Review: Bodies, Royal Court

“As soon as we have our little girl, everything will make sense. As soon as you hold her in your arms, it will all make sense.”

Between this and Yerma, theatreland would have us firmly believe that to be a childless woman in her 30s, or rather a woman wanting a child, is to be on the precipice of madness. I have liked, nay loved, much of Vivienne Franzmann’s work (Mogadishu, The Witness, Pests) but with Bodies, her sure touch in delving into the trickier aspects of human nature doesn’t quite feel as insightful.

Clem has tried several times to carry a child to term but sadly miscarried on every occasion and so, with husband Josh, has turned to surrogacy. Finding the right, white Russian egg donor and the perfect Indian surrogate womb does not come cheap and as Franzmann explores, it is a cost that is as much moral and emotional as it is financial – the ethics of this ‘business’ murky indeed. Continue reading “Review: Bodies, Royal Court”

Review: Hidden, Royal Court

“Where are you from?
No, where you from?
Where are you really from?”

Live Lunch is an intermittent series at the Royal Court which acts as a showcase for writers both new and established to delve into under-explored areas of drama. In this instance, a group of playwrights were commissioned to create short plays with British East Asian experiences at the heart of their stories and the result is Hidden, six dramas “exploding myths, questioning types and discovering hidden narratives” of a section of the population who are chronically under-represented in British cultural life. Directed by Lucy Morrison, a company of eight actors gave two lunchtime readings of the programme.

There’s something rather awe-inspiring about the rehearsed reading format. With barely three hours of rehearsal for each piece and scripts in hand, there’s a rawness to the performance level which enhances it somewhat, the occasional stumble over words giving some of the texts a believably natural feel. And seeing the speed with which the actors traverse grand emotions as they flick from play to play is truly admirable, Lourdes Faberes particularly impressing in casting off a tear-soaked character to move swiftly to the studied enigma of the next. Continue reading “Review: Hidden, Royal Court”

Review: Theatre Uncut 2014, Soho Theatre

“Knock knock,
Who’s there,
The Welfare State…”

The Theatre Uncut initiative was set up in 2010 as a response to the proposed government cuts in arts spending as it invited a number of playwrights to write short plays which would then be available to download and perform “rights-free in a week of mass theatrical action”. An impressive array of writers – Neil LaBute, Mark Ravenhill, Lucy Kirkwood – have gotten involved across the past few years and one of this year’s best new plays – Clara Brennan’s Spine – started life in this format in 2012.

Devised as a way of creating a rapid response to current political concerns, this year’s theme has coalesced around the provovation ‘Knowledge is Power, Knowledge is Change’ and the five writers collaboratively involved are Anders Lustgarten, Clara Brennan, Inua Ellams, Vivienne Franzmann and Hayley Squires. And a motley crew they make up, punching hard with a raw energy that is variable and visceral and vocal and vibrant. Continue reading “Review: Theatre Uncut 2014, Soho Theatre”

Review: Pests, Royal Court

“Alkie, nutnutjob dad, piss, shit, punch, junkie mum, no shoes, lice, black eye, care, fucked, excluded, bullied, foster home, gnaw, prison, gnaw, prison, gnaw, prison”

One of the first things that strikes you about Vivienne Franzmann’s new play Pests is the extraordinary use of language. Much like Eugene O’Neill in plays like Anna Christie, it is written in densely packed dialect – in this case a modern street slang – which looks near-impenetrable on the page but in the hands of such extraordinary performers like Sinéad Matthews (who delivers the line quoted above), it has the currency of real life, an authenticity that speaks from the battered, neglected heart.

Matthews plays Pink, a drug addict who welcomes her heavily pregnant sister Rolly, Ellie Kendrick, into her squat on her release from prison. Whilst inside Rolly has gotten clean and is determined to take advantage of a job opportunity on an ex-offenders scheme in a hotel but Pink just wants to get the party started again, trying to obliterate the painful memories of the care system that treated her much worse than her little sister. And as they pull in different directions, their inextricably complex relationship binds them ever closer. Continue reading “Review: Pests, Royal Court”

Review: The Witness, Royal Court

“You are going to see things that are going to hurt you”

Vivienne Franzmann’s first, Bruntwood-winning, play Mogadishu was a deserved success last year and so her follow-up work for the Royal Court, The Witness, was something I was most definitely looking forward to. And as one enters the upstairs theatre with one of the cleverest and most ingenious in-the-round designs I’ve seen (has anyone done that before?) from Lizzie Clachan, anticipation was certainly high.

