Review: The Girl Who Looks Up At The Stars – Live Lunch at the Royal Court

“No one wants to be average”

The Royal Court has tried different ways of showcasing the work of the new writing talent that it so vitally nurtures and this autumn sees them try out Live Lunch, a set of six new plays – written from scratch over the summer – which fit into the lunch break (assuming you work nearby!) and to which the audience is invited to bring their own lunch. I brought a sandwich but wimped out of eating it and I’m glad I did because it meant I could focus entirely on the rather brilliant piece of writing that opened the season – Luke Barnes’ The Girl Who Looks Up At The Stars.

In the world of up-and-coming writers as they’re termed here, Barnes has already upped and come into the realm of ‘writers whose work I will definitely go and see’. His Bottleneck was a heartbreaking delight and the underdog charm of The Saints was a highlight of the summer for me, and there was no disappointment here with a tough but tender portrayal of a young woman struggling to hold onto her dreams in the drudgery of life in a depressed town in the north west of England. Continue reading “Review: The Girl Who Looks Up At The Stars – Live Lunch at the Royal Court”

Review: The Saints, Nuffield Playing Field

“It’s quite clearly not just a game or we wouldn’t be this upset about it would we”
 
In lieu of anyone having written a play about Wigan Athletic (although maybe there is one to come from somewhere…), I had to make do with Luke Barnes’ The Saints for my theatrical footie fix, journeying down to Southampton on a beautiful summer’s day. The weather was key as the Nuffield have created a pop-up theatre in Guildhall Square for the Art at the Heart Festival and as you can see from the pics below, it takes the form of a mini football stadium, leaving the audience exposed to the elements on its terraces but fortunately a morning rain shower soon changed to blazing sun in time for the starting whistle and a really rather enjoyable piece of theatre.
 
Kenny Glynn is a lifelong Southampton FC supporter and that life has been one full of hardship and challenges, not least in supporting the Saints through thick and thin, and in a brilliantly conceived first half, we see exactly how that life has played out. We witness the early death of his father at Kenny’s first trip to the Dell, the development of his mother’s chronic illness which made him her live-in carer, the trials being a Sunday League footballer and not a very good one at that, and the woes of being a teenager in love with a girl who barely knows he exists. Alongside this runs a potted history of the club, Kenny unable to dissociate the key events of his life from what was happening on and off the field.
Matthew Dunster’s production is brilliantly energetic – a keen young company of eight multi-role effortlessly, stripping in and out of tracksuits and other costumes at the drop of a hat, and wheeling around the components of Anna Fleischle’s inventive design to keep the pace constantly high. And in Cary Crankson’s wonderful central performance as Kenny, there’s such an appealing likeability that it is impossible not to get swept up in the dramas of his life as he slowly learns that you need to play the cards life has dealt (guided in this respect by a canny guardian angel by the name of Matt Le Tissier, well, it’s God dressed up as him…) and making the FA Cup final isn’t always what it is cracked up to be.

Continue reading “Review: The Saints, Nuffield Playing Field”

2014 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Best Female
Leanne Best for The Match Box at The Tricycle 
Lucy Ellinson for Grounded at The Gate
Vicki Lee Taylor for On A Clear Day You Can See Forever at The Union
Phoebe Waller-Bridge for Fleabag at Soho

Best Male
Joe Armstrong for The Dumb Waiter at The Print Room
James Cooney for Bottleneck at Soho
Michael Pennington for Dances of Death at The Gate
Jamie Samuel for Jumpers for Goalposts at The Bush

Best New Play
Bottleneck by Luke Barnes at Soho
Jumpers for Goalposts by Tom Wells at The Bush
The Match Box by Frank McGuinness at The Tricycle Continue reading “2014 Offie Award Finalists”

Review: Bottleneck, Soho Theatre

“The sun peeking its head over the tower block like a paedo”

Fast approaching his 15th birthday, Greg is obsessed with football – every aspect of his life in the Boot Estate in Liverpool revolves around the beautiful game and it informs his every action. And in Luke Barnes’ one-man play Bottleneck set in the late 1980s, we find a portrait not just of adolescence in progress as we lead up to the tumultuous events of his birthday, but also of working class life in a city in decline. It is heartfelt and lively, fearlessly funny and almost unbearably moving.

Barnes is clearly a gifted playwright, not just in the careful unwinding of his narrative but also in the richness of his text which deepens and layers his writing. Though Greg is the epitome of teenage rebelliousness and is straining for a greater independence, details abound that remind us he is still in many ways just a boy – his mittens, his naïveté about most everything about girls, the joy of being on his BMX. And Barnes also has a way of making vivid images linger in the mind, whether the comical obsession with much-vaunted moustaches or the desolation of impressions of wire fences and fingernails. Continue reading “Review: Bottleneck, Soho Theatre”

2012 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Best Male Performance
Aden Gillett in Accolade at the Finborough
Trystan Gravelle in Honest at the Queen’s Head Pub
Michael Matus in The Baker’s Wife at the Union
David Wilson Barnes in Becky Shaw at the Almeida

Best Female Performance
Kelly Burke in Zelda at the Charing Cross Hotel
Vicky Campbell in I Am A Camera at the Rosemary Branch
Lisa Dillon in Knot Of The Heart at the Almeida
Vinette Robinson in Tender Napalm at the Southwark Playhouse

Best New Play
Knot of The Heart by David Eldridge at the Almeida 
Mogadishu by Vivienne Franzmann at the Lyric Hammersmith
The Kitchen Sink by Tom Wells at the Bush Continue reading “2012 Offie Award Finalists”

Review: Chapel Street, Old Red Lion

“If someone wanted to take me to the theatre, I’d go…if they paid”

Chapel Street is the debut play from Luke Barnes, a sharply written two-hander about Kirsty and Joe who tell their separate, but increasingly intertwining, accounts of a highly drunken night out with their respective friends. He’s getting hammered with his friends down the pub, she’s knocking back vodka at her friend’s house but when everyone goes into town to continue the evening, fate smashes them together.

Daniel Kendrick’s Joe, brimming with swaggering self-confidence, was a terrific performance – recalling Trystan Gravelle’s electrifying turn in DC Moore’s fantastic Honest in the way he totally engaged with the audience, I have never felt more like one of the lads as when he was talking to me! He also portrays the quiet desperation of a young man still living at home, barely able to get casual labouring work, his frustrations not quite driving him to action though. Ria Zmitrowicz has the slightly more difficult job with Kirsty, a 15 year old girl becoming aware of her burgeoning sexuality but not quite yet fully aware of the consequences of exploiting it in the way she does. She does find a nice likeability in among her naïve dreams and Barnes captures the brutal honesty of teenage speak well. Continue reading “Review: Chapel Street, Old Red Lion”