Review: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Brockley Jack

“We’ll put some ginger in the good lady’s gravy”

After The Box of Delights last week, I got to take another trip back into childhood favourites with this adaptation of Joan Aiken’s 1962 novel The Wolves of Willoughby Chase at the Brockley Jack. Part of her Wolves Chronicles (my favourite of which, pointless trivia fans, is Black Hearts in Battersea) set in an alternate 1830s England, here an invasion of wolves is terrorising the countryside just at the moment that two young cousins have been abandoned into the care of a governess with sinister plans.

Already a tale of stirring adventure, the joy of Russ Tunney’s adaptation for the stage is that it revels in its theatricality, taking a much different but no less effective route. So a company of five take on the numerous roles, original compositions (by The State of Things Elliot Clay) and folk songs haunt the storytelling, and there’s much used of shared narration, enhancing the already magical feel. And with a cleverly designed set (by Karl Swinyard) that allows for the inventive evocation of train carriages, stately home boltholes, silvery forests and more besides, there’s much to enjoy here. Continue reading “Review: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Brockley Jack”

Review: Othello, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

“O god that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains”

Playing in rep with Twelfth Night at Highgate’s Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre, Arrows and Traps’ Othello sees them take a slightly different approach to the tragedy, one which is closer to the way in which they reimagined Macbeth earlier this year. Modernised and musicalised, Will Pinchin’s movement plays a key role in the elegant tenor of Ross McGregor’s visually stimulating production.

Much less of an ensemble show than Twelfth Night, Othello offers an interesting contrast in featuring leading performances, even if they are somewhat uneven. Spencer Lee Osborne’s Othello is fascinatingly insecure which offers a route into his emotional journey, if not quite convincing that he could ever become a general. And Pippa Caddick’s Desdemona responds well to this intensity, playing up her innocence but never cloyingly so. Continue reading “Review: Othello, Upstairs at the Gatehouse”

Review: Twelfth Night, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

“If music be the food of love then play on”

It may be music that feeds love according to Shakespeare but it is lust that drives Arrow and Traps’ interesting production of Twelfth Night, playing in rep with Othello at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse Theatre in Highgate. Sebastian and Antonio have been shagging for three months, Feste is pining for Maria, Olivia’s loins are thrustingly on fire for Cesario, Orsino and Cesario all but do it on the bed and on the floor – what country friends is this? Well it’s a most libidinous Illyria.

Ross McGregor’s production thus puts sex firmly on the table, a bold move and one which pays off in the first half, upping the stakes in familiar relationships and teasing insights into lesser explored ones. So whilst it is no surprise that Olivia and Orsino want to get laid, it’s good to see it acknowledged so explicitly for once. But it’s also intriguing to see the depth of Malvolio’s feelings for Olivia as shown here and to consider the dynamics of a homosexual relationship between Sebastian and Antonio. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Upstairs at the Gatehouse”

Review: Anna Karenina, Brockley Jack

“What happens if you can’t stop?”

Helen Edmundson’s adaptation of Anna Karenina really is a clever thing. Taking the huge scale of Tolstoy’s Russian epic novel and translating it into something genuinely theatrical, and new, is no mean feat. Last seen in London at the Arcola (where I think I underestimated it a tad), Arrow & Traps Theatre Company have brought it to the intimacy of Brockley Jack’s black box studio and it’s an impressively mounted production. 

Edmundson’s major innovation is to reframe the story as an existential conversation between its two main characters Anna and Levin, whose lives are inextricably interlinked through their family connections (she’s his sister-in-law’s sister-in-law, I think) but actually only ever intersect once. Thus they relate tales of their experiences while debating faith and freedom, responsibility and love, what it means to really live. Continue reading “Review: Anna Karenina, Brockley Jack”