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April 2014

Review: The grimly poetic Debris at Southwark Playhouse

Debris, Harry McEntire (Michael) and Leila Mimmack (Michelle), photo credit Richard Davenport RWD187
Harry McEntire and Leila Mimmack in Debris, Southwark Playhouse Photo by Richard Davenport

I'm a huge Philip Ridley fan and Dennis Kelly's writing reminds me of him. Kelly's play Debris -  receiving a 10th anniversary brush down at the Southwark Playhouse - has a similar poetry, a potent mix of shockingly grim reality, black humour and a narrative that is evocative and affecting.

Brother and sister Michael (Harry McEntire) and Michelle (Leila Mimmack) recount the story of their lives blending fantasy and reality with a child's interpretation and some scarily mature observations. It jumps back and forth in time and between the siblings eventually drawing everything together.

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Review: Harvey Fierstein's On Tidy Endings and Safe Sex at the Tristan Bates

On Tidy Endings and Safe Sex 7, Photography by Jamie Scott-Smith,
Deena Payne and CJ de Mooi in On Tidy Endings at Tristan Bates Theatre. Photo by Jamie Scott-Smith

The Tristan Bates Theatre is hosting the UK premieres of two Harvey Fierstein (La Cage Aux Folles, Torch Song Trilogy) plays themed around gay relationships during the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

First up is Safe Sex which explores the impact fear of the disease has on one relationship. Ghee (CJ de Mooi) and Mead (Cole Michaels) have got together again after splitting up and there is a potent mix of rediscovered passion for each other and the ghosts of past grievances. Ghee is ultra cautious about sexual activity and the Aids risk which serves as a dampener for Meads passion and soon frustrations spill over into a truth-telling about each others feelings.

Like the companion piece On Tidy Endings, AIDS is very much a back drop, a spectre that subtly informs behaviour but in concentrating on the relationship the short comings in the performance are revealed. There is little chemistry between the lovers and without that the play just lacks heart and the message seems a bit empty.

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Review: And now for something different - Gandini Juggling's Smashed at Udder Belly

For something a little bit different, something that is a unique twist of juggling, dance, comedy and drama  head to the upside down purple cow on London's South Bank.

Gandini Juggling are in residence with their show Smashed which is skillfully and often beautifully   performed by the troupe of seven men and two women using a lot of apples and a tea set.

The hour long show is a series of loosely linked vignettes sometimes synchronised juggling, sometimes there are threads of narrative discernible in the dance and mime and sometimes there is slap stick. But all the time there is juggling, all sorts of juggling.

It is a show that is like a cocktail that has been shaken and stirred with drizzle of sauce that tastes much better than its description implies.  It is funny, sometimes beautiful, entertaining and impressive and you won't see anything quite like. It runs as part of the South Bank Festival's Udder Belly programme until May 18 before resuming a UK and European tour.


Review: Hedda Gabler at the Kings Head Theatre

0aa87d3435764b6186f19ec5f10d8324Do like a trimmed down version of a classic and FiasCo’s production of Hedda Gabler came it at 90 minutes straight through yesterday (even shorter than the 115 minutes indicated on the website).


The story of Hedda, who has married a boring academic because she herself is bored and then sets about trying to exert some sort of control over the world around her, can be played in many different ways. Annemarie Highmore’s Hedda, in this production, is cold and calculating. There is no sense of her being a victim of society necessarily or a feminist or someone who wants to protect her husband just a woman who enjoys manipulating others. She is, essentially, a bitch with no redeeming features.


In contrast those around her are warm and friendly. Her husband the obsessive academic George Tesman (Benedict Waring) is well-meaning if distracted, Judge Brack (Daniel Jennings) makes his feelings for Hedda obvious but maintains a level head and the doomed couple Ellert Lovborg and Thea Elvsted just seem sweet and delicate.


The contrast between Hedda and her friends and acquaintances is stark. And, for me, a little too stark; it made it difficult to understand why people had been drawn to her in the first place. If she had a lively if acerbic wit or something magnetic in her personality, like a snake that hypnotises its prey then I could understand but instead she is aloof and difficult to read.


It made the denouement a little emotionless and more of a relief than a shock. I couldn't imagine her passing leaving too much of a trace on those around her, it certainly didn't leave any trace on me.


FiasCo's Hedda is solidly produced and acted and an interesting, if slightly unsatisfactory take on a well known story. There is a repeat performance at the Kings Head on Sunday 27 April.




Review: Mike Bartlett's An Intervention, Watford Palace Theatre

Rachael Stirling and John Hollingworth in Mike Bartlett's An Intervention

It must be a rarity to see two new plays by the same writer within the space of 10 days. Mike Bartlett has been busy.

An Intervention is a co-production with Watford Palace Theatre and Paines Plough and sees Bartlett return to more simple story-telling of his Cock (tee hee, cannot resist). Rachael Stirling and John Hollingworth play best friends A and B whose friendship is tested to breaking point.

