Bluebird @ The Space  

24 July – 4 August, 2018

by Simon Stephens
Directed by Adam Hemming
Presented by Space Productions

BLUEBIRD 5 edit

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!

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)

Tickets

Citizen, Suitcase Civilians @ The Space

April 24 – May 5, 2018
Written by Sepy Baghaei & The Company
Directed by Sepy Baghaei

CITIZEN 1

The 25th of March is ANZAC Day, when Australia commemorates its fallen Defense members in past and present wars. This was my first ANZAC Day in London, and I spent the evening watching a documentary about Austrian Jewish children who escaped the Holocaust by fleeing to London and Australia. Their stories were harrowing, and the film ended with these survivors entreating future generations never to let similar atrocities occur. Fast forward to the following night, and I am sitting in the audience at The Space, about to watch a play about dual citizenship and the real, ongoing experiences of persecuted Iranians, including one being held in an Australian detention centre for no reason other than (legally) seeking asylum.

It was the story of this man, Behrouz Boochani’s, which resonated most with me, in this play which weaves between the experiences of a number of Iranian immigrants interviewed by the playwright, the suffering of unjustly incarcerated Iranians such as Boochani and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and more abstract scenes including a social scene between two Iranian women which the third actor commentated David Attenborough-style, as though it were a wildlife documentary about exotic wild animals. This was not verbatim theatre for the main part, however it seemed to draw quite directly at times from real people’s experiences, and was dedicated to telling their stories. As such, there was no real plot to follow, and at times the action onstage lost momentum somewhat, but overall the various segments flowed together well. This was because they were united by a common theme: the Iranian immigrant experience, with all its grief, humour, passion, and fear on display.

CITIZEN 4

It was a pleasure to go on this journey with the three actors, whose magnetic appeal and versatility of talent guided us in the audience through laughter, tears, anger, shame, and political/ethical quandaries. I was particularly bowled over by Nalân Burgess and her grace and poise, flawless accent work (I thought at first that she genuinely was Australian, then English, then Iranian, then American, then I gave up trying to guess), nightingale singing voice, perfectly nuanced comedic acting, and the sheer amount of stage presence which emanated from her small frame.  David Djemal was almost equally impressive, both in comedic scenes such as the “how to make an Iranian” cooking show segment, and when delivering the sombre, powerful words of Boochani. During these segments I couldn’t help but hear echoes of another man’s story: that of Freddie Knoller, who as a child barely survived Auschwitz and had been interviewed for the documentary I’d seen the previous night. Hunger, humiliation, dehumanisation, and physical and psychological torture – is this going to be Australia’s legacy in the 21st century, as was Austria’s in the 20th?

Many of the perspectives related in this play were those which have been explored countless times before in art about displaced peoples, diasporic culture, and immigrant ethnic identity. However, the way it presents them, interspersed throughout personal stories, comedic skits, political commentary, and beautiful celebrations of Iranian culture and tradition (beautiful and delicious – shoutout to David for rescuing my cup of tea when I nearly dropped it, fumbling after the dates he was offering around the audience) felt fresh and unique. The choice of venue – in a converted church – was also the perfect setting for a play about Islamic people seeking sanctuary in Western countries and having to sacrifice a portion of their cultural identity in exchange. (However, the impressive old building clearly has its drawbacks as a theatre space – technical issues with lighting meant that the show got off to a false start, and needed to reset and begin again from the top about ten minutes in.)

This piece was a wonderfully moving, intelligent, fascinating, confronting, entertaining, and overall multifaceted piece of art. Upon leaving it, I was galvanised into action, emailing and calling my MP in Australia, signing online petitions, and sharing articles about some of the issues referenced in the play. This, to me, is what theatre is at its best: a way to better understand our fellow humans, and also a powerful call to action. Please, make sure you catch it before it ends its run in a week’s time.

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)

Tickets

The Sleeper, Anima Theatre Company @ The Space

3 – 14 April, 2018

Written & directed by Henry C. Krempels

The Sleeper Image

On an overnight train across Europe, a British woman finds a Syrian refugee in her bed. Longlisted for the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award, The Sleeper unfolds as a fascinating and thought-provoking exploration of some of the twisted morality that surrounds the Syrian refugee crises.

The play draws largely from a real-life incident of writer/director Henry C Krempels, and the play very much feels like Krempel’s attempt to come to terms with his deeply affecting experience. We watch and rewatch the discovery of a young refugee girl on the train by a British woman and the train’s manager. These characters attempt again and again to uncover the truth about their unexpected guest before, suddenly, the narrative is flipped inside-out to be told from the refugee’s perspective. And by ‘the refugee’s perspective’, I actually mean ‘the actor’s perspective’.

