The Blind Truth, written and directed by Annie Mwampulo, is part of the Lyric Evolution 2018, a four day festival celebrating the work of young London based artists. Set in a dystopian world, a group of survivors explore the inequality and injustice of society. The piece is immediately sizzling with life and feels Gothic and macabre, with a classical text interspersed with contemporary dialogue.
The Instrumentalists (Jodie Davey, Max Kinder, Kaz Costello and Elizabeth Hollingshead) work with a focused intensity creating visceral soundscapes, complete with eerie rattlesnakes and haunting singing. With Music Direction from Elizabeth Hollingshead, they produce brilliant original music and become a solid part of the story, often yielding their instruments like weapons. The beautiful stark physical imagery is greatly assisted by simple and clever lighting choices. The performers are consistently forming interesting shapes, using height and strong diagonals. The animalistic ensemble genuinely enjoy being on stage with one another and find a great playfulness in their scenes, with each character finding their own pace, from the fierce and punchy Deja Bowens to the mellow and sincere Shayde Sinclair.
Despite the intimacy of the Lyrics Studio, vocal projection at times is an issue. A particularly strong climax is the 'I see coal' section, Nasa Ohalete attacks the poetry of the scene with raw emotion, almost bursting at the seams. These actors don't do anything half measure. Each breath is expelled with vigour. They are far from tame. The piece is a patchwork of excellent ideas and is not whole, but it's certainly wholesome.
Written by @_FayeButler
‘Something tells me something’s gonna happen tonight’, sings Cilla at the show’s finale, and at the Hippodrome, after a lighting fault and show-halt as two in the audience were taken ill, it’s a line that suddenly felt very close to home. Once resumed, the songs and spirit of Cilla save the evening, but oversimplify the story of a star that deserves so much more.
Based on the TV series, Cilla is a celebration of Cilla Black. Set in, and with a soundtrack from, the sixties, it follows the teenage Priscilla White’s transformation into the chart-topping Cilla Black with a touching tribute to her talent and charm. Kara Lily Hayworth is warm and witty as the Liverpudlian lovely, and her performances of the Cilla classics ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’, ‘Alfie’, and ‘Something Tells Me’ are perfectly poised between powerful performance and heartfelt homage.
Though it works for Cilla, elsewhere the impressive musical performances feel more like tribute acts and cameos than fully-formed characters in a well-plotted chronicle. With actor-musicians performing on a moving platform as part of Gary McCann’s simple but effective set – which, with brightly-coloured lights, chimneys and a couch transforms effortlessly from the infamous Liverpool Cavern Club to Abbey Road to the BBC – the action seems to intersperse the songs, rather than the songs complimenting the action. As such, though boldly sung and ably embodied by Bill Caple, Joshua Gannon, Michael Hawkins, and Alex Harford, The Beatles are just jukebox boys, although, Gannon’s McCartney playing his guitar left-handed is a great little homage to the man himself.
The script, while accomplished on screen, seems to criminally underuse its actors onstage. Carl Au’s Bobby – whose assured singing voice is shied away like his love – is a brilliant semblance of someone in the shadows, his relationship with Cilla loving and loyal and blossoming slowly, but isn’t allowed to really shine in his own right. As the troubled talent executive and Beatles boss Brian Epstein, Andrew Lancel laces his turn with sensitivity, but the first act fails to develop him and allow his death in the second act to really land with the sorrow it deserves. The most memorable performances are from the families of the famous, with Tom Christian’s Kenny a wisecracking, piss-taking brother to Bobby, and Neil MacDonald and Pauline Fleming wonderful as Mr and Mrs White, Cilla’s proud and protective parents.
There’s a lorra lorra love in this celebration of Cilla Black’s life and loves, a lot of lovingly sung songs, and a little bit of laughter, but the balance between tribute and bold entertainment isn’t in equilibrium: something tells me there’s something more here for Cilla.
Written by @LeahTozer
Mary Shelley’s gothic masterpiece has defined the genre of sci-fi horror for the last two centuries; its tropes, themes and characters resurface time and time again, continuously setting the tone for directors, playwrights and authors in their pursuit of fear inducing narratives. It has become the generic shorthand for controversial interventions in medical science and is generally recognised as a warning against man’s meddling with nature. The story is one of deeply conflicted moral turpitude. Frankenstein’s hideous monster is the tragic incarnation, born from over-reaching ambition, of human depravity and bestiality. The creature learns the role of monster in the face of mankind’s pitiless response to its own physical deformity. The horror it inspires and the atrocities it commits are all the product of man’s own merciless actions.
Monstrosity, mercy, aberration, and companionship; these are just a few of the qualities that this story throws into question. Matthew Xia’s production at the Royal Exchange wonderfully captures this chilling moral dilemma. Doctor Frankenstein, played by Shane Zaza, is both tragic hero and a most wicked villain. He is skittish, guilt ridden, frantic and tormented. Zaza occasionally seems to struggle to fully project the dense gothic dialogue to the far reaches of Royal Exchange’s circular auditorium and some lines unfortunately are lost. It is a small infrequent fault however and one easily overlooked given the intensity of the rest of his performance. The monster, played outstandingly well by Harry Attwell, is heartbreakingly wretched. To begin with the monster is only visible in brief horror-film- esque glimpses and it is not until the end of the 1 st half that the audience is relieved of suspense and treated to the full presence of Atwell’s performance. Atwell finds the perfect balance between monster and victim and the audience cant help but squirm in-between contending emotions of revulsion, fear and pity.
The lighting, sound and visual effects form the backbone of this production and set a tone that oscillates between mesmerising beauty and genuine terror. Regular blackouts, fire, chilling music, a very evocative use of colour, and incredible costume and makeup give the production a filmic energy. Xia has the audience audibly gasping to an extent that is rarely heard outside of the cinema. The play is strongest when it explores the grave serious, tragedy and horror of Shelley’s story. Unfortunately however annoying interjections of crass unnecessary humour repeatedly distract from this intensity. This humour is mostly implemented by the character of the Captain, played by Ryan Gage, whose presence frames the play’s narrative, intending to reflect the epistolary style of the novel but in reality offering very little substance and mostly just coming across a little irritating. There are other moments of humour throughout which very frustratingly detract from the suspense, anguish and intensity of the relationship between Frankenstein and his creation and unfortunately stand in the way of this production being truly superb.
Written by @OscarLister
‘How much these walls have seen,’ muses the lady Lyuba in a fond but forlorn farewell to her family home; and, as her hand touches the gorgeous green and gilded walls of the Old Vic, her words touch our hearts, too. The Cherry Orchard, Chekhov’s so-called comedy about social change in turn-of-the-century Russia following the serf reform, seems cherry-picked for Bristol Old Vic at this time of redevelopment, in their very own Year of Change.
