Review: The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People, Courtyard Studio

“Some couples just seem to hate each other”

It’s Robin and James’ 5th wedding anniversary so he’s filled her car with presents and sneaked into the kitchen to cook her a slap-up dinner. But he’s been “away” for a while and it’s safe to say she’s not expecting it, the contours of their relationship slowly becoming evident as pieces of the jigsaw are retrospectively added. As it suggests in its title, Rosalind Blessed’s The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People thus contrasts the complexity of entangling oneself with another human compared to the simplicity of connecting with canine friends.

There’s a boldness to elements of Blessed’s writing that makes it a striking presence in the intimacy of the Courtyard’s studio. The fourth wall is dismantled from the beginning as Duncan Wilkins’ James and then Blessed’s Robin chat to the audience directly, taking the he-said-she-said model to the next level with these extended POVs, allowing us real insight into where each character is coming from, their stories overflowing with nuanced detail about the essentially flawed nature of human existence. Continue reading “Review: The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People, Courtyard Studio”

Review: King Lear, Holy Trinity Church, Guildford

“Hooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooowl”

In something of a coup, Guildford Shakespeare Company’s leading man for their production of King Lear is none other than Brian Blessed. And with his daughter Rosalind playing Goneril too. The play’s opening this week was a little overshadowed by the actor’s collapse during the final preview performance, but with the redoubtable resilience we have come to expect from this totemic figure (and perhaps unfairly so, he is 78 after all), he continued with the show after a 20 minute break. So three days later, it was with a little trepidation that we took our seats in the Holy Trinity Church in Guildford (cushion recommended!).

But we needn’t have worried, Brian Blessed giving his King Lear was exactly how you’d imagine Brian Blessed giving his King Lear would be. For better and for worse. There’s a real thrill in seeing him throw himself so fully into the cantankerous cruelty and wild abandon that characterises Lear’s breakdown – every howl, headshake and handwring is vastly exaggerated and is so unmistakeably him. But this comes at the loss of much subtlety, if not wailing he’s whispering with inbetween, which ultimately becomes a little exhausting whilst remaining trashily enjoyable. I mean look at the poster, what you want is Brian Blessed doing exactly what Brian Blessed does. Continue reading “Review: King Lear, Holy Trinity Church, Guildford”

Review: Titus Andronicus, Arcola

“Look down into this den and see a fearful sight of blood and death”

The 80s appear to be fertile ground for reinterpretations of classics – recent weeks have seen Romeo and Juliet in Camden market and Sweeney Todd above a greasy spoon, utilising the societal upheaval of the time as a backdrop, and so too does Zoé Ford with this unique and exuberant take on Titus Andronicus. Using This Is England as a key reference point, this is a world of viscerally tribal skinheads and goths (standing in for the Goths) and one in which the enraged pursuit of bloody vengeance feels entirely appropriate.

This is a production that is broad, ballsy and extremely bloody. David Vaughan Night’s Titus is all bovver-booted swagger, Maya Thomas’ cogent Lavinia is distressingly tragic and Rosalind Blessed’s vibrant Tamora is a commendably strong presence as the two warring factions trade rape, murder, mutilations, even cannibalism, as the stakes and everyone’s pride remains too high to entertain anything but the most desperate fight to the end.  Continue reading “Review: Titus Andronicus, Arcola”

Review: The Canterbury Tales, Southwark Playhouse

“Welcome one and all to the Tabard Inn”

I love a tankard, especially one full of mulled wine on a chilly winter’s evening, and so I was most pleased to be able to get one at the Southwark Playhouse. Not in the bar though, but in the main house itself which has been converted into a working medieval tavern for a production of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The yarns have been adapted for the stage by Tom Daplyn and Tacit Theatre into modern language to give their examinations of the many aspects of human behaviour greater currency for today’s audience in this piece of story-telling theatre.

Director Juliane von Sivers and the creative team have further broken the mould by aiming for an immersive experience with the show. We’re all punters in the Tabard inn – Cara Newman’s design puts the bar at one end and has the seating in the round circling a raised stage – and the team of seven actor-musicians form the entertainment, working through six of the stories and interleaving them with some rowdy tub-thumping (though perhaps a tad anachronistic) sing-alongs. The combined effect is thus one of a genial informality, a beautifully relaxed evening down the pub with a tapestry of stories being woven around us. Continue reading “Review: The Canterbury Tales, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Legacy Falls, New Players

“Call it fate or call it karma, I was made for daytime drama”

Legacy Falls is a new musical from James Burn, with assistance on the book from Ian Poitier who also doubles as director and choreographer. It is a tongue-in-cheek look at the on-screen and off-screen antics at an American daytime soap opera, Legacy Falls, which is suffering from falling ratings and so when a new producer is brought in to shake things up, the bitchiness and back-stabbing is ramped up as the actors begin to question their security and their happiness in life, especially Edward the long-suffering leading man with a big secret.

