Brighton’s always been brimming with a sparky bunch of performers. Bars, pubs, and the revolution of pop-up venues are crammed with a tasty smorgasbord of set lists. A walk down St James’ street will waft sounds of sleazy jazz at one end and punkily vibrate your fingertips at the other. And whilst the city is haunted by the odd cranes bull dozing and demolishing, the music scene is gaining ever more momentum. The tricky part is finding performance spaces that are open and not distasteful to pinched purses in the middle of an industrial refurb. So, please may I introduce, the Brighton Dome’s nifty solution with SPECTRUM: Winter Special, a returning event that flaunts the city’s well-endowed musical talent in flirtatious 25 minute slots. This round of SPECTRUM was held in The Brighton Museum as it’s usual location - the Dome’s Studio - is under construction. In the true spirit of make do and mend, the performances unfolded in the museum’s nooks and crannies, against a back drop of taxidermy turtles, 19th century oil paintings and other curiosities.
Check out this juicy SPECTRUM line up to warm your cockles and melt your goddamn cynical heart: So first up on this musical pilgrimage was Thomas White from The Fiction Aisle, who draws out the romantic rumblings of jazz, glowing underneath an indie lampshade. Following on was M. Butterfly, a dapper country singer sporting a cracking moustache and bolo tie. His songs mix melancholy with the chirpier country rhythms, and a raw honest voice that sounds capable of breaking at any moment. Emma Gatrill is charmingly awkward and quirky as she reshuffled her lamp in her socks. But as she sat down to play, this other-worldly voice emerged, swollen with haunting folky melodies.
Hue Hui mixes hushed soulful folk with contemporary references and a bad ass attitude like her lyric “Tried to explain to you so many fucking times.” Her voice is like smoky honey and she sounds effortless singing it. Sharon Lewis kicked off her set with a twisted fairy-tale on ukulele, accompanied by a mandolin, and punctured by cutting lyrics “Your love is as fickle as the wind and I just got blown away.” It being The Winter Special and all that jazz, Sharon Lewis rolled out a round of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and little flickering hums from the audience joining in. (I hand-on- heart promise that it was only a tad awkward but mostly loveable as hell.) The final stop is Nature’s TV, a mellow indie boy band, playing amongst vintage sofas. Their dreamy alt-pop has the vibes to match a chilled California beach balcony, with just a sprinkling of Mac DeMarco and bubbling tropical guitar riffs.
Imagine being at a lovable mismatched family afterparty and you’ve pretty much got the atmosphere to a tittle. It was beautifully humble with encouraging words shared between the audience and performers, and a menagerie of heart felt songs that make you proud to be a Brightonian. - Jess Butcher
In North-Western Canada in the late 1800's, a young tribal girl is taken in and cared for by an old huntsman. Years later the girl, Lyzbet Scott, has grown into a feisty teenager struggling to find the correct path within the often cruel world. Making friends with an abandoned wolf pup, she endeavours to discover her true identity whilst keeping those around her safe. The story, written by Jethro Compton and inspired by Jack London's novel of the same name, is detailed and thrives with it's mature themes of sexuality, race and identity.
The set consists of wooden panels and swathes of fur, wonderfully resembling a cosy cabin in the winter, yet is somewhat ruined by a large uninspiring beige curtain running across the width of the stage. The curtain oddly trembles throughout (I can only hope this isn't meant to happen). The ensemble beautifully sing soft lullaby's whilst transitioning from scene to scene, which is the only saving grace to the clunky awkward scene changes with prolonged blackouts.
The wolf, 'White Fang', is puppeteered by the ensemble to a basic standard, with simple movements and little attention to detail. It doesn't carry much weight, often floating across the stage. Mariska Ariya plays central character Lyzbet Scott simply and subtly, yet similarly to the wolf, lacks weight and ferocity. With direction from Jethro Compton, the emotion of the character is also lacking in key scenes. The gut wrenching scenes call for explosive and raw emotion, but all we receive is an underplayed, quiet composure. Bebe Sanders fails to make bold choices as quirky character Curly, and often falls into the same rhythm as Ariya when the pair are in a scene together, hindering the pace of the piece. The piece as a whole lacks a certain amount of imagination and surprise, and therefore becomes boring. Simply exploring more as an ensemble could create more innovative and unique visuals. - Faye Butler
Jinkx Monsoon, winner of season 5 of America’s reality TV competition ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’, returns to Contact Theatre in Manchester for an outrageous night of bawdy singing and dancing. Jinkx is fantastically quick witted and terrifies her audience with a no holds barred approach to audience participation. Jinkx wanders the crowd, sitting on knees and interrogating the poor fools on the front row who are quickly wishing they had bought a less interactive seat. One particularly unfortunate accountant called Steven finds himself straddled on stage with Jinkx’s fingers shoved ungraciously in his embarrassed mouth. She is ready for every retort and heckle and shoots shade in every direction; the speed and quality Jinkx’s improvised content is simply outstanding. The show is sheer shameless entertainment from beginning to end and will leave even the most conservative audience member in stitches before the night is out.
Jinkx’s new character, Kitty Witless, is a stalwart feminist and the salacious wife of the dapper Dr Don Van Dandy (Major Scales) composer and performer extraordinaire. Between them the pair hilariously reinvent modern pop songs in 1920s vaudeville style, or rather in the form they were originally written. The show tells the tragic story of this 1920s musical duo who, whilst on a cocaine fuelled tour in Antarctica, are suddenly frozen alive. Fortunately, due to global warming, the pair has recently thawed only to discover that all their original songs have been stolen and refashioned as trashy contemporary pop. Little did we know that ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ is actually about the invention of the electric iron, ‘Toxic’ is an ode to Marie Curie and ‘…Baby One More Time’ is really a ditty about domestic abuse. If the show is nothing else, tells Jinkx mockingly to the audience, “it’s believable.”Jinkx is a gorgeous yet formidable anachronism with a seemingly limitless supply of self-confidence that leaves most men shrinking in their seats. It is most refreshing to watch a performer so effortlessly tackle the complex intricacies of drag self parody, which so often miss the mark, and still come across as both hilarious and utterly loveable. The show is fabulously conceited and wholly absurd but at times strikingly poignant. It is a raucous cabaret from the very start and you’ll most likely leave asking, “what the hell was that?” But I can guarantee you’ll want to come back. - Oscar Lister
'Remember Me' is both a tribute and a parody, "a lip sync verbatim documentary", a sharp yet moving memento concerning one of the greatest plays ever written, and those who have tackled it. The production is a sort of Hamlet mixtape delivered exclusively from the extremely talented lips of intrepid drag fabulist Dickie Beau. It seamlessly weaves together past productions and interviews, featuring the great Richard Eyre, Sean Mathias and Ian McKellan, through the use of projections, silhouette and mime. This production truly elevates the practice of lip-syncing to another level. Beau manages to wonderfully capture the gestures and expressions of all the characters involved, particularly successfully those of the fantastically dry and quick-witted Ian Mckellan whose loveable, self-depreciating humour vitalises the show.