Tom Piper’s invigorating set envelops the Old Vic into the estate that’s up for sale: the architecture is the orchard, we the trees, and, with an audience also onstage in an uncanny recreation of the auditorium, the action plays out in-the-round and uses every inch of the space, from the stairs up to the pit to the passages behind the stalls. As such, we are in the estate: drawn into the drawing room discussions, privy to the privileges – or prejudices – of the occupants, and, occasionally, the only witnesses other than the walls themselves. Yet, we never feel part of the furniture, but as one of the family, although which side you’d fight for – the fallen aristocracy or the striving former serfs – is up to you, or, perhaps more pertinently, your own privileges and point of view.
The Cherry Orchard is no cherry bomb – the pace, especially in the second act, is slow and spun out – but it does blossom under director Michel Boyd. There’s a lounging languor, an idleness, to the action that dislocates the aristocratic estate from the industrial Lopakhin and his desire to purchase the orchard, as demonstrated by his constant checking of his pocket-watch. And, this also pushes him further from Lyuba, who drags out her farewell in a painful, powerful show of letting go of an idealised past to move towards the fairer future that Lopakhin and his fellow former serfs have been waiting for.
Jude Owusu’s Lopakhin may be ruthless, but there’s a sense that what he really wants isn’t the estate, but respect: his speech after purchasing the orchard descends from a drunk, audacious display into something much darker, charging the audience as he does the aristocrats with the line ‘don’t laugh at me!’. The casting of actors of colour as the former serfs and those in servitude against the white aristocrats can’t be a coincidence, and the use of the word ‘slaves’ in Rory Mullarkey’s otherwise wit-filled translation works, weighting the play in a present still plagued by similar oppositions to Chekhov’s characters. At the other end of the class spectrum is Kirsty Bushell’s Lyuba, whose performance is impressive in keeping an endearing naivety to her denial, a blindness to the benefits that her position befits, and a playfulness to her frivolity, and performances across the piece are just as nuanced. Each captures that balance between comedy and tragedy that so infuses Chekhov’s work, and in doing so creates a whole orchard of characters that enrich and enrage in equal measure.
The walls of Bristol Old Vic have seen change, but they’ve also seen magic and mischief and some truly meaningful moments: if The Cherry Orchard is a mark of things to come in this Year of Change, then there’s so much more to see.
Written by @_leahtozer
In the cosy Changing House of the Tron theatre, as the audience assembles we are gently coaxed out of the modern theatre go-er mindset and into that of workshop participants/ viewers. Here not to see a piece of theatre, but to bear witness to a well renowned theatre practitioner impart his knowledge unto others. ‘How to Act’, written and directed by Graham Eatough is a modern day Greek Tragedy where our ethical dilemma centres around the question of truth. Two versions of one story, are both true? Or as valid as each other? Who is right and who is wrong?
The fourth wall is immediately broken as our workshop participant Promise, played by Jade Ogugua, welcomes us to this masterclass and introduces our mentor, the well travelled and respected Anthony Nicholl, played by Robert Goodale, who’s antics cause anxious giggling as he requests to borrow audience members shoes. What follows is a series of exercises, which most actors who have partaken in some form of training will recognise, in order to help Promise discover her ability to portray ‘truth’ when acting (a very common concern amongst actors). As the story continues the facts about the difficulties faced by many Nigerians living in the Delta come to light and we see how the disparities in wealth and power between the west and Nigeria lead to the destruction of the land and income, as well as Promise’s personal disgust after loosing her mother and knowing that her biological father could have supported them if he’d stuck around.
‘How to Act’ is an expression of the importance of art and theatre to tell stories, create empathy and understanding. But also the futility of it. Once the damage is done there may be no more we can do, except to tell the stories and hope that those who watch it will not make the same mistakes. The show ended with a round of applause, an appropriate gesture after all the hard work which had gone into the preparation and performance, however it could have been a more powerful ending had they simply left for we suddenly became an audience observing a drama, all moral obligations wiped aside, as opposed to a jury being asked to question and judge what was presented before us.
Written by @Lucy_Newbery
It's odd, but I actually had this exact conversation with a friend recently. Why does being called a 'good girl' feel nice? That glorious subconscious feeling in the pit of your stomach when someone calls you a 'good girl' is so deeply routed from childhood, and I still very much feel it today as a grown woman. It's like wearing a corset, so bad and un-feminist of me, yet I still totally want to wear one.
Sheldon's love letter to the noughties consistently has a 'me too!' response, and the piece starts as a fun and honest insight into the childhood of regular gal from Sheffield. Her performance as complicated Gigi is captivating and she expertly takes the time to feel each phrase, word and moment as if it is the first time. Directed by Matt Peover, Gigi guides us through the characters she creates of friends, parents and lovers, and each are simple and hilarious. The text celebrates the pure love of childhood female friendship and how much impact each encounter can have on your life.
Designed by Alison Neighbour, the set is simply a gold podium. A mini stage for Sheldon to play. Her ability to have you laughing one minute and have a lump in your throat ten seconds later is astounding and a testament to the passionate writing. Gigi ask's 'What if I feel too much?' and describes the sensation as not having solid edges or having a pit in her stomach that could explode at any moment. But hey, it's the nineties. No one wants to know why you keep crying for no apparent reason. Panic attacks aren't a thing yet.
The piece darkens and I'm here for it. The impact is earned from the remarkable sincerity of the journey. The fact that Gigi finally finds some kind of solace within the soft, upbeat sounds of ABBA is just the cherry on the relatable cake. Naomi Sheldon maintains impressive momentum throughout the play, she truly is a force to be reckoned with. 'Fuck me, that was good. Get tickets now', I text my girl group after the show, and I urge you to do the same.
Written by @_FayeButler
Circle Mirror Transformation, directed by Bijan Sheibani, is a soft portrayal of human interactions. It is a play about beginnings and endings, with the underlining thought that endings are also beginnings if you choose to withstand them.
We are in a community centre and it feels realistic. Facing the audience is a mirrored wall where we can see our reflections, a door in the middle becomes a focal point within the play where characters enter and exit from. Followed by a changing room section to the left and simple props dotted around to give a natural feel. The set is static which becomes comforting to the spectator. We know the space, it feels like home. It is here at the community centre that we are introduced to the five main characters, who all come together once a week for a drama class. The structure of these drama classes helps us to delve deeper into the characters past, present and future lives. Although at times it is confusing to remember which character is who (I had to refer back to my programme).
