Review: A Wake in Progress, VAULT Festival

For all its funeral-based shenanigans, there’s something warmly, beautifully, life-affirming here in the interactive A Wake in Progress at the VAULT Festival

“When it comes to it, I will be remembered in the most romantic, bullshit way possible…”

This is the story of Henry. Except it won’t be when you see A Wake in Progress, as the finer details of this Fine Mess & Leila Sykes production are improvised every night, using audience suggestions to shape the action and flesh out back stories around a young person diagnosed with a terminal illness and given just months to live.

Joel Samuels’ script sees our protagonist opting to stop treatment and get on with the business of living the life that remains, and some of the more powerful moments here come in the interactions with loved ones and family who can’t comprehend such a choice. There’s also some pretty punchy stuff around the language of death, our tendency towards euphemism instead of facing the truth head on. Continue reading “Review: A Wake in Progress, VAULT Festival”

2019 VAULT Festival – 20 shows to see

With less than a week to go before the 2019 VAULT Festival opens, I wade my way through the catalogue and come up with 20 shows I think you should catch – in their own words

Now in its seventh year, VAULT Festival returns this year from 23rd January to 17th March with a broad and diverse programme of more than 400 shows in a range of atmospheric venues throughout Waterloo. And as ever, the remit is to be as big and bold as impossible, with the festival featuring theatre, comedy, cabaret, immersive experiences, late night parties, and much more besides.

It can be a little overwhelming to figure out what you want to see, the majority of shows run for a week (Wednesday to Sunday) so you’ll need to move pretty sharpish once you’ve decided – there’s the VAULT Combo deal which saves you money booking more than one show, and some 241 deals available through the Stagedoor app. And to help you, I’ve identified 20 shows (and it could have been so many more!) that appealed to me and asked them to sell themselves in 10 words or less in order to grab your attention.  Continue reading “2019 VAULT Festival – 20 shows to see”

Review: Hearing Things, Omnibus Clapham

“How’s life in the asylum?”

It can be easy to make grand, sweeping statements about the artistic vision of your theatre company but much more difficult to actually follow through. So it is impressive to see Playing ON, who “make theatre with communities whose voices are seldom heard”, do exactly that with their new play Hearing Things. Developed from five years of careful and painstaking collaboration with the staff, patients (and their relatives) from mental health institutions including the Maudsley and Homerton, playwright Philip Osment draws back the curtain just a little on the world of psychiatry.

Reflecting the broad scope of its source material, and perhaps hinting a little at the experience of mental health issues, the multiple stories Hearing Things tells are fractured, their pieces shuffled out of order as the company of three actors dip in and out of a range of characters. It’s a brave approach but one which is directed with great fluidity by Jim Pope, making great use of a reconfigured auditorium with Miriam Nabarro and Jemima Robinson’s in-the-round staging creating a really playful space, for even though mental health is a weighty subject, there’s flashes of real humour here too. 

Continue reading “Review: Hearing Things, Omnibus Clapham”

Review: The Amen Corner, National Theatre

“Ain’t nobody born that infallible”

Reader, I ovated. It is a rare occasion indeed that I actually give a standing ovation, more often than not I think about it and don’t do it but just occasionally, one bears witness to something in a theatre that is just irresistibly, incandescently amazing that the only response is to get on one’s feet. For me, it was Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s simply extraordinary performance as Sister Margaret Alexander that beats powerfully at the heart of The Amen Corner, a revival of a 1965 American play by James Baldwin, that fills the Olivier Theatre with the glorious sound of the London Community Gospel Choir.

 Jean-Baptiste’s Sister Margaret is the fiercely passionate leader of her local church in Harlem and living underneath with her sister Odessa and 18 year old son David, she leads her congregation with an iron fist of religious fervour. But trouble is brewing with discontent rumbling in the group of church elders who are looking for an opportunity to oust their leader and when her long estranged husband Luke turns up unexpectedly, they seize the moment as it turns out that their glorious leader may not be as blemish-free as she would have them believe. Continue reading “Review: The Amen Corner, National Theatre”

Not-a-Review: Arcadia, LAMDA at Lyric Hammersmith

“It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter”

Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia was an unexpected pleasure for me when I first saw it in the summer of 2009 at the Duke of York’s Theatre: I booked not knowing anything about it, easily seduced by the luxury casting, but was blown away by a play of unexpected intelligence and feeling, something of a rarity in the commercial West End. So when it was announced that as part of their final year showcases, LAMDA students were putting on four shows – free of charge – at the Lyric Hammersmith, one of which was Arcadia, the chance to revisit a good play and potentially spot some stars of the future could not be resisted by a [insert correct collective noun for a group of Twitter theatre nerds] of us: I’ve opted to restrict myself to a few remarks rather than an all-out review.

Predictably this production came nowhere near the dizzy heights of the West End production, it was never likely to to be honest, but it did seem a curious choice as a play for showcasing as it didn’t seem like a natural fit for the talent here – too many cases of square pegs being asked to fit round holes especially in trying to portray a wide range of ages from a single cohort. Some of the actors were able to rise above their miscasting to still deliver strong performances but others fell short, unable to convince of the age they were trying to play, mainly through failing to extend their performances right down to the physicality of the characters. Likewise some of the humour of Stoppard’s writing got lost in the delivery and so this Arcadia never really caught fire, never enraptured me to the point where I forgot I was watching a student performance as I have previously done. Continue reading “Not-a-Review: Arcadia, LAMDA at Lyric Hammersmith”