35 posts categorized "Southwark Playhouse" Feed

Review: Faction Theatre's Liverpool-set Vassa Zheleznova, Southwark Playhouse

Vassa-Image-AWFaction Theatre has taken Maxim Gorky's play about a matriarchal struggle to maintain wealth and status for her family and set it in Liverpool during the 1990's dock strikes.

It made me think of the TV series Bread and there are other parallels too aside from the Liverpool setting. Vassa (Sian Polhill-Thomas) is a formidable woman who runs the family and its business. If you ever saw her at home rather than at work she would surely be sat at the head of the table like Ma Boswell in comedy series. Vassa also has a philandering and alcoholic husband (Luke Shaw) and children that disappoint her.

However Vassa Zheleznova's story is one of a woman who started out with very little, married into money - a shipping business - and quickly realised that if she didn't take control they would lose it all. The irony is that her family, far from recognising all her efforts, seem determined to destroy everything they have.

Her husband has been snapped by the paparazzi with an under age girl, her son has married an environmental campaigner and been arrested and her daughter Nata (Nicole Hartley) has been believes you can only be happy if you are poor. Then there is the little matter of  the dock workers' strike which means the business is losing money.

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Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Southwark Playhouse or when Stan went on stage to play a flower #7actordream

Midsummer-1At the end of this promo video for Go People's A Midsummer Night's Dream an actor says that 'everyone single person will come away with a slightly different experience' and they weren't kidding. I've had actors deliver lines at me, ad lib lines at me, throw stuff at me, sit next to me, even fall in my lap but I've never been dragged on stage to play a part before. Not until last night at the Southwark Playhouse anyway.

This isn't A Midsummer Night's Dream for purists, Go People have added an extra premise that they are a company of seven actors attempting to play all 17 parts. They also only have about four props between them but are going to give it a go with a bit of imagination and imagining from the audience.

When Puck (Melanie Fullbrook) is asked by Oberon (Ludovic Hughes) to fetch a wild pansy to use as a love potion, in lieu of a prop flower Puck grabbed me. So there I am in the middle of the stage with Oberon gripping my hands and intently telling me all about how he discovered said love potion. At least I think that was the speech he was delivering, at the time I was more concerned with the fact that I was actually on the friggin' stage and feeling just a teeny bit self-conscious.

But it didn't end there. I was whisked off to wait back stage by Puck while the next scene was in progress.  Then Puck said something like 'have fun with it' and lead me back on stage to 'work my flower magic'. Randomly waving your hands sort of works for a magic potion being administered, doesn't it? Later Oberon assisted by holding my hand and moving it in a delicately, elegant gesture. And I just wanted to face palm thinking 'yep that would have been better'.

Now at this point I should add that earlier we'd been asked to imagine there was a large oak tree in the middle of the stage which all the actors subsequently stepped around when moving from one side to the other. So when I was excused from my flower magic duties I felt I should carefully avoid the imaginary tree on my way back to my seat, in keeping with the spirit of things, which seemed to go down quite well. 

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Review: Tennessee Williams adaptation One Arm, Southwark Playhouse

One-Arm2Adapted from a short story and un-produced screenplay by Tennessee Williams, One Arm tells the story of Ollie (Tom Varey) a prize-winning boxer who loses his arm and winds up on death row.

Flicking back and forth between Ollie awaiting his execution in prison and the story of how he ended up there, this is a tragic tale of a life full of promise to a life cut short.

When Ollie loses his arm he loses his livelihood and is forced to hustle on the streets. He is good looking and people are drawn to him because of his missing arm but for Ollie it makes him feel incomplete and ugly and he retreats emotionally.

He finds it difficult to settle and ends up travelling widely, making an impression wherever he goes. It isn't until he is in the last few weeks of his life that he realises just what an impression he has made.

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February's theatre hottie

Well you all seemed to love January's hottie of the month and luckily February has had some strong contenders. Thought it might go to Oliver Chris in Closer - love Oliver Chris - but then I went to see Gods and Monsters at Southwark Playhouse last weekend. No contest, February's theatre hottie is Will Austin.

When he first appears on stage he's wearing jeans and a white vest and I swear the audience collectively held their breath. Having seen him in the flesh, he looks like he's been spending even more time down the gym since these pictures were taken.

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Gods and Monsters is his stage debut and if you won't get a chance to see it, he'll be playing (another) marine in Mission Impossible 5. Not er..convinced? Well there are some more pics here.

Missed January's hottie, find him here.


Review: Gods and Monsters (and men in the buff), Southwark Playhouse

 

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Ian Gelder and Will Austin in Gods and Monsters, Southwark Playhouse. Production photo by Annabel Vere

It was noticeable that the audience for Gods and Monsters at Southwark Playhouse yesterday afternoon was predominantly male. In fact, I could count on both my hands the number of women present, which made for a blissfully non-existent queue for the ladies at the interval.

Gods and Monsters is about James Whale, the London theatre turned Hollywood film director who was most well known for directing Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein in the 1930s. He was, unusually for the time, openly gay. The play also carries warnings of nudity. I like to think it isn't the latter that is drawing in the crowds but this production has garnered a certain reputation since it opened (see photo).

The play sees Whale (Ian Gelder) in his later years, in his California home, recovering from the effects of a stroke. He is in pain and his memory and word recall can come and go but his medication make him sluggish so he tries not to take it. He is encouraged to paint again, something he did when he was younger but, with mischievous charm, uses it as an excuse to get young men to disrobe. 

