Hidden Figures: WW2, Party Geek @ CoLab Factory

29th March – 15th April 2018

Directed by Zoe Flint

Written by Paul King

Pg-HndF-Writing+JPeg.png

Hidden Figures: WW2 is billed as a WW2 immersive experience at CoLab Factory, the only London venue specializing in Immersive Adventures. Having been a theatregoer for 20 years, I have never been to an immersive theatrical experience. This. Did. Not. Disappoint.

We arrived at the carpet factory in Borough and gained entry through coded conversation.

From the moment we arrived, we were in the world of WW2. From the themed bar, to the characters that greeted us. We were put into a small group of strangers and navigated our way through the maze that had been created. Each of us was given a character to take on, so as we met several different WW2 real life characters, solving puzzles together, we found out more and more about ourselves and them.

Also there is alcohol involved in this production. As theatrebox readers should know by now, you always receive bonus points from me if your play features gin. Which it did. Huzzah!

Every character we met was very different and entirely real. Every room we entered, the atmosphere changed. Every puzzle or interaction with a character was so beautifully and cleverly crafted. I could have spent hours down in that maze. This production excited and enthralled me throughout.

Without giving too much away, what was really fantastic about this, was discovering more about our characters and the truth behind all of these people.

My one issue with this production would be that although they executed very well the light and dark of WW2 and made it rip-roaringly fun; for my taste, I feel like they could have embraced the dark a bit more. Those moments of pain and truth could have been elevated, so much like a Martin McDonagh play, we could have been punched in the gut with the reality of this horrendous time.

This production is a production for every type of Londoner. The theatregoer, the non theatregoer, the historian, the partygoer, the clubber, the logistics specialist, the city boy etc etc..

This is exactly the production to bring more people and interest more people in diversity and difference in story telling and theatre.

I’ve been seduced into immersive experiences, and am now planning my next one and I’m sure this will seduce you too.

So grab a friend NOW, book your ticket and prepare yourself for a truly special evening.

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)

Tickets

Mirrors Siobhan McMillan @ Leicester Square Theatre

28 March – 14 April
Written and performed by Siobhan McMillan
Directed by Gabbi Maddocks

Mirrors 4. Pic Credit Thomas Ashton.JPG

Mirrors, Siobhan McMillan’s comedy at the Leicester Square Theatre, is as strange as it is dark. It is a playful, disturbing romp through a world of fairytales, online beauty bloggers, and female desperation.

McMillan begins the show as ShyGirl, a wildly unsuccessful youtube personality tormented by being constantly undervalued and stood up, and her own insecurities. In her desperation, she summons Shivvers, a witch, whose cunning and ruthlessness are matched only by the fragility of her ego.

Most of the piece follows Shivvers, on a quest to find (and murder) the woman who has usurped her throne as “the fairest of them all.” On her way to this goal, she meets a series of strange characters, each exploring a different element of ShyGirl’s insecurity.

Shivvers is played by McMillan, along with all of the other characters. McMillan brings a lively and playful energy to her roles, and has a genuine, self-deprecating comic energy that breathes life into the story. It felt as though some of the storytelling in the piece could have been made a more clear, as so much of the audience’s experience relies on McMillan’s narration, and I found we were occasionally left behind as our storyteller jumped to the next moment before we had fully grasped the last one.

Though the piece explores some very interesting feminist themes, I personally would have preferred if more work had been done to make the message surrounding those themes somewhat clearer. Though I eventually came to realize that (spoiler alert?) Shivvers was travelling through ShyGirl’s subconscious, that relationship was never made completely clear, and by the end I was left slightly befuddled as to what, exactly, the piece was saying. It was clear we were following an evil character committing evil deeds in the name of toxic female competition and false beauty standards, but what exactly McMillan and director Gabbi Maddocks wanted to communicate about that never quite made it across.

Though some of the themes seemed unclear, and the storytelling sometimes left me behind, Mirrors is a largely enjoyable dark fairytale romp. It creates a world, one of deep shame and insecurity, that can only be soothed with ruthless aggression and vicious competition.
Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)

Tickets

Madhouse re:exit, Access All Areas @ Shoreditch Town Hall

13 – 28 of March

Created by Access all Areas
Directed by Nick Llewellyn

MADHOUSE reexit, Shoreditch Town Hall, credit of Helen Murray (8)

Photography by Helen Murray

Everybody needs to see this show.

