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June 2017

Review: Dirty Work (The Late Shift), Battersea Arts Centre

2_Dirty Work (The Late Shift)_Forced Entertianment_please credit Tim Etchells
Dirty Work (The Late Shift) Forced Entertainment. Photo Tim Etchells

The Battersea Arts Centre's performance space is simply dressed: two chairs framed by red stage curtain, draped in a way that has become a symbol of the theatre. Towards the back is a desk, with an old record player and a stack of discs - the sound desk for the duration - operated by Terry O'Connor dressed as if she's playing in an orchestra. Performers Robin Arthur and Cathy Naden are similarly attired - a turquoise silk shirt and burgundy silk dress.

When their performance starts it is incongruous to their attire and the setting: No theatrical flourishes or drama, deadpan, letting the dialogue be the performance. Taking it in turns at a consistent pace it describes a performance of sorts or rather a series of acts and events.

They are linked thematically, rather than through discernible narrative, around death, disaster and failure. From the small, almost insignificant to the tragic and horrific. There are ridiculous deaths, resonant of contenders for a Darwin award that raise laughs and chuckles as do some of the smaller failures, some worthy of a sit-com skit or sketch, some not even that significant.

At the other end of the spectrum is the tragic and gruesome. Nothing is milked, it is delivered in just the same tone, letting the audience picture it, but it nonetheless raises the odd gasp or makes the squeamish squirm.

It illustrates the ordinary and extraordinariness of human life, its fragility, weakness, ridiculousness and theatricality - you can't help thinking: 'All the world's a stage, and all men and women merely players'.

At first it is engaging, gripping even but, and this may actually be a criticism of myself, after a while I found my mind wandering. There was something relentless in the plodding pace, something soporific in the rhythm and the words started losing their purchase and washing over me. Was it me or was it, at 75 minutes just a little too long?

It is a meaty piece of writing and I can't imagine it being performed in a way that is better and has more impact but ultimately it didn't hold my interest for the duration so I'm giving it three stars. It's at BAC until Jul 1.

 


Review: Bertie Carvel and Richard Coyle make newspaper history in Ink, Almeida Theatre

1470x690One of the early scenes of James Graham's Fleet Street-set play Ink sees Bertie Carvel's Rupert Murdoch at a meeting to officially sign the deal that will put The Sun newspaper in his ownership. It's 1969 and the men in suits shake hands and ask after each other's wives who naturally 'send their love'. Murdoch waits quietly while this goes on then asks if the foreplay is over and if they can now get on with the fucking.

It is a symbol of his forthright, no nonsense style that was to disrupt Fleet Street and change the British newspaper industry. It also sort of sums up the two halves of the play. The first half has the fun, laughs and sharp wit as it follows Murdoch's chosen editor Larry Lamb (Richard Coyle) putting together the editorial team and the content for the first issue under new ownership. The second half gets more serious and looks at the consequences of the direction in which he has taken the paper.

Lamb is tasked with making The Sun 'fun' and boosting its flagging circulation, pushing it ahead of The Mirror which is outselling its rival quite considerably.

What Murdoch gives Lamb is permission to disrupt the accepted norm; just because newspapers have never done something, doesn't mean they shouldn't. Why give readers what you think they want when you can give them what they actually do want. Lamb rises to the challenge and while the strategy behind his approach seems in some ways so obvious now, it was radical at the time. However, there are also lines he is given that could apply to the media now.

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Review: Colin Morgan and Ellie Kendrick in Gloria, Hampstead Theatre (spoiler free and spoiler versions)

Colin Morgan in Gloria at Hampstead Theatre  photo by Marc Brenner (1)
Colin Morgan in Gloria at Hampstead Theatre photo by Marc Brenner

Spoiler free:

I work in an office and I work in publishing so there is definitely stuff to relate to in Branden Jacob-Jenkins play which is set at the offices of a New York magazine. Naturally there are some cultural differences, we don't tend to have cubicle work spaces here in the UK and perhaps favour a passive aggressive tone rather than direct confrontation, but the tensions, annoyances and rivalries are pretty much the same.

What we get in Gloria is portrait of human nature and relationships in a world of modern media, as told through the prism of office life, workplace tedium and ambition; and that portrait shows its true colours after a particular incident in the office.

