Review: The Fellowship, Hampstead Theatre - missing in detail and nuance

Roy Williams' play The Fellowship centres on a small family unit, but there are a lot of big things going on.

The Fellowship Production Image 1 L-R CHERRELLE SKEETE  SUZETTE LLEWELLYN © Robert Day
The Fellowship, Hampstead Theatre, June 2022 L-R Cherrelle Skeete and Suzette Llewellyn © Robert Day

Dawn (Cherrelle Skeet) is grieving the loss of a child while caring for her terminally ill mother with little help from her high-flying lawyer sister Marcia (Suzette Llewellyn). She can tell her teenage son Jermaine (Ethan Hazzard) is lying to her, and if it's about what she suspects, she will be fuming.

Marcia, meanwhile, has got herself into a relationship with a married politician, which could potentially end her career, and Jermaine has rekindled ties with someone at the heart of a past tragedy.

Dawn and Marcia's mother was tough with her love, and the sisters were once close, fighting on the front line for justice but lead very different lives now. Jermaine has taken the path of least resistance and is drifting away. Tony (Trevor Laird), Dawn's husband and a touring musician, drifts in and out offering little support for any of it, just getting angry. 

The result is a lot of tension and drama, which highlights a whole raft of interesting themes. However, the result is a play that is over-stuffed and missing in detail and nuance.

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Review: Jitney, Old Vic Theatre - great acting but a slow and frustrating play

About halfway through the first half of Jitney at the Old Vic, I had set my mind on leaving at the interval. I couldn't connect with anything or see any signs of what it was building towards.

Jitney old vic 2022
Jitney, Old Vic theatre 2022

The rapid pace of the opening scene, where the drivers at Becker's (Wil Johnson) jitney office are introduced, is a series of arrivals and departures punctuated by banter. No one character is around long enough to get familiar with, and I struggled to find the depth in the jibes and jokes.

It didn't seem to be leading to anything, and it went on too long.

It wasn't until Rena (Leanne Henlon), the girlfriend of Vietnam vet Youngblood (Solomon Israel), turned up that I felt myself properly tuned in - and I decided to stay. Rena is the only female character and has two of the play's most interesting scenes.

The jitney office is under threat from redevelopment. It's in a deprived area but provides a vital service for the community as licensed cabs avoid the area.

War vets and gossip

Aside from Youngblood, for whom driving is one of three jobs he has, the other drivers are Fielding (Tony Marshall), who is an alcoholic, Doub (Geoff Aymer), a quiet, cautious Korean War vet and Turnbo (Sule Rimi) the volatile gossip.

Shealy (Nnabiko Ejimofor) swaggers in to use the office for his betting operations, and the weary Becker tries to keep everyone in line between drives.

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Review: Britannicus, Lyric Hammersmith - toxic family power struggles and misplaced sympathy

At its heart, Britannicus at the Lyric Hammersmith is a drama about a toxic family who happens to be the ruling class. Agrippina (Sirine Saba), Claudius' fourth wife, persuaded her husband to adopt her son Nero (William Robinson) and make him his heir, passing over Britannicus (Nathaniel Curtis), his son by his third wife.

Britannicus Lyric Hammersmith poster

Nero has spent the early part of his reign as an inspiring leader, but he is suffocating under the control of his mother, so he starts freezing her out, which triggers a power battle between the two. Then he falls in love with Junia (Shyvonne Ahmmad), Britannicus' fiancée, and things get really nasty.

The play might be called Britannicus, but it's really about Nero and his mother.

Robinson's Nero is like a hormonal teenager at times, petulant and peevish. At others, he is dangerous and erratic; his mood turns on a dime in behaviour that reminds me of more than one comic book villain.

Little boy lost

But there are also faint signs of a simple desire to be loved, which emerge in rare moments of tenderness with those around him. When pitted directly against his mother, he can appear like a little boy lost—someone who wanted hugs rather than being groomed for power.

And as a result, despite the terrible things he does, I did feel sorry for him on occasion.

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Review: Amy Adams in The Glass Menagerie, Duke of Yorks Theatre - bright sparks but too many questions

Director Jeremy Herrin has chosen to have two actors playing Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie so that when he is acting as narrator, it is an older, maturer Tom.  

The Glass Menagerie Duke of York's Theatre poster

This older Tom, played by Paul Hilton, sets a reflective, melancholy, almost listless tone to the play, but while he hovers around the edges of the stage during certain scenes, where he is absent, it serves to emphasise that this story is his interpretation of events and sometimes conjecture. Tom Glynn-Carney plays the younger Tom.