It gets a little surreal.

The meta elements become fairly extreme, with actors breaking the fourth-wall and talking about the play analytically, questioning the narrative and characters that have been built and developed up to that point.

On the one hand, I found this incredibly jarring. Literally being told by the actors that everything you’ve just seen is meaningless goes quite a long way to undermine all narrative tension and development built to that point.

And yet, on the other hand, it’s this level of self-analysis that makes the play as unique and thought-provoking as it is. Touching on themes of privilege, moral obligation and guilt, it’s a sharp reminder that our views on the global refugee crisis can be woefully out-of-touch.

The story is helped along by it’s simple and creative set (by Jasmine Swan), and the strong cast. Sarah Agha brings wonderful power to her role. A refugee character is so often reduced to being nothing but a victim of circumstance, and one of triumphs of the play for me was seeing something a lot deeper. A refugee who is angry; frustrated by her predicament and by our overly-simplistic understanding of her narrative. Michelle Fahrenheim gives a sympathetic performance as a kind, yet naïve British traveller, whilst Joshua Jacob does a superb job as the pragmatic and occasionally sinister train conductor.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, The Space programs incredibly ambitious and interesting work. Though I don’t always agree with every creative decision made in its walls, it’s a venue worth supporting, and the shows leave you thinking. The Sleeper is a case in point.

 

 

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star HALF 2

Tickets

 

 

Frankenstein Burn Bright Theatre @ The Space

20th February – 10th March
Burn Bright Theatre 
Adapted by Isabel Dixon
Directed by Katherine Timms
Starring Danielle Winter and Elizabeth Schenk

Danielle Winter Frankenstein

Sam Elwin Photography

Though thought-provoking, and grotesquely thrilling, Burn Bright’s Frankenstein is held back by its decision not to diverge more from the original novella. The first and most pressing way that this manifests is in its plotting. The decision to remain faithful to Shelley’s work is understandable (Frankenstein is a brilliant book after all), but it causes some problems in the pacing of the show. The story of the novella is structured in a series of arcs: the framing scenes on the arctic expedition, Frankenstein’s creation of the Monster and his flight from his home, the Monster’s description of its time living among the family in the cottage, etc. Each of these arcs serves as a self-contained episode of the story, with its own central conflict and emotional climax. Though this works well in the novella form, a problem arises when the same story is adapted to the stage — there are too many “big moments,” and not enough time spent on each one for any of them to have real weight. Why not elide some of these plot points, or cut them altogether? Why can’t we spend more time on the good stuff?

And there is a lot of good stuff to be had here. The core performances are stellar: Danielle Winter bestows this particular version of Doctor Frankenstein with a compelling mix of magnetic obsession and humanizing doubt, and Elizabeth Schenk’s Creature is truly fascinating. A loping, electric, gleeful presence, equally terrifying and beguiling. She charges the room with real horror whenever she appears, and sends a chill through the audience when we hear her bounding and cackling around us, in the shadows. Together, they achieve some wonderful moments of on-stage dread. The scene in which the Monster is first “born” was both nightmarish and exhilarating.

Supporting these performances is some legitimately thrilling direction from Katherine Timms and movement work from the rest of the cast. The scenes in the lab, in which the ensemble form the various mechanical and occult grotesques that Frankenstein uses to achieve her ghoulish ends, are particularly thrilling, macabre fun.

But most interesting of all are the ways that the piece chooses to diverge from the original. The most obvious of these is the decision to make both the Doctor and the Monster women. There are some thought-provoking ways they adapt the plot of the novella here: the Doctor in this version is Elizabeth Frankenstein, adopted daughter of the Frankenstein family. The Monster is also played by a female-presenting person, and though it was less explicit in the text of the piece (the Doctor tends to use the genderless “it” pronoun when referring to the creature) the implication seems to be that it is also female. Unlike Victor Frankenstein, Elizabeth Frankenstein cannot attend university. In this story, she is an entirely self-made and self-taught woman, learning to create life itself through the power of her will and intelligence alone. She is also unable to leave her family home after the death of her father, implying her obsession with reanimation might be an expression of her suffocated freedom. If she cannot defy the laws of the era and attend university, she will defy the very laws of mortality. There is also a fascinating parallel drawn between Elizabeth’s desire for acceptance, as both a woman in a misogynistic society and as an adopted child in close-knit household, and the Monster’s desire for acceptance by humanity.

