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: Once Upon A Christmas, Covent Garden

“Christmas may be cancelled!”

Billed as “a theatrical adventure in Covent Garden”, the details of which we’re urged to keep secret so that future participants can experience it unspoiled, Once Upon A Christmas is Look Left Look Right’s contribution to this year’s festive fare, and what an appetising treat it makes. An interactive experience for pairs (although it can be experienced solo as well), the adventure begins at a nondescript address, tucked amongst the shops and bars of this bustling part of London, but it soon becomes clear that there’s more than meets the eye here.

For this is the elf-run headquarters of Pantoland who have been forced to walk amongst humankind in order to avert the biggest crisis of them all – the cancellation of Christmas itself. This has been caused by the shocking break-up of Cinderella and Prince Charming and the only people that can -help – well, you’ve guessed it, it’s you and your friend. And so begins a helter-skelter journey of one-on-one encounters through the nooks and crannies of Covent Garden – some considerably more salubrious than others – accompanied by some extremely familiar faces, although they might not always act exactly as you might expect.

It is a hugely charming enterprise and its fast-flowing nature – as you’re gently moved on from pillar to post to pumpkin – means that it is akin to tumbling into a winter Wonderland. A cast of eighteen excellently facilitate the journey constructed by writers Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and Katie Lyons and they offer an amusingly modern take on fairytale life – a bit of vicious gossip and tweeting here, some heartbroken necking of shots there, a wickedly amusing barrow-boy monk giving excellent banter. The show envelops you in its tinsel-clad embrace from the off and though the happy ending might never really seem in doubt, why on earth would you want it to be?


Those in search of earth-shattering drama or life-changing experience might need to recalibrate their expectations for a warm-hearted daftness in what is in store here and Once Upon A Christmas is all the stronger for it. Director Mimi Poskitt has marshalled her resources excellently, there’s some genuinely striking moments of acting alongside some excellent people management – Brandy Butter definitely wins the prize here – and that it all takes place in plain sight in so public an arena lends a marvellous sense of complicity to the whole affair, weaving it seamlessly into the fabric of the long-established entertainment in the square. Great fun.
Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 15th December


Originally written for The Public Reviews

Review: The Mother, The Scoop at More London

“When I die I want to be able to say this, ‘I never did anything violent’”

Paired with Around the World in 80 Days as part of the free theatre season at The Scoop at More London, Brecht’s The Mother is a little performed play from 1932 telling of a woman living in a Russia on the cusp of revolution who is forced into a new world of political activism when she sees how her own activist son is treated by the authorities. As she meets with his friends and begins to engage with their agenda, she finds herself on a journey of personal growth, as she finally learns to read and as her political consciousness is awakened and becomes impassioned, she becomes a figurehead for the movement that her son is part of.

Though it is a story that is ultimately advocating Communism, the decision to keep the setting fairly loose and not tethered too tightly to its original time and location frees it up hugely and consequently scores a huge resonance in its examination of the issues around political dissidence and the right to demonstrate in public, particularly for young people. Ravenhill’s translation has a punchy directness and humanity that gives the political discussion a very relatable dimension through the figure of ‘The Mother’, played with tireless grace by Nicky Goldie, her concern for her son accompanied by a growing outrage at how she perceives society to be rotten and pushes for change. Continue reading “Review: The Mother, The Scoop at More London”

Review: Around the World in 80 Days, The Scoop at More London

“Everybody dreams of a little adventure”

As part of the free theatre available at The Scoop at More London which is now in its 9th impressive year, Around the World in 80 Days is a streamlined version of Phil Willmott’s original production for the Battersea Arts Centre 10 years ago which truncates the action in 75 swift minutes, accompanied by a suite of catchy original songs by Annemarie Lewis Thomas. It is freely adapted from Jules Verne’s novel and so whilst the shape of Phileas Fogg’s journey, the result of a wager to traverse the globe in an unheard-of 80 days, remains the same, the action is enlivened with highly recognisable figures from Victorian England passing comment on his progress.

It is fast and furious and lots of good-natured fun. Eugene Washington’s stern Fogg is tempered by the lovable antics of Joseph Wicks’ Passepartout, his able assistant, and when they rescue the Princess Aouda – a personable turn from Suzanne Ahmet – from an Indian funeral pyre, even Fogg’s stony heart begins to melt as his eyes are opened to the vast cultural influences to which he is exposed as they journey through Asia – helped memorably by a grumpy elephant through the Indian jungle, mounted with great style – and then through the USA – with a great song set in Salt Lake City which predates The Book of Mormon by at least a decade! – before trying to make it back in time to England to settle the bet. Continue reading “Review: Around the World in 80 Days, The Scoop at More London”