The dialogue writer Annie Baker uses within the play is hyper-naturalism combined with long silences which create a beautiful bleak representation of human relationships. A comedic play which focuses purely on the acting of the actors. The only music and lighting element is during very smooth scene transitions where we are brought to almost blackout, and a simple sound effect which accompanies this. The subtle change of the clock every time a new scene happens is also a nice touch, assisting in moving the play forward. A refreshing play where we appreciate every word and action that happens, because we are allowed to dwell on them. The actors commit to the sometimes over dramatic moments allowing outbursts of laughter from the spectator. Actor Con O’Neill is fantastic, he is a wanted presence on stage and his comedy timing is on point. What sometimes feels like a slow pace scene is brought to life with a simple word or look from his character Schulz.
A short, simple and snappy play which brings the normality and stillness of everyday life to stage. A very enjoyable and worth while play.
Written by @BeccaPhillipson
‘What gives a girl power and punch? Is it charm? Is it poise? No, it’s hairspray!’ This Hairspray has plenty of punch from its performances, but is light on the power and poise and falls, well, a little flat.
Tracy Turnblad is a ‘big’ girl with some big dreams – to dance, and get out of detention – and her gritty, if ditsy, determination to do so is set against the backdrop of segregation and discrimination in sixties Baltimore. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s score has moments of luminous amusement, from the shouts and shakes of showstopper ‘Run and Tell That’, to the body-and-black-positive belter ‘Big, Blonde, and Beautiful’, to the bold exuberance of the show’s close, ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’. All this is fun, but the musical force is in its protest anthem, ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’, that reflects its politics, and it’s a powerhouse performance from Brenda Edwards’s respected, motherly Motormouth Maybelle that ends triumphantly with all hand-in-hand.
Yet, the force of Hairspray is blunted by its own flashy brashness, and the focus feels as though it’s on all the wrong colours: the bright, bubblegum ball-gowns and garish, gaudy lighting obscure the heart ofHairspray and its historical background. Whilst there’s colour in the cast and costumes and musical score – with tastes of Motown and rhythm and blues – there’s also ‘colour’ in the script, and it’s uncomfortable to see that the show has kept its slurs while eschewing any real reflection on their use. If Hairspray were a more politically centred period piece, the ‘realism’ of racial slurs may have a place here, but it doesn’t ever take itself that seriously, and as such, their presence earns little redemption even with segregation seemingly resolved.
Despite what may be lacking in design or direction, the dancing, with dynamic and damn cool choreography from Drew McOnie, and dancers lift the production, with Layton Williams’s Seaweed singing, spinning, and springing into the spotlight from a solid company. Elsewhere, his love, Annalise Liard-Bailey is a perfectly perky Penny Pingleton, the strong and soulful Dynamites, Emily-Mae, Melissa Nettleford, and Lauren Concannon, shine bright, and Rebecca Mendoza makes a zingy leading lady as Tracy Turnblad. Mr and Mrs Turnblad’s ditty ‘You’re Timeless To Me’, with Matt Rixon, as is tradition, in drag as Tracy’s mother and Norman Pace a diminutive but doting husband, is hilarious if only because it goes a little west, but they hold it together and earn a well-deserved hand for it.
Hairspray is fun, but it feels like it has so much more heart than that: perhaps some hairspray right at the roots would stop it falling flat.
Written by @_LeahTozer
‘Empathy functions even when there is conflict of interests between the fictitious universe and the actual one of the spectators. That is why there is censorship; to prevent an undesirable universe from being juxtaposed to the spectators’ universe.’ (Boal, 2000, p. 114)
The press erupts when middle aged leftie poet, Bev (Geraldine Somerville), includes the words Jew and Nazi in the same verse of her new poem 'Checkpoint Chana'. Bev's young personal assistant, Tamsin (Ulrika Krishnamurti), is much more adept to today's politically correct world and attempts to heal the wound the controversy has left upon Bev's reputation, but unfortunately with family turmoil and a penchant for white wine, Bev's world unravels at an alarming rate. Krishnamurti attacks the text with energy and vigour, but struggles to find variance in the pace of her uptight character.
The space is scattered with books old and new, with Rupi Kaur's Etsy-esque Milk and Honey tossed in with old-timer Yeats. Somerville's performance is sincere and captivating, particularly in the second half once she has relaxed into the text. Written by Jeff Page, the text uses many one word sentences, which with direction from Manuel Bau, often feel unnatural. Peaks within the writing include a monologue performed by journalist David, Matt Mella, about the hardship of being a Jewish boy in London, and the actual poem 'Checkpoint Chana' itself, which is wonderfully articulate.
The reggae-induced scene changes are a welcomed change in pace, despite the jarring transitional lighting blackouts. Stage Manager Michael (Nathaniel Wade) brings a youthful and honest energy to his scenes, and cleverly finds the humour within the text. Despite this, the dialogue-heavy scenes stretch out without much sense of theatrical style. Checkpoint Chana is a politically relevant piece of theatre with some emotionally engaging performances.
Written by @_FayeButler
In the long, thin space of the Gate Theatre, director and performer Jude Christian softly narrates Falk Richter and Maja Zade's political text 'Trust'. Mic in hand, she tells the story of several people and their complex relationships, interspersed with quips regarding 'the tyranny capitalism'. The art installation/play is messily episodic, and quickly moves on to new scenes in seemingly different styles. Actors Pia Laborde Noguez and Zephryn Taitte perform the text almost as if in a cheap Italian drama, all outward physical expression and large gestures. Pia Laborde Noguez relaxes into this style relatively well, and brims with energy throughout. The piece discusses the wonderful and exhausting to-ing and fro-ing of the ever-changing mind, and questions whether any choices we make within our lives could ever change anything on a larger scale.
Points of enjoyment most definitely come from the witty audience interaction. We learn Mandarin and eat mints and the actors relax, and it feels on the edge of an immersive experience. Much like the tips of my freezing fingertips in snowy Notting Hill, I gradually warm to the experimental style of the piece. With dialogue on mania and depression, the piece follows suit and descends into madness, just a little too slowly. The style heightens and the set itself becomes busy and bustling with life, with endless backdrops and rice crispies. Sadly, the long winded monologues trample over the humorous, fast paced moments. For the duration I'm unsure if I'm simply missing something, or if the direction is just odd and repetitive. Call me a millennial, but frankly I was bored. - @_FayeButler
In the deep recesses of jazzy coffee house The Troubadour, five piece band The Tomicks kick off their set (of self titled album, The Tomicks) with clear, sleek style. Clad in a blues-brothers-suit complete with sunglasses, lead vocalist and songwriter Tom Cridland is in fact the drummer too, immediately providing a unique set up. Opening number 'I'm Good For It' is confident and steady, and the retro feel to the music provides toe tapping, good vibes. Funky guitar riffs simmer within the music, and there is a wonderful sense the band are genuinely jamming together. The harmonies are simple and feel easy on the ears and some of the softer, more piano heavy tunes (pianist Nick Whitehead) most definitely have certain Elton John nuances, such as the mellow 'Classic Line'.