However, the structural flaws prevent the piece from really diving into these ideas. Whenever we start to explore the very interesting territory that these choices open up, the piece is forced to move on to the next plot point. As a result, the play feels unfocused. In hewing so close to the plot of the novel, it tries to cover too much ground, and misses out on a chance to explore the really fascinating questions that make it special. I would have loved to see this piece if it was a little tighter in scope, and a little more willing to twist and mould the original story to its own ends. There is the nugget of a truly inspired story in this piece, one that explores what happens to a brilliant mind when it is not allowed to freely express itself, one that riffs off of Mary Shelley’s original story and develops its themes into a unique artistic statement. However, because the play doesn’t allow itself the time to tell that story, it never really comes to fruition. We the audience just see glimpses of it, peeking through a faithful but unfocused adaptation of Shelley’s classic novella.

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star HALF 2

Tickets

Programme D, The One Festival @ The Space

12th January – 27th January

The One Festival – Programme D

The-Space-web

The final programme of the One Festival, Programme D, offers a slightly different structure than the others I’ve attended. Rather than featuring four or five shows of around twenty to thirty minutes each, it consists of an hour-long piece before the interval, and four shorter pieces after. This format allows us to really dive into the first piece, and then enjoy the pieces that follow as a sort of collage of short experiences. As I have come to expect from this year’s One Festival, I found the pieces that make up Programme D to be remarkably, consistently fine, despite a few places that could use some more polish. Programme D provides an intimate, compassionate look at people; their thoughts, their feelings, their sensual experiences, and their deepest, most comical embarrassments.

 

Mission Abort, Written and Performed by Therese Ramstedt, Directed by Claire Stone

Mission Abort exemplifies this intimacy, as it explores the deepest doubts and emotions of a woman before, after, and during an abortion. Therese Ramstedt does a wonderful job of making the piece feel close to us, speaking to the audience as if speaking to her closest confidante, and frequently making use of members of the audience to bring parts of her story to life. Ramstedt’s writing is filled with charming, self-effacing humour, and her performance shows real, deeply-felt emotion masked by a youthful affectation of not-being-bothered. The piece explores the experience of having an abortion, and the experience of anticipating and recovering from one, in deep and intricate detail. It was enlightening for me, and I expect will be to many cis-gendered male viewers, to learn just how frustrating and confusing that the experience can be, even in a country where the procedure is relatively available and accessible. As enlightening and entertaining as it was, I was aware while viewing it that the piece might still need some refinement. Structurally, the piece seems to end halfway through and begin again, which is slightly disorienting as an audience member and distracts from the very strong material in the second half. Despite this issue, I felt the piece is very much worth seeing. It’s a piece that is heavily laden with engrossing, revealing, and entertaining material, even if it feels like that material needs to be re-organized in order to truly shine. That material is complemented by stirring directing by Claire Stone, who creates such a striking image at the climax of the piece that I was sure it must be the finale. Filled with dark humour and disarming honesty, Mission Abort is an entertaining and illuminating journey into what it’s like to be young woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy in England today.

 

Crossrail by Philippa Mannion, Performed by Karen Ascoe, Directed by Jodie Botha

Crossrail is instantly refreshing, simply for telling a story from a point of view that is all-too-seldom shown in our arts and media. This beautiful character study by Philippa Mannion centres on Anne, a 56 year old Engineer working on the the new Elizabeth Line project. Again, simply by telling a story of an successful, independent, career-focused woman in her 50’s working in a STEM field, Crossrail is already interesting, but it’s made more interesting by the fact that it’s artfully written and sensitively, skilfully performed. Philippa Mannion’s script tells the story of a woman coming to terms with the loss of her husband by living her life to the fullest without him; moving from fascinating project to fascinating project, tending to her growing family tree, and eventually feeling comfortable enough to explore romance with others along the way. She expertly draws us a character who is profoundly intelligent, but also powerfully kind; a woman who is admirable in her ingenuity and strength, but always, always human. Enhancing and refining that humanity is Karen Ascoe, who brings a great sensitivity and life to the role. Ascoe beautifully captures the soul of a woman who is bursting with energy and joie de vivre. She imbues Anne with a deep passion. The way her eyes light up when she’s telling us about something she loves, whether that be her daughter’s baby shower or the tunnel breaking through at Farringdon Station, is a joy to behold. Artfully constructed and beautifully executed, Crossrail is an entrancing character study of a woman who is blazing through life with passion, intelligence, and independence.

