REVIEW! Before I Was A Bear by Eleanor Tindall @ The Bunker Theatre

Directed by Aneesha Srinivasan
Performed by Jacoba Williams
Produced by Salome Wagaine
Presented by Broccoli Arts
12th – 23rd November 2019

The first show I ever saw at The Bunker Theatre was also the first I reviewed for Theatre Box: Devil With The Blue Dress, a play examining the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the light of #metoo. It seems fitting that, as the news is announced that The Bunker will be closing in March 2020 after three and a half years of being an amazing “temporary” theatre space, I should revisit it for a play so thematically similar and so very good.

Cally is a bear. She had a crazy run-in with a famous, hot, charming TV detective actor, responded the way anyone would, and now has any number of problems on her furry paws. She wasn’t always ursine, though – she used to be normal, like you. And that is the beauty of this piece: the life story we’re treated to is, up until that certain point, so very normal and relatable. From her pre-teen years, through adolescence, and into the first tastes of freedom that come with moving out of home, Cally travels through personal trials and tribulations that will sound deeply familiar for anyone in the audience who had the dubious honour of experiencing girlhood and the transition to womanhood. Eleanor Tindall’s crackling writing takes these common themes and treats them with poignancy and humour, showcasing that rare knack of taking the mundane and making it quirky, even deep. The world of schoolgirl friendships, adolescent crushes, celebrity obsessions, and first forays into sexuality are all-consuming and devastatingly impactful to those who are experiencing them, and Tindall offers us a glimpse back into that existence which we all (with varying degrees of thankfulness) have left behind.

Enter Jacoba Williams in Before I Was A Bear. Image courtesy of Tara Rooney

Of course, it’s not all down to Tindall alone. The casting of Jacoba Williams as Cally is excellent: she jumps with perfect precision between childhood vitality, teenaged insecurity, young adult hedonism, and recently-turned-bear angst, always balancing physical and verbal comedy deftly against pathos and piercing social commentary. Director Aneesha Srinivasan brings her own creative flair to the staging, adding even more layers of meaning to an already-fertile script, as do designer Grace Venning and lighting designer Martha Godfrey, with touches that perfectly complement the play’s style and substance.

Before I Was A Bear is inspired by Ovid’s myth of Callisto, a story ripe for modern interpretation through feminist and queer lenses, which is exactly what Tindall has done. The bare bones of the plot are quite true to the source material, and there is little attempt to disguise this (anyone with a basic knowledge of Greek/Roman myth should be able to guess who a character named “Bolt” is based on, and that an affair with this figure probably won’t end well). A number of parallels are more subtle and clever, however – I really enjoyed the subtextual discussion of heteronormativity determining what “counts” as female sexuality, and the sub-inter-textual implications that perhaps Artemis and her gang of gal pals weren’t as platonic as male-dominated academia would have us believe. It is always refreshing to see portrayals of bi women which treat their female trysts as more than just physical (or for the male gaze), and [SPOILER] the theme of redemption through the love of other women – both platonically and romantically – is beautiful.

Jacoba Williams in Before I Was A Bear. Image courtesy of Tara Rooney

Honestly, there is so much to unpick in this one-woman show that I’m wary of writing yet another review-turned-essay here… Cally’s journey is crammed with so many topical topics that it sometimes feels a little heavy-handed, although they are mostly treated with admirable nuance and deftness. (Others remain more obscure – I have some theories about the meaning behind the progressively-revealed voicenote, but I’m not sure how much it really added to the piece.) It’s absolutely the kind of show that you should go and see with your wokest queer feminist artsy theatre friends (these were certainly the types who comprised 90% of the audience on the night I was there, which made me feel very at home) and dissect afterwards over cheap pub wine in order to get the most out of it. This is not to say, however, that you need a degree in Gender Studies or even a Tumblr account to enjoy this show – social philosophising aside, it’s just bloody good dark comedy, masterfully delivered. Make sure you catch it before the run finishes, or the regret may be unbearable.

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Previous review: Crisis? What Crisis? @ COLAB Factory

Review! Ish… by Georgie Jones @ The Roundhouse

Written and Performed by Georgie Jones
Directed by Jenny Bakst
Presented in the Sackler Space, The Roundhouse
3rd May, 2019

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Georgie Jones is 25 (ish) and she’s cracked what it means to be a woman. Just kidding, she’s on the same messy journey as the rest of us; unpicking sexist conditioning, examining questions of philosophy and identity, and navigating the same pitfalls that have stymied generations of women and girls. In this one-woman show, she jumps back and forth through personal stories from various stages of her growing up, interweaving them with spoken word poetry, comically exuberant dancing to accompanying 90s jams, and faux lectures on the wide-ranging topic of femininity. Dressed in denim overalls and with a face bare of makeup, it was clear from the get-go that this show would be performed with honesty and strength of character and conviction.