It feels odd for the band to perform covers during their album launch, and although familiarity assists in engaging the audience quickly, it then gives one chance to compare (especially when covering the mighty Fleetwood Mac). 'You're My Man' is sung by shy keys player Debs Marx, whose mild tones feel whimsical and breathy, much like popular eighties singers. Her vocals are much more suited to providing back up, which does leave an empty space front and centre for a charismatic frontwoman/man. The band thrive with their easy going tracks with a slow and certain Ska-like pace, and they excellently reclaim the magic of 60's and 70's pop/rock with their breezy, joyful music. - @_Faye Butler
Monica Dolan is the kind of performer that demands attention from the audience and instantly gets it. It is rare to see a performer command the stage so completely, particularly when faced with the responsibility of being the only performer there. Performing solo can easily compromise the most experienced actor, it is vulnerable and intimate. But Dolan’s storytelling skills are incredibly honed and the piece has the audience mesmerized from beginning to end. The text is well written, with psychological realism mixed in with the thought piece presented. Is it ever right to sexualize children’s behavior? Where does it stem from? And who is to blame? The exposition is cleverly done, neither blatant nor lacking, the audience is presented with all the information needed to understand the piece. And this Dolan manages to do without underestimating the audience.
The gradual emotional development of the character is nothing short of genius. The composed professional woman introduced at the beginning slowly unravels in front of the audience as the case presented becomes ever more complex and morally ambiguous. I am always equally amazed at actors ability to work with their environment, to manage to maintain the audience's attention through the noise of busy city life, and Monica Dolan does just that. Through blaring sirens, cell phone lights and loud chewing of rock candy she always brought me back to the story. The B*easts is a show with a message, a cleverly written thought piece that is expertly executed. Bravo Monica Dolan. - Disa Andersen
With the use of a projector screen, some green stools and more stories than you can shake a stick at Showtime on the Frontline transports us to the Jenin Freedom Theatre in Palestine. Not a location most would consider synonymous with free speech and laughter, but still a space in which Mark Thomas believes he can run a series of workshops on Comedy.
The shows course runs from Thomas arriving in Palestine, passing Israeli check-points in his white loafers and cherry blossom shirt to the night of stand-up performed at the Freedom Theatre. Mark Thomas is a gifted story-teller who captivates his audience with intelligent writing and giggle-inducing anecdotes immediately, reliving his days in Palestine. Then we are flung into the rehearsal room where the workshop participants are all performed byFaisal Abualheja and Alaa Shehada. With theatrical flair and the knack for comedy, these two are an unstoppable, seemingly never ending train of energy who have us slapping our knees at their impersonations of their peers. A favourite scene is the three men sat side by side impersonating the Theatres committee members watching the evening of stand-up, whilst simultaneously taking the piss out of each other.
The best facet of this show is that it isn’t a dumbed down, tragic, Wednesday night documentary of peoples lives in conflict. But a looking glass into the real lives of Palestinians who’s opinions and personalities are as varied as the iPhones they carry in their pockets (you need to see the show to get that joke). Unbeknownst to me I am being educated far beyond what I see on television.
A side split-tingly funny show, moving and relatable human moments are juxtaposed with real tragedy turning tears of laughter to tears of sadness as quickly as Faisal and Alaa change their characters (hats). It finds light where there is darkness, and as Thomas reminds us as the show comes to a close, Comedy is a political art medium, and it allows us to give the middle finger to authoritarian regimes.
The sense of ease in the room feels far more like a comedy gig than a gritty political drama but that doesn’t make the show any less poignant. It’s almost as if we are also part of the comedy workshop! The obvious enjoyment the performers feel throughout the show is infectious and their friendship helps to convey just how powerful the whole project has been for all involved and I sincerely hope this show receives the recognition it deserves. - Lucy Newbery
The Almighty Sometimes, written by Kendall Feaver and Directed by Katy Rudd, is out of this world. It tackles one of the most pressing social issues of our time, children's mental health. The play is based around a mother and daughters relationship, one that is fragile and yet so precious. This play tells a story of a unique experience, it does not seek to give answers and it is not a representation of everyone’s story, but it does encourage a conversation about how we as a society look on the issue of mental health in children.
The stage is minimal yet realistic. A selection of carefully thought out furniture portrays a dining room-kitchen and a psychiatric meeting room. Starting with narration from Psychiatric Doctor, Vivienne, we follow Anna’s journey through her illness. We experience the highs and the lows and spectate her spiral out of control.
Throughout the play, surreal and abstract moments break up the tension with the actors miming and mimicking Anna’s make believe stories from when she was little. These moments are precious, portraying a happier time and glimpse of hope away from the illness. For the spectator it is also a welcomed interruption of breaking up the gripping and often horrifying moments within the play.
Moments of sensory aspects allow impactful, mesmerising and compelling performances from actors Norah Lopez Holden, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Mike Noble and Sharon Duncan-Brewster. The relationships between each character is just astonishingly beautiful. Vivienne is calm, collective and professional whilst Renee is the worrisome, over protective mum. Anna, who is vulnerable yet witty plays well against Oliver, and together they bring a fantastic dose of comedy to the play. Each relationship feels genuine.
The play is gritty and intense, yet so fresh and pure in the sense that it pushes boundaries and dares to explore taboo topics. We laughed with the characters, and cried with the characters. An informative, stylised and important play that literally left me speechless. - Rebecca Phillipson
Gundog at the Royal Court is a gruelling, bleak yet curious new piece written by Simon Longman and directed by Vicky Featherstone. The play begins with a ferocious bang, a deafening blast from the speakers quite literally jolts the audience into attention and the play begins. After the shot of adrenaline to our eyes the play halts, we are introduced to the residents of this land, Becky and Anna played by Ria Zmitrowicz and Rochenda Sandall as they interrogate wanderer Guy Tree played by Alec Secareanu. The dialogue at first feels robotic and devoid of any feeling as Becky’s relentless torrent of thought tumbles out of her. We learn slowly that the two are shepards fallen on hard times. While at first a puzzling interaction, as the play develops the callus nature of the girls is warranted but initially drab. The first scene ends with Guy Tree, a homeless scraper with ‘no where else to go’, agreeing to join them in exchange for shelter and food. The play’s concept of time is deliberately vague as we jump from past to present, each scene ends and begins with a similar blast of white noise as the actors reposition themselves.
The pulse of the play continues along a similar vein, smatterings of humour coming from the inquisitive and incessant Becky up until the introduction of a mysterious man without shoes enters the scene. We learn that after a three year absence, older brother Ben (Alex Austin) has returned to the farm following an unsuccessful quest for a new life. What follows is a break from the initial dark and dreary opening with the introduction of the final cast member Alan Williams playing Grandad Mick. The narrative slowly pieces together as we learn that this family has lost their mother, their father is struggling to cope forcing the siblings to run the farm with Mick slowly turning senile.
