REVIEW! A Winter’s Tale @ The Warren, Brighton Fringe

Director: Myles O’Gorman
Assistant Director: Sophie Leydon
Producer: Frances Livesey
NEXT SHOWING: The Warren, Brighton – Sunday 26th May – 6pm

A Winter’s Tale is not the first Shakespeare play we recall, although it is named among the best of his final plays, and in this adaptation by Helikon Theatre Company I can certainly see why. This tale of desperate jealously and shocking tragedy was cleverly adapted to fit our modern world, and with their talented cast and creative directing, it was a wonderful performance.

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Emma Blacklay-Piech (Mamillius) and Rhonwen Cash (Hermione)

With a simple, modern set complete with a projector and live streaming camera, O’Gorman created an outlook which was immediately familiar with the audience. The camera was mainly used to display the King Leontes, played by ALRA graduate Conor Kennedy, addressing his subjects (the audience) to update them on political and personal matters. The days passing were also projected as well as intimate moments in the garden between Hermione, played by Lindsey Huebner, and Polixenes, played by Lanre Danmola, which were obviously  prerecorded yet added another layer to this dynamic production. However, using so much technology within a Fringe performance can cause problems… my only fault with this piece would be the technical cues and accuracy.

The colloquial phrases interspersed with the original Shakespeare text added comical moments and also allowed the audience’s auto-translator (which we all have watching Shakespeare… don’t lie) to take a break. The main actor, Kennedy, truly grasped the comical timing of Shakespearean as well as the adapted moments of modern text. The energy and emotion he brought to the space was honest and powerful, his portrayal of Leontes’ distracted mind, stubborn outlook on his wife’s affair, and later heartbreak was all spot-on and heartfelt.

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Conor Kennedy (Leontes)

This emotionally charged piece found creative ways to display the more challenging moments of the script, for example the three deaths which drives the plot and gives depth to the characters and the text. (No spoilers here!)

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This radical portrayal of A Winter’s Tale was refreshing, dynamic and most of all well performed. I would certainly recommend a trip to Brighton to catch the last showing!

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Previous review: A Winter’s Tale @ The Warren, Brighton Fringe

REVIEW! Smack That (a conversation) @ Ovalhouse

Creator & Choreographer: Rhiannon Faith
Producer: Maddy Morgan
Run: 27th February – 16th March @ Ovalhouse

Smack That (a conversation) spoke volumes last night at Ovalhouse – addressing the serious matter of domestic abuse and sharing honest accounts through party games, audience interaction and dynamic choreography.

A close cast of six women, a mixture of non-performers and experienced dancers – all having experienced domestic abuse – welcomed us, the audience, in to Beverly’s party. They were all wearing the same sparkly dress and had the same silver hair; it was obvious they were all Beverly, and as I was passed a name sticker with ‘Tree Bev’ on it (because I had a tree of life necklace on) I realised we were all Beverly too. This persona (a similar setup to the play Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh) was used to narrate a collection of real life experiences through several methods – choral speaking, energetic movement sequences, and individual monologues (to name a few!).

Rhiannon Faith, Smack That (a conversation), Production photos

Rhiannon Faith, the creator of this powerful piece of theatre, has not only directed captivating and emotional material but she has also simultaneously created a safe space for the audience to wordlessly share their own experiences if they wanted to. This was accomplished through the use of well known party games such as ‘What would you rather…’ with an effective arms up or down method, and ‘Never have I ever’ (a interactive game in which you stand if you have done/experienced what is being said) which started off as “Never have I ever been sick at a party”, for which over half the audience stood up. Then, as the audience became more confident, the statements gradually became more personal; for instance; “Never have I ever been humiliated in front of people I care about” and “Never have I ever had a knife held to my throat.” With this change the atmosphere was tense and emotional as people around the theatre stood.

There are a number of measures in place for the audience’s well-being, for example: a chill out area for anyone needing a break from the show for personal reasons; a qualified therapist at the ready; information available about receiving help from services such as Woman Said. This is one of the first performances I have watched where the audience members are supported and cared for in such a humane and positive way, and this of course provides a comfort to those who did find themselves opening up throughout the performance.

