Review: Lava, Bush Theatre - 'witty, weighted and lyrical'

Last year a critic described a dramatic response to the Black Lives Matter protests, to which Benedict Lombe contributed, as 'more lecture than theatre'. The quote is projected onto the set of her debut play, Lava, at the Bush Theatre.

Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo in 'Lava' at the Bush Theatre. Photo credit Helen Murray_47
Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo in 'Lava' at the Bush Theatre. Photo credit: Helen Murray

It appears about three-quarters of the way through the play, a punctuation point, a punch, perhaps a poke but certainly a powerful note that underlines what has gone before and the overarching message of the piece.

What has gone before is the story of a missing first name in a passport. Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo plays Benedict, recounting the story of getting her British passport renewed and finding out why her first name is missing.

Her investigation takes her back to Congo, the country where she was born but much further back in history to colonialism and the years that followed that have shaped her life and the lives of so many.

It is the tale of a family moving from place to place as Benedict's parents seek out a country where they can lead fulfilled lives - and just be.

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Review: Anna X, Harold Pinter Theatre - Emma Corrin plays the mysterious and magnetic Anna

Anna X by Joseph Charlton is a fresh, contemporary play set in New York that explores identity and acceptance in the modern age.

Anna X Harold Pinter Theatre poster

Anna, played by Emma Corrin, arrives in the city to start an internship at an ultra-trendy fashion and art magazine. She has ambitions to open her own art gallery.

Other than that, she is a blank canvas, the people she meets to fill in the gaps with their own assumptions. And she lets them.

Ariel, played by Nabhaan Rizwan, is also new in town. He left a mediocre - in tech terms - career in San Francisco to launch an exclusive dating app that has caught the eye of investors and catapulted him into the high life.

He's trying to fit into the affluent, high-flyer lifestyle.

Anna meets Ariel at a nightclub where they have one of those shouty conversations over the loud music which is transcribed - including mishearings - on a screen behind them (more of that later).

A mysterious character

He is fascinated by Anna. She is both mysterious and familiar. Independent, forthright, playful and spontaneous. And beautiful. She's out of his world, and he's out of his.

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Review: Shedding A Skin, Soho Theatre - witty, fun and moving

Myah (Amanda Wilkin) is adrift. She goes from one dead-end job to another, trying to fit in until one day she gets called on to be the 'diversity quota' in her company's photos.

Shedding A Skin_Production_Soho_Helen Murray2 smll
Amanda Wilkin in Shedding A Skin, Soho Theatre. Photo: Helen Murray

She snaps, the restraints are off, and this departure is both dramatic and funny - think less eloquent and powerful speech, more scrawling expletives on the office wall.

On a roll, she walks out from her unsupportive boyfriend and finds herself homeless and jobless. She realises too late that it wasn't a good idea to tell her boyfriend he could do what he wants with all her stuff.

Answering an ad on the Tesco notice board, she finds herself living with an elderly Jamaica lady called Mildred on the 15th floor of a tower block with a broken lift.

This time she's going to try harder to make things work. She's going to get her shit together. No, she is.

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Review: J'Ouvert, Harold Pinter Theatre - the theatre I've been waiting to get back to

There has been controversy in the US about a brand of rum called 'J'Ouvert'. It is a term that is both celebratory and has links with the slave trade (read more about that here), and Yasmin Jay's play beautifully captures the contradictions it represents.

J'ouvert poster

Set at the Notting Hill carnival Nadine (Gabrielle Brooks), Jade (Sapphire Joy), Nisha, and Annice Boparai want to enjoy the day, but they also have an agenda.

Nadine has been rehearsing her dance moves and wants to shake off her church upbringing and be the face of the carnival. She is driven by the spirit of Claudia Jones, who founded the carnival and serves as a reminder of the event's origins.

Jade is there to support (and protect) Nadine. She is also being drawn into the world of activism and has a speech to make.

Nisha is a middle-class activist who sees carnival as an opportunity to rally more of the community to her anti-gentrification cause.

Party atmosphere

Before the play starts, the theatre has a party atmosphere, with music playing so that when the curtain rises on carnival day, complete with a DJ at the back of the stage, the scene is set.

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Review: Under Milk Wood, National Theatre, starring Michael Sheen

REVIEW: The National Theatre's production of Under Milk Wood, starring Michael Sheen, was much anticipated and turned into a mixed experience.

Under Milk Wood poster
Back at the National Theatre for Under Milk Wood

It was much anticipated partly because it's my first trip to the National since before the pandemic, in part because I haven't seen Michael Sheen on stage since Hamlet at the Young Vic and partly because I've never seen Under Milk Wood before.

The play is framed in a care home setting, the Milk Wood story, to help an elderly man with dementia remember. We are transported to Welsh fishing village Llareggub (bugger all backwards 🙂) at night, where the residents sleep, their dreams revealed by the narrator (Michael Sheen).

We then follow them into the day and their inner thoughts, which reveal their true feelings - longing, revenge, desire, hope, contentment, frustration, joy and more.

The extraordinary and ordinary

Their thoughts are an extraordinary, emotionally colourful soundtrack to the ordinariness of their day. A day punctured by routine and often mundane tasks.

Michael Sheen's narrator tells us their thoughts using Dylan Thomas' vivid, lyrical language, sometimes with the ensemble playing along as the villagers, sometimes not.

And this is where my experience of watching the play was mixed.

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Review: Walden, Harold Pinter Theatre - space, the frontier that feels too much of stretch

You know when you are watching a play, and you become acutely aware of how an actor is moving around the stage and what they are doing with their hands. It feels conscious and, as a result, distracting.

