24 posts categorized "New writing" Feed

Review: Nick Payne's The Art of Dying at the Royal Court

510x340.fitandcropNick Payne is sat on a chair in the middle of the stage talking about when his dad was dying. You probably aren't going to see a piece of theatre as affecting or personal as this.

And that is its power. It is obviously a personal experience for Payne but then so is it for anyone who's suffered a loss.

With great pathos he interweaves his experiences with the stories of two other deaths adding a dose of humour along the way.

What the stories acutely show is just how raw the emotions are around death, emotions that are at once simple and complicated. Despite the certainty of death it remains an awkward, uncomfortable subject; it is one we tend to brush under the carpet.

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Review: Ten Women at the Ovalhouse Theatre

Ten Women is a work in progress and therefore to call this a review is a little unfair. Written by Bethan Dear it isn't so much a drama as a presentation of ideas about women and body image.

The group of women use a mixture of performance styles. For example, they take it in turns reading excerpts from a diary cataloguing pre-pubescent thoughts about their  body through to when they are in their late 20s, then there are mantras about particular moments of empowerment and rituals which are acted out by one or two while recited by another.

It isn't subtle, it's a didactic piece and a gentle introduction to feminist thinking for the uninitiated but it is done with fun and vigor. The message is clear, women's bodies have been hijacked by the world and this is a call to arms to reclaim individuality and naturalness without guilt.

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Review: Nick Payne's Incognito at the Bush Theatre


Amelia Lowdell in Incognito. Photo by Bill Knight.

The title of Nick Payne's latest play (gosh he's prolific) gives a hint of its themes primarily the hidden self. Incognito is an exploration of the sense of self, whether through our own perceptions, relationships or straightforward biology and whether it is truthful.


There are three stories interwoven and presented like overlapping jigsaw pieces, boundaries blurring as the four cast members stride in and out of scenes with only differing accents to distinguish the multiple characters they play.

Two of the stories are set in the fifties. In one After conducting his autopsy, Thomas Harvey steals Einstein's brain to use for research.  In the other Henry's life is changed fundamentally after brain surgery leaves him with only a short term memory.

The third, set in the present, follows a clinical neuro-psychologist Martha who is struggling to cope with her patients and with her own radically changing life choices.

Each of the central characters is in some way hidden from their self and it is interesting how they cope with that. Harvey is obsessed with his research to the point where it takes over his life to the exclusion of most others. Henry's life has become frozen at the time in which he was about to go on honeymoon and he can't remember anything outside that for longer than a few minutes.

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Review: Mike Bartlett's An Intervention, Watford Palace Theatre

Rachael Stirling and John Hollingworth in Mike Bartlett's An Intervention

It must be a rarity to see two new plays by the same writer within the space of 10 days. Mike Bartlett has been busy.

An Intervention is a co-production with Watford Palace Theatre and Paines Plough and sees Bartlett return to more simple story-telling of his Cock (tee hee, cannot resist). Rachael Stirling and John Hollingworth play best friends A and B whose friendship is tested to breaking point.

A is a passionate anti-war protester and B thinks intervention is better in the long run. But the argument that sparks a break down of their friendship is only a mask for what is really going on. A likes to drink. A lot. She is the life and soul of the party, always full of energy, witty and fun and that is her life. B, however, sees a different future for himself. He's got a new girlfriend (whom A hates) who has opened the door to a different lifestyle.

Bartlett puts friendship under a magnifying glass and examines what it means. When is it right to intervene, when should you stay quiet and at what point do you throw in the towel?

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Review: The urban poetry of Pests at the Royal Court

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Sinéad Matthews and Ellie Kendrick in Pests - taken for the Royal Exchange, Manchester production where Pests premiered before transferring to the Royal Court

As usual it falls to one of my theatre friends, this time @pcchan1981 to make the most pertinent comment about a play we've just seen. As we left the Royal Court's upstairs theatre he said of Pests: "This is what teenagers should be watching, not Other Desert Cities."

I didn't have to sit amongst a group of bored teenagers during the Old Vic's current play to which he was referring but I whole-heartedly agree. Bruntwood prize-winner Vivienne Franzmann's latest play is refreshingly contemporary written in a London street patois that makes it grimly poetic as well as giving it an urban currency.

Rolly (Ellie Kendrick) has just got out of prison, is pregnant and off drugs at present. She turns to sister Pink (Sinéad Matthews) for somewhere to live. Pink is a heroin addict funding her habit with petty crime and occasionally prostitution. Rolly has a job interview at a hotel which helps ex-cons into a new life. This could be a new start.

The two have a strong sisterly bond despite being separated for a time when they were in care. They have little else to identify with but it is a bond that ties them not only to each other but to a life they would like to leave. Failed by most adults they have been abused and abandoned by society and left to rot on its sidelines, surviving the only way they know how: get money, get drugs, get high. It leaves only a little time to daydream of a different life in between.