Amy Adams' Amanda is the antithesis, a matriarch full of bustle and bristle and constantly needling her children.

She is an irritating spark to her despondent and bored son and pushes her shy, nervous daughter Laura (Lizzie Annis) further into her own world. And, she is such a spark that you feel Amanda's absence when she is on stage.

As the play progresses and the prospect of a 'gentleman caller' gets closer, a youthful coquettishness comes out. Adams' Amanda is less a mother concerned about her daughter's future and more someone living out a fantasy rooted in much happier times.

Problem scene

For me, the problem scene was when Laura was alone with her gentlemen caller Jim (Victor Alli). It feels, tonally, as if it's from a different play. Is that the intention? Not having been there, this scene is very much from the imagination of Tom or what the quiet and mentally fragile Laura chooses to relay.

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Review: The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs, Soho Theatre - fun, flirtation and representation

The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs is one of those plays that unashamedly bursts off the stage, much like the lesbian choir around which the story revolves.

1. The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs_Production_Helen Murray
The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs, Soho Theatre, May 2022. Photo: Helen Murray

Fed up with being invisible, Connie (Shuna Show) puts the choir forward for an audition to perform on the main stage at Pride. They stand a good chance of landing the gig as there are no other lesbian choirs and the organisers of Pride want more lesbians on the bill.

The choir practice is full of banter, flirting and drama (and a bit of singing), but it's a safe, inclusive and supportive space. Until a badly thought through T-shirt slogan threatens to tear the happy band apart.

And that's what makes Iman Qureshi's The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs a potent piece of theatre. It is witty, laugh out loud, funny and warm, but at the same time doesn't shy away from more serious themes.

Not all in the choir are out or can be out for cultural or religious reasons. The play also presents the harsh reality of prejudice which can turn violent.

There is also debate around exclusive vs shared spaces and what that means for trans women. And the lack of lesbian representation and spaces where they can safely meet up, have fun and flirt.

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Review: The Breach, Hampstead Theatre - a slow burning, perplexing play

There is a stillness that descends over a theatre audience when they are gripped and fidgeting when they aren't. In the first half of The Breach at Hampstead Theatre, the audience was fidgeting.

The Breach Production Image 10 L-R STANLEY MORGAN  DOUGGIE MCMEEKIN  JASMINE BLACKBOROW  SHANNON TARBET © Johan Persson
The Breach, Hampstead Theatre, May 2022. L-R Stanley Morgan, Douggie McMeekin, Jasmine Blackborow, Shannon Tarbet. Photo © Johan Persson

Naomi Wallace's play is a slow burn. And this is despite it switching between younger and older versions of the same characters so that you know some of what ultimately happens, just not what triggered it. That comes in the second half and is where it gets interesting.

The younger versions of the characters inhabit 1977. Jude (Shannon Tarbet) is very protective of her brother Acton (Stanley Morgan), who is very clever but bullied for his perceived strangeness. Their mother is struggling to pay the bills after the death of their father in an industrial accident.

Frayne (Charlie Beck) and Hoke (Alfie Jones) both come from comfortable backgrounds. They want Acton's help with their school work and agree to keep the bullies at bay in return.

Jude is suspicious and doesn't brook any nonsense. Despite this, Frayne, Hoke and Acton form a tight but toxic friendship of dependency and power. They begin to challenge each other to make sacrifices to prove their loyalty.

These are sacrifices with increasingly dark consequences.

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Review: Age of Rage, Barbican Theatre - mud, blood and flames in this fast-paced, powerful Greek tragedy epic

Ivo Van Hove is back at the Barbican with a bang and another epic, Age of Rage, which spans six Greek tragedies that follow the fall out of the Trojan war.

Age of Rage Barbican Theatre stage set 2022
Barbecue time as the audience arrive for Age of Rage at the Barbican Theatre 2022

Well, actually, there is a bit of back story first, setting out the spark that ignited a chain of revenge before Paris lured Helen away from King Menelaus. It involves a son being fed to his father type of incident, something which is illustrated by meat being cooked on a flaming grill on stage as you arrive.

Fire is just the start for this tragedy of vengeance; blood won't so much be spilt as poured, and in the second half of the 3 hours and 45-minute play, the protagonists will be literally as well as figuratively mired in mud.

