Princess Charming by Spun Glass Theatre – Interview

Peter is a boy. And boys like blue and football and fights. Jane is a girl. And girls
like pink and dollies and princesses.

Princess Charming is a new interactive cabaret show which addresses sexist and gender based bullying through song, dance and acrobatics – and it’s for the whole family.

Producer Jessica Cheetham answered a few of Theatre Box’s questions ahead of their tour through the UK over September and November.

What are your aims with staging this production?

Spun Glass Theatre wants to explore how gender stereotypes affect behaviour. If a boy is naturally more sensitive or a girl naturally more assertive, a continual admonishment from adults can chip away at their confidence. The performers present lots of different ideas about how stereotypes put pressure on girls and boys to act a certain way and how that might make us feel.

We also wanted to create a production that families will really enjoy while creating chances for them to chat about what it means to them to be a boy or be a girl.

Spun Glass Theatre has been interested in gender issues and women’s’ stories since we began in 2010. Princess Charming was born from a desire to talk about the ideas we layer onto children very early in life and the impact that has as they grow up and become adults.

Why have you chosen to appeal to this particular age bracket?

We have chosen this age bracket because they are starting to become aware of how what they like and dislike starts to create an identity that might be different from those around them. Children are around 7 to 11 years old when they start to really realise that they might be different from the majority of the children around them and this can have an impact on their confidence.

We created Princess Charming by visiting schools and performing sections of the play to children there. They were very honest in their feedback and helped us to shape a performance that was really meaningful to them. The show is fast-paced with about 20 different cabaret skits so it’s really engaging to watch. A cabaret style atmosphere is created with children and adults encouraged to heckle and take part so it’s really engaging.

Are there any big differences working with young audiences that you enjoy, or even dread?

The energy in the theatre feels much more positive which we really enjoy. We encourage the children to interact with the performers during the show and what they say is really funny and just adds to the performance, unlike some adults who heckle to distract from the show – so that’s been really fun.

Spun Glass Theatre's Princess Charming (4)

Princess Charming runs from September 19th to November 4th at various theatres around the UK.

Click here for more information and all venues.

Angry Alan by Penelope Skinner @ Underbelly Cowgate

Written and directed by Penelope Skinner
Starring Donald Sage Mackay
Presented by Francesca Moody Productions in association with Underbelly
2nd – 26th August 2018, 3.20pm at Cowgate

Donald Sage Mackay in Angry Alan

Donald Sage Mackay in Angry Alan, photo by The Other Richard

Angry Alan is not actually about Alan; it’s about Roger, a thoroughly average American guy. Roger is established as an unremarkable everyman from his very first line: “You know that feeling, when you think to yourself, I should really go for a run…” from which he then leads us through a familiar process: getting your phone out to check the weather, becoming distracted by an interesting article, and next thing you know you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of Internet links and you definitely don’t have time for a run now. We’ve all been there! But for Roger, the rabbit hole leads somewhere more sinister than your usual clickbait – he discovers Angry Alan, a prominent figure in the online Men’s Rights Activism (MRA) community. As Roger is “red pilled” and ventures deeper and deeper into this movement, we follow his story of how it changes his relationships, decisions, perceptions of society, and his self-esteem.

This is a one-person show, told in first person present tense, with virtually nothing to distract the audience from its narrator – the only two items brought onstage are a chair and a lanyard. A projector screen forms the backdrop, and various (real) MRA videos are interspersed throughout the narrative, along with various supporting images such as an email screenshot, or a text message conversation. Donald Sage Mackay is superb as Roger, portraying a character who is very believable and sometimes even relatable – a guy who means well, but whose weaknesses, his feelings of insecurity and impotence, allow him to be preyed upon by more sinister forces. While Roger claims that the movement inspires him to be “proud” of his identity and to “change the world” for the better, he also unwittingly admits to the truth: where he had previously blamed himself for his perceived inadequacies and failures, the MRA movement offered him an absolution from guilt, and a different target for all his pent-up rage and resentment instead.

