Free Solo @ The Drayton Arms Theatre

17 April – 3 May, 2018

by Jack Godfrey & Celine Snippe
Produced by Alice Greening

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Free Solo is a fantastic new musical written by Jack Godfrey and Celine Snippe, directed by Nick Leos and musically directed by Flora Leo. It follows the story of the Robinson Family in the lead up to John Robinson’s daredevil Free Solo Rick climb. Based on the true story we watch as, eleven years on, Robinson’s daughter Hazel reflects on the events that led up to her father’s climb.

Set to a folk-rock score, this new musical is sensitive, with fantastic movement and really human moments. Cecily Redmann was delightful as Hazel Robinson. Her voice was strong, and she safely navigated the changes between young and old Hazel. Simone Leonardi was an absolute stand out as the infamous John Robinson. His voice beautifully conveyed the sensitivity behind the music and gave a fantastic, human approach to the character.

Despite a few technical hitches, this musical was a thoroughly enjoyable watch, highlighting the importance of family and raising questions about responsibility and identity.

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Plastic, Poleroid Theatre @ The Old Red Lion

3 – 21 April, 2018

by Kenneth Emson
Directed by Josh Roche

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Images courtesy of Mathew Foster

Heading up the stairs from the pub to see Plastic at the Old Red Lion builds the right kind of excitement. Plastic takes us to a quintessential Essex school football pitch as we follow the lives of three students. Lisa, jack and Ben, as well as Lisa’s older boyfriend, Kev. We open on a football field, reliving the past. This is perfect, as the seating is somewhat bleacher-like and we are all able to take drinks in with us – it already felt like a football match. Kev is scoring in the Essex cup final, before we are introduced to all the characters, hearing their hopes and dreams in Kenneth Emson’s beautifully lyrical writing. In fact, if there is one reason to go and see this play – it is the writing. Lines intersect each other and seamlessly carry the story, using everyday language in an elevated, poetic way. It’s like Shakespeare, only fully accessible.

Director Josh Roche, and Lighting designer Peter Small and Sound designer Kieran Lucas have brilliantly designed and realised this play. This is a play where all the elements in design and visual direction helped bring this story to light. It was as thought through and well-crafted as the writing. The stage was simply pained up with white lines, creating a football pitch. It was only after the play that I noticed that in particularly tense moments, the cast neared the goal. The soundscape served to heighten the mood and parts from one strongly and somehow misplaced piece of classical music, was noticeably effective. The lighting was cool and was used perfectly to segment moments, change days and create atmosphere.

Look, it’s difficult to find any fault with this play. It was sublimely acted. All four actors skilfully handed rhyming verse, making it seem as though they thought in pattern naturally. Madison Clare was a standout as Lisa, skilfully walking the line of innocence and mischievousness. Louis Greatorex was fantastic, pulling all the right heartstrings. His performance was the most nuanced and alive – even when his character was simply watching what was happening on stage. Thomas Coomes served a suitably volatile Ben. His job was the hardest, his character the most outwardly charged and turbulent and he pulled this off solidly. I think he had us all worried with his violent mantra repeated throughout. Mark Weinman gave a fantastic performance as Lisa’s boyfriend. He created a performance that carried the play through it’s narrative. I can’t gush enough about the acting here – it was incredible.

I think I should mention that the themes of this play are bold and daring and horribly close to home. We deal with sex, playground politics and a nobody whose mantra is a list of school shootings. The cast navigates these beautifully. There are laughs in amongst the general electric foreboding. I don’t think anyone left the theatre in the same mood they came in. Thought provoking and tense throughout, I strongly recommend you get a ticket before it closes on the 21st.

 

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The Most Beautiful Woman in the World @ Barons Court Theatre

9 – 15 April, 2018

by Chang-jie Zhang
Directed by Xinxi Du

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We open to a harried looking writer explaining that his masterpiece is not finished. He unveils the characters from under white sheets and we’re away on the epic tale that is The Most Beautiful Woman in the World.

We follow a man who hates mushrooms so much he gains superhuman strength and goes on murderous rampages (stay with me). The cunning King decides to use this to his advantage, telling the Warrior that all the King’s own enemies are sending him mushrooms. Once the Warrior has been successful, the King adopts him and sets about his ruin. However, the King’s wife – the Most Beautiful Woman in the World – is swayed by the Warrior’s goodness.

