Review: New Views – Rehearsed Readings

The National Theatre’s New Views playwriting competition for 14 to 19-year-olds throws up some real winners in its shortlist.

This year’s New Views programme saw the National Theatre engage with 74 schools across the UK, offering workshops with writers like Luke Barnes, Dawn King, Winsome Pinnock and Chino Odimba to help 14 to 19-year olds learn about writing plays. Over 300 plays were then submitted and 10 shortlisted. The winning play – If We Were Older – is receiving a full production and the other 9 are getting the rehearsed reading treatment, some of which I was able to catch.

I really enjoyed It’s More Than Okay Levi by Robert Lazarus (Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, Hertfordshire) – crying at plays about Alzheimer’s is my jam (the kind of emotional torture I like to put myself through…) and even in the reduced circumstances of this reading, I have to say there was a tear or two prickling away. Continue reading “Review: New Views – Rehearsed Readings”

2018 Vault Festival – what to see

On the one hand, that the Vault Festival has expanded to over 300 shows running over 8 weeks is fantastic news for the emerging theatremakers that it supports. On the other, it means making the choice about what to see, even tackling the catalogue alone can feel somewhat daunting. It has taken me a wee while to get round to delving into it myself, but as the festival is set to open this week, here’s some of my top tips for each week.

Week 1

Tomorrow Creeps – repurposed Shakespeare via the medium of Kate Bush? Hell, yes.
Tumulus – it’s not a festival unless there’s a chemsex show
Great Again – likewise a Trump-bashing musical 


Week 2

Double Infemnity – gender-flipping noir crime antics in a one-woman show? Whyever the hell not!
Gypsy Queen – gays and boxing, sometimes I’m an easy sell…
Gun – I’ll be trying to catch more comedy than I usually do this year, and this western-inspired show very much seems as good a place to start as any


Week 3

Think of England – love, lust and swing dancing in wartime Waterloo – TICK!
Be Prepared – I’m a fan of writer/performer Ian Bonar so definitely looking forward to this one
Douze – Eurovision pop comedy musical fun, nuff said


Week 4

YOU – a thought-provoking look at adoption, drawing on some deeply personal narratives
STUD – gays and football, a combination that usually works wonders for me!
Elsa – a chirpy sounding piece of reflective musical comedy


Week 5

Sparks – Jessica Butcher is a name that people in the know rave about, Anoushka Lucas is a name I have raved about, together they ought to come up with something special
Conquest – a debut show from PearShaped and one which promises to tackle contemporary feminism with real fearlessness
Still We Dream… – I don’t see much dance but something about this piques my attention, animalistic movement in non-traditional spaces


Week 6

TESTOSTERONE – experimental work pushing the trans narrative forward, one for the Daily Mail-reading person in your life…
Das Fest – in many ways what the Vault Festival is for, for me, to see the type of thing I would never normally book for (as in Philipp Oberlohr’s show last year Das Spiel) and be delighted and not a little freaked out!
The Strongbox – Stephanie Jacob is having a low-key moment, her play Again opens at Trafalgar Studios 2 next month and its final week will overlap with another piece of new writing from her, I suspect they’ll both be worth catching


Week 7

Fuck Marry Kill – a work-in-progress from Vera Chok and Amy Mason which uses the game show format to challenge the patriarchy
Bury the Hatchet – the tale of Lizzie Borden is one of enduring fascination and Out of the Forest are no exception here, using bluegrass, nursery rhyme and horror to retell and reexamine this story
Unburied – a folk horror mystery that just seems most intriguing


Week 8

THINGS THAT DO NOT C(O)UNT – I loved No Offence’s torn apart at the Hope last year, so I’m much intrigued by this new work
The Dirty Thirty – an ever-changing attempt to perform 30 shows in 1 hour – I’m sold!
Tom and Bunny Save The World – another company I’m a big fan of, Fat Rascal, present a zombie comedy musical that is sure to shake up gender lines as much as apocalyptic survival methods

Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival – Women on the Edge

“It’s something about my appearance that I can control”

The Women on the Edge session of the Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival featured three works that were commissioned and developed from the 2015 festival held at the National Theatre. This just happened to include one of my favourite pieces from across the entire day – Camilla Harding and Alexandra Sinclair’s Man Up! Deceptively simple in its format yet deliciously complex in its subject matter, the pair give the lie to conventional gender norms and make a fabulously compelling case for the importance of recognising gender fluidity in society.

Their stagecraft is ingenious too, transformations subtly worked so that they were halfway complete before you clock exactly what’s going on. Judith Jones and Beatrix Campbell’s Justice has no such ambiguity about it, an emotionally bruising look at the lasting impact of the Cleveland child abuse scandal and the trials its victims face in trying to escape its shadow, in search of a truth, a resolution that might somehow set them free. Directed by Ros Philips, Claire-Louise Cordwell’s damaged warrior of justice is a brilliantly thorny part and contrasted well with Kathryn O’Reilly’s softer but no less fierce budding campaigner. Continue reading “Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival – Women on the Edge”

