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March 2018

Review: Child stars and showbiz neglect in We Need To Talk About Bobby (Off EastEnders), King's Head Theatre

...it is at times an uncomfortable watch, it's also an angry watch as adults flounder and fail. 

The showbiz world is littered with examples of child actors who've gone off the rails and here Paperback Theatre examines the relationship between twelve-year-old Annie (Tara Groves), her parents and those she works with as she is thrust into the limelight in a TV series with rather gritty storylines.

We-need-to-talk-about-bobby-(off-eastenders)-6088-680x453-20180307It is a world where Annie is treated like an adult rather than a kid and her parents are increasingly out of their depth as her fame grows.

Sophie Portway and George Attwell Gerhards play her parents and also those she works with so that with the removal of a pair of glasses, we switch from a scene 'on set' between actors playing parent and child to parent and child. 

At first, there is a safe distance between the two but the lines begin to blur with damaging consequences.

As Annie's age and inexperience in the grown-up world are increasingly overlooked and her character's storylines get darker, her parents struggle to cope with the growing attention her fame is gathering and her subsequent behaviour.

Annie may not be suffering the physical and sexual abuse of the character she portrays but there is abuse in the neglect she experiences and the emotional distress she suffers as a result.

Continue reading "Review: Child stars and showbiz neglect in We Need To Talk About Bobby (Off EastEnders), King's Head Theatre" »


Review: When truth is stranger than fiction - The Great Wave, National Theatre

It is a thrill ride of a play...It is also a play that leaves you emotionally battered and bruised.

Japanese teenager Hanako (Kirsty Rider) disappears from her local beach one stormy night but her sister Reiko (Kae Alexander) won't accept that she's been murdered or swept away by the sea which is what the authorities conclude.

The-great-wave-mobileherospot-2160x2160What unfolds is a story so extraordinary that if it were fiction you'd describe it as too far-fetched but Francis Turnly's new play is based on real events in Japan and North Korea in the late 1970s and 80s.

Using a revolving set to switch back and forth between locations we follow the aftermath of Hanako's disappearance - the impact it has on her family and friends - and the fate of Hanako herself.

Reiko, feeling misplaced responsibility for her sister's disappearance, makes it her life's mission to find out what happened to Hanako.

She is assisted by school friend Tetsuo (Leo Wan) whose life has simultaneously been ruined having been the prime suspect in Hanako's disappearance.

Until Reiko unearths the truth she can't move on and Kae Alexander gives a performance in which you keenly feel her desperation and anguish.

Hanako, meanwhile, is also marooned by the consequences of that stormy night, trapped in North Korea where she must indoctrinate herself into the ways of an alien society if she has any hope of returning home.

The freedom she enjoyed as a Japanese teenager is thrown into sharp relief against the bureaucratic and dictatorial regime of North Korea.

Continue reading "Review: When truth is stranger than fiction - The Great Wave, National Theatre" »


Review: The web of friendship in Kiss of the Spider Woman, Menier Chocolate Factory

"..slow to get going but while a friendship between the two mean seems inevitable from the outset it is the depth of that friendship and subsequent threat to it that holds the play's power."

Samuel Barnett's Molina is recalling the plot line of one of his favourite romantic thriller films, the shadows of the characters he describes appear as projections on the walls around him.

Event-list-image_15155You are held in the spell of the story until it is broken by the complaints of Valentin (Declan Bennett) who doesn't share Molina's taste in films.

It's the 1970s and the two men are locked in an Argentinian cell together.

Valentin is a tough, no-nonsense, left-wing political prisoner and Molina is camp and has been convicted of gross indecency.

And yet, despite their differences and Valentin's complaints you know that deep down he actually quite enjoys the distraction from the tedium of prison-life.

But as differences defrost and friendship warms a spider threatens the web of this new friendship.

On the one hand, this is a play about how we aren't so different after all, how we have the same desires and needs and on the other, it is a play about trust, loyalty and the price of freedom.

It is also about survival.

Kiss of The Spider Woman, here adapted from Manuel Puig's original by José Rivera and Allan Baker, is slow to get going but while a friendship between the two mean seems inevitable from the outset it is the depth of that friendship and subsequent threat to it that holds the play's power.

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Q&A: Josh Roche on directing 'thriller' Plastic and who he'd 'commit crimes' to work with

JMK Trust 2017 award winner Josh Roche (My Name is Rachel Corrie) is directing Kenneth Emson's new play Plastic at the Old Red Lion, here he talks about working on the play, 'entertaining' theatre and who he'd really like to work with.

Tell us a bit about Plastic and what drew you to the project.

Plastic is the most eloquent play I've ever read on the subject of adolescence. 

I'm twenty eight, so I don't know if this will change, but my teenage years are the toughest years I've had to get through.

