Ken, Hampstead Downstairs @ The Bunker

24 January – 24 February

by Terry Johnson
Directed by Lisa Spirling
Starring Terry Johnson & Jeremy Stockwell

Ken, The Bunker - Terry Johnson and Jeremy Stockwell (courtesy of Robert Day)_preview.jpeg

Photo Courtesy of Robert Day

Watching Ken at the Bunker, it is immediately apparent how much love the performers feel for their subject.

Terry Johnson’s piece, performed by himself and Jeremy Stockwell, is a celebration of Ken Campbell, the legendary theatre maker and comic performer. Both Stockwell and Johnson knew Campbell personally, and the love they feel for the man is obvious in the stories they tell about him.

The play describes the great influence that Campbell had on the performers themselves and many other theatre-makers. It tells the story of Johnson’s first meeting with Campbell, his participation in the 22-hour long surrealist marathon The Warp, and a montage of other encounters from throughout the artist’s life.

The episodes themselves are all incredibly funny, the kind of wild theatre legends that one can hardly believe. Watching it feels like gathering round at a party to hear crazy stories from a couple of old friends. The tales feel like the kind that have been repeated many times, and have grown in the re-telling without losing any of their core truth. They feel like a collection of theatrical legends. And there is something truly wonderful about the sharing of legends by storytellers as skilled as these.

Johnson writes and speaks with humour and warmth. He presents the piece from a carpeted podium, alternating between narrating and acting directly in the episodes described. The play includes a touching coming of age tale from Johnson’s point of view. We learn how Ken acted as a sort of shamanistic mentor to Johnson, constantly goading him into pushing his own boundaries.

Johnson presents this memoir with remarkable generosity. He shows us his evolution from awkwardly arrogant youth to grounded, mature artist. He presents himself as the perpetual observer, always on the side of the action, never quite able to join in, and shows us how Ken gave him the insight he needed to finally switch on and get in on the fun. Johnson is a very witty writer, so of course the piece is very funny. But more than simply funny, it is gleefully written. There is a joy in the telling of these stories, a contagious delight that carries the audience along for the entire ride.

Embodying that joy, and the titular Ken, is Jeremy Stockwell. Stockwell’s performance is exceptional. It transcends impression and creates something that feels truly real. I never met Ken Campbell myself, so I cannot speak to the performance’s accuracy, but I can say that Stockwell has created a truly vivid, detailed portrait of a man. I believed every moment of it. I was constantly forgetting I was watching an actor portraying a real person, despite Stockwell’s sporadic cheeky nods to this fact. Stockwell’s Ken moves through the world like some kind of clown-wizard, taking in everything around him and throwing it back out in the form of joyous, naughty fun.

His performance is always drawing us in, always including us. Sometimes he’ll make the audience into background characters in the story being told, assembled actors in a decrepit Edinburgh cinema or members of a hippie-theatre commune. Sometimes he’ll come and riff with somebody in the audience off of what’s happening on stage, bouncing off of their reactions and using the momentum to flow into the next moment. He brings us in, and allows us to be a part of these stories. We feel as if we were there. And we’re made to understand why it meant so much to be there. Why it still means so much now.

Ken is a celebration and memorial to a very influential man. But more than that, it is an exaltation at having “been there.” Johnson’s writing and Campbell’s performance allow us to live out the legends of their lives in the theatre. The stories they tell are wild, hilarious and touching, and they give us a beautiful and vivid look at a provocative and influential figure.

A moving and raucously funny piece of theatre, Ken is equal parts memoir, memorial and circus. A joy. A collection of great stories told with love, humour, and above all, fun.

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Read our interview with Joshua Mctaggart, artistic director of the Bunker Theatre here!

Monster, Worklight Theatre @ The Vaults

24 – 28 January, 2018

Written & performed by Joe Sellman-Leavas
Directed by Yaz Al-Shaater

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Worklight Theatre are an internationally acclaimed theatre company formed in 2011 who focus on contemporary social issues. The company rose to success with there previous show Labels, a show exploring identity which won the VAULT Festival 2017 award.

