REVIEW! The Agency @ The Old Red Lion Theatre, London Horror Festival

Written and Directed by Davey Seagle
Ponydog Productions / Old Red Lion Theatre
London Horror Festival
9th-11th October 2018

In Davey Seagle’s The Agency, nothing is quite as it seems.

As soon as you enter the theatre you become immersed in the dystopian future of 2029, where justice is privatised, and your actions as an audience determine how the show ends. Faced with various scenarios, you, as an audience, vote digitally via your phone on the play’s dilemmas, with each decision you make building towards the play’s climax. Votes are displayed via projection on the back wall, and, thankfully for an interactive show, audience members can participate as much or as little as they want. You can suggest solutions, vote, debate, sit quietly, or in the case of some of my fellow theatregoers, turn into bloodthirsty maniacs.

I left feeling transported, slightly shaken, and immensely entertained.

It’s a fast-paced and witty dark comedy, with a hard-hitting moral core, and it raises some fascinating ethical questions. If a murderer’s incarceration costs £50 000 a year (which it does), is it ethically better that money is rather spent on a dozen cancer treatments? If the murderer is in prison 20 years, that’s the equivalent of

£1mil of taxpayer money. So if you had the choice, would you rather than pay for 140 cancer treatments? Or give the money to the bereaved?

But if you don’t lock them up, what do you do with the murderer? And what for that matter do you do with the cancer patients?

The Agency lets the audience decide, and you might be surprised where your moral compass takes you. And due to the multiple branching choices within the plot, it’s hard to tell what was written and what’s improvised. It’s not a show likely to end the same way twice.

Glueing the together is its impressive cast. Niamh Blackman and Chris Elms in particular shine as Chuck and Cherry, your guides through the treacherous realms of satirical corporate bureaucracy (much funnier than it sounds). Their energy, quick thinking, and earnestness give the show its structure, humour, and much of its emotional impact. Georgie Oulton too provides a sympathetic and powerful twist as Bunny, while Davey Seagle occasionally chimes in hilariously as the obnoxious and multi-tasking lighting man.

Not to say that there weren’t problems. There were definitely hiccups in the show. A tech breakdown, laggy internet issues that were a plague to the pacing, the more improv-heavy sections occasionally being bogged down by rowdy audience members before adroit ship-righting by Elms and Blackman, and perhaps some ham-fisted writing during Bunny’s monologue scene. But overall it’s an extraordinary show, and I’d like to see what this team could accomplish on more than their shoe-string pub theatre budget.

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Lamplighters, Rogue Productions @ The Old Red Lion Theatre

24 July – 18 August 2018

Created by Neil Connolly and Dean Rodgers
Rogue Productions

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Winner of the London’s VAULT Festival 2018’s People’s Choice Award, Lamplighters is a hard-to-forget night out. Neil Connolly plays host in a part spy-thriller, part improv-comedy farse that sees it’s audience moonlight as secret agents with hysterical results.

The show takes you through a very familiar spy adventure plot with clandestine meetings and high-pressure heists. The catch is that Connoly himself only hosts, every shady character, corpse, location, mission objective and piece of musical score, is plucked from the audience.

It’s just a ton of fun. No other way to put it. Even if you don’t want to participate, this show will have you in stitches.

Connoly is a magnetic and very charismatic host. the mechanics of the show’s gameplay is very clever, the lights and props and staging work wonderfully to enhance and create all sorts of comedic effects, which are entirely participatory in the shows descending chaos.

As with all improv comedy, I imagine it’s very dependant on the audience on the night. I was lucky enough to be in a group who revelled in the experience as much as Neil himself did, and who happened to be hilarious in their own right. It was a big bonus for me, but I can guess that even on a bad night this will be a show that leaves you grinning from ear-to-ear.

If you are looking for a good night out with a mate, look no further.

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I am of Ireland @ The Old Red Lion Theatre

5 -30 June, 2018

by Seamus Finnegan
Directed by Ken McClymont

Shenagh Govan and Euan Macnaughton in I AM OF IRELAND, credit of Michael Robinson

As I enter The Red Lions Pub Theatre on a busy Friday evening ready to watch the exciting new play ‘I AM OF IRELAND’ by Seamus Finnegan, I realise I have little knowledge of the history of the Troubles in Ireland. But, I’m telling you now, I was certainly about to be told.