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Rehearsed reading: Alexi Kaye Campbell's Death in Whitbridge

There is something quite special about a rehearsed reading. It's often a one off, you always get one or two gems in the cast and an intimacy to the performance so that you feel like you are sitting in on a rehearsal.

The play itself can sometimes seem immaterial but in this instance the opportunity to see work previously un-performed by Alexi Kaye Campbell was a particular draw.

It was presented as part of the Finborough's Vibrant festival of new writing  and its strength lies in the ealier scenes.

A middle-class family-set comedy with son Fred (Adam James) visiting his parents to introduce them to his girlfriend Fatima (Naomi Sheldon) who is a burka and full-veil wearing Muslim. Fred also has some news which will further put him on Daily Mail hate-list and, to add to the drama, a mass murderer is on the lose leaving victims body parts in the residents if Whitbridge's shrubbery.

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Royal Court Rough Cuts: Bytes of tasty theatrical morsals

510x340.fitandcrop-1For the uninitiated the Royal Court's Rough Cuts season is the equivalent of a theatrical taster menu. You get bite-sized chunks of works in progress or short plays from up and coming playwrights.

And this quartet was particularly tantalising with new work - under the theme of interaction with the internet - by Alia Bano (Shades), DC Moore (Straight, The Swan, Town), Nick Payne (Wanderlust, Constellations) and Penelope Skinner (Sound of Heavy Rain, The Village Bike).

Bano's play was set in a secondary school and was both funny and terrifying as a class full of teenagers terrorised a new teacher, trying to find out as much as they could about him from the internet. When a picture of him naked emerges there could be trouble and trouble there was because that was where it finished. So many questions left unanswered, definitely one I'd watch more of.

Now DC Moore's was the most intriguing particularly following on from a rather unsatisfactory trip to see a staging of Solaris last year that left me questioning whether sci fi could work on stage. If this 15 minute 'bite' is anything to go by then it definitely can.

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Review: Dramatic politics in This House, National Theatre

This-House-show-imageThe National Theatre has had more than its fair share of drama this week and I'm not talking about the plays. On Wednesday Simon Russell Beale tripped and broke his finger during a performance of Timon of Athens with his understudy hastily called to fill in for the final scenes.

Then last night, at a preview performance of James Graham's new political drama This House, after being let into the theatre rather late we were informed that Phil Daniels who plays labour whip Bob Mellish was indisposed. The producers could have cancelled, it being a preview after all, but decided instead that the show must go on and an unrehearsed understudy stepped in, script in hand to take the role.

He did a sterling job and, in what was a nice touch, finished his last line throwing his script into a box of belongings his character was moving, as if it was part of the performance.

But what of the rest of the play? Well for someone who knows little about the inner workings of Parliament today let alone in the 1970s pre-television days when this was set, it was fascinating.

Graham has created a fictional story based loosely on some real accounts and anecdotes from those in Parliament at the time. Then, it was unique situation: a hung Parliament followed by a very slim Labour majority which left the latters power precarious at best.

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LabFest 2012: Occupied @theatre503

First time at Theatre 503* in Battersea last night thanks to playwright Carla Grauls whose new play Occupied is being performed as part of the LabFest 2012 - a festival of full-length, new plays.

It's a great little theatre (if a little warm at this time of year), perfect for showcasing new writing and Occupied immediately grabs your attention. Set in a public loo, Alex (Mark Conway) is using the facilities, trousers around his ankles reading a paper, Andreya (Rosie Hilal) is playing Rule Britannia very slowly on an accordion and a Tom (Luke Waldock) lies tied up and seemingly unconscious on the floor. 

Tom has been kidnapped by Alex and Andreya who are Romanian immigrants living in the toilet. Alex wants to know how to be British and plans to find out from Tom. And so we embark on an absurdist journey of cultural stereotypes and prejudices, learning a little on the way about what it takes to survive or even merely exist in modern western society. Each character, we discover, is running away from something and hoping to find something better.

It is a clever premise, nicely executed and staged, at times funny and quite poignant and rattles along at an entertaining pace in the main. 

However, for the subject matter I would have like it to have been just a little bit more challenging and have had a little more back story for Alex and Tom. For the latter and without giving too much away, there isn't enough to satisfactorily explain how he ended up in the situation he did and I'm not sure whether we are supposed to feel sympathetic or whether he is just an attention seeking melodramatic.

Plaudits must go to the cast though who have had limited time to rehearse and you really couldn't tell - certainly three names I'll keep an eye out for, as I will Carla Grauls. It will be interesting to see what they all do next.

Occupied is only playing for three nights and finishes tomorrow. 

* Get there early grab a drink in the Latchmere pub and head upstairs to the theatre where there are some huge comfy sofas.