But the show is far more than just an impressive mime comedy; there is a method in this madness. The show explores the story of one particular Hamlet of which there is no recording or documentation. Ian Charleson performed Hamlet at the National Theatre in 1989 whilst seriously ill with AIDS. Though described by Ian Mckellan as "the perfect Hamlet", Ian Charleson tragically died in the January of the following year. The production creates a beautiful patchwork dialogue that acts as a most fitting eulogy to this theatrical great. “Remember me”, echoes the voice of the ghost of Hamlet’s father as Dickie Beau confronts us with Hamlet’s troubled musings on mortality, bleeding out of fiction and into reality. However this remembrance commemorates not just Ian Charleson, but all those who were taken prematurely from the world by AIDS and robbed of the opportunity to fulfill their potential.
On stage the delivery is minimal and stripped back, which lets the audience contemplate without distraction the haunting transience of the role of an actor embodying such a timeless character. Each Hamlet carries the weight of all the Hamlets before them and must deliver those lines “it is I” in the knowledge that many more Danes stand in wait to replace them. Dickie Beau is gleefully camp but also gravely serious and leaves one feeling both entertained and afflicted. The theatre is wondrous, magical, and tragic and this production accounts the often untold tale of the actor behind the Dane. - Oscar Lister
Written by Jerome K. Jerome in 1900 and first performed in 1908, The Passing Of The Third Floor Back is the tale of a mysterious traveller (Alexander Knox) who persuades folks of all classes into becoming their better selves. Directed by Jonny Kelly, the play is set in a Victorian boarding house and follows the fickle and scandalous relationships between the staff and tenants. The star of the show is Set and Costume designer, Jasmine Swan, with a decadent, cosy set draped in rich golds and bronzes. This, teamed with the delightful sounds of Lizzie Faber's harp, provides a classical and somewhat festive atmosphere. Swan expertly designed the exquisitely classy costumes that provide clear visual characterisation, from morbid and macabre to frilly and frivolous. Caroline Wildi also shows nicely detailed movements as the shrewd Mrs Tompkins with dainty, delicate hand movements.
There are comical moments planted within the piece that mainly stem from powerhouse Paddy Navin, who provides a rounded performance as the complicated and eccentric Miss Kite. The rhythms of the characters weave together pleasantly in the first act, such as Ella Dunlop as the sprightly young maid paired with the slower and more centered Anna Mottram. This unfortunately does not carry for the second half, with the predictable and repetitive pacing of each character having their moment with the mysterious visitor.
A huge positive is that there is an abundance of strong and interesting women on the Finborough stage with this piece - hurrah! There are mild feminist tones, with a few poignant lines from the female characters, although not enough for it to feel particularly relevant. With themes of mild theft and dishonesty within the story, the stakes are generally not very high in regards to the redemption of the characters. Despite being wonderfully acted and providing lighthearted entertainment, my biggest issue with this piece is why now? Why this piece? What is it offering to the world? - Faye Butler
Clowning belongs in the circus: beneath the big top, behind a big, red nose and between comics, not accomplished actors... yet Slava Polunin and his Snow Show are unequivocally proving that clowns really belong on the bright lights and beauty of the stage in his breath-taking blizzard of a performance.
Slava’s Snow Show is a show in the spectacular superlative: the brightest lights, the boldest ambition, and the biggest, ahem, bouncing balls. And yet, from the most outlandish and loudest laughs come the quietest moments of comedy touched with melancholic charm. Late in Act II, Slava slips his hand into a hanging coat sleeve and caresses his own cheek in a scene that quiets the laughter and captures the imagination and the empathy of an audience immersed in the magic. There is no story as such, but a thread of longing and loneliness weaves the show together and uses laughs to fill any spaces. The scenes land somewhere between a skit and a lament, a skilful balancing of the spectacular and the silently stirring, and to accomplish it all only with mime and some well-known music – from the ambient ‘La petite fille de la mer’ to the magnificent ‘O Fortuna’ finale – is an immense theatrical achievement.
Slava himself is a master of movement, each placement and expression measured and meticulous and inexplicably effortless. From his face to his fingertips to his fluffy-looking feet, Slava’s performance emanates with ease, and although a forlorn-looking fellow, it feels like he holds out the hand of friendship to the whole theatre, and whether young or old, you reach for it readily and willingly. The mastermind behind the whole creation, Slava makes the most of any moment, from the most impressive to the improvised. When a cough interrupts his slow shuffling offstage, he turns around to fix the culprit with a frown, and a well-timed, imaginary watch-check follows a couple who leave their front row seats early – and if they didn’t return, it’s their loss, as the snow-filled finale is a moment of theatrical magic not to missed.
A clowning chorus in green frock coats, ski-length shoes and horizontal hats that compel them to tilt their heads just to pass each other follow in Slava’s footsteps – at times, quite literally – and are the mischief-makers to his theatrical architect. And, after all the fun is over, you’ll leave not only with a handful of snow but a heart full of warmth, too. - Leah Tozer
Elf the Musical tells the heart warming tale of Buddy – a human raised by elves in the north pole. We are immediately transported to ‘Christmas Town’ and it is all as magical as it sounds. With its 1950’s big band Broadway style just screaming Christmas, this musical is an absolute delight. Every aspect is executed to perfection and I find I am simply mesmerised throughout!