 

 

 

Just One More Time by Guleraana Mir, Performed by Minhee Yeo, Directed by Mingyu Lin

This sensual and sensitive vignette by Guleraana Mir subverts expectations, as it tells the story of Suri and her disappointment with her new dance partner. This compassionate short play, performed with strength and elegance by Minhee Yeo, explores the trust we put in our partners, be they in dance or in life. Mir packs the short and engaging piece with sensual imagery and tender feeling, and Minhee Yeo’s sensitive performance is artfully showcased by Mingyu Lin’s directing. Altogether, the effect is intoxicating, and we are given an engrossing look into the life of a character who lives through movement and connection.

 

A Fallen Cigarette Butt Written and Performed by Stefanie-May Hammoudeh

A Fallen Cigarette Butt is a challenging piece to review, as its effects are difficult to describe. Structurally, the piece is a series of vignettes seen around a public square, told from the point of view of writer/performer Stefanie-May Hammoudeh as she reflects on a discarded cigarette. But Hammoudeh’s language, full of rhythmic repetition and lyrical, swirling descriptions, provides a feeling of reality twisting and turning around . Indeed, the entire experience feels meditative and dreamlike. Hammoudeh’s poetry doesn’t have any clearly spelled out message. Rather, it seems designed more to create a zen-like state, leaving one with an awareness of the connections between things. This poetic meditation on the mind-boggling richness of the world around us is beautifully written and performed by its creator. Through its lyricism and poetry, it shifts our awareness of the world around us in a subtle yet profound way.

 

The End of Term Show by Olu Alakija, Performed by Anthony Covens, Directed by John Fricker

 

The most clear-cut comedy of the evening, The End of Term Show is a hilarious, cutting show about childhood embarassment. It follows Maxwell Martin as he describes, in moment-to-moment detail, the day he became “The Boy Who Killed Christmas.” Olu Alakija’s piece is packed with clever, irreverent jokes, and Maxwell is played with manic verve by Anthony Covens, who almost berates the audience with the story of how he was unjustly maligned for ruining a school nativity play in his childhood. Full of energetic humour and performed with panache, The End of Term Show is a festive treat for the gloomy January season.

 

As I’ve found with the other sections of the One Festival, Programme D is an exciting evening of theatre, filled with intriguing characters, fascinating writing, and great performances. It features a collection of beautifully drawn characters telling intimate, personal stories. Well constructed and thrillingly executed, the work on display in Programme D is a stirring and well crafted collection of new writing.

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)

Tickets

#OneFest18

Programme A, The One Festival @ The Space

9th January – 25th January

The One Festival – Programme A

The One Festival at the Space Theatre is an eclectic and intriguing festival of new writing. Its four ‘Programmes’ offer four or five short works apiece, each performed by only one actor. So far, my experience with the One Festival has been very positive; every night I’ve gone I’ve been able to experience an exciting assortment of short pieces from a diverse array of artists. That trend of great theatre experiences continues in Programme A , in which we see five people all trying to come to terms with some very hard truths, in five very different ways.

 

Treasure by Laura Kaye Thomson, Performed by Jennifer Greenwood, in Association with Music Box Theatre

Treasure, the first piece of the evening, is a complex and moving meditation on grief, family, and mental illness. When we first meet Alex, she is in her “Treasure Trove,” a sort of sentimental safe haven created by her mother, full of precious things. As we learn about this treasure trove, and the objects within, a picture is revealed: one of a young woman coping with a grief so heavy she can’t quite face it. Laura Kaye Thomson’s writing manages to paint a vivid and moving picture of a mother-daughter relationship that is both deeply loving and wrought with pain. Through her words we are not only moved, but made to question: what do you do when you love someone who can’t seem to love herself? Bringing those words to life is Jennifer Greenwood, who masterfully navigates Alex’s journey of nostalgia, pain, anger and acceptance. Her performance is painful and truthful, and she breaks up Alex’s pain with just enough humour and brightness that it never feels too heavy. Treasure is a touching piece, beautifully written and performed, that has a lot to say about loss, and the way we cope with depression in our families.

 

Meeting Roman Polanski by Janice Hallett, Performed by Jessica White, Directed by Adam Hemming

How are you supposed to say ‘Hi’ to Roman Polanski? That’s the question that this uncomfortably relevant piece revolves around, as we watch a woman trying to reconcile a deep love and appreciation of a director’s work with a deep disgust for his actions. The piece examines the link between art and artist, and how a creator’s actions effect their work. Jessica White’s performance as an interviewer trying to reconcile these conflicting feelings is intelligent and passionate. Watching her, you fully understand her struggle; she speaks so passionately about the way Polanski’s work has affected her, and is so horrified by what he’s done, that as an audience we are trapped in the dilemma with her. Janice Hallett’s writing dives deep into the duality of Polanski, and other talented yet monstrous men like him. She brilliantly raises and interrogates questions without ever coming to firm answer. This thought-provoking and sharply executed piece leaves us suspended in these questions, forcing us to come to our own conclusions.

