to add my list of ones to keep an eye on.

Running time: 1 hour (no interval)
Programme cost: free, but it doesn’t look or feel it, most impressive.
Booking until: 2nd October