REVIEW! Chutney, Flux Theatre @ The Bunker

Writer: Reece Connolly
Producers: Flux Theatre & Zoe Weldon

Director: Georgie Staight
Cast: Isabel Della-Porta and Will Adolphy
6 November – 1 December 2018

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Images ©Rah Petherbridge Photography

Claire and Gregg are young, attractive, and successful. They have their own place with a spacious backyard, a stylish modern kitchen, a spare bedroom, and a John Lewis blender. He teaches English at the local school, she works a 9-5 (well, more like 8:30-6 and sometimes weekends) office job, and together they cook vegetarian meals, drink wine, watch telly, and brutally kill neighbourhood pets in the dead of night. The question is: is it true that couples who murder together, stay together?

Chutney is a black comedy with a white set, and the ethics of its narrative are pretty black-and-white to match: animal cruelty is wrong, and Claire and Gregg are basically evil, no matter how much they assert that they are simply ‘good people who do bad things’. And yet, they are shockingly, hilariously, relatably normal people, grappling with the challenges and mundanities of modern life. This is most evident in Claire, who is bored of her job and scornful of her colleagues, for all that she wants to impress them. When a workmate gifts her a kitschy singing fish for her birthday, its refrain – 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton – kicks off an existential panic attack: is this all life is? Working 9-5? Ticking boxes, keeping up appearances, saving up for an orangery? What the fuck even is an orangery, anyway??

Isabel Della-Porta is absolutely phenomenal as Claire. She is at once every go-getter young professional I’ve ever worked with (or for), a chilling Lady-Macbeth-slash-Cruella-de-Vil, and even myself when at my darkest and most morbid. I am reminded strongly of assassin Villanelle (portrayed by Jodie Comer) in BBC America’s recent series Killing Eve; both actors manage to create characters with fascinating capacities for viciousness and vulnerability, seductiveness and savagery, intelligence and insensitivity. Della-Porta moves like a shark around the stage, perfectly in control of the space and her character down to every syllable and facial twitch. Will Adolphy as Gregg is pulled along in her wake – accomplice, consort, subject, partner – and evokes the perfect mixture of pity and scorn in the audience as he sinks lower and lower into depravity trying to please her. He knows she is free-falling, and all he wants is to fall with her. Their chemistry is magnetic.

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Images ©Rah Petherbridge Photography

Both actors – as well as voice actor Rosalind McAndrew, who plays the narrator (Bertha the singing fish, don’t question it) – are brilliantly directed by Georgie Staight. I also have only good things to say of the various creative designers (Jasmine Swan on set and costume, Matt Cater on lighting, and Ben Winter on sound), whose contributions are crisp, effective, clever, and beautifully complement the script.

And of course the script, from up-and-coming writer Reece Connolly, is bitingly funny and ferociously intelligent. The dialogue crackles and the mood ricochets between hilarity, brutality, and desperate pathos. The satire of modern society and life is cutting without being patronising, and the thematic questions are explored with insight and self-awareness. In an increasingly artificial world, are we out of touch with our own human natures, and if so, is that such a bad thing? Are we all so concerned with maintaining a perfect facade that we are sacrificing all structural integrity, and crumbling as a result? How can we find meaning and stability in lives which seem increasingly hollow and precarious? Does anyone really connect anymore? Is ground-up bone meal really a good fertiliser for hanging plants?

Get yourself down to The Bunker Theatre, and you might just find out.

Tickets

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Previous review: Mirabel by Chris Goode @ Ovalhouse

BURGERZ by Travis Alabanza @ Hackney Showroom

Written and performed by Travis Alabanza
Directed by Sam Curtis Lindsay

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Lightly wrapped in a theatre craft exterior, BURGERZ is hard-hitting confessional performance. The pain here is real pain, the plea for help a genuine plea for help, and the accusations of society inescapable.

Alabanza invites the audience into their world, cleverly weaving a burger recipe into an elaborate metaphor for (parts of) the transgender experience. It’s two parts painful and one part playful, which is one part more playful than the particular experiences being relayed. The beauty, however, is in the balance. There is enough breathing space created through moments of comedy, of empowerment, and even surrealism, for those moments of deep discomfort to properly land.

