24 posts categorized "New writing" Feed

Review: A life in and of music - Nina, Young Vic and Traverse, Edinburgh

NinaWeb3PortraitimageJosette Bushell-Mingo is dressed as Nina Simone, a three piece band on stage plays out a rhythm and she describes the build up to her concert at Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969. It is vivid and evocative and you can almost feel the excitement of the occasion.

It also makes an interesting framing device - the piece finishes with Josette performing a mini-concert of Nina Simone songs - for a journey into Nina Simone's songs and the context behind the lyrics. But this isn't merely a history lesson, it is also a lesson in how little has changed.

When Josette unpicks the lyrics of key songs giving back the original meaning, she interweaves them with her own story and accounts of recent racist attacks in the US, UK and beyond. When Nina Simone wrote Mississippi Goddam it was a response to racist killings in Mississippi and a 'f*ck you' to white society. The message was clear then and in telling the story in both a historical and modern context it shines a light on how far society has and hasn't come in 50 odd years.

To drive home the point Josette turns a metaphorical gun back on the audience imagining a scenario where it is white people being shot simply because of the colour of their skin. It is a simple but powerful device that makes an important point, several important points. That injustice, inequality and racism are still alive and the revolution Nina Simone sang about and hoped for still has a long way to go.

Continue reading "Review: A life in and of music - Nina, Young Vic and Traverse, Edinburgh" »

Review: This Must Be The Place, The Vaults #VaultFestival


This isn't a London story, we are told at the start of Brad Birch and Kenneth Emson's play This Must Be The Place, but London features in the two interweaving storylines. For Adam (James Cooney) it is a place to get on a (stolen) bike and get away from. For Tate and Matty (Feliks Mathur and Hamish Rush) it is a place to run to with the promise of a job and a new start. But while London connects the two stories the play feels likely it is loosely about surviving modern life.

Molly Roberts completes the cast as Lily, Adam's girlfriend and apart from the opening and closing segment the two pairs perform independently switching swiftly between the two tales. They hold mics which give the play a stand up/pub performance feel - I'm not sure if that was the point.

Adam is troubled for reasons that don't immediately become clear. He throws away his phone so that he is no longer a slave to calls, texts and social media. Disconnects from modern life, misses his phone when he can't get Deliveroo. Lily panics when he hasn't posted anything for a few hours and he doesn't return her calls. She wants to talk to him about the future.

Continue reading "Review: This Must Be The Place, The Vaults #VaultFestival" »

Review: You For Me For You, Royal Court upstairs

You For Me For You-Royal Court Upstairs-1198
Wendy Kweh and Katie Leung, You For Me For You, Royal Court. Photo Tristram Kenton

Who doesn't harbour a little curiosity for what life is like in North Korea? Mia Chung's play hints rather than shows, feeling sometimes like Alice through the looking glass crossed with Kafka - or maybe that is what it feels like?

Hunger is a feature - there were empathetic stomach rumblings from the woman sat next to me - the play opens with sisters Minhee (Wendy Kweh) and Junhee (Katie Leung) arguing over who should eat the meagre meal that's been prepared. Minhee is ill and therefore Junhee says she should eat it. Junhee works long hours so Minhee says she should have it. Their polite insistence is almost infuriating. It is Junhee who finally relents or rather is tricked by her sister into eating the food. It is symbolic for what later happens when the siblings decide to try and flee their homeland.

Minhee can't quite let go of the ideals of North Korea, that if you work hard enough everything will be OK. She gets left behind, sort of falls down the rabbit hole, where she goes on a mental journey through her tragic life, encountering absurd bureaucracy, musical rice and frog-like soldiers.

Continue reading "Review: You For Me For You, Royal Court upstairs" »

Review: Jackson's Way: The Christmas Top-Up Power Seminar, Battersea Arts Centre

JW by Barney Britton12
Jackson's Way photo by Barney Britton

Chris Jackson (Will Adamsdale) is here to help you. He's here to show you how to achieve and reach your power with his own brand of life coaching together with some contractual obligations to mention Christmas.

