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May 2015

Fringe review - Juggling lessons with Circus Geeks: Beta Testing, Udderbelly

Circus Geeks, Beta Testing, Ring Juggling, Udderbelly Festival 2015. Courtesy Joe Clark

Circus Geeks: Beta Testing. Photo: Joe Clark

Three juggling geeks and a hour to tell you about juggling, that's the sort of premise to the Circus Geeks: Beta Testing show.

They are certainly skilled, as you'd expect for a show on the South Bank, but this isn't a show with knife juggling or any other dangerous sharp objects it is about sheer complexity.

However, as the Geeks kindly point out, often the audience don't really appreciate the more complex juggling tricks - it's just a blur of balls/batons/hoops. So they've drawn a graph to show you. Lines representing each juggler rise and fall depending on the difficulty of what they are doing, as they run through a sequence of different tricks. It's a nice, quirky little feature to one of their set pieces.

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Fringe review: Keeping it in the family in the Dogs of War, Old Red Lion Theatre

Pamela Raith Photography_The Dogs of War_008
Richard Southgate, Maggie O'Brien and Paul Stonehouse in
Dogs of War - Pamela Raith Photography

The Herming family have moved to rural Northern Ireland from England. Son Johnny (Richard Southgate) is home from University, full of resentment at the move and just wants to play his empire building computer game. 

Mam (Maggie O'Brien) pops pills, is irascible, contrary and won't go out the house. Dad (Paul Stonehouse) is trying to keep the peace, keep the family dogs under control and keep out of the way.

But that isn't the worrying thing. Johnny can't see the dogs and Cleopatra (Melanie McHugh) has appeared and is talking to him - with a Northern Irish accent.

Tim Foley's Dogs of War is a dark comedy and one of those plays where you get to the interval not entirely sure by what is going on but utterly intrigued to see if all becomes clear. And it does and doesn't.

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Fringe review: Gender swapping and ginger beards in Taming of the Shrew, New Wimbledon Theatre Studio

The Taming of the Shrew, Arrows and Traps 2 - Davor Torvarlaza
Alexander McMorran and Elizabeth Appleby in
Taming of the Shrew. Photo Davor Torvarlaza

Christopher Sly's (Christopher Neels) entrance onto the stage at the New Wimbledon Theatre Studio is certainly a memorable one. He momentarily tricks the audience before going on to be tricked himself. When Sly wakes from a drunken stupor he is made to believe he is a wealthy nobleman for whom The Taming of the Shrew is being presented.

Neels is one of only four male actors in this gender inversion production which is the main reason I wanted to see it. Taming of the Shrew isn't a play I generally enjoy, it has always made me feel uncomfortable. The psychological and physical means used to subdue Kate in the play are cruel.

In this production Kate becomes Kajetano (Alexander McMorran) or K for short and is 'tamed' by Petruchia (Elizabeth Appleby). Bianca becomes Bianco (Samuel Morgan-Graham) a spoiled younger brother who can't marry until his brother is paired off.

Does having a woman subduing a man by the same means feel any less cruel? It shouldn't but there are certain lines which do sit a little better.  In the final speech K gives it is the men that are admonished for offering war rather than peace and his call for men to love and honour their wives feel a little less like a call to be subservient.

As it turns out the sexual politics in swapping the genders is almost by the by, the production gets around the difficulties of K's treatment with heavy doses of farce and clowning, making it almost cartoon like. When K is being scolded for fighting with Bianco, Bianco feigns injury while his mother is looking, making rude gestures at his brother behind her back. It reminded me of my own childish battles with my brother and is very funny.

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Review: Simon Russell Beale in Temple, Donmar Warehouse


Simon Russell Beale is staring out a window. You can see St Paul's Cathedral looming large and hear the rhythmic beat of drums outside punctuated by the occasional roar of a crowd cheering and snatches of song. 

It is Autumn 2011 and Occupy London, having been prevented from protesting outside the stock exchange have instead set up camp outside St Paul's. The cathedral has be closed because of protest and is losing thousands of pounds a day in essential tourist revenue.