Worklight’s latest show Monster explores violence and masculinity and questions what happens when the monster that lies within us escapes. Performed and written by Joe Sellman Leava and directed by Yaz Al-Shaanter.

Joe Sellman-Leava is a captivating performer, his intelligent energy is infectious. A very good storyteller, he has a unique style in the way which he tells emotional and personal stories. Sellman-Leava has incredible charisma, the audience like him and feel empathy for his character.

The performer multi-roled the different characters in the story, which created some funny moments. However, there wasn’t much physical change between the characters which would have added to the performance.

A unique show well-worth seeing at the VAULT Festival or catching on tour later this year. The audience left with the curious line: ‘some of the story is true and some of it isn’t and I’m not going to tell you which is which’, leaving us to questioning which is which.

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Becoming Shades, Chivaree Circus/Upstage Creative @ The Vaults

24 January – 18 March, 2018

Directed by Laurane Marchive

Becoming Shades at VAULT Festival 2018 (courtesy Maximilian Webster) 2

Photography by Maximilian Webster

 

In the echoing bowls of the Vaults, with dripping walls and shadowy figures, the memory of the Goddess Persephone lives on in flashes of retelling. Chivaree Circus and Upstage Creative have created an incredible evening of entertainment.

If you’ve never been to the Vaults or it’s festival, I thoroughly recommend this show as a first experience of it, and hope it leads you to the other shows this extraordinary venue has to offer.

There’s almost no dialogue. It’s a retelling of the Persephone & Hades myth story through circus, movement and music. The show is all about atmosphere and is a showcase for the unbelievable talent of the performers.

The aerials and pole dance are just stunning to watch, and oh my god they are good. The grace of the performers is hard to overstate. You watch in open-mouthed wonderment, in awe of the human body and what it’s capable of.

The music by Sam West performed with Becks Johnstone is haunting and gorgeous, and I wish there was a full album available for purchase, so I could tell you to buy it.

On the subject of atmosphere, the design is wonderful. Lights, music, costume and performance are pitch perfect. Charon, the ferryman to the underworld looks like if something from Star Wars read H.P. Lovecraft. It’s creepy and engrossing, and it transports you.

The immersive elements of the piece are more to enhance atmosphere that to provide actual interaction with the characters and events in the play. Still, it works, and the use of the space is clever and dynamic.

A major downfall is that it’s not the clearest retelling of Persephone. The individual acts are connected more my theme and setting than the plot. Some of my fellow audience members were baffled as to what was going on, though still awed and entertained. It’s not particularly kind in leading one through the events of the narrative, and the lack of dialogue doesn’t help.  So, if you don’t know the myth, I’d recommend this as some prior reading.

In a show like this, the plot isn’t really the point though. The point is having your mind blown. So, grab a ticket, and go get your mind blown.

 

 

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Interview with director, Blythe Stewart – The Moor @ The Old Red Lion Theatre

The Moor - Header

Director: Blythe Stewart on The Moor by Catherine Lucie.

Tuesday 6th February- Saturday 3rd March 2018.

Old Red Lion Theatre

To book tickets – click here


Can you explain the play and what you’d like our readers to know about it before they come?

It’s a new play, a psychological thriller about one woman who’s name is Bronagh and she has suspicions about a murder in her isolated small town. She lets her suspicions known to the local police man and becomes embroiled in the whole thing.

It’s an epic story, a crime story in a way but also about Bronagh getting to grips with the relationships in her life and gaining more agency in her own life.

What is the main thing you hope the audience takes away from seeing ‘The Moor’?

I’d like them to leave with a lot of questions in a positive way. When I first read it, I finished it confused and gripped yet I understood the play before I reached the end. I hope that when the metaphorical curtain drops, the audience goes to the pub below and ask themselves what happened; What is true? What is false? What is memory? Who are we in relation to other people? I look forward to overhearing those questions.

Would you want to answer those questions?

I don’t feel so strongly about answering those questions more about what their personal feelings are about it. I know friends will come and quiz me for the truth and I would offer them questions and provocations. I took away most from it, that it allowed me to reflect on my own world view; we think that we’re the hero in our own stories and that we’re on the right side and can judge other people quite fairly. How compassionate are we until we are faced with other kinds of stories?