 

Inside Alan Written and Performed by Mitch Day, Directed by Anthony Houghton

Malcolm Collins has a secret: Yes, he broke into Alan Titchmarsh’s house, but that’s not his biggest secret. A fascinating and darkly funny piece, Inside Alan investigates why people stalk celebrities, and how it often has less to do with sexual gratification and more to do with a desperate need for intimacy and comfort. Mitch Day creates Alan with sensitivity and humour, portraying a young man so wracked with anxiety he’ll go to great lengths to feel comfortable, even if it means having a bath in a celebrity gardener’s bathroom. Darkly funny, and full of heart, Inside Alan is a surprisingly touching tale of crime, loss, and self acceptance.

 

A Sweet Life by Guleraana Mir, Performed by Alice Langrish, Directed by Mingyu Lin

A Sweet Life is not a long piece, but in the short time we spend with it we go on quite a journey. Alice Langrish plays Kelly, a plastic surgeon who’s a bit overwhelmed by the stress of it all. Guleranna Mir’s short study of how far people will go to escape the weight of responsibility of the modern world is strange, funny, and slightly disturbing. Alice Langrish’s performance is full of energy and conviction, and Mingyu Lin’s direction keeps the piece driving forward at a breakneck pace. A Sweet Life is an absurd, hilarious dive into the psychology of a woman taking her obsession to the extreme.

 

The Mighty Oak Conqueror by Mike Carter, Performed by Tom Michael Blyth, Directed by Katherine Timms

The final piece of the evening, The Mighty Oak Conqueror, is a hilarious short comedy about a man who’s got himself stuck in a tree. Mike Carter’s piece is a parody of masculinity as our society defines it, and the foolishness trying to compensate for our insecurities by chasing a rugged cave-man identity. It follows Brian from St Albans, played with great skill and panache by Thomas Michael Blyth, as he tries to justify to passers-by why he’s got himself stuck up a huge oak tree.Blyth’s characterization of Brian as a classic English, sweater-clad namby-pamby is brilliantly realized, and he keeps the laughs coming with a sharp sense of comic timing and a deep understanding of his character. Mike Carter’s writing cleverly and skillfully captures the constantly over-intellectualizing and self-sabotaging nature of a man desperate to receive some kind of respect from anybody, even himself; and Katherine Timms’ directing wonderfully establishes the sense of swaying, unsteady vertigo of both the character’s physical situation and his shaky sense of self. Equal parts clever and hilarious, The Mighty Oak Conqueror is a worthy finale to a very entertaining and engrossing night of theatre.

 

After taking in Programme A, I am once again massively impressed by the quality of work on show at the One Festival. All of the pieces that make up Programme A show us characters struggling to come to terms with difficult truths, whether that be the loss of a loved one, the truth about our heroes, or our inability to live up to traditional standards of masculinity. Heartbreaking, yet hopeful, and always striking just the right balance of light and dark, Programme A is yet another fantastic offering by the One Festival.

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)

Tickets

Programme C, The One Festival @ The Space

11 January – 27 January

The One Festival – Programme C

One-18-Web

 

After so thoroughly enjoying the One Festival’s Programme B, I was determined to see the rest of the pieces currently playing at The Space in Canary Wharf.  My next step was seeing Programme C, an eclectic collection of amusing, absorbing, and occasionally harrowing short pieces. Though all five pieces featured in Programme C are very different in tone and subject matter, they all have two big things in common. They all share a focus on the vividly drawn, oftentimes eccentric characters at their centre, and they’re all full of surprises.

 

Mansplaining: The Musical by Mike Carter, Performed by Stephanie Ware, Directed by Saffron Myers

The first piece of the evening, Mansplaining: The Musical, is a raucous and delightful good time. Its subject is talented, take-no-guff Broadway leading lady Ginger Valentine, played with charm and gusto by Stephanie ware. Ware portrays brilliantly the hard-working performer, constantly bedevilled on her journey to stardom by the men who want to steal her spotlight and undermine her success. Mike Carter’s writing gives the character wit, humour and strength, and his decision to set the piece on Broadway in the 1930’s emphasizes the universality of its feminist message, and echoes the revelations the world is collectively having about the entertainment industry today. That message is bolstered by comedic songs and musical numbers, imbuing the whole proceedings with pageantry, flash and fun. Overall, Mansplaining: The Musical is a defiant, charming and entertaining piece full of real character and old-school Broadway flair.