From the press release, I had expected this show to be mainly about sex (mis)education and how it screws all of us over, and at first it did largely gravitate back towards this theme. However, as the show progressed, it tended to stray further into the more generalised and ambitious territories of love, existential crises, and identity. The viewpoints explored in these facets were relatable, eloquently put, funny, and clever, but I felt that the punch of the show was diluted by its attempted breadth of focus. This caused a lack of direction and momentum, which I suspect Jones felt as well, as her performance – so strong and self-assured at the start, hitting every beat and knowing her work inside out – became shakier as the show went on.

As a 25-year-old woman myself, much of Ish‘s content resounded with me very deeply, even though there were some very English references and rites of passage which hadn’t been part of my growing up Down Under. But the 90s nostalgia was strong, and catapulted me right back into a teenaged world where everything was at once much simpler (I was struck by how we were the last generation to escape high school mostly unscathed by the advent of mobile internet, cyber-bullying, and social media politics) and much, much more complicated. Jones portrayed this world with wit and warmth, poking fun at herself and us all whilst still treating her younger self with compassion and affection. There were laugh-out-loud moments, a lot of sympathetic groans, and winces of “yep, I was guilty of that too…” The early pubescent panic of staring at the hair removal methods on offer at the pharmacy was brought back to me viscerally, and the grateful love with which Jones spoke about her female friendships made me appreciate my own anew. Mentions of a possible rape and resulting trauma lent some balance to the emotional range of the piece, but could perhaps have been explored with more nuance and sensitivity to avoid emotional whiplash for the audience.

Overall, this was a strong start for a young performer, demonstrating formidable stage presence as well as a compelling way with words. Ish… itself has great potential, and a lot of sparkling gems scattered throughout its content. However, I feel that the script could benefit from some streamlining, possibly being pared back to its strongest core theme of sex education, what we weren’t told, and how we found it out along the way. If this were undertaken, it could be an excellent, punchy half-hour performance which would bring laughter and contemplation to a festival stage. But even as it is already, the merits of the show make it a very enjoyable hour of theatre, and will certainly engender discussion and personal reminiscence all the way home.

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Apologies to Georgie for the tardiness of this review, and thank you for the opportunity to attend your show. 

Previous review: Fighter @ Stratford Circus Arts Center

REVIEW! A Hundred Words for Snow @ Trafalgar Studios

Writer: Tatty Hennessy
Director: Lucy Jane Atkinson
Performed by Gemma Barnett
5th March-30th March

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Photo credit: Nick Rutter

A Hundred Words for Snow is one of the best solo shows I have ever seen, masterfully directed by Lucy Jane Atkinson. The piece was beautifully written by Tatty Hennessy. Without a shadow of a doubt, it is a fantastic five star show.

The Show follows the story of Rory, a likeable and funny 15 year old girl, who sadly has just lost her dad. Rory’s dad was a geography teacher and would-be explorer. He planned an exciting and almost impossible trip to take Rory to the North Pole, but never had the chance. Rory begins a journey all the way from England to the North Pole, carrying her dad’s ashes in her backpack which she plans to scatter at the North Pole. It is so fantastic to see an empowering story about a strong, courageous but also perfectly normal teenage girl. A very refreshing change!

Gemma Barnett is a fantastic performer and a perfect casting for Rory! She has the audience in stitches throughout the piece and is a lovely but also painfully relatable portrayal of a young teenage girl. Gemma played all the characters in this piece, including her mum and the people she met along the way. I was so engaged in every single one of them that I felt like there were two people on stage. It was clear the audience absolutely loved Rory and were supporting her every step of the way.
The design of the show was great. Christianna Mason created a space which was beautiful and the audience believed for every second they were on Rory’s journey with her. There were several effects in the show which were a wonderful part of the storytelling, for example a fan blowing and suddenly the audience were transported into a helicopter in the north pole. I was completely magicked away from London and placed thousands of miles away, which is precisely the reason I adore theatre.