In Steve Water's new play at the Donmar he takes a fictional look at what was going on behind the scenes at St Paul's at this unprecedented time in the Cathedral's history - its doors had been kept open during the Blitz, floods and terrorist threats.

SRB is the Dean of the Cathedral and faced with a difficult decision. He is under pressure from the City of London to co-operate with an injunction to get the protestors evicted. He is under pressure from within the chapter of the Cathedral some of whom question what the church's role should be in such situation's: a church of the high finance or a church of the common man. And he is under pressure from the Bishop of London to make the right decision and minimise the damage to the Cathedral and church's reputation.

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Review: Restoration comedy laughs in The Beaux' Stratagem, National Theatre

The_Beaux_Stratagem_poster_notitleSamuel Barnett preens onto the Olivier stage, frock coat swishing and looking handsome. He is Aimwell, the younger brother of a count, who has frittered away his fortune enjoying life with his friend Archer (Geoffrey Streatfeild) and the two are on a mission to find rich wives to replenish their coffers.

Arriving at a coaching inn with Archer posing as Aimwell's servant they set about their plan to seek out well-funded beaux. Meanwhile the most eligible young woman Dorinda (Pippa Bennett-Warner) is helping her sister in law, Mrs Sullen (Susannah Fielding), to make her husband jealous in the hope that he will be less neglectful.

Throw in a highway man, a romantic French captain, an amorous 'French' priest and a love tangle among the servants and you have George Farquhar's restoration comedy The Beaux' Stratagem. It is an entangled tale of love, lust, marriage and money. And while it isn't quite the romp that She Stoops to Conquer was three years ago, there is plenty of amusement and laughs.

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Fringe review: 60s soul music and sexual exploitation in The Flannelettes, Kings Head Theatre

The Flannelettes (c) Chris Tribble (19)
Emma Hook and Holly Campbell in The Flannelettes
Photo: Chris Tribble

Richard Cameron's new play The Flannelettes is a grim story of domestic violence and sexual exploitation set against, ironically, the romantic 60s love songs from the Motown stable.

Set in a former mining town Delie (Emma Hook) is 22, has learning difficulties and is staying with her aunt Brenda (Suzan Sylvester) who runs a refuge for abused women. She can sing and is reforming Motown tribute band The Flannelettes with her aunt and George (Geoff Leesley), who runs a pawnbrokers and is happy to don a dress for their performances.

Delie picks up litter to raise money for the refuge and has a civic trophy as thanks. At the refuge she meets Roma (Holly Campbell) a young women in an abusive relationship. Roma tries to warn Delie of about the people she is mixing with, a group she herself seems powerless to leave. Despite her efforts  those of the ones looking out for her, Delie gets drawn into an exploitative sexual relationship.

The grim under belly of this economically deprived and drug-riddled community is exposed through the eyes of those who are trying their best to help turn it around.

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Fringe review and production photos: Sense of an Ending, Theatre 503

SOAE Dress, © Jack Sain 2015-0914
Sense of an Ending, Theatre 503. Photo by Jack Sain

Fringe theatre is where the difficult to watch plays are at the moment. Ken Urban's new piece, Sense of an Ending, is about a journalist investigating the case of two nun's who are standing trial for their part in the massacre of Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide.

While there are some necessary grim details about the murders and attacks this is a play that focuses more on the emotional agony, moral dilemmas, guilt and self justification.

Ben Onwukwe plays Charles, an American journalist who is trying to rebuild his career having made a mistake. He's been granted exclusive access to Sister Justina (Lynette Clarke) and Sister Alice (Akiya Henry) in order to interview them for a piece for the New York Times.

He arrives believing they must be innocent, believing that as women of God they wouldn't have allowed Tutsi men, women and children to be massacred in their church. The nuns' Hutu captors think otherwise and then there is Dusabi (Kevin Golding) who also has a story to tell about the massacre.

