161 posts categorized "Fringe/pub theatre" Feed

Review: Babette's Feast, Print Room at the Coronet

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I've not read Karen Blixen's short story from which this play has been adapted by Glyn Maxwell, neither have I seen the 1987 Danish film version so I can't answer the question I was asked 'did it do it justice?'. What I saw certainly had a feast befitting the title which comes towards the end of the play, it opens with a group of people hiding in a basement while war rages overhead.

A stranger in the group, Babette (Sheila Atim) starts telling a story about two sisters who live in a yellow house in a remote Norwegian community - a pious sect, which lives very simply. There are three parts to the story. First is about how Martine (Whoopie Van Raam) is wooed and rejects, on her father's advice, a young military man who is passing through. Then Philippa (Rachel Winters) is wooed by a singer Papin (Henry Everett) who is convinced she is the perfect soprano but, like her sister, she rejects her suitor.

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Review: Chummy, White Bear Theatre - the thriller that doesn't quite thrill.

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Chummy, White Bear. Photo: Headshot Toby

A man in black jeans, black scarf and black hood stalks the darker edges and corners of the stage with just the briefest glimpses of his face. This is Chummy (Calum Speed) a soon to be murderer who calls ex police detective Jackie Straker (Megan Pemberton) asking her to stop him. Straker has her own problems, not least a gin crutch, but Chummy quickly becomes her obsession and curse, threatening her own mental stability.

The play is set primarily in a dingy office from where Straker tries to run a private detective business. The rear wall is a series of blinds which lift to reveal silhouettes - Chummy creepily appears or a potential victim is seen out enjoying herself. It is a clever way of staging what is otherwise a fairly static play - its central plot device is two people talking over the phone after all. And that is part of the problem. The conversation between Chummy and Straker and their subsequent monologues need to be insightful and punchy but the dialogue at times feels odd and weighed down with simile. As a result the plot feels laboured and I'm not sure I learned much more about the mind of a murderer - or the mind of someone on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

John Foster's play has all the makings of a great psychological thriller and it has its tense moments  - ironically often when there is physical interaction between the characters - but it never quite fulfils its potential. The cast do their best with the script but I couldn't help thinking whether it might work better as a shorter radio play - the running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with an interval.

It's at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington until 10 June and I'm giving it three stars.


Coming soon: My picks from London's fringe theatre

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Pop Up Opera: Il Matrimonio Segreto

Miller revival After a critically acclaimed sell-out run at the Finborough Theatre, Phil Willmott’s new production of Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy transfers to the King’s Head Theatre. In this forgotten masterpiece about Jewish registration in Nazi-occupied France, Miller’s play seems closer than ever to today’s world of “Extreme Vetting” and religious persecution. King’s Head Theatre, Islington, 7-25 June, 2.15pm/7pm 85 minutes.

Crime and punishment Death row in America. Men sit in isolated dungeons awaiting execution. An investigator works tirelessly to save them. She will not let men go to their deaths without a fight. The Enchanted highlights issues around capital punishment, child abuse, and the self-perpetuating cycle of violence corrupting the US penitentiary. Bunker Theatre, Borough, 6-17 June, 3/7.30pm, 90 minutes

Comedy adaptation Jekyll and Hyde meets Blackadder via Monty Python, with just a hint of Spike Milligan. Let Them Call It Mischief's comedy is set against the backdrop of Victorian London complete with Cholera and everything. Jekyll and Hyde, Pleasance Theatre, Islington, 22 May – 03 Jun, 5pm/7.30pm.

Fringe opera The Pop Up opera team is taking the rarely-seen opera from the late eighteenth century, Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto (The Secret Marriage) on the road this summer around their usual eclectic mix of venues. It tells the tale of a rich Italian businessman as he attempts to marry off one of his daughters to a mad English toff with disastrous results. Various venues in London and beyond from 18 May to 30 July. For full tour dates: http://popupopera.co.uk/ (If you’ve not seen an opera before or are unsure whether it is for you, then Pop Up Opera is a great introduction.)

