REVIEW! Love and Misinformation @ Drayton Arms

Created and directed by Stephen Davidson
Produced by Presence Theatre Collective

Performed by Avril Poole, Carla Keen, Chloe Kennedy, Invi Brenna, Jon Nguyen, Juwel Haque, Karo Kriks, Leander Vyvey, Maria Skolozynska, Olivia Gibbs-Fairley
21 – 25 May, 2019

It’s tricky to write about a production like Love and Misinformation. It’s an improvised play, so I can’t really mention anything about the plot, costumes or music – there weren’t any. I can say it’s distinct from a lot of improv shows in that they’re not just going for gags – there certainly are gags, but comedy is not the point of this show.

Conceived as an homage to Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, wherein fifteen actors play 100 characters in 50 scenes, Presence Theatre’s cast of ten experienced improvisers create countless characters in scenes that ranged from shockingly brief to painfully awkward. The scenes don’t form any particular plot – but as the show progresses, it develops a clear theme: connection and communication. There are hints at larger stories and references to things that may have never happened, ones that got away or refused to leave, people bumping into each other and trying to remember if they’ve met – it’s maddening to try to figure out links between characters played by actors who might not know either. Was I reading too much into something? Maybe! But maybe so was one of the performers in that scene! We’re all trying to figure out what’s going on together.

Theatre is about making meaning, and this production really encourages us to not only make our own meaning but question how that meaning is made, how we understand any social situations, and interactions, any media.

The show I saw was a preview for an upcoming Fringe run, and of course, it will undergo changes every time it is performed – maybe it will be tighter, maybe it will be looser. The cast were charismatic, though we barely spend enough time with any of them to get a handle on their strengths. Some actors seemed a little at sea – but aren’t we all, in this day and age? Isn’t it only right to be baffled by the world?

If this sounds a little vague, Love and Misinformation might not be the show for you. But, if you’re interested in a truly unique show, one that makes you reconsider some of your assumptions about relationships and society, definitely check it out.

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Previous review: Summer Street: The Hilarious Aussie Soap Opera Musical @ Waterloo East Theatre

Two, Clueless Theatre @ Drayton Arms Theatre

Written by Jim Cartwright
Directed by Kyle Cluett
Performed by Debbie Griffiths & Piers Newman
At Drayton Arms Theatre 10th – 11th June, 2018

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This was some of the best pub theatre I’ve seen in a while! This minimalistic production of Cartwright’s classic, two-person, quintessentially English play hits all the right notes. The intimate theatre space is perfect to help the audience feel like the denizens of a cosy Northern pub, and as the play progresses various characters talk to and banter with us, as if we were sat around the room on bar stools rather than theatre seats.

Two may only feature two actors, but through the course of the performance we encounter fourteen different characters, comprising:

  • a jealously abusive man and his clearly traumatised partner;
  • a lost young boy;
  • a woman with a lust for macho men and her partner who is…not;
  • a conflicted Other Woman;
  • an old man dealing with the loss of his wife;
  • an old woman dealing with the ageing presence of her husband;
  • a sleazy would-be Casanova and his long-suffering would-be fiance;
  • the most adorable elderly couple wearing matching beanies and sweaters; and
  • the landlord and landlady.

These last pair are our hosts, commentators, protagonists, framing devices, and also form the through-thread which keeps the play from pointless meandering. Right from the beginning, their banter has a bite to it, an edge of bitterness which hints at more under the surface. Piece by piece, interspersed between encounters with other bargoers, the ugly wound at the heart of their marriage is revealed to us.

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Both Debbie Griffiths and Piers Newman reveal themselves to be consummate artists and talented character actors throughout their many roles in this piece. Griffiths in particular has an excellent sense for comic timing, and Newman almost brought me to heartache tears during his monologue as the lonely old widower. Both actors have an excellent feel for all of their roles, creating a wide range of strongly characterised yet nuanced personalities, all while keeping the rough honesty of working-class Northern culture. It is clear that both actors, and director Kyle Cluett, understand the play completely on all its levels, and I got the feeling that their artistic choices only improved on the value of the script (which did occasionally show hints of contrivance and cliche, as well as being slightly dated by its 80s provenance, and sometimes suffered from an ambition to touch on so many complex topics that it was unable to properly explore them).

My only criticism of the production is entirely superficial: the stage setting included a high school gym-esque basketball court, with big cutout letters strewn over the floor and walls. I gathered eventually that these were incidental, possibly belonging to a previous or subsequent production, but I did waste a certain amount of brainspace trying to figure out the significance of this apparent set design! (EDIT: I have since been informed that Two is sharing the space with a concurrent run of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. This checks out.)

Clueless Theatre’s Two is on tour and will be performing at both the Camden and Edinburgh Fringe festivals in August; for more information, see here. This production may not be groundbreaking in terms of content or style, but it is one of the few pieces of theatre which manage to capture a glimpse of what it means to be human – both the good, and the bad. I definitely recommend it.

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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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