It is an outstanding piece of political theatre. Interesting, captivating, and heartbreaking.

MadHouse is created by Access All Areas, an award-winning theatre company who work with artists with learning disabilities. The show is an immersive show performed in Shoreditch Town Hall.

When I got to the venue, there was an interesting exhibition on Haperbury Hospital, an ex-hospital for people with learning disabilities. The facts and pictures were shocking, and it does raise questions as to why this history isn’t taught in schools. I was also given a leaflet to ‘Paradise Fields’, a new corporate care facility, some pages were scarily relevant to the modern world.

The audience were going on a tour of ‘Paradise Fields’. I have to admit I felt slightly scared going down to tour this care home, there was a very eerie atmosphere but a feeling of curiosity within the audience. As the audience were toured around the care home we were exposed to the glossy, creepy staff and rooms in the modern day care home. It all felt too good to be true and the audience were expecting and waiting to see what happened next. As the tour went on the audience were taken away from the tour guides by ‘The Escapist’ played by David Munns to be given a different tour of the shocking truths behind ‘Paradise Fields.’

As we continued to move around the space, we met five characters who all told there own stories about living in the care home and the stories also linked to the modern society we live in. These five characters were all captivating actors and the scenes were interesting, all very different and heart-breaking. All the different scenes were devised by the cast members based on the research for the play and there own experiences as learning disabled artists. My particular favourite were ‘The Goddess’ played by Imogen Roberts and ‘The Eater’ played by Dayo Koleosho. Both these scenes had an incredible concept and set design behind them which was very unique. The performers were also captivating and relatable.

There were some  pacing hiccups however. There were times when the audience were waiting for two minutes to be moved on. I felt that these needed to be faster so that the audience could stay in the world the show created.

Do not miss this show.

The immersive world the company has created is brilliant, as are the performances. The show makes the audience question England’s current society but also makes you question your own perceptions of people with learning disabilities.

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)

Thirsty! Tori Scott @ The Vaults

14th March- 18th March
Performed by Tori Scott

Tori+Scott+_+03+(1+of+1).jpg

Tori Scott’s Thirsty! is a freewheeling hour of cabaret, filled with salacious humour and honestly affecting songs. Scott slings together risqué vignettes taken from her own life with numbers ranging from Judy Garland to Janelle Monae. The result is ribald fun and an authentic New York cabaret atmosphere.

Tori Scott’s comedy is generously self deprecating, and she delivers punchlines with hilarious frankness. Her stories all riff on the theme of “thirst,” whether that be thirst for booze, and the joyfully depraved places that’s led her, or plain old sexual desire. At some point in the performance she refers to the piece as a cautionary tale, but there’s no real narrative connecting the stories, nor does our heroine seem to learn any real lessons from her experiences. Tori Scott doesn’t really want to teach us anything, she just wants to entertain, and on that level she certainly succeeds.

What surprised me was exactly how she goes about doing that. While the humour is bawdy and the comedy sharp, the real joy for me came from the singing, accompanied by Scott’s appropriately named band, The Shame Spirals. Scott is an extremely talented and skillful singer, and the generosity that she brings to her comedy is doubly present in her singing. She sings with both self-assured panache and honest, soul-baring emotion. It caught me off guard: one moment I was hearing a particularly suggestive bit about making eye contact with a public masturbator on the New York subway, and the next I was hearing a surprisingly soulful cover of Hozier’s ‘Take Me To Church.’ Like mixing sweet and salty, the contrast makes both stronger, and the variety brings a zesty flavour to the proceedings.

I did feel that the performance was slightly let down by its venue. Not by the Vault Festival in general (which is a perfect match for Scott, with its neon underground atmosphere and ready access to alcohol) but by the Crescent theatre specifically. The Crescent is a fairly conventional, pros-arch space, about as conventional as one can get in a disused underground tunnel. I’m no expert in cabaret, but to my understanding it’s most often performed in more of a pub or comedy club atmosphere, with audiences sat around tables and, crucially, the ability to get up and order more drinks. The dead-on nature of the proscenium arch and “latecomers will not be admitted” atmosphere all felt a bit too formal, and jarred slightly with the very loose energy of the show. However, I’m nitpicking, as the fun electric vibes of the Vault festival more than make up for the slightly over-formal structure of the Crecent.