Colin Morgan, Ellie Kendrick and Kae Alexander play editorial assistants Dean, Ani and Kendra at the magazine. They are young and ambitious, anxious to keep their careers moving. The presence of intern Miles (Bayo Gbadamosi) seems to bring out the best and worst of their ambitions, a symbol of just how far their careers have or haven't got. They measure their ambition in status: getting your own office and having an assistant and against what everyone else has or hasn't done - and how long they have or haven't done it.

The first half centre's on the morning after co-worker Gloria's (Sian Clifford) flat-warming party and the growing battle to write up the obituary profile of a pop star who has committed suicide. The second half is the fall out after the particular incident - more of which in the spoiler version below, but this is play probably best enjoyed knowing little of the actual plot.

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Review: Rotterdam returns and is still packing the laughs and emotional punches, Arts Theatre

Rotterdam - 59E59 Theater - 2017 - Alice McCarthy and Anna Martine Freeman - photo by Hunter Canning
Rotterdam - Alice McCarthy, Anna Martine Freeman and Ed Eales-White, photo by Hunter Canning

There is a scene in Jon Brittain's Rotterdam when Fiona (Anna Martine Freeman) is on the telephone to her parents. It is New Year's Eve and she is telling them she thinks she's a man. You can't hear what her parents (and grandma) are saying but it is written and performed in a way that you can easily imagine. It is a brilliantly observed - there are aspects of the conversation many people will relate to - and imagined. It is a scene that is funny and tender, it makes you laugh and puts a lump in your throat. And that is everything that is brilliant about Rotterdam as a play in that moment.

It is a play that started life in pub theatre and is now on it's third London transfer (via a stint off Broadway) and tells the story of lesbian couple Alice (Alice McCarthy) and Fiona who've been together for seven years, living as expats in Rotterdam. We join them the day before New Year's Eve as Alice is plucking up the courage to come out to her parents but Fiona has her own announcement to make. It is reflective of their personalities that while Alice, dithers and over-thinks Fiona blurts and moves forward at a pace like champagne leaving a shaken bottle.

Fiona's brother Josh (Ed Bales-White), who also lives in Rotterdam, takes her decision in his stride and her conversation with her parents is easier than she anticipates, getting accepted as a man and the impact on her relationship with Alice - and how it makes Alice feel about her own sexuality - is less straightforward.

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Production photos: Colin Morgan and Ellie Kendrick in Gloria, Hampstead Theatre

Timely that these production photos for Gloria at Hampstead Theatre have arrived as I'm seeing this tonight. Stupidly excited to see Colin on stage again (it's 10 years since I first saw him in Vernon God Little) and in this play by the brilliant Branden Jacob-Jenkins.

Gloria is at the Hampstead Theatre downstairs until July 22.

 


Review: Post war modern women and making babies in Kiss Me, Trafalgar Studios 2

Kiss Me - production images - Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Claire Lams - Photos by Robert Day 10
Kiss Me: Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Claire Lams - Photo by Robert Day

It is 1929 and women out number men, the result of the First World War and Spanish influenza. Where are the men for a lorry driving, war widow like Stephanie (Claire Lams), perceived as past her prime at 32, independent - had to be during the war - and wanting a baby.

Who is there is Dennis (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), a sperm donor but not of the turkey baster sort.

In Stephanie's small room at her lodgings - landlady out the way - their unusual transaction is about to take place. Dennis is stiff backed, stickler for the rules of engagement - no kissing on the mouth - as laid out by the bohemian doctor who sets up the liaisons. He has the air and manner of posh and is well turned out - you could easily see him in uniform. Stephanie is nervous, chatting relentlessly, breaking the rules but she's also funny not afraid to poke fun at their situation, raise an eyebrow at an unwitting double entendre or talk about her sex.

Unexpected consequences arise from this unorthodox transaction and when rules get broken the two have to examine their pasts, their motives and where their lives are going. As the mirrors of Stephanie's room reflect back their appearances, their relationship exposes some truths about themselves.