Your specialty as a director is in new writing – what draws you most to new writing as opposed to the classics?

For me, the greatest joy when hearing a story and watching a play is that moment when you are so unsure and excited about what’s going to happen in the next moment; new writing offers that. Classics have lost that sense of urgency in that way. In terms of me as a director, it’s about how can we embolden people about what happens next. New writing provokes them and gets them to use their imaginations to ask those questions – it’s so rewarding if they’ve managed to ask that and use their imagination to ask ‘What will happen next?’. I got hooked on new plays – I was reading so much and thinking ‘how would they be put on stage?’ and it made me ask those same questions. I hope we can inspire an audience to ask too.

Can you describe the setting of the play?

It’s not a specific countryside or country or place in the play, the most important factor in terms of setting is she’s isolated in her community yet embedded in the land at the same time. We decided to set it in Yorkshire which felt right partially because the moors are such an expansive space but also (and I hope this doesn’t ruin anything for the audience in advance) but there’s some kinds of folklore in the play that feels well suited to Yorkshire to other kinds of places like Wales or Scotland.

‘The Moor’ is performing at the Old Red Lion theatre which is quite an intimate space – how did you use this to your advantage in terms of design and direction with the play and it’s setting?

I was sent the play about 4 years ago and the first two years on and off  we work-shopped it. Once we got to the draft we were most satisfied with, the first place we went to was the Old Red Lion. I’ve directed there before so know the joys of the space and its shortcomings.

The thing about expanses of countryside are they are at first big and endless but leave you with claustrophobia. The space is so intimate and the audience is right there and being able to speak to them is integral to the piece. It’s perfect in its spatial relation to the audience. Purposefully the scenes are fluid and locations are fluid.  Holly Pigot, our designer has been brilliant and created a useful kind of system helping us to achieve what it might be like for Bronagh fluidly moving through those spaces.

How involved was Catherine Lucie (the writer) in the rehearsal process? Do you like having the writer in the room?

I love it- having writers in rehearsals is such a wonderful resource. They are a like a best buddy and partner in crime to bounce ideas off in an immediate way. In the time of the play moving forward, Catherine’s life has changed and she’s moved to Wales and become a mother so she’s been able to participate in short terms ways. She came up on Monday, to speak to the actors and they were able to ask her questions which was beautiful as it highlighted how on board they are with her story.  Writers are such a good resource. They know the play better than anyone. I love working with emerging or early career writers. It’s so important that they get to participate and see how the actors are taking that subtext and ideas on.

How do you work as a director?

I really value games and exercises to flush out subtext and objectives; physical acts of wants. We work from a system where we don’t have the scripts in hand. Every scene is an emotional transaction between two people. Some might see it as working in an usual way but we are up on our feet from day one. In my view its important to actualize stuff and we’re not stuck behind tables and pieces of paper. Even the simplest of plays could become academic and cerebral, so we are up on day one testing the ground.

So this is a question which has become a tradition for interviews with TheatreBox- what’s a book/ production/ piece of art/ film you think more people should see?

Oh … there are so many! Actually, this one works well. Opus No 7 by a Russian company called Dmitry Krymov lab. It’s recorded to watch online. I was fortunate to study in Russia when I was doing my degree and saw it there and and then again at the Barbican a few years go. It was the first time I left the theatre and my brain had expanded about what is possible on stage and what a joy it is to use my imagination. It set me off on a different path personally and creatively. Imagination is the greatest tool we have. The joy of theatre is engaging people’s minds in what is possible!


The Moor by Catherine Lucie

6th February-3rd March 2018

Old Red Lion Theatre

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Woman Before a Glass @ Jermyn Street Theatre

17 January – 3 February, 2018

by Lanie Robertson
Directed by Austin Pendleton (Recreated by Tom McClane-Williamson)
Performed by Judy Rosenblatt

Woman Before A Glass - Lane Robertson - Jermyn Street Theatre - Judy Rosenblatt as Peggy Guggenheim

Photography by Robert Workman

Directed by the Pulitzer-prize-winning Austin Pendleton, the play is a based-on-a-true-story one-woman show about Peggy Guggenheim, a larger-than-life iconoclast and millionaire art patron who ushered modern art into the world and most of the artists into her bed.