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Thoughts and production photos: The Angry Brigade at the Bush Theatre this time

Harry Melling and Mark Arends in The Angry Brigade ∏Manuel Harlan
Harry Melling and Mark Arends in Angry Brigade at the Bush Theatre. Photo Manuel Harlan

Saw The Angry Brigade at the Watford Palace Theatre last Autumn and it's found it's way to the Bush Theatre with Harry Melling returning and three new actors taking the other parts.

It's the story of Britain's answer to the Baader Meinhof and 1st of May guerilla groups in the 1970s and the police efforts to unmask them. You can read more detail about the play itself and my thoughts in the Watford review, the second viewing is a bit of a clue as to how much I enjoyed it, but I was also curious how it would change in a different theatre space.

Watford is an old theatre, a very formal setting for a play that has anarchy at its heart. The Bush has a flexible studio space allowing more freedom.

In the first half when the story follows the police the action is appropriately contained within the marked performance space but when it turns to the Angry Brigade themselves in the second half it is a different matter.

The audience is sat on three sides, slightly raised from the main performance space which has a walkway sized shelf around it. "Please keep bags and feet behind the rail," those of us on the front row were instructed and yes at one point Harry Melling was lying at my feet.

There are multiple entry points which the 'Brigade' made the most of. Actors often appearing behind the audience or sitting in a seat at the back. It can have quite a startling effect particularly when the filing cabinet 'bombs' start going off.  It all adds to the atmosphere although I must admit that it felt just a little bit more rebellious watching it from a red velvet upholstered seat in a traditional theatre.

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Props and an actor go flying in Ah, Wilderness!, Young Vic

Ah-wilderness-007 Ashley Zhangazha and George MacKay in Ah, Wilderness! Photo: Tristram Kenton

Always feel for actors when they've got an awkward stage set to move around. I mean is it not enough for them to have to remember their lines, their cues, the props and act all at the same time? Sloping stages always have me worrying for their ankles but sandy stages, well that's just a recipe for problems. 

Ah, Wilderness! at the Young Vic has a sandy stage and the first time I saw it there were a few stumbles and wobbles. Last night Janie Dee properly fell over as she was trying to make her exit. The rest of the cast were, of course, pro's with George MacKay's 'Richard' calling out a concerned 'mom' while going to help her.

There was no limping or signs of injury at the curtain call so lets hope that means she was OK. But it wasn't the only mishap in last night's performance. The props seem to take on a life of their own.

In the opening scene Richard and his brother Arthur (Ashley Zhangazha) argue over a book that happened to have a pen clipped to its cover. In the tug of war over the book the pen went flying and nearly hit a man sat on the front row in the face.

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Review: Who was the star of American Buffalo for me?

Tom Sturridge (Bob) in American Buffalo at Wyndham's Theatre. Credit Johan Persson (10)
Tom Sturridge (Bob) in American Buffalo at Wyndham's Theatre. Photographer: Johan Persson

Looking back to when I saw American Buffalo on Wednesday, it all seems at bit of a blur now. A blur apart from one character.

@pcchan1981 would say it's a blur because it was boring but I certainly didn't think that when I was watching it. Some plays are like that, you enjoy them at the time and then they fade quickly. Others don't really make their mark until the days after.

But in thinking back there is one character who sticks in my mind and that's Tom Sturridge's Bob. Damian Lewis' Teach was a needy mix of entitlement and hypocrisy and John Goodman's Don is beautifully conflicted. But then there is Bob.

To put it in context, just a few days before I had seen Tom Sturridge playing a handsome cad, dressed in military red in the film Far From a Madding Crowd. Bob couldn't be more different and it is always a treat to see actors showing off their range.

But that is the only reason Bob sticks in my mind. In the play he is an 'ex' heroin addict whom junk shop owner Don has taken under his wing as a sort of protege.

Thin frame, head shaved with a sore on his face he looks likes he's slept in the gutter in his overly baggy clothes. He moves and talks like he's a little bit stoned or struggling to keep up and when he stops he holds on to things or leans. I didn't know whether I wanted to shake him or take him home for good meal. I found my attention drawn to him, watching what he was doing whenever he was in scene.

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