Noir thriller Chummy explores the mind of a serial killer in the moments before his first murder. Desperate to control himself, the mysterious psychopath 'Chummy' pleads with private investigator Jackie Straker to stop him killing in a new stage play by BAFTA winner John Foster. White Bear Theatre, Kennington, 23 May - 10 June, 3pm/4pm/7.30pm


Review: Rising stars in Othello, Wilton's Music Hall

Abraham Popoola Othello  Ghazwan Alsafadi Montano and Christopher Bianchi Duke of Venice Gratiano Othello Photo credit The Other Richard
Abraham Popoola Othello Ghazwan Alsafadi Montano and Christopher Bianchi Duke of Venice Gratiano. Photo: The Other Richard

Othello (Abraham Popoola) and Desdemona (Norah Lopez Holden) are getting married in secret. It’s a Muslim ceremony and Desdemona has learned the Arabic vows. Once the ceremony is over Othello swaps his Muslim prayer beads for a crucifix in a symbol of his public vs private self and an inner conflict to come.

His Othello has a presence from the outset. In a brilliantly nuanced performance he is a noble warrior – a leader who has earned respect – and a man bowled over by passion and love and not afraid to show it. Norah Lopez Holden is a young, spirited, fun and witty Desdemona who has captured his heart. There is an ease and playfulness in their relationship which makes the early lines that hint of what is to come land all the harder.

Speeding the lovers on their way to tragedy is Mark Lockyer’s superb Iago. It is a performance that exudes from every eyebrow twitch, gesture and look – even when he has his back to you (it is staged in the round) his body language speaks volumes. And yet this Iago isn’t played as comedy villain, a Machiavellian rubbing his hands together with glee; I’ve seen actors play Iago's lines for laughs, Lockyer plays them straight, any mirth contained in them is entirely on the audience to find.

Norah Lopez Holden Desdemona stf OTHELLO Photo Credit The Other Richard (3)
Norah Lopez Holden Desdemona. Photo Credit The Other Richard

His Iago is reasonable and contained, convincingly earnest, his true feelings burst out of him in private temper, soothed only by plotting. With those he is trying to dupe he comes across as quite ordinary and trustworthy which makes him so effective - and so dangerous.  While Iago can contain his true feelings in public, Othello can't. His public displays of affection towards Desdemona are easily channelled into pride, self doubt and jealousy. As comfortable as he is with his affection for Desdemona it, ironically, is his Achilles heel in his battle for self control.

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Review: Phina Oruche's Identity Crisis, Ovalhouse

Phina Oruche - Identity Crisis (1)Phina Oruche is telling us about the flat she lived in on the Aylesbury Estate in South London that, years after she left, was used to portray a drugs den in a BBC drama. At the time she was working as a model, leaving her less than glamourous home for glitzy photo shoots. It illustrates well the theme of her semi-autobiographical, self penned piece Identity Crisis.

She grew up through Toxteth-riots era Liverpool, self-determination over coming shyness to pursue a modelling career that took her to Paris catwalks, hob-nobbing with the likes of Naomi Campbell, to big brand campaigns in New York and magazine front covers. From there she became a successful actress, then writer and columnist but all the time something was gnawing at her: 'Who am I?'

A family tragedy - which opens the piece - sparked the soul searching and using nine characters of different ages, genders and ethnicity she explores identity - not just how you see yourself but how others see you.

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Coming soon: My picks from London's fringe theatre

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The Magic Flute, King's Head Theatre

Generation rent - When four friends decide to save money for a deposit by living in a one bedroom flat together for a year which will they sacrifice first – the friendship, the relationship or the dream of buying their own property? Deposit by Matt Hartley is at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 11 May - 10 June, 2.45/3.15/7.45pm.