 

Home Time by David Hendon, Performed by Elizabeth George, Directed by Paula Chitty

Home Time, written by David Hendon and directed by Paula Chitty, is a harrowing piece about motherhood, shock and grief. Jennifer is a single mother with a young son, played with great feeling and sensitivity by Elizabeth George. She begins the piece sharing with us the many mundane joys, degradations and celebrations that motherhood entails. However, we soon realize that there’s something terrible she’s not telling us, and seeing her come to terms with this dreadful truth provides us with an honest and unflinching portrayal of shock and grief. Watching the piece, it feels like we spend a bit too much time with Jennifer before this event, and not quite enough time seeing her deal with the aftermath; an odd choice, considering the meat of the piece seems to come after the twist. However, despite a slightly meandering feel towards the beginning, this moving meditation on motherhood has much to offer for theatre-goers looking to have their heart-strings tugged.

 

Binkie and the Snowbirds by John Dixon, Performed by Tim Blackwell, Directed by Danielle McIlven

The third piece of the evening, Binkie and the Snowbirds by John Dixon, is all about subverting expectations. It revolves around a man and his dog, Binkie, who happens to be stuffed. The man, played with offbeat humour and sharp intelligence by Tim Blackwell, is telling his story to a “snowbird” in a Miami cocktail bar, promising more tantalizing details in exchange for just one more drink. We never know if we can trust him, as Binkie is constantly subverting expectations, to darkly comic or unexpectedly moving effect. As the piece unfolds, we come to learn that our possibly unreliable narrator carries a great loneliness beneath his chummy exterior, a loneliness which sometimes drives him to unusual extremes. Surprising and funny, Binkie and the Snowbirds is brought to vivid life by John Dixon’s witty writing and Tim Blackwell’s energetic performance.

 

Sixth Position Written and Directed by Louise Jameson, Performed by Holly Jackson Walters

Next is Sixth Position, an elegant meditation on potential, and the impossibility of knowing if it’s ever been met. Holly Jackson Walters plays a ballerina, or is she an ex-ballerina? This question is at the centre of Sixth Position, as it explores whether we need an audience to dance, or if just dancing is, on its own, enough. As we are told about this character’s past, we see more and more of who she is: her great uncertainty and doubt is gradually revealed to us. Holly Jackson Walters brings remarkable feeling to her role, particularly in her physicality, which gracefully and expressively captures a soft, light, hesitant joy. Sixth Position is a gentle, affecting, subtle piece about art and doubt, brought to life by a detailed performance from Holly Jackson Walters and engrossing writing from Louise Jameson.

 

Skyclad by Serena Haywood, Performed by Alexandra Donnachie, Directed by Lou-Lou Mason

The final show on the Programme, Skyclad by Serena Haywood, is a comic exploration of the ways young people seek acceptance and meaning in a confusing and uncertain world. Alexandra Donnachie plays Sophia ‘Fuschia’ Travis, a university physics student who’s just joined her university’s witchcraft association. Donnachie brings a charming awkwardness and self-deprecating humour to her character, and despite Fuschia’s eccentricities the audience is with her the whole way. Serena Haywood’s writing is funny in an understated, surprising way, and she accurately captures the way in which young people seeking acceptance band together in unusual ways. However, Fuschia’s new acceptance is not long-lived, and both Donnachie and Haywood seem to take great pleasure in exploring how this character filters her feelings of jealousy and betrayal through her newfound knowledge of Wicca. Skyclad is very funny, and provides a clear vision of the ways young people deal with loneliness, betrayal, and romantic conflict.

 

Programme C presents a diverse set of interesting, eccentric characters in moments of indecision, loneliness, betrayal and grief. The five pieces on show all have very different tones, but all are engrossing and all feature detailed, well-drawn characters. All together, I find Programme C to be another strong offering from the One Festival, an eclectic and exciting evening of character-driven theatre.

 

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)

Tickets

 

#OneFest18

Programme B, The One Festival @ The Space

9 January – 27 January

The One Festival – Programme B

 

One Festival – Programme B

 

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending an evening of plays at the One Festival currently playing at the Space in Canary Wharf. I saw Programme B, a night of short, darkly comic pieces, all written and performed by women. Though the pieces feature four very different characters in very different situations, there is an overarching impression of being at a sort of confessional. We’re seeing all of these characters in moments of brutal, revealing honesty, and hearing them say things they can’t say in their normal lives.