Walden poster

This was how Walden started. I felt like I was watching a series of acting and directing decisions rather than a story. Maybe it was nerves, this being early in the run.

But it wasn't the only distraction.

Amy Berryman's debut is set in the near future when the earth is either beyond saving or savable with radical lifestyle changes - depending on your perspective.

Those in the former camp are in the process of setting up alternative places for humankind to live on the moon and potentially mars.

Twin sisters Stella (Gemma Arterton) and Cassie (Lydia Wilson) started on the same path. They followed their late astronaut father into working for NASA but for reasons only gradually revealed, Stella has turned her back on science and space.

A life less scientific

She now lives a simple life with her fiance Bryan (Fehinti Balogun) in a cabin in the woods. They grow their own food, and Stella works in the local bar.

Bryan is 'Earth Advocates' an activist organisation determined to show that the planet will heal itself by living with minimal environmental impact.

Cassie, meanwhile, has just returned from a year-long moon mission to great acclaim.

Invited to the cabin, it is quickly obvious this isn't going to be a relaxed and fun sibling reunion.

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Lockdown London theatre walks: Southwark Playhouse and my stage debut with Freddie Fox

I made my London stage debut alongside Freddie Fox at the Southwark Playhouse. It's not how I anticipated the evening panning out as I chose a seat on the front row (it was unallocated seating) to watch a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Southwark Playhouse Feb 2021

Poly was supposed to be with me but hadn't been able to make it, so I was on my own. I entirely blame her for what happened. The actors would never have chosen me to play a flower had she been sat beside me. I'm convinced.

I should probably mention that a comic device of this production was that it had too few actors to play all the parts - seven actors when there are 17 characters  - and only about four props. The fourth wall was broken at the start as we were asked to use our imagination.  

But I didn't need to imagine being dragged onto the stage to play the 'love-in-idleness' blossom which Oberon uses for a love potion.

Despite wanting to imagine being back in my seat, it wasn't easy when the actor playing Oberon was holding my hand, delivering an impassioned speech while looking deep into my eyes.

I thought I conveyed mortification and embarrassment without words particularly well.

However, when the scene was over, and I was able to return to my seat, I got the first laugh of the play by stepping around the tree we'd been asked to imagine in the middle of the stage. #proud

But it didn't end there.

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Sunday theatre question: A song you always associate a play

This week's Sunday theatre question is inspired by a comment made on my Instagram post about how a song played during a production of Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre became forever associated with that play.

Sunday theatre question song

It got me thinking about which songs take me back to a play whenever I hear them. 

I've always loved music (just not musicals) and can find songs very evocative of particular times and places, so it isn't surprising that a stand out scene or play can get linked with a song that is played over it in a particular production.

Probably the strongest link is Chris Isaak's Wicked Game which was played during a pivotal scene in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic, starring Gillian Anderson, Ben Foster and Vanessa Kirby.

It fit so perfectly, tonally and lyrically to what was going on, and whenever I hear it, I think of that play and that scene.

Another song that I always associate with a play is David Bowie's Starman which was used during My Night With Reg at the Donmar Warehouse. It is a song with a bittersweet tone that worked perfectly when it was played for a dance scene at the end of the play.

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Lockdown London theatre walks: Bridge Theatre and a conversion to the groundling experience

One of the newest theatres in London, the Bridge Theatre has already made an impression, not least for making the groundling experience enjoyable.

Bridge Theatre Feb 2021
Bridge Theatre lockdown Feb 2021

Yes, yes, I know there are plenty of groundling fans out there, but whenever I've tried it at the Globe, I've ended up frustrated with the view, tired and cold.

But the groundling experience at the Bridge was completely different. It was indoors for a start. More importantly, there was no fixed stage for the audience to queue up early for so you could get a spot at the front and see properly.

Crowds are always problematic for me as I'm short, so I end up trying to peer over peoples shoulders to see.

I get ahead of myself; I haven't even mentioned the play. Actually, it was two different Shakespeare productions: Julius Caesar and then A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Attracted by the starry cast

And I have to confess if Julius Caesar hadn't starred Ben Whishaw - and Michelle Fairley and David Morrissey - I may not have bothered. And I certainly wouldn't have opted for the groundling experience. (I booked a seat for later in the run, just in case.)

Because the Bridge is a new theatre, the auditorium has been designed to be flexible with a wide variety of staging options. For Julius Caesar (and then MSND), this meant bits of stage rising from the floor so that the location of the performance changed frequently.

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Lockdown London theatre walks: Arcola Theatre - memory of a famous Friend and a friendship

When I think of the Arcola Theatre in Dalston, two things immediately spring to mind. The first involves a famous Friend, the second a friend.

Arcola Theatre Apr 2021
Arcola Theatre in lockdown April 2021

The famous Friend was Rupert Friend, and he was in the Dennis Potter play, Brimstone and Treacle, in the studio space.

It was dark, humourous, and at times uncomfortable play to watch. The play has a domestic setting, but the protagonist Martin (played by Friend) breaks the fourth wall, making asides and direct eye contact with the audience.

Martin is the sort of character written and performed to bring the audience into his confidence while simultaneously making you feel that confidence could be misplaced at any time.

The studio space is small, so proximity to Martin and the sense that something isn't quite right makes that moment when he does catch your eye an all the more uncomfortable experience.

Dangerous stare

Particularly when you are sat on the front row, his head snaps around suddenly, and he fixes you with a dangerous stare, holding your gaze for what seems like an age.

It certainly wasn't for just a moment.

What also makes it memorable is that the character was a real departure for Rupert Friend. I'd seen him in costume dramas on screen, and in the Little Dog Laughed on stage which was a little boring.

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