Think of England, AIAWTC @ The Vaults

Wednesday 7th – Sunday 11th, 2018

by Madeline Gould
Directed by Tilly Branson

Leila Sykes and Matthew Biddulph in Think of England, credit of Ali Wright

Photography by Ali Wright

 

Based on a real-life WW2 scandal, audiences become part of a crowd sheltering from the Blitz and meet a pair of women who set up a tea dance to raise moral. When some Canadian pilots join the fun, they threaten to uncover some dangerous secrets.

This show is brilliant. It’s delightful and charming, and oh boy it is fun! A powerful and moving drama, with playful characters and joyful air, it entertains and scandalises.

The cast are just wonderful. Special mentions to the boisterous and irreverent Madeline Gould (Vera), who welcomes you into the world of the show with a roguish smile and a sly wink, and to the utterly lovable and lovelorn Stefan Menaul as Cpl. Frank Lamb – whom you spent most of the show trying not to run up and cuddle.

Leila Sykes gives a subtle and heartfelt Bette across from the slime-ball that is Pip Brignall’s Lt. Tom Gagnon, who makes a wonderful and cynical antagonist, vying with Matthew Biddulph’s charismatic Lt. Bill Dunne to be top dog.

They’re deeply empathetic characters, perfectly portrayed and wittily written. A big congrats to the cast, they really bring this show alive.

Leila Sykes and Madeline Gould in Think of England, credit of Ali Wright (2)
It really is superbly playful, and hearing bombs drop and giggling together at the repartee and love triangles, I began to feel an odd sense of community with my fellow patrons, as we all smiled sheepishly at each other in an impromptu jive lesson and take part in the raffle where you stand the chance of winning the luxurious prize of two fresh eggs.

This is all wonderfully balanced with the well-acted and fiery drama that unfolds before you.

The Vaults is a perfect venue. Though the acoustics occasionally aren’t kind and some of the pacing could be tighter, the cavernous and dripping hall sucks you into the world of the play before spiting you out the other side touched and grinning from ear to ear.

 

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Becoming Shades, Chivaree Circus/Upstage Creative @ The Vaults

24 January – 18 March, 2018

Directed by Laurane Marchive

Becoming Shades at VAULT Festival 2018 (courtesy Maximilian Webster) 2

Photography by Maximilian Webster

 

In the echoing bowls of the Vaults, with dripping walls and shadowy figures, the memory of the Goddess Persephone lives on in flashes of retelling. Chivaree Circus and Upstage Creative have created an incredible evening of entertainment.

If you’ve never been to the Vaults or it’s festival, I thoroughly recommend this show as a first experience of it, and hope it leads you to the other shows this extraordinary venue has to offer.

There’s almost no dialogue. It’s a retelling of the Persephone & Hades myth story through circus, movement and music. The show is all about atmosphere and is a showcase for the unbelievable talent of the performers.

The aerials and pole dance are just stunning to watch, and oh my god they are good. The grace of the performers is hard to overstate. You watch in open-mouthed wonderment, in awe of the human body and what it’s capable of.

The music by Sam West performed with Becks Johnstone is haunting and gorgeous, and I wish there was a full album available for purchase, so I could tell you to buy it.

On the subject of atmosphere, the design is wonderful. Lights, music, costume and performance are pitch perfect. Charon, the ferryman to the underworld looks like if something from Star Wars read H.P. Lovecraft. It’s creepy and engrossing, and it transports you.

The immersive elements of the piece are more to enhance atmosphere that to provide actual interaction with the characters and events in the play. Still, it works, and the use of the space is clever and dynamic.

A major downfall is that it’s not the clearest retelling of Persephone. The individual acts are connected more my theme and setting than the plot. Some of my fellow audience members were baffled as to what was going on, though still awed and entertained. It’s not particularly kind in leading one through the events of the narrative, and the lack of dialogue doesn’t help.  So, if you don’t know the myth, I’d recommend this as some prior reading.

In a show like this, the plot isn’t really the point though. The point is having your mind blown. So, grab a ticket, and go get your mind blown.

 

 

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Woman Before a Glass @ Jermyn Street Theatre

17 January – 3 February, 2018

by Lanie Robertson
Directed by Austin Pendleton (Recreated by Tom McClane-Williamson)
Performed by Judy Rosenblatt

Woman Before A Glass - Lane Robertson - Jermyn Street Theatre - Judy Rosenblatt as Peggy Guggenheim

Photography by Robert Workman

Directed by the Pulitzer-prize-winning Austin Pendleton, the play is a based-on-a-true-story one-woman show about Peggy Guggenheim, a larger-than-life iconoclast and millionaire art patron who ushered modern art into the world and most of the artists into her bed.