Joseph is a war photographer who is now living a quieter life in Hampstead, still processing the grief of becoming a widower and waiting for the return of his adoptive daughter Alex from her first year at Cambridge. He rescued her from the scene of a war crime in Rwanda and changed her life dramatically, but her time away has raised serious questions of identity for her and so her father decides to reveal a secret he has been keeping for a while… Continue reading “Review: The Witness, Royal Court”

The 2011 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

OPERA
Albert Herring, Royal Northern College of Music
Gianni Schicchi, English Touring Opera, Buxton Opera House
Lucia di Lammermoor, Clonter Opera
The Portrait, Opera North, The Lowry
Utopia Ltd, Gilbert & Sullivan Festival, Buxton Opera House

DANCE
Carlos Acosta, The Lowry
Cinderella, Birmingham Royal Ballet,The Lowry
Danish Dance Theatre, Triple Bill, The Lowry
Richard Alston Dance Company, Triple Bill, The Lowry Continue reading “The 2011 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”

2012 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Best Male Performance
Aden Gillett in Accolade at the Finborough
Trystan Gravelle in Honest at the Queen’s Head Pub
Michael Matus in The Baker’s Wife at the Union
David Wilson Barnes in Becky Shaw at the Almeida

Best Female Performance
Kelly Burke in Zelda at the Charing Cross Hotel
Vicky Campbell in I Am A Camera at the Rosemary Branch
Lisa Dillon in Knot Of The Heart at the Almeida
Vinette Robinson in Tender Napalm at the Southwark Playhouse

Best New Play
Knot of The Heart by David Eldridge at the Almeida 
Mogadishu by Vivienne Franzmann at the Lyric Hammersmith
The Kitchen Sink by Tom Wells at the Bush Continue reading “2012 Offie Award Finalists”

The 2011 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

Best Play
The Heretic by Richard Bean (Royal Court)
One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean (National’s Lyttelton)
Becky Shaw
 by Gina Gionfriddo (Almeida)
Tribes by Nina Raine (Royal Court)

Best Director
Mike Leigh for Grief (National’s Cottesloe)
Rob Ashford 
for Anna Christie (Donmar)
Dominic Cooke for Chicken Soup with Barley (Royal Court)
Edward Hall for Richard III & The Comedy of Errors (Propeller at Hampstead) Continue reading “The 2011 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards”

Review: Mogadishu, Lyric Hammersmith

“Everyone has problems, he just needs a good slap”

Mogadishu is a new play by Vivienne Franzmann which was one of four winners of the Bruntwood Prize, a playwriting competition. It premiered at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, where it received the royal seal of approval from my Mum and Dad and Aunty Jean but it has now transferred to the Lyric Hammersmith.

White liberal teacher Amanda intervenes in a playground fight when she sees known troublemaker Jason bullying a younger pupil at their inner-city London secondary school but finds herself pushed and shoved to the ground in the ensuing fracas. She is anxious not to see him punished though, conscious of the social consequences for uneducated young black men, but when he flips the table and accuses her of physical and racial abuse, the security of Amanda’s world is shattered with her fitness to be a teacher, even a mother, called into question.

Julia Ford plays Amanda with a powerful dignity, well-intentioned to the end no matter what the cost and her scenes with Ian Bartholomew’s acting headteacher Chris, hamstrung by a world of bureaucracy, child protection legislation and the desire to be seen to be ‘doing the right thing’ ring with a depressing honesty. Shannon Tarbet as her daughter, and also a pupil at the same school, stole the show for me with a stunning intensity as she deals with her own issues and rages at the passivity of her mother. Continue reading “Review: Mogadishu, Lyric Hammersmith”