Review: Lola, VAULT Festival

Lola is a striking debut play from Hannah Nixon at the VAULT Festival

“You can’t stop someone from looking at you”

Hannah Nixon’s debut play Lola may take titular inspiration from Nabokov’s Lolita but it brings to mind Mamet’s Oleanna just as much, as it tackles the trials 18-year-old Lola faces in the daily act of going to college. The changes in her body are weighing her down emotionally and physically – she’s on a waiting list for a breast reduction – and they’re attracting all kinds of attention which she is struggling to deal with, most notably a boy who is stalking her.

So she turns to two adult figures in her life, two of her tutors, but not even their help comes without strings. Jez is the kind of guy who revels in blurring the line between teacher and student, and Olivia lights upon Lola as a kind of project in which to put feminist theory into practice. As Lola’s situation becomes increasingly complex, the relationships between the three deepen into something dangerously entangled – who’d be a teenager?!

Nixon does a brilliant job of balancing her three characters, there’s never a sense of the dice being loaded on one side against the other, even as motivations becomes murkier and ambitions are revealed. Melissa Dunne’s production matches this equivalence, in encouraging strong performances from Rob Ostlere and Joanne Ferguson as the adults and an excellent Gemma Barnett as the vibrant Lola whose increasing desperation pulls us into a striking climax. 

Running time: 1 hour (without interval)
Photos: Ali Wright
Lola is booking at the VAULT Festival until 27th January

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: Sweet Bird of Youth, Chichester Festival Theatre

“‘I think that hate is a feeling that can only exist where there is no understanding”

There’s something a little depressingly predictable about my inability to resist a neat bit of star casting – Marcia Gay Harden’s long-in-the-making UK theatrical debut being the guilty party here. It’s depressing because Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth is a play I wasn’t much of a fan of the one time I saw it before and the heart wasn’t beating any faster at the prospect of sitting through it once again.

And maybe there’s an element of self-defeating prophecy at work because I was bored rigid by Jonathan Kent’s production here for Chichester Festival Theatre. A quiet audience (never seen the upper seats curtained off like that before) sweltered in the stifling atmosphere but sadly, there was no heat being generated on the stage of Anthony Ward’s distractingly-conceived design. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: Confessional, Southwark Playhouse

“I know from experience that I’ll find somebody and locate a nightspot to booze in and get acquainted with…friends”

I can’t deny it, when I first heard the staging for Tennessee Williams’ Confessional was ‘semi-immersive’, I rolled my eyes for it has become a much-abused term by arts marketeers. But on arriving at Southwark Playhouse, being encouraged to go into the Little straightaway and thus experiencing Justin Williams’ design, I was blown away. For the theatre has been transformed into a working bar, Monk’s Place, complete with pork scratchings and the kind of seating found in any traditional pub.

The pre-show entertainment sets the mood perfectly, actors milling round making the kind of small talk you might call banter, for that is so much of the essence of the play. Eschewing conventional dramatic structure, Confessional is less about plot than about people. Specifically, the punters of this seaside boozer as they count down the minutes to closing time, sharing stories with us, arguing the toss with each other, trying – and failing – to come to terms with the cards life has dealt them. Continue reading “Review: Confessional, Southwark Playhouse”

Short Film Review #36

Tortoise, written and directed by Andy Bloom, details the relationship between two teenage brothers who live a sheltered life deep in rural isolation. Things are made worse by the presence of their violent and unpredictable father, a brilliantly unlikeable Matthew Kelly, who dominates their every waking moment and so older brother Charlie, a steely-jawed Tom Hughes, has determined to escape the situation. Problem is the more fragile Billy, a cowed Rob Ostlere, isn’t completely sure and so they’ve waited for over a year until finally provoked once too many. Grim but reflective, a powerful reminder of how they fuck you up, your mum and dad. Sometimes. 

Small Things 
 
Another trip into Icelandic Cinema Online threw up this little gem, Small Things or Litlir Hlutir by Davíð Óskar Ólafsson. A Lantana-like confection, combining together disparate stories and characters into one interconnected world where one small thing for one person sets in chain huge events for others. Gripping stuff which you can watch for a euro here. http://icelandiccinema.com/watch/187  Continue reading “Short Film Review #36”

Short Film Review #32

At what point does a short film stop being a short film?

Hereafter comes in at just over half an hour so I’m not sure exactly where it stands but no matter what you want to call it, there is no denying it is a rather nifty bit of sci-fi. Set in a grim version of the near future, a figure called The Ghost is haunting the minds and actions of people, driving them to murder and suicide, and it is up to The Guardians to stop it if they can. Becoming a Guardian is a perilous business but resourceful orphan Katcher is shortlisted for the process, which turns out to be brutal beyond belief and made more dangerous by the ever-approaching Ghost. Continue reading “Short Film Review #32”

Review: The Trial of Ubu, Hampstead

“Maybe the only thing we’re obliged to do…is think the unthinkable”

One always knows that when Katie Mitchell’s name appears in connection with a play, then it is bound to be something just a little bit different as she has proved herself to be one of our most original, and consequently divisive, directors. Her latest foray into the theatre is with Simon Stephens’ satirical new play The Trial of Ubu which is just starting at the Hampstead Theatre. Mitchell has recently collaborated with both: Stephens’ play Wastwater left me more than a little bemused at the Royal Court but her installation piece small hours which played as part of the Hampstead Downstairs season last year was quietly, disturbingly excellent.

The Trial of Ubu is quite something else though. Dark, disconcerting and challenging, it really is unlike anything else in London at the moment. I saw it without knowing anything about it, or indeed about the play itself to be honest, aside from having a vague recollection of having heard a mention of Père Ubu once upon a time. And it is obviously up to you how forewarned you want to be about the show, just be aware that what will follow will necessarily contain a few spoilers. Continue reading “Review: The Trial of Ubu, Hampstead”

Review: A Woman Killed With Kindness, National Theatre

“Woman, hear thy judgement”

It’s typical really. When Wastwater at the Royal Court played out with hardly any of the (in)famous flair that director Katie Mitchell has become known for, I perversely rather missed it. Now she is back at the National Theatre with a production of Thomas Heywood’s 1603 play A Woman Killed with Kindness, updated to a loose 1920s setting and the kookiness is back. Am I glad? I’m not sure! The show is playing in the Lyttelton as part of the Travelex Season and this was a preview performance on 14th July.

The play is noted for one of the first tragedies to be written in the domestic sphere, looking at the loves and lives of everyday people. The marriage of John Frankford and his wife Anne is threatened by John inviting a man, Wendoll, into their home as a companion and to take all at his disposal: Wendoll thus pursues an affair with Anne much to John’s anger. Across the way, Sir Charles Mountford is heavily in debt and constantly in serious trouble due to his ructions with Sir Francis Acton (Anne’s brother). Acton is enamoured of Mountford’s sister Susan and she finds herself an unwitting pawn in her brother’s increasingly desperate attempts to get off the hook. Continue reading “Review: A Woman Killed With Kindness, National Theatre”