The siblings begin to fracture as isolation and silence begins to strain on Ben whom, yearning for a change, begins challenging their choice of lifestyle. This is the real success of the play. Although we know they are set in an open field, the feelings of claustrophobia and isolation are palpable and Longman’s writing offers up a bleak insight into the rural survival devoid of technology and civilisation. The effects of culling the infected sheep begins to take it’s toll as the father kills himself and Ben becomes a volatile wreck. The isolation and bleakness does have undertones of ‘The Shining’ ever so slightly, with no where else to turn they turn to each other for support but find very little in the way of stability. However amongst the stark rural lifestyle of a modern Shepard is the beautifully tender portrayal of Grandad Mick whom injects a biting humour into his scenes. Underpinning the laughs is a challenging commentary on his slow deterioration with a beautiful monologue lamenting his decline yet revelling in the moments when he can remember who his family are. Featherstone’s direction must also be noted, there is little action or movement on stage yet the intensity of the performances doesn’t sag or stutter. Zmitrowicz remains intriguing and develops a youthful innocence as throughout she questions whether she should resign herself to the life she finds herself in. Rochenda Sandall maintains a steely intensity throughout as she clasps at the remains of her life. Alec Secareanu delivers a delicate measured performance, both support the story well. In a current culture addicted to technology and convenient living, Longman’s piece serves a bitter alternative. Deeply fascinating and intricate the text which does require some patience to grasp is a worthy and challenging new piece. - Patrick Riley
Selladoor Worldwide and Matthew Townsend Productions present us with a new production of this famous American classic.Of Mice And Men is a powerful portrait of an unlikely friendship in California during the Great Depression.
Nobel Prize-winner John Steinbeck, memorably tells the story of polar opposites George and Lennie, two friends and migrant workers, who dream of eventually owning their own ranch. When George and Lennie begin work as farmhands, the story unfolds as we begin to understand George’s concerns for Lennie. The other workers welcome them into the ranch apart from one, Curly, the Boss’s son, who is ferociously uptight about his wife and appears to have issues of his own.
Opening with a beautiful sequence of workers trekking in sunrise, symbolised by light and haze shining through the scenic timber set, we are introduced to Richard Keightley as George and Matthew Wynn as Lennie. Sat by a river, the clear sounds of water when they wash, birds as they fly by and a crackling fire are a pleasant addition to the scene. We slowly warm towards their endearing relationship as the first act unfolds.
Keightley portrays George’s journey with Lennie well, he appears extremely fierce in the first instance, but the gentle pace of the play allows for Keightley to show us his compassion and care for Lennie. Wynn’s naivety and consistent merriment is moving and believable. There are plenty of moments you find yourself watching Wynn’s precise and thought-out reactions. You cannot fault Keightley and Wynn’s connection which lies at the heart of the story.
With numerous attempts over the years to have Steinbeck’s book banned, Director Guy Unsworth talks about overlooking the men’s historical circumstances and that “to remove those elements would render the play inauthentic to its time”. I couldn’t agree more; there would be absolute backlash if you were to take the grounds of racism, offensive language or euthanasia out of the 1930’s. We are then wrongly reflecting on a time that potentially didn’t exist, which I’m sure is not the point of this story. Of Mice And Men is timeless; in light of the migrant crisis and natural disasters, it is still very relevant today. Unsworth stays true to Steinbeck with a genuine and honest adaption.
Andrew Boyer as Candy really gleams talentin the depth of his aging role. Kevin Mathurin’s characterisation as Crooks, is commendable, he brings new elements of the story to light. Talented Harry Egan as Whit is one to watch, his energy and personality driven spiel to the other workers is enthusiastically engaging.
A wonderfully moving and emotive production from all creative angles. The power of classic writing, an authentic story and relative direction is truly present.
‘Are people born Wicked? Or do they have Wickedness thrust upon them?’ The Wizard of Oz would have us believe the Wicked Witch of the West was born wicked, but Wicked breaks through the walls of L. Frank Baum’s book and the Technicolor musical classic to tell us what really went on in Oz. Based on the book by Gregory Maguire, adapted by Winnie Holzman, it makes use of the politics and ups the playfulness to create its own classic: the ultimate musical about friendship, fighting the good fight, and defying the odds - and gravity.
Wicked is a richly woven tapestry of top-class entertainment, powerful performances, and unforgettable spectacle. Wicked is not so much a prelude but an impassioned and political parallel tale that weaves itself effortlessly and perceptively through the loose threads of The Wizard of Oz: from the silver slippers to the Scarecrow, the musical leaves no stone, or song, unturned. Stephen Schwartz's score is sumptuous, thematic, and atmospheric, whizzing us off to Oz from the overture, and full of both animated ensemble numbers and beautiful ballads played spectacularly by the orchestra under Dave Rose's spirited baton. The musical is at its most magical when the story, staging, and score grow together, and the most memorable of those moments is undoubtedly 'Defying Gravity': wearing the iconic black hat, with her witch's broom in hand, it's Elphaba's loss of belief in the Wizard that forces her to fly high and fight for what she believes in, all building to that unbelievable belt that closes Act I with a bang.
For a show that's Oz - the Wizard, the witches, the wonder - without all the 'smoke and mirrors', there's something metatheatrical about the theatrical effects that make Wicked so magical. From literal smoke and mirrors, flying monkeys, and Tin Man transformations to more traditional forms of theatrical magic like Kenneth Posner's glorious lighting, Susan Hilferty's gorgeous costumes in every colour of green imaginable, and even the clever dual-rolling of the Goatish teacher Doctor Dillamond and the Wonderful Wizard, with the oppressed and the oppressor played by the same actor, the world of Wicked is one of high fantasy, but it's also heartfelt and hugely affecting.
The characters are at the heart of the musical's affectedness, and there are a handful of powerhouse performances. Green-skinned and gorgeously-sung, especially in 'Defying Gravity' and 'No Good Deed', Amy Ross's Elphaba is generous and gentle, and her politics, appearance and (lack of) popularity are at first discordant with Helen Woolf's girlish, and hilariously egotistical Glinda. As girls, the two grow believably together, becoming harmonious in more than just voice, until powers beyond them - a discriminatory government - drive them apart. Their friendship is often fraught and not without its fights, but in Woolf and Ross's hands it's authentic and full of heart. Aaron Sidwell's Fiyero begins a loveable, brainless bad-boy but blossoms into a leading man who abandons just 'Dancing Through Life' once he learns a lesson or two about empathy from Elphaba, and Sidwell and Ross's lovers' duet, 'As Long As Your Mine', is tender but determined. Steven Pinder's Wizard is the pathetic pretender we were promised at the end of the 1939 film but with moments of style in his song 'Wonderful', Emily Shaw's anguished Nessarose is achingly nuanced, and the ensemble are absolutely sublime in voice, acting and choreography.
