REVIEW! How To Catch A Krampus, Sink the Pink @ Pleasance Theatre

Writer, Director, Designer: Ginger Johnson
Musical Direction: Sarah Bodalbhai
Produced by Glyn Fussell for Sink The Pink and Nic Connaughton for Pleasance
Featuring: Ginger Johnson, Lavinia Co-op, David Cumming, Mairi Houston, Mahatma Khandi, and Maxi More
13 Nov – 23 Dec 2018

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Ginger Johnson in How To Catch a Krampus. Images courtesy of Ali Wright

I was instantly drawn to this show when I read its title: the figure of the Krampus, a devilish Central European counterweight to Saint Nicholas, has always held a particular dark fascination to me. The image of a dark, cold, snowy land, inhabited by sinister figures and child-punishing monsters, forms the very antithesis to the jolly, magical, family-friendly wonderland which we in the West associate with Christmas. I was not disappointed by this production, which used exactly this creepy Gothic horror setting (kudos to sound and lighting designers, Alicia Jane Turner and Clancy Flynn) to tell a panto story that was both fabulously dark and silly – featuring history’s campest Krampus!

Ginger Johnson, a veteran London drag queen, wrote and stars in this story about a charlatan spirit medium who embarks on a quest to return a stolen child to his grieving and impoverished family. In the process, Ginger is forced to confront her own past and its associated demons – she may have lost her son to the Krampus, but she is the only person who can stop history from repeating itself. Along the way we meet a motley assortment of characters, encompassing a crew of highly comic Morris dancers, a coven of genuinely chilling demonic witches, an Italian opera diva and her questionable translator, an elderly prostitute with a colourful history, a Rocky Horror-esque German mad scientist, and many many more.

As you can probably imagine, many of these skits did not link up with each other in any sort of narrative sense, and at times this could be disorienting as your brain tried to fit together pieces drawn from different puzzles. However, all fit perfectly with theme of a deliciously dark and naughty Christmas panto, showcasing the performers’ skills at spoof and spook, dance and drama, slapstick and soprano. Musical highlights included:

  • 67-year-old Lavinia Co-op blending class and crass in a slowed-down parody of Rihanna’s S&M;
  • An all-cast a capella (I think?) and actually goosebump-raising rendition of MJ’s Thriller;
  • Dancing from Morris, Morris, Morris, Morris, Morris, and Susan;
  • A side-splittingly chaotic version of The Twelve Days of Christmas;
  • Houston sweetly singing Not While I’m Around from Sweeney Todd whilst attempting patricide;
  • Look, basically every other moment of the show…
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Lavinia Co-op and Mairi Houstin in How To Catch a Krampus. Images courtesy of Ali Wright

While each performer got their time in the spotlight, much of this show’s charm came from the chemistry between its characters. Mairi Houston as the token non-drag actor had a wonderful dynamic with Ginger Johnson, acting as a perfectly contrasting counterpart to the flamboyant larger-than-life queen. How To Catch A Krampus is bookended by comedic collaboration/confrontation between Ginger Johnson and David Cumming, whose relationship sparks with friction and hidden tensions – when they revealed the twist ending to the fable, the theatre erupted with shocked gasps.

A warning: this production is not for the faint-hearted, prudes, traditionalists, or children. Expect jump scares (the very first moment of the performance had me violently spilling my red wine over my neighbour’s yellow jacket, ooops), partial nudity, jokes about swords being semi-sexually inserted into various orifices, and all sorts of outrageous stunts. But a riot is rarely a safe event, and How To Catch A Krampus is certainly a riotously good time for the open-minded.

Tickets

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Previous review: Cuckoo by Lisa Carroll @ Soho Theatre

Build A Rocket, Stephen Joseph Theatre @ The Pleasance, London

Written by Christopher York
Directed by Paul Robinson
Starring Serena Manteghi
18th September – 23rd September 2018

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This explosive one-woman performance, Build a Rocket by Stephen Joseph Theatre certainly brought life and laughter to my Thursday evening. Upon entering the wide main stage of The Pleasance I suppressed the urge to dance to the urban beats playing loud and proud through the speakers. The stage, with minimal set of a mock-up kids’ roundabout, was lit by bright lights above like a scatter of orange stars, or the lighting in a edgy indie cafe.

