Review: Queens of Sheba, Battersea Arts Centre or this is why I go to the theatre

Queens of Sheba is a play of contrasts it is angry and joyous, fun and sad, quietly contemplative and in your face loud.

Queens of Sheba - Ali Wright-56
Queens of Sheba: Photo: Ali Wright

Re-Review: Nouveau Riche's Queens of Sheba was one of my favourite shows of the Edinburgh fringe last year. It reminded me of why I go to the theatre and how powerful and entertaining good theatre can be.

So I was thrilled to get the chance to see it again, this time in London at the Battersea Art Centre.

Based on real experience, its narrative reflects the dual prejudices faced by black women today - racism and sexism, or 'misogynoir'.

Powerful and reflective

Four performers bring to life a series of powerful vignettes each reflecting different experiences.

It starts with the workplace before moving on to a date with a white man, being refused entry into a nightclub, treatment by a black boyfriend and getting unwanted amorous attention while out.

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New production photo for next year's Uncle Vanya...what a cast

A new production photo of the principal cast of next year's Uncle Vanya has landed in my inbox. And what a cast:
 
Uncle-Vanya-Ensemble-c-Muse-Creative-Communications-photography-by-Seamus-Ryan
Uncle Vanya – Toby Jones
Astrov – Richard Armitage
Yelena – Rosalind Eleazar
Sonya – Aimee Lou Wood
Nana – Anna Calder-Marshall
Grandmaman – Dearbhla Molloy
Telegin – Peter Wight
Professor Serebryakov – Ciarán Hinds
 
Particularly excited to see Aimee Lou Wood who was brilliant in Downstate at the National Theatre and Sex Education on Netflix.
 
It's a new adaptation by Conor McPherson directed by Ian Rickson and you can see it at the Harold Pinter Theatre from January 14 Jan.
 

Review: La Clique, Spiegeltent Leicester Square - Sexy, saucy, wow moments and laughs

There is a festive start to the La Clique cabaret of song and acrobatic show but naturally, it is ironic.

Zoe Marshall Lydia Norman La Clique
Zoe Marshall and Lydia Norman in La Clique. Photo Craig Sugden.

This is the church of misfits and weirdos where difference is celebrated in a decadent, saucy and sometimes humorous way. 

Our hostess/compere for the evening is Bernie Dieter, whom I saw in a similar role for Little Death Club on the South Bank in April.

In a sequined catsuit and towering stilettos, she sets a tone that pushes beyond suggestiveness, singling out audience members for humourous/cringe-worthy humiliation (don't sit near the front if you want to left alone).

She launches us towards a dazzling array of acrobatics and circus acts with live music accompaniment by singer Kelly Wolfgramm and band.

Dieter pops up from time to time throughout - if you've seen her before her repertoire will be familiar - and Wolfgramm also comes forward to perform songs periodically (cue an impromptu singalong to her version of Roxette's It Must Have Been Love).

Acts with added sauce and sexiness

The acts may be familiar - aerial acrobatics, hair hanging, juggling, sword swallowing, fire eating etc but each is delivered