Review: Olivia Poulet pitches perfect satire and farce in Product, Arcola Theatre

Olivia Poulet in Product by Mark Ravenhill, Arcola, 27 April - 24 May, courtesy of Richard Davenport, 1
Olivia Poulet in Product. Photo by Richard Davenport

If the film Olivia Poulet's Leah is pitching to an actress had a movie poster it would be the sort that you'd run a mile from. Mark Ravenhill's satirical monologue is far more entertaining than the finished product ever would be or perhaps it would be a film so bad it would actually be good.

Leah thinks she has the perfect script for big actress Julia. She needs a big name actress to get the film green lit and Julia's career is on the wane:

"It's a three dimensional character, I'd love to see you play a three dimensional again."

And so for 50 minutes Leah talks Julia through the plot, re-anacting bits of the script, playing mood music, giving costume notes "You are wearing a gorgeous Versace suit, Versace are on board" and generally scene setting.

It is a cringe-worthy script which will be "hardened up" and a plot that is laced with female and racial stereotypes. Imagine Bridget Jones crossed with a bad Jason Statham action movie. Leah wants Julia to play the central character Amy, a successful, jet-setting woman living in a "beautiful warehouse apartment in East London that used to be an abattoir". Amy meets and falls in love with Mohammad, a Jihadist. Osama Bin Laden even makes an appearance. It's pure farce. It's cackle-inducing.

But this isn't just about the bad movie, it's about movie making as a commercial enterprise masquerading as an art form. And it's about Leah's increasingly desperate attempts to sell the movie. Leah peels off lists of inner monologues for particular scenes, breaking flow to mention how fantastic the lighting will be and body doubles. You can only imagine the look on Julia's face throughout.

It's a masterclass in acting from Poulet and, ironically, a level of talent which wouldn't even save this film from heading straight to DVD were it to be made.

Product is silly, ridiculous and sharp. It's a thoroughly entertaining 50 minutes. Catch it at the Arcola's Studio 2 until May 23



Review: Beyond Caring, National Theatre

Beyond Caring is a curious play; curious in that it feels slow and, dare I say it, a little underwhelming while you are watching, but it is only afterwards when you realise how it has quietly got under your skin.

It's a Yard Theatre production written and directed Alexander Zeldin, and devised with the company, and is set in a sausage factory where three women have been employed on zero hour contracts to clean at night alongside full-timer Phil (Sean O'Callaghan). There is a lot of cleaning.

They are supervised by Ian (Luke Clarke) who pops in every now and again to assert his own brand of management on the team. But this is a play about strangers who find themselves in the same situation, working unsociable hours doing a job very few would do if they could avoid. You'd expect one of them to be chatty and loud but none of them are. There are long periods when nothing is spoken and they are getting on with cleaning, hence why it can feel a little slow; the communication and character revelations come from their body language and behaviour.

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Theatre hottie of the month: April edition

It's been a fruitful month of 'talented' talent. At first I thought Alex Hassell, playing Biff in Death of a Salesman, in his white vest and PJ bottoms would walk away with the title. He even made baby blue knitwear look sexy.

Then there was Jack Farthing playing a rent boy in Carmen Disruption who made me want to be a boy.

But then I went to see Cheek By Jowl's Russian Measure For Measure and, well, I was a little bit breathless and a little bit giggly by the end. So April's theatre hottie is Peter Rykov, the gorgeous Peter Rykov who played Claudio.

Here he is as Claudio making a double bass look sexy:

Peter Rykov & Company. Photo - Johan Persson
Peter Rykov & Company. Photo - Johan Persson

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Udderbelly review: Spectular strength and agility in A Simple Space

30_a_simple_spaceTo call A Simple Space an acrobatics show doesn't really do it justice: For sixty minutes I was smiling and agog.

This Australian troop of five men and two women perform a series of spectacular feats some of which you have to see to believe.

Most of it is done without props, using each other for strength, guidance and balance. They fling each other about, are human climbing frames and a shoulder, head, face, foot or hand can all be a useful platform on which to balance. They even jump on each other, sometimes playing a sophisticated and graceful game of moving around without touching the floor.

It is done with a certain amount of humour and playful competitiveness. In between the more physical feats they have little competitions. There's one to see who can hold their breath the longest while one of them stays in a handstand and another which is a bit like strip poker only they compete at skipping rather than cards.

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Five plays I'm really looking forward to (and no the one with Nicole Kidman isn't one of them)

Ben Whishaw, Bakkhai promo. Photo by David Stewart

The announcement last week that Nicole Kidman is taking to the London stage 17 years (or something) after her last outing has given rise to lists of must see theatre. Inevitably these lists include equally starry names - Bradley Cooper, Damian Lewis and of course Benedict Cumberbatch.