The story was not necessarily new to our ears: teenage girl Yasmin comes from a troubled family life, gets mixed up with a dodgy lad, and ends up pregnant and struggling for cash. HOWEVER (capitals for effect) it was the execution by Serena Manteghi that was incredibly unpredictable and had you utterly transfixed.

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We followed the ballsy protagonist Yasmin’s life through underage nights out, tough GCSE’s, falling in and out of love, struggling through pregnancy, giving birth, and the tough task of parenting. Although this may sound mundane, the style in which these events were portrayed were creative and often hilarious. One of my favourite artistic choices was the use of a stereotypical game show to portray the stress of her GCSE’s; another was when blue lighting swamped the stage and she moved as though walking on the moon… (I could carry on, but to list all my highlights would be to describe the whole piece!) The direction by Paul Robinson was superb; the stage always felt full, and the clarity when Manteghi was multi-rolling proved he certainly has an eye for detail.

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Drip-fed beautiful moments of spoken word within the constant storytelling flow allowed the audience to take a breath and truly appreciate the text. YET (I’m not sure why I’m a big fan of capitals today…) I cannot stress enough: although this was definitely text heavy performance the physicality was equality as outstanding. As Manteghi jumped from character to character with ability and precision, we were taken through a whirlwind of emotions alongside her most protagonist Yasmin. From the moment Manteghi entered, the stage was alive, and from there the ball never stopped rolling. Thanks to her commitment and energy I happily suspended my disbelief and was immersed in the story.

If you want to liven up your week with an exceptional performer, a storm of emotions, and a lot of laughter then book your ticket to Build a Rocket and get yourself to The Pleasance… I promise you won’t regret it!

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Feed by Theatre Témoin @ Pleasance Dome

Devising Cast: Jonathan Peck, Louise Lee, Nina Cassells, Yasmine Yagchi
Director: Ailin Conant
Creative Producer: Fiona Mason
Contributing Playwrights: Eve Leigh, Erin Judge
Produced by Theatre Témoin in co-production with The Lowry and Everyman Cheltenham
August 1-27 at Pleasance King Dome, Edinburgh

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Photo by Nathan Chandler

Feed is a devised show about a bunch of things which are at risk of becoming meaningless buzzwords: social media, fake news, the Internet, the post-truth era, integrity in journalism, etc. But where Feed has its point of difference from other devised shows on these topics is how it explores them through the microcosm of four characters: Lucy, a “feminist lesbian progressive” journalist; Simon, her creepy, manipulative, possibly sociopathic, SEO (search engine optimisation) specialist brother; Clem, Lucy’s Palestinian photographer girlfriend; and Mia, a school-aged beauty vlogger. The story unfolds on the morning of Lucy and Clem’s anniversary. Over breakfast, the two enjoy some cute banter about romance and foie gras, before the moment is punctured – not, judging by Clem’s expression, for the first time in their relationship – by Lucy’s ringtone. A story she wrote about a murdered young boy in Gaza is going viral, but there’s only problem: its sudden fame is built on a lie.

As the story progresses, it and its characters spiral further and further into madness, losing their grip on reality and humanity as they disappear into the clutches of the Internet. Jonathan Peck is wonderfully demonic as Simon, who becomes less and less a real character and more an impish embodiment of all the worst temptations offered by online culture; this is visually accentuated by his gradual removal of costume pieces to reveal a full-body Lycra morph suit in green-screen green. The modern offspring of Puck and Iago, he whispers in Mia and Lucy’s ears, urging them to do whatever it takes to chase online fame and power, past all morality or reason. The only one to resist his influence is Clem, and eventually, she seems to be the only real human left in the story, and we are trapped with her in a splintered nightmare of garbled dialogue and conceptual images. This, I gather, was intended to reflect an online feed which has been twisted and fractured by algorithms until only the most shocking and bizarre content remains… and boy, was it effective.

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Photo by Nathan Chandler

Leaving the theatre was like waking from a fever dream of colliding hashtags and rampant digital capitalism. As I emerged, dazed and blinking in the watery Scottish sunlight, with a suddenly-grotesque nursery rhyme echoing through my brain, I tweeted “this one’s going to need some digesting before writing the review!” Three days later, I think I can finally deliver a verdict: Feed is a sharp, incisive, and very disturbing portrayal of the state of online communication in 2018, for all that its themes are nothing new, and despite a slight tendency to get sidetracked by its own cleverness. Whereas anti-digital artistic content is usually produced by baby boomers and born of mistrusting fear, Feed was created by and with young people, “Digital Natives” adept at navigating the online world and with a good understanding of its workings, and this is what makes it so effective. We all know that today’s society operates largely on an “attention economy” born of digital over-exposure and emotional desensitisation, but Feed brings it home in a way that is visceral and affecting. Just don’t go if you’re squeamish about force-feeding or finger removal.

