TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 4

Monica Dolan swearing and Ned Bennett directing Kathryn Hunter and Marcello Magni? Episode 4 of Unprecedented knocks it out of the park

“This is not like The Hunger Games”

After the bleakness of the third instalment, Episode 4 of Unprecedented reintroduces the note of variety that makes the enterprise work so well, with its collections of short plays responding to the ways in which society has had to change in response to lockdown and pandemicorama.

Deborah Bruce’s Kat and Zaccy looks at how children of divorced households have had to make huge decisions about who to hunker down with, and the consequences of those decisions. Monica Dolan and Alex Lawther play the fractious mother/son relationship perfectly as she shamelessly emotionally manipulates the situation as best to her advantage as she can. Continue reading “TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 4”

News: cast announced for Unprecedented: Theatre from a State of Isolation

Headlong and Century Films have today announced a cast of over 50 UK actors taking part in Unprecedented: Theatre from the State of Isolation. A series of new digital plays written in response to the current Covid-19 Pandemic, Unprecedented will be broadcast across the nation during lockdown as part of BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative.

Written by celebrated playwrights and curated by Headlong, Century Films and BBC Arts, Unprecedented explores our rapidly evolving world, responding to how our understanding and experiences of community, education, work, relationships, family, culture, climate and capitalism are evolving on an unprecedented scale. The series will ask how we got here and what the enduring legacy of this historic episode might be. Continue reading “News: cast announced for Unprecedented: Theatre from a State of Isolation”

Review: The House They Grew Up In, Minerva

“This is not only your street with only your stories”

It’s always fascinating to get the opportunity to follow a playwright’s development in real time and so it has been with Deborah Bruce. From Godchild downstairs at the Hampstead (yes, a play written by a woman there!) to The Distance at the Orange Tree, later revived by Sheffield, and now to a Headlong co-production with Chichester, this is clearly a writer moving in the right direction.

The House They Grew Up In is a difficult play to watch though, a drama focused on reclusive siblings Daniel and Peppy whose hermit-like existence in their South-East London home sees them surrounded by the accumulated detritus of everything they’ve ever owned. The arrival of the inquisitive boy from next door, seeking refuge from his own problems, threatens the equilibrium they’ve constructed though, exposing it to severe outside scrutiny like never before. Continue reading “Review: The House They Grew Up In, Minerva”

Re-review: The Distance, Orange Tree

“I’ve just had a text from Lewisham council”

I hadn’t intended to revisit Deborah Bruce’s The Distance but a quick re-read of my review from its original production at the Orange Tree last year reminded me how much I enjoyed it (even beyond the thrill of seeing Helen Baxendale on stage for the first time). This new co-production between the Richmond venue and Sheffield Theatres sees director Charlotte Gwinner remount the show with a largely new cast but still a keen sense for the darkly comic edge of the writing.

It remains as freshly sharp in its views on modern parenthood as ever, pointing up the hypocrisy of a society that blithely looks on by if a man leaves his family but is aghast should a mother do the same. And as a shell-shocked Bea returns alone from her adoptive Australia to the bosom of her best friends Kate and Alex , both parents themselves, back in Blighty, everyone’s preconceptions, personalities and peccadilloes are challenged. Continue reading “Re-review: The Distance, Orange Tree”

Review: Joanne, Soho Theatre

“This is the bit of the job I love. Loved. The human-contact bit, the breaking-the-ice bit. The breaking-into-a-smile bit”

Clean Break have often come to the Soho Theatre to showcase their work in London (the Charged season a great example) and so it’s little surprise to see them return with Joanne, five mini-plays weaving around the titular character, a woman struggling with life we never meet but whose presence is fiercely felt. All five monologues are performed by the one actor, the excellent Tanya Moodie, and detail the experience of people working in the system that is failing Joanne.

So Chino Odimba’s Stella sees the social worker made redundant, celebrating at her leaving do rather than thinking of the girl she met on release from prison that morning. Ursula Rani Sarma and Deborah Bruce introduce respectively a police officer and an A&E receptionist who despite their kind-hearted intentions, can’t quite manage to give Joanne the help they know she so desperately needs, their frustrations at an overworked system most palpable. Continue reading “Review: Joanne, Soho Theatre”

2015 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Best Female
Linda Bassett for Visitors at The Bush and the Arcola Theatre
Laura Jane Matthewson for Dogfight at Southwark Playhouse 
Shannon Tarbet for The Edge Of Our Bodies at The Gate

Best Supporting Female
Leila Crerar for Martine at Finborough Theatre
Vicki Lee Taylor for Carousel at Arcola Theatre
Thea Jo Wolfe for Singing In The Rain at Upstairs At The Gatehouse

Best Male
Patrick O’Kane for Quietly at Soho Theatre
Harry Lloyd for Notes From Underground at The Print Room, Coronet
Robin Soans For Visitors at the Bush and Arcola Theatre Continue reading “2015 Offie Award Finalists”

Review: The Distance, Orange Tree

“You’ve more chance of survival if you stay put”

Paul Miller’s subtle reinvention of the Orange Tree continues apace with Deborah Bruce’s The Distance, an exploration of a more complex side to parenting and friendship that is challenged when one of their group suddenly returns from Australia. Bea emigrated there to get married and have two beautiful kids but she’s turned up on best friend Kate’s Sussex doorstep alone and with their other good friend Alex also there to lend support, they to sort out Bea’s life for her, little suspecting what it is that Bea has actually done. Truth be told, I wasn’t the hugest fan of Bruce’s first play Godchild which premiered downstairs at Hampstead last year but the chance to see Helen Baxendale return to the stage tempted me over to Richmond.

There’s much to appreciate in the amusing and frank way Bruce depicts how parenthood, and different experiences thereof, affects the tight bonds of friendship. The ease with which Baxendale’s Bea, Clare Lawrence-Moody’s Kate and Emma Beattie’s Alex interact with each other is brilliantly portrayed as they bicker and banter and nurture and natter – their lives don’t stop because of Bea’s dilemma, it just has to fit into the tumble of jigsaw pieces that makes up the hustle and bustle of everyday living and so gets added to the ever-growing list of things that need to get sorted. The inclusion of the London riots is a canny move here, not as a focal point for the play but just a backdrop of a world still spinning. Continue reading “Review: The Distance, Orange Tree”

Review: Godchild, Hampstead Downstairs

“You have to stop seeing the good in everyone all the time”

With Godchild, Hampstead Downstairs continues its merry way of putting on some interesting theatre yet not opening it up officially to critics with a view to protecting the creativity and experimental nature of the work being performed. Deborah Bruce’s debut play is a rather conventional affair though and being directed by Michael Attenborough does nothing to challenge this and so one is left wondering why the Hampstead Theatre are shying away from replicating the model of the Royal Court Upstairs and really capitalising on being an out and proud two-studio venue.

Better known as a director (and half of a directorial super-couple with Jeremy Herrin) Bruce’s play occupies fairly safe territory in its comedic depiction of Lou, a forty-*cough*-thirty-something carefree Londoner whose style is well and truly cramped when her nineteen-year-old god-daughter Minnie moves into her flat to take up a place at university. Having fully embraced the vagaries of metropolitan living and its consequent inhibiting effect on conventional ideas of maturity, Lou is thus forced to face the difference between feeling nineteen and the dilemmas of actually being nineteen. Continue reading “Review: Godchild, Hampstead Downstairs”