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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GUY, Leoe&Hyde @ The Bunker

Music, Production by Stephen Hyde

Book, Lyrics by Leoe Mercer

Directed by Sam Ward

16 June – 7 July

GUY is a fun, fresh musical about friendship, love and Grindr. The music was slick, catchy computer pop – think SOPHIE and Sam Smith – and the lyrics were packed with word play and nerd references. It’s a minimalist show, with four actors, an almost empty set and a pre-recorded score but it does so much with this. Each actor displayed a polished, engaging performance – singing, dancing, deploying excellent comedic timing and dramatic chops. I couldn’t identify a stand out performer, since all four were strong talents who were a joy to watch.

It speaks to the the paucity of media by and for queer people, but it was relieving to see a story with no straight people in it. It’s not a story about homophobia or coming out or finding your identity, or even AIDS – all worthy stories to be sure, but it’s nice to see what’s essentially a gay rom-com. Which is not to say the story takes place in a queer utopia – Grindr, the story’s framing device, is famous for distilling racism, sexism and body dismorphia into the callous dismissal: “No fats, no femmes, no asians”. All these issues are identified and addressed in the show – there are shades of Cyrano De Bergerac in that so many characters feel they have to hide themselves from those they love due to perceived prejudice.

The show has the breezy positivity you want from a musical about falling in love, and the exceptional cast keep you engaged throughout an hour and a half run with very little lag. I recommend this show.

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Bismillah! (An ISIS Tragicomedy), Wound Up Theatre @ Pleasance Theatre

24th Apr – 13th May 2018
By Matthew Greenhough
Directed by Jonny Kelly

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The Downstairs theatre space at Pleasance Theatre is a temporary structure, and walking into it feels like entering a shipping container, or perhaps a bunker, which sets the mood well for this play which takes place in an ISIS interrogation cell. The thrust stage is mainly empty (vaguely wartime-looking debris littered around the edges) except for a man in ripped and stained Army-ish attire, handcuffed to a pole, with a black bag over his head. He is dancing along to Queen.

The audience settles in, chattering over the blaring music, only watching the pathetically dancing figure from the corners of our eyes. We cycle through a few tracks, and when the opening chords to I Wanna Break Free play, my friend chortles, “appropriate!” Then the actor starts to manically sing along. We discover there is a reason he’s in comedic theatre rather than musical.

The music is dramatically cut short, and the other actor enters: a glowering Middle Eastern man in guerilla combatwear, brandishing a pistol and some basic rations. The play proper begins, and the next 75 minutes are the best of my week, as I am expertly guided between laughter, sombre socio-political reflection, fear, tension, and emotional investment in the characters and their fates.

Before entering, I had some reservations about Bismillah! (An ISIS Tragicomedy). Making light of topics such as extremism, Islam, the war in Iraq, and West vs East is a risky business, and when written by and starring a white Englishman, I was concerned that the perspectives could be reductive and one-sided, punching down rather than up. These concerns proved to be completely unfounded. The play’s two characters laugh at each other and themselves in equal measure, and while both are clearly pining for home in England, at no point is the West held up as being inherently superior to the East. The distinction between radical Islam and actual, everyday Islam is made subtly but firmly. “Danny’s” experiences of racism and disenfranchisement in the UK are realistic and affecting, as are Dean’s feelings of economic insecurity and individual powerlessness in the 21st century world. A number of complex socio-political debates are touched upon with sensitivity and nuance, even between the dick jokes and pop culture references, and this play does not profess to hold all the answers, but it examines various perspectives with honesty and nuance. I had brought along a Northener friend as my plus one/cultural guide, who afterwards explained to me a number of the local references and insults which had gone over my Aussie head. In the end, my friend and I agreed that our only criticism of the show would be of the quality of its sound effects, but even that was very minor.

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Both actors shone in this production, especially writer-performer Matthew Greenhough. Ricocheting between comedy and tragedy, bants and terror, compassion and anger, the portrait he painted of an unrefined but good-hearted English lad was compelling and believable. At first I wasn’t totally convinced by Elliot Liburd’s portrayal of Danny – I thought his acting was somewhat overdone, and his constant frenetic energy came off as nervous – but as the play progressed and we learnt more about his character, I realised that these were probably conscious choices which meant that later when Danny’s mask began to drop, his vulnerability was all the more affecting. Liburd’s comedic skills, especially his facial acting, were excellent, veering just close enough to ridiculousness without being too absurd for the genre.