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To help, one audience member joins the otherwise sole performer on stage for the majority of the show. It’s ambitious, and no doubt could be disruptive if the audience member can’t handle the tension, but our chosen representative served dutifully as sous-chef and co-performer. The dynamic created on the night was a successful shift towards something like a dialogue, ranging from friendly banter right through soul searching discussion and even to blunt accusation.

Perhaps most impressive and memorable are the moments in which the relationship moves beyond performer-audience to one between human and humans. Alabanza gives a heart wrenchingly personal portrayal, and I highly encourage anyone who has never quite related to a trans person to come see the show (as well as everyone else).

If you think transphobia has nothing to do with you, it’s time to wake up and smell the burgers.

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19 – 20 Oct; Ovalhouse, London Tickets
23 Oct – 3 Nov; Hackney Showroom, London | Tickets
14 – 17 Nov; Royal Exchange, Manchester | Tickets
Running Time: 1hr | Suitable for ages 14 +

 

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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Frankenstein, Tea Break Theatre @ Sutton House

Read the interview with writer/director Katharine Armitage.

Written and Directed by Katharine Armitage
Featuring Jeff Scott, Molly Small, Jennifer Tyler, Chris Dobson, Katy Helps. 
17 October – 3 November 2018

Frankenstein, Sutton House - Courtesy of John Wilson (4)200 years after it was first published by a teenage girl writing under a pseudonym, Frankenstein finally gets the women it deserves.

The show in many ways feels like what Peter Jackson is going for with his recent project of colourising and dubbing WW1 footage. Mary Shelley’s novel finds new life, colour and dimension in this innovative immersive, in-situ production.

The gothic tale begins with pop-rock streaming from a tinny cassette player, welcoming us to the world of the real-life squatters who occupied Sutton House during the 1980s. Clever scripting weaves together the three layers of stories – that of the squatters, of Mary Shelley, and of Frankenstein – and before you know it you’re in the story.

By ‘in the story’, I do mean in the story. The immersive elements embed the audience not just in the house, but within the home of the Frankensteins. Never allowed to become too comfortable, each audience group follows different actors around the house, and like the characters themselves we only see windows into the world. Despite some ‘dead time’ (forgive the pun) created by this, it felt like an orchestra in which you get to know the flute player as a human rather than just an instrument.

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The biggest ‘pop’ of reality, however, comes from what director Katharine Armitage calls “finding the women”. Commendations must go to Katy Helps (Justine) and Jennifer Tyler (Elizabeth) for rescuing the female characters from the constraints of the 19th century, and to Molly Small (The Creature) for a performance that carried the extra burden of a gender layer to the questions raised about monstrosity, creation and destruction.

Although occasionally unsubtle in its delivery, this production of Frankenstein is nonetheless a wonderful and innovative adaptation that is recommended to everyone from the life-long Frankenstein fans to those whose only pre-existing image is of a green man with a bolt through his neck.

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Tickets

Truth, Helen Chadwick Theatre @Southbank Centre

Created by Helen Chadwick
Directed by Stephen Hoggett
Performed by Victoria Couper, Krystian Godlewski, Liz Kettle, Helen Chadwick
Presented by Helen Chadwick Song Theatre and November Productions
Co-commissioned by Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Touring the UK until March 2019

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Image by Toby Farrow

Truth is a devised musical performance. Four performers deliver an exquisite hour-length choral performance of intricate and ever-shifting melody. The ensemble is reminiscent of a Greek chorus that gather to share the ‘testimonials’ collected by researcher and creator Helen Chadwick. It’s a little bit like an evening of short stories. Each scene unfolds a little world where a character shares their experience of deceit, dishonesty or delusion.

The stories are told through a creative combination of melody, lyric and gesture. Occasionally the highly-choreographed movement and inclusion of lights as props compete with the narrative at hand, but for the most part, it’s an absorbing and affective spectacle.

Unfortunately, while the nuance given to the technical execution of the production is impeccable, this highly conceptual show fails to deliver a coherent message.

“Truth” is a challenging topic, and the impulse to explore a big idea through the microcosm of personal stories makes sense at first glance, but the attempt to tie a collection of disparate human stories together with the common thread of ‘deceit’ is a tenuous strategy.