A is a passionate anti-war protester and B thinks intervention is better in the long run. But the argument that sparks a break down of their friendship is only a mask for what is really going on. A likes to drink. A lot. She is the life and soul of the party, always full of energy, witty and fun and that is her life. B, however, sees a different future for himself. He's got a new girlfriend (whom A hates) who has opened the door to a different lifestyle.

Bartlett puts friendship under a magnifying glass and examines what it means. When is it right to intervene, when should you stay quiet and at what point do you throw in the towel?

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Review: Privacy at the Donmar or playing with mobiles in the theatre

The in audience safety card for Privacy, keep an ear out for Simon Russell Beale's voice over

On Monday night the audience at the Donmar was asked to do something extraordinary - play with their mobiles. Now that isn't extraordinary for those with no manners who cannot switch off but for the vast majority who stow their phones safely away for the duration of a play it was a decidedly odd sensation.

Playwright James Graham has taken audience interaction to a new level with Privacy. His play The Man at the Finborough in 2010 required the audience to hand the solo actor receipts about which a story unfolded. In Privacy the audience is given exercises, for want of a better description, in which to demonstrate points of information the protagonist, a writer (Joshua Maguire), discovers and uses.

The play debates security and internet privacy and the morals and effectiveness of how personal information is used. The writer is working on a piece about Edward Snowden's expose of CIA surveillance tactics which, aside from putting him under potential scrutiny from the security services, also serves to demonstrate what and how information is gleaned.

On a more personal level the writer is a bit of an introvert, obsessed with his own privacy to the point where he eschews social media and finds it difficult to let people into his life.

The rest of the cast play a mixture of the writer's acquaintances, friends and depictions of real life people from his research.

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Review: Arcadia, Bristol Tobacco Factory

Piers Wehner as Septimus in Arcadia, Bristol Tobacco Factory

Tom Stoppard's Arcadia is one of @polyg's favourites, she particularly likes the maths and science in it. Unfortunately for me that is what turns me off. Maths was horrible for me at school and my ignorance on the subject means that chunks of the play just don't connect.

It's not that I don't appreciate the skill and craft of Stoppard's work, it's just that talk of maths is like listening to a foreign language I've only just mastered the pleasantries for. Fortunately Arcadia has much more to it.

Set in the same house but in two different periods, around 180 years apart, the characters of the modern time set about unravelling what happened in the house during the earlier period.

In 1809 Septimus (Piers Wehner) is tutor to the maths obsessed Thomasina (Hannah Lee), in love with her mother (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) and having an affair with a married woman who's husband Ezra Chater (Vincenzo Pellegrino) has just found out.

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Review: (The very) Good People, Noel Coward Theatre

Lorraine Ashbourne, Imelda Staunton and Susan Brown in Good People photo by Johan Persson

Imelda Staunton is a brilliant actress and I haven't seen her in a play that truly matches her talents until now.

In David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People she plays the fast-talking Margaret who has just got sacked from her job working on the check-out at the dollar store because she is always late. Margaret lives in the projects in "Southie", the predominantly Irish suburb of Boston, where jobs are hard to come by and gossip and bingo provide the diversions from the hardships.

Margaret is a single mum of a disabled daughter relying on an unreliable neighbour to babysit. Faced with not being able to pay the rent she turns to a former childhood beau Mike (Lloyd Owen), who has made good as a doctor, for help in getting a job.

Good People examines the ethos of the American Dream and whether it is luck or hard work that leads to success. Will good, industrious people always prosper? Despite Margaret and Mike sharing a background their stories are very different but is this down to choice and application? Was Mike a good egg who merely took advantage of the opportunities presented to him, grafting hard to earn his escape into a nice house, in a nice suburb and a "comfortable" life? And by the same token did Margaret make bad choices, squandering opportunities and end up with the life she deserved?

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Review: Mike Bartlett channels Shakespeare for his new play King Charles III

Lydia Wilson and Oliver Chris as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in King Charles III at the Almeida Theatre

Mike Bartlett's new play is a bold and clever endeavour that might not necessarily work perfectly but nonetheless has a great deal to be admired. It is certainly a play to talk about.

In King Charles III Bartlett imagines what our current Prince of Wales would be like as King. It begins just after the Queen's funeral when Charles (Tim Pigott-Smith) is having a quiet moment with the family. There is William and Kate (Oliver Chris and Lydia Wilson), Harry (Richard Goulding) and Camilla (Margot Leicester) but when the prime minister Mr Evans (Adam James) comes along the relationship between the new monarch and his government doesn't get off to a good start.

The core of the trouble is a bill restricting press freedom to which Charles has to give Royal Assent in order for it to pass into law. In history it's been around 300 years since a monarch refused consent but Charles feels he cannot sign something with which he disagrees.

It's admirable defending freedom of speech but he comes to the process too late and misunderstands his standing and place. His stubborn conviction of what is his duty miscalculates the modern perception of the role of monarchy and demonstrates  how the relationship between the two is so delicately balanced.

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