Rhiannon Faith, Smack That (a conversation), Production photos

Stories told verbally and stories that were embodied were equally as moving and raw, and all performers had their own strengths and weaknesses. Some slightly improvised transitions between games, interactions and dances were slightly lacking momentum but this is likely to improve further into the run. Overall the group was clearly connected and acted as a true ensemble. However, one cast member in particular – Valerie Ebuwa – deserves a mention, as she blew me away by being extremely talented both vocally and physically.

You can see the time, research and care gone into this project and its outcome is a shockingly emotional, yet powerfully factual one. Rhiannon Faith has opened the audience’s eyes wide as well as their hearts – this dance theatre piece is like no other, and certainly not to be missed.

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Previous review: Cacophony, Almeida Theatre @ The Yard

REVIEW! Welcome to the UK by PSYCHEdelight @ The Bunker

Director and Lighting Design: Sophie NL Besse
Assistant Director: Gareth Watkins
Music and Songs: Tamara Astor
Movement director: Peter Pearson
Running Dates: 22nd January – 16th February 2019

Welcome to the UK is a carnival comedy with a heart of gold. Created and performed by PSYCHEdelight – a company dedicated to giving asylum seekers a voice – whom are well known for their successful 2016 satire comedy Borderline. Welcome to the UK is the next chapter after Borderline, with a cast from 13 different countries all sharing moments of their personal journey through epic theatre techniques.

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Welcome to the UK Cast on stage at The Bunker. Photo: Jose Farinha

The fun circus style and patriotic set design of union jack coloured bunting and flags gave us a warm welcome as we entered the space. Opening with burst from the energetic compère, played by Reuben Williams, we are immediately asked to think of a dream and blow it into the balloon left on our seats. After direction we all threw our airy dreams (pardon the pun) onto the stage… only to realise the balloons were for the rifle range at this warped carnival and it was perhaps not going to be all fun and games after all.

The next 70 minutes was a whirlwind of fun fair activities masking the challenges refugees face when trying to claim asylum and build a future in the UK; menacing pigs in the haunted house portraying the fear in an arranged marriage, a home office interview displayed as a series of ridiculous questions from a mystical gypsy, a refugee’s struggle to meet tight deadlines reworked as a UV video game. Each scene was imaginative and comedy fuelled, however the show lacked slick transitions and the energy on stage regularly fluctuated.

Aesthetically the piece was very strong; the diverse ensemble using physical storytelling (such as a literal emotional roller-coaster, which certainly made me giggle), the bright (and sometimes sparkling) costumes, and most of all the intricate lighting design which was effectively utilised to change the atmosphere throughout.

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A scary Teresa May (Left) controlling the hamster whirl effect. Photo: Jose Farinha

The hostile environment created for the asylum seekers was a reflection of the UK’s decisions and policies, and this was clearly conveyed. There is no denying the importance of the show and the extremely current issues surrounding the topic. Watching the talented asylum seekers perform with such enthusiasm (particularly Mohand Hasb Alrsol Badr, who made me chuckle constantly) and listening to their experiences in a way that we can all learn and laugh was brilliant.

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An overly sympathetic ‘Mary Poppins’-esque character. Photo: Jose Farinha

PSYCHEdelight has again produced a platform for expression, and whilst making us giggle they provoke us to think, to consider, to empathise. During this wacky performance there was one particularly powerful and unsettling image; Abdulrahman Salama (a Syrian refugee) sat alone on the top of a ladder throughout with a single orange balloon, holding his phone and waiting in distress for news of his family. A constant reminder of the harsh reality between the laughs.

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Previous review: Outlying Islands, Atticist @ King’s Head Pub Theatre

REVIEW! BRAWN, Chris Wollaton @ The Space

Director: Richard Weston
Actor & Writer: Chris Wollaton
15th-19th January 2019

BRAWN is a one man show, and this one man is certainly more than enough. Chris Wollaton, who is not only the actor but also the writer, dominates the stage with his words and his chiselled physique.

