Review: As Is, Trafalgar Studios 2

“You have HIV, you’re not radioactive” 

William M Hoffman’s As Is has the distinction of being the first play to be written about the Aids epidemic but what is more impressive about this production, which comes 30 years after its 1985 New York debut, is that it doesn’t feel a dated period piece. Director Andrew Keates respectfully looks to the past – a memorial wall is provided for audience members to pay tribute to those that have been lost – but firmly anchors us in the present with a wide range of post-show activity exploring the sexual health issues that are still a major part of our world today.

It also helps that Hoffman’s play is really rather well constructed. It may be set in the middle of a New York gay scene slowly coming to terms with its decimation but at its heart, it is a poignant love story. Self-satisfied and sexually voracious, Rich swaggers through the world but as he contracts the disease that is afflicting so many of those around him, his relationships with friends, family and society in general are forcefully redefined. Clinging to devoted ex Saul, it’s a deeply affecting personal odyssey but a defiantly proud one too. Continue reading “Review: As Is, Trafalgar Studios 2”

Review: Molly Wobbly, Phoenix Artists Club,

“My dreams are as dead as this romance is”

Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory was originally scheduled to receive a full production at the Hackney Empire last year but a last minute financial crisis saw it cancelled. Now trimmed down to Molly Wobbly and slimmed down to a staged concert, it has resurfaced at the Phoenix Artists Club, with some of the cast returning together with some newcomers, to give Paul Boyd’s musical another chance at airing in London.

And it has to be said that the intimate venue feels a much better fit than the Empire would ever have been. The show clearly has visions of cult status, its bizarrely eccentric book incorporating boob jokes aplenty, cross-dressing angels and tales of sexual deviancy alongside the marital trials of three couples who live on Mammary Lane whose lives are changed with the arrival of a mysterious lime-green-haired stranger bearing a vial of orange potion. Continue reading “Review: Molly Wobbly, Phoenix Artists Club,”

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: Piaf, Curve

“A quoi ça sert, l’amour?”

Pam Gem’s play Piaf is a curious thing. As a piece of biographical drama, it barely scrapes the surface of the troubled life of the famed French chanteuse, using an episodic style to feature key vignettes as we speed through the rollercoaster ups and downs of her rise to iconic status. And inbetween these scenes, we get performances of some of her more famous songs like ‘La Vie En Rose’ and ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’. But from these slight beginnings can come some kind of alchemic wonder as demonstrated in the superlative 2008 Donmar Warehouse production which featured Elena Roger in the kind of performance that I will remember for the rest of my life.

So no pressure at all on any subsequent productions…though Paul Kerryson’s revival for Leicester’s Curve theatre – a venue really carving out a niche for itself as one of the hottest spots for musical theatre (even if this is technically a play with songs…) – with Frances Ruffelle in the lead role comes close to capturing some of that magic. Staging the show in the more intimate studio there is an inspired decision, enabling the kind of cosy nightclub feel that is entirely right for this kind of performance. For Ruffelle really does dig deep into the emotion of the character to give an almost shocking rawness to her, a blunt directness that makes no apologies for the selfishness of her actions and which lends an even greater depth to her renditions of the songs.  Continue reading “Review: Piaf, Curve”

Review: Sweet Smell of Success, Arcola

“A lot can happen in one night”

The stereotypical image of musical theatre as a happy clappy ball of cheesy fun would surely be less prevalent if shows like Sweet Smell of Success were better known. But paradoxically, it benefits from having its British premiere out on the fringe in the dark warehouse surroundings of Dalston’s Arcola as this bitterly desperate tale of the hollowness at the centre of the world of celebrity journalism in 1950s America certainly benefits from the intimacy of this theatre. It has its challenges though, as an uncompromisingly bleak tale of immorality which doesn’t always quite get the balance right as director Mehmet Ergen tries to leaven the mood. 

John Guare’s story centres on JJ Hunsecker, a vicious-tongued and immensely influential columnist who has 60 million readers and is willing to do absolutely anything to keep them and his lofty position. His weakness lies in his troublingly deep affection for his half-sister Susan and his attempts to manipulate her life and her relationships threaten to drag all them down, including JJ’s protégé Sidney Falcone, all too willing to carry out his boss’s wishes in order to get the leg up he craves. The ethics of sensationalist journalism of course have a compelling currency in today’s post-Leveson environment but though David Bamber’s Hunsecker is at the centre of the story, there’s never really a sense that we get to know much about him. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Smell of Success, Arcola”

Review: The Cradle Will Rock, Arcola

“This is a war to end war, we do it for peace”

The final show to take place in the main theatre at the Arcola’s current premises on Arcola Street in Dalston, The Cradle Will Rock also marks the 10th anniversary of the theatre founded by Artistic Director Mehmet Ergen which will be moving just down the road to the Colourworks building and opening there with a new Rebecca Lenkiewicz play about Joseph Turner in the New Year. With book, music and lyrics by American Mark Blitzstein, the musical is set in a fictional town, Steeltown, USA and concerns the wide rifts between workers and the wealthy at a time when millions were unemployed: in this case it is the union struggles of the interwar period and 1937, though there’s much resonance in the material of the nefarious influence of those in positions of power on the average citizen that echo through to today.

Events take place as a liberty committee made up of the great and good of this particular town are arrested by a confused rookie cop on the very evening that the workers in the steel plant are voting whether to unionise themselves, that committee having set out to stop the vote. But as a series of vignettes play out, we come to see how each of the town’s leaders have fallen under the corrupt influence of the steel magnate Mr Mister with only a previous few people able to withstand the pressure and fight for what they believe is right and fair. Continue reading “Review: The Cradle Will Rock, Arcola”

Review: Bent, Tabard

“I love you…what’s wrong with that?”

Andrew Keates’ production of Martin Sherman’s play Bent was a big success at the Landor Theatre earlier in the year and so its transfer to the Tabard Theatre in Chiswick makes sense. Both spaces share an intimacy that feels appropriate to the intense emotion of the play and Keates is clearly attuned to the full range of human experience that lovers Max and Rudy are forced to go through. In 1930s Berlin, the pair flee persecution after witnessing a murder but when the Nazis catch up with them, they’re shipped off to Dachau.

What follows is an exploration of just how viciously homosexuals were treated by the Nazi regime and a testament to the immense spirit shown by those who were unfortunate enough to be oppressed. This lends the Dachau scenes an air of slight unreality, almost of idealism, but it is one that is indubitably well-earned as these men search for the tiniest bit of tenderness, humanity, even love, in the most horrendous of surroundings. The brutality of Freya Groves’ design of barbed wire and swastikas never lets us forget where we are though.

Russell Morton as Max is simply superb, tracing the journey from carefree gay abandon to appalled helplessness , full of love and pain as the gravity of the situation slowly becomes apparent. Steven Butler’s Rudy is deliberately more grating, his giddy youthfulness unable to resist the rough, working class charms of David Flynn’s Horst in the camp, but we’re never in any doubt as to the private pain underneath the brash public persona. Bent is brutal but brilliant, this production serves it as well as any possibly could.