Review: Screwed, Theatre503

“What’s your life plan?”
Unless you’re a friend of Nigel Farage, it’s hard not to feel that we’re all screwed at the moment. But Kathryn O’Reilly’s play for Theatre503 has a slightly different perspective, looking at a particular part of Broken Britain with a bleak sense of despair. Screwed opens with 30-somethings Luce and Charlene battling through an epic hangover while they try to get away with doing as little as possible in their dead-end factory job, screwing fixings onto pieces of metal hosing.
It’s no one-off though – the entirety of their existence is taken up getting from one drunken night out to the next, trying to score as much cocktails and cock as they can, snorting poppers and necking miniatures along the way. Rocking up late to work and relying on caffeine pills to get through the day, they’re barely holding it together but their self-destructive behaviour seems to know no bounds – it’s only the intervention of others in their lives that disrupts the flow of vodka.
Eloise Joseph’s Luce and Samantha Robinson’s Charlene are a fearsomely cracking double act and O’Reilly has a brilliant ear for the visceral venality of their chat in all its swaggering hollowness. For though they shout the loudest, drink the most and shag themselves silly, there’s nothing more to their lives, nor do they know how to look for it even if they wanted. A crucial moment comes midway when putative love interest Paulo, an appealing Stephen Myott-Meadows, asks Charlene what her life plan is, her lack of comprehension, never mind aspiration, one of the play’s most tragic aspects.
Tragedy of a more physical nature also occurs late on, leading the play to a strangely hurried conclusion, and one is which is pretty much unremittingly bleak, almost too much so for us to really engage. There’s a strange decision to make Luce’s father a trans gay man, Derek Elroy’s Doris is well-delineated but there’s a slight element of discomfort in the notion that this may have shaped Luce’s (lack of) development. And the under-explored nature of Charlene’s condition felt like a missed opportunity to flesh out the character – though there patently is such viciousness in the world, such relentless brutality onstage can begin to feel punishing.
Sarah Meadows’ production does well to mitigate this though, in the abstract sweep of Catherine Morgan’s design. Emphasising the structural shifts in O’Reilly’s writing produces some gorgeous passages of overlapping dialogue that press pause on the overbearing naturalism and Jamie Platt’s lighting choices similarly move around a more liminal space than the plotting might lead us to believe. A bolshy, brutal bit of theatre.
Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 23rd July

Review: VOLTA Festival 2015, Arcola

“The problem with Hannes is…”

One can always rely on the Arcola to bring interesting writing to light and in the form of the VOLTA International Festival, Artistic Director Andrea Ferran has managed that four times over, bringing together new work by four celebrated international writers, translated into English for the first time – Christopher Chen, Jonas Hassen Khemiri, Ewald Palmetshofer and Roland Schimmelpfennig. With four directors, James Perkins designing and an ensemble covering all the shows, it proved to be a fascinating festival and one which deserves more attention than it received.

Caught by San Francisco-based Christopher Chen twists wonderfully around notions of truth and fiction as three separate but interlinked scenes toy with how art plays with and changes under our perceptions. Cressida Brown’s direction cleverly plays up how we all find our own truth in everything, no matter how the subject is approached, preconceived notions shaping us even as they’re deconstructed and always, always making us think about what we’ve just seen. Chen takes no prisoners in the complexity of some of his thinking but it’s fascinating stuff indeed. Continue reading “Review: VOLTA Festival 2015, Arcola”

Review: The Recruiting Officer rehearsed reading, St James Theatre

“Two and twenty horses killed under me that day”

Accompanying their production of Our Country’s Good, Out of Joint have put together a programme of rehearsed readings of various of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s plays and threw in a bonus reading of George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer for good measure. It is a natural choice as it is the play which the convicts of Our Country’s Good are performing and in using the same cast here, the actors are able to play the characters they are ‘rehearsing’ in the other piece which has a lovely neatness about it.

Farquhar’s play is deliciously dry and funny, impressively so for a 1706 Restoration comedy, and even with the limited rehearsal time and the cast having scripts in hand, there was a real sense of the rich comic potential of the material. And having seen it fairly recently at the Donmar Warehouse, it was interesting to see the different choices and dynamics that a new company brought. Ian Redford’s older Kite had a weariness of the soul that felt entirely appropriate, John Hollingworth’s take on Brazen was straighter than Mark Gatiss’ out-and-out fop but no less hilarious for it and the doubling that most of the actors did was impressively done and added to the humour quotient. Continue reading “Review: The Recruiting Officer rehearsed reading, St James Theatre”

Review: Our Country’s Good, St James Theatre

“In my own small way, in just a few hours, I have seen something change”

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play Our Country’s Good was first produced 25 years ago by Max Stafford-Clark and his Out of Joint company and as it has remained an evergreen success, in no small part due to regular appearances as a set text for students, a revival makes good sense. And with Stafford-Clark taking on directorial duties once again, it makes for a fascinating chance to see an impresario revisiting a work with which he is inextricably linked.

Much of the appeal of Wertenbaker’s work lies in its celebration of theatre as a cultural medium but also as something more, something that can heal and restore the soul. And so as a group of convicts newly transported to Australia are convinced to put on a play – George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer – by an officer of reformist tendencies, we see the transformative power of drama and a subtle shift in the way that punishment is viewed as the idea of rehabilitation comes into play. Continue reading “Review: Our Country’s Good, St James Theatre”

Review: The Golden Dragon, Arcola

“Please, not the red spanner!”

First things first, Studio 1 at the Arcola is flexible! I have frequently bemoaned the new main room at the Arcola’s new premises for its awkward seating arrangement that provided a restrictive playing space which unfortunately seemed to fly in the face of the playfulness of the old theatre. But for the first time Studio 1 has been reconfigured, into an end-on setting in this case, which hopefully means that the Arcola will continue to explore the new possibilities of their new home. The show that it is currently housing is the ATC production of The Golden Dragon, fresh from a successful run at the Traverse in Edinburgh and subsequently touring the UK.

It is a German play by Roland Schimmelpfennig, translated here by David Tushingham, which defies any easy definition, the website blurb says deconstructed soap opera, I’m thinking more fantastical yet modern fairy tale. Five actors play a whole host of characters and indeed animals, frequently switching gender, ethnicity and age in the smoothest of multiple transitions as the storytelling weaves gently around the heart, only revealing just how powerful and moving it is until its closing scenes by when we’re fully enchanted and in the tight grip of this ensemble. Continue reading “Review: The Golden Dragon, Arcola”