Love and sex - You want me to have full penetrative sex with your son, right? I just wanted to, you know, check. Punts is a new play by Sarah Page about a young man's sexual awakening and its effect on those who orchestrated it. Theatre503, Battersea 31 May - 24 June, 3pm/7.45pm, 80 minutes.

Incoming Festival - A Younger Theatre and New Diorama Theatre will be showcasing the best young theatre producers from around the country - 20 shows over 10 days, June 2-11. All tickets £5 and details are on the New Diorama’s website.

Social satire The Ugly One explores the dangers of living in a society with oppressive beauty standards. It tells the story of Lette, a talented engineer who is labelled as ugly and goes to extreme lengths to change his appearance. PARK90, Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, 1-24 June, 3.15/7.45pm

Comedy - Fourteen years ago, during break, Elizabeth lost her mother. She was sixteen. Two days later, she started her period. Ouch. Today, a celebrated Egyptologist, Professor Niccoll is Guest of Honour at her old school Alumni event. She has decided to use the platform to promote her new book: MUMMY or the Art of Saying Goodbye. She knows everything about death. She thinks.  MUMMY, The Crazy Coqs, Soho, May 23-25, 7.15pm, 60 mins

Pub opera Transposed to the South American Jungle, Charles Court Opera’s production of The Magic Flute is full puppetry, magic and witty surprises. King’s Head Theatre, Islington, 4 May - 3 June, 3/7pm, suitable for all ages.


Review: Silly, fun and poignant Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Road, Trafalgar Studios 2

I finished my review of Keith Stevenson's Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Rd when it was on in January, at the White Bear, by saying I hoped it got a transfer so more people could see it. Hey presto, here it is at Trafalgar Studios 2 for another run, so is it as good as I remember? Well the answer is a big fat yes.

It's set in a grubby motel room - "trip advisor classes it as other" - where Mountain Dew and vodka drinking JD (Keith Stevenson) lives. He does odd jobs for the lascivious, string-vest wearing, red-neck motel owner Flip (Michael Wade) and acts as consoler to fiery, crack head artist Marlene (Melanie Gray) when her wasted poet boyfriend Tommy (Alex Ferns - the only cast change) is being unfaithful. 

Into this walks Mitch (Robert Moloney) a hyperhidrosis sufferer who's lost his job in the local spork factory, been dumped by his girlfriend and had his car burned out by local reform school girls. He's answered JD's ad for a room to rent - or at least that is what he thinks is on offer.

The scene is set for a madcap 70 minutes but this is an exceptional piece not just for the very funny one liners but the clever way Stevenson surprises and wrong foots. His characters are wonderfully drawn so as to surprise, scare and amuse over the course of line of dialogue. When you've finished laughing you are left with warm fuzzy glow and a wish to spend more time with them, perhaps. 

Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Rd manages to be silly and poignant but essentially is a hugely entertaining play about being nice to each other. At the end JD says: "There shouldn't be a name for the right way to treat people, it should be normal." And he is right. 

It's getting five stars from me, again, and you can see it at the Trafalgar Studios 2* until June 3.

* The Trafalgar Studios 2 has been rearranged so that the seating is raked so that is faces the performance space on one side, not wrapped around three sides as it normally is (the same set up as the White Bear if you saw the play there).


Review: Finding and keeping a roof over your head in Home Truths (cycle one), Bunker Theatre

HOME TRUTHS  RUNS AT THE BUNKER THEATRE 17 APRIL TO  13 MAY (1).Under the sub-heading 'An Incomplete History of Housing Told in Nine Plays' Cardboard Citizen are performing three cycles of three short plays exploring...housing. Playwrights including E V Crowe and Anders Lustgarten have contributed and stories told range in setting from the 1800s right up to present day. They are interspersed with snippets of historical footage and quotes which are allocated to the actors via a 'director'.