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Review: Powerful and haunting - The Enchanted, The Bunker Theatre

The Enchanted  The Bunker  - Courtesy of Dina T (1)
The Enchanted The Bunker - Courtesy of Dina T

There is no doubt that Arden (Corey Montague-Sholay) and York (Hunter Bishop) have killed. This isn't a miscarriage of justice death row drama or a did they or didn't they, this is story of two murderers waiting for execution and how they face it while a Lady (Jade Ogugua) makes a last ditch effort to get the death penalty over turned.

Adapted by Joanna and Connie Treves from Rene Denfeld's poetic novel, The Enchanted is narrated by Arden and takes a walk in the shoes of the two convicts and their pasts. Locked in windowless cells a trip to the visitors room is the only glimpse of the outside world they get. They aren't allow any human contact and you don't fully comprehend what that would be like until it is laid bare by Arden.

He weaves his own thoughts, observation and history with York's story, the Lady's conversations with people from his past and the Fallen Priest (Jack Staddon) who is a regular death row visitor. The monologues and dialogues are punctuated with ebbs and flows of movement that serve to illustrate the outside world that is unreachable and alien to the prisoners.

Puppets of the young York and his mother and Arden as a child stalk the background as a harsh reminder of the journey they've been on in their short lives. The actors also write and draw with chalk on the floor and back wall of the stage although I'm not sure this particular device is entirely necessary or effective.

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Review: Threat, forgiveness and the search for truth in Jam, Finborough Theatre

Harry-Melling-Jasmine-Hyde-in-Jam-Photo-credit-MATHEW-FOSTER
Harry Melling and Jasmine Hyde in Jam, Finborough Theatre, photo Mathew Foster

The synopsis of this debut full length play by Matt Parvin reminded me a teeny bit of Blackbird - a confrontation between two adults about an incident that happened when one of them was still a child. In Jam, Bella Saroush (Jasmine Hyde) is a teacher who's got her life back on track - new job, new school, after an incident in a classroom ten years earlier.

That incident involved pupil Kane McCarthy (Harry Melling) whom she finds back in her classroom one evening with a baseball bat in his backpack claiming to seek forgiveness. It isn't just a case of whether Kane is to be believed but also whether the truth of what happened lies in what they both remember.

Over one hour and forty minutes the two verbally spar, teasing the audience with versions of their truth. Harry Melling's Kane has an unpredictability in the way he moves, as well as in his tone and dialogue; it makes him feel dangerous at times and yet he also portrays a vulnerability and hints of remorse that keep you guessing. There are clues in the briefest looks and gestures.

Jasmine Hyde's Miss Saroush is a battle between scepticism, trust and anger. Is her compassion wrapped up in guilt or a genuine sensitivity that ultimately makes her vulnerable and, even after 10 years, easily played?

Kane and Miss Saroush's is a game of own truths or daring to admit the truth, as an audience you have to weed out which is which. Jasmine Hyde and Harry Melling superbly amplify the tension, ambiguity and flaws of their characters and it makes for compelling viewing. I'm giving it four stars and it's at the Finborough Theatre in Earls Court until June 17.

 


Common thoughts (the play not just general ramblings) - now with a post press night PS

1280x720_ntgds_ak_common_rollout11_0-1OK so given my dilemma, which I wrote about this morning, and the response I've had, I decided to put some thoughts down about Common at the National Theatre. If you haven't read my previous post I'll preface all this by saying it was third preview I saw and the fourth preview was cancelled to work on the production, so what you subsequently see, if you are are seeing it, might be quite different.

First the synopsis. It's a new play by DC Moore set in the 18th century during the time of enclosure. Mary (the always wonderful Anne-Marie Duff) is returning from London to the place she grew up. She's done well for herself in London using wit, charm and guile, elevating herself from poor country girl to a woman of apparent means and fine clothes. She isn't immediately recognised and isn't exactly welcome either.

She's a potty-mouthed protagonist who tells the audience up front not to believe anything she says. So her return may be to rekindle an old love, it may be to get revenge on the man who broke up that relationship, it may be to help galvanise the locals to resist enclosure and upset the local land owner or it may be just to wreak a bit of havoc because she can.

And this is where the problems start. The play is a sort of love/revenge/history with explorations of Christianity vs paganism, witchcraft, industrialisation, rural economics and sociology but it doesn't properly nail any of these things partly because the central plot line isn't always coherent enough from which to hang the themes.

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