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The Space is a great space for this minimalist piece of theatre; one black chair sandwiched by two large dumbbells. The fantastic acoustics guides Wollaton’s voice around the room, even at a whisper, which helps to transport us to Ryan’s garage-turned-gym where the play unfolds. Directed by Richard Weston, BRAWN shines a spotlight on the little known subject of muscle dysmorphia.

Ryan first enters the space in an obvious rush and starts working out almost immediately, raising his heart beat before removing his top. Bare chested he begins boasting in the ‘mirror’; “I’m a sexy beast.” These comic moments provide a light relief from the constant flow of gym culture.

Body obsessed Ryan gradually reveals aspects of his life which drove him to this physical and mental torment, which he obviously perceives it as a positive and focused mentality. The damage done by societies outlook on what masculinity is, and continuously advertising ‘perfection’ as a well defined muscular body, is evident and perhaps slightly repetitive. Ryan talks of how girls want to see a t-shirt tight against his ripped body, however he also delves into his past friendship with a girl from school which displays a softer side to him. These moments of gold where he forgets his weight lifting regime and shares heartfelt accounts with the audience shows the vulnerability underneath the lean figure. Chris Wollaton refers to this in the Q&A as a attempt to ‘influence men to notice what creates a real connection’.

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It is clear that the bigger Ryan’s muscles get the more suppressed his insecurities become. This is a sad fact of many young men with body dysmorphia growing up with a warped view of masculinity. BRAWN is a must-see play, full of energy and covering a rarely addressed topic but one of upmost importance nonetheless.

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Previous review: Seussical the Musical, Immersion Theatre @ Southwark Playhouse

REVIEW! Canary by Fun In The Oven @ Circomedia, Bristol

Director & Dramaturg: Andrea Jiménez
Movement Director: Noemi Fernández
Cast: Katie Tranter, Robyn Hambrook, Alys North
Next Show: 30th Nov 2018 (Newcastle)

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The three Canary Girls receiving their beloved letters. Photo Credit: Chris Bishop

I watched Canary at the UK’s largest circus centre; Ciromedia, in the heart of Bristol, and what a magnificent stage for an energetic company like ‘Fun in the Oven’ to perform on. There was an abundance of space but every inch was kept alive throughout by the capable performers, the genius comedy, and the representation of such a strong topic.

This topic being WW1’s Canary Girls (don’t worry, no one watching knew of them either!), thousands of courageous British women doing more than just ‘their bit for the war effort’. Due to the lack of men, these ‘unsung war heroes’ were assembling TNT bombs everyday in factories; extremely dangerous work which gave them a number of health issues… one of which turned their skin yellow! (hence the makeup choice in Canary). 

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Playing ‘Truth or dare’. Photo Credit: Chris Bishop

Whilst addressing this unique gem of history the talented cast showed us the life of three workers; confident supervisor Agnes, naive football lover Betty, and a slightly older upper class volunteer called Anne. After a quick clip of footage displaying some overly happy WW1 propaganda, Fun in the Oven takes hold our emotions, making us laugh, cry and in awe of their slick physically and strong ensemble. This was particularly prominent when they demonstrated how the women assemble the bombs, taking us through a conveyor belt of movements with a brilliant cheery voice over (by Lawrence Neale) encouraging them along.

After an air raid hits the factory we watch as their friendship blossoms even further and their hopes and fears unravel. We laughed through familiar games of truth or dare, secrets being shared, and were shocked by harsh realities. Although the most hard hitting moments were always cleverly uplifted with comedy, and superbly executed.

