September theatre round-up

A quick round-up of the rest of September’s shows

Mary Said What She Said, aka how far I will go for Isabelle Huppert
The Provoked Wife, aka how far I will go for Alexandra Gilbreath
A Doll’s House, aka if we must have more Ibsen, at least it is like this
Falsettos, aka finding the right way, for me, to respond
The Comedy Grotto, aka a sneaky peak at Joseph Morpurgo
The Life I Lead, aka something really rather sweet
Blues in the Night, aka all hail Broadway-bound Sharon D Clarke (and Debbie Kurup, and Clive Rowe too)
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, aka well why not go again Continue reading “September theatre round-up”

News – Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival begins

Monday 14th November sees the launch of the Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival at Hampstead Theatre and The Actors Centre. Produced by Sphinx Theatre Company and Joanna Hedges, Women Centre Stage exists to promote, advocate for and inspire women in the arts and has developed and commissioned a wide range of new work which uniquely brings together a diverse array of women characters far from the margins into centre stage.

This is the second year of Women Centre Stage and the festival features a range of workshops and creative comings-together which will culminate in the Performance Day on Sunday 20th November which will feature seven programmes throughout the day. This will include opportunities to see emerging work from new and established writers, plays commissioned from last year’s festival, and see four playwrights respond the headlines of the day in writing a new play each in 24 hours. 

“What will we say at the Women Centre Stage Festival? Enough of being backgrounded. The world will just have to get used to our stronger presence in every walk of life and art. I’m happy to be part of that conversation.” 

Dame Janet Suzman.

(c) Ruphin Coudyzer
Reflecting the significance of the festival and the work it has been and will continue to achieve, there’s a mightily impressive role call of British talent contributing to the programme. Writers such as Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Evening Standard Award-winning Charlene James, Dawn King, Howard Brenton, Vinay Patel, April de Angelis and Sabrina Mahfouz will be represented with actors like Dame Janet Suzman, Ann Mitchell, Maggie Steed, Cecilia Noble and Ronke Adekoluejo treading the boards.


It all promises to be a fascinating and valuable day and I’m currently planning to attend a significant amount of the programme – more details below – and if you’re interested in coming along too, then take a look at their website here

Programme for the Performance Day – Sunday 20th November

A Question of Identity – 12.00pm

Three performances from emerging companies and artists looking at the question of female identity, featuring F*cking Feminists by Rose Lewenstein originally commissioned by Theatre 503 and Mama Quilla, Road to Huntsville by Stephanie Ridings originally commissioned by China Plate, Warwick Arts Centre and mac birmingham and Battleface by Sabrina Mahfouz originally commissioned by the Bush Theatre.

Women on the Edge – 1.30pm

Sphinx Theatre presents three plays commissioned and developed from the 2015 festival featuring She Didn’t Jump She was Pushed by Matilda Ibini starring Anita Joy Uwajeh and Ronke Adekoluejo, Man- Up by Camilla Harding and Alexandra Sinclair and Justice by Judith Jones and Beatrix Campbell.

In Conversation: Changing the Landscape – 2.45pm

How can we encourage change in the cultural landscape to improve gender equality in theatre? A panel discussion chaired by Sarah Crompton former Arts Editor in Chief at the Telegraph with playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker, Suzanne Bell – New Writing Associate at Royal Exchange Theatre and Elizabeth Newman -Artistic Director of the Octagon Theatre.

PRIDE and Prejudice – 4.00pm

Presenting work which provokes us to talk about prejudice. Join us for Chloe Todd Fordham’s The Night Club, an excerpt of Tanika Gupta’s A Perfect Match plus Graeae Theatre Company showcase 6 brand new pieces from an all female Deaf/disabled creative team featuring writers from all over the UK; promoting empowering female narratives and shining new light on the perceptions (and misperceptions) of women today.

New Women – 5.30pm

We present new plays by April de Angelis, and Winsome Pinnock including performances by Janet Suzman, Kathryn Pogson and Cecilia Noble plus The Hiccup Project join us straight from tour to present an excerpt of May-We-Go-Round.

Sphinx Writers Group: Power Play – 7.00pm 

Six months in development, we present new writing from the Sphinx Writers Group; Dawn King, Georgia Christou, Jessica Sian and Catriona Kerridge.

24 Hour Plays: Making Headlines – 8.30pm

Four writers are given 24 Hours to write a new play responding directly to that days news headlines. The new work will be rehearsed on the day of the festival and presented at the end of the day as the Festival Finale. Featuring four new plays from Howard Brenton, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Charlene James and Vinay Patel. Ann Mitchell and Maggie Steed plus others will join us to perform in this hour of exciting new writing.

Review: Acts of Defiance – The Festival, Theatre503

“I’m in a cop car
I got here by accident
I think”

Produced by Mama Quilla and Theatre503, Acts of Defiance is a multidisciplinary festival which is “an explosive examination of female dissidence and a shameless celebration of global female defiance”. Film, spoken word, community-based work sit alongside a programme of six short plays, curated by Kay Adshead, which fold in a world of influences – feminism, diversity, sexuality, race, motherhood – to their tales of defiance, all accompanied to brilliant effect by Rosie Bergonzi’s percussion, evoking both the freeing beauty of dancing in a gay club to the fear of being caught in urban nightmare with the beat of her drum.

