154 posts categorized "Fringe/pub theatre" Feed

REVIEW The Marx Brothers come to London in The Doppel Gang, Tristan Bates

The Doppel Gang (Tristan Bates Theatre) - Jake Urry, Peter Stone and Rachel Hartley
The Doppel Gang (Tristan Bates Theatre) - Jake Urry, Peter Stone and Rachel Hartley

It is London during the blitz and the city's inhabitants seek the distraction of entertainment but unfortunately not at one theatre. With the audience numbers dwindling and staff leaving for better prospects the theatre is about to go under. But what if they pretend to be the crowd-pulling Marx Brothers? It's a bold plan and some of the company are only convinced by the promise of a decent pay packet, for once. But what else is going on behind the scenes?

The Marx Brothers skit, when we get to it, is really well done and had me grinning but the problem with The Doppel Gang is that the rest of the play doesn't quite match it. The relationship between Peter Stone's mysterious Tommy and Rachel Hartley's Rachel is the main sub plot and yet these characters feel underused at the expense of some mildly funny and often laboured 'life back stage' comedy. As a result what should be the source of mystery and drama, the counter point to the comedy, feels under developed.

There are some laughs but not enough to be a fully fledged comedy and without the fleshed out drama it feels like is an overly long and strangely contrived set up for The Marx Brothers skit.

The Doppel Gang is an hour and forty minutes long with an interval. I'm giving the play two stars plus an extra star for the Marx Brothers scene. It's on at the Tristan Bates Theatre until Feb 11.


REVIEW Five star fringe - Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Rd, White Bear Theatre #friedmeatUK

Keith Stevenson in Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road (c) Erika Boxler
Keith Stevenson in Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road (c) Erika Boxler

It's a bitterly cold, dark January night in the maelstrom of Trump's impending inauguration and May's hard Brexit speech and a piece of 'vital', 'essential' or 'urgent' theatre is not really what you want - or need. Thank heaven's then for Keith Stevenson's Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Rd which, in its 65 funny minutes of misfit, odd, dark, craziness has a warmth that leaves you feeling that not quite everything is wrong with the world.

Set in rural West Virginia, Mitch (Robert Moloney) has lost his job, been kicked out by his girlfriend and has a condition which makes him sweat profusely. JD (Keith Stevenson) lives in a motel, helps out with odd jobs and advertises for a room mate. JD and the room aren't quite what Mitch expects when he turns up to have a look but then neither is the slightly scary un-PC motel owner Flip (Michael Wade) or the warring couple next door - the philandering Tommy (Dan Hildebrand) and crystal meth addict Marlene (Melanie Gray).

But these are all characters that defy initial impressions. On the one hand JD has never heard of the state of Maine or that lobsters come from the sea but on the other he knows Latin. They are the sort of people whom you'd expect to see on the Jeremy Kyle show and yet they occasionally use language you'd hear on Radio 4. Just as Marlene's 'most beautiful' painting is a woman with a snake head the juxtaposition isn't quite right, it is surreal, slightly odd, perhaps a little sinister.

Continue reading "REVIEW Five star fringe - Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Rd, White Bear Theatre #friedmeatUK" »

Review: Sketches of a relationship in Abigail, The Bunker

Fiona Doyle's relationship drama is told in fragments that jump back and forward through time. A man in his 40s (Mark Rose) and a woman in her 20s (Tia Bannon) meet at Berlin airport and strike up a relationship. They travel to bucket list destinations, celebrate an anniversary and things fall apart.

The set of stacked boxes at the back of the stage is used cleverly as the scenes and locations change but the narrative falls down because the characters are too nebulous, too sketchy. You get hints and clues but not enough to really form a picture of who these people are and what motivates them. In order to understand the relationship's ultimate failure you need more of an understanding of the people themselves.

There are hints of the woman's childhood experiences and hints of her motives for being in the relationship, hints of more complex emotional forces and experiences at play but not enough to help you to fill in the gaps and form a proper picture. Instead you get a woman who is volatile and needy but you aren't sure why. The man is even more of an enigma. We know he has a bucket list of places to visit and he seems a kind, gentle sort of person but not much else. Perhaps there was more that I missed as it wasn't always easy to hear what Mark Rose was saying.

What you get is a jumble of exchanges that are a clunky mix of poetic, philosophical and banal. It builds to a scene which would be more at home in a thriller but given how little you know about these people it comes across as just odd.

After 60 minutes I was left scratching my head none the wiser about the two people who's relationship I'd just watch unfold. It's two stars from me and runs at The Bunker until Feb 4.

