Review: The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde, Brockley Jack

Arrows & Traps’ queer noir take on The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde is a contemporary adaptation that speaks to the ages at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“It’s verging on the apocalyptic”

Well if you’re going to do the classics, you might as well do them like this! Ross McGregor’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella updates The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde to the 2020 US presidential election but it also infuses the story with an undeniable air of menace and queerness that at once feels contemporary and entirely respectful of the source.

McGregor has taken clear inspiration from ‘Mayor Pete’ for his version of Henry Jekyll, an energetic young senator from Indiana who, in light of Trump’s impeachment, dares to dream of rescuing the Oval Office. Against a backdrop of seemingly never-ending school shootings, his platform is a vociferously anti-gun one but as investigative journalist Gabrielle joins his team, she discovers there’s more than just a skeleton in the closet… 
Continue reading “Review: The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde, Brockley Jack”

10 questions for 10 years – Christopher Tester

Actor and voiceover artist Christopher Tester takes a thoughtful trip through his 10 questions

With his indecently listenable voice, Christopher Tester is the kind of actor who makes you sit up when he starts talking and I’ve enjoyed many of his performances over the last few years. Up at the top though is probably The Picture of John Gray.

“In many ways it was the ideal fringe experience – beautiful new writing, with a generous and talented company, which felt like it was really offering something important in a room above a pub. I think it sits up there with The White Rose as a show that prompted a huge response from its audience which I was very aware of while performing it. And the fact that it was based on little known real characters gave it an extra weight – a feeling that these people’s lives were resonating beyond their own time. It also gave me a scene where I just had to pour my guts out a little bit, and however much it’s “never about you”, that I had that opportunity coupled with writing deft enough to (hopefully) avoid indulgence was pretty special. You do it because you want to offer your heart.
And maybe kiss an actor as pretty as Patrick Walsh McBride.”

Continue reading “10 questions for 10 years – Christopher Tester”

Review: TARO, Brockley Jack

Arrows & Traps’ TARO is a beautiful tribute to a historical figure we have sorely neglected, playing now at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“In the lens it looks different”

If TARO is to be Arrows & Traps’ final production, then it’s a hell of a high note to go out on. Bringing together so much of what has made them an enjoyable and enlightening company to follow, it’s a swansong to be proud of as the #FemaleFirsts season turns its attentions to Gerda Taro, a pioneering photojournalist whose distinction as the first female war photographer killed in action proves to be far from the most interesting thing about her.

Born Gerda Pohorylle in Stuttgart 1910, the rise of Nazism splintered her Jewish family as she, her brother and her parents were forcibly ejected to different countries. Finding herself in Paris, a chance encounter with fellow refugee Endre Freidmann sparked an interest in photography which they then parlayed into careers in war photography that revolutionised the genre. Their work covering the Spanish Civil War was the fateful making of them. Continue reading “Review: TARO, Brockley Jack”

Review: Gentleman Jack, Brockley Jack

Arrows & Traps’ #FemaleFirsts season kicks off with the striking Anne Lister biography Gentleman Jack at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“This is Paris
This is England
And this is Yorkshire!”

The temptation with biographies – particularly of those of trailblazing figures – can be to treat them with the kind of reverence that smooths away rough edges, excusing behaviour that would otherwise be questionable and questioned. So it is pleasing to see that Ross McGregor’s new play Gentleman Jack respects its subject enough to give a full picture of their life.

That subject is Anne Lister, a nineteenth century Yorkshirewoman whose determination to buck societal convention earned her the sobriquet of the “first modern lesbian”. Her daring lay more than just in her open sexuality though; as an heiress and landowner, she redefined expectations of what women could achieve society as she and her partner sought to break into the mining industry.

Continue reading “Review: Gentleman Jack, Brockley Jack”

20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

Review: Dracula, Brockley Jack

An imaginative take on a familiar tale – Arrows & Traps’ Dracula is good Hallowe’en fare at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“I am counting down the days until we get to Whitby”

On National Coming Out day, there’s something rather delicious about the first act climax of Dracula being set to a haunting remix of Britney’s ‘Toxic’. He may be fangs-deep in Lucy and longing to make Mina his countess but we all saw how taken he was by Jonathan as he set up for a shave. Love is love is love, right, or should that be a vein is a vein is a vein… 

Arrows & Traps have turned their hand to horror before, with a fearlessly inventive take on Frankenstein which lit up the Brockley Jack last year. So adaptor/director Ross McGregor turning to Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula makes sense, not least as at offers ample opportunity to refresh its rather dustily antiquated take on gender. Continue reading “Review: Dracula, Brockley Jack”

Review: The White Rose, Brockley Jack

Arrows and Traps hit the mark once more with the deeply moving The White Rose at the Brockley Jack Theatre

Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg? Wollt ihr ihn, wenn nötig, totaler und radikaler, als wir ihn uns heute überhaupt erst vorstellen können?”* 

How do we make the choice to resist? At what point do we decide that enough is enough in the creeping erosion of our democracy? When former foreign secretaries rip up ministerial codes or chief whips ignore Commons voting conventions? When presidents attack their own FBI and defend despots? Some 250,000 bodies may have thronged the streets of London last week to register their disapproval of the US Commander in Chief but what happens when the ‘other side’ has won, when the act of peaceful protest becomes civil disobedience.

It is into such a world that The White Rose throws us. It is 1943 and having insinuated their way into every level of German society and instituted a systemic indoctrination of much of the population, the Nazis have been in power for a decade. But the tectonic shifts of World War II have finally started to fall in the Allies’ favour and finding safety in like-minded numbers, students of the University of Munich have coalesced into an underground movement, publishing anti-Nazi leaflets and distributing them across the Fatherland. Could such amazing courage go unpunished? Continue reading “Review: The White Rose, Brockley Jack”

Review: Three Sisters, Brockley Jack

The ever-inventive Arrows and Traps company return to the Brockley Jack Theatre with a beautifully acted interpretation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters

“We know too much”

Now in their fifth year, Arrows and Traps have been building quite the reputation as a shining example of how to do fringe theatre. Cultivating relationships with theatres (they’re once more at the Brockley Jack) and creatives (beyond notions of repertory, it is pleasing to see familiar names pop up in production after production and not just as actors) and above all, producing theatre that people want to see. 

And Chekhov’s Three Sisters, presented here in a new version by Ross McGregor, continues that strong tradition, paring back the starch to locate a real emotional directness to the trials of the Prozorov sisters. Trapped in the cultural desert of the provinces, far from the beloved Moscow of their childhood, the rise and fall of their hopes and dreams are traced over four crucial years. Continue reading “Review: Three Sisters, Brockley Jack”

Review: Frankenstein, Brockley Jack

“Beginnings…are difficult”

You may think you know the story of Frankenstein – in the 200 years since Mary Shelley wrote the novel for which she is most famed, it has received countless adaptations and sunk deep into the collective consciousness. But chances are that Arrows & Traps’ version will disarm you and make you consider it anew as it introduces a new, crucial character into the narrative – Mary Shelley herself.

Writer/director Ross McGregor’s reinterpretation of this tale is masterfully done. Framed as something of a fever dream, a hallucination by the older Shelley who suffered from a brain tumour for more than a decade before her death, the story here is split in three. We follow the story of the Creature and, separately, of Victor Frankenstein; but we also explore Shelley’s life too, the experiences that led up to her creation of such an epic piece of literature while still a teenager, the curious darkness that stalked her thereafter. Continue reading “Review: Frankenstein, Brockley Jack”