It’s an amazing story about an incredible woman, filled with drama, legacy, and unabashed character.  She wallows delightedly in gossip, natters and chats away while the details of a very full life are unveiled about her.

A fascinating and witty script breathed lovingly to life by Judy Rosenblatt. It’s a truly memorable performance from an actor with an impressive resume covering two continents. It’s become a rare thing to see older actresses in leading roles, especially in Off-West End/fringe theatre. It’s a fact which seems even more of a tragedy after seeing the talent and character Rosenblatt brings to the table.

As a script it does have its issues. It’s a little longer than it probably should be, features several of characters who arrive and hover just off stage, never seen. As a performance device it sometimes works brilliantly, filling out the world and giving Peggy Guggenheim people to flirt with, coax, and berate. At other times the often-lengthy one-sided conversations feel a bit silly, as insubstantial as the air they’re held with.

A show worth the ticket, and a memorable start to a promising season at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

 

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Bunny, Fabricate Theatre @ Tristan Bates Theatre

15 – 27 January, 2018

by Jack Thorne
Director Lucy Curtis
Performed by Catherine Lamb

Bunny 4 credit Michael Lindall

Photography by Michael Lindall

After her boyfriend has his ice cream ruined by a passing cyclist, school-girl Katie (Catherine Lamb) finds herself on the wrong side of town, caught between her longing to be loved and the need to settle the score.

Jack Thorne (SkinsHarry Potter & the Cursed Child) has written a brilliantly dark and human piece with a rocketing pace. It’s funny, dangerous, and deeply compelling, with Catherine Lamb’s stunning performance at it’s centre.

She’s created a fully dimensional human being, bloodthirsty and complicated, with a rabbit-in-headlights vulnerability that’s utterly engrossing and often moving.

Caught in an overpoweringly masculine world, and unsure what to do with her life, we watch as the situation spirals into increasingly uncomfortable and confronting situations. Though it took a while for me to settle into the style, by the end of the play I found myself on the edge of my seat, emotional, and entirely invested.

Dynamically directed by Lucy Curtis, the play is full of movement and energy. Simply designed but to great effect, it’s a great story well-told. It bounces erratically between moments of triumph, shame, hilarity, and powerlessness.

It’s hard to look away.

 

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<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/198650527″>Bunny Trailer</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user21744453″>Catherine Lamb</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Programme D, The One Festival @ The Space

12th January – 27th January

The One Festival – Programme D

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The final programme of the One Festival, Programme D, offers a slightly different structure than the others I’ve attended. Rather than featuring four or five shows of around twenty to thirty minutes each, it consists of an hour-long piece before the interval, and four shorter pieces after. This format allows us to really dive into the first piece, and then enjoy the pieces that follow as a sort of collage of short experiences. As I have come to expect from this year’s One Festival, I found the pieces that make up Programme D to be remarkably, consistently fine, despite a few places that could use some more polish. Programme D provides an intimate, compassionate look at people; their thoughts, their feelings, their sensual experiences, and their deepest, most comical embarrassments.

 

Mission Abort, Written and Performed by Therese Ramstedt, Directed by Claire Stone

Mission Abort exemplifies this intimacy, as it explores the deepest doubts and emotions of a woman before, after, and during an abortion. Therese Ramstedt does a wonderful job of making the piece feel close to us, speaking to the audience as if speaking to her closest confidante, and frequently making use of members of the audience to bring parts of her story to life. Ramstedt’s writing is filled with charming, self-effacing humour, and her performance shows real, deeply-felt emotion masked by a youthful affectation of not-being-bothered. The piece explores the experience of having an abortion, and the experience of anticipating and recovering from one, in deep and intricate detail. It was enlightening for me, and I expect will be to many cis-gendered male viewers, to learn just how frustrating and confusing that the experience can be, even in a country where the procedure is relatively available and accessible. As enlightening and entertaining as it was, I was aware while viewing it that the piece might still need some refinement. Structurally, the piece seems to end halfway through and begin again, which is slightly disorienting as an audience member and distracts from the very strong material in the second half. Despite this issue, I felt the piece is very much worth seeing. It’s a piece that is heavily laden with engrossing, revealing, and entertaining material, even if it feels like that material needs to be re-organized in order to truly shine. That material is complemented by stirring directing by Claire Stone, who creates such a striking image at the climax of the piece that I was sure it must be the finale. Filled with dark humour and disarming honesty, Mission Abort is an entertaining and illuminating journey into what it’s like to be young woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy in England today.