It starts off brilliantly with the great title track which is lyrically very sharp and nicely tuneful, enhanced by a witty video of the opening credits for the show which nails the windswept posing which makes them so ridiculously comical! When pursuing the soap side of things, this show is really very good and laugh-out-funny on a number of occasions. It mixes up the Acorn Antiques-style parody of comically bad soap acting with missed cues and overacting with the sheer ridiculousness of US daytime soap operas with their classic catfights, smell-the-fart acting, rapidly ageing child characters and their propensity for outrageously complex personal relationships. It also borrows the device of portraying the actors playing the characters to show the neuroses of this group of actors who see their steady paycheck being threatened. The best songs are here, with witty group numbers (I particularly liked the female trio on Somebody’s Gonna Get Killed and the duo on Normal People) and powerhouse solos like Larger Than Life all having huge amounts of fun and genuine comedy that make it a delight to watch. Tara Hugo’s huge voice makes her performance as Stephanie the leading lady one of the highlights of the show but she is well matched by Joanne Heywood’s conniving Madison and Aimie Atkinson’s incredibly ditzy Brandy.

It is perhaps slightly less successful at mining its more serious storyline of its leading man struggling to deal with the stagnation of playing the same role for 30 years, all the while concealing his homosexuality. By comparison, these sections are relatively flat, too ballad heavy and don’t really build the requisite emotional engagement that is needed to stop you from wishing we were back in the comedy sections. Mark Inscoe does well with the material but I felt his perma-tanned Edward needed to be a stronger-drawn, more dramatic character in order to really capture the attention as a leading man and build up more passion and connection with the most handsome Tim Oxbrow as Daniel, the man who leads his journey out of the closet. And to be honest, there’s no new insight or believability in the way this gay storyline is played out which comes across as really quite dated. 

It is a well-drilled company throughout though with no weak links: Rosalind Blessed is great fun as Frankie the producer brought in to improve the ratings; Davis Brooks’ dim and frequently shirtless hunk Ridge has excellent comic timing and from the front row, Ezra Axelrod caught my eye in a distractingly tight pair of trousers. Georgia Lowe’s set uses the same idea utilised in the NT’s Hamlet of movable panels to create a range of locations quickly quite effectively: I did think that it took too long to get them into place though, the whole show could be a lot tighter by speeding up these transitions, getting people to come onstage as others are leaving which would give more of a feel of a bustling tv studio. And I’m not sure the finale needed the simplistic choreography which looked a bit awkward and ultimately adds little to the situation.

Michael Bradley’s five man band played brightly if slightly overpoweringly at times, but overall the feeling was one of great confidence on all sides which bodes well for the run. Musically, Burn shows talent in writing a raft of interesting songs here and with his ear for a witty lyric, the upbeat numbers are just a delight. It is a tad solo-ballad-heavy for me and I longed for a little more vocal complexity with group numbers and harmonies but there is enough here to impress, not least in the effort that it must take to a get a new musical by a little-known writer produced in London and there are plenty of laughs in here to make this an enjoyable show.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £2.50 (and it’s quite funny, I loved the mock bios for the actors in the show)
Booking until 20th November

Review: Romeo & Juliet, Mosaica@The Chocolate Factory

“Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast”

At the beginning of the year, I thought it was Macbeth that was the play of the year with three major productions lined up for the first half of the year, but it seems that Romeo & Juliet has actually been the more popular as I trudged up to Wood Green to see what was my fourth set of star-cross’d lovers in 3 months. My step was lightened though by the knowledge that this was a production by MokitaGrit, a production company responsible for one of my musical highlights of the year so far, Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi.

This Romeo & Juliet was billed as an urban retelling, ‘Shakespeare meets Skins’, set in the gang-dominated Verona council estate. Its most striking innovation is to use a group of free-runners, Team Invision, to manage the scene changes, their acrobatics providing a physical urgency and danger to proceedings. The venue is quite a quirky one, the courtyard of a great-looking restaurant Mosaica which is based in a disused chocolate factory in Wood Green, now a cultural hub. Surrounded by high buildings on three sides, this production made the most of its location and used many of the different levels to varying effect. Continue reading “Review: Romeo & Juliet, Mosaica@The Chocolate Factory”