Combining the stories, Van Hove focuses on the anger and the violence it begets, but it isn't the male rage; it's the female.

Fathers sacrificing children to win wars has consequences beyond grieving mothers. Clytemnestra, Helen, Hecuba, Cassandra and Electra are thrust into the centre of the story. But they aren't merely ornaments and victims of male violence, abuse and ego, they are out for blood, and all have agency over what happens.

Van Hove mixes media to powerful effect. A large screen is used to show family relationships, and then the projected images of the innocent children appear following their slaughter, always dancing freely. A reminder of the vital life cut short or maybe a new found freedom from the violent mess of the world they've left behind.

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Guest review: Scandaltown, Lyric Hammersmith - 'a bingo board of Twitter hashtags'

The last 24 months have been pandemonium, writes Aceil Haddad, events have been dramatic and satirical. Coupled with the ludicrous nature of social media, you’d think you'd have plenty to script. Except it doesn't quite work in Mike Bartlett's play Scandaltown.

Scandaltown lyric hammersmith official artwork

This adult-pantomime-meets-Blackadder approach does muster a handful of laughs, though more interesting is seeing who laughs when.

Bartlett explores many topics in his topsy turvy play; it’s a bingo board of Twitter hashtags - on par with Just Like That - exploring #capitalism #LGBTQ+ #Partygate #likeforlike #snowflakes.

Bartlett is trying to explore the hypocrisy of the righteous left and the entitled right, demonstrating the similarities of these superficially opposite positions; whilst navigating the role of power and influence in today’s world.

Concepts well worth exploring, certainly, and the theatre is a great place to do this, but at times the play felt lazy, the dialogue inauthentic, and the RP accent exhausting.

One of the greatest issues we are facing as a society is ‘us vs them’, which takes many guises; north vs south, doers vs sayers, left vs right, but there is no resolution.

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Review: SAD, Omnibus Theatre - coping mechanisms in a challenging world

Gloria (Debra Baker) has taken refuge in her attic, distracting herself from the dark winter months and grief by playing punk and dictating entries for her memoir into her laptop.

1. Debra Baker (plays Gloria) SAD Omnibus Theatre Apr 2022
Debra Baker in  SAD Omnibus Theatre Apr 2022. Photo Dan Tsantilis

 

She is crabby to all those who come and visit: her husband Graham (Kevin N Golding), her best friend Magda (Izabella Urbanowicz) and unfaithful neighbour Daniel (Lucas Hare) who climbs through the Velux window for sex.

Victoria Willing's play SAD explores various coping mechanisms for dealing with the challenges, frustrations and trials of life. Gloria chooses to lock herself away. Graham gets angry, sometimes channelling it into a protest, sometimes punching people. Meanwhile, Magda is scared and disappointed and planning to run away. 

The problem is that Gloria is such a difficult central character to spend time with. Rather than a sympathetic portrayal of a middle-aged woman grieving the loss of her mum, feeling the absence of her daughter who has emigrated, and that she's generally failed at life, we instead see someone who is just bitter and peevish.

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Review: The Fever Syndrome, Hampstead Theatre - witty remarks amid a cacophony of themes

Modern families, money and the morals of genetics are just a few of the narrative tensions in Alexis Zegerman's play The Fever Syndrome at Hampstead Theatre.

The Fever Syndrome Image 1 Ensemble Photo © Ellie Kurttz
The Fever Syndrome, Hampstead Theatre April 2022. Photo © Ellie Kurttz

The family at the centre of the story is that of Richard Myers (Robert Lindsay), an eminent geneticist who now has Parkinson's Disease. He lives in a brownstone in Manhatten with his third wife, Megan (Alexandra Gilbreath), who does her best to care for him.

His grown-up children have returned home to see him presented with a prestigious science award.

His eldest child by his first wife is Dot (Lisa Dillon), who has her husband and 12-year daughter in tow. She is sharp, driven and highly protective of her daughter, who has a rare auto-inflammatory condition called the Fever Syndrome.

Then there are the twins Anthony (Sam Marks) and Thomas (Alex Waldmann) by his second wife. Anthony is charismatic, charming, and an opportunistic investor in Silicon Valley - his latest venture is cryptocurrencies. He's the favourite despite his rare appearances at family gatherings.

Thomas is an artist and has his boyfriend with him. He's the odd one out, not being adept at science and desperately wants approval.

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