Ben Forster reprises his role of Buddy and captures his child-like innocence and wonder perfectly. Ben has an impressive vocal range that’s showcased marvellously as he sings almost all 15 songs. He’s the epitome of the Buddy we know and love from the film, whilst still managing to create a stand-alone character in comparison to Will Ferrell. Opposite Ben we have Liz McClarnon portraying love interest Jovie, she’s sassy, cheeky and shows off a beautiful voice. This show has an extremely strong ensemble, ensuring the group numbers are a pleasure to watch! Brilliant energy throughout and spellbinding choreography that includes a classic tap routine and even rollerblading! The set and design know no bounds, it incorporates incredible projections and each set change is flawless with some impressive rigging used for Santa’s sleigh (I’ll say no more).
Morgan Young must be congratulated his incredible direction and choreography and for bringing this modern-day classic to life! This production is perfect for children and adults alike, it’s a heartening story filled with magic, laughter and love and truly summons that Christmas spirit. This musical truly is the gift that keeps on giving! - Anna Jobarteh
Patriotism and the eroticism of war gushes through Natal’ya Vorozhbit’s Bad Roads like blood from a wound, except there are no bandages here to lessen the gore. Set in the outskirts of Ukraine in the midst of the 2014 revolution, director Vicky Featherstone masterfully explores the spine-chilling effects war has on women.
Designer, Camilla Clarke transforms the Royal Court’s upstairs studio space into a bleak, frosty woodland with lofty tree trunks illuminated by Natasha Chivers’ chilling and sobering lighting design. As an ensemble, these two design elements work harmoniously allowing the stage to easily become an array of settings for this gut wrenching drama to play out.
The cast do well at fulfilling the comprehensive script. Burning slowly at first, the tension soon rises even though the 1hr 45minute running time does add a definite unnecessary weight to the piece. The text, divided in to six vignettes, has been beautifully translated by Sasha Dugdale, providing a beguiling poetic resonance throughout. Particular cast highlights include Ronke Adekoluejo and Ria Zmitrowicz, who grasp their characters well, multi rolling effortlessly. Zmitrowicz realises a certain naivety, one that seemingly captures the youthful innocence of any underaged girl falling in love with a brute, callous older man. Whereas Adekoluejo commands a total conviction of unsettling vehemence and pain.
Featherstone showcases the art of stage direction so explicably well that without her this piece might have collapsed under the pressure of itself. Featherstone addresses such bleak moments in such a way that she inexplicably forces her audience to imagine the unimaginable. Nothing is too bitter for Featherstone to hurl at the audience, she wants this piece to pack a punch. Luckily for her it does more than this - it totally obliterates. - Niall Hunt
H.C. Andersen’ s The Snow Queen is one of his longest and most complex fairy tales. It follows the fiercely loyal Gerda on an epic quest to find her friend Kai after he disappears, abducted by the snow queen. The Polka Theatre’s adaptation of The Snow Queen is a clever play on children’s imagination, with dialogue that does not underestimate its audience and plenty of stimulating experiences. The four-strong cast carries the story in an engaging, humorous way without ever having to result in common cliches of children’s theatre, such as over narration and splashes of colour. In fact, the set and costume design reflect the cold nature of the piece. The character of Gerda is portrayed in a way that is rare amongst female heroines even today. She cannot be put into a box. She is not particularly strong but she is not particularly weak either. She simply is. Defined by her actions rather than labels. Isabelle Chiam’s portrayal of Gerda is an empowering role model for young girls.
The cast tells the story effectively by multi-rolling and utilising object manipulation in a fun and imaginative way. It is obvious to anyone who visits the Polka Theatre that they are passionate about making good, ambitious children’ s theatre. Everything about the theatre and the surrounding cafe and play area is deliberately designed so families can have a nice time together. The Snow Queen is an ever-relevant story, teaching children that nothing lasts forever and they should enjoy each moment to it’s fullest. - Disa Andersen
The timeless tale of ‘star cross’d lovers’ and ancestral strife is one of the most well-known and widely adaptable works of literature, but just what makes a great adaptation of Romeo and Juliet? Passion, poetry, power, pathos: even without the Bard’s words, English National Ballet’s staging of Rudolf Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet is all that and more.
The choreography is perfectly poised between the grand and the gentle: the crowd scenes are feasts of chaos and activity, from families at war to flag-waving to fellas womanising away, and the Capulet ball is a grandiose pageant of patriarchal control as the men flaunt their women like fashionable capes and the brass of Prokofiev’s music beats beneath. The fencing and fight scenes are frenzied and furious and performed with such force by a male corps, with the opposing families captained by Pedro Lapetra’s petite but capricious Mercutio, James Forbat’s benevolent and beautifully-jumped Benvolio, and Fabian Reimair’s prowling, Prince of Cats, the cavalier Tybalt. With much of the fighting between the young Montagues and Capulets founded on attempts to emasculate each other – crossing swords, kissing, hands sweeping across crotches – it cleverly captures the anxieties of masculinity in cultures contemporaneous to the play, this 1977 production, and the modern day. For a four hundred year old play and a forty-year-old production, the performance feels fresh, poignant, and full of life.
While the vigour and grandeur powers the production through the prose of the play, its poetry and gentleness lies with the lovers. Aaron Robison’s Romeo moves from laddish daydreamer to ardent lover to desperate outlaw, and his spirited, playful allegro in Act I are elevated to soaring leaps and fast turns in the freely expressive pas de deux that descends, as the lovers do, into a dance of death in the last Act. And that last Act belongs to Jurgita Dronina’s Juliet: blossoming into a bold young woman from the blushing girl made to dance with her betrothed at the ball, she’s reckless with her Romeo, flying in death-defying lifts and falling, drunk with love, into his arms. Yet, Dronina is also immensely arresting, fearlessly fighting off her mother – a frighteningly fatalist Stina Quagebeur – and facing her fate with a searing, silent scream. A promising new partnership for English National Ballet, the balcony pas de deux is playful and passionate, the farewell in Act III fraught and full of longing, and it's the gentlest of touches – palm to palm, an echo of Shakespeare’s ‘holy palmer’s kiss’ in the play – that are the most touching.