Watching Bismillah, I was forcibly reminded of a classic Australian play from the 60s called Norm and Ahmed, by New Wave playwright Alex Buzo. I think Buzo would agree with me that Bismillah is the 21st-century, English version of this same play, in terms of genre and format (back-and-forth between two men who are cultural and political opposites, but who find shared ground in common human experiences), a shocking ending (no spoilers!), and racial and political commentary. The main ideological difference is that Bismillah is about two young men: they are of the generation with the chance to define the future. The strains of terror, humanity, violence, anger, compassion, insecurity, and hilarity all intertwine with one of hope. Hope, for Dean’s survival and escape, Danny’s redemption, and for the future of the Earth and its warring inhabitants. Is this hope ill-placed? Is it too late for Dean, Danny, and for us? You’ll have to make your way to the Pleasance Theatre before Bismillah’s run is over to find out.

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The Nature of Forgetting, Theatre Re @ Shoreditch Town Hall

Review by Lauren Russell

24 – 28 April, 2018

by Theatre Re
Conceived & directed by Guillaume Pigé

The Nature of Forgetting, credit Danilo Moroni 2

Photography by Danilo Moroni

Tonight, at Shoreditch Town Hall, I watched one of the most tremendously moving pieces of theatre I have ever seen. ‘Theatre Re’ has hit the nail on the head with this physically astounding show ‘The nature of forgetting’.

A likeable, agile, committed cast of 4 performers, one of which conceived and directed this phenomenon; Guillaume Pigé, took the stage by storm and filled the space with contagious energy. They explored the raw essence of what it is to be human by delving into the mind of 55 year old Tom who has dementia. His memories vividly played out before us, from his mother prepping him for school, to his first kiss, his first love, his first loss.

Due to the play being utterly captivating throughout it is difficult to pin point the highlights as the energy never once dropped. However I particularly like the use of the bicycle, which comes when Tom remembers riding to school, and the way he and Isabelle (whom was played by the amiable Louise Wilcox), as school children, innocently play with one another. Their pure enjoyment on stage was certainly mirrored by the audience.

It has to be said, ‘The Nature of Forgetting’ had one of the greatest live soundtracks I have heard accompany such talented performers, composed by Alex Judd it was satisfyingly brilliant, and without such music the piece would not hold the same weight. Complicité was achieved through the perfectly organic connections from actors to the choreography to props to music to lighting. The complex mime sequences throughout were clear enough to understand regarding the storyline, yet were also wonderfully open to an individuals emotional interpretation (So glad there was no spoon-feeding malarkey).

Ultimately, this is not to be missed. I could have watched this show a thousand times over and still noticed something new. The whole audience was inspired; the young were motivated to create the greatest of memories, the old were reminded of their fondest moments. An incredible achievement to create something so physically intricate yet simply beautiful. ‘Theatre Re’ are certainly worth watching, and ‘The Nature of Forgetting’ is absolutely unforgettable.

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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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Madhouse re:exit, Access All Areas @ Shoreditch Town Hall

13 – 28 of March

Created by Access all Areas
Directed by Nick Llewellyn

MADHOUSE reexit, Shoreditch Town Hall, credit of Helen Murray (8)

Photography by Helen Murray

Everybody needs to see this show.

It is an outstanding piece of political theatre. Interesting, captivating, and heartbreaking.

MadHouse is created by Access All Areas, an award-winning theatre company who work with artists with learning disabilities. The show is an immersive show performed in Shoreditch Town Hall.

When I got to the venue, there was an interesting exhibition on Haperbury Hospital, an ex-hospital for people with learning disabilities. The facts and pictures were shocking, and it does raise questions as to why this history isn’t taught in schools. I was also given a leaflet to ‘Paradise Fields’, a new corporate care facility, some pages were scarily relevant to the modern world.

The audience were going on a tour of ‘Paradise Fields’. I have to admit I felt slightly scared going down to tour this care home, there was a very eerie atmosphere but a feeling of curiosity within the audience. As the audience were toured around the care home we were exposed to the glossy, creepy staff and rooms in the modern day care home. It all felt too good to be true and the audience were expecting and waiting to see what happened next. As the tour went on the audience were taken away from the tour guides by ‘The Escapist’ played by David Munns to be given a different tour of the shocking truths behind ‘Paradise Fields.’