Feed will play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until the end of this week, and tour regionally in Spring 2019.

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Drenched, Third Man Theatre @ Pleasance Courtyard

DrenchedWritten by Eddie Elks and Dan Frost 
Performed by Dan Frost
Directed by Eddie Elks
1-27 August, 3pm at Pleasance Courtyard – Bunker Two

Daniel Drench is West Cornwall’s most prolific and unstable storyteller, an enigmatic figure with a sea-green anorak, ripped skinny jeans and an erratic onstage energy. As he takes us on a journey (‘come with me’) through Cornwall and back in time, he alternately paces the stage, cajoles and reprimands the audience, stares morosely into the middle distance, and spends long minutes sitting motionless in a spotlight as recorded voiceovers play, betraying life and performance only through mad darting eyes and heavy breath. The titular character of his tale – The Mermaid of Zennor – seems added into the story as a belated afterthought; most of the hour’s block is occupied by detailed and repetitive exposition on the character of Matty, who is depicted with an air much like autism until a sudden accident turns his life around.

The bunker space is hot and dark, the one-man show – and its performer’s vocal cadences – rather meandering and slow; I caught myself nodding off once or twice. What roused me most throughout the piece was feelings of discomfort and awkwardness when the storyteller would veer off track to shoot bitterly pointed barbs at the audience, his tech assistant, and Poldark, or to throw a sulky tantrum and declare that he won’t bother doing the ending unless his listeners put a little more effort in. I gathered that these interludes were in character as Daniel Drench – not Dan Frost – but the resulting atmosphere fell short of either a clever artistic statement or real comedy. Perhaps Frost and Elks sought in the character of Drenched to capture a sense of that spirit which inhabits all old folk tales – capricious, untamed, dual-natured, fey – but unfortunately, it all came across as simply self-indulgent and dull.

There were moments when I saw flashes of the show I’d have liked to see: when the soundscapes, lighting, set, and craggy-faced narrator evoked an atmosphere of the Cornish coast on folklore and romanticised history; when Drench as Matty danced a wild, ferocious reel to music of heartbreak; when Drench told, eyes fixed on an unseen horizon and voice soft and light as waves after a storm, of how Matty met his final destiny. But these were sadly few and far between, and I hope that before Elks and Frost open their next production, Daniel Drench will have been quietly dropped as Third Man’s third man.

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Ladykiller, The Thelmas @ Pleasance Courtyard

1st – 27th August 2018

Director:  Madelaine Moore

Writer:  Madeline Gould

Designer:  Baska Wesolowska

Lighting Design:  Jennifer Rose

HER: Hannah McClean

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Ladykiller is a darkly humorous examination of the social expectations of female serial killers, and more broadly, instructive of how to find advantage within a system geared to disempower you, to take it down from the inside.

Upon entering Bunker One we find a woman, dead, face down on the floor with blood spreading beneath her. Hannah McClean enters as the character HER in a French maid’s uniform, her apron and hands wet with blood. She begins a defence of the murder, telling the story of how the now dead hotel guest attacked her and how she had no choice but to protect herself.

Ladykiller challenges the idea of victim-hood in a post me-too world. It explores the intersection of both being a woman and working in minimum wage as abused roles, but the power/access that can come out of that. It further critiques how successful this position of being underestimated can be, offering an unresolved question about the relationship between trauma, cycles of violence and whether harsher consequence should be the way to change behaviour. It spun together familiar ideas and made them feel fresh, its comments novel. The image of HER standing over another woman’s body a potent image at the centre of the work.

Ladykiller is entertaining, funny, engaging, and an effective allegory for challenging gender roles in contemporary society. The writing is relevant and well executed. Hannah McClean has perfect comic timing, adeptly handling the pacing of the show’s meandering associations, expertly inhabiting the stage with her impressive pretence, stick-shifting our expectations like she’s driving at the Formula One.