The whole play seemed a little bizarre. The storyline was good and asked the right questions for the day (what with the King maintaining facades and engineering truths over honest leadership) but I don’t think the story earned the Warriors massive emotional shifts or the man with a painted-on-moustache playing ‘the most beautiful woman in the world.’ Throughout, I found myself wanting the entire production – actors and scenery alike- to take on a heightened, farcical nature or to all take on a natural, down to earth realism. However, the actors jumped between the two, at some points jarringly so.

Kyle Gardiner was a stand out as the King. He was cunning and vivacious onstage and is certainly an emerging talent and one to watch. Chang-Jie Zhang played the writer onstage, while also being the actual writer of the play. He has clearly included some of his Chinese roots in the story’s structure. Onstage, I found that he got lost slightly in the cavernous theatre. Baron’s Court Theatre has archways and crevices to navigate and unfortunately at times, he trapped himself behind these and we lost most of his performance. Seth Kruger played the moustached Most Beautiful Woman in the World. He is another that I felt needed to choose to either farce or naturalism. Finally, Robin Khor Yong Kuan gave a respectable performance as the Warrior. His performance was fantastically physical; frightening as the Warrior, and innocent as the Prince-Warrior.

This play has a lot of potential. It did make me laugh. I feel that with an edit and a clearer style on stage, we wouldn’t stop laughing.

 

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The Sound and the Fury, RCSSD @ The Pleasance

21 Feb – 24 Feb, 2018

by William Faulkner
Directed by Sasha Milavic Davies


 

The opening of the Sound and the Fury at Pleasance Theatre set the mood. Benny (Rhys Anderson) paints a lilting Mississippi-accented picture of the breezy hot plantations of 1900’s Mississippi. The actors walked on one by one, already creating an energy with which the entire play would buzz right to the end. 

We follow through the eyes of the three brothers of the Common family, as we watch them teeter and then fall down the brink of decay. From the off, it was clear that this was a creative team that had found a goldmine of current references; the struggle of race was clear, as was the struggle for power between men and women. It’s very much a story of our times. Unfortunately, I was invited to the closing night of the play – but I would heartily recommend that you read the book as well, so that you get the same messages I got.

The story of The Sound and the Fury is narrated by three different brothers: First Benjy, the simple brother, looked after by Dalsey, the housekeeper and her family, then Quentin, a Harvard student with the weight of his decaying family wealth and his love for his sister, finally by Jason, the embezzling, greedy oldest brother. The story jumps between time frames following the decline of the family through scandal after scandal. The cast brilliantly steer us through the narrative, so this is never jarring (although the first few times it was a little confusing!)

Rhys Anderson was a brilliant narrator – captivating, with great subtlety in creating his first character, Benjy, who is intellectually disabled. His complete transformation into Dalton Ames and then Herbert was so complete, that there was no doubt auto who he was playing at any one time. His sister and some-time carer Caddy was played by Emily Windham, who captured the 7 year old Caddy with delightful innocence that we hold onto throughout her ruination.

Marshall Nyanhete, who played Benjy’s carers Luster and Versh, gave a strong and solid performance which, alongside that of Angelina Chudi (playing his mother Frony), gave voice to the next generation of African American’s who wanted more than the life of a second-class citizen. They managed this with humour, asking many a person, including the heads of the family, for money to go to a music show.

Daniela Cristo Mantilla played the vivacious Miss Quentin with fire and verve, tormenting Jason, brought to life by Steve Salt. Salt brought a huge amount of energy to his characters, including a dynamic and animalistic portrayal of Jason, the embezzling brother. James Broadly created a great contrast to this in the calm and assured Quentin, played with a quiet strength. Grace Melhuish created a fantastic character in Mother, a southern belle far past her time. Her portrayal created a depth to the chaos of the family, helped along by the suburb performance from Dennis Sofian, who played Father. He also created some fantastic moments accompanying the action on his violin.

The stand out performances came from Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo (playing Matriarchal housekeeper Dalsey), and Bolaji Alakija (who played Roskus and TP). Both performers gave mature and resonant performances. They brought the play’s most powerful, human moments – a simple tut, the bandaging of a husband’s hand, all creating the feeling that Faulkner wrote into the novel; that “they endured.”

I should comment that the staging and lighting was excellent. The warm haze of the Mississippi plantains could be felt from the beginning. As the family fell further and further into disrepute, the staging and lighting became more and more random and off-quilter, upsetting the view for us in the audience and creating a sense of unease and dread. The use of music was fantastic, if at some points superfluous, again, building the world for us to see.

This was a story that is upsettingly poignant for our times. The performance was slick and compelling. I just wish I’d been invited earlier in the run to encourage people to see it.

Instead, here is their Twitter: @ActingCDT. This is a group with huge talent. Follow them and go see them next time.

 

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