It’s an amazing story about an incredible woman, filled with drama, legacy, and unabashed character.  She wallows delightedly in gossip, natters and chats away while the details of a very full life are unveiled about her.

A fascinating and witty script breathed lovingly to life by Judy Rosenblatt. It’s a truly memorable performance from an actor with an impressive resume covering two continents. It’s become a rare thing to see older actresses in leading roles, especially in Off-West End/fringe theatre. It’s a fact which seems even more of a tragedy after seeing the talent and character Rosenblatt brings to the table.

As a script it does have its issues. It’s a little longer than it probably should be, features several of characters who arrive and hover just off stage, never seen. As a performance device it sometimes works brilliantly, filling out the world and giving Peggy Guggenheim people to flirt with, coax, and berate. At other times the often-lengthy one-sided conversations feel a bit silly, as insubstantial as the air they’re held with.

A show worth the ticket, and a memorable start to a promising season at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

 

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Bunny, Fabricate Theatre @ Tristan Bates Theatre

15 – 27 January, 2018

by Jack Thorne
Director Lucy Curtis
Performed by Catherine Lamb

Bunny 4 credit Michael Lindall

Photography by Michael Lindall

After her boyfriend has his ice cream ruined by a passing cyclist, school-girl Katie (Catherine Lamb) finds herself on the wrong side of town, caught between her longing to be loved and the need to settle the score.

Jack Thorne (SkinsHarry Potter & the Cursed Child) has written a brilliantly dark and human piece with a rocketing pace. It’s funny, dangerous, and deeply compelling, with Catherine Lamb’s stunning performance at it’s centre.

She’s created a fully dimensional human being, bloodthirsty and complicated, with a rabbit-in-headlights vulnerability that’s utterly engrossing and often moving.

Caught in an overpoweringly masculine world, and unsure what to do with her life, we watch as the situation spirals into increasingly uncomfortable and confronting situations. Though it took a while for me to settle into the style, by the end of the play I found myself on the edge of my seat, emotional, and entirely invested.

Dynamically directed by Lucy Curtis, the play is full of movement and energy. Simply designed but to great effect, it’s a great story well-told. It bounces erratically between moments of triumph, shame, hilarity, and powerlessness.

It’s hard to look away.

 

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<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/198650527″>Bunny Trailer</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user21744453″>Catherine Lamb</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

The Claim (Tour) – Five stars!

22 November, 2017 – 2 February, 2018 (Tour)

by Tim Cowbur
Directed by Mark Maughan

16 – 26 January, 2018 (London)

https://www.theclaimshow.co.uk/

The Claim, UK Tour - Ncuti Gatwa and Nick Blakeley (courtesy of Paul Samuel White)

Photography by Paul Samuel White

 

This isn’t going to like my usual reviews because I don’t want to give ANYTHING away.

Don’t research the play. Don’t look it up. Just go and experience it blind.

Trust me.

I can’t bare being anything but vague at the moment. The play contains such a journey in tone and experience that I feel the best way to see it is to encounter every high and low as the protagonist does.

It’s important, relevant theatre; incredibly entertaining, wonderfully written, and impeccably acted.

WHAT MORE CAN YOU WANT!

Clever design and seamless direction.

Writer Tim Cowbur is a genius.

Ncuti Gatwa, Nick Blakeley, and Yusra Warsama shine.

It’s absurd. It’s heart-breaking. It’s hilarious.

It made me angry.

It’s the sort of play that I started reviewing plays to see.

 

Go book your tickets now, okay?

 

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TOUR DATES

Tickets (London)

Upcoming cities –
Canterbury | 29 Jan 2018
Glasgow | 31 Jan 2018

Newcastle upon Tyne | 2 Feb 2018

Interview with director David Loumgair – Tiny Dynamite @ the Old Red Lion

Director David Loumgair on Tiny Dynamite by Abi Morgan.
9 January – 3 February, 2018
Old Red Lion Theatre

Read our review of the show here: https://wp.me/p93PYe-Bd

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What originally attracted you to work on Tiny Dynamite?

When I first read Tiny Dynamite, which was almost seven years ago now, I completely fell in love with the play and couldn’t quite get my head around why nobody had revived it since the original staging. What kept bringing me back to it was the countless layers of meaning that Abi has woven throughout it, and the complex relationship that she builds between the three characters.