Wicked is an intertextual spectacle in story, staging, and score, and whilst allusions aren't always the most eloquent - 'life's more painless, for the brainless' sings Fiyero in 'Dancing Through Life' - some are oh-so-subtle, so look for the detail in the floppy and off-balance choreography, as well as listening for it. And, as for where the Wicked Witch of the West got her wickedness, only Wicked will let you find out 'For Good'.
Probably one of the most widely known and frequently performed plays in English theatrical history, one would assume there could not possibly be any original interpretative avenues left to explore for William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. One would assume wrong.
The RSC’s production directed by Simon Godwin, starring RSC Associate Artist Paapa Essiedu, reinvents the play’s entire aesthetic by readdressing it through the lens of traditional West African Culture. The Danish court enter stage dressed in a combination of modern and traditional West African garments accompanied by djembes, masks and dancing.
The production very much supresses the dark political undertones of the play and presents a garishly positive image of domesticity and family bonds for which Hamlet’s brooding disposition is a consistent thorn in the side.
Shakespeare’s timeless prose is decorously rejuvenated by Ghanaian and Nigerian voices without ever diverging more than syllable from the original text.
One of the wonders of seeing Hamlet performed time and time again is to hear the lines of intricate syntax we know so well redelivered to us in a fashion we’ve never heard them before. The RSC have once again achieved this so emphatically that the play’s oh so familiar evocations of torment, anguish, madness and revenge feel somehow entirely fresh and raw.
Paapa Essiedu’s Hamlet is skittish, cocky, flamboyant, hyper-intelligent, and always teetering on the edge of insanity. The audience is allowed remarkably little insight into the mind of the ‘real Hamlet’, left guessing as he ‘plays at madness’, and there is a pervading sense that Hamlet himself is unclear of his own mind.
Hamlet exerts moments of alarming and erratic violence upon his mother, Ophelia and his so called friends. Although extremely likable, Essiedu’s Hamlet does not encourage or seem to want to encourage pity or sympathy from his audience; instead he inspires a sort of grim fascination and admiration regarding his speed of wit, matched only for a brief moment in the iconic scene with the mad gravedigger here played as a West Indian, cast wonderfully as Ewart James Walters who also plays the ghost of Hamlet’s father.
Strikingly, Hamlet’s tragic unproductivity and indecisiveness in this production is, quite unusually, bleakly humorous.
The rest of the cast are strong throughout. Joseph Mydell plays a perfect blithering Polonius and Mimi Ndiweni adds an interesting feisty twist to the usually very timid Ophelia; however, as is appropriate, Essiedu’s Hamlet quite clearly outshines all other performances.
The production is colourful, loud, vibrant and wildly passionate; a refreshing take on the overwhelmingly grey tale that is tradition.
It is a masterful reinvention by Simon Godwin, seamlessly translated into a new culture and context to reveal an authentic Hamlet of a likeness that has never been seen before. - @OscarLister
Annie Baker’s newest play, John, marks a turning point in her style as a writer. She has already made her mark for stellar dialogue and pointed portrayal of modern-day America. It is apparent from John that her style is maturing and evolving which brings about exciting prospects but also a new set of challenges. Writing-wise, John, is a very traditional play. The structure gives way to a slow and delightfully tense build-up however it starts to drag towards the end which undermines the payoff, unfortunately. Even though the ending is satisfying, is it worth the wait and the build up over 3 hours? It feels like there is some element that is lacking in this marathon of a play.
The cast does a wonderful job of making sense of the text and it is not an easy one. With, John, Annie Baker has confirmed that she is a writer to be taken seriously, with dramas that give Chekhov a run for his money. Marylousie Burke makes the audience tear up with laughter as the peculiar bed and breakfast owner Mertis, and June Watson delivers one of the most powerful monologues seen on the English stage with perfect clarity as the slightly mad Genevieve. Tom Mothersdale and Anneika Rose work in perfect harmony with each other as Elias and Jenny, a couple on the verge of breaking up, but their performance is slightly upstaged by Burke and Watson’s energetic performance.
John, is a fantastic play, albeit an overly long one. It can be enjoyed by different generations on various levels and is, therefore, a good one to bring your grandma to, next time she visits. - Disa Andersen
With the sequel planned to hit our screens this summer, what’s better than spending your Wednesday evening seeing Mamma Mia!? Not much! As an avid fan of ABBA, the musical and the film, it’s hard not to have high expectations. Whilst the musical is STILL touring nationally and internationally since 1999, it’s fair to say Mamma Mia is undoubtedly one of the best musicals out there. Writer Catherine Johnson has cleverly woven in Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ superb music and lyrics into the narrative, rather than sticking them erratically throughout the narrative, as some musicals do, and it’s a delight to see the story unfold every time.
As many will know, set on a Greek Island, where Donna and daughter Sophie Sheridan live, the island are preparing for Sophie and Sky’s wedding. After 20 years of not knowing who her father is, Sophie finds her mother’s diary and invites, not one, but three potential men who were in Donna’s life around the time she was conceived: Sam Carmichael, Bill Austin and Harry Bright. It’s their arrival on the eve of Sophie’s wedding that shakes Donna and the wedding.
It can be a tough job taking on a role many others have before, especially after hitting the Big Screen. Lucy May Barker made Sophie her own, her vocals were beautifully strong, she was natural and didn’t try to live up to Amanda Seyfried’s hopeless romantic Sophie. While it was original, at times Sophie seemed to lack character depth. I adored Helen Hobson as Donna, she was genuine and caring. Her tear-jerker ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ were sincere and heartfelt.
Donna’s two hilarious best friends, Tanya (Emma Clifford) and Rosie (Gillian Hardie), were effortlessly fantastic. Hardie’s wackiness and Clifford’s chic way of life were shown in their harmonising endeavours to lift Hobson’s spirits. As polar opposites, they were perfectly entertaining to watch throughout. There was a brilliant array of personalities from potential fathers, Jon Boydon (Sam), Christopher Hollis (Bill) and Jamie Hogarth (Harry). And it wouldn’t have been Mamma Mia! without the ensemble’s choreography (Anthony Van Laast) and support; their energy bought the show to life.
One of the best scenes included Tanya and Pepper’s number ‘Does Your Mother Know’. Louis Stockil as the irrepressible Pepper was a comical buzz of energy every time he hit the stage, striking us with an exceptionally athletic performance during this song.