As we continued to move around the space, we met five characters who all told there own stories about living in the care home and the stories also linked to the modern society we live in. These five characters were all captivating actors and the scenes were interesting, all very different and heart-breaking. All the different scenes were devised by the cast members based on the research for the play and there own experiences as learning disabled artists. My particular favourite were ‘The Goddess’ played by Imogen Roberts and ‘The Eater’ played by Dayo Koleosho. Both these scenes had an incredible concept and set design behind them which was very unique. The performers were also captivating and relatable.

There were some  pacing hiccups however. There were times when the audience were waiting for two minutes to be moved on. I felt that these needed to be faster so that the audience could stay in the world the show created.

Do not miss this show.

The immersive world the company has created is brilliant, as are the performances. The show makes the audience question England’s current society but also makes you question your own perceptions of people with learning disabilities.

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Dust, Milly Thomas @ Soho Theatre

Tuesday 20th February – Saturday 17th March

Written and performed by Milly Thomas.Directed by Sara Joyce.

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I have no words.

I left the show with no words.

My chest was heaving and my body was spasming.

Dust is ground breaking.

A life changing show.

Milly Thomas, has previously written A First World ProblemClick Bait and Brutal Cessation all performed at the Theatre503. Dust was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe 2017 winning the Stage Edinburgh Award and now transferring to the Soho Theatre.

A play about Alice, a young woman who has just committed suicide and now has to watch her family and friends in the aftermath of the event. Passing from memories that she is forced to relive then to Alice’s current discoveries of her family and friend’s life after her death.

Milly Thomas is highly skilled in flicking from sharp witted and truthful humour to pure darkness and heartbreak. The excellent contrast of light and darkness in this play makes a beautiful roller-coaster for the audience to ride on. Milly Thomas has balanced  it effortlessly.

Thomas has guts and courage as the pieces writer/performer. She speaks in brutal honesty and says the things we think in our heads and wish we could say out loud. Although personal, she made this a universal experience for the audience with her honest remarks and quips which is what made this show so utterly moving.

What is so impressive about this performance is, although it’s a one woman show with a minimalistic set by Anna Reid (comprising of three mirrors and a morgue table), it does not feel like it. Milly Thomas  brings the presence of other characters and different settings with her. She entirely transformed herself and the space with such ease.

This play will, and has, opened up a debate and conversation about mental health issues and suicide which I hope will continue.

And I hope this play continues onto more and greater spaces.

This is a show that EVERYONE needs to see.

A show that moves you to the very core, Milly Thomas has exposed the inner workings of mental health sufferers and found humour in the darkness.

Dust needs to be broadcast round the world.

If there was one show, you made sure you go and see this year, this would be it!

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The Moor, Rive Productions @ The Old Red Lion Theatre

6th February-3rd March 2018

by Catherine Lucie
Directed by Blythe Stewart

The Moor, Old Red Lion Theatre - Jill McAusland (courtesy of The Other Richard)_2_preview

I have a soft spot for pub theatre.

To compete with the elements, the space, the noise of the pub and the traffic and outside world. Fringe shows put together by people who are passionate about creating and putting together things with limited time or funding.

It always makes me feel like the girl who visited the Edinburgh Fringe at 15 years old and thought; ‘Phwoar! This is bloody exciting’

How then, have Rive Production’s ‘The Moor’ managed to expand and evolve the dimensions of the Old Red Lion Theatre to a vast space of land?

This did not at one moment feel like ‘pub theatre’.

It felt epic.

I walked into the space pre show and took a breath. Cliched but true.

I was utterly impressed and surprised at Holly Pigott’s innovative design. She managed to transform a small space into the world of the Moor. It felt reminiscent of Johannes Schütz’s epic and deteriorating design for Benedict Andrew’s Three Sister’s at the Young Vic in 2012.

Rubble swept the back of the stage, a very minimalist house setting and rotating muted Moor designed backdrops that hung from the ceiling (eventually moved by the actors when passing to alter the space).

The Moor, Old Red Lion Theatre - Oliver Britten and Jill McAusland (courtesy of The Other Richard)_2_preview

It really brought us to the Moor and engaged us with the changes and shifts in space, world and time.