The bedrock of his philosophy is that there is more pointless stuff in the world - activities and objects - than there are 'pointful', therefore you should throw your energy behind the pointless stuff. You should PTI (push through it) to achieve your pointless goal.

Using slides, video and various props, well tea towels mainly, he takes you step by step through his power tips and there is practical application too. You might find yourself doing something pointless or a "Jacktion" as he dubs them and I'd describe some of these 'activities' but I don't want to spoil the show.

Jackson then goes on to give you examples of how Jacktions are all around us, as are many pointless objects. It is tongue in cheek but equally there is an element of truth. Learning the Jackson Way we also learn a little about the man himself, his past and his fight to reconcile his philosophy with its critics (a process that took ten years he tells us). 

It leads up to the Christmas bit - his own version of the Nativity using random pointless objects and members of the audience. CJ naturally steps into the role of JC.

Every now and again a show comes along that is blissfully silly and Jackson's Way is one such show. Brilliantly written as well as performed by Adamsdale there is a hint of satire in the silliness. On paper is sounds ridiculous and you probably have to be there to really appreciate it but I giggled, guffawed and even snorted at one point during the show's hour and a bit running time.

So if you fancy something that is part stand up and part theatre, something that is silly and funny because of it, then head to the Battersea Arts Centre where you can catch Jackson's Way: The Christmas Top-Up Power Seminar until December 12.


Review: Universally Speaking, Bread and Roses Theatre, SW4

The sub-head for this quartet of monologues under the banner Universally Speaking is 'How Well is the 21st Century Doing?' and it is the final piece that really probes this question.

Called The 7-11 Butterfly Effect writer Don Grimme explores America, the Middle East and Europe post 9/11. With clever and amusingly contrived character names - Talia Ban is nicknamed after a vomiting incident in a convenience store - we are taught the history of the world by a teacher (Pallas McCallum Newark) who uses flash cards to illustrate certain points.

It is a satirical piece in which the absurdity of Grimme's story exposes a truth about the West's reaction and how it has shaped society.

Robert Holtom's piece, Fat, is brilliantly performed by Samantha Shaw who manages to make food and over eating sexy and seductive. But, at the same time, it questions the fat-shaming and fat-blaming culture we live in.

Continue reading "Review: Universally Speaking, Bread and Roses Theatre, SW4" »

Review: And Then Come The Nightjars, Theatre503

ATCTN Dress, 503 ┬® Jack Sain 2015-0537
David Fielder and Nigel Hastings in And Then Come The Nightjars, Theatre503. Photo: Jack Sain

Struggling to remember the last time I saw a play set in the countryside and about rural life. Three Days in the Country doesn't count.

Bea Roberts' new play And Then Come the Nightjars has the foot and mouth outbreak as its central axis but is essentially a piece about friendship and the changing countryside economy.

Set in a barn on a Devon farm, brilliantly designed by Max Dorey, Michael (David Fielder) is watching over a cow due to calf. Local vet and friend Jeff (Nigel Hastings) is keeping him company.

They banter and bicker as old friends do; talk about the farm and their respective wives - Michael is widowed and Jeff's marriage is strained.

The threat of foot and mouth hovers in the background, the call of the Nightjar - in superstition a harbinger of death - heralds the future fate of Michael's prized and much loved herd.

Jumping forward in time to the day of the slaughter, Michael is resisting the MAFF-sanctioned orders to let his 'girls' be destroyed and Jeff is trying to persuade him to co-operate offering to ensure they have a humane end. We learn that with slaughter on such a large scale not all cows have a pain free death.

Continue reading "Review: And Then Come The Nightjars, Theatre503" »

#CamdenFringe review: @TheThelmas Ladylogue, Tristan Bates Theatre

Ladylogue 3 (c) Philip Scutt
Sarah Cowan performs Zero by Serena Haywood. Photo Philip Scutt

What does a murderer, an agoraphobic, a competitive mum and an ex-Facebook user have in common? They are four of the six characters at the centre of a series short plays written by and performed by women under the banner Ladylogue.