The dimly lit black box theatre was creatively designed with rope, chairs, paintings and wooden crosses all hanging (as though frozen in the middle of an earthquake) against two walls; a busy backdrop to the large wooden square outlining the stage. Music was playing, not particularly emotional, just light hearted and (of course) Irish related. The show began with the patriotic song Ireland’s Call sung acapella as the cast filtered into the space one by one, dressed (some of them comically) as well known Irish stereotypes. All singing with equal enthusiasm. The atmosphere created was one of unity and pride, you couldn’t help but smile and wish you knew the words to sing along.

The beginning certainly transported us to Ireland and gave us an insight into the contemporary issues (and well, the play carried on to give us a lot more than just an insight). Not long into Act 1 I began to feel overwhelmed with information, as though I was sitting through the last revision session before an exam and trying to cram in as much as possible. About racism, the Troubles, faith and religion (both Protestantism and Catholicism), the IRA, the loyalists and the ex-patriots (and everything in between it seemed). These were obviously topics which Finnegan has a rooted passion for (and rightly so), however the ambitious dream to address them all equally and theatrically; all of these character’s each with a story to tell, involved in all of these topics, and giving us all of this information at once… it was just overbearing, and instead of keeping us in this Irish bubble it gradually alienated the audience.

Although the context was jam packed, Finnegan’s writing is exceptional in bringing out the understated truthful emotion of the characters. It was the perfect cast; all of them effortlessly changing between roles and displaying each character with integrity, humour and understanding. The likeable Euan Macnaughton, with his honest blue eyes and rich Irish tone told many a story through (lengthy, yet well executed) monologues. Shenagh Goven was a force to be reckoned with, her powerful voice and strong demeanour (and not to mention her brilliant comic timing). Every time she entered she brought the stage alive.

Sean Stewart, Shenagh Govan and Angus Castle-Doughty in I AM OF IRELAND, credit of Michael Robinson

‘I AM OF IRELAND’ was full of short snappy scene’s which were cleverly directed by the capable Ken McClymont. The overload of information is forgivable due to the believable cast and enjoyable, relevant soundtrack. I certainly left that warm little pub with an education, and grateful I witnessed such talent.

 

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Review by Lauren Russell

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 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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Interview with director, Blythe Stewart – The Moor @ The Old Red Lion Theatre

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Director: Blythe Stewart on The Moor by Catherine Lucie.

Tuesday 6th February- Saturday 3rd March 2018.

Old Red Lion Theatre

To book tickets – click here


Can you explain the play and what you’d like our readers to know about it before they come?

It’s a new play, a psychological thriller about one woman who’s name is Bronagh and she has suspicions about a murder in her isolated small town. She lets her suspicions known to the local police man and becomes embroiled in the whole thing.

It’s an epic story, a crime story in a way but also about Bronagh getting to grips with the relationships in her life and gaining more agency in her own life.

What is the main thing you hope the audience takes away from seeing ‘The Moor’?

I’d like them to leave with a lot of questions in a positive way. When I first read it, I finished it confused and gripped yet I understood the play before I reached the end. I hope that when the metaphorical curtain drops, the audience goes to the pub below and ask themselves what happened; What is true? What is false? What is memory? Who are we in relation to other people? I look forward to overhearing those questions.

Would you want to answer those questions?

I don’t feel so strongly about answering those questions more about what their personal feelings are about it. I know friends will come and quiz me for the truth and I would offer them questions and provocations. I took away most from it, that it allowed me to reflect on my own world view; we think that we’re the hero in our own stories and that we’re on the right side and can judge other people quite fairly. How compassionate are we until we are faced with other kinds of stories?

Your specialty as a director is in new writing – what draws you most to new writing as opposed to the classics?

For me, the greatest joy when hearing a story and watching a play is that moment when you are so unsure and excited about what’s going to happen in the next moment; new writing offers that. Classics have lost that sense of urgency in that way. In terms of me as a director, it’s about how can we embolden people about what happens next. New writing provokes them and gets them to use their imaginations to ask those questions – it’s so rewarding if they’ve managed to ask that and use their imagination to ask ‘What will happen next?’. I got hooked on new plays – I was reading so much and thinking ‘how would they be put on stage?’ and it made me ask those same questions. I hope we can inspire an audience to ask too.

Can you describe the setting of the play?

It’s not a specific countryside or country or place in the play, the most important factor in terms of setting is she’s isolated in her community yet embedded in the land at the same time. We decided to set it in Yorkshire which felt right partially because the moors are such an expansive space but also (and I hope this doesn’t ruin anything for the audience in advance) but there’s some kinds of folklore in the play that feels well suited to Yorkshire to other kinds of places like Wales or Scotland.