Prokofiev’s magnificent score has never felt more passionate or more powerful in the hands of the English National Ballet Philharmonic and under the baton of Gavin Sutherland, particularly in the strength and strings of the ‘Dance of the Knights’ and the soaring beauty of the ‘Balcony Scene’, and Ezio Frigerio’s rich, Renaissance costumes not only place the period but part the feuding families into colour-coded factions. This is a truly transcendent dance production, impressive as a piece of drama in its own right and a spirited and spectacular adaptation ‘of Juliet and her Romeo’. - Leah Tozer
Andrew Bovell’s Things I Know To Be True is bought to us for its third tour by the UK’s critically-acclaimed Frantic Assembly and State Theatre Company South Australia production. Directed by Geordie Brookman and Scott Graham, we are shown how things are never as they seem. The seemingly perfect Price family are not-so perfect as we look deeper into their struggle to get by in the ever-changing world. We follow Fran and Bob Price and their four fully grown children, Rosie, Pip, Ben and Mark, who are all trying to find their way in life. The story starts with a strong monologue held by Kirsty Oswald as Rosie, opening up to us about how she had her heart broken during her travels in Europe. This speech is genuine, characterful and touching. The subsequent scenes follow with a similar pattern. We watch Rosie, Pip, Ben and Mark unfold their hidden realities to their family. Bovell’s writing is truly commendable and the talented ensemble cast couldn’t have portrayed a truer family. It is your family – it is everyone’s family.
Cate Hamer as Fran Price, the mother we all can identify, is remarkable. The depth of her character is impressive; she is always irate yet kind and well composed yet constantly in a muddle. This works wonderfully with husband Ewan Stewart (who stepped in as Bob Price due to John McArdle’s ill health). Stewart is quieter but not short of humour, he shows struggle to talk about his feelings and shows stubbornness when it comes to the changes in his children’s lives. The parents are stuck feeling that they thought their children’s lives should be like theirs. As a millennial, for the first time I understand where parents are coming from, as if they were mine. Surely, children owe that to their parents? “Getting by is the point”, Bob Price claims. In world where ‘settling’ for something isn’t a thing anymore, one could question: Are we becoming a selfish generation?
Matthew Barker as Mark Price has the hardest job; his identity struggle is relevant and important. With the little stage time, the subject matter is only touched on delicately highlighting each generations view. With an array of sub-plots connecting into one, I would have loved to seen more. Each story could be deepened into a play of its own. A positive thing, I must say, as it lets our imagination run wild. I can’t stop thinking about it now.
The lighting and set design is simply beautiful. The lighting is used sparingly, but it is delightful to the eye when it is used. Although the set may seem simple, there has been much more thought into the set than meets the eye. The beautiful rose trees that blossom throughout as the family weaken. The space accounted for slick table sliding stage transitions and graceful moments of movement which reflect strength and powerlessness at the same time. As the ending approaches, all that is heard is sniffs and snivels. Although what occurs may have been foreseen at some point throughout, it doesn’t take away from the utterly heartbreaking message it leaves us with. Is love really enough? Do we need to love more? Or, maybe loving too much is the issue. This is a striking production that plays on your minds for hours, days (and maybe even weeks) after seeing it. - Holly Kellingray
As the saying – and singing, in this opera – goes, ‘chacun à son gout!’: ‘to each his own taste’, and the taste of Welsh National Opera’sDie Fledermaus is champagne – bubbly, celebratory, flamboyant, but with a little bit of bitterness in the aftertaste.
Die Fledermaus is an operetta caught somewhere between Restoration and Shakespearean comedy: a well-moneyed misdemeanant – a markedly strong Mark Stone – seems more interested in other women than his own wife, everyone from the mischievous chambermaid to her suspicious mistress set about scheming their way into a masquerade ball, an elaborate if improbable plot featuring false identities, lots of flirting and a few faux-Frenchmen, and, of course, a finale where all is forgiven and the ruse is revealed. This is operetta with frills-and-all, and with all the fun and frolics, it’s more than just the misbehaving husband who’s getting merrily mocked, it’s the opulence and improbability of opera, too.
Act I is a triumph, particularly in its faux pas-fest of a finale that’s gloriously funny and gorgeously performed by Judith Howarth’s wronged-but-wily Rosalinde, her ardent ex-lover Alfred – a fantastically theatrical Paul Charles Clarke – and James’ Cleverton’s Colonel Frank, a partying prison governor after a good time. Act II follows with the frou-frou of silk skirts and three-piece suits from Deirdre Clancy’s fabulous costumes, the rich and wonderful sound of the Welsh National Opera in the chorus numbers, and Anna Harvey’s brilliant performance as the bored Prince in a wholly-believable breeches role. Yet, in Act III, Steve Speirs, though as droll and charming as a drunk gaoler can be in his non-singing operatic debut, somewhat stops proceedings to perform some out-of-place stand-up. Die Fledermaus doesn’t need any non-diegetic assistance to find its laughs: the drunken governor’s ungainly entrance in Act III is expertly played, Rhian Lois’ coquettish chambermaid-come-actress Adele is a soubrette of a soprano with sublime comic-timing, and Ben McAteer’s troublemaker is as voracious and vivacious as a bon viveur should be.
Strauss’ music is sumptuous, with the rich, waltzing overture setting the scene for the riches, waltzing, and romps to come. James Southall conducts Welsh National Opera’s joyous and spirited orchestra with verve and joie de vivre, and it’s the music makers – on stage and off – that provide the real taste of the evening. - Leah Tozer
I’m sat in the Old Red Lion Theatre waiting for No Place Like Hope to start. I'm looking at the well-made bed with too many pillows propped up on it. I'm looking at the bare furnishings, the books with covers full of promises, the inoffensive green of the pattern on the wall and the beaming white of everything else. I’m in a hospice. End of life care. And this environment, like a Greek Chorus or a doctor's diagnosis, has given away the ending of the story. I’m wondering whether this play is going to try to make me cry.
In walks Becca (Holly Donovan). She’s here to clean, fulfilling community service she received, she says, for stealing a dog. She’s seventeen and rebellious, supressing a fidgety energy and provoking those she meets with a mixture of childishness and insight. She has a spooky (or unbelievable?) gift for remembering movie quotes and applying them to any given situation. It looks as if she’s about to steal a trinket from a dying woman.