If Thirsty! sounds like it would appeal to you, here’s my advice: Show up early. Take a few friends with you. Preferably, some or all of you will be gay men. This is to best enjoy Tori Scott’s many references to gay culture, terminology, and dating apps, but is by no means a requirement. Spend some time at one of the Vault Festival’s many bars, soak in the underground atmosphere, and have at least a couple of drinks. Then, get ready to sit back and enjoy some raunchy, entertaining cabaret.

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)

Tickets

Frankenstein Burn Bright Theatre @ The Space

20th February – 10th March
Burn Bright Theatre 
Adapted by Isabel Dixon
Directed by Katherine Timms
Starring Danielle Winter and Elizabeth Schenk

Danielle Winter Frankenstein

Sam Elwin Photography

Though thought-provoking, and grotesquely thrilling, Burn Bright’s Frankenstein is held back by its decision not to diverge more from the original novella. The first and most pressing way that this manifests is in its plotting. The decision to remain faithful to Shelley’s work is understandable (Frankenstein is a brilliant book after all), but it causes some problems in the pacing of the show. The story of the novella is structured in a series of arcs: the framing scenes on the arctic expedition, Frankenstein’s creation of the Monster and his flight from his home, the Monster’s description of its time living among the family in the cottage, etc. Each of these arcs serves as a self-contained episode of the story, with its own central conflict and emotional climax. Though this works well in the novella form, a problem arises when the same story is adapted to the stage — there are too many “big moments,” and not enough time spent on each one for any of them to have real weight. Why not elide some of these plot points, or cut them altogether? Why can’t we spend more time on the good stuff?

And there is a lot of good stuff to be had here. The core performances are stellar: Danielle Winter bestows this particular version of Doctor Frankenstein with a compelling mix of magnetic obsession and humanizing doubt, and Elizabeth Schenk’s Creature is truly fascinating. A loping, electric, gleeful presence, equally terrifying and beguiling. She charges the room with real horror whenever she appears, and sends a chill through the audience when we hear her bounding and cackling around us, in the shadows. Together, they achieve some wonderful moments of on-stage dread. The scene in which the Monster is first “born” was both nightmarish and exhilarating.

Supporting these performances is some legitimately thrilling direction from Katherine Timms and movement work from the rest of the cast. The scenes in the lab, in which the ensemble form the various mechanical and occult grotesques that Frankenstein uses to achieve her ghoulish ends, are particularly thrilling, macabre fun.

But most interesting of all are the ways that the piece chooses to diverge from the original. The most obvious of these is the decision to make both the Doctor and the Monster women. There are some thought-provoking ways they adapt the plot of the novella here: the Doctor in this version is Elizabeth Frankenstein, adopted daughter of the Frankenstein family. The Monster is also played by a female-presenting person, and though it was less explicit in the text of the piece (the Doctor tends to use the genderless “it” pronoun when referring to the creature) the implication seems to be that it is also female. Unlike Victor Frankenstein, Elizabeth Frankenstein cannot attend university. In this story, she is an entirely self-made and self-taught woman, learning to create life itself through the power of her will and intelligence alone. She is also unable to leave her family home after the death of her father, implying her obsession with reanimation might be an expression of her suffocated freedom. If she cannot defy the laws of the era and attend university, she will defy the very laws of mortality. There is also a fascinating parallel drawn between Elizabeth’s desire for acceptance, as both a woman in a misogynistic society and as an adopted child in close-knit household, and the Monster’s desire for acceptance by humanity.

However, the structural flaws prevent the piece from really diving into these ideas. Whenever we start to explore the very interesting territory that these choices open up, the piece is forced to move on to the next plot point. As a result, the play feels unfocused. In hewing so close to the plot of the novel, it tries to cover too much ground, and misses out on a chance to explore the really fascinating questions that make it special. I would have loved to see this piece if it was a little tighter in scope, and a little more willing to twist and mould the original story to its own ends. There is the nugget of a truly inspired story in this piece, one that explores what happens to a brilliant mind when it is not allowed to freely express itself, one that riffs off of Mary Shelley’s original story and develops its themes into a unique artistic statement. However, because the play doesn’t allow itself the time to tell that story, it never really comes to fruition. We the audience just see glimpses of it, peeking through a faithful but unfocused adaptation of Shelley’s classic novella.