 

Crossrail by Philippa Mannion, Performed by Karen Ascoe, Directed by Jodie Botha

Crossrail is instantly refreshing, simply for telling a story from a point of view that is all-too-seldom shown in our arts and media. This beautiful character study by Philippa Mannion centres on Anne, a 56 year old Engineer working on the the new Elizabeth Line project. Again, simply by telling a story of an successful, independent, career-focused woman in her 50’s working in a STEM field, Crossrail is already interesting, but it’s made more interesting by the fact that it’s artfully written and sensitively, skilfully performed. Philippa Mannion’s script tells the story of a woman coming to terms with the loss of her husband by living her life to the fullest without him; moving from fascinating project to fascinating project, tending to her growing family tree, and eventually feeling comfortable enough to explore romance with others along the way. She expertly draws us a character who is profoundly intelligent, but also powerfully kind; a woman who is admirable in her ingenuity and strength, but always, always human. Enhancing and refining that humanity is Karen Ascoe, who brings a great sensitivity and life to the role. Ascoe beautifully captures the soul of a woman who is bursting with energy and joie de vivre. She imbues Anne with a deep passion. The way her eyes light up when she’s telling us about something she loves, whether that be her daughter’s baby shower or the tunnel breaking through at Farringdon Station, is a joy to behold. Artfully constructed and beautifully executed, Crossrail is an entrancing character study of a woman who is blazing through life with passion, intelligence, and independence.

 

 

 

Just One More Time by Guleraana Mir, Performed by Minhee Yeo, Directed by Mingyu Lin

This sensual and sensitive vignette by Guleraana Mir subverts expectations, as it tells the story of Suri and her disappointment with her new dance partner. This compassionate short play, performed with strength and elegance by Minhee Yeo, explores the trust we put in our partners, be they in dance or in life. Mir packs the short and engaging piece with sensual imagery and tender feeling, and Minhee Yeo’s sensitive performance is artfully showcased by Mingyu Lin’s directing. Altogether, the effect is intoxicating, and we are given an engrossing look into the life of a character who lives through movement and connection.

 

A Fallen Cigarette Butt Written and Performed by Stefanie-May Hammoudeh

A Fallen Cigarette Butt is a challenging piece to review, as its effects are difficult to describe. Structurally, the piece is a series of vignettes seen around a public square, told from the point of view of writer/performer Stefanie-May Hammoudeh as she reflects on a discarded cigarette. But Hammoudeh’s language, full of rhythmic repetition and lyrical, swirling descriptions, provides a feeling of reality twisting and turning around . Indeed, the entire experience feels meditative and dreamlike. Hammoudeh’s poetry doesn’t have any clearly spelled out message. Rather, it seems designed more to create a zen-like state, leaving one with an awareness of the connections between things. This poetic meditation on the mind-boggling richness of the world around us is beautifully written and performed by its creator. Through its lyricism and poetry, it shifts our awareness of the world around us in a subtle yet profound way.

 

The End of Term Show by Olu Alakija, Performed by Anthony Covens, Directed by John Fricker

 

The most clear-cut comedy of the evening, The End of Term Show is a hilarious, cutting show about childhood embarassment. It follows Maxwell Martin as he describes, in moment-to-moment detail, the day he became “The Boy Who Killed Christmas.” Olu Alakija’s piece is packed with clever, irreverent jokes, and Maxwell is played with manic verve by Anthony Covens, who almost berates the audience with the story of how he was unjustly maligned for ruining a school nativity play in his childhood. Full of energetic humour and performed with panache, The End of Term Show is a festive treat for the gloomy January season.

 

As I’ve found with the other sections of the One Festival, Programme D is an exciting evening of theatre, filled with intriguing characters, fascinating writing, and great performances. It features a collection of beautifully drawn characters telling intimate, personal stories. Well constructed and thrillingly executed, the work on display in Programme D is a stirring and well crafted collection of new writing.

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Programme A, The One Festival @ The Space

9th January – 25th January

The One Festival – Programme A

The One Festival at the Space Theatre is an eclectic and intriguing festival of new writing. Its four ‘Programmes’ offer four or five short works apiece, each performed by only one actor. So far, my experience with the One Festival has been very positive; every night I’ve gone I’ve been able to experience an exciting assortment of short pieces from a diverse array of artists. That trend of great theatre experiences continues in Programme A , in which we see five people all trying to come to terms with some very hard truths, in five very different ways.

 

Treasure by Laura Kaye Thomson, Performed by Jennifer Greenwood, in Association with Music Box Theatre

Treasure, the first piece of the evening, is a complex and moving meditation on grief, family, and mental illness. When we first meet Alex, she is in her “Treasure Trove,” a sort of sentimental safe haven created by her mother, full of precious things. As we learn about this treasure trove, and the objects within, a picture is revealed: one of a young woman coping with a grief so heavy she can’t quite face it. Laura Kaye Thomson’s writing manages to paint a vivid and moving picture of a mother-daughter relationship that is both deeply loving and wrought with pain. Through her words we are not only moved, but made to question: what do you do when you love someone who can’t seem to love herself? Bringing those words to life is Jennifer Greenwood, who masterfully navigates Alex’s journey of nostalgia, pain, anger and acceptance. Her performance is painful and truthful, and she breaks up Alex’s pain with just enough humour and brightness that it never feels too heavy. Treasure is a touching piece, beautifully written and performed, that has a lot to say about loss, and the way we cope with depression in our families.

 

Meeting Roman Polanski by Janice Hallett, Performed by Jessica White, Directed by Adam Hemming

How are you supposed to say ‘Hi’ to Roman Polanski? That’s the question that this uncomfortably relevant piece revolves around, as we watch a woman trying to reconcile a deep love and appreciation of a director’s work with a deep disgust for his actions. The piece examines the link between art and artist, and how a creator’s actions effect their work. Jessica White’s performance as an interviewer trying to reconcile these conflicting feelings is intelligent and passionate. Watching her, you fully understand her struggle; she speaks so passionately about the way Polanski’s work has affected her, and is so horrified by what he’s done, that as an audience we are trapped in the dilemma with her. Janice Hallett’s writing dives deep into the duality of Polanski, and other talented yet monstrous men like him. She brilliantly raises and interrogates questions without ever coming to firm answer. This thought-provoking and sharply executed piece leaves us suspended in these questions, forcing us to come to our own conclusions.

 

Inside Alan Written and Performed by Mitch Day, Directed by Anthony Houghton

Malcolm Collins has a secret: Yes, he broke into Alan Titchmarsh’s house, but that’s not his biggest secret. A fascinating and darkly funny piece, Inside Alan investigates why people stalk celebrities, and how it often has less to do with sexual gratification and more to do with a desperate need for intimacy and comfort. Mitch Day creates Alan with sensitivity and humour, portraying a young man so wracked with anxiety he’ll go to great lengths to feel comfortable, even if it means having a bath in a celebrity gardener’s bathroom. Darkly funny, and full of heart, Inside Alan is a surprisingly touching tale of crime, loss, and self acceptance.

 

A Sweet Life by Guleraana Mir, Performed by Alice Langrish, Directed by Mingyu Lin

A Sweet Life is not a long piece, but in the short time we spend with it we go on quite a journey. Alice Langrish plays Kelly, a plastic surgeon who’s a bit overwhelmed by the stress of it all. Guleranna Mir’s short study of how far people will go to escape the weight of responsibility of the modern world is strange, funny, and slightly disturbing. Alice Langrish’s performance is full of energy and conviction, and Mingyu Lin’s direction keeps the piece driving forward at a breakneck pace. A Sweet Life is an absurd, hilarious dive into the psychology of a woman taking her obsession to the extreme.

 

The Mighty Oak Conqueror by Mike Carter, Performed by Tom Michael Blyth, Directed by Katherine Timms

The final piece of the evening, The Mighty Oak Conqueror, is a hilarious short comedy about a man who’s got himself stuck in a tree. Mike Carter’s piece is a parody of masculinity as our society defines it, and the foolishness trying to compensate for our insecurities by chasing a rugged cave-man identity. It follows Brian from St Albans, played with great skill and panache by Thomas Michael Blyth, as he tries to justify to passers-by why he’s got himself stuck up a huge oak tree.Blyth’s characterization of Brian as a classic English, sweater-clad namby-pamby is brilliantly realized, and he keeps the laughs coming with a sharp sense of comic timing and a deep understanding of his character. Mike Carter’s writing cleverly and skillfully captures the constantly over-intellectualizing and self-sabotaging nature of a man desperate to receive some kind of respect from anybody, even himself; and Katherine Timms’ directing wonderfully establishes the sense of swaying, unsteady vertigo of both the character’s physical situation and his shaky sense of self. Equal parts clever and hilarious, The Mighty Oak Conqueror is a worthy finale to a very entertaining and engrossing night of theatre.

 

After taking in Programme A, I am once again massively impressed by the quality of work on show at the One Festival. All of the pieces that make up Programme A show us characters struggling to come to terms with difficult truths, whether that be the loss of a loved one, the truth about our heroes, or our inability to live up to traditional standards of masculinity. Heartbreaking, yet hopeful, and always striking just the right balance of light and dark, Programme A is yet another fantastic offering by the One Festival.

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The Claim (Tour) – Five stars!

22 November, 2017 – 2 February, 2018 (Tour)

by Tim Cowbur
Directed by Mark Maughan

16 – 26 January, 2018 (London)

https://www.theclaimshow.co.uk/

The Claim, UK Tour - Ncuti Gatwa and Nick Blakeley (courtesy of Paul Samuel White)

Photography by Paul Samuel White

 

This isn’t going to like my usual reviews because I don’t want to give ANYTHING away.

Don’t research the play. Don’t look it up. Just go and experience it blind.

Trust me.

I can’t bare being anything but vague at the moment. The play contains such a journey in tone and experience that I feel the best way to see it is to encounter every high and low as the protagonist does.

It’s important, relevant theatre; incredibly entertaining, wonderfully written, and impeccably acted.

WHAT MORE CAN YOU WANT!

Clever design and seamless direction.

Writer Tim Cowbur is a genius.

Ncuti Gatwa, Nick Blakeley, and Yusra Warsama shine.

It’s absurd. It’s heart-breaking. It’s hilarious.

It made me angry.

It’s the sort of play that I started reviewing plays to see.

 

Go book your tickets now, okay?

 

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TOUR DATES

Tickets (London)

Upcoming cities –
Canterbury | 29 Jan 2018
Glasgow | 31 Jan 2018

Newcastle upon Tyne | 2 Feb 2018

Programme C, The One Festival @ The Space

11 January – 27 January

The One Festival – Programme C

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After so thoroughly enjoying the One Festival’s Programme B, I was determined to see the rest of the pieces currently playing at The Space in Canary Wharf.  My next step was seeing Programme C, an eclectic collection of amusing, absorbing, and occasionally harrowing short pieces. Though all five pieces featured in Programme C are very different in tone and subject matter, they all have two big things in common. They all share a focus on the vividly drawn, oftentimes eccentric characters at their centre, and they’re all full of surprises.

 

Mansplaining: The Musical by Mike Carter, Performed by Stephanie Ware, Directed by Saffron Myers

The first piece of the evening, Mansplaining: The Musical, is a raucous and delightful good time. Its subject is talented, take-no-guff Broadway leading lady Ginger Valentine, played with charm and gusto by Stephanie ware. Ware portrays brilliantly the hard-working performer, constantly bedevilled on her journey to stardom by the men who want to steal her spotlight and undermine her success. Mike Carter’s writing gives the character wit, humour and strength, and his decision to set the piece on Broadway in the 1930’s emphasizes the universality of its feminist message, and echoes the revelations the world is collectively having about the entertainment industry today. That message is bolstered by comedic songs and musical numbers, imbuing the whole proceedings with pageantry, flash and fun. Overall, Mansplaining: The Musical is a defiant, charming and entertaining piece full of real character and old-school Broadway flair.

 

Home Time by David Hendon, Performed by Elizabeth George, Directed by Paula Chitty

Home Time, written by David Hendon and directed by Paula Chitty, is a harrowing piece about motherhood, shock and grief. Jennifer is a single mother with a young son, played with great feeling and sensitivity by Elizabeth George. She begins the piece sharing with us the many mundane joys, degradations and celebrations that motherhood entails. However, we soon realize that there’s something terrible she’s not telling us, and seeing her come to terms with this dreadful truth provides us with an honest and unflinching portrayal of shock and grief. Watching the piece, it feels like we spend a bit too much time with Jennifer before this event, and not quite enough time seeing her deal with the aftermath; an odd choice, considering the meat of the piece seems to come after the twist. However, despite a slightly meandering feel towards the beginning, this moving meditation on motherhood has much to offer for theatre-goers looking to have their heart-strings tugged.

 

Binkie and the Snowbirds by John Dixon, Performed by Tim Blackwell, Directed by Danielle McIlven

The third piece of the evening, Binkie and the Snowbirds by John Dixon, is all about subverting expectations. It revolves around a man and his dog, Binkie, who happens to be stuffed. The man, played with offbeat humour and sharp intelligence by Tim Blackwell, is telling his story to a “snowbird” in a Miami cocktail bar, promising more tantalizing details in exchange for just one more drink. We never know if we can trust him, as Binkie is constantly subverting expectations, to darkly comic or unexpectedly moving effect. As the piece unfolds, we come to learn that our possibly unreliable narrator carries a great loneliness beneath his chummy exterior, a loneliness which sometimes drives him to unusual extremes. Surprising and funny, Binkie and the Snowbirds is brought to vivid life by John Dixon’s witty writing and Tim Blackwell’s energetic performance.

 

Sixth Position Written and Directed by Louise Jameson, Performed by Holly Jackson Walters

Next is Sixth Position, an elegant meditation on potential, and the impossibility of knowing if it’s ever been met. Holly Jackson Walters plays a ballerina, or is she an ex-ballerina? This question is at the centre of Sixth Position, as it explores whether we need an audience to dance, or if just dancing is, on its own, enough. As we are told about this character’s past, we see more and more of who she is: her great uncertainty and doubt is gradually revealed to us. Holly Jackson Walters brings remarkable feeling to her role, particularly in her physicality, which gracefully and expressively captures a soft, light, hesitant joy. Sixth Position is a gentle, affecting, subtle piece about art and doubt, brought to life by a detailed performance from Holly Jackson Walters and engrossing writing from Louise Jameson.

 

Skyclad by Serena Haywood, Performed by Alexandra Donnachie, Directed by Lou-Lou Mason

The final show on the Programme, Skyclad by Serena Haywood, is a comic exploration of the ways young people seek acceptance and meaning in a confusing and uncertain world. Alexandra Donnachie plays Sophia ‘Fuschia’ Travis, a university physics student who’s just joined her university’s witchcraft association. Donnachie brings a charming awkwardness and self-deprecating humour to her character, and despite Fuschia’s eccentricities the audience is with her the whole way. Serena Haywood’s writing is funny in an understated, surprising way, and she accurately captures the way in which young people seeking acceptance band together in unusual ways. However, Fuschia’s new acceptance is not long-lived, and both Donnachie and Haywood seem to take great pleasure in exploring how this character filters her feelings of jealousy and betrayal through her newfound knowledge of Wicca. Skyclad is very funny, and provides a clear vision of the ways young people deal with loneliness, betrayal, and romantic conflict.

 

Programme C presents a diverse set of interesting, eccentric characters in moments of indecision, loneliness, betrayal and grief. The five pieces on show all have very different tones, but all are engrossing and all feature detailed, well-drawn characters. All together, I find Programme C to be another strong offering from the One Festival, an eclectic and exciting evening of character-driven theatre.

 

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