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Bunker One, Pleasance Courtyard, 60 Pleasance, EH8 9TJ

Tickets

The Song of Lunch, by Christopher Reid @ Pleasance Courtyard

Directed by Jason Morell
Featuring Robert Bathurst and Rebecca Johnson
Animations by Charles Peattie
Produced by Thirty/20 Theatre and Suzanna Rosenthal of Something for the Weekend
1 – 27 August at 2:20pm at The Pleasance Courtyard, Forth theatre

Picture by Karla Gowlett

Robert Bathurst’s unnamed character in The Song of Lunch is a man who wishes he could turn back time. A stuffy older white man, working in the publishing industry and determinedly inhabiting a fantasy London in which he can still brush shoulders with literary greats in the streets of Soho, he has summoned his ex from her comfortable life and family in Paris to meet with him for lunch in an old trattoria. What is he hoping for? Pleasant reminiscences on old times? To rekindle their lost love? As lunch progresses and the Chianti bottles empty, the Publisher’s defenses are slowly stripped away under his companion’s mercilessly incisive gaze, and we see the foibles of his psychology laid bare.

This play is staged in the tucked-away and packed-out Pleasance Forth theatre, and its audience comprises almost entirely of older middle-aged theatregoers who recognise Robert Bathurst from Cold Feet and Downton Abbey. The simple, rhythmic elegance of its lyrical writing and the minimalist staging – supported by gorgeous animations by Charles Peattie – feels a world away from the raucous variety of attention-grabbing artistic gambles which characterise usual Fringe shows. Like the haute cuisine enjoyed by its characters, this play appears light and bite-sized on the surface, but has layers of subtle complexities and flavours which mean that the subsequent analytical discourse forms half the pleasure. I feel that I would need a whole essay to unpack the meaning of this piece, in an operation as delicate as the lady character’s dissection and consumption of her sea bass. If pressured, I would summarise thus: this story is about an individual’s (or a country’s? An empire’s? A social class’s? A gender’s?) inability to accept that, through his own failings, the sun is setting on his glory days and a new era is beginning to dawn without him. Rather than taking responsibility for his shortcomings and adapting to make the best of the changing times, he clings desperately to an unattainable and rosy-filtered image of the past. Like Orpheus, in succumbing to the temptation to look backwards instead of forwards, he throws away the chance of a brighter future.

All the talk of tragedy and pathos aside, this play is also incredibly witty and had the audience chuckling and chortling both with and at the charming yet pathetic Publisher. Rebecca Johnson as the “old flame” is also wonderful, embodying poised self-confidence and providing an empathetic yet no-nonsense balance to the narrator’s self-indulgence (the golden tones of her hair and the warm lights she is often bathed in provide welcome relief from Publisher’s cooler, almost anaemic colour scheme).

The playbill includes a note from the playwright which suggests that, though originally intended to be a ‘piece of pure comedy, a light farce’, during the writing process the play had found its own, darker shape, in a process of which he ‘was only partially aware’. This is evident from the contrast between the light, optimistic, playful mood of the beginning in contrast to the somewhat bleak ending, and the piece’s tangled deeper meanings (teasingly self-parodied when the Flame suggests a convoluted counter-interpretation to the Publisher’s poetry, and is met by a blank response of ‘…you’re going to have to run that past me again’). However, this very vulnerability of the piece is what lends it its charm: beneath all the witticisms and self-deprecation, this play provides a glimpse of someone who is disappointed in their past and scared of their future… I think all of us, at some time in our lives, can relate to that.

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Picture by Karla Gowlett

 

The Red Shoes, Young Pleasance @ Pleasance Courtyard – Beyond Theatre

By Jo Billington & Will Feasey with Tim Norton
Original music composed by Ned Bennett
August 15 – 18

And my Edinburgh Fringe is off to a good start with the Young Pleasance’s charming production for 2018, The Red Shoes! A re-imagining of the tale by Hans Christian Andersen, this (light on the music) musical follows the story of Lotta as she grows up in early 20th century Berlin. We see Lotta as she grows through three stages: her childhood as the orphanage’s wild child, her teenaged years working as a maid and then stumbling into cabaret performance, and finally her later years as a rich entrepreneur’s mistress and actress in Goebbel’s propaganda films. Throughout all this time, two things remain constant: Lotta’s best friend, a Jewish boy named Jacob, and the pair of red dancing shoes she inherited from her late mother.