Skinner’s decision to minimise the amount of outright misogyny in Roger’s character – there was nothing about “women’s place” or any gender-fraught slurs – meant that Roger was not the two-dimensional caricature of a socially challenged, greasy-haired weirdo hunched over his laptop and spewing out hate speech, which many feminists would usually associate with the “MRA type”. All Roger really wants is a better self-image, a better relationship with his son than his with his father, and a return to a time when he knew and understood his place in the world. When his girlfriend discovered feminism, he explains, she found it “inspiring”. But the main feelings Roger finds in Men’s Rights Activism seem to be, as declared in the play’s title, anger.

In a world of Elliot Rodgers and “incels”, alt-right terrorists and #metoo, Angry Alan certainly fulfills the proscription of theatre to ‘hold up a mirror to society’. However, my only criticism of the play is that it stops there; there is no urge to action, or even suggestion of how we, as a society, can counter this anger and (self-)destruction. As Roger laid out the logic of the MRA movement, the “alternative facts” of a “gynocentric” social structure in which it is men, not women, who are systematically oppressed, I felt a dull sense of helplessness and hopelessness set in: how do you fight this sort of cultish indoctrination, and blind, rage-filled world-view? At what point could anyone have stepped in and talked Roger away from these beliefs, when he clung to them like a drowning man to a life raft? As the story hurtled inevitably towards crisis and/or tragedy, there was a total lack of hope, of the possibility of redemption. I feel this is doing Roger, men, and humanity a disservice, and meant that Angry Alan fell short of being truly groundbreaking. Diagnosing and warning against a widespread disease in society is important, but trying to treat it is what we really need our innovators to concentrate on.

This last gripe notwithstanding, it is fair to say that Angry Alan is fully deserving of its Fringe First award and fully sold-out status: this is a piece of raw yet elegant theatre which packs a real punch, and when further runs are announced throughout the UK – of which I have no doubt – I would strongly urge all Theatre Box readers to make seeing it a priority.

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Donald Sage Mackay in Angry Alan, photo by The Other Richard

The Red Shoes, Young Pleasance @ Pleasance Courtyard – Beyond Theatre

By Jo Billington & Will Feasey with Tim Norton
Original music composed by Ned Bennett
August 15 – 18

And my Edinburgh Fringe is off to a good start with the Young Pleasance’s charming production for 2018, The Red Shoes! A re-imagining of the tale by Hans Christian Andersen, this (light on the music) musical follows the story of Lotta as she grows up in early 20th century Berlin. We see Lotta as she grows through three stages: her childhood as the orphanage’s wild child, her teenaged years working as a maid and then stumbling into cabaret performance, and finally her later years as a rich entrepreneur’s mistress and actress in Goebbel’s propaganda films. Throughout all this time, two things remain constant: Lotta’s best friend, a Jewish boy named Jacob, and the pair of red dancing shoes she inherited from her late mother.

This production is slick, with well-oiled choreography crafted for actors who are not trained dancers, and song numbers crafted for actors who are not trained singers. The costumes and sets are sumptuous and wonderful – adult Lotta’s film star outfit shone for the former, and a transparent gauze curtain was used to great effect for the latter when intimating flashbacks or detached worlds (such as the unreachable upper class audience watching Lotta perform). The ensemble class is strong, with the Narrators (Hannah Margerison and Kieton Saunders-Brown) inhabiting the most consistent roles, and performing them strongly. Margerison also played a key figure asthe mysterious friend who introduced Lotta to the world of performance – this double-casting carried interesting implications about whether the seemingly impartial, omniscient narrator was providing a guiding hand in Lotta’s fate.

Of the three Lottas, the youngest (played by Eliana Franks) certainly had the most energy and charisma; however, it may have been more of a problem with the writing than acting that the characterisation of this story’s lead felt like it lacked continuity. There were few similarities between Franks’ precocious and rebellious girlchild, Katie Walton’s naive and unsure teenager, and Eva Burton’s glamorous, selfish adult woman. Jacob, however – played by Theo Murchie and later Kishore Walker – seemed to remain the same idealistic, intelligent, and innocent young boy so captivated by Lotta’s charms. Other standout actors in minor roles included Ella Davis as the sharp-tongued Frau Pelzer, and Miles Rosbrook as the coldly villainous Franz.

This play, as we are informed almost immediately, is about temptation in all its forms: fame, fortune, love, belonging, and much more. It blurs the lines between a glittering glamour which is never quite within Lotta’s grasp, and the seedy, desperate, harsh reality which keeps chasing her. But once she has slipped her feet into those shoes, she cannot take them off until she has lived out her fate – and the final, powerful image spotlit on stage serves as a warning against the fickle nature of that which may tempt us.

This talented young cast is certainly one to watch – The Red Shoes is on at the Fringe until the end of this week, so hurry to catch it before it dances out of sight! Tickets available here.

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The Egg Rumour, The Brew Makers Theatre Co @ The Cockpit, Marylebone

Produced and presented by The Brew Makers Theatre Co

Written by Ellamae Cieslik

The Egg Rumour is an original musical about the “new corporate perk” of egg freezing so that women can work more and longer hours without being distracted by their reproductive needs.

The script was written and produced by the lead actor, Ellamae Cieslik. It uses intentionally shallow characters to mount a social critique on the corporate world which treats its employees as interchangeable resources with no regard for their actual desires. It focuses, however, on a fairly narrow target – egg freezing is a relatively small issue for women in the workplace, and I was surprised to see it spun out into an entire hour.

The script is strongest when it leans into humour – there are a few laugh-out-loud moments based on misogynistic etiquette manuals and good comedic timing. However, as the piece clips along quickly, without giving most of the characters names or any realistic depth, the more dramatic moments lack any emotional punch. There were moments that felt undeveloped or unresolved – the Egg Whisperer is consistently mentioned but only gets to speak in a single didactic monologue, and the sexy doctor seems like he’ll be more important than he is.

The performances are engaging, including some capable singing and a little fun choreography – the original songs are simple and effective jazz style pieces that work in the context of the show. The set and costume design are minimal and cleverly done.

Overall, the Egg Rumour feels like the first draft of a piece that could be a more complex exploration of women in the corporate environment – worth a look but not groundbreaking.

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Just William’s Luck, Shedload Theatre @ Underbelly, Edinburgh Fringe

4th – 27th August 2018

Iron Belly, UnderBelly, Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Devised by Jonathan Massey, Matthew Barnes and company.
Cast: Jonathan Massey, Davey Lias, Thomas Gutteridge, Greg Arundell and Louise Waller.

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Hot on the back of a tour that travelled to regional theatres in the UK and Poland then London, Shedload Theatre company have arrived at the Edinburgh Fringe.

And the Fringe doesn’t know what’s hit it!

Have you ever rewatched an episode of The Simpsons as an adult and are hit with how brilliantly written and performed the show is? That as a kid you got it on one level and as an adult, you understand it on a whole new level.

That is what Shedload Theatre’s production of Just William’s Luck perfectly executes.

This show could quite easily be a family friendly kids show that you might take your 3-year-old niece along to and endure.

But it is rather bloody marvellous and rip-roaringly hilarious for absolutely anybody and everybody.

Based on an original Richmal Crompton book and incorporating elements of the text into the show, it is essentially a play within a play. The ‘outlaw’s (a group of children led by William), put on a play of an adventure that happened to them all when questing as ‘Gnight’s of the Round Table’ trying to right ‘rongs’. The outlaw’s use whatever they find around them in their den to tell the story.

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Crafting together a horse, the famous actress Gloria Gay, using odds and sods to become the defining adults in William’s life and so much more.

Just William’s Luck is one of the most inventive pieces of storytelling I have ever seen.

Using buckets of physical theatre, puppetry and singing, this story is executed brilliantly.

To be honest, there is nothing I can fault about this production. I can not think of a single human being who would not enjoy this show.

The cast are buckets full of energy, vibrancy and a jolly good sense of humour which makes them all fantastic and engaging storytellers.

They are flexible and any small mistakes that happen in the show become utterly perfect and enjoyable as you can see how clearly they all have each other’s back.

I loved this show! Plain and simple, I utterly loved it!

If you are at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer and want to have a jolly good hour of your life, then go and see this show!

My wish as a reviewer is that this show will continue afterwards and continue to do amazing things.

 

Denied Under Section 221(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act by Connie Wookey @ South London Theatre, West Norwood

Devised and performed by Connie Wookey

Connie Wookey (yes that is her real name) is a charming and talented performer who has composed a fun 45 minute show about some distressing topics.

Essentially a light comedy cabaret about things in life we can’t control, “Denied Under Section 221(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act” touches on sexual harassment, malfunctioning planes and being an actress in New York, though doesn’t go into revelatory depth on any of these topics. Everything is dealt with simply, with a refreshing directness.

Some of Wookey’s songs and stories are touching, others feel a little like narrow casting – not all audiences are going to be able to identify or empathise with jokes about the vagaries of working as an actor or being middle class.

It’s an enjoyable show: a pleasant night out with an appealing host in Wookey.

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Artist’s website

Bury the Hatchet, Out of the Forest Theatre @ The Hope Theatre, Islington

24 July – 11 August

Written by Sasha Wilson, further devised by the company
Cast: Joseph Harrison, David Leopold and Sasha Wilson
Design: David Spence
Lighting Design: Will Alder
Produced by Joseph Cullen, Sarah Divall and Claire Gilbert for Out of the Forest Theatre

Photo Credits: Reg Madison/Liam Bessell

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Bury the Hatchet is a re-visiting of the famous Lizzie Borden story, performed in the black-box studio of The Hope Theatre, Islington. Upon entering we find Sasha Wilson, the actor who plays Lizzie and herself as the playwright, kneeling on the floor in a lace black dress (wearing matching Etsy style earrings of Lizzie Borden) at the centre of radiating family portraits splattered with red blood. Sasha copies details from a hefty history tome into a notebook, presumably crafting the play we’re about to see. Above, a lit hatchet dangles from a rigged loop of rope.  Stringed instruments – a violin, a banjo, etc. – crowd the back of the stage. A resonant whistle fills the space as Joseph Harrison and David Leopold enter, completing the ensemble cast, and we’re off.

What follows is an investigation of the persevering mystery, nagging happenstance, and odd Victorian social hang-ups that contributed to the peculiar and unresolved case of Lizzie Borden, who was accused of the murder of her father and step-mother by hatchet in 1892. (Lizzie Borden took an axe, And gave her mother forty whacks…etc.)

In the play, Sasha claims that she initially set out to write a historically accurate show. What results is an interesting frisson between Lizzie Borden pop-lore, the dramatisation of primary sources and the beginning of the playwright’s inquiry into both Lizzie’s motivation and her own fascination with the story, set to a gorgeous prairie bluegrass soundtrack.

Sasha’s exploration feels strongest when the playwright reflects on what she finds interesting about the murder and its circumstance – weaving together a possible psychology for Lizzie, before revising her theories with a new set of supporting facts. Her desire to find something else in Lizzie’s motivations, and Lizzie’s relationships with her sister Emma and the family maid Bridget, even if only through supposition, brings new life to the nursery rhyme.

Joseph Harrison and David Leopold had a markedly generous energy and seamlessly led the audience through the thorny mystery, expertly playing a bevvy of supporting characters. The ensemble was silly and charming, the piece defined by a meta-humour that buoyed along the more serious themes, allowing a critique of the original trial, both with facts, fictions and digressions.

The atmosphere was intimate and immersive, aided by a subtle choreographed movement, well-articulated by the actors and magnetic in the space. Within the studio, Will Alder created a moody, oil-painting lighting scape, with wisps of more electric horror, highlighting the ensemble’s striking arrangements (both musical/physical) beneath the ever-hanging hatchet.

The style sang best when it positioned its author as architect of the inquiry. Sasha Wilson is particularly compelling when she filters Lizzie through the lens of her own experience, reflecting on the awakening Lizzie might have felt after her first European tour, or interrogating her own relationship with death. While the details of the crime are teasingly interesting, the question of what is true remains locked in time and I found the pursuit of what might be understood, or re-interpreted from the vantage of now, to be far more engaging.

Overall, the piece was rich and evocative, expertly conjuring the feeling of vaudevillian horror as well as identifying something at the heart of our ongoing fascination with “guilty” true crime celebrities and Lizzie’s relatable, out of time refusal to have less.

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