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Preparing to leave each other and return to their homes after the war ended. Photo Credit: Chris Bishop

One of the highlights of this performance (pardon the pun) was when the girls ate cordite. This is a dangerous explosive used for ammunition, but also gave the girls a buzz which made them work faster and let off some steam. This sequence of crazy facial expressions and comedy madness allowed for their characteristics to explode (I’ll stop with the puns) and was extremely well received by the audience. It also lead us through an emotional discovery of how the women perceived themselves within society and hierarchy during the early 1900’s.

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After taking Cordite… Photo Credit: Chris Bishop

Canary is a strong piece of physical theatre addressing and remembering these female heroes of Britain (and rightly so). You will not be able to take your eyes off these three talented performers, and you will certainly leave with your eyes open to a wonderful snippet of history and your cheeks aching from all the laughter. It would be utterly mad not to grab a ticket to this show!

Follow the link for more info: http://www.funintheoventheatre.com/

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SCOTLAND! @ Mission Theatre, Bath

Created and Performed by The Latebloomers

Next Show: Small Beer Brew Co, London, 1st December

Friday evening in the quaint Mission Theatre there was a hilarious physical exploration of Scottish culture by The Latebloomers Theatre Company. The trio of clowns took to the stage covered in a mismatch of tartan and lead us on an adventure with there award winning original show ‘SCOTLAND!’.

Sam Dugmore, Jonathan Tilley and Oliver Nilsson, whom all trained at École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq (A.K.A one of the best clown schools in the world), created the perfect dynamic on stage; their individual clowns contrasted one another brilliantly and each personality was equally displayed (and loved). Also, their ability to work as an ensemble and fluidly react together was flawless. For instance at the beginning they performed an impressive body percussion song (slapping each other all over the place… in rhythm, of course) which at moments was completely captivating yet still ridiculously funny.

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The minimalist style of the piece was a great choice as it allowed the space to be filled with the performers energy and physicality, and also encouraged the audience’s imagination to blossom. Just 3 plain stools, some whiskey and shortbread, and a moose head helmet was all that was needed… their ridiculous facial expressions and perfect comic timing did the rest!

The three man-clowns took the audience through the stereotypical Scottish life, regularly getting them involved and even up on stage several times! One of my favourite moments being when Nilsson stuck a moose head helmet (yes I’m being serious) on an audience member and they performed a lengthy, larger than life, hilarious hunting scene which the poor bloke had to then attempt to copy with the helmet on! Safe to say it had the whole room in fits of laughter and it certainly wasn’t the only time. Audience interaction is always risk, as you never know the outcome, but these three performers used their experience and improvisation skills (plus some cheekiness) and it certainly paid off.

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SCOTLAND! is one of those performances you could watch every night for a week and still go back for more. The lighthearted storyline (with a slight turn at the end) will have you exploring the hills of Scotland (from the warmth of your seat), falling in love with the utterly bonkers antics of The Latebloomers, and crying with laughter. Why would you miss it?! (p.s – your cheeks will hurt afterwards and you’ll be trying the Scottish accent all the way home!)

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A Clown Show About Rain @ The Pleasance, London

Downstairs at The Pleasance I was lucky to watch a gem of theatre ‘A Clown Show About Rain’ by Silent Faces… my mundane Monday was marvellously uplifted by this comical yet meaningful performance.

‘A Clown Show About Rain’ was story of fishermen; three busy at sea, and another two on land with a hook in their hands. Although the two groups never do meet, the dynamic provided a quick switch in narrative which kept the audience’s attention throughout. From sandwich wars, to lip syncing solo’s, to many many cups of tea… there isn’t much missing from this unique clowning show. The trio of clowns on the stormy ship; Josie Underwood, Cara Withers and Stella Kailides kept me smiling with their bright yellow raincoats, perfect comic timing, and likable personalities. I was immersed in the relationships between them and their individual mini (yet funny) hurdles. Cordelia Stevenson and Jack Wakely also took the stage with their kahki fishing outfits and packed lunches, the mismatch pair bounced off one another and although not as physical as the yellow trio their personalities were just as clear.

