182 posts categorized "New plays" Feed

Review: Young, gay and in love in Run, The Bunker

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Tom Ross-Williams as Yonni in Run, The Bunker

Jewish teenager Yonni's eyes meet Adam's and they are planets circling each other, perfect orbits, in sync. It's as if their relationship is written in the stars.

Against a back drop of growing anti-Semitism outside Yonni's north London community and potential homophobia within it Stephen Laughton's play Run examines young love. Delivered as a monologue by Tom Ross-Williams we follow the blossoming relationship with its ups and downs, discoveries, fun and drama. Stephen Laughton has a keen eye not just for domestic detail but also how first love feels for Yonni something which is reflected in the mixture of vernacular and poetic imagery in the script.

There is humour in Yonni's innocence and intense moments when time seems to stop which all serve to beautifully capture this love story and the growing tensions in the teenager's world.

Tom Ross-Williams' performance is one of innocent joy and the energy of youth indeed he seems to positively glow as if with new found feelings. He has you rooting for Yonni, smiling with him and worrying for him. There are some slightly clunky segments movement but otherwise the story slides easily from episode to episode painting a vivid picture of this first love. 

It's a lovely, simple piece of theatre that is both funny and at times moving and I'm giving it four stars. It's 70 minutes long without an interval and is at the The Bunker in Borough until 1 April.

 




REVIEW: Cooking up behind the scenes politics in Limehouse, Donmar Warehouse

Cw-13821-mediumSteve Water's last play at the Donmar Warehouse, Temple, about the anti-capitalist protests outside St Paul's Cathedral, didn't particularly set my world on fire. It was one of those plays that while well done, it wasn't fantastic but neither was is bad. At the time I said I probably wouldn't remember it and that's how I remember it, ironically, for not being memorable.

His new play goes behind the scenes at a meeting of the so called 'Gang of Four' labour politicians who, in 1981, frustrated with the direction of the labour party broke away and set up the Social Democratic Party. It is a fictionalised account of what was discussed by the four - David Owen (Tom Goodman-Hill), Shirley Williams (Debra Gillett), Bill Rodgers (Paul Chahidi) and Roy Jenkins (Roger Allam) in the hours leading up to their break from Labour. David Owen's literary agent wife Debbie (Nathalie Armin) suggests he invites his three like-minded colleagues over for an informal brunch in order to persuade them into joining him in breaking away and over an hour and 40 minutes we track their discussions, debate and dilemma.

Given the rift in the current Labour Party, its an obvious piece of history to draw parallels with. However, the play feels structured to give each character their moment of impassioned oratory and once you realise that you are waiting for the next big speech. The rest of the play starts to feel cooked up to contrived to create drama - perhaps knowing how things ultimately end up doesn't help.

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Review: A walk in the dark - Killer, Shoreditch Town Hall

KILLER_Large_450_245_80_s_c1I'm in a cool, bare-bricked, concrete-floored room somewhere underneath Shoreditch Town Hall. I've been given headphones and an actor has run through a sound test to make sure they are working properly.

Then the lights go out and a voice comes out of the dark, it is sounds so close it feels like the person speaking is just an inch or two away from my face. Is that their breath on my neck I can feel or am I just imagining it? It's disconcerting, unnerving and a clever device.

Phillip Ridley's play Killer is three odd, horror-tinged stories, each told in a different part of Shoreditch Town Hall's abandoned-looking basement. There are some trademark Ridley features - the squeamish moments with animals that he seems to like - and sledge hammers are one of the recurring features.

The stories are expertly told complete with radio-play style sound effects and it is certainly different from your usual evening at the theatre. Killer seems to have gone down well with the critics with one even describing it as "essential" a word that, when used in relation to theatre, never fails to make me roll my eyes. (It isn't essential - nor vital, while we are in that vein.)

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REVIEW: The little play on the big stage - Ugly Lies the Bone, National Theatre

Ugly-lies-the-bone-2160x2160-sfwUgly Lies The Bone is the story of Jess (Kate Fleetwood) an Afghan war veteran who returns home to Florida after suffering severe burns on her last tour. She is undertaking virtual reality therapy to cope with the pain and as part of the therapy has to create a fantasy world that she can retreat to. It is supposed to distract her from her debilitating injuries and pain but what she really wants is to recreate her old life.

Everything has changed since her last tour including her family and friends and she must find a way of forging new relationships. Jess's sister (Olivia Darnley) wants to her in cotton wool and for her to get on with her new idiot boyfriend (Kris Marshall). And Jess's ex (Ralf Little) has married. She wants to go back to teaching but people want to put her in a back room where no one can see her scarred face.