I felt particularly uneasy about the conflation of highly contextual human experiences, several of which involved trauma, being bundled into the same framework. For instance, an account from a victim of sexual abuse, a petty disagreement over a recipe between a couple, a worker lying on their resume and an individual experiencing gender dysphoria are all described by the chorus as ‘lying to oneself.’

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Image by Toby Farrow

Generalisations about the truth itself also felt problematic. A recurrent lyric was “never be afraid to raise your voice for truth”, delivering the sweeping conclusion that the truth (whatever that topic may be) should always be voiced regardless of the context of the situation.

Do we not lie for the ones we love? To protect ourselves? Because we have no other choice? The truth is not always beautiful, safe to tell, nor does confronting it necessarily set one free. Truth tells stories that demonstrate all these complexities, but the intricacies become lost and the core message incoherent.

I was left feeling unsure as to whether the ensemble was aware that the truth is so simple it can be reduced to platitudes, or whether they hoped to convey that it is so complex and highly contextual that we can’t pin it down. For what it’s worth, I think it is the latter.

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La Tragedie de Carmen, Pop Up Opera @ The Asylum, Peckham

Written by Georges Bizet
Arranged and Adapted by Peter Brook, Marius Constant and Jean-Claude Carriere
Stage Direction by John Wilkie
Musical Direction by Berrak Dyer
20th September – 23 October 2018

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Carmen by Pop Up Opera is a streamlined and impressive show. Running at one hour twenty, boasting a cast of only four singers and a pianist, this adaptation has trimmed the fat of Bizet’s tragedy, to its credit.

Each singer is classically trained and fills the old chapel with clear, strong and occasionally heart wrenching voices. It is exceptional to experience a performance of such vocal strength in a room so perfectly designed for carrying song – and the first act was lit by the sunset through stained glass windows.

The space isn’t always to their benefit though – sight lines for those behind the second row were impaired and fight choreography was hampered by the small, raised stage, coming across as awkward whenever there were more than two bodies on it. The staging was assisted by back projections providing historical context and silhouetted dumbshows, which was clever if a little overused.

The updating of the setting to the Spanish Civil War, along with the stripping of the libretto, really focuses of the emotional devastation of each character – they are all so clearly seeking connection in a cruel world.

Despite the fact that opera isn’t really about the acting, it was clear that the soldiers, tenor Satriya Krisna and baritone James Corrigan, were stronger actors than their female colleagues, conveying rage, despair and love more convincingly than Carmen (Chloe Latchmore, mezzo soprano) and Micaela (Alice Privett, soprano) – though again, each vocal performance was impeccable. The pianist imbued the simplified arrangement with a great deal of emotion – together with the cast carrying the weight of the huge, famous score.

This is a beautiful production of Bizet’s famous opera, appropriate for opera aficionados and first timers alike.

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I Will Miss You When You’re Gone, Starbound Theatre @ Hen & Chickens Theatre

Written by Jessica Moss
Directed by Yuqun Fan
Produced by Rebecca Dilg
Performed by Paulina Brahm, Marta da Silva, Sharon Drain, and Tammie Rhee
18 – 29 September 2018

Petra Eujane Photography - Marta da Silva, Tammie Rhee, Paulina Brahm (1)

Rehearsal image by Petra Eujane

I Will Miss You When You’re Gone is a new play written by Canadian playwright Jessica Moss. Starring four women and a roomba, this 75-minute piece follows two living characters, Robin and Celeste, who are being haunted by their erstwhile colleague Evelyn and Celeste’s mother Theresa – but not necessarily in that order. A comedy which is alternately dark and sweet, this play explores such heavy topics as suicide, grief, depression, anxiety, isolation, and workplace bullying.

As is usual in pub theatre, the set was small and simple, which worked well for this intimate and personal story, and increased the effectiveness of artistic touches such as the costuming of living characters in sterile white but dead ones in vibrant colours. The soft Canadian accents and quips about Toronto made for a refreshing change of setting. However, the heavily 60s-styled costumes contrasting with references to BuzzFeed and Game of Thrones threw me somewhat. Similarly distracting were the frequent scene changes – often abrupt, awkward, and graceless, with very little in the way of transition. This could have easily been alleviated by simple use of sound, lighting, and/or movement, and is something that director Yuqun Fan should remedy for future productions.