Josh RocheThe combined pressures of sex, loneliness, self-image and a hundred other things, create a brutal cauldron of self-defence and bitterness. It's competitive, nasty, vengeful and manic.

Plastic makes us feel deeply how the seeds of our adult insecurities are planted in our teens.
 
This is a new play by Kenneth Emson with whom you’ve worked with before, does that help with bringing the piece to life and how collaborative is the rehearsal process?

Yeah we've got pretty efficient with our work. We can usually get the important notes done on the first pint these days, which frees up time for complaining about the industry for the rest of the meeting....

More seriously Kenny is an incredibly experienced writer, far more experienced than me. He's humble and exacting in equal measure, which makes him a dream to work with.
 
You say you like to produce 'entertaining political work’, how do you define ‘entertainment’?


Well entertainment makes you feel something, whether that's laughter, tears or horror. We're all humans and extreme feelings are novel, unusual and important to us. My aim is to move audiences to feel, using political stories.

How they respond to the story is up to them, but the main aim of entertainment is to move people.  If you don't enjoy being moved, then I'd give Plastic a miss.

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Scratch performance: Lipstick - a fairytale of modern Iran, Omnibus Theatre

Considering this is a scratch performance it is only the scripts in hand that really give it away as a work in progress.

The costumes, props and set seem pretty fleshed out, only the physical necessity of holding the script slightly holding up the flow.

FB Banner - Lipstick - credit Aaron Jacob JonesIt is a colourful, vibrant piece with darker edges utilising various genres from boylesque, drag, vaudeville and story telling and is based on writer/director Sarah Chew's own experiences finding herself in Iran as part of an arts project during the Green uprising in 2010.

Laura Dos Santos plays Orla who makes the six-week trip to Tehran as part of a cultural exchange to teach and learn about theatre - just as protests begin and relationships between Iran and the UK are getting more strained.

Nathan Kelly plays her friend with whom she is setting up a club back home who leaves long rambling messages on her hotel voicemail. He also plays most of the other characters rapidly switching between costumes and props to distinguish between them.

Against a backdrop of civil unrest, the arts project seems like a frivolity but there is far more to this shared cultural experience than first meets the eye.

Continue reading "Scratch performance: Lipstick - a fairytale of modern Iran, Omnibus Theatre" »


Q&A: Writer/director Sarah Chew on mixing genres and the Beyond Borders theatre season, Omnibus Theatre

Lipstick: A Modern Fairytale of Iran is part of a series ‘Beyond Borders’ at the Omnibus in Clapham, tell us a bit about the season and its focus.
 
Beyond Borders is a series of conversations and provocations around current trends towards the hardening of National and cultural borders.



Beyond Borders Festival ImageWhen I was in Iran in 2010, Iran was part of the area the US Government still titled the Axis of Evil. The title coloured my assumptions of what I would find there - assumptions which were challenged on a daily basis throughout my stay in Iran. 



What does Brexit, and the threat of a hard border with Ireland, do to our perceptions of people we see as Other?

What role does tightened immigration here, and Trump's travel bans in the US, play in this?

How, specifically, are women affected by the process of being Othered?



These questions can be explored verbally, but it is sometimes easier to play with these ideas in non-verbal formats. Sometimes, removing language as the primary means of communication can provide a shortcut through anxiety and terminology and towards more instinctive engagement.
 
The inspiration for Lipstick came from the time you spent in Iran in 2010, what made you want to use that experience as the basis of a piece of theatre?



It was a life changing experience. I met some extraordinary people, I saw some extraordinary theatre, and I saw at firsthand what the courage to keep making passionate, beautiful, honest theatre, even under the threat of censorship and imprisonment, looked like. 



I would have loved to work in Iran more, but the relationship between our two countries makes getting visas and setting up projects almost impossible.



Theatre is made of the people who make it. I felt a sense of loss, after I left Iran, at the absence of collaborators I knew I could have made beautiful theatre with.

But that experience also made me cherish and celebrate the collaborators and the cultural community I have here. Lipstick is at once an acknowledgement of loss and a celebration of community and continuity.

Continue reading "Q&A: Writer/director Sarah Chew on mixing genres and the Beyond Borders theatre season, Omnibus Theatre" »


Review: The arresting, immersive #NationalTrust Suffragette City Experience

If you want to learn a little of what it was like being a suffragette in a more experiential way then this is fun and informative hour

I'm walking down Jermyn Street trying to look casual while being vigilant. I've got a package to post in my bag and if found with it I could get arrested - I'm a suffragette and this is about 'deeds not words'.

Suffragette City experience national TrustKeeping to the opposite pavement before double backing towards the post box, all seems clear so I deposit the parcel and head back to HQ via a different route, checking to see if I'm followed.

HQ is the WSPU (Women's Social and Political Union) beneath a café just off Piccadilly Circus and this is an immersive theatre/exhibition experience, produced by the National Trust and National Archive, in which you get a taste of what it was like to walk in the shoes of a suffragette.