The staging is pretty spectacular. The sides and back of the stage curve upwards as if you are looking at everything through VR glasses. Images are projected onto this all encompassing backdrop - the VR landscape Jess creates, the streetscape of her Florida home town complete with traffic moving on the roads or the night sky. Visually it is really impressive.

You can sense a 'but' coming can't you? And there is one. Despite the performances the play feels neither as funny as it wants to be nor as hard hitting given the subject matter. I think the problem is that it is a little play that would suit a smaller stage in a more intimate theatre not the vast Lyttleton. The visual feast we are presented with over powers, even distracts from the play making it difficult to get emotional purchase.

Yes there are a few laugh out loud moments and the odd line that makes you gasp but in the end the staging is like the cotton wool that Jess's sister wants to wrap her up in which is a real shame. I give it three stars.

It is one hour and 35 minutes without an interval and is at the National Theatre until June 6.


Review: Oil, Almeida Theatre

ImageElla Hickson's play Oil is broad in scope, starting in the 1800s and finishing in 2051 and that, in part, is its problem.

It opens in the 1880s with a poor, isolated, farming family on a bitterly cold, dark, winter's night (think Mr Burns dark). A man arrives and makes an offer that could change their lives and, as a result of that meeting May (Anne Marie-Duff), a pregnant wife, disappears into the night.

May becomes a recurring character as does her daughter Amy (Yolanda Kettle) who makes her first appearance in the next segment which is set in early 20th century Iran. May is trying to earn enough for them to get a boat ticket home. She is waitressing at a dinner reception where the English are oiling up some Iranians in order to secure a deal. She is made two different offers by two different men.

Next we see May as a senior exec of an oil company in the 1970s. She is dealing with a rebellious teen on one hand and a rebellion in Iran which is threatening business and trade.

The action then jumps to the future. First it is 2021 and Amy is working in a war torn Iraq and her mother wants her to come home, then in 2051 where she is living with her elderly mother and fuel is scarce and expensive. There they are offered a new power source and a means of changing their lives for the better, the play coming full circle.

Aside from the characters of May and Amy there are other common refrains weaving through the narrative: a particular line of dialogue, a particular action or circumstance. It is subtle and there is definitely a clever structure there but the problem is the scope of themes. Hickson touches on feminism, misogyny, power - fuel and political, trade, war, capitalism, xenophobia and parenting, among other things, and as a result it feels like Oil isn't about anything in particular.

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Review: The Past Is A Tattooed Sailor, Old Red Lion

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Nick Finegan as young Napier and Jojo Macari as Joshua in The Past is a Tattooed Sailor, Old Red Lion Theatre (c) Pamela Raith Photography

Simon Blow's debut play is autobiographical, telling the tale of his relationship with his great uncle - the socialite Stephen Tennant. Simon becomes Joshua for the purposes of the play (played by Jojo Macari) and he decides to visit his now reclusive 'uncle Napier' who lives in the family pile outside London. Joshua has lost his parents, inheritance and is adrift, he feels hard done by and sees both a family connection and an opportunity in Uncle Napier but there are other relatives circling too.

Napier (Bernard O'Sullivan) reposes in his boudoir on a chaise longue and 'takes to' Joshua which means regaling him with tales of his youth and the literary and artistic set he was part of - Tennant had a four year relationship with Sigfried Sassoon and is said to have inspired Evelyn Waugh's character Sebastian Flyte. He is narcissistic, obsessed with his youth to the point of denial that he is actually a fat old man. His younger self, played by Nick Finegan, is on hand to remind him, as is his mother (Elizabeth George) who just won't call him her 'Golden Boy' any more.

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Review: The little but fierce Pigs and Dogs, Royal Court

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Fisayo Akinade, Sharon D Clarke and Alex Hassell in Pigs and Dogs, Royal Court

Caryl Churchill’s short play Pigs and Dogs is proof that you don’t need a long play to pack a punch and get across a powerful message.

It clocks in at around 15 minutes long (without an interval the usher jokingly informed as I arrived) and leaves an indelible mark.

Three actors - Fisayo Akinade, Sharon D Clarke and Alex Hassell - perform a series of actual statements made by political leaders and those in influential positions, primarily from African countries. Each of which gets introduced by the phrase “someone said” followed by the name of the person from whom the statement originally came. The theme of the statements is the perceptions of homosexuality, the actors each taking rapid turns with the statements and introductions.