 

Perfect by Rachael Claye, performed by Carianne Dunford
Directed by Danielle McIlven

In Perfect, a drunken substitute storyteller (Carianne Dunford) tells a group of children (the audience) a thinly veiled tale of depravity and greed. At lights up, we are greeted with the familiar sight of colourful plastic children’s furniture. But the warm feelings of childhood familiarity quickly dissipate as we get to know our storyteller. By framing us, the audience, as children entrusted to the care of the librarian, writer Rachael Claye and director Danielle McIlven create a sense dread as we come to realise just how honest our narrator is going to be. As the ensuing tale of sex, revenge and fairy-tale trickery unfolds, we begin to feel more and more like children seeing something they don’t really understand but somehow know is wrong. Dunford, Claye and McIlven have done an admirable job of reminding us what it might have felt like if, when we were children, we were to see an adult in a moment of inappropriate and uncomfortable weakness. Perfect is small, strange and intimate, like a flash of a long-suppressed memory.

 

Motherland written and performed by Naomi Joseph
Directed by Ellie Simpson

By contrast, Motherland feels big. Writer and performer Naomi Joseph paints a vivid picture of a young English/Indian woman’s day at a rugby match: we hear the crowd, we see the stadium, we meet all the different characters between the station and her seat. But beyond the day itself, we are shown how sports acts as a nexus of family, sex, race, death and, above all else, identity. As Naomi shares with us this great web of connections with intelligence and humour, we are shown a portrait of a young person staking a defiant claim to their identity. In giving us a snapshot of Naomi’s life, we are shown how constant that fight for identity is. She must reaffirm her Englishness to the man searching bags at the gate, assert her ability to keep up with her brother and her father, even defend her own name to the guy at the pasty shop. She meets every encounter with wit and strength, and crafts an unassailable case that she has as much a right to call herself English as anyone else in that stadium. It is her motherland, after all.

 

It’s Not a Sprint written and performed by Grace Chapman
Directed by Rachael Black

If Motherland shows us a young woman who is mature beyond her years, It’s Not a Sprint does quite the opposite. Grace Chapman plays Maddy, a woman who is celebrating her 30th birthday by running a marathon, and seemingly also by running away from all her problems. It’s Not a Sprint is full of wonderful surprises and twists, which I will be careful not to spoil. I will say that it’s hilarious, and deeply touching, and absolutely worth seeing. Chapman plays and writes Maddy with wit and love, as she goes on a journey that is oh so much more difficult than simply running twenty-six miles. It’s Not a Sprint explores and celebrates the challenges of learning to change, in all their painful glory. With this piece, Chapman and director Ellie Simpson have crafted a moving and funny piece about how growing up often has very little to do with age, and more to do with the decision to just keep going.

 

A Sweet Fade written and performed by Charlotte Powell
Directed by Orlando James

A Sweet Fade, the final piece of the evening, is striking in its authenticity, energy, and passion. Writer and Performer Charlotte Powell plays Abby, a barber as sharp and bright as her scissors. In many ways A Sweet Fade feels like a love letter, a love letter to barbering, to men, and to women, particularly those working in male-dominated trades. Abby is a beautifully drawn character, and it’s so easy to get completely lost in her funny stories and poetic insights. But underneath her charm and intelligence is a woman in struggle, desperately fighting for the freedom and respect she has earned, but held back by the misogyny of the men around her. A feelingly drawn piece, about pride and love and work, I recommend it heartily.

 

Overall, I was very impressed by what I’ve seen so far of the One Festival, and am looking forward to seeing more. Programme B, which seems to be an evening built around women in moments of darkly comic confession, was a moving, entertaining and enlightening experience. Though the pieces are short, and can occasionally feel a little bit rough around the edges, overall I find Programme B to be a very successful set of plays and a diverting and intimate evening of theatre.

 

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)

Tickets

 

#OneFest18

Ajax, Esmond Road Productions @ The Space

5 – 10 December 2017

by Sophocles
Translation by James Kerr
Directed by Maria Makenna

DQSOQsAX0AEGUcK (1)

A retelling of the classic Greek tragedy by an all-female cast and crew. Odysseus is awarded Achilles’ armour after the Trojan war instead of the far more deserving Ajax. Ajax goes on a vengeful rampage but is tricked by Athena into instead killing the spoils of the Greek army, including their cattle and herdsman. The play follows Ajax’s awakening to what he has done, his shame, and the fallout of his destructive actions.