The highlight of this show is definitely its excellent cast. Marta da Silva as Evelyn was the standout performance, channeling a fierce Gina Linetti vibe and juggling both pathos and comedic snark. Tammie Rhee was also excellent as the bureaucratic boss Robin, and Sharon Drain brought a wonderfully warm presence to the stage as mother Theresa. Although not as strong as her castmates, Paulina Brahm provided a relatable character for a millennial audience in the form of Celeste, an underachieving, under-confident intern struggling to cope with adult life. I was, however, confused by whether this character was supposed to be developmentally delayed or not; her ineptitude, naivete, and lack of social abilities was regularly the butt of jokes, but Celeste herself angrily protests at one point that she’s “not retarded”. This casual throwaway use of a slur seemed at odds with a story about treating others with empathy, and being sensitive to issues of mental illness.

Petra Eujane Photography - Sharon Drain, Paulina Brahm

Rehearsal image by Petra Eujane

Overall, I Will Miss You When You’re Gone felt like a 75-minute riff on an interesting concept which wasn’t really developed enough to carry the length of the show. As a result, too many complex themes were introduced superficially as filler material, while plot holes and questions of world-building were left unanswered. However, this and the weak characterisation of the play’s central character were leavened somewhat by the excellent performances and compelling arcs of its supporting figures, as well as a number of clever gags. With some rewriting, condensing, and slicker directing, this show could be a very effective and enjoyable Fringe-sized piece.

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Oliver With a Twist, Shit-Faced Showtime @ Leicester Square Theatre

 Leicester Square Theatre- 5th-8th September 2018
Magnificent Bastard Productions
Directed by Katy Baker

Image of Shit-faced Showtime: Oliver with a Twist

Shit-Faced Showtime returns to the Leicester Square Theatre after a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe 2018. The sister company of the famous and outrageous Shit Faced Shakespeare (whose Merchant of Venice we reviewed last year) make their way through a slick one-hour version of Oliver, with some songs that may be dated ever so slightly out of the Victorian era thrown in on the way. As always, the show features one fabulously drunk (and quite brave) cast member.

This show is really really fun. As to be expected the show is a bit of a lottery as a different performer gets drunk every night. The night I went was the turn of Oliver to be drunk. She was a charming drunk despite throwing half eaten food into the audience which had the audience gasping and in stitches… apart from the man sitting beside me who seemed ever so slightly annoyed to have a half-eaten sausage land on his head but hey, that feeling that anything could happen adds to the magic of piece.

Another great thing about this show is that the singing is very, very good which surprised some audience members. A famous musical theatre song is sung beautifully by one character (I won’t spoil the surprise by revealing the song). It may be less beautiful if that certain character is drunk! Another standout moment was when Oliver claimed he was a descendant of Dame Maggie Smith, to great comedic effect. My only criticism is that Shit-Faced Showtime tends to overuse sexual innuendos as a cheap comedic fallback, and I feel bolder choices could be made from this talented cast.

Overall, a very entertaining show which the audience greatly enjoyed; it’s a long time since I’ve heard that many people in hysterics at the theatre! Don’t bring your granny, but Oliver With A Twist is a fun night out with friends.

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Dance Nation @ Almeida Theatre

27th August – 6th October 2018
Dance Nation  @ The Almeida Theatre
Written by Clare Barron
Directed by Bijan Sheibani

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Oh. My. God.

How AMAZING is it to see a female-dominated stage?

(Precursor: This will not be a rant review about this subject)

But genuinely, how unbelievably amazing, and surprising at this present time in the world, is it, to see a show on a main London theatre stage with the seesaw of gender balance teetering towards women? It’s shocking, really.

It is a more common thread now that I research as little as possible about shows before I see them.

Upon arriving at the Almeida, I picked up my ticket and programme and read through. An amazing forward written by Lyn Gardner (bless her reviewing socks) talking about women ‘taking up space’. I want to quote directly from this to set up what I witnessed on the Almeida stage.