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Photo credit: Nick Rutter

A Hundred Words For Snow is a beautiful piece of theatre which I would highly recommend to everyone, with a faultless performance from Gemma Barnett. It’s fantastic to see this story being put on front of an audience and it is very important to show these stories of young girls. The story really was like nothing I have ever seen on a stage before and I loved it. I cried tears both of sadness and joy. This show will inspire you to go on an adventure, pick up a book or call your loved ones. Personally it reminded me of my childhood where I was desperate to go on adventures around the world like my parents had done. I have since become nervous and scared about doing this, but this show has inspired me to get out there and do it.
Unmissable.

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Previous review: It’s Not A Sprint Novae Theatre @ Vault Festival

REVIEW! It’s Not A Sprint Novae Theatre @ Vault Festival

Writer and performer: Grace Chapman
Director and Producer: Ellie Simpson
Presented by Novae Theatre with Idle Motion
27 Feb – 3 March 2019

Maddy is turning 30, and about to run a marathon. She’s in it alone, with only a balloon and the voice of her insecurities for company. Her best friend is conspicuously absent, her mum is sending texts that are both supportive and worrying, and her boyfriend is waiting at the finish line with a big question. It becomes increasingly clear that Maddy is in denial about a lot of things, ranging from her lack of fitness to where she’s going with her life, but perhaps this marathon will be a chance to work through all these issues and, as a 30-year-old, hit the ground running…

Look, let’s be honest: a one-person show about being a millennial in which the writer is also the performer is likely to be… well, indulgent and mediocre. It’s Not A Sprint bucks that trend. From starting gun to finish line, this piece is compelling, relatable, self-aware, quirky, clever, insightful, and above all funny. Chapman has impeccable comic timing (and just normal timing – it’s tough having an onstage conversation where the other half of the dialogue is recorded, but she nailed it. I’m sure sound tech deserves credit for that too) and a wonderfully expressive face. It absolutely speaks to her skills as a writer and performer that she can take so many everyday and universal experiences and make them into a captivating hour-long performance. There’s not even anything on stage with her except that balloon and a number of sound effects – the magnetism is all her own.

It’s worth mentioning too that, as the piece’s action takes place during a marathon, Chapman spends almost the whole time jogging in place. I, a self-confessed slob, cannot fathom being fit enough to do that – whilst also pouring my heart and soul into a performance which must be mentally and emotionally taxing – but she manages it with only a light sweat. The ebb and flow of this piece loosely matches the demands of the marathon, as Maddy goes through alternating mindsets of nervousness, optimism, determination, despair, self-doubt, and tentative hope. The mix of tension and release is perfect to keep the audience invested without becoming as fatigued as Maddy. My only criticism of the show would be that the ending felt very abrupt, though of course given the nature of the thing, it couldn’t exactly have been wrapped up with a nice ribbon and a neat ending. Sometimes in theatre, as in life, the ending is messy, with glitter all over the floor.

If you’re a millennial going through a mid-(or quarter-, third-, whatever)life crisis and you feel like time is running out and you’re NOT prepared for the future – go and see this piece. And if you’re a baby boomer thinking that our generation is overly fragile and entitled – go and see this piece, and maybe you’ll come out with a better understanding of what it’s like to become an “adult” in a time of such social, political, and economic upheaval. And if you’re just looking for some quality theatre, or a laugh and a think – see this piece. It’s not a sprint, it’s definitely not a slog, and you absolutely must catch it before Maddy ends her run.

 

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Previous review: Smack That (a conversation) @ Ovalhouse

Pickle Jar by Maddie Rice @ Soho Theatre

Written and performed by Maddie Rice
Directed by Katie Pesskin
23rd October- 10th November

 An incredible, moving and important show.

I loved this piece. I loved every single minute of it. It is an incredibly important show  that needs to be seen by everyone.

Pickle Jar, Soho Theatre - Maddie Rice (Courtesy of Ali Wright) (15)

Pickle Jar is a one-woman lyrical play exploring teaching, Tinder, stranger danger and trying to be a grownup. It is written and performed by Maddie Rice, the critically acclaimed star of Fleabag UK and International Tour. Rice has the audience in stitches for most of the play with her hilarious impressions of the teenage girls she teaches.

The play is very cleverly constructed with Rice revealing tiny bits of information at a time. This makes the sad reality of the story even more shocking. This piece is very relatable to young women with its hilarious dance moves and talks of that annoying ‘everything in my life is perfect’ friend. But, this piece also packs a serious punch, one which made me cry and made me angry.

This is a show I would recommend very highly. An incredible, important show and an emotional roller coaster in all the right ways.

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