Bronagh, a young woman isolated in a vaste expanse of land; The Moor.

Feeling increasingly claustrophobic, incited by her surroundings, relationship, child and life, then becomes involved in an investigation with the police which starts to invade her own life and mind.

This was a fight for her own sanity.

Jill McAusland’s Bronagh was perfection. We as the audience felt like an extension of her mind. She spoke to us as if to herself. Childlike, innocent and silently tortured by her own life.

Being in the same space as her boyfriend, Graeme (Oliver Britten) for the first time, I saw a woman who kissed her partner for her own salvation. There was a tango going on between them; who would win? Her mind or his brutish and simplistic nature. Her desperation was palpable.

The Moor, Old Red Lion Theatre - Jill McAusland and Oliver Britten (courtesy of The Other Richard)_2_preview

Another element of the design which worked so well, was the faceless, weighted anonymous baby of Bronagh and Graeme’s. It added a whole other element to her world and mind slowly falling apart, as although I believed entirely the baby was real (thanks to Bronagh’s great connection with it) it’s facelessness brought me further into her psyche.

Jonny Magnanti’s Pat (the police officer working with Bronagh) was paternal, grounded and real. This wasn’t a ‘police officer’; this was a man with his own world going on whose own past intertwined with Bronagh’s.

The Moor, Old Red Lion Theatre - Jill McAusland and Jonny Magnanti (courtesy of The Other Richard)_preview

This show’s great juxtaposition of a woman living in a vast countryside space, yet feeling so utterly isolated was truly resonating. This was a testament to the excellence of Catherine Lucie’s writing, beautifully crafted into a truly breathing and living world by Blythe Stewart’s direction.

I am drawn back to my interview with Blythe Stewart, and how great theatre makes you question your own life and your own world views. What is real and unreal?

This show was entirely ambitious and managed to achieve every one of it’s ambitions.

I see a great future for this play.

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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

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

Newcastle upon Tyne | 2 Feb 2018

Albion, Almeida Theatre

10 October – 24 November 2017

by Mike Bartlett
Directed by Rupert Goold

Albion production shots. Victoria Hamilton (Audrey Walters) and Nicholas Rowe (Paul Walters). Photo credit Marc Brenner (13).jpg

Victoria Hamilton (Audrey) & Nicholas Rowe (Paul) – Photography by Marc Brenner

A successful business woman attempts to restore a ruined garden estate to its long-gone glory at any cost. A new play by acclaimed playwright Mike Bartlett, it is a biting political satire, a deeply moving character drama, and one of the best plays I’ve seen all year.

The play is a powerful ‘State of The Nation’, with characters providing a political conversation more nuanced and complex than almost any newsroom or editorial. It is to be ignored at our own peril.

Mike Bartlett substitutes the epic scale/giant cast/many locations style he displays in plays like King Charles III, Earthquakes in London, and 13, for something more intimate: a single location in a garden that becomes an increasingly emotive setting for the play’s events. It changes and grows, and becomes breathtakingly layered with trauma, allegory, and meaning.

Under the expert machinations of Rupert Goold, the play is visionary and ecstatic, dialogue leaping off the stage with Mike Bartlett’s characteristic wit and humour, undercutting one-liners, biting insults, and scorching satire, with allusions to Trump and Brexit receiving huge laughs, and occasional gasps from the enwrapped audience.

It’s a masterly cast without a weak link among them. Victoria Hamilton (Audrey) is completely sublime in the lead role. She brings a deep humanity to her performance of an often intensely unlikable character. It’s a superb performance, and it’s worth coming to the show just to see her.

Supporting her are standout performances by Helen Schlesinger (Katherine), who brought me to tears with her genuine, truthful and gripping delivery, Luke Thallon (Gabriel) who gives an intensely likeable and tragic performance, as well as Charlotte Hope (Zara) and Vinette Robinson (Anna) who are moving and powerful presences on stage.

Edyta Budnik (Krystyna), Nicholas Rowe (Paul), Christopher Fairbank (Matthew), Nigel Betts (Edward) all give captivating and charismatic performances in smaller roles, with Margot Leicester (Cheryl) in particular stealing several of her scenes with her quiet mannerisms and brilliant comic timing.

It is nuanced character and text at it’s best. Do yourself a favour and book a ticket.

 

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