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star HALF 2

Tickets

Electra, DumbWise Theatre @ The Bunker

27 Feb – 24 March, 2018

by Sophicles
Directed by John Ward
DumbWise Theatre

Photography by Lidia Crisafulli

The DumbWise Theatre Company has reinvented Electra. It’s unexpected and wild at times but it’s a beautiful production and something you can get behind.

The plot surrounds the murder of Agamemnon, the King of Argos by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus. After his upheaval, the two living children of Agamenon, Electra and Orestes fray into the background of Aegisthus’ rule. 10 years pass and we learn that Clytemnestra has subjugated Electra under her wiry fingers and before the upheaval, Electra smuggled her younger brother out of the city. This is where it picks up for us with Orestes on the edge of the world and Electra being tormented by her would-be father and tyrant mother.

The two act play is a long ride from here on out and the individual performances are a spectacle because of this. I was really interested in Dario Coates as Orestes. He was wet with passion for the whole two and half hour runtime. And Sian Martin is terrifying as Clytemnestra. She had two scenes in particular where she was being interviewed by a news anchor and we, the audience, play the role of the people of Argos witnessing her speak about Agamemnon and Orestes for the first time. Martin oozed her way out of dangerous questions and played her sovereign role with an effortless confidence. But there was an unnerving sense that at each moment, she was draped with the fear of Orestes shadow. It was really beautiful to watch as an aspiring actor myself. This action was broken up by intermittent moments of punk rock to clarify scene changes or climactic moments.

The stage was fairly scarce apart from the instruments upstage. Neon lights lined the back wall and would change colour depending on the feeling of the scene. Brutal moments were highlight by a red glow and calmer parts were washed with blue.

Matt brewer who played Aegisthus was another actor to mention. Aegisthus’ growing frustration dread as the supports of his power crumble shone through clearly. Lydia Larson who played Electra was also wonderful to watch. The moments where she let out her pent up hatred were immensely powerful.

John Ward has directed something both beautiful but intense and primal at the same time. You feel the Greek earth under the feet of Orestes as he stands off with Aegisthus and you hear the Greek wind sweep you along as characters cry out in pain.

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star HALF 2

Tickets

Derailed, Little Soldier @ The Ovalhouse

21st February to 3rd March
Little Soldier
Direction and Dramaturgy by Ben Kidd and Jesse Britton

Derailed_web_main_460_668_95_s.jpg

With Derailed, Little Soldier invites us to their going-away party. It really feels like a party too: there’s champagne, somebody’s making gazpacho, and everyone’s getting in on the action on-stage. The live music helps too, endowing the party with a rock-gig feel, and underscoring the winding, goofy tangents that Little Soldier take us on.

But not everyone is in the mood to party. Little Soldier themselves, as it turns out, aren’t ready to go yet.

Derailed is a play about Brexit, and so it’s a play about rejection, and endings, and saying goodbye. Little Soldier, made up of Spanish artists Patricia Rodríguez and Mercè Ribot, have a wonderful, winking charm to them.And in their clownish, entertaining way, they go about searching for some way to give their time in the UK meaning.

They lead us down strange, winding pathways. Then they suddenly change direction, starting on something totally new. Admittedly, a few of those pathways feel like they go on for a bit too long. But so quickly are we pulled into the next game, we almost immediately forget.

And game really is the word — Little Soldier seem to be in a state of constant play. They seem to revel in the unpredictability of the moment. They happily bring audience members on stage to act in scenes, play instruments, even trusting one with a blender. The constant playfulness of the piece ensures it is always light, always fun, even when reckoning with the real pain of being rejected by one’s chosen home.

The times when the play does come down to earth are legitimately touching. One moment, in which Patricia struggles to articulate why it’s so important to her that she protest in Britain, was particularly moving. But they never fall into self indulgence. They don’t have time to, as it’s not long before Little Soldier spins everything around and starts something completely different.

The constant changes in direction do leave the piece feeling somewhat unfocused.One would be hard pressed to find a single cohesive thesis statement that the piece is putting forward. But that’s not the point. Little Soldier are playing, riffing on the theme of goodbyes, telling a joke about the futility of trying to wrap up several years of two human lives in a neat little bow. It’s all just for fun, they say. That’s all it was ever about.