Enter Anna (Claire Corbett). She has cancer. She can be prickly and patronising, but maybe that’s because she’s tired and used to being alone. Instinctively, she treats Becca like an adult. She’s rebellious too, especially in her interactions with her nurse, Bri (Max Calandrew). In fact, it’s the naked hostility and open distrust of this 'healthcare professional' that first bonds the two women together. I like him though, he’s nice. I’m happy when we hear more from him.
The writing is honest and passionate. So are our protagonists. Maybe it’s the inherent finiteness of their relationship that allows them to let go, but Becca and Anna open up to one another. They help each other excavate their pasts, with warmth and humour. Both are struggling to deal with how they got here and how they'll go on. It’s a joy to watch them communicate. In fact, their friendship is so gentle and generous that when they do come into conflict it doesn’t sit right. A little too sudden, unearned. I’m glad when they see sense.
The play does try to make me cry. At the end. A perfect, still, quiet moment is interrupted by a sequence with music that’s emotionally on-the-nose. That’s ok. I remember crying over a bereavement while listening to Coldplay's 'The Scientist’. What a clichéd choice, I think now. But music and drama are there to help us feel things, if we trust them. This sensitive play is worth your trust. - Henry Gleaden
Kneehigh really do dance to the beat of a different drum. The Cornwall-based collective have created a monster from Günter Grass’ allegorical, wartime tale: a magical, musical monstrosity of chaotic mayhem with their trademark anarchy and inimitable artistry at its core.
The tale of Oskar, a boy banging his tin drum in rebellion against an adult world of war and responsibility, is a tough one to adapt: a bildungsroman where the boy won’t grow, a parable whose moral compass points all the wrong ways, and a myth with too much grit to be truly magic. Undaunted by the dangers, Kneehigh unites the novel’s density and diversity in their adaptation. Part epic, poetic opera, part Spring Awakening-style musical, part creeping electronic soundscape, The Tin Drum has music at the heart of its storytelling. While three onstage musicians play Charles Hazlewood’s chaotic, electronic score, the actors are an eclectic chorus of unusual voices, from Dom Coyote’s uncanny, almost-countertenor tone for Oskar, to Damon Daunno’s, Mika-like lilts that dance like his passionate Pole dances with Oskar’s mother, to the soothing, soaring sounds of Nandi Bhebhe. The effect is cacophonous, and it really works to tell such a chaotic story.
As is only expected with operatic performances,The Tin Drum demands repeat viewings, so impressively fast and funny are the almost-rapped recitatives that it’s impossible to laugh, listen, and follow along all at the same time. As such, on initial viewing, this doesn’t feel like Kneehigh’s neatest narrative, although Grass’ novel, where unreliability and unruliness reign, may be more to blame. Yet, the wild, quick-witted cleverness is never lost in the chaos, from Sarah Wright’s expert puppeteering of the slightly sinister, sleepless-looking Oskar, to Etta Murfitt’s freely creative choreography, to the quips of Carl Grose’s script that fly effortlessly in the performances of a versatile and effervescent cast. Kneehigh’s creation is not only comic but creepy, with Oskar’s shrieks shattering the glass windows of Naomi Dawson’s dynamic, double-level, dilapidated-looking set, Malcolm Rippeth’s atmospheric lighting creating creeping shadows from suspended lamps, handheld lights, and a central chandelier that seems to rise up of its own accord, and through glimpses into the greater political powers at play. Red banners and armbands are enough to allude to the Nazi Party, but the threat could be from any far-right faction: as they sing to set the scene, ‘which war? It doesn’t matter!’; the peril, as we’re all too aware, is ever-present.
The Tin Drum is a riot in every way: in the themes of political uprising mirrored in a very personal revolt against growing up, in the genre-resisting reflection of Grass’ novel, the electric, eclectic artistry, the hearty and horrid humour, and the weird wonder of it all. - Leah Tozer
In a basement cafe in the heart of the Northern Quarter, A Grey Divide provides an intimate, comfy and friendly start. The play, directed by John-Mark Reid, follows duo Anna-Maria and Jason who meet in the cafe and find they have a mutual connection leading to much more than just a coffee and a chat. The realistic setting of the cafe brings the spectators together and as we take our seats on chairs, sofas and stools we immediately become part of the action.
Although the acting space works well for the initial opening, it soon becomes distracting. The general noise of the cafe itself under-tones the entire play, with fridges and drinks machines buzzing throughout and the business phone ringing during intimate scenes, taking us away from the action. The lighting is harsh and doesn't compliment the intimate moments within the piece.
It is naturalistic in acting style but lacks pace and dynamism, often feeling slow and awkward. The character objectives are not clear, and this is evident in the acting throughout. It feels all one level with the occasional outburst that does not lead anywhere and often motif's are overused, becoming repetitive. A Grey Divide excels in exploring new ways of putting on a play in a naturalistic setting, pushing the expected norm for the spectator. Unfortunately the unpolished performance does not make an impact. - Rebecca Phillipson
Ranked among the greatest composers of the classical and early romantic era, Franz Peter Schubert is celebrated in this 14 song piece by The Guildhall School. Renowned professor at the Guildhall, Iain Burnside, masterfully brings a new light to 'Schwanengesang', a collection of songs written by Franz Schubert at the end of his short life and published posthumously by interspersing monologues between each song from characters throughout history who describe their deep connection to Schubert.
His friends range from Franz Von Schober (Oliver Higginson) who was a poet and librettist, his laundry girl Liesl (Poppy Gilbert), who amusingly remarks that 'when you find mercury in the sheets, its game over.' Referring to the fact the sheets are ruined (rather than the poisoning of ones body), Tobias Haslinger (Jordan Angell), his publisher who came up with the name ‘Swansong', Ivor Gurney (Declan Baxter), a poet and composer who reflects on Schubert from the city of London mental hospital in 1923, Johannes Brahms (Harvey Cole), a late arrival in Vienna, and Emily (Erica Rothman), an American grad student visiting Vienna in present day.
The construction of the monologues are beautifully written with each actor perfectly executing their narrative to keep in tone with their respective characters time frame. Intelligent direction from Burnside brings a crisp breath of fresh air to my lungs; both effortless and natural. The actors are as much a part of the songs as the singers, and visa versa.