Once the cast found their feet, opening playlet The Nightclub by Chloe Todd Fordham proved to be one of the most quietly affecting. Directed with graceful economy by Rachel Valentine Smith, the tales of three disparate American women – an 85 year old recent widow, a middle-aged mother estranged from her daughter, a young Muslim (Marlene Sidaway, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Karlina Grace-Paseda respectively) – all searching for something different yet fatefully entwined together. Continue reading “Review: Acts of Defiance – The Festival, Theatre503”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Gentles, perchance you wonder at this show. But wonder on, till ’truth make all things plain”

Above the stage for Emma Rice’s inaugural production as artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe is an illuminated sign that reads “rock the ground”. A quote from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is the opening show of this season, it also feels like something of a statement of intent, a determination to do things her own which on this evidence, feels guaranteed to ruffle the feathers of a traditionalist or three. 

So lights are being used like never before, sound systems only previously heard at gigs dusted off, and a resolutely idiosyncratic approach to the text employed. At times, it feels like a raucous rough-housing which makes for a different Bankside experience at the very least, and one which I have to say got round to seducing me. I’m sure Rice will have her detractors, as she moves from Kneehigh to the Globe,  but the scope of her ambition here is rather awesome in its boldness. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Anita and Me, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“Now here’s a little story
To tell it is a must”

One gets the feeling that had Anita and Me decided whether it wanted to be a full-blown musical or a straight play adorned by a little music, it might have been a much more successful version of Meera Syal’s novel. But as it is, Tanika Gupta’s adaptation and Roxana Silbert’s direction is marooned in a hinterland between the two, packed too full with material trying to fulfil both remits and so it can be quite the frustrating watch.

The source material is definitely there, Syal’s semi-autobiographical portrait of growing up in the West Midlands in the 1970s is full of insight and warmly old-fashioned charm. Cosseted in the vibrant home of her Punjabi parents, Meena’s teenage rebellion takes the form of throwing her lot in with neighbour Anita to help her better integrate into the society she longs to be a part of, something complicated only slightly by the ingrained racism of said society. Continue reading “Review: Anita and Me, Theatre Royal Stratford East”

Review: Great Expectations, ETT at Watford Palace

“I want to be a gentleman”

English Touring Theatre’s production of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations relocates the story of Pip’s advancement to nineteenth century India in this thrilling adaptation by Tanika Gupta. A poor village boy, Pip is given the chance to better himself after a frightening encounter with a convict and an engagement to regularly visit the reclusive Miss Havisham sets him on a new path that allows him to dream of being more than a village cobbler’s assistant. And when an anonymous benefactor allows him to move to Calcutta, the heart of the British Raj, he is free to pursue his dream of becoming a proper gentleman, part of the educated elite, in order to win the heart of the coldly alluring Estella.

Gupta’s reimagining works extremely well because Pip’s journey, with his aspirations to rise above his class and status, is given even greater impact by the fact that he is casting aside his cultural identity too, his Indianness, in the search to become the perfect educated gentleman, just like one of the ruling English. This makes the transformation he seeks to effect upon himself all the more dramatic, as depicted in a wonderful scene where he dons the waistcoat and cravat of his new station, and then provides a powerfully meaningful final transition in the last scene as he ultimately comes to recognise what his true self is. But also mixed in is another layer of racial tension: Magwitch becomes a black African convict, Estella is Miss Havisham’s “African princess” and so Gupta keeps the interplay much more universal than a simplistic Asian updating and she is unafraid to show both the comedy and violence in the story in its starkest forms.


Director Nikolai Foster (no relation!) manages the achievement of a great sense of fluidity to proceedings which is all the more remarkable when one considers that there’s 31 scenes here, reflecting the serialised way in which the story was originally published. Pulling in elements of traditional dance from Zoobin Surty and music from Nicki Wells (with Nitin Sawhney onboard as musical advisor too), the atmosphere is set perfectly and well-matched by Colin Richmond’s design with its saffron-dyed gauzy curtains which allows us to move effortlessly from murky graveyards to the burning sun of the village, from shadowed dusty corridors in mansions, to the bustling city streets of Calcutta and much more. Energy crackles from all aspects, from cast members bursting through the stalls to bowls of incense being lit in front of us, to create a real theatrical experience.

Tariq Jordan is exceptional as Pip, starting off as the naive youth oblivious to anything but his own desires and progressing slowly as experience is acquired, hearts broken, friends gained, dreams shattered, charting his maturing from boy to man and never letting us forget Pip’s humanity even when he is at his most blinkered. But this is a strong ensemble throughout: from Tony Jayawardena’s beautifully warm Joe Gargery and Kiran Landa’s wise-beyond-her-years Biddy, to Lynn Farleigh’s near-dessicated Miss Havisham and Simone James’ emotionally estranged Estella, there’s a real sense of clarity to all the characterisations here. Giles Cooper’s ever-so-English Herbert Pocket was a particular delight, as was Jude Akuwudike’s raw energy as Magwitch.

The only real criticism I found was that a couple of the more emotional moments were too heavily underscored by the swelling score that felt more akin to a Hollywood film, yanking at the heartstrings instead of playing to the more subtle poignancy of the actual play. But minor quibble aside, this is a superbly effective reimagining of Great Expectations which breathes a new vibrancy into this well-known story, which remains highly recognisable (the character of Orlick was the only one I could think of that has been omitted) and provides it with a timeless resonance, none more so than at the beginning of the final scene where a public speaker exhorts his crowd of listeners to “rise up brothers…break the shackles…we must argue our case for our right to determine the affairs of our own country”.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Playtext cost: £3.50
Booking until March 12th then touring to Cambridge, Brighton, Richmond, Guildford, Oxford and Malvern

Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews