Review: TARO, Brockley Jack

Arrows & Traps’ TARO is a beautiful tribute to a historical figure we have sorely neglected, playing now at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“In the lens it looks different”

If TARO is to be Arrows & Traps’ final production, then it’s a hell of a high note to go out on. Bringing together so much of what has made them an enjoyable and enlightening company to follow, it’s a swansong to be proud of as the #FemaleFirsts season turns its attentions to Gerda Taro, a pioneering photojournalist whose distinction as the first female war photographer killed in action proves to be far from the most interesting thing about her.

Born Gerda Pohorylle in Stuttgart 1910, the rise of Nazism splintered her Jewish family as she, her brother and her parents were forcibly ejected to different countries. Finding herself in Paris, a chance encounter with fellow refugee Endre Freidmann sparked an interest in photography which they then parlayed into careers in war photography that revolutionised the genre. Their work covering the Spanish Civil War was the fateful making of them. Continue reading “Review: TARO, Brockley Jack”

Review: Gentleman Jack, Brockley Jack

Arrows & Traps’ #FemaleFirsts season kicks off with the striking Anne Lister biography Gentleman Jack at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“This is Paris
This is England
And this is Yorkshire!”

The temptation with biographies – particularly of those of trailblazing figures – can be to treat them with the kind of reverence that smooths away rough edges, excusing behaviour that would otherwise be questionable and questioned. So it is pleasing to see that Ross McGregor’s new play Gentleman Jack respects its subject enough to give a full picture of their life.

That subject is Anne Lister, a nineteenth century Yorkshirewoman whose determination to buck societal convention earned her the sobriquet of the “first modern lesbian”. Her daring lay more than just in her open sexuality though; as an heiress and landowner, she redefined expectations of what women could achieve society as she and her partner sought to break into the mining industry.

Continue reading “Review: Gentleman Jack, Brockley Jack”

20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

Review: Dracula, Brockley Jack

An imaginative take on a familiar tale – Arrows & Traps’ Dracula is good Hallowe’en fare at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“I am counting down the days until we get to Whitby”

On National Coming Out day, there’s something rather delicious about the first act climax of Dracula being set to a haunting remix of Britney’s ‘Toxic’. He may be fangs-deep in Lucy and longing to make Mina his countess but we all saw how taken he was by Jonathan as he set up for a shave. Love is love is love, right, or should that be a vein is a vein is a vein… 

Arrows & Traps have turned their hand to horror before, with a fearlessly inventive take on Frankenstein which lit up the Brockley Jack last year. So adaptor/director Ross McGregor turning to Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula makes sense, not least as at offers ample opportunity to refresh its rather dustily antiquated take on gender. Continue reading “Review: Dracula, Brockley Jack”

Review: The White Rose, Brockley Jack

Arrows and Traps hit the mark once more with the deeply moving The White Rose at the Brockley Jack Theatre

Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg? Wollt ihr ihn, wenn nötig, totaler und radikaler, als wir ihn uns heute überhaupt erst vorstellen können?”* 

How do we make the choice to resist? At what point do we decide that enough is enough in the creeping erosion of our democracy? When former foreign secretaries rip up ministerial codes or chief whips ignore Commons voting conventions? When presidents attack their own FBI and defend despots? Some 250,000 bodies may have thronged the streets of London last week to register their disapproval of the US Commander in Chief but what happens when the ‘other side’ has won, when the act of peaceful protest becomes civil disobedience.

It is into such a world that The White Rose throws us. It is 1943 and having insinuated their way into every level of German society and instituted a systemic indoctrination of much of the population, the Nazis have been in power for a decade. But the tectonic shifts of World War II have finally started to fall in the Allies’ favour and finding safety in like-minded numbers, students of the University of Munich have coalesced into an underground movement, publishing anti-Nazi leaflets and distributing them across the Fatherland. Could such amazing courage go unpunished? Continue reading “Review: The White Rose, Brockley Jack”

Casting for Arrows & Traps’ The White Rose announced

Arrows & Traps Theatre announce The White Rose: The Story of Sophie Scholl as their new production, along with full casting

Seven-time Off West End Award Nominated Arrows & Traps Theatre have announced their return to the Brockley Jack Theatre after their sold-out run of Chekhov’s Three Sisters earlier this year.  There, they will present The White Rose: The Story of Sophie Scholl, written & directed by Ross McGregor.

Based on a true story, The White Rose recounts the final days of Sophie Scholl, a 21-year-old student, who led the only major act of German civil disobedience during the Second World War. Sophie, along with her brother Hans, published underground anti-Nazi leaflets calling for the peaceful overthrow of Hitler. Continue reading “Casting for Arrows & Traps’ The White Rose announced”

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: Macbeth, New Wimbledon Studio

“Who could refrain that had a heart to love”

Theatre company Arrows & Traps came belatedly onto my radar with their rather stunning rendition of Anna Karenina earlier this year so I was keen to check out what they’d do next, which turned out to be Macbeth in the similar black box space of the New Wimbledon’s Studio. Adapted and directed by Ross McGregor, this modern Macbeth continually builds on its interesting choices to deliver a final 10 minute sequence that is as achingly affecting as any version of the play I’ve ever seen.

And they are strong choices for the most part too. Arrows & Traps’ commitment to gender equality sees them offer up a company that has 6 women to 5 men, casually flipping Duncan (Jean Apps) and Banquo (an excellently badass Becky Black) into female roles and having the witches double up as murderers and soldiers. In some ways its a small thing but in others, it still feels radical; as pointed out, majority-female fight scenes as those seen here are few and far between.  Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, New Wimbledon Studio”