It's hands on, no sitting and watching, you might find yourself making rosettes, painting banners or learning new protest songs.

You might also find yourself on a protest march or taking part in other forms of direct action but there are fellow suffragettes on hand to brief you on what to do, particularly if you do get 'arrested'.

There is something exhilarating about marching down a street in central London with a banner, singing - our small but vocal group got a few rounds of applause as well as stares.

While only a small flavour of the suffragette experience, it does give you a sense of what they were up against and how far they were prepared to go to get equality.

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Review: Trap Street, New Diorama - raises more questions than it answers about social housing

There is far more to this subject than is, or can, be explored in an 80 minute play and as a result it feels like the brush strokes are too broad.

Social housing or rather the rise and fall of the post-war council estates comes under the spotlight in a new, devised, piece Trap Street at the New Diorama theatre but before I go on with my thoughts, I feel I should explain my background.

Trap street New diorama
Danusia Samal, Amelda Brown and Hamish MacDougall in Trap Street, New Diorama

I've spent the last 20 years as a journalist writing about development and regeneration so estates renewal and property is familiar territory and has undoubtedly influenced where my interest in the piece lies - and also my frustrations.

Trap Street - a reference to the fake streets added to maps by cartographers so as to protect copyright - focuses on one family to chart the history of an estate and generate social commentary.

It jumps back and forth in time from when Valerie (Amelda Brown) rents a brand new flat on the estate with her two young children - Andrea (Danusia Samal/Amelda Brown) and Graham (Hamish MacDougall) - through to the estate's decline and proposed demolition, by which time Andrea owns the flat.

At first life on the estate is full of promise, a sense of community with residents associations and organisations and people looking out for each other but gradually apathy sets in, cracks in the community appear and the sense of pride begins to disappear.

Rubbish, graffiti, crime and poor maintenance colour the years leading up to plans to demolish and replace with new housing, a mixture of private and social.

Andrea is offered a price for her flat which is a fraction of what it would cost to buy in the new development.

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Review: Brutal, cold, dystopian Macbeth, National Theatre and a Children of Men comparison

You don't walk away feeling any sense of tragedy merely that you've watched a bunch of unsavoury characters killing each other.

The first time we see Macbeth (Rory Kinnear) in Rufus Norris' production at the National Theatre, he is committing a brutal act of violence on an enemy. It sets the play down a path that doesn't necessarily lead to satisfactory conclusions.

Macbeth-mobileherospot_2160x2160-sfw-5The setting is some point in the future when society seems to have broken down.

It's a landscape of generators, machetes, chest armour held together with parcel tape and clothes and buildings patched-up using whatever is available - mainly polythene it seems.

Only King Duncan (Stephen Boxer) wears a smart, intact, red, tailored suit.

Stylistically it reminded me of parts of Alfonso Cuarón's film Children of Men (which I love), thematically there are similarities too.

The film is about an infertility crisis which leads to societal breakdown and of course Lady Macbeth (Anne-Marie Duff) and her husband are childless.

It could be argued that they seek out self-fulfilment in a desperate and increasingly brutal pursuit of power.

I liked the dark tone of the setting, even the Back to the Future, Doc Brown-esque porter played by Trevor Fox.

And I really liked the witches who were all different in their movements and energy levels and seem to haunt the dark corners of the stage. 

But the characters are nearly as unrelentingly cold and brutal as the landscape they live in and it is easy not to care.

There is no charisma to Rory Kinnear's Macbeth and how can you sympathise with a man - and the woman who spurs him on - who is capable of such horrific acts from the outset?

In this video interview, Rufus Norris describes them as in one sense 'Shakespeare's most happily married couple' but this is no love story or crime of passion.

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Review: The heartbreaking Summer and Smoke, Almeida Theatre

Summer and Smoke is tender and delicate and yet simultaneously as emotionally intense as the heat of the season during which it is set.

Tennessee William's Summer and Smoke is a coming of age story, a self-discovery story and a heart-breaking love story.

Set in a small, gossipy, Mississippi town during a hot summer Alma (Patsy Ferran) is the minister's daughter chaste, principled, spiritual and spirited. John (Matthew Needham) is the doctor's son and is more material and physical.

Summer_and_Smoke_FINAL_banner_1470x690Both are products of their upbringing and feel trapped by it. Alma's mother has had some sort of nervous breakdown pushing Alma into the position of carer and house-keeper.

John is expected to follow in his father's footsteps and feels the weight of that expectation, he seeks out physical diversion and satisfaction whether that is alcohol or girls.

Alma has long harboured feelings for John and there is obviously a spark between them that always seems on the verge of fully igniting. Is it their different outlooks? Is it denial of a different side of themselves? Is it fear of being trapped or fear of giving themselves over to another physically and emotionally?

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