The aesthetics of the musical were wonderful; a simple set that bought the island to life. I could not take my eyes of some of the marvellous costumes worn! The tremendous metallic 70’s suits worn in ‘Super Trooper’ have to be the winner here. Where can I buy one?! Barker’s wedding dress was picturesque, and one of the only costumes she didn’t fiddle with.
If you have an evening free (and can still get a ticket), go and see Mamma Mia! If you don’t have an evening free… GO AND SEE MAMMA MIA! The Royal and Derngate audience were bustling with enjoyment as we all stood to sing and dance to the last few numbers. I’ve had ABBA on repeat all morning. - Holly Kellingray
After great pain, a formal feeling comes –’: what pain – grief, loss, despair – is up for interpretation, poet Emily Dickinson wasn’t explicit, but for anyone who has experienced that fearful, emotional paralysis in the aftermath of pain, it’s undoubtedly true. Theatre Ad Infinitum’s tender and infinitely touchingTranslunar Paradise expresses these feelings without uttering a word. As a husband bids goodbye to his wife, their heart-breaking, beautifully human memoir is told through mime, music, and movement as a mask – literally – for his grief.
The formality of everyday life unfolds even after death: hunched, hobbling and breathing heavily, the husband returns home and makes tea, but even seemingly simple moments are haunted by what’s missing. Consciously or instinctively, he takes out two cups, even though only one is needed now. As the widowed William – as well as the writer and director – George Mann is weary and restless, tapping his fingertips to the ticking of a clock, but his performance isn’t without moments of muted humour, as when he hurriedly spoons a small mountain of sugar into his teacup.
Yet, Translunar Paradise intersperses formality with lyricism, as the present-day fissures into the past in a series of freely expressive pas de deux that explore everything from making tea to love-making. As the wife, after death Deborah Pugh removes her mask and walks into the light – simple but moving design from Peter Harrison – and moves effortlessly from aching old lady to lively young woman, and is mirrored by Mann’s own mask removal as he relives their memories, and his youth, with her. Mann and Pugh’s performances are not only immensely moving, but charming and technically impressive, especially when in perfect time with actor-musician Sophie Crawford’s multiuse accordion and yearning, yodel-esque soundtrack.
The style, structure, and storytelling may be simple, but it’s this searing simplicity that makesTranslunar Paradise so strong. The masks, from Victoria Beaton, are the most detailed element of the design, but they are also immovable, masking the emotional depth beneath them with an impassive expression, as formality does in the aftermath of death: it masks, not mends. Dickinson’s poem ends with her reflecting on those feelings – ‘first – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go’ – and it’s the last, that letting go of grief, that Transular Paradise, through its own poignant depiction of love, loss, and letting go, lets us do. - Leah Tozer
The Royal and Derngate collaborate with simple8 ensemble company on an adaptation of E. M. Forster’s great novel, A Passage to India. Adapted by Simon Dormandy and co-directed with Sebastian Armesto, the adaption runs through the general happenings in the novel. Mrs Moore (Liz Crowther) and her soon-to-be daughter in law Adela (Phoebe Pryce) want to see the real India, despite her son, Ronny (Edward Killingback), feeling quite different about India and its natives. Upon meeting Aziz (Asif Khan), a Muslim Doctor and wonderful bubble of glee, they venture to the mysterious ancient Marabar Caves, where Adela accuses Aziz of assault.
Accompanied by Kuljit Bhamra’s beautiful atmospheric music, we are transported to India. As the story unfolds, we are met with sequences of music and unison. The cast unite as a picturesque elephant and boat ride, repeatedly becoming echoes of the cave. Theatrically, these parts bring the show together. Forster’s voice is held throughout, with bursts of narration. This is refreshing to hear, but at points it is used at a time where their own voice would’ve been more effective. We aren’t shown what might have happened to Pryce in the caves, a theatrical opportunity missed, leaving us feeling empty for Pryce.
Dormandy’s adaption clearly highlights the issue of social harmony, which is still very much present today. Will we, as a human race, ever accept anyone and everyone for who they are, no matter what belief, culture or religion? The play’s purpose is shown here and we can see that it is a story worth telling. Without a doubt, there are strong performances from all involved. Aziz’s behaviours and friendship with Fielding (Richard Goulding) are what bring the piece to light. We invest in their friendship and feel courageous as Fielding does. Khan’s performance is commendable; it is a delight when he graces the stage. Crowther’s voice stood above all. She has a powerful quality which is used successfully.
Leaving without sentiment made me question what was missing. It’s a fully-fledged production with a talented cast. The story might not be as stimulating as it was in 1924, but with the main question being: Can one be friends with the English? The answer is indicated as, “no not yet”. An interesting thought: is “yet” today? Is this question still being asked? - Holly Kellingray
Strangers on a Train is a psychological thriller, originally written by Patricia Highsmith in 1950. The novel has since been adapted as a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and more recently for the radio and stage by Craig Warner. Welcome to 50s America! Business is booming and the American dream is very much alive and kicking. A tsunami of consumerism washes ashore expanding suburbia, bigger and better TVs, cars, blaring advertisements and easy bank loans. For the next few hours we’re given a fleeting glance into this world speeding past, like a runaway train to an inevitable derailed disaster. Highsmith’s story, Strangers on a Train, secretes the same boozey disillusionment as some of her contemporaries, such as Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, or Tennessee Williams’ Glass Menagerie, reeking of societies lacking in loyalty and riddled with lunacy and hypocrisy.
Sounds of the audience’s shuffling coats and passing of Minstrels is suddenly pierced by a solo sleazy jazz trumpet announcing the embarking of the play’s journey: The story circles around two men. Charles “Charlie” Bruno is a rich, spoilt, alcoholic Mummy’s boy, and Guy Haines is a well made architect. The play opens on a train carriage where our two protagonists drunkenly meet, or more Charlie imposes his company on Guy. Everyone is familiar with this situation. That one bloke who won’t shut the hell up and leave you alone when you’re claustrophobically stuck on a moving train (especially if you’re British where we’re slightly more emotionally stunted). In this way, Strangers on a Train perfectly evokes the train environment we all know - the stern ticket conductor, the awkward silences, the rumble of the tracks underneath - as it fills the theatre, you’re filled with an eery sense of de-ja vu. As the two men get more pissed, they open up more, in that odd frankness that is possible when confessing to a complete stranger. However, I’m not sure how I feel when characters say the title of the play within the play. I can’t figure out whether I secretly love the cyclical nature of it, with a little “ooooh” playing in my head, or if it sounds a little cheesy. Let’s go for the first, as our boy Charlie whips out “I’m just a stranger on a train” five minutes in.
