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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.

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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.

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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.   

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Review: Mark Gatiss in The Boys In The Band, Park Theatre

Mark Gatiss and Jack Derges © Darren Bell

Mart Crowley's 1968 play is set at the home of Michael (Ian Hallard), a lapsed alcoholic, who is throwing a birthday party for his friend Harold (Mark Gatiss). Among the guests are the camp Emory (James Holmes), a gorgeous but dim rent boy dressed as a cowboy (Jack Derges) who is a present for Harold, Larry (Ben Mansfield) and his lover Hank (Nathan Nolan) who is in the process of getting divorced.

Everything is going swimmingly in a bitchy sort of way when Alan (John Hopkins) an old university friend of Michael's drops by. Michael describes him as straight and square and is convinced he is oblivious to Michael's homosexuality. Alan's reaction to Emory causes trouble and suggests his own inner turmoil which Michael seems determined to expose. 

Michael is a bitter drunk. The more he drinks, the more it reveals his uglier side born out of Catholic guilt and generally feeling ill at ease with himself. He takes it out on other people and sets on a destructive path determine to make everyone else feel as bad about themselves as he does. His party games certainly reveal some truths - some devastating, some reconciliatory.

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Fringe theatre review: The Undead Bard, Theatre N16

The Really Tiny Ever LivingAs the antithesis of Shakespeare's 400th anniversary celebration Robert Crighton has come up with a two part performance that (sort of) questions our obsession with the bard.

In the first half he plays a sweating, divorced professor obsessed with the question of authorship of Shakespeare's plays. He recounts how he tested several theories while playing a cat and mouse game with the 'leather patches on elbows' who want to protect Shakespeare as the author. The result is an ever more paranoid professor with ever more ridiculous theories. The second half sees him channelling the Bard who feels if he can't be 'undead' then he just wants to be left alone and forgotten about.

There are some chuckle-worthy moments and the occasional witty line - it helps if you are familiar with Shakespeare's contemporaries and the theories of authorship - but there just isn't enough of it to fill two 45 minute segments. There are sections which could perhaps work as short sketches but it needs to be cleverer and a lot funnier for a longer piece.

Crighton ends by arguing that we should put on new writing rather reviving old stuff and he does have a point but the old stuff is really rather good which is why it has lasted.

It's two 45 minute segments with a 15 minute interval and I'm giving it two stars. It is on at Theatre N16 in Balham until 13 October.

London fringe theatre news round up

Bright Lucifer BW FINAL
Bright Lucifer, White Bear Theatre

* Still Ill, a play which looks at psychosomatic illness and has been devised with the help of real sufferers, opens at the New Diorama Theatre on Nov 1 until Nov 19: Like many young actors, Sophie earns extra money by playing a ‘patient’ for medical students to practise on. But as her career begins to take off and she gets the job of a lifetime in a TV medical drama, her body begins to betray her. This time, the symptoms are all too real.

* The Canal Cafe Theatre in Little Venice kicks off a season of American plays with Driving Miss Daisy which runs from 18 Oct to 5 Nov. This ‘tramersive’ production (staged in traverse with that action happening in and around the audience too) is a fresh look at Uhry’s classic play.

* Orson Welles first play Bright Lucifer kicks off a series called Lost Classics at the The White Bear Theatre in Kennington in November. The play runs from Nov 8 to Dec 3: Jack Flynn’s in movies – “creature features” – quite the celebrity, as far as men in rubber masks go. Celebrity enough that when his wife disappears in a flurry of sex scandals and drug parties, his face ends up on front pages. On the verge of a nervous breakdown, Jack retreats from the world with his brother Bill to an isolated family cabin, planning a long weekend of whisky, fishing and brotherly love. All doesn’t go to plan. As the brothers descend into madness and paranoia, only one question matters; who or what is Eldred Brand?

* The Right Ballerina makes its London premiere at the Hen & Chickens Theatre in Islington after making its debut at The Lowry in Salford. It runs from Oct 11 - 22 and is described as a new play that eviscerates our perception of right/left wing politics. The play is inspired by the real life case of Simone Clarke, a ballerina with the English National Ballet who was “outed” as a BNP member in 2006.

* Fives Guy's Chillin' arrives at the King's Head in Islington from 15 Oct to 5 Nov. It's a verbatim play about the gay chill out scene and follows a run at the Edinburgh Fringe and off Broadway.

* Maud Dromgoole's Acorn opens at the Courtyard Theatre on 4 Oct until 29 Oct. It radically re-imagines two mythic women in a play that explores the power of stories, and how we come to write our own. Combining dark humour with lyricism, fury and wit, projection and an original score, Acorn is an all-female underworld myth for a modern age.

Review: Kenny Morgan, Arcola Theatre and the inevitable comparison with the NT's Deep Blue Sea

Kenny-morganMike Poulton's play draws on the real life of Terrence Rattigan and the events which inspired his play The Deep Blue Sea. And, having seen the National Theatre's production of TDBS in June it is difficult not to draw direct comparisons.

Poulton's play centres on actor Kenny Morgan (Paul Keating), the secret lover of Terrence Rattigan (Simon Dutton) who left him for a younger man Alec (Pierro Niel-Mee). In Deep Blue Sea Kenny becomes Hester who has left her husband, a judge, for Freddie a young, former test pilot.

The play opens with Kenny's attempted suicide and from there his relationships with Alec and with Terry unfold. In The Deep Blue Sea Hester is trying to keep the fact that she is living with her lover not her husband secret, in Kenny Morgan it Terry who is trying to keep his homosexuality secret and it puts a different gloss on the relationships.

Kenny, while living a life of champagne and caviar with Terry, was always closeted, a kept man in the flat upstairs. With Alec they are constantly short of cash and behind on the rent but live together albeit in a grotty flat in Camden. The problem is Alec drinks and goes away a lot and Kenny feels like he is losing him or perhaps he never had him in the first place.

When he's at his lowest ebb Terry reappears in his life and offers to take him back. Should he go?

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