Review and production photos: The awkward, honest and hilarious truth in #BU21 at Trafalgar Studios 2

Using real testimonies from terrorist attacks around the world Stuart Slade's play, BU21, imagines the aftermath of a plane being bombed out of the sky over London. It follows six people - a combination of victims, witnesses and those who lost loved ones - and in a series of interweaving monologues charts what they go through physically and mentally.

At one point during the play Alex (Alexander Forsyth) breaks the fourth wall and accuses the audience of being into 'misery porn' and to a certain extent that is true, it is the theatrical equivalent of rubber necking what we hope we never have to actually experience. However the play is also much more than that, it is a primarily a play of human truth. The characters responses are as different as their personalities. None are effected in quite the same way and each deal with the tragedy differently.

There are the obvious emotions of anger, fear and guilt but it is in the detail, those moments when the sub conscience brain operates without the usual societal and moral filters where thing gets really interesting. Sometimes awkward, sometimes painful, sometimes funny and not always PC, these are the revealing moments, the moments when you get glimpses of how humans behave in the most extraordinary situations.

Continue reading "Review and production photos: The awkward, honest and hilarious truth in #BU21 at Trafalgar Studios 2" »

The rhyming review: The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, Finborough Theatre

Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, Tom Purbeck (courtesy S R Taylor Photography) 4
Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, Tom Purbeck. Photo: S R Taylor Photography

@OughtToBeClowns challenged me to write my review for this in verse as that is how the play is written and performed. So this is my vain attempt...apologies in advance.

Tony Harrison's play has a title virtually unpronounceable,

It draws on ancient Greek traditions and the performers definitely aren't inaudible.

Grenfell succumbs to the will of Apollo the god in fact you could say it's more like possessed,

And shortly after that the satyrs are called from the places in which they hide and they rest.

In boxes and crates and behind curtains tall, they appear half naked but more into beer than into brawn.

They have furry brown legs and male appendages sewn on,

There was, however, nothing fake about the crack of the bum.

Apollo charges those that are half men and half goat to find out the whereabouts of his beloved bovine herd,

What transpires is their guts are now strings on a lyre which Hermes plays with a sound as sweet as any bird. 

It's a bonkers story and a bit of a batty play with earnest delivery, if a little bit shouty, and one did get to wondering

Whether the energy of satyrs tap dancing dislodged any dust from the Finborough's pub ceiling.


It is 75 minutes long and I'm giving it three stars. You can catch it at the Finborough until January 28.


Review: The cleverly concise Hamlet, Trafalgar Studios 2

Katie Stephens, Mark Arends, Tom Mannion, Hamlet Trafalgar Studios 2. Photo by Robert Workman.

I'm of the view that Shakespeare's plays generally benefit from a bit of trimming but Flute Theatre has put Hamlet on SlimFast and got its running time down to 90 minutes (without an interval). This idea excites, intrigues and concerns. On the one hand it's an opportunity to narrow the focus, distil the play's central dramatic and emotional threads while on the other you are in danger producing a disjointed, greatest hits version with just the well know speeches. Flute has added to the challenge by having cast of only six.

And what they have done is quite clever. The actors don't double up so much as borrow lines from others. For example, Laertes doesn't disappear back to school for the central section of the play but instead becomes Claudius's spy taking lines from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It makes Laertes a constant presence while the absence of Horatio serves to alienate Hamlet leaving him brooding without a single ally or confidante.

This Hamlet pushes aside the politics and focuses on the grieving son whose sanity is stretched. Mark Arends, whom I last saw in the fabulous Angry Brigade at the Bush Theatre, plays the prince with a moping, softness and fragility, I could imagine him flopping around his untidy bedroom with the curtains closed, listening to Morrissey. There is also lyrical tone to his delivery which brings out the poet prince and yet there is something painful and brooding deep down that hints of darker things.

Continue reading "Review: The cleverly concise Hamlet, Trafalgar Studios 2" »

Christmas comes to London's fringe theatres - a round of up festive treats

A Christmas Carol (c) Mat Johns (6)
A Christmas Carol (c) Mat Johns

PANTO Ricky Whittington and his Cat is a timely, satirical and funny take on old-school panto featuring song, dance and a WEALTH of comic talent and guest cameos. Catch it at the New Diorama from December 12 to January 7 with a special New Years Eve performance and party.

HUMANETTE PUPPET COMEDY An absurd and endearing portrait of Christmas, like The Royle Family meets Phoenix Nights, in miniature Holy Presents is on at the Camden People's Theatre from 6 to 17 December.

COMEDY The BAC has a season of festive fun including two festive stand up shows: A John Kearns Christmas (6-10 Dec) and Josie Long Hosts Christmas This Year (13-17 Dec). For more details head to the BAC website.

