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
This is it: 'The Room Where It Happens'. It's here. 'It' is Hamilton, and after a fortnight of previews, the musical chronicling the finding, founding, and fight for American freedom through the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, it's finally open at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London's West End. With so much hype and hysteria, just what is it about Hamilton that makes us all want to be in 'The Room Where It Happens'?
Telling history through rap, hip-hop, and R&B, composer Lin-Manuel Miranda makes America’s past matter through contemporary music and a cast-of-colour who play the mostly white political players of the late-18th century. With characters and songs taking their cue both from the founding fathers who wrote America into existence and the rappers and musicians who use real-life experience to write their way to respect, Hamilton fuses the present, the past, and the future – the finale asks, ‘Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?’ – into a harmonious whole with a heart that beats and breaks and aches. Hamilton tells not only a political history but a private one, with the story centring on the opposing views of Hamilton and his perpetual rival, Aaron Burr (Sir): one waits for it, the other works non-stop; one stands for nothing, the other rises up; one dies, the other survives.
Hamilton, like America, is 'young, scrappy, and hungry', a nobody who arrives in New York to be a new man, and Burr, his nemesis, is a waiter who will do anything to win but has much, much more to lose. Hamilton, and history, hangs in the balance between the two men. Giles Terera is a beguiling Burr, and thus makes a magnificent narrator and a heartbreakingly human antagonist, moving heroically between the rapped rhymes and his more soulful singing. The alternate Alexander Hamilton at matinees, Ash Hunter, plays the problematic protagonist as impulsive, with impeccable comic timing and an impressive clearness to his rapping, but is perhaps missing that splash of scrappiness that's polished up in 'My Shot'. Alternates, like America after Washington, are vital to allowing the show to outlive its founders, and although that's wildly foreign to the monarchy and theatre-going milieu alike, it cements alternates as a meaningful, though oft-forgotten element of Hamilton's victory.
For such 'An American Musical', pre-transfer worries about how well the pride and patriotism would translate from Broadway to the West End were well-founded, but in practice - and performance - any fears are truly unfounded. Although, it's not necessarily a bad thing for Britain to be seen as the bad guys with a tyrannical narcissist in charge (here, a royally ridiculous Michael Jibson as King George III, embroiled in a bitter break-up with America), as, historically, we have been. In Hamilton, the past comes at you fast in the form of rapped recitatives with all the bravura and braggadocio of a rap battle, but in counterpoint to the politics are the private moments, the intimacy of relationships, resentment, forgiveness, and regret, and they find voice in rhythm-and-blues, when history is muted and inner monologues can be heard.
The most intimate and moving of monologues is Hamilton's wife Eliza's: her arc haloes from helplessly in love to burned by betrayal to bearing her husband's legacy, and her torch song is literal, sung as she 'Burns' her letters, and herself, out of the story. Rachelle Ann Go is sensitive but strong, dignified in the face of disrespect, and poised but powerful in her vocal performance, and in telling the most intimate tale and outliving the hero, it's more herstory than Hamilton's. Two other women make up the holy trinity of Hamilton's admirers, and they are powerhouse performances: Rachel John is Eliza's older, wiser, revelation-wanting sister, who though never 'Satisfied' is more than a satisfactory match for Hamilton in wit and wile, and his mistress Maria Reynolds is a wretched lady-in-red sung so sultrily by Christine Allado it's almost impossible not to be seduced.
Allado is seductive as Maria in Act II but playful as Peggy, the other Schuyler sister, in Act I, and she's one of many multi-rolling across the acts. Hamilton's allies in Act I, Lafayette and Mulligan, are his enemies, Jefferson and Madison, in Act II, with Jason Pennycooke's turn as the jubilant, jazz-handed Jefferson and Tarinn Callender's unabashed, 'brrrrap'-ing Mulligan absolutely triumphant. As Laurens, Cleve September completes the circle of Hamilton's closest companions, and the four of them birth revolution over beat-boxing, banter, and taking shots in a bar, with their bravado only reigned in by Obioma Ugoala's respected, almost-regal Washington.
The score is exciting and stirring and cites many a musical master from the classic to the contemporary. The 'all-skate' Act I closer mixes canon, counterpoint, and character theme-and-variation in the same epic vein as 'One Day More' from Les Mis, and there are many allusions to modern-day rappers in the 'another immigrant coming up from the bottom' rhetoric that runs throughout. The classical meets the contemporary across the performance, from costume designer Paul Tazewell's cream deconstructions of colonial dress, to the bare wooden bones of David Korins's orbital set, to Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography with flips and whips as well as waltzes, brought to life with colour and confidence by a vivacious company.
What Hamilton has is a humanity, a humility, that makes it inimitable. As for Alexander in his America, being in 'The Room Where It Happens' is to be at the heart of the revolution, to see a stage that reflects real-life voices, faces, and feelings, to find not theatrical perfection, but an unforgettable phenomenon. Let's hope, as Hamilton says, that 'this is not a moment, it's a movement'. - Leah Tozer
The first thing one notices upon entrance is Jon Bausor’s work on the set, he has gone above and beyond with his vision for this piece. The entire space is covered with red cloth and distressed advertisements for various fayre attractions. This, combined with the stellar lighting design of Rob Casey creates a magical atmosphere from the beginning. The team should be complimented for extremely imaginative and innovative use of space. Coupled with the gorgeous puppets, designed by Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié, the production feels truly revolutionary. Who says we have to confine ourselves to the black box? No, The Grinning Man colours outside the lines; with actors, props and set pieces showing up where one least expects them. This dark and whimsical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel, The Man Who Laughs from 1869, certainly attempts to be equal to other well-known adaptations of his works such as Les Miserables. And since the styles of the two productions are so drastically different it almost gets away with it.
However, it falls mildly short towards the end, perhaps due to the never before considered backstory of the romantic lead, Dea. Being the very human embodiment of kindness and virtue the character fails to stand out in the cornucopia of fantastical characters littering the story. It is worth mentioning that the contemporary audience deserves female characters with more meat to them than virtue and kindness. It seems like Grinpayne and Dea are two sides of the same coin regarding their past and personality yet Dea does not seem sufficiently troubled by their past.
The story is compelling and the way it is told is refreshing. Worth mentioning is the comic timing of James-Alexander Taylor, in the role of Mojo, and the phenomenal voices of Sanne De Besten, in the role of Dea, and Louis Maskell, in the role of Grinpayne. A dark and twisted fable and the very embodiment of Epic. The Grinning Man promises to take place with London’s major theatrical attractions. - Disa Andersen
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