In many of the plays I read, most of the questions that are asked throughout are answered by the end, and all the uncertainties are explained. But Abi does something incredibly brave with Tiny Dynamite, and leaves so much unanswered and so much unspoken. What isn’t written into the dialogue is equally as important as what is written, and there is a clear layer of subtext which allows an audience to read into the silences what they choose.

 

Niall Bishop and Eva-Jane Willis in Tiny Dynamite, by Richard Davenport (2)

Photography (c) by Richard Davenport


Abi Morgan’s writing is often compared to Caryl Churchill’s, how do you find working on a piece that can be so ambiguous? What were the challenges?

One of the main challenges I found as a director was allowing myself to not need to answer all these questions that the text raises. There is huge amount of magic, mystery and miracle throughout the play which you can either try to rationalise or just accept and believe in.

At the beginning of rehearsals, and as we were gaining a stronger sense of the characters, we were attempting to answer some of the questions the play throws up. But when we opened the door to believing in the magic there was so much more to explore, and it’s brilliant that the text allows each audience member to interpret different meanings through those unanswered questions.

I think that was part of Abi’s intention, and why she is so often compared to Caryl Churchill, because she describes Tiny Dynamite as a play about knowing when to take responsibility for your life, and those moments when you have to just step back and let a miracle happen. It’s a gesture that extends both to an audience, but also to us as a company, that we just sometimes just have to step back and leave some things unanswered.

 

Tanya Fear and Eva-Jane Willis in Tiny Dynamite, by Richard Davenport (2)

What are you most excited about audiences experiencing when watching the show?

Well there’s so much I’m excited about audiences seeing, but I’m particularly excited about the breath-taking set our designer, Anna Reid, has created. The core of the play is the immensely traumatic event that the two childhood friends experience, which seeps into every crack and every silence between the characters, so Anna and I spent a long time discussing how we could physically represent this through the design.

We quickly realised that water is the key element of this trauma, and there is a very clear relationship between water and electricity that runs throughout the rest of the play, so it instinctively felt like the right language to use.

This relationship creates an innate sense of risk and danger for the characters, which Anna and I wanted to extend the feeling of to the audience. It’s an exciting but daunting challenge, because you so rarely see vast amounts of water used in fringe theatre, but it’s a challenge which Anna has thrown herself at and created something absolutely astounding from.

 

Niall Bishop, Tanya Fear and Eva-Jane Willis in Tiny Dynamite, by Richard Davenport (4)

The play was originally performed very physically with Frantic Assembly, is that something you’ve aimed to rediscover in your staging of it?

There’s definitely an innate sense of movement that runs throughout the play, and my understanding is that Frantic Assembly worked closely with Abi to develop the text during its original staging, so it’s clear that physicality was a key element of their production in 2001-3.

That physicality is something I’ve aimed towards re-discovering, but have been very conscious of not trying to re-create. I wanted our revival to have its own style of movement, and I have an astounding Movement Director on board, Natasha Harrison, who has worked closely and collaboratively with the actors to build a language that we’ve then woven throughout the production.

The very subtle but emotionally-connected movement we’ve developed has elevated the scenes so much more than I expected, and there’s a lot the actors have been able to discover about their characters through this movement.

Niall Bishop, Tanya Fear and Eva-Jane Willis in Tiny Dynamite, by Richard Davenport (3)

 

Has your background as a dramaturg effected how you approach plays? How do you use dramaturgy when you’re working?

Absolutely. You might have noticed I use the word ‘language’ quite a lot, which the actors will not let me live down during rehearsals…

Dramaturgy in British theatre has always been a minefield, as there as so many different interpretations of the role, and many creatives don’t actually fully understand what a dramaturg does. I could spend hours talking about it, and I often run workshops that explore the craft, but essentially my approach as a dramaturg is production-based rather than text-based, where a lot of British dramaturgy focuses.

Essentially the way I use dramaturgy, specifically on Tiny Dynamite, is by maintaining a consistency of visual, metaphorical and stylistic languages. As an example, the language of our movement is drawn from the ebb-and-flow of the ocean, and I would describe it as being akin to tidal, so that is something I need to consistently maintain as a gesture throughout the whole production or the framework crumbles.

I’d recommend keeping an eye out for my workshops on dramaturgy if anyone’s interested in developing a career as a dramaturg!