This production is slick, with well-oiled choreography crafted for actors who are not trained dancers, and song numbers crafted for actors who are not trained singers. The costumes and sets are sumptuous and wonderful – adult Lotta’s film star outfit shone for the former, and a transparent gauze curtain was used to great effect for the latter when intimating flashbacks or detached worlds (such as the unreachable upper class audience watching Lotta perform). The ensemble class is strong, with the Narrators (Hannah Margerison and Kieton Saunders-Brown) inhabiting the most consistent roles, and performing them strongly. Margerison also played a key figure asthe mysterious friend who introduced Lotta to the world of performance – this double-casting carried interesting implications about whether the seemingly impartial, omniscient narrator was providing a guiding hand in Lotta’s fate.

Of the three Lottas, the youngest (played by Eliana Franks) certainly had the most energy and charisma; however, it may have been more of a problem with the writing than acting that the characterisation of this story’s lead felt like it lacked continuity. There were few similarities between Franks’ precocious and rebellious girlchild, Katie Walton’s naive and unsure teenager, and Eva Burton’s glamorous, selfish adult woman. Jacob, however – played by Theo Murchie and later Kishore Walker – seemed to remain the same idealistic, intelligent, and innocent young boy so captivated by Lotta’s charms. Other standout actors in minor roles included Ella Davis as the sharp-tongued Frau Pelzer, and Miles Rosbrook as the coldly villainous Franz.

This play, as we are informed almost immediately, is about temptation in all its forms: fame, fortune, love, belonging, and much more. It blurs the lines between a glittering glamour which is never quite within Lotta’s grasp, and the seedy, desperate, harsh reality which keeps chasing her. But once she has slipped her feet into those shoes, she cannot take them off until she has lived out her fate – and the final, powerful image spotlit on stage serves as a warning against the fickle nature of that which may tempt us.

This talented young cast is certainly one to watch – The Red Shoes is on at the Fringe until the end of this week, so hurry to catch it before it dances out of sight! Tickets available here.

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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.

Tickets

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The Sound and the Fury, RCSSD @ The Pleasance

21 Feb – 24 Feb, 2018

by William Faulkner
Directed by Sasha Milavic Davies


 

The opening of the Sound and the Fury at Pleasance Theatre set the mood. Benny (Rhys Anderson) paints a lilting Mississippi-accented picture of the breezy hot plantations of 1900’s Mississippi. The actors walked on one by one, already creating an energy with which the entire play would buzz right to the end. 

We follow through the eyes of the three brothers of the Common family, as we watch them teeter and then fall down the brink of decay. From the off, it was clear that this was a creative team that had found a goldmine of current references; the struggle of race was clear, as was the struggle for power between men and women. It’s very much a story of our times. Unfortunately, I was invited to the closing night of the play – but I would heartily recommend that you read the book as well, so that you get the same messages I got.

The story of The Sound and the Fury is narrated by three different brothers: First Benjy, the simple brother, looked after by Dalsey, the housekeeper and her family, then Quentin, a Harvard student with the weight of his decaying family wealth and his love for his sister, finally by Jason, the embezzling, greedy oldest brother. The story jumps between time frames following the decline of the family through scandal after scandal. The cast brilliantly steer us through the narrative, so this is never jarring (although the first few times it was a little confusing!)

Rhys Anderson was a brilliant narrator – captivating, with great subtlety in creating his first character, Benjy, who is intellectually disabled. His complete transformation into Dalton Ames and then Herbert was so complete, that there was no doubt auto who he was playing at any one time. His sister and some-time carer Caddy was played by Emily Windham, who captured the 7 year old Caddy with delightful innocence that we hold onto throughout her ruination.

Marshall Nyanhete, who played Benjy’s carers Luster and Versh, gave a strong and solid performance which, alongside that of Angelina Chudi (playing his mother Frony), gave voice to the next generation of African American’s who wanted more than the life of a second-class citizen. They managed this with humour, asking many a person, including the heads of the family, for money to go to a music show.

Daniela Cristo Mantilla played the vivacious Miss Quentin with fire and verve, tormenting Jason, brought to life by Steve Salt. Salt brought a huge amount of energy to his characters, including a dynamic and animalistic portrayal of Jason, the embezzling brother. James Broadly created a great contrast to this in the calm and assured Quentin, played with a quiet strength. Grace Melhuish created a fantastic character in Mother, a southern belle far past her time. Her portrayal created a depth to the chaos of the family, helped along by the suburb performance from Dennis Sofian, who played Father. He also created some fantastic moments accompanying the action on his violin.