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star HALF 2

Tickets

Hilda and Virginia @ Jermyn Street Theatre

27th February – 3rd March, 2018

by Maureen Duffy

Directed by Natasha Rickman
Performed by Sarah Crowden

Sarah Crowden in Hilda and Virginia, Jermyn Street Theatre, credit of Harry Livingstone. (10)

Part of the ‘Scandal’ season at the Jermyn Street Theatre, the play is a double-bill following the stories of two remarkable women. The first is Virginia Woolf, who uncovers the secrets, affairs and scandals behind her novels. The second is Hilda of Whitby, a rebellious saint from the 1st century BCE who faces a crisis of faith.

Both women are played by Sarah Crowden in this ambitious duel-story one-woman show.

Crowden’s gives an often sympathetic and charming performance. The characters are distinct and often lovable. The design changes completely between halves, going from book-filled writing office to medieval chamber incredibly effectively. Books and skulls, candles and tapestries help deliver the worlds of the play convincingly.

The action in the play however suffered from a distinct lack of subtlety. ‘I’m brilliant!’ declares Virginia, standing on a chair, before clambering down for the next line as if nothing had happened. ‘I took drugs’ she confides, extracting a bottle from a hollow book, showing us, and then taking a swig to illustrate the point. Then, whenever angry, she knocked the books to the ground.

These sorts of actions permeated the performance. Sometimes they worked, but more often they didn’t. They sometimes left the production feeling as hollow as the books.

The text itself provides interesting glimpses into the personalities of Hilda and Virginia. Insights into their lives and inner-conflicts. Duffy’s writing and Crowden’s performance elicited giggles frequently witty from the audience, who, to be fair to the show, seemed to enjoy themselves far more than I did.

So, maybe it was just me, but I was unmoved. I was unconvinced as to the reason these stories were forced together as a double-bill, and why the stories needed to be told in the first place. They felt almost entirely disconnected. If the experience of one character was meant to provide insight on the dilemma of the other I didn’t get it.

One-person shows are a tough ask for any performer. Keeping an audience engaged for any amount of time is not easy, especially on one’s own (as anyone who has ever spoken in public can attest). I admire Crowden for how well she did, but a 2-hour run-time with two mostly disconnected stories left me nonplussed.

For the most part anyway.

Make up your own mind, see what you think, and let me know?

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star HALF 2

Tickets

 

Das Fest @ The Vaults

28 February – 4 March, 2018

Created and performed by ‘Vienna’s Master Illusionist’ Phillip Oberlohr

Philipp Oberlohr's Das Fest at VAULT Festival (courtesy Daniel Haingartner) (7).JPG

Photography by Daniel Haingartner

The Vault Festival is a very cool place. If you haven’t been yet, you need to go.

Last night I attended Das Fest by Philipp Oberlohr and I have to say it’s one of my highlights of the festival so far. On a snowy winter’s night, I went out in the cold to make my way to the show. I’m a sceptical person and I must admit I felt a little unsure about the prospect of going to a mind reading show. It’s all a trick surely? However, when I left the theatre an hour later, I felt happier, slightly confused and my mind was pulsing with questions like ‘How did he do that?’ and I felt very glad I had come to the show that evening.

Das Fest is the sequel to Das Spiel which was awarded the People’s choice award in 2016. I was excited and curious to see what was going to happen in this new show. The atmosphere was buzzing when I walked into the room, the audience were waiting, slightly nervously too see what was in store for them.

Now, the best thing about Das Fest is the surprise element. I don’t want to ruin it so I’m not going to write about what is going to happen to the audience in the show. However, what I can say was that Philipp Oberlohr is a charming performer. He is captivating, likeable and trustworthy. Despite the underlying fear the audience felt like they could talk to him, with one audience member staying on stage for most of the show! There was some wonderful imagery created in the show, my particular favourite involving a white umbrella and a black umbrella. The images created on stage were beautiful.

I thoroughly enjoyed Das Fest and would recommend seeing it for an entertaining evening. The physical theatre elements used in the show were excellent, as was the imagery and the performance. Go to the show, take some friends with you and then enjoy the ‘But how did he do that?!’ conversation which will inevitably happen in the bar afterwards.

 

 

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)

Tickets