 

Niall Bishop, Tanya Fear and Eva-Jane Willis in Tiny Dynamite, by Richard Davenport

Any advice for aspiring theatre professionals?

Without hopefully sounding morose, it is getting harder and harder to work in the arts because of continual funding cuts, rising rents in London where a lot of opportunities are concentrated (although this is rapidly changing), and the ever-increasing cost of staging even the most stripped-back of work.

My advice would be to find your allies, and not to be afraid of collaboration. Supporting others is what opens doors to be supported yourself, and because of all the pressures I mention above it can often feel like a race or a competition to ‘make it’.

There are a lot of deeply-rooted barriers for artists from a range of disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds, and I think we are already starting to see positive change, but finding support amongst your peers will allow you to keep more stable and in more positive mental health, and will enable you to seek advice when it is needed.

 

Eva-Jane Willis in Tiny Dynamite, by Richard Davenport.JPG

It’s a bit of a tradition for my blog to ask this in interviews, but aside from Tiny Dynamite what’s a book/production/piece of art/film you think more people should see?

I hope that almost everybody has already seen it, but the film ‘Moonlight’ released last year, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, was an absolute game-changer for me.

It’s not only a breath-taking film and piece of art that explores such an under-exposed relationship between sexuality, masculinity and race, but it has had such an impact on the types of films that we’re now seeing being commissioned and developed. I think it’s something that everyone should see.

 


Read our review of the show here: https://wp.me/p93PYe-Bd

Tiny Dynamite by Abi Morgan
9 January – 3 February, 2018
Old Red Lion Theatre

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@davidloumgair

 

Tiny Dynamite, Time Productions @ the Old Red Lion

9 January – 3 February, 2018

by Abi Morgan
Directed by David Loumgair

Read our interview with director David Loumgair – https://wp.me/p93PYe-ARtheatrebox.blog

Niall Bishop and Eva-Jane Willis in Tiny Dynamite, by Richard Davenport

Photography (c) by Richard Davenport

Two childhood friends are away on a holiday, bound together by a shared and tragic past. While away, they meet an alluring stranger that threatens to expose everything.

Ambiguous in its meaning and plot, it’s an odd show that explores the difference between miracles and accidents. A beautiful drama that unfolds in snatches between transitions of rumbling static and synth music, often veering off into stories of freak accidents told by the characters. Morgan’s language (wistfully talked about by Loumgair in our interview)  is poetic, and lovingly breathed by the actors.

Niall Bishop’s performance as the erratic Anthony is engaging and animated. He has a similar wide-eyed vulnerability to that which Mark Rylance pulls off so well on occasion. Eva-Jane Willis (Luce) is strong contrast, would up so tight you expect something to snap. Balancing the dynamic is the grounded and nuanced performance of Tanya Fear, whose composure and stillness is striking.

The design is stunning, creatively used and wonderfully constructed. It places you into the scene and brings the world alive while simultaneously providing a inspired and dynamic space for the actors to use. In-built swimming pool included.

Though not for everyone, it has some great moments. I’m not sure I understood it all, but like Loumgair said, I’m not sure that we need to.

Well worth the trip for a thought provoking evening of theatre.

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East, Atticist @ King’s Head Theatre

10 January – 3 February, 2018

by Steven Berkoff
Directed by Jessica Lazar

(c) Alex Brenner

(c): Photography by Alex Brenner

Steven Berkoff’s East is a play that you can just imagine knocking people’s socks off during its debut in 1975, and still has a powerful relevance to today. It’s a riotous and profanity fuelled comedy, and a brutal take on growing up and living in London’s East End.

It’s a roar of cockney working-class dissatisfaction. Everything is heightened. The language, the characters, the emotion, the comedy. Written in a Shakespearean-like verse, Berkoff’s writing is often beautiful, often moving, and sometimes occasionally incomprehensible (in the best traditions of verse), but deftly brought to life by an exceptionally talented cast.

Jack Condon (Les) gives an exceptionally expressive and empathetic performance to an otherwise often distasteful character, while his brother Mike (James Craze) and Dad (Russell Barnett) ooze presence and hyper-masculinity.

The highlights of the show are the wonderful monologues. Hilarious, human, and often disturbing. Particularly moving was Boadicea Ricketts’ (Sylv) diatribe against patriarchal power and double standards which felt straight from heart, and sadly is not a monologue that has lost its poignancy. She gives a performance throughout the show that beautifully balances strength and sensuality with moments of touching vulnerability.