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The way the ensemble seamlessly worked together to gradually overlap the two worlds was brilliant; at one point the yellow raincoat clowns were midway through their jolly mop-dance (yes, I made that name up but I think it should be a thing) whilst the other two scout-like clowns weaved through them following their compass in a hurry. At these high energy peaks the stage was alive, and the physicality of the characters was fully appreciated.

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Overall, it was the facial expressions of every performer which made you laugh out loud, particularly Wakely eyeing up Stevenson’s sandwich and the dead pan gaze from Withers is comedy gold (She is certainly one of my favourite characters I’ve watched this year). Towards the end you begin to realise the message of the piece surrounding mental health, and once I’d caught on I immediately wished I had known sooner so I could have appreciated the links throughout. However, the delivery of this poignant moment was beautifully gentle, and the simplicity made it even more touching.

I would certainly recommend joining Silent Faces on their boat of laughs and following their compass to a place of humanity and understanding… (In other words; go watch and have a giggle!)

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Build A Rocket, Stephen Joseph Theatre @ The Pleasance, London

Written by Christopher York
Directed by Paul Robinson
Starring Serena Manteghi
18th September – 23rd September 2018

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This explosive one-woman performance, Build a Rocket by Stephen Joseph Theatre certainly brought life and laughter to my Thursday evening. Upon entering the wide main stage of The Pleasance I suppressed the urge to dance to the urban beats playing loud and proud through the speakers. The stage, with minimal set of a mock-up kids’ roundabout, was lit by bright lights above like a scatter of orange stars, or the lighting in a edgy indie cafe.

The story was not necessarily new to our ears: teenage girl Yasmin comes from a troubled family life, gets mixed up with a dodgy lad, and ends up pregnant and struggling for cash. HOWEVER (capitals for effect) it was the execution by Serena Manteghi that was incredibly unpredictable and had you utterly transfixed.

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We followed the ballsy protagonist Yasmin’s life through underage nights out, tough GCSE’s, falling in and out of love, struggling through pregnancy, giving birth, and the tough task of parenting. Although this may sound mundane, the style in which these events were portrayed were creative and often hilarious. One of my favourite artistic choices was the use of a stereotypical game show to portray the stress of her GCSE’s; another was when blue lighting swamped the stage and she moved as though walking on the moon… (I could carry on, but to list all my highlights would be to describe the whole piece!) The direction by Paul Robinson was superb; the stage always felt full, and the clarity when Manteghi was multi-rolling proved he certainly has an eye for detail.

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Drip-fed beautiful moments of spoken word within the constant storytelling flow allowed the audience to take a breath and truly appreciate the text. YET (I’m not sure why I’m a big fan of capitals today…) I cannot stress enough: although this was definitely text heavy performance the physicality was equality as outstanding. As Manteghi jumped from character to character with ability and precision, we were taken through a whirlwind of emotions alongside her most protagonist Yasmin. From the moment Manteghi entered, the stage was alive, and from there the ball never stopped rolling. Thanks to her commitment and energy I happily suspended my disbelief and was immersed in the story.

If you want to liven up your week with an exceptional performer, a storm of emotions, and a lot of laughter then book your ticket to Build a Rocket and get yourself to The Pleasance… I promise you won’t regret it!

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Bluebird @ The Space  

24 July – 4 August, 2018

by Simon Stephens
Directed by Adam Hemming
Presented by Space Productions

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I ventured to The Space in East London on a warm Wednesday evening to watch Bluebird by Olivier award-winning playwright Simon Stephens, and I have no regrets. Upon entering the square black box theatre I was surprised by the dynamic staging of a raised platform shaped as a cross with seating in each corner. As I sat listening to ‘All Saints’ singing ‘Never ever have I ever felt so low…’ (on hindsight, a perfect choice) nothing could prepare me for the stories I was about to be told (and how brilliantly they were told!).