There is no doubt that each soloist is a true professional, with flawless accompaniments from Michael Pandya and Dylan Perez on the grand piano. Particular compliments must be made to the tenor Andrew Hamilton, who makes the German language sound hauntingly romantic. James McKeogh’s slick lighting design gives extra life to the stage, providing its own character. The set is minimalistic, and feels three dimensional with its staggered pillars coated in a canvas portrait of what appears to be Vienna. A truly beautiful piece of theatre. - Alex Grainger
Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get’. This famous Forrest Gump quote is one I have always struggled to comprehend - but Romantics Anonymous is just that. A box full of delights, or rather a piece of delicious, rich chocolate. The story follows Angelique, a shy young woman with a passion for making chocolate. Although her talent is recognized, she struggles with the most basic of human interactions and therefore suffers painfully. Meanwhile, Jene-Renẻ is about to lead his family heirloom, the chocolate factory, into bankruptcy because he is unable to take risks. Fate leads the two together but their shy personalities keep them from acting on their feelings thus stalling their development in life.
The nine-strong cast of actors works flawlessly together, playing off one another and expertly highlighting the array of colorful characters, sprinkling the narrative. The music feels classical and French, giving the production an atmosphere of magical realism. Reminiscent of Amẻlie and The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, the narrative flows in a wonderfully enchanting way, a fine example of good storytelling. In fact, the entire production is made out to be an experience rather than mere entertainment, complete with pre-show and interval acts. The traditional musical form is taken and simplified, and the book effectively conveys the inner life of two people who are simply too sensitive for life. The Art Deco style set is Particularly noteworthy, with light up signs used in a creative manner to convey scene changes.
The production tackles the heartbreak of life itself in a joyous manner, skipping between light and dark moments with ease. It asks, ‘is tradition really what we want?’ and with regards to Emma Rice’s portfolio of fantastic productions challenging tradition, I sure as hell hope not. If you fancy an evening of laughter, tugging at heartstrings and the sweetness of chocolate, this is the show for you. Romantics Anonymous proves that even in this age of technology and disconnection we are not too good for a touch of romance. - Disa Andersen
Twenty years ago, in 1997, it was a time of Take That, Tamagotchis and British teachers celebrating in the staff room after Tony Blair and the Labour party were elected with the mantra ‘education, education, education’. Wardrobe Ensemble’s eponymous play unpacks the politics of this cultural moment with wit, warmth, and winning charm, exploring the optimism and the realism that cuts through the 90s nostalgia with political poignancy.
Set in a well-meaning but not-quite-comprehensive comprehensive secondary school in the immediate aftermath of the election, the Ensemble places the individual at the centre of political change. From the highly-strung but ever-hopeful holistic teacher hopelessly losing control of her classes to the stroppy student trying to petition her teachers for a place on the school trip. Wardrobe Ensemble is unmistakably a devising company, with each character so well developed in communication and movement that even when saying the same things or doing the same dance moves, the characterisation is unmistakable, and the creative doubling of each teacher as a student sharing the same name as their actor counterpart is clearly distinct.
As the plot balances the optimism and pessimism of a new political landscape, the play is a practiced blend of the lifelike and the stylised: the script is slick and its delivery quick, eliciting laugh-out-loud moments from its wit alone, but there’s also the absurdity of a walk-through the corridors – with two moveable doors creating endless possibilities – to a 90s music nostalgia-fest with everything from Natalie Imbruglia to ‘Let Me Entertain You’.
All this nostalgia needs an outsider to look in and see Britain at the time for what it really was, and this is where Tobias, a dry, droll, German teaching assistant steps in. Yet, as well as looking in to comment like a (German) Greek Chorus, he looks out to the auditorium as the house lights come up and addresses us directly, even singing a few lines of the Spice Girls while comparing them to Socrates. James Newton’s turn as Tobias is just one of seven strong, centred, and impressive performances from the Ensemble.
In Education, Education, Education, Wardrobe Ensemble capture the politics of yesteryear with the same anxieties of our present, managing to be riotously funny and quietly reflective; as head teacher Hugh says, in light of the election the teachers must remain politically impartial in all their classes, but, ‘we did win Eurovision, so talk about that as much as you wish’. The show ends blasting D:Ream’s election anthem ‘Things Can Only Get Better’, and there’s hope, as for the Tamagotchi and its reset button, that they can. - Leah Tozer
The Birmingham Stage Company’s adaption of David Walliams’s Awful Auntie is a new addition to the flora of children’s books adapted for the stage. The production stars a colourful cast of characters each more hilariously ridiculous than the last one. The actors do a great job of bringing the story to its heightened life. The energy between Stella, played by Georgina Leonidas, and Soot, played by Ashley Cousins does a great job of driving the story along. The charming and relatable characters play well off each other and provide a good balance for the story. The production uses the stunning stage design of Jaqueline Trousdale in an effective manner, although the portable pieces are moved around excessively. Complimenting the set is the sound design of Nick Sagar which together heighten the world of the play and provide a platform for children’s imagination to take flight.
The story does, however, contain some concerning messages for a play meant for young children. Such as the notion that boys ‘just know these things’ in the context of knowing how to drive, and the main heroine - although intended to empower young girls - does not come up with a single useful idea. It is concerning that she could not have figured out anything without help from Soot. A long period of time is spent making fart jokes at the expense of Soot, with a lecture about politeness not too eloquently pushed into the dialogue. There are dozens of missed opportunities to teach children about more important things such as compassion and tolerance. The play is two hours long which may prove to be a challenge for the younger part of the audience to follow. Awful Auntie is, although slightly problematic, an entertaining, colourful and well-produced production. - Disa Andersen
Roger Gallert’s Quaint Honour first debuted in 1958 just under a decade before the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain. Christian Durham’s revival of this often obvious coming of age play fits well with celebratory events marking the 50 year anniversary since the act was passed in government. Sexual frustration and manipulation haunts the dormitories at a revered all-boys boarding school. Head of House, ‘Park’, (Oliver Gully) a 17-year-old moralist-Christian, has suspicions about the sexual deviation arising in the aptly named Cock House in which he is head Prefect. As a troubled Christian, Park confiDes in the understanding and composed headteacher ‘Hallowes’ played with a perfect clipped foppishness by Simon Butteriss.