‘In the very act of being performed, Dance Nation makes a stand by occupying space on stages which have historically been given over for the most part to male playwrights and male experience…… The young women in Dance Nation cannot be silenced. They fill up space and demand to be seen. You can shut your eyes, but they will still be there. They are not going away.’

Bloody hell, eh?

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The story of Dance Nation is reminiscent of any time you may have accidentally or not so accidentally watched ‘Dance Moms’. That trashy and brilliant tv show about preteens and their pushy mums in dance competitions.

Except this is told differently.

The story of pre-adolescence and growing up under the pressure of a dance world.

These young women’s stories are told in adult bodies. Which was an utterly brilliant choice as it made the story translatable, understandable and easier to connect to.

We have all been young children, confused and unsure and because these young girls were played by adult women, we could connect so much more deeply with the story.

The youth was genuine and not overemphasised. It was entirely believable.

All dance and movement was very basic but done exquisitely. We were not watching a West End musical. It wasn’t necessary. The expression and clarity in the movement and dance was all that was needed.

This is the beauty of simplicity in storytelling. You don’t need lots of costume changes and backdrops.

You don’t need bells and whistles when the human condition is performed and written so exquisitely.

The individual monologues (that were transitioned into so easily) were breathtaking. The one that stood out for me was Ashlee’s (performed by Kayla Meikle). A young girl afraid of her power. Afraid of her beauty. Afraid of her intelligence. Heartfelt and full of passion and fire. This performance was a punch to the gut and a slap across the face. How often as young girls were we made to feel like we had to make ourselves small or silence our fire under the male gaze?

I would be interested to have seen this show with a man, as I felt such a deep connection to this show having had the experience of being a young girl.

I loved this show on the whole. Simple, beautiful and completely challenging conceptions of being a young woman and facing life, sexuality and growing up.

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Tickets

Caterpillar, Alison Carr @ Theatre503

29 August – 22 September 2018

Writer: Alison Carr
Director: Yasmeen Arden
Producer: Michelle Barnette
Design: Holly Pigott
Lighting: Ben Jacobs
Sound: Jac Cooper
Cast: Judith Amsenga as Claire, Alan Mahon as Simon and Tricia Kelly as Maeve

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Small Truth Theatre premieres Alison Carr’s Caterpillar at Theatre503, a finalist of their 2016 Playwriting Award, with a continued run at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.

Caterpillar takes place at a closed seaside B&B run by grandmother Maevis who is recovering from a recent stroke that’s paralysed the left side of her body. Her daughter Claire has been living in to help look after her and seems unwilling to leave to return to her own life as a mother. Unexpectedly, guest Simon arrives late one night, to participate in a Red Bull style hang-gliding event taking over the town, the last request of his now dead girlfriend.

Set in Maeve’s living room, Holly Pigott’s naturalistic design is characterised by welcoming, coastal themed décor, all seemingly sourced from the local seaside gift shop, giving it a cosy but identifiably curated feel.

Alison Carr has an ear for natural dialogue and a knack for embedding comedy in her characters’ voices, offering up engaging, complex portraits of humanity. Yasmeen Arden’s quietly confident direction lets the charm and warmth of the text shine.

The production is a slow-burn, taking its time to introduce us to the world and unfurl the secrets at the heart of its characters. However, some of the darker reveals and decisions later in the piece feel unseeded in earlier action, especially stacked as they were in the second act.

The actors gave striking, well-drawn performances; credible and nuanced. Tricia Kelly as Maeve is a commanding combination of saucy humour and iron pragmatism, a vitality offset by the vulnerability of the character’s age and health issues. Alan Mahon disarms with a warm (later creepy) earnestness and Judith Amsenga assuredly balances tenderness, aggression and a biting wit.

Alison Carr’s writing finds fresh vision in familiar themes. I found the mother-daughter dynamic to be the strength of the piece: a mixture of loyalty, kind-cruelty, blindness and unmet expectations, and wish there had been greater attention given to this relationship as the linchpin of the play’s concerns, which sometimes felt unfocused. Caterpillar has interesting things to say about performative caring and reflects on constrictive roles both in and out of family structures.

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Tickets @ Theatre503

Additional performances:
27 – 29 September 2018                 Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough