P, Soup-Stained Arts @ Wandsworth Fringe

19th-20th May 2018

Written, directed and performed by Leila Herandi
Wandsworth Arts Fringe Festival

Finding a job is hard. Keeping one is harder… well, for her it is anyway. Our [protagonist/antagonist] (delete as appropriate) is an eternal optimist who can’t see the world crashing around her for the rose-tinted glasses she doesn’t realise she’s wearing, as she naively bumbles her way through life.

Soup Stained Arts on their website say, ‘Creating an important dialogue doesn’t need to be a serious task’.

Which is beautiful and couldn’t more relate to what I saw on stage this evening.

Penned and performed by Leila Herandi, seamlessly moving from storyteller, ‘P’ (the character) and moving back to Leila, she brought such electricity to the small, under the arches space in Putney.

It was the story of a young woman, quite different and out of place in this world; navigating finding a job, being a young person (however strange) and falling in love in the strangest of ways. Shall I say strange again for strangeness’ sake?

This was an excellent and very different version of storytelling.

We made a vow as audience members at the start. Including to turn off our mobile phones.

One of the audience members was roped in to tick off the sequence of the story.

There were flashbacks.

An overhead projector from primary school days.

And halfway through a snack break.

Leila Herandi relished and rejoiced in the difference of ‘P’, the difference in this piece and the technical difficulties that occurred.

She brought perfection to the imperfections.

The story itself, was different and bizarre yet completely relatable to your own failings in love, life and growing up.

For me this is the best of fringe theatre, I had a little giddy moment where I smiled gleefully thinking ‘This is what I bloody love!’

It still feels like a work in development; which is a joyous thing and I’m excited to see how this show continues, grows and develops.

Look out for where this show, company and performer go next. You will not regret heeding my recommendation.

 

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For King and Country @ The Colab Factory

8th April – 10th June 2018

Directed by Owen Kingston

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It’s December 1940 and a German invasion force has landed on the south coast of England.

For several weeks the invaders have been building up their forces on the coast, while the mighty Luftwaffe have pounded the RAF into submission. As the invasion force prepares to strike north and capture London, King Edward VIII refuses the resignation of British Prime Minister Lord Halifax, triggering a constitutional crisis. It is Britain’s darkest hour.

Parliament is recalled, and with all the members of both houses meeting in Westminster, a small group of backbench MPs and their families – designated survivors – are taken to a secure location south of the river Thames. They are completely unaware of the imminent events that will thrust them into the limelight and put the fate of the nation in their hands.

You are among those designated survivors. Your decisions will shape the course of history. Can you save the British people from the invading forces, or will the war be over by Christmas?

 

 

‘Another WW2 Immersive Experience?’ I hear you ask.

Why yes indeed and ENTIRELY different.

For the tacticians or secret logistic experts or people who just love a jolly good debate, this show will be entirely for you.

On arrival, myself and my companion were greeted by Douglas Remington-Hobbs and handed identity cards stating our position or whether we were ‘just’ a plus one’. Mr Remington-Hobbs would be running the evenings events and guiding us as group.

We were walked down into the space and asked whether we wanted to exchange our new-fangled modern money for shillings in order to spend said shillings at the bar.

I really liked this element as it gave us as audience members a chance to shed off our modern identities and step into a new space and the world of the piece.

We were then briefed on the situation in a type of war cabinet style space and the plus ones (myself being one of them) were escorted out of the ‘war cabinet’ as we would not be participating. Rather ironically, we were both women. We discussed with the female character who had escorted us about our right to vote and she encouraged that we speak up for ourselves.

Which we did. The first call of debate however was whether we should.

This got the ball rolling and connected us as a group participating in the further and more increasingly difficult choices at hand.

As a group we had to vote for a prime minister, deputy prime minister, foreign secretary, war minister and propaganda minister.

We then had the chance to go into different parts of the space getting involved in different activities, projects, and further choices, then coming back together again for renewed debate based on what we’d done.

I made the choice to wander round overhearing pockets of conversation, different interactions with characters and the various war missions. You could however devote yourself to one or many depending on your role or general temperament.

Without giving too much away as I really encourage this as a show to be experienced blindly, various things are revealed, and you can invest and investigate as much as your heart should desire.

Each show will be entirely different based on your choices as audience members and the way the show is constructed.

Each character is entirely engaging and interesting and a lot of time and devotion has been put into making them real, believable and people that you want to connect with.

I loved that the group I was a part of was a real eclectic mix of people, not just artsy theatre types. A group of ladies, a few young couples and an older pair dressed like they were from WW2.

For my taste, and it was possibly because I chose to actively stand back and watch others rather than entirely engage, there wasn’t enough variety in activities in the show and the stakes didn’t nearly feel high enough until the last moment. I discussed this with my companion and he entirely disagreed which I feel is important to state.

A very engaging and lively evening and another success for Colab Theatre.

More immersive experiences please and thank you.

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Hidden Figures: WW2, Party Geek @ CoLab Factory

29th March – 15th April 2018

Directed by Zoe Flint

Written by Paul King

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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.

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Dust, Milly Thomas @ Soho Theatre

Tuesday 20th February – Saturday 17th March

Written and performed by Milly Thomas.Directed by Sara Joyce.

Dust - Milly Thomas (courtesy of The Other Richard)_3_preview

I have no words.

I left the show with no words.

My chest was heaving and my body was spasming.

Dust is ground breaking.

A life changing show.

Milly Thomas, has previously written A First World ProblemClick Bait and Brutal Cessation all performed at the Theatre503. Dust was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe 2017 winning the Stage Edinburgh Award and now transferring to the Soho Theatre.

A play about Alice, a young woman who has just committed suicide and now has to watch her family and friends in the aftermath of the event. Passing from memories that she is forced to relive then to Alice’s current discoveries of her family and friend’s life after her death.

Milly Thomas is highly skilled in flicking from sharp witted and truthful humour to pure darkness and heartbreak. The excellent contrast of light and darkness in this play makes a beautiful roller-coaster for the audience to ride on. Milly Thomas has balanced  it effortlessly.

Thomas has guts and courage as the pieces writer/performer. She speaks in brutal honesty and says the things we think in our heads and wish we could say out loud. Although personal, she made this a universal experience for the audience with her honest remarks and quips which is what made this show so utterly moving.

What is so impressive about this performance is, although it’s a one woman show with a minimalistic set by Anna Reid (comprising of three mirrors and a morgue table), it does not feel like it. Milly Thomas  brings the presence of other characters and different settings with her. She entirely transformed herself and the space with such ease.

This play will, and has, opened up a debate and conversation about mental health issues and suicide which I hope will continue.

And I hope this play continues onto more and greater spaces.

This is a show that EVERYONE needs to see.

A show that moves you to the very core, Milly Thomas has exposed the inner workings of mental health sufferers and found humour in the darkness.

Dust needs to be broadcast round the world.

If there was one show, you made sure you go and see this year, this would be it!

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The Moor, Rive Productions @ The Old Red Lion Theatre

6th February-3rd March 2018

by Catherine Lucie
Directed by Blythe Stewart

The Moor, Old Red Lion Theatre - Jill McAusland (courtesy of The Other Richard)_2_preview

I have a soft spot for pub theatre.

To compete with the elements, the space, the noise of the pub and the traffic and outside world. Fringe shows put together by people who are passionate about creating and putting together things with limited time or funding.

It always makes me feel like the girl who visited the Edinburgh Fringe at 15 years old and thought; ‘Phwoar! This is bloody exciting’

How then, have Rive Production’s ‘The Moor’ managed to expand and evolve the dimensions of the Old Red Lion Theatre to a vast space of land?

This did not at one moment feel like ‘pub theatre’.

It felt epic.

I walked into the space pre show and took a breath. Cliched but true.

I was utterly impressed and surprised at Holly Pigott’s innovative design. She managed to transform a small space into the world of the Moor. It felt reminiscent of Johannes Schütz’s epic and deteriorating design for Benedict Andrew’s Three Sister’s at the Young Vic in 2012.

Rubble swept the back of the stage, a very minimalist house setting and rotating muted Moor designed backdrops that hung from the ceiling (eventually moved by the actors when passing to alter the space).

The Moor, Old Red Lion Theatre - Oliver Britten and Jill McAusland (courtesy of The Other Richard)_2_preview

It really brought us to the Moor and engaged us with the changes and shifts in space, world and time.

Bronagh, a young woman isolated in a vaste expanse of land; The Moor.

Feeling increasingly claustrophobic, incited by her surroundings, relationship, child and life, then becomes involved in an investigation with the police which starts to invade her own life and mind.

This was a fight for her own sanity.

Jill McAusland’s Bronagh was perfection. We as the audience felt like an extension of her mind. She spoke to us as if to herself. Childlike, innocent and silently tortured by her own life.