We followed the working day of taxi driver Jimmy Macneill, played by the incredibly talented John Kearne, as he drives a diverse range of people down the streets of London. Within the scene’s each ‘fare’ (the person getting the taxi) opens up to Jimmy, sharing secrets, experiences and opinions. This text-based show could have been a lengthy nightmare. However, it was successfully put together by the director Adam Hemming who obviously had an eye for detail, which is incredibly important in such an intimate space. Each scene was given the space to breathe yet kept its pace, and the text was certainly the focus (as it should be with Simon Stephen’s words!). The naturalistic style was on point, especially the driving by John Kearne, and it allowed us to be completely immersed in the characters and their stories.

Subtle, yet effective transitions lead our eyes to different points of the stage and were an essential break between the emotional storytelling. Similarly the props and set were minimal and always relevant. It is important for the space to not be overcrowded when the focus is on the actors, especially when you have a cast like this one! I was blown away by the talent on stage; one of the first ‘fares’ in Jimmy’s taxi was Robert Greenwood, played by the captivating Mike Duran who delivered his monologue with such honesty and emotion that I could not hold help but hang off his every word. Similarly, Anna Dolan, who played the role of Jimmy’s wife Clare Macneill, was a force to be reckoned with. She is the type of actress I could watch perform every night for a year and still be amazed.

Space productions drove me to reflect on my own life, and consider the hopes and regrets people live with each day. An incredible piece of writing matched with an incredible cast… you would be crazy not to go see it!

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I am of Ireland @ The Old Red Lion Theatre

5 -30 June, 2018

by Seamus Finnegan
Directed by Ken McClymont

Shenagh Govan and Euan Macnaughton in I AM OF IRELAND, credit of Michael Robinson

As I enter The Red Lions Pub Theatre on a busy Friday evening ready to watch the exciting new play ‘I AM OF IRELAND’ by Seamus Finnegan, I realise I have little knowledge of the history of the Troubles in Ireland. But, I’m telling you now, I was certainly about to be told.

The dimly lit black box theatre was creatively designed with rope, chairs, paintings and wooden crosses all hanging (as though frozen in the middle of an earthquake) against two walls; a busy backdrop to the large wooden square outlining the stage. Music was playing, not particularly emotional, just light hearted and (of course) Irish related. The show began with the patriotic song Ireland’s Call sung acapella as the cast filtered into the space one by one, dressed (some of them comically) as well known Irish stereotypes. All singing with equal enthusiasm. The atmosphere created was one of unity and pride, you couldn’t help but smile and wish you knew the words to sing along.

The beginning certainly transported us to Ireland and gave us an insight into the contemporary issues (and well, the play carried on to give us a lot more than just an insight). Not long into Act 1 I began to feel overwhelmed with information, as though I was sitting through the last revision session before an exam and trying to cram in as much as possible. About racism, the Troubles, faith and religion (both Protestantism and Catholicism), the IRA, the loyalists and the ex-patriots (and everything in between it seemed). These were obviously topics which Finnegan has a rooted passion for (and rightly so), however the ambitious dream to address them all equally and theatrically; all of these character’s each with a story to tell, involved in all of these topics, and giving us all of this information at once… it was just overbearing, and instead of keeping us in this Irish bubble it gradually alienated the audience.

Although the context was jam packed, Finnegan’s writing is exceptional in bringing out the understated truthful emotion of the characters. It was the perfect cast; all of them effortlessly changing between roles and displaying each character with integrity, humour and understanding. The likeable Euan Macnaughton, with his honest blue eyes and rich Irish tone told many a story through (lengthy, yet well executed) monologues. Shenagh Goven was a force to be reckoned with, her powerful voice and strong demeanour (and not to mention her brilliant comic timing). Every time she entered she brought the stage alive.

Sean Stewart, Shenagh Govan and Angus Castle-Doughty in I AM OF IRELAND, credit of Michael Robinson

‘I AM OF IRELAND’ was full of short snappy scene’s which were cleverly directed by the capable Ken McClymont. The overload of information is forgivable due to the believable cast and enjoyable, relevant soundtrack. I certainly left that warm little pub with an education, and grateful I witnessed such talent.

 

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Review by Lauren Russell