With flash backs to his youth and early relationships at University and then as an officer in the First World War, we get a picture of man who was rose from a humble background on the back of his artistic talent and cleverness. A man who loved men.

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Review: Macabre comedy Grand Guignol, Southwark Playhouse

ImageThe nights are drawing in and the Grand Guignol in early 20th Century Paris is drawing in the crowds for its macabre and terrifying horror shows. Meanwhile outside on the streets of Monmatre a monster carries out his gruesome murders. 

Into this scenario steps eminent psychologist Dr Alfred Binet (Matthew Pearson) who is conducting a study of 'creatives': "Actors, playwrights, lunatics. They are all imminently fascinating to me."

And so it begins, a witches cauldron of horror, melodrama, satire and farce with a pinch of murder mystery added for good measure.

The actors at the Grand Guignol are pretentious and affected, the stage manager/props maker bossy and the owner of the theatre demanding in the pursuit of profit. The theatre's resident writer Andre De Lorde (Jonathan Broadbent) is a gentle soul but a slave to his craft and haunted by Edgar Allen Poe whom he relies on for inspiration (a terrifying Andy Williams complete with stuffed raven on his shoulder).

Later we meet the theatre critic Level (Andy Williams again). He is all that you imagine in this context but with a delightful twist.

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Review: The grimly poetic Debris at Southwark Playhouse

Debris, Harry McEntire (Michael) and Leila Mimmack (Michelle), photo credit Richard Davenport RWD187
Harry McEntire and Leila Mimmack in Debris, Southwark Playhouse Photo by Richard Davenport

I'm a huge Philip Ridley fan and Dennis Kelly's writing reminds me of him. Kelly's play Debris -  receiving a 10th anniversary brush down at the Southwark Playhouse - has a similar poetry, a potent mix of shockingly grim reality, black humour and a narrative that is evocative and affecting.

Brother and sister Michael (Harry McEntire) and Michelle (Leila Mimmack) recount the story of their lives blending fantasy and reality with a child's interpretation and some scarily mature observations. It jumps back and forth in time and between the siblings eventually drawing everything together.

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Review: Three Sisters at the Southwark Playhouse

Three_Sisters_Web_circle2This production of Chekhov's Three Sisters is a version by Anya Reiss who has modernised the language and placed the sisters in a British enclave, in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, from where the British army is about to withdraw. The characters have mobile phones and iPads and rather than wanting to return to Moscow the sisters want to return to London.

The problem with going down this path is one of context. The basic premise of Chekhov's play is that the three woman are trapped in a man's world, unable to fulfil their desires and return home because they can't do so without their brother Andrei. Those constraints just don't exist in this modern context and the production just reminded me of that fact all the way through.

In the same way that my inner voice is screaming "just sell the friggin' cherry orchard" in this I just wanted to yell: "get onto Expedia and book yourself a flight". And in the same context would Masha stay with her husband whom she resents?

Stuck in a place they don't want to be the three sisters and their army friends philosophise on their place in society, their worth and happiness. However, all this got clouded by the modernity of the setting and considering its trimmed running time - 2 hours 10 including interval - it felt a little slow and stodgy.

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Review: Tracy Letts' Superior Donuts at the Southwark Playhouse

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Production photo by Tristram Kenton

The two Tracy Letts-penned films I've seen were distinctive for their bitter sharpness exposing darker, uglier aspects of human nature often viscerally. His new play, Superior Donuts at the Southwark Playhouse is far gentler by comparison; while not shying away from the darker aspects of life it is generally more subtly done.

Arthur (Mitchell Mullen) is the son of Polish immigrants and runs the family doughnut shop in a poor suburb of Chicago. Well I say run it, he seems to be running it into the ground as the Starbucks gentrification of the neighbourhood creeps ever closer. He gives away doughnuts to his regulars: a homeless woman, two local cops and a Russian immigrant - the latter wants to buy Arthur's store.

Arthur's previous assistant has quit, essentially over an argument about politics and is suspected of being behind the vandalism the store has suffered. When 21-year old Franco (Jonathan Livingston) turns up to take over the job he is full of ambition and plans for the shop but Arthur isn't immediately convinced.

At its heart this is an unlikely friendship story. Arthur is depressed and haunted by the past. He dodged the draft during the Vietnam war fleeing to Canada, his ex-wife has just died and he hasn't seen his daughter for years. Franco is the antithesis, full of life and ideas. He's just finished writing his first novel which he started when he was 14 but he too has a past which is starting to catch up with him.

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Review: Jekyll and Hyde at the Southwark Playhouse

JekyllandHydeImageFlipping The Bird's re-imagining of the famous Jekyll and Hyde story garnered five star reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe and has now transferred to the Southwark Playhouse for a short run. In it playwright Jonathan Holloway has turned Dr Jekyll into a woman conducting mysterious experiments the result of which are graphically revealed towards the end of the piece.

The Jekyll and Hyde story, still set in Victorian times, is introduced by two sort of narrators the premise being one is trying to buy Jekyll's diary from the other. They also play various instruments - a live soundtrack to help generate atmosphere to this supposedly creepy and grim tale.

The problem is that the notes in the programme from director Jessica Edwards make the play sound far more interesting than it actually is. The characters feel under developed, for example, Edwards would have us believe that the female Dr Jekyll violently alters herself as a response to the restrictions on women during the Victorian age when, in fact, her behaviour just comes across as a bit odd and the plot overly contrived.

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