Being in the same space as her boyfriend, Graeme (Oliver Britten) for the first time, I saw a woman who kissed her partner for her own salvation. There was a tango going on between them; who would win? Her mind or his brutish and simplistic nature. Her desperation was palpable.

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Another element of the design which worked so well, was the faceless, weighted anonymous baby of Bronagh and Graeme’s. It added a whole other element to her world and mind slowly falling apart, as although I believed entirely the baby was real (thanks to Bronagh’s great connection with it) it’s facelessness brought me further into her psyche.

Jonny Magnanti’s Pat (the police officer working with Bronagh) was paternal, grounded and real. This wasn’t a ‘police officer’; this was a man with his own world going on whose own past intertwined with Bronagh’s.

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This show’s great juxtaposition of a woman living in a vast countryside space, yet feeling so utterly isolated was truly resonating. This was a testament to the excellence of Catherine Lucie’s writing, beautifully crafted into a truly breathing and living world by Blythe Stewart’s direction.

I am drawn back to my interview with Blythe Stewart, and how great theatre makes you question your own life and your own world views. What is real and unreal?

This show was entirely ambitious and managed to achieve every one of it’s ambitions.

I see a great future for this play.

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Her Not Him, Lughnacy Productions @ Theatre503

30th January – 3rd February, 2018

Written by Joanne Fitzgerald
Directed by Amy Lawrence

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Photography by Ali Wright

 

‘My preference is for non-arseholes, but they are quite hard to find’

Jemima’s answer to Bea when asked about her sexuality and what made me frantically scribble it away and press into my memory as something that makes this show entirely stand out.

It’s not often, in my experience, to see a show based on LBTQ relationships where sexuality became something that did not signify the characters but just was. It existed. People loved and lost each other.

I feel like I want to pin that quote on a badge on my coat at all times.

I’m going to directly quote the summary from Theatre503’s website as I feel my words won’t eloquently put across the plot of the play or give too much away.

Bea, an older woman, comes out late in life. She nabs herself a young lover, Ellie, who has aspirations of starting a family and putting them both on a path to domestic bliss. Then Bea meets Jemima, who catches her eye and steals her away from Ellie. It all falls apart when Bea finally meets James, the boy beneath Jemima’s make-up, wigs and glamour, who doesn’t excite her quite as much.

What I really loved about this production was the embracing of simplicity.

The design was simple yet stunning; two moving distressed (in a fashionable way) metal walls on wheels and two chairs and a table.

These were choreographed into a seamless movement and dance inspired transition between each scene. They made a beauty of scene changes by not ignoring it but embracing it and it added a physical story and enhancement of the plot without adding extra clunky exposition dialogue. We understood the changes of character and their relationships further from this beautiful movement.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable production. A very grounded, mature and feline like Bea (Orla Sanders) who struggles to open up to those close to her starts the play with Ellie (Leah Kirby), who is a rather in your face, energetic extrovert next to Bea’s calm, still nature. Opposites attract or from what I saw last night; ultimately repel.

 

This is all chucked up in the air when Bea meet’s Jemima (John James), a gorgeous, outspoken transvestite. From the moment, Jemima walked on stage, she brought on a different youthful, truthful energy, that made me drawn to watching her and her interactions with Bea.

Another exquisite moment from Jemima, was the unveiling and undressing of her by Bea, which I thought was utterly sublime. She became so childlike, innocent and tender. It really showed the intimacy and shyness of that first sexual encounter with a new partner.

I feel slightly mean for coming so early in the run as I felt that the actors and their intimacy and connection between each other took the first two scenes to warm up and I would be interested to see if this alters later in the run.

Bea’s fight to open up to those around her was the arc that ran through this piece and ultimately ended it.

For my taste, I had an issue with the ending of this play. It all wrapped up rather neatly and sweetly with no grudges held and I guess the thing I would take from that is that friendship and genuine human connection is more important than sexual or romantic relationships in the end. But I would be intrigued to see, how this could have ended differently or possibly more honestly.

What I most enjoyed about this play and what I would take from it, is that it showed the awkwardness, genuineness, closing and opening and beauty of dating irregardless of gender and sexuality. A play that made you laugh but also made you reflect on your own relationships and interactions.

The next time someone questions you about your sexuality or preferences, just answer;

 

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

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Director: Blythe Stewart on The Moor by Catherine Lucie.

Tuesday 6th February- Saturday 3rd March 2018.

Old Red Lion Theatre

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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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@Blythe_Stewart