But, other than BC's Hamlet, none of the plays listed or the celebs attached got me particularly excited (well not excited enough to spend £60 on a ticket anyway) so I decided to draw up my own list. It's been a struggle to narrow it down as I look forward to everything I've booked (what's the point otherwise) but here goes:

1. Hamlet, Barbican

Let's get this one out of the way first. I am excited. I love Hamlet and I've been a fan of BC's since before Sherlock. The supporting cast has only added to the anticipation - Anastasia Hille as Gertrude, Ciaran Hinds as Claudius, Leo Bill as Horatio...

2. The Beaux' Stratagem, National Theatre

It's going to be silly and flamboyant and it has Geoffrey Streatfeild, Sam Barnett and Pippa Bennett Warner in it. Cannot wait.


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Review: Chiwetel Ejiofor in Everyman, National Theatre


We can sigh with relief having seen Everyman at the National Theatre. It is the second play in Rufus Norris's inaugural season as artistic director (and the first he directs) and it is very much the 'Norris' I was hoping for when it was announced he was taking over from Nicholas Hytner. The first play of the season - Light Shining in Buckinghamshire which I saw two nights earlier - failed to make its mark, in fact I abandoned it at the interval* but more of that later.

Everyman is a completely different beast. The 15th century morality play has been given a modern setting and a new contemporary script by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. It is a linear and simple plot structure: Everyman (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is successful, popular, works hard and plays hard but God is unhappy with how mankind is behaving and chooses Everyman to teach a lesson.

Death visits Everyman to tell him his number is up and that he's been called to a reckoning with God setting him on a journey to find some way of justifying himself and his lifestyle.

Being based on a morality play you can see how this will pan out but it is a hell of a journey on the way, in one sense for Everyman and in the other for the audience.

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All you need to know about the Old Vic Theatre PwC £10 preview tickets

Excited by the prospect of being able to see stuff at the Old Vic for a tenner? I know I am. Here's how it's going to work:

For the first five previews* half of the seats will be £10 and they will be scattered throughout the auditorium.

Seats will be released on a first come, first served basis at 12pm on the Monday five weeks prior to the first preview. Four tickets per person. Dates will be announced to the PwC Previews mailing list and you can sign up for that list at

* excludes Jekyll and Hyde, Rise and The Old Vic Variety Nights

Review: Who'd have thought Eugene O'Neill could be charming and funny - Ah, Wilderness! Young Vic

Ah_Wilderness_326x326The last time I saw Dominic Rowan stumbling on sand was in the Donmar's production of Berenice. This time in Ah, Wilderness! at the Young Vic his character Sid not only has a sandy stage to contend with but also a bit of a drink problem which makes him unsteady on his feet.

Sid drinks to hide the hurt of rejection from Lily (Susannah Wise); Lily turns down his marriage proposals because he drinks and gambles. It's a vicious circle. But Sid and Lily's is a secondary love story to that of Richard's (George MacKay).

Eugene O'Neill's play is set in the early 1900's Richard is Lily's 16-year-old nephew and Ah, Wilderness! is his coming of age story. He's intelligent and alarms his mother (Janie Dee) by reading Oscar Wilde, Ibsen and Strindberg which she deems unsuitable and inappropriate. He rebels in a bookish way quoting lines of poetry and literature but most importantly he is in the throws of his first love with a girl called Muriel.

The action is set over the course of a sunny Independence weekend by the sea where the family is gathered for celebrations. Richard's mother (Janie Dee) is trying to organise the July 4th dinner, encourage her husband Nat (Martin Marquez) and Sid not to get too drunk and her youngest son is running around setting off fire crackers. And then there is Muriel's father who is on the war path having found Richard's love letters to his daughter.

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Are we excited about Matthew Warchus's first season at the Old Vic?

A few things caught my eye when the press release announcing Matthew Warchus's first season as artistic director of the Old Vic landed in my in box this morning.

* Timothy Spall on stage -  have longed to see him tread the boards and he's such a brilliant actor and to double the excitement he's in Pinter's The Caretaker - a play I've always wanted to see on stage.

* Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape - saw a great production at the Southwark Playhouse a few years ago and as we've had a run of Miller plays feels time to move onto another classic American playwright.

* A new commission from Richard Bean of One Man Two Guvnors and Great Britain fame, always something to be looked forward to.

But there was one thing that shone a completely new light on the new season - £10 previews. But not only that £10 previews without age restrictions. They've got a new corporate partner in the shape of PwC and half the seats in the house for the first five previews will be £10. Previously I've been extremely selective about what I see at the Old Vic because of the prices but it's become more affordable for the first time.

So thank you Matthew Warchus, I already think you are doing better than Kevin Spacey (sorry Kev). If you could just sort out the ladies loos then you'll hold the crown.


Since writing this I've got a few more details from the Old Vic about the £10 tickets and how it will work.