The stand out performances came from Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo (playing Matriarchal housekeeper Dalsey), and Bolaji Alakija (who played Roskus and TP). Both performers gave mature and resonant performances. They brought the play’s most powerful, human moments – a simple tut, the bandaging of a husband’s hand, all creating the feeling that Faulkner wrote into the novel; that “they endured.”

I should comment that the staging and lighting was excellent. The warm haze of the Mississippi plantains could be felt from the beginning. As the family fell further and further into disrepute, the staging and lighting became more and more random and off-quilter, upsetting the view for us in the audience and creating a sense of unease and dread. The use of music was fantastic, if at some points superfluous, again, building the world for us to see.

This was a story that is upsettingly poignant for our times. The performance was slick and compelling. I just wish I’d been invited earlier in the run to encourage people to see it.

Instead, here is their Twitter: @ActingCDT. This is a group with huge talent. Follow them and go see them next time.

 

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The Lost Boy Peter Pan, Action to the Word @ The Pleasance Theatre

Based on the novel by J.M. Barrie
Adapted and directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones
Presented by Action to the Word in association with Glynis Henderson Productions.

The Lost Boy Peter Pan, courtesy The Other Richard (6)

A sparkling, musical, and surprisingly emotional romp into the classic tale of the boy who refuses to grow up, his group of young runaways, and his rivalry with a certain dastardly pirate.

This review has been written with the insightful help of Sebastian (aged 7), and Daniel (age 10). Daniel went under the pseudonym of Ruben in last week’s Once Upon A Snowflake review, but has been thinking about it and said he wanted to upgrade his name again. Sebastian is fine with his own name, but did get quite excited about the prospect of being called Darth Vader.

 

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The co-writers of this review; Daniel (10) & Sebastian (7)

It was a joy to watch the show with the boys. Their eyes were glued to the stage, their smiles lingered on their faces for much of the play.

“The acting is very clear”, says Sebastian almost as soon as the lights came up in intermission. “Their communication is good”.

The story is told often through verse, and often in song borrowing and covering pop and rock songs throughout, re-purposing well known tunes to become vehicles for the story.

“I liked that they could play so many different instruments at once”, say Daniel, referring to the effortless talent displayed by the cast, each member of whom seemed to faultlessly play at least four instruments during the performance.

The cast is as equally talented dramatically as they are musically. “They were really good and showed lots of character”, said Daniel.

“Ha! Captain Hook was funny, yaaah! Rahr! Yaahhh!” says Sebastian, drifting into what I’m guessing was a flashback of the impressive fight sequences.

“I felt like crying, and then sometimes I felt like laughing”, grins Daniel, who was particularly moved by Wendy (Hannah Haines).

The humour of the piece was a definite crowd-pleaser with the boys.

“I liked the mermaid bits”, says Daniel referring to one particularly memorable gag, “but, fish being evil? What’s with that?!”

“Fish is always evil!”, declares Sebastian helpfully, before rasping “fish, fish, fish, fish. Fish is evil! I’ll lurk in the shadows” and stalking off.

“I liked the mermaid bits cause it had references to the S – E – X”, says Daniel conspiratorially once his brother had disappeared to menace a nearby bus stop.

More soberly he adds, “I liked the appearances too. The sets and the costumes.”

“Yeah, set was good!” says Sebastian, re-joining us.

It’s very playful show, and both the cast and the design elements manage to imbue the performance with excitement, like being at your first sleep-over and sneaking into the kitchen to steal chocolates.

It’s an artful retelling, and from the adult point of view I really admired how Alexandra Spencer-Jones and company has brought out the best of what’s made the Barrie classic so enduring. It’s a rollicking adventure, but at its heart it remains a nuanced and emotional coming-of-age tale. Hook is no pantomime villain, but a lonely old man who is as lost as Peter, while Pan is far from being a textbook hero either. He is arrogant and often cruel as only children can be. The show beautifully brings to stage the nostalgia of childhood and our fears of growing up. It was a ton of fun, but it also surprised me by how much it moved me.

As with all my family show reviews, I leave it to the boys to rate the show. “What would you give it out of five?” I ask.

“Five out of five!” says Sebastian immediately.

It took a little longer for Daniel to make his decision. He spent a while weighing up the options in his head. He contemplated it stoically.

Then he confidently announced the show to be “sixteen out of five”.

A heartily recommended family adventure.

 

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