Park’s intentions to stomp out the immoral behaviour are thwarted by peer ‘Tully’ (Harley Viveash) who covertly parades himself as an unchaste libertine amongst the younger pupils. Viveash commands this role with a sinister cruelty, playing his sexual relationship with 15-year-old ‘Turner’ (Jaques Miche) with smutty calculation. Although the churlish Turner gives as good as he gets, relishing in the thought of his master bedding the dreary ‘Hamilton’ (Jack Archer). The tension between the boys plays out sluggishly at times, though Durham’s direction stirs with a toxic sexuality. Flirting between the boundaries of sexual awakening and sexual manipulation, Quaint Honour taps into the troubled psyche of any boy exploring themselves beyond the confines of heterosexuality.
Tim McQuillen-Wright’s stage design fits snuggly into the intimate Finborough Theatre capturing the hallowed beauty of a 1950s boarding school. The set and costume accent the period well, matching the crisp RP sported by the cast and the ostentatious language of the script. It bears the question as to what purpose this play has to modern gay culture? Sexual exploration will always culminate in complex power dynamics, but the datedness of script lacks gutsy vigour. 50 years ago this script might have been a powerhouse that questioned the politics around same-sex relationships, but this production does little more than rehash bygone years. - Niall Hunt
Trooping down to a shipping container for a séance has got to be up there with the weirdest-ways-to-spend-your-Friday-night. I was waiting for a mate to turn up - a pretty no-nonsense lad that probably watches The Omen, carelessly chuckling, whilst drinking Baileys. This was when I started to get pretty anxious about the fifteen minutes of fear in a metal box - that now appeared to be growling. (When it comes to Horror, I’m more at the shaking, pissing Chihuahua end of the spectrum.) The shipping container started looking a bit like a chubby version of the menacing black cuboid from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I made a mental note to bite my mate’s ear off if he bailed. Who’d laugh at me if I pissed myself? However, I didn’t piss myself or die from fright or anything as melodramatic as I am, but instead found myself tentatively delighted in the fright.
If you’re claustrophobic, this is probably not the best show for you. The audience is closely seated round a long table, amongst fellow concerned-looking comrades. Headphones are popped on, the lights go out, and you’ll be plunged into complete darkness in essentially an oversized locker. But don’t worry, you’re given a chance to make a dash for it. The theatre guide will give you a speak-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace moment, after a polite and alarming notice, that after the doors shut no one will be allowed out. Which is polite and alarming. But if you’re not fainthearted, stay squirming in your seat please. Séance is a chilling and mischievous immersive experience that draws you in deep.
The collaboration between Glen Neath and David Rosenberg provides a prickling brilliance of sensory manipulation, like puppet masters. They tantalisingly dangle audio tricks in front of your ears, such as foot prints you could swear were walking from left to right round your head. This gives your rationality a real rattling. In the pitch black, a new world in conjured, and you’re persuaded by the ring-leader-like medium with eerie authority that “You believe in the table, yet you can’t see it. You can’t see me, yet I want you to believe in me.” Séance has picked up on the subtlest details of sound and touch that unknowingly make life feel real, and then exploited the hell out of these tricks.
This experience successfully deceives your fingertips and ears into believing in a new realm where spirits are conjured by faceless tricksters in front of a disturbed faceless audience. Séance blurs the lines of the real and the sensory, cunningly using nothing more than a pair of headphones to give an empty dark space a pulse. However, I was also promised by a menacing whisper that’d “I’d never be lonely again.” Which begs the question why I’m still dining on single serving microwavable lasagne and a bottle of Lambrini with a straw. - Jess Butcher
Get your dancing shoes on for the new touring production of the 80s classic Flashdance, which is currently making its way across the UK. The story is unforgettable as we follow 18 year old Alex who by day works as a welder and in the evening transforms into a 'flashdancer'. She dreams of going to the prestigious Shipley Dance Academy and becoming a professional dancer. Known for it's film, the new production from the award winning team at Sealladoor Productions will take on the inspiring musical about holding onto your dreams and love against all odds.
I caught up with leading cast members Joanne Clifton and Ben Adams about bringing the 80s to the now. For Strictly Come Dancing ex-professional Joanne Clifton this isn't the first time she's taken on musicals, fresh from leaving the show she explains that "the only thing thats different from Strictly is the style of dance". Joanne has switched from the ballroom to switching up the volume with Street and Hip Hop, which are styles she has never experienced before the role. However, Joanne explains theres a bigger challenge on stage than executing the choreography, "The other thing is riding a bike. I can't ride a bike and the first thing I have to do in the show is ride across the stage". She's got a year to master her cycling skills, we'll probably be seeing her take on the Tour De France in no time!
For Ben Adams who has always had some kind of performance influence element in his career, including the days of being in late 90s boyband A1 as well as also continuing to be an established song writer and producer has seen Flashdance as another great opportunity. Ben explains that "It's not really that different from the other things I've done because it's still performing". Joanne's character is Alex, the main thread that holds the musical together. Alex falls in love with Ben's Character Nick Hurley who sees the ambition within Alex and helps push her audition at the prestigious dance academy. Joanne explains that "one of my favourite parts in the musical is when there is a big argument between Nick and Alex over the audition". Ben spoke about how he was enjoying working alongside Joanne as a lead character and that "some of our scenes are our favourite together". You will be able to see one of those moments together when they release their recording of 'Here and Now' from the stage musical very soon.
Expect all of the songs, iconic scenes and love for the stage production as there has been for the film over the years. When Joanne takes on the water-drop scene, she says that she enjoys taking on that part of the show because "the audience are all waiting for that moment. It's like 2 tanks they've got coming down on me and I love seeing the audiences reactions to it". The new production of Flashdance is different to the one that was touring around 7 years ago. As Ben said "the script has been updated and things, there's new choreography and ideas into the production" so there's plenty new additions to expect. Ben explains Flashdance is "a high level energy show, there's a lot of dance in there. They can expect all of the songs that they all know from the film. The choreography is slightly different but there's nods to the film".
So why should you come and see Flashdance? To finish off I asked Ben and Joanne to give me 3 words to describe the production,
"Energetic, Fun and Wet!" - Joanne
"Energetic, Sexy and Wet!" - Ben
You can find out more about Flashdance and book tickets through the Selladoor Productions website.