SIMON STEPHENS' CHRISTMAS Not his actual Christmas but his play Christmas which Theatre N16 is reviving for a run from 11 to 22 December. It's one week ‘til Christmas. A bleak bar in the heart of London’s East End. Landlord Michael Macgraw is setting up for the Saturday punters - all two of them; young Billy Russell, a foul-mouthed football fan and Seppo the barber with an odd fondness for Drambuie and dreaming of Vienna. Christmas, a time for family, goodwill and peace to all men, but not for these three.

OPERA PANTO The King's Head Theatre in Islington has chosen Pinochio for it's festive treat. Performed by a cast of Charles Court Opera with a whale-full of jaw-dropping musical numbers from pop to opera, and puns and tomfoolery galore, this year's 10th anniversary celebration promises to be the biggest and best yet. It runs from Dec 1 to Jan 7.

DINNER & CHRISTMAS CAROL Dickens' classic festive tale comes to the Above the Arts Theatre in Covent Garden served over a two-course dinner. Food and theatre are dished up from Dec 12 to 31.

Review: The Nest, Young Vic

326x326nestMarried couple Martha (Caoilfhionn Dunne) and Kurt (Laurence Kinlan) live in a bedsit and are expecting a baby. Kurt works long hours determined to provide everything their child will need. Their life is ordinary, their conversations are ordinary and their hopes and dreams are ordinary until Kurt takes on one job that has consequences he couldn't have foreseen.

Conor McPherson has translated Franz Xaver Kroetz play setting it in Ireland and adding in enough colloquial dialogue for it to feel comfortably at home. Ian Rickson directs in a style that allows the script to breath with much of the communication between the couple coming through body language. The problem is that the play doesn't feel meaty enough to quite support this pace of performance.

Everything plods along smoothly for Martha and Kurt for what seems a long time. It is interesting for a while discerning the dynamics of their relationship - from their planning for the baby, the impact it has on their every day life and how they perceive parenting - but after a while it feels a little sluggish.

There is one particularly dynamic and dramatic scene which is brilliantly performed by Laurence Kinlan and it is blackly funny but it isn't quite enough to lift the play. The Nest has two great performances but it is a play that feels like it just drifts along and I'm not sure I'll remember it in a few weeks time.

It is one hour and 45 minutes long without an interval and I'm giving it an OK three stars. It runs at the Young Vic Theatre until Nov 26.

Review: Princess, Lost Theatre, Stockwell or when Stan watched a contemporary dance piece for the first time

Well this is new for me: A dance piece. And by that I mean I'm coming to this having seen a ballet once and that's it when it comes to dance as a form of story telling. There is a synopsis for Princess in the programme and I wonder if I'd read it beforehand whether it would have made a difference because I'm not sure I gleaned much of what is described there from what I was seeing on stage.

Stuart Saint is the writer/director/choreographer of the piece which, apparently, shatters the illusion of the happily-ever-afters, banishing the storybook fairytale and finding the feminism in Disney. Maybe it's my lack of familiarity and knowledge of dance but what I got from it was a toy rabbit carrying, dungaree wearing 'princess' who is seduced by a group of more scantily-clad dancers including a man wearing a rabbit mask. At some point she changes into a dress that is more Alice in Wonderland-style and eventually she rejects the man-rabbit.

Continue reading "Review: Princess, Lost Theatre, Stockwell or when Stan watched a contemporary dance piece for the first time" »

Review: Relentless and bitter - Lunch and The Bow of Ulysses, Trafalgar Studios 2

Lunch-and-The-Bow-of-Ulysses-10352This Steven Berkoff double bill has been given a mixture of 3, 4 and one 5 star reviews from the critics. I'm going to opt for the lower end, in fact to be brutally honest and up front: I didn't like it.

Now there is no doubt that Berkoff is a skilled and imaginative writer but these two short plays about the start and end of a relationship are so relentlessly joyless I couldn't help worrying for his state of mind when he wrote them: Had he been through a really acrimonious split? Don't get me wrong, I'm not adverse to sad or bleak stories but I like to care - about something - and here I didn't. Not even a little bit.

Lunch starts with a woman (Emily Bruni) sitting on a seafront bench. She is noticed by a man (Shaun Dooley) who plucks up the courage to talk to her. This bit I enjoyed as we get his thoughts contrasting with his actions - confident vs bumbling and shy. They are obviously both lonely but his behaviour and language quickly turns aggressive and sexual. Berkoff doesn't use natural dialogue instead he writes in poetic metaphors and similes and that is part of the problem, it gets denser and stodgier the longer it goes on. The lunch ends in a brief Punch and Judy show.   

Continue reading "Review: Relentless and bitter - Lunch and The Bow of Ulysses, Trafalgar Studios 2" »