Not to be left out is Debra Penny (Mum), whose monologue was my favourite part of the show. It’s hilarious and vulgar and I’m not going to forget it in a hurry.

Jessica Lazar’s direction is energetic and vibrant, youthful and clever. The action is physical and slick, while also being layered and engaging.

I felt a little alienated by the play however, and struggled to connect with the piece and its characters outside isolated moments. This surprised me, since I enjoyed all the elements of the performance individually. I suspect it owes something to my being a recent immigrant and not quite understanding the many British references. Some of the biggest laughs went right over my head. Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the show as a great one to see with a drink and a mate.

 

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The Crystal Egg, Old Lamp Entertainment @ The Vaults

6 – 13 January

Based on a story by H. G. Wells
Directed by Elif Knight
Adapted by Mike Archer
Produced by Luisa Guerreiro, Rebekah Harvey, Mike Archer & Old Lamp Entertainment

Miryana Ivanova 1

Photos by Miryana Ivanova

In this chilling adaption of the H. G. Wells’ short story, the author is confronted by a man with a strange story to tell, a tragic and twisted tale that spawns from the inheritance of a seemingly innocent crystal egg.

The short story from the mind behind The War of the Worlds and the Invisible Man is a brilliant one, and the adaption is wonderfully staged. Walking down the long corridor entrance in the Vaults is like strolling back in time, suddenly you’re being jovially greeted by a plodding copper or being bustled by woman in a 19th century dress, and from there you’re seamlessly plunged down the rabbit hole. The immersive elements are wonderful, you’re beckoned into their world and the actors do a fantastic job in making you feel involved.

Alas, this lasts all too briefly and as more of an introduction to the main meat of the show which is more classically staged, albeit with incredibly elaborate set and multimedia design work. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the elaborate set and design work, but it felt like a missed opportunity after the ensemble was so well introduced to have them so thoroughly snatched away.

The show was still immensely entertaining, the story is gripping vintage sci-fi, and the performers are an utter pleasure to watch. Desmond Carney (the woe-begotten Charley Wace), Edwin Flay (H. G. Wells), and Mark Parsons (Mr Cave) all bring powerful, characterful and earnest performances.

The same can be said about Jessica Boyde (Mrs Cave) and Carolina Main (Ann-Jacoby), while Vincent La Torre gives a particularly memorable and charismatic performance as the mysterious foreigner Bosso-Kuni.

The shows intensity is a problem. It occasionally encounters the trap that most dark work has, and the unrelenting grimness can lose its edge and become a grind. As Cave’s madness grows we are given little respite or change in dynamic within the slow decent. Parsons’ performance is convincing, nuanced and likable (at least at first). However, the madness began to drag for me. I found myself impatient for the next plot point, perhaps a problem that might be expected when expanding a short story to a full-length show.

It didn’t help that the chair I sat on was not kind to me. To future viewers, see if you can find one with a cushion!

All in all though, I thought it was bloody terrific.

A wonderful first show of my 2018, and worth seeing!

 

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Macbeeth, Red Squash Theatre @ Hen & Chickens Theatre

12 – 16 December

by William Shakespeare (sort of)
Produced by Red Squash Theatre

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A satirical production of the Scottish Play, streamlined down to one hour, three actors and significant silliness.

It’s like a Horrible Histories Shakespeare production, some ridiculous parody humour whilst still staying true, for the most part, to quite a traditional interpretation of the play. It makes for enjoyable and very easy-to-watch pub theatre.

The cast, Rory Fairbairn, Holly McFarlane, and Alexander Tol, all exhibit some quite talented dramatic performances between slapstick gags and monologuing ravens. McFarlane in particular delivers an incredibly strong Lady Macbeth that would be praised in a more tragic production.

What was a bit strange for me is how much of the original text was kept in the play as-is. Macbeth’s “to be thus is nothing” speech, for example, and several other monologues were kept almost completely intact from the original Shakespeare without parody.

Other choices also confused me a bit. The naturally comic and vulgar Porter, whom I’d have thought would be a natural target of satire was cut completely, while the overly-expositional scenes between the lords/watchmen were kept in their entirety.

The show had some fantastic moments of comedy. It was at its best the more self-aware it was. The more meta and tongue-in-cheek the greater were the laughs. It has the seeds of something brilliantly Mel Brooksian, but on the whole was oddly reverent for a production with a talking cauldron and sock puppets.

Still, it was undeniably fun.

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