Written by Emmie-Hope Newitt
Out of the System (curated by Freddie Opoku-Addaie) is the first in a new series of programmes for Dance Umbrella, London’s annual festival of international dance. Yinka Esi Graves and Asha Thomas open the evening with Clay, exploring the connections between ‘who they believe themselves to be, and the unconscious parts that make up who they are’. The movement language (and live accompaniment by Guillermo Guillen) blends Flamenco to Contemporary to African. Graves and Thomas pound their heels into the floor at lightning speed whilst maintaining a sense of ephebism, responding to the complex rhythms their bodies are compelled to make. Later, the dancers each have solo moments, using props and additional costume that seem disjointed from the rest of the work - detracting from their technical skill and slowing the pace. Clay is strongest when the two are dancing together, sharing their cultures and histories as an exchange in movement.
Continuing the exploration of identity, Alesandra Seutin performs a self-choreographed solo Across the Souvenir. Seutin enters the space from behind the audience. Following a pathway of light around the stage, she walks slowly, regal, wearing a white mask that partially covers her face and a long white skirt that carries movement with each step. Projection is used throughout the work, stopping the action on stage and disrupting the energy. We see women washing away a white line on a black wall, a close up of white shoes walking slowly... Seutin pulls a row of white shoes out from underneath a white bench, all connected by white strings, and begins to dance on the pathway these present to her. Her energy comes from the ground up, causing her spine to convulse and travel in waves as she is pulled along the strings. Perhaps the shoes, or identity, she has been presented with, don’t quite fit, and her body is making sense of this contradiction. Black female spirituality is being examined here, and Seutin gives a moving performance.
The final piece of the night is VEN a duet by LA MACANA designed specifically for street festivals, performed at Rich Mix with audience on three sides. Caterina Varela and Alexis Fernandes are exceptional. The first half of the piece is spent with Varela launching herself at Fernandes, who catches her in his arms, on his shoulders, around his neck, across his thighs, behind his back - as if they are playing a game against physics. Later, the roles are reversed - Fernandes never touches the floor. His hands, feet, and any other part of his body only ever come into contact with Varela. A particular highlight is when Varela is lying on the floor on her stomach, Fernandes is standing on her buttocks, he jumps high into the air tucking his knees into his chest as she rolls once to arrive back on her front, and he lands back where he started. There is tenderness to the duet, but also a sense of rigour – testing what each other can do as opposed to being driven by emotion. I spent the entire piece wondering with excitement what they were going to do next - VEN is an exhilarating watch.
Out of the System is an ambitious programme that gives opportunity to worthy artists who may not usually be invited to present work in Dance Umbrella. Congratulations to Opoku-Addaie for curating an excellent evening, I hope this is a model that will be taken forward in future years. - Emily Labhart
Howard Barker’s The Castle is a tough nut to crack. From a man who claims not to ‘ involve myself in political and ideological issues’ as he stated in an interview in The Guardian last January, his play, The Castle, sure features enough ideological discussions to keep a crowd of people arguing long after last orders have been called. The play, written in 1985, features aimless female protagonists whom continuously contradict themselves, in harmony with popular critique of second wave feminism, and a complicated battle between the genders over power, social status and religion. Many ideas are introduced, such as the total reform of patriarchy as we know it and the notion that a world run by women would be a socialist paradise with no governing structure. However none of the themes are discussed at length because that would contradict Barker’s policy of being un-influential.
The cast does a decent job of delivering the complex text and frequent curse words break up the otherwise dry and formal language of the play in an effective manner. Some scenes fall flat because of lack of harmony between the actors and the story could also benefit from more energetic storytelling. Actors shout frequently without the scene having necessarily provided the tension to justify the character’s anger - it therefore comes across as insincere. The staging is dynamic and interesting and the compilation of set and light play well off each other regardless of what appears to be a very limited budget.
Anthony Cozens’ s portrayal of the cuckolded Stucley is incredibly powerful. Stucley’s almost comical short temper is highlighted as he grasps at regaining power, coming only slightly short of fascism when he manages to reinstate the power of the church. Chris Kyriacou is also noteworthy as Krak, the pained engineer of the castle, adding tension to a scene with the character’s pregnant silence. A few themes from the story have left a lasting impression such as the scene where Stucley confronts his wife, Ann, played by Shelley Davenport, about her affairs with other men while he was away. ‘I could kill you and no one would bat an eyelid’, he shouts, a striking reminder of the dangers of domestic violence which endangers the life of many women today. Or the way Ann can not stop procreating even though she is way past her childbearing age. For someone who claims not to be political, Barker is eerily topical at the very least.- Dísa Anderson
Not everything is quite what it seems behind closed doors, especially so in Scott James’ drama ‘Between a Man and a Woman’. In Britain alone, it is estimated that there are 1.3 million women who are victims of domestic violence. Stomaching this grim figure is a hard task, but an important one in combating the problem.
Discussing the issue on stage requires a great capacity for emotional empathy. James throws the narrative at full throttle, which frequently comes across as heavy-handed. Manipulative Tom (Millin Thomas) relentlessly controls his wife, the ever-enduring Polly (Jasmine Gleeson), whilst also conducting an affair with uni student Siobhan (Roisin Gardner). Gleeson works hard to give her character dimension and Thomas offers moments where the audience can really get to grips with the trauma he has suffered as a child.
The script trudges along, peppered with blips of chaotic shouting and predictable movement sequences. Charlotte E Tayler offers us a saving grace as Tammy, the concerned sister of Polly. Delivering her monologues with a poetic command, Tayler successfully draws the audience in with a crisp, unflinching conviction.
Unboxing multiple narratives of abuse, trauma and sexual assault creates a lingering feeling of tactlessness in James’ piece. Resolutions to the issues discussed aren’t found, yet the harrowing scars are left ripped open as the house lights come up. Adding unnecessary drama is easily done, especially when the plot teeters on vagueness. Paring back and focusing the drama more thoroughly will give this production the vital restructuring it needs. James’ piece is most intriguing when the moments of silence become resonating bolts of heart-aching beauty. Exploring these pauses in the next run will anchor the script deeper in the heavy ebb and flow of a tumultuous relationship.
This clearly isn’t a professional production yet, but with more guidance, James has the groundwork for creating a beautiful script that tackles an incredibly sensitive subject. - Niall Hunt