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.

Continue reading "Review: The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs, Soho Theatre - fun, flirtation and representation" »


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.

Continue reading "Review: The Breach, Hampstead Theatre - a slow burning, perplexing play" »


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.

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


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.

Continue reading "Guest review: Scandaltown, Lyric Hammersmith - 'a bingo board of Twitter hashtags'" »


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.

Continue reading "Review: SAD, Omnibus Theatre - coping mechanisms in a challenging world" »


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.

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


Is an audience review site what theatre-land needs?

TodayTix has launched an audience review website in the UK. Called Show-Score, you can rate and simply review* what you've seen, and the site collates the scores and reviews.

Screen shot of Show-score theatre rankings
Show-Score has launched in London, allowing audience ratings and reviews of plays and musicals

It's something that has been around in New York for a number of years. Here in the UK, other than allowing comments under online reviews, there isn't anything similar that gives audiences a voice. 

Film sites have been letting audiences rate and review for years. Rotten Tomatoes aggregates critics' and audience ratings, running the two scores side by side. It's an interesting comparison because the two don't always agree.

The spectrum of voices writing about theatre has broadened in the last 10-15 years, with reviews websites and bloggers adding to the critics' reviews. Social media has been the platform for audience opinion, but it is more scattergun.

Show-Score is incentivising audience reviewers with competitions and giveaways. The more reviews you submit, the better your chance.

Prickly reaction

Some critics have been very prickly towards having bloggers step on 'their' turf; what they make of audiences having their say will be interesting to see.

Continue reading "Is an audience review site what theatre-land needs?" »


Review: Who You Are And What You Do, Bread and Roses Theatre - Making sense of spinning wheels

Who You Are And What You Do starts with spinning a wheel to determine the order of the story - it's a quirky idea and has been used in different guises before.

Who You Are And What You Do  Bread and Roses Theatre Mar 2022
Who You Are And What You Do, Bread and Roses Theatre. Photo: Rachel Guest

The wheel has six pieces of paper with words such as "dignity" and "more than this", and once each is chosen (the audience does the spinning), it is pegged to a washing line across the performance space. It has the effect of bunting.

There is glitter on the floor and boxes with various random items, and a Christmas Tree in the corner. The audience is seated around the edge of the space, and it feels like you are attending a children's party. The play kicks off with two clowns larking about doing clown stuff. 

Are they part of the narrative thread or just a scene-setter? There is a clown later entertaining a lonely boy on his birthday (played by a man wearing a dinosaur costume). That story thread contains a workaholic father who is also having an affair.

There is another thread with a woman who has lost the ability to laugh and turns to an ex-child star for lessons. In another, a woman is writing her dating profile, and in another, a couple live in a perpetual state of preparing for Christmas - the husband has dementia.

Continue reading "Review: Who You Are And What You Do, Bread and Roses Theatre - Making sense of spinning wheels" »


Review: The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre - Ruth Wilson is transfixing

You know those times you are watching a play utterly transfixed by what is happening on stage? Yep, well, that's how I felt watching  Ruth Wilson in The Human Voice.

The Human Voice Harold Pinter Theatre poster
The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre Mar 2022

The signs were good. She's a fabulous actress, and she's partnered with director Ivo Van Hove before - in Hedda Gabler at the National Theatre, which earned five stars from me.

An adaptation by Van Hove of Jean Cocteau's challenging play, The Human Voice is not just a monologue; it's one side of a telephone conversation. In the wrong hands, it could be awful. 

The conversation is between a woman (Wilson) and, as we learn, her lover. They have been together for five years, but he is leaving her and marrying another woman the following day, so this will be their last conversation.

There is nothing obvious or affected in Ruth Wilson's performance. We watch her through a large window as if observing her apartment from a neighbouring building. She occasionally walks out of view while talking, and there is something voyeuristic about the whole thing, a feeling which heightened by how oblivious she is to being viewed - or overheard. 

Continue reading "Review: The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre - Ruth Wilson is transfixing" »


Review: Under the Radar, Old Red Lion - mismatched and odd

In Jonathan Crewe's play Under the Radar, journalist Lee Stilling  (Eleanor Hill) is profiling inventor Martin Christensen (Nicholas Anscombe), who has built his own submarine. She is accompanying him on his two-day maiden voyage, and it will be her big scoop.

Under the Radar programme

The first act starts ostensibly as an interview. However, the notebook and pen are quickly forgotten as the two drink their way through a bottle of some home-distilled liquor of Martin's. It turns out both Lee and Martin have daddy issues, and both want to prove themselves.

But the signs are fairly obvious that this isn't going to be about two strangers alone together comparing lives and working out their problems. There are Chekhov's guns all over the place, such as Martin's expressed desire for power and how he likes being on his submarine because he can make the rules. He stops drinking while continuing to top up Lee's glass and questions her about her looks and how it's impacted her career. 

As the conversation about male-female relationships develops, more of Martin's gender bias is exposed, eventually turning into a darker, violent misogyny.

This leads to an utterly bizarre supernatural third act which, visually at least, had me thinking about Beckett's Happy Day. Is this the 'darkly comic' bit as described in the play notes?

When you've had acts of male violence towards a woman described in graphic detail in a previous scene, it's hard to find anything funny.

The acceleration of events between acts 2 and 3 is so rapid that Lee's response is glossed over. Is that what necessitated the odd final act: to give her a voice?

Reflecting on the submarine setting, it turns out to be merely a device to get the two alone and isolated with no phone signal. Other than brief references at the start about the right terms to use (a submarine is a boat, not a ship), the submarine seems to be on autopilot for the entire trip.

It is similar to Lee's role as a journalist; aside from a notebook, she seems ill-equipped to do an interview - no laptop or dictaphone to record the conversation. The fact that she turned up for an overnight work trip with just a handbag also felt strange.

Such detail perhaps wouldn't matter if the play was less disjointed and knew what it wanted to be. Is it a subtle exploration of unconscious bias or exposure of toxic masculinity and male violence? Is it a dark comedy, a thriller or a horror?

There is a lot to say about gender bias and misogyny, but in Under The Radar, it gets submerged.

I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️.

Under The Radar, Old Red Lion Theatre

Written and directed by Jonathan Crewe

Running time: 90 minutes with an interval

Booking until 2 April visit the Old Red Lion Theatre website for more details

Recently reviewed:

The Collaboration, Young Vic - The play that had me on my feet

Henry V, Donmar Warehouse - Kit Harrington dazzles