Cycle one kicks off with Sonali Bhattacharyya's Slummers. It's the story of 16-year old Polly and her family who make a living in late 18th Century London as milliners, selling their wares on the streets. They've already been displaced once to make way for a new road and are living in  'Old Nichol' - the overcrowded, unsanitary and dangerous slums in Shoreditch - when they are approached by a representative of Peabody as being suitable tenants for their new estate. However, six months into their new life and dwelling, they are threatened with eviction.

The piece examines the notion of 'deserving poor' versus 'undeserving poor' - a theme that echoes through the cycle - 'deserving' in this instance seems to mean willing not only to follow the rules but not to question or challenge those that provide.

Bhattacharyya's play aptly exposes the class tension and the powerful strings attached to assistance through the domestic triangle of Polly who wants the benefits of the new home, her mother who wants the benefits of a more just society and the Peabody volunteer who believes what she is doing is right.

Next up was 1970s set The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency by Heathcote Williams with Sarah Woods about an 'estate agency' set up for homeless people. The group monitor empty properties for squatting and broadcast their availability on pirate radio while themselves playing a cat and mouse game with the authorities and their own landlord.

It is fun and lively piece populated with eccentric, clever and caring people but with a serious underbelly - tonally it reminded me of James Graham's The Angry Brigade. The clever way the squatters out-manoeuvre the authorities and landlords feels satisfyingly like a huge two finger salute to the establishment while the personal stories of those who have found themselves homeless serve to demonstrate the challenges and harsh realities of everyday life.

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Review: Threads, Hope Theatre

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Threads: Samuel Lawrence and Katharine Davenport. Photo Lidia Crisafulli

Vic (Katherine Davenport) has made a mercy dash to see her ex Charlie (Samuel Lawrence) suspecting he may have done something to himself. He still lives in the flat they shared when she walked out of the relationship five years earlier and he's become a recluse. He is having problems letting go and moving on and seems to think she is too.

The invisible relationship bonds that connect people together, that are difficult to sever is an interesting subject (how do you let go of the past?) but David Lane's play wraps the story up in the supernatural - self-locking doors, flickering light bulbs, medical science defying symptoms etc which are a distraction rather than adding to the narrative or drama. You could see some of it as overt metaphor for being trapped in the past/broken hearted but rather it makes a potentially interesting relationship drama just rather odd at times.

As to the relationship itself there are hints of what Vic and Charlie were like as a couple but very little that sheds any light on what attracted them to each other and led them into the sort of relationship where you share a flat. As a result it is difficult to see why Vic and Charlie were together in the first place which weakens the idea of being tied to the past. The question marks over their past relationship dulls the dramatic impact, tension and any emotional tug of the piece.

There are some nice twists towards the very end of the play - and a particular scene that isn't one for the squeamish - but it feels too little, too late which is a shame.

Threads is at the Hope Theatre in Islington until April 29 and is 70 minutes without an interval.


That was March in London theatre land - and a bumper crop of thesp spots

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Keith Stevenson in Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road, White Bear Theatre (c) Erika Boxler

* The Almeida's excellent production of Hamlet starring Andrew Scott is transferring to the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End in June.

* And...not to take away from Hamlet's success but putting the tickets on sale at midnight, on a Saturday for Almeida members was an odd decision not least because, if Twitter is anything to go by, there were glitches with the ATG Tickets website and apparently no customer services/tech support available to sort it at that time of night.

* One of my favourite plays of 2016 - Rotterdam - is transferring to Broadway. OK, so not technically London theatre but it was such a great play and production I’m really pleased to see it doing well.

* Back in London and fringe plays doing well, the excellent Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road, which I saw at the White Bear back in January is transferring to Trafalgar Studios 2 in May. Yep, I will be seeing it again because I liked it that much.

* Stan-Fav Simon Stephens is adapting The Seagull (one of the only Chekhov plays I actually like) for a production at the Lyric Hammersmith starring Lesley Sharp in the Autumn.

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