 

It’s a strong ensemble who deliver engaging performances that I think are let down by the original text. Sophocles’ work, though an iconic work of art can be very confusing. I imagine watching this play without knowledge of the play’s context or a background in Greek literature would feel like watching the season 6 finale of Game of Thrones without having seen any of the previous episodes. There are lots of characters, half of them are related, and even dedicated fans get confused between them sometimes. It can be hard to keep track.

Furthermore, the key moral dilemmas explored in the work hinge on concepts that I find had to empathise with a contemporary audience member. Fear of the Furies, and the importance of the slaughtered cattle are concepts on which the whole play rests. They’d be hard to use as emotional cruxes at the best of times, but in addition we’re dropped into the story at the climax of Ajax’s insanity, leaving little time to absorb the importance of these things, and no time to grow attached to any characters before we’re expected to feel bad about them. Many of the almost continual emotional outbursts throughout the piece thus risk feeling a little unearned.

It’d be a massive challenge for any theatre group, and though this company did far better than most would have, I’m not sure they ever quite escaped the quagmire left to them by Sophocles.

It’s quite a remarkable company, incredibly international with members originating from Canada, the US, the UK, South Africa & Israel. They’re a powerful and talented group of performers, and I thought every actor had golden, gripping moments. I would love to see them perform a script that has less of an Achilles’ heel.

There were some strong choices made throughout, and the use of music was inspired. Throughout the piece they almost take the role of Greek Chorus literally, their beautiful singing and accompanying drums were often sublime and a major highlight of the performance. At one point I had goosebumps. As a debut director, Maria Makenna has brought a flair and creativity that breathes some real moments of brilliance to an incredibly difficult play.

Definitely see the show if you’re a Greek tragedy fan, but if you’re new to the genre I’d recommend some prior reading first.

 

 

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)

Tickets

 

The Castle, The Space

10 – 28 October 2017

by Howard Barker
Directed by Adam Hemming

The Castle - Production Shot 16.jpg

 

Stucley and fellow soldiers arrive home from the Crusades to find a new society run by women, with no religion, no class-system, no fences, no work, and no desire to return to how things were. He orders the building of a castle to restore the old order, and not everything goes as planned.

It’s a strange script deeply imbued with issues of religion, ideology, feminism and gender. It’s heightened language creates the tone of a Greek tragedy. It feels medieval and brutal, rather like Macbeth but with more funny bits.

It’s heightened poetic language is a source of both the play’s genius and its flaws. While it is a beautiful vehicle to convey the play’s story and themes, and much of it’s humour comes from the knowing undercutting of it’s own extremes. It is intelligent writing, with snatches of almost Shakespearean truth, and wit.

However, it is not an easy play to understand.

The Space is incredibly ambitious with it’s approach to The Castle. In fact, it’s the grandest, most epic fringe show I’ve ever seen in terms of its scale. The venue, a converted church, is more than perfect for the setting, and the dynamic blocking and direction is excellent.

The cast is crammed with superb performers, and every member of the ensemble has at least one moment where they shine. Anthony Cozens (Stucley) gives an impassioned, and powerfully emotional performance, Shelley Davenport (Ann) packs the smallest words with depths of meaning, Chris Kyriacou (Krak) embodies a stoic, complex figure, while Kate Tulloch’s Skinner is extreme, and at times terrifying. Matthew Brent (Nailer) and Matthew Lyon (Holiday) are timid and hilarious nice guys, and John Sears (Hush), Isabel Crowe (Cant), and Ross Kernahan (Brian), each bring personality, impetus, and stakes to their scenes. Their compelling performances carry you into their world.

However, the production itself falls into a few of the traps of heightened, poetic language.

First, it could stand to have at least 50% less shouting. It’s not unjustified shouting, the actors are believable and passionate, and the lines often require the violent proclamation of emotion, but particularly in the final act the message of the piece risks being lost in vocal extremes. And the more shouting there is, the less impact it has.

Second, if a character goes nose-to-nose with another character, it needs to end in a backing down, a pushing away, violence, or kissing. Otherwise the power-play has no purpose, nowhere to go, and the stakes disappear. It’s just a bit of a pet peeve of mine.

But these are problems which I seem to see in almost every Greek/Medieval style tragedy in productions from pub theatre to the West End.

I’d encourage any reader of this review to see it. Some of you will love it, others might hate it.

It will definitely leave you asking questions.

Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star.svg (1)Gold_Star HALF 2

Tickets