10 questions for 10 years – Christopher Tester

Actor and voiceover artist Christopher Tester takes a thoughtful trip through his 10 questions

With his indecently listenable voice, Christopher Tester is the kind of actor who makes you sit up when he starts talking and I’ve enjoyed many of his performances over the last few years. Up at the top though is probably The Picture of John Gray.

“In many ways it was the ideal fringe experience – beautiful new writing, with a generous and talented company, which felt like it was really offering something important in a room above a pub. I think it sits up there with The White Rose as a show that prompted a huge response from its audience which I was very aware of while performing it. And the fact that it was based on little known real characters gave it an extra weight – a feeling that these people’s lives were resonating beyond their own time. It also gave me a scene where I just had to pour my guts out a little bit, and however much it’s “never about you”, that I had that opportunity coupled with writing deft enough to (hopefully) avoid indulgence was pretty special. You do it because you want to offer your heart.
And maybe kiss an actor as pretty as Patrick Walsh McBride.”

Continue reading “10 questions for 10 years – Christopher Tester”

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: 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: Three Sisters, Brockley Jack

The ever-inventive Arrows and Traps company return to the Brockley Jack Theatre with a beautifully acted interpretation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters

“We know too much”

Now in their fifth year, Arrows and Traps have been building quite the reputation as a shining example of how to do fringe theatre. Cultivating relationships with theatres (they’re once more at the Brockley Jack) and creatives (beyond notions of repertory, it is pleasing to see familiar names pop up in production after production and not just as actors) and above all, producing theatre that people want to see. 

And Chekhov’s Three Sisters, presented here in a new version by Ross McGregor, continues that strong tradition, paring back the starch to locate a real emotional directness to the trials of the Prozorov sisters. Trapped in the cultural desert of the provinces, far from the beloved Moscow of their childhood, the rise and fall of their hopes and dreams are traced over four crucial years. Continue reading “Review: Three Sisters, Brockley Jack”

Review: Frankenstein, Brockley Jack

“Beginnings…are difficult”

You may think you know the story of Frankenstein – in the 200 years since Mary Shelley wrote the novel for which she is most famed, it has received countless adaptations and sunk deep into the collective consciousness. But chances are that Arrows & Traps’ version will disarm you and make you consider it anew as it introduces a new, crucial character into the narrative – Mary Shelley herself.

Writer/director Ross McGregor’s reinterpretation of this tale is masterfully done. Framed as something of a fever dream, a hallucination by the older Shelley who suffered from a brain tumour for more than a decade before her death, the story here is split in three. We follow the story of the Creature and, separately, of Victor Frankenstein; but we also explore Shelley’s life too, the experiences that led up to her creation of such an epic piece of literature while still a teenager, the curious darkness that stalked her thereafter. Continue reading “Review: Frankenstein, Brockley Jack”

Review: Crime and Punishment, Brockley Jack

“The art of investigation is…um…freeform”

God, Russia, booze, ghosts, vomit, legacies, tables, blood, metal, tears, redemption, hatred, cruelty, love, sex – the programme notes couldn’t capture Dostoyevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment any more succinctly if it tried. So it is remarkable then, that in Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus’s 90 minutes-straight through adaptation presented here by Arrows & Traps, there’s a second distillation of the Russian epic that similarly captures so much of what has made it an enduring literary classic.

This it does by fashioning something new, something theatrical, out of the narrative. You could while away the hours pointing out what has been ‘missed out’ from the book but at over 600 pages long, your bum will be thanking you for exactly that. For it speaks to what makes a good adaptation, a version that is canny enough not to attempt to slavishly recreate every detail of every page, but rather embody something that is undeniably of its spirit but takes a bold step or two of its own as well. Continue reading “Review: Crime and Punishment, Brockley Jack”

Review: Joan of Arc, New Diorama

“You can’t slaughter what you cannot kill”

In amongst everything else that the Faction do, they’re also steadily working their way through Friedrich Schiller’s plays with the aim of staging the complete canon of his work. I’ve seen them take on Mary StuartFiesco and The Robbers in recent years but their 2015 rep season features Joan of Arc, a free adaptation of The Maid of Orleans which was one of his most frequently performed plays during his lifetime. Its fiercely militaristic tone speaks to its popularity back then but the Faction, playing very much to their strengths in this thrilling and thoughtful version, make a sterling case for its pertinence today.

The play tells its own variation on Joan’s life – one could hardly argue it is historically inaccurate – which repositions La Pucelle as a defiantly active warrior in the Dauphin’s forces as the French Crown struggles against the combined forces of the Duke of Burgundy and Henry VI of England. That she was a peasant girl who received religious visions only added to her allure when her talismanic presence proved decisive in turning the military tide but the natural suspicion of anything different, combined with Joan’s internal dilemmas about the validity of her spirituality, allows the seeds to be sown for her downfall (even if it plays out in an unexpected manner). Continue reading “Review: Joan of Arc, New Diorama”

Review: The Talented Mr Ripley, New Diorama

“Do you like our new refrigerator?”

For an ensemble company that is so focused on, well, the ensemble, The Talented Mr Ripley seems a curious choice for The Faction to include in their 2015 rep season. Patricia Highsmith’s tale of homoerotic obsession, impersonation, murder and swanky new fridges features a tour-de-force performance from Christopher Hughes as Tom Ripley at its heart but in the final analysis, it doesn’t always feel like a show that really plays to the strengths and artistic potential of this group of actors and creatives.

Part of the issue seems to flow from the literalness of Mark Leipacher’s adaptation which runs at nearly three hours with the interval coming at the first hour mark. As you can imagine it thus retains much of the integrity, and detail, of Highsmith’s novel but it also consequently lacks theatricality. So many key story points are endlessly repeated – the day trips where Ripley gets ever closer to the luminous DIckie Greenleaf, the highly symbolic luggage that he carries with him, the various policemen who chase him through Italy – to little cumulative impact. Continue reading “Review: The Talented Mr Ripley, New Diorama”