(As a side note, I’d love to do an in-depth study on is why its completely and utterly socially acceptable to get pissed on a train. It’s pretty frowned upon when riding the bus or hopping on the tube, but for some unbeknown reason, on trains you can crack a tinnie at eleven o’clock in the morning, no questions asked.)
In the drunken madman’s ramblings, key themes are introduced and the plot is laid out. Charlie proposes that they “trade” murders, his miser father, for Guy’s meddling and unfaithful wife. The play tosses with the idea of what makes someone “good” or “bad” parcelled up in Plato’s Chariot Allegory that Guy reads on the train. For anyone who isn’t a philosophy student, Plato’s idea is that everyone is a chariot rider drawn by one black horse and one white horse. It’s the rider’s life long struggle to try and control the two whilst being pulled along. Dichotomies keep cropping up all through the play - building houses and demolishing relationships, the wonder of giving birth and the wonder of delivering death. The two blokes suddenly look more like the tiny angels and devils that live on cartoons’ shoulders, offering contradictory points of view.
The set is the real jewel in this play’s crown. It's like a mad advent calendar on steroids. A fantastic piece of design effortlessly revealing ever-changing scenes. To quote Charlie; “A house should reflect the people who live in it” and I think the set echoes the labyrinth-like structure of the thriller. In fact it’s possible that the genius of the set dwarfs the acting in areas. Sometimes the script feels slightly jarred or completely missing parts. I’m a wee bit confused why the gory action the novel is renowned for, disappeared. I’d have liked to see some of the bloody handiwork of the gruesome twosome.
And at a climatic moment full of awful revelations, bursting emotions, and high running tensions, you probably shouldn’t be stifling a laugh. However, on my way out the theatre I bumped into a mate of mine. In a sort of wink-wink, nudge-nudge, chortle-chortle I joked about that scene, which was met with a dead pan expression and stony silence. She’d apparently cried all through that bit. So maybe I’m a bitter skeptic and you should just go see for yourselves. For on point set design and a wickedly dark and twisting story about mania, murder, greed and freedom Strangers on a Train is worth checking out! - Jess Butcher
Sunset Boulevard: the glitz, the glamour, the agony, the tragedy. Based on Billy Wilder’s 1950 meta-cinematic masterpiece about damaging Hollywood stardom, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation makes a star of its leading lady. As the iconic, inimitable Norma Desmond, the faded silent-film star and fantasist who’s lusting after a young man, and her adoring fans, to love her again, Ria Jones is ready for her close-up, and it’s a masterclass.
As in the film, the musical opens with a man floating face down in the pool of Norma Desmond’s mansion, but unlike the film, the pool and the unfortunate man are projected onto two moveable panels that then become part of the infamous Paramount lot that Norma loves so much, lending some metatheatrics to the stage as well as the screen. Douglas O’Connell’s projections are not just crafty scenic design – the excitement of the car chase captured in quick cuts; the street outside Schwab’s Drugstore busy with big-shots and bystanders – but, along with Colin Richmond’s grand-yet-just-past-their-glory sets, they are clever storytelling devices. In the finale, the final car chase is accompanied by falling letters and lines from the film script, as though the literal and metaphorical writing is on the wall for the man floating in the water, and it works exceptionally well in honouring the unusual structure of the film without overtly spoiling the plot. And, as Norma invites Joe, the ill-fated, stressed-out, failing screenwriter into her life, she treats him to an audience with Norma Desmond in her heyday, as the faded star appears alongside her younger self at the height of her silent-film fame in a touching homage to the loss of dignity and admiration that comes with ageing as a woman in Hollywood.
Norma is a tragic heroine, but she also has to be wholly terrifying. The closing monologue, as she descends like a deranged madman down her staircase, ready for her last close-up from Mr. DeMille, can quite easily become comic when it’s really deeply tragic, and the whites-of-the-eyes, arms-out-wide performance style can look less like the pride of silent-film and more simple overplaying. Yet, dressed in dazzling but dated scarves, sunglasses, and splendid headdresses, Ria Jones is just outstanding: her renditions of ‘With One Look’ and ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ are just the right mix of narcissism and nervousness, and both Norma’s dreamy ignorance and dangerous jealousy are there with just one look back at Joe as she ascends the stairs. Joe is the straight man to Desmond’s star, and Dougie Carter is an affable fall guy with a fantastic voice, capturing both the untrustworthiness of Joe as the narrator as well as the charm of a romantic lead alongside Molly Lynch’s gorgeously sung, gritty fellow writer, Betty. And finally, as Norma Desmond’s devoted, slightly devilish, baritone butler Max, Adam Pearce is not only her biggest fan but her defender to the last, even as she descends the stairs for her final performance.
Sunset Boulevard is fame in all its former glory, from the glitz and the glamour to the agony, the fading, and the forgetting, but Ria Jones’s performance as the faded silent-film star won’t be forgotten: she is, as Norma was, ‘The Greatest Star of All’. - Leah Tozer
‘Meta’, “(of creative work) referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self referential”. From live broadcasting to dissecting the story within a script, or the script, Network toys with technology and the whole thing is just very, very meta.
Network, written by Lee Hall, explores a (not so) dystopian future of the media, particularly in relation to politics, in which entertainment value and viewers account to more than solid facts. Central character newsreader-gone-anarchist-prophet Howard Beale (Bryan Cranston) urges UBS’s viewers to get mad as hell, and that they do. Cranston, although obviously ‘mad as hell’, is also badass as hell in the role of Howard Beale. He spurts and spits and cries and crawls and ultimately brings the house down with a stellar performance (did we expect any less?). The constant countdown and forced applause creates an on-edge yet repetitive atmosphere, allowing us to understand Howard Beales frustration at the ‘bullshit’ cogs that turn day in, day out.
Imagery is key with Ivo Van Hove’s direction; he toys with god-like silhouettes and stark colours, prompting us to remain engaged. Four heads peep out from behind a sound desk centre stage, and like big brother, they watch. The snazzy, jazzy beats of BL!NDMAN quartet (said heads) experiment with tension, unconventional sounds and chilled out music of the decade. The play is highly male-heavy, with Michelle Dockery essentially playing the only female character. The character, Diana, is at least of substance; ambitious, smart and complicated with Dockery’s added classy sex appeal (I think I’m allowed to say that?!).
The clattering of knives and forks drifts from Foodwork, the on-stage restaurant, occasionally breaking through the subconscious to remind me of a podgy-all-american-family eating livers from trays on their laps whilst being drawn in to the sweet white noise of the television, and suddenly I’m watching the 70’s commercials in the background instead of the on stage action and just like that I’ve let my focus drift to the simple, easy images rather than listen to the deeper conversations; a message embedded within this piece. Oh and we all got mad as hell and got to boo Donald Trump at the end, which is a plus. - Faye Butler