It is a wonderful showcase of talent each play is very different in style and tone. Taken together they are a brilliant mix of laughs, shocks and drama leaving with you plenty to think about. There are definitely some names among them, both writers and performers to look out for in the future:

Ghost by Lucy Foster explores how bereavement can impact on confidence and sense of self. Performed by Kim Burnett the protagonist is getting ready for a job interview that, if she can only keep it together, might be a small step towards a new start.

Continue reading "#CamdenFringe review: @TheThelmas Ladylogue, Tristan Bates Theatre" »

Review: Do you have to be shocked by Mike Bartlett's Game at the Almeida to appreciate it?

Game_MAIN_260x356*warning* I've tried and probably failed to write this without spoilers so sorry...

The Almeida has been transformed for Mike Bartlett's new play Game. We were ushered into what looked a bit like a large bird watching hide with blinds obscuring the view.

There were three screens mounted high up which were difficult to see if you were sat on the front row but more of that later. Everyone is given a headset and there is a sound and volume test before the 'Game' begins. As the screens rise you realise you are an observer, sitting behind one way glass.

Its premise is that a young couple are given a swish new home, one they could never afford but with certain conditions attached. The play is a social and political commentary on the current housing crisis and whether reality TV is desensitising us. The problem is that the idea of violence and cruelty for entertainment purposes has been done before and with far greater teeth - The Hunger Games, is just one example.

I know some people have found Game shocking but I was underwhelmed. That may be Bartlett's point, that we are already well on the way to being desensitised and it is something I have thought about a lot since I saw the play. However, I come back to the same point: it feels like a topic that has been explored in interesting ways already.

For a start the whole Big Brother concept feels passé. The TV show has been around for 16 years and has spawned a whole genre of reality concepts such as I'm a Celebrity.

Look, also at the Japanese TV game shows, that involve inflicting discomfort and humiliation on participants. Ironically, clips from those shows used to appear regularly on our own point-and-laugh TV compilation shows so that we could laugh at the Japanese TV audiences laughing at the TV.

So do I believe that popular entertainment will push further into morally dubious territories? Yes, of course I do but I didn't need Game to tell me that.

Continue reading "Review: Do you have to be shocked by Mike Bartlett's Game at the Almeida to appreciate it?" »

Review: Mike Bartlett's 55 minutes of nastiness in the brilliant Bull, Young Vic

BULL326x326It's less than an hour long but I dare you to find a play that is as uncomfortable to watch as Mike Bartlett's Bull.

The nastiness is somehow magnified by the ordinary and familiar setting. This isn't a play set in war time or criminal underworld this is a play set in an office.

Thomas (Sam Troughton) and his two colleagues Isobel (Eleanor Matsuura) and Tony (Adam James) have been called together for a meeting by their boss Carter (Neil Stuke). He's running late leaving the three in a room together to wait.

It quickly becomes evident that this meeting is about downsizing, one of the three will be losing their job, but what starts off as a bit of a banter soon starts to echo bullying. The staging gives a clue as to what is to come. The lighting might be office bright and the carpet corporate bland but it is bordered by railings so that the square space also resembles a boxing ring.

Isobel and Tony start to gang up on Thomas and doubt is thrown on whether they are being truthful or not in what they tell him. They play tricks and then accuse him of not being a good sport when he protests. Just how far will they go in this increasingly calculated school yard behaviour?

Continue reading "Review: Mike Bartlett's 55 minutes of nastiness in the brilliant Bull, Young Vic" »

Review: Daytona at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

Harry Shearer, Oliver Cotton and Maureen Lipman in Daytona

Getting invited to a West End premiere is a rare treat and on this occasion made all the more special by a certain Hugh Jackman sat just a few rows behind.

My endorsement is never going to carry the weight of such a Hollywood A-lister and fan of the stage* but I never got the chance to ask him what he thought of Daytona as he was whisked off to a VIP area straight afterwards (What's On Stage's photos here).

The play, written by Oliver Cotton, started life at the Park Theatre before touring and has now found its way into the West End at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. It tells the story of retired couple Elli (Maureen Lipman) and Joe (Harry Shearer) who keep active by entering ballroom dancing competitions and socialising with friends. They bicker but obviously care about each other, enjoying a simple and cosy life.

Continue reading "Review: Daytona at the Theatre Royal Haymarket" »