‘The Moor’ is performing at the Old Red Lion theatre which is quite an intimate space – how did you use this to your advantage in terms of design and direction with the play and it’s setting?

I was sent the play about 4 years ago and the first two years on and off  we work-shopped it. Once we got to the draft we were most satisfied with, the first place we went to was the Old Red Lion. I’ve directed there before so know the joys of the space and its shortcomings.

The thing about expanses of countryside are they are at first big and endless but leave you with claustrophobia. The space is so intimate and the audience is right there and being able to speak to them is integral to the piece. It’s perfect in its spatial relation to the audience. Purposefully the scenes are fluid and locations are fluid.  Holly Pigot, our designer has been brilliant and created a useful kind of system helping us to achieve what it might be like for Bronagh fluidly moving through those spaces.

How involved was Catherine Lucie (the writer) in the rehearsal process? Do you like having the writer in the room?

I love it- having writers in rehearsals is such a wonderful resource. They are a like a best buddy and partner in crime to bounce ideas off in an immediate way. In the time of the play moving forward, Catherine’s life has changed and she’s moved to Wales and become a mother so she’s been able to participate in short terms ways. She came up on Monday, to speak to the actors and they were able to ask her questions which was beautiful as it highlighted how on board they are with her story.  Writers are such a good resource. They know the play better than anyone. I love working with emerging or early career writers. It’s so important that they get to participate and see how the actors are taking that subtext and ideas on.

How do you work as a director?

I really value games and exercises to flush out subtext and objectives; physical acts of wants. We work from a system where we don’t have the scripts in hand. Every scene is an emotional transaction between two people. Some might see it as working in an usual way but we are up on our feet from day one. In my view its important to actualize stuff and we’re not stuck behind tables and pieces of paper. Even the simplest of plays could become academic and cerebral, so we are up on day one testing the ground.

So this is a question which has become a tradition for interviews with TheatreBox- what’s a book/ production/ piece of art/ film you think more people should see?

Oh … there are so many! Actually, this one works well. Opus No 7 by a Russian company called Dmitry Krymov lab. It’s recorded to watch online. I was fortunate to study in Russia when I was doing my degree and saw it there and and then again at the Barbican a few years go. It was the first time I left the theatre and my brain had expanded about what is possible on stage and what a joy it is to use my imagination. It set me off on a different path personally and creatively. Imagination is the greatest tool we have. The joy of theatre is engaging people’s minds in what is possible!


The Moor by Catherine Lucie

6th February-3rd March 2018

Old Red Lion Theatre

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@Blythe_Stewart

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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No Place Like Hope, So & So Arts Club/Pinpoint Create @ The Old Red Lion

7 – 25 November

by Callum McGowan
Directed by Carla Kingham

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Photography by Jennifer Moyes

No Place Like Hope follows the unlikely friendship between a teenager sentenced to community service cleaning a hospice and a terminal cancer patient she finds in there.

Callum McGowan’s writing comes straight from the heart. Delivered with humour and grace, the play approached the subjects of cancer and mortality in a way that is never maudlin or gratuitous. It’s original writing that, in the words of a fellow theatre-goer, was ‘so true it hurt’. I couldn’t agree more. Elegantly directed by Carla Kingham, the play is as joyous as it is tragic.

If I were to nit-pick I’d say a couple scenes suffered from very occasional pacing issues, going on a touch more than needed before the next emotional beat. Aside from that, this show is as close to perfect as these things get.

All three cast members shine. Max Calandrew (Bri) is a fussy and often detested health assistant, who plays the role with quiet assurance, sensitivity and soul.

Holly Donovan not only played the seventeen-year-old Becca, but also produced the play. Her work has more than payed off. Her performance is often hysterical, painfully human, mischievous and vulnerable.

Lastly, Clare Corbett is simply masterful as Anna, sending us on an emotional roller-coaster from her heart-breaking confessions to her unadulterated joy at smoking a cigarette. Charming, wry, tragic, and raw, it’s a performance that will stay with me for a very long time.

The play had me laughing one moment and crying the next. Corbett and Donovan are terrific leads, their on-stage chemistry is moment-to-moment truthful and endlessly playful. The monologues, when they happen, are spellbinding, standout moments for every performer.

See it. Go book right now.

It’s one of the best pieces of fringe all year.

 

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No Place Like Hope was made in partnership with Victoria’s Promise, an incredible charity filling critical gaps in social, emotional and practical care for young women and their families going through cancer. For more info and to support a good cause click here.