It starts with recent homophobic statements moving into historic reports of homosexual activities that were deemed culturally normal before coming back to the present day. The play is substantially based on the book Boy-Wives and Female-Husband: studies in African homosexualities.

 

Collectively the statements challenge modern homophobic prejudices suggesting where the origins for such attitudes might lie and it isn’t where you might think.

It is a simple idea, simply and brilliantly performed and makes for a powerful, thought-provoking piece of theatre.

Pigs and Dogs runs until July 30 at the Royal Court. It starts at 6.30pm and is unallocated seating - doors normally open 20-25 minutes ahead of the performance. Its £5 and it gets five stars from me.


Review: Modern ghouls in A Haunting, King's Head #Festival46

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James Thackeray in A Haunting

Nathan Lucky Wood's play A Haunting starts with a disembodied voice but this isn't a ghost story in the conventional sense as the voice comes from a computer. It isn't sci-fi either - the voice belongs to a fellow gamer that 15-year-old Mark (James Thackeray) has got chatting to.

The ghost voice (Jake Curran) sends him links to graphic video's of religious extremists committing atrocities and wants to meet up. Mark's mum Anna (Beatrice Curnew) is working late, there are hints that things aren't harmonious at home - is this a set up for him being radicalised? Perhaps, except that the ghost's voice doesn't sound quite right (if there is a right sound).

Mark and the ghost then start describing sexually-laced scenarios, verbally roll-playing. Perhap's ghost is a paedophile, then? Perhaps, but then when he describes his fantasy it is an innocent domestic scene involving cooking Bolognese.

All the time the ghost is trying to persuade Mark to meet and eventually he relents. He is spookily close to where Mark lives and he knows his mobile number. What happens next shines the spotlight in a completely different corner.

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Review: Saving Freddie (the) Fox in Phoebe, King's Head Theatre #Festival46

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E J Martin as Phoebe

Phoebe (EJ Martin) is a quiet sales assistant in an opticians whose outlook on life seems slightly out of step to those around her. Her sister Ingrid (Louise Torres-Ryan) is the favoured child, always busy working for a charity while Phoebe is the one who heads home every Sunday for the family dinner, for all the thanks she gets. Freddie, their brother, has gone missing and that is a concern for Phoebe.

But that isn't the only thing Phoebe has to worry about. A neighbour wants to call in pest control to deal with an urban fox which she feeds and has named... Freddie. As she tries to find one Freddie and keep another hidden, Phoebe has to convince her family that she can stand on her own two feet, fortunately she has a new friend the gentle and awkward Paul (Loz Keystone) to help her.

There are some nice segments of dialogue which are well observed and snappily written - the mother who causes a fuss while loudly proclaiming not to is particularly amusing. The family dynamic is stereotypical sit-com: overbearing mother, spineless father that follows her lead and put upon child. However, there are elements that will no doubt ring true. Given the nature of their parents it is easy to understand why Ingrid stays away.

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Watching a work in progress: Unreachable, Royal Court

Cw-8658-mediumThe Royal Court's artistic director Vicky Featherstone and playwright/director Anthony Neilson made a pre-performance appearance when I saw Unreachable on Tuesday. They wanted to explain that the play was still a work in progress, a major rewrite had happened over the weekend with further rewrites that day. As a result, the actors might still be working off scripts and things might not go as smoothly as you'd expect. We were asked to shout 'good luck' to the actors who were waiting in the wings.

Other than a read-through I've not seen a play performed with scripts in hands or scraps of paper retrieved from pockets.  Naturally, the audience, was very supportive as it invariably is during these sorts of things. It added an extra dimension to the play and the experience - seeing the actors 'feeling' their way through the less familiar parts of the script.

Matt Smith actually played on it at times saying at one point 'that's all I've got'. If there was any frustration with the chopping and changing of the dialogue among the cast it certainly did show, they all looked like they were having a ball and there was quite a bit of corpsing.

As to the play itself, I'm not sure what I was expecting but it wasn't expecting a raucous comedy, satirising the film industry and acting profession.

Naturally it is difficult to review something that could change fundamentally between when I saw it and press night. Indeed, since starting to write this, I found an interview with Anthony Neilson and Matt Smith which describes a plot that is unrecognisable from that which I saw, so if you have seen it post press night I'm curious to know whether it has changed fundamentally since.

Matt Smith plays Maxim, a film director who won the Palm d'Or for his first full length feature and is now working on his second film. The award has brought with it recognition and a much bigger budget with the politics that entails but he is 'an artist' with the stereotypical artistic temperament (think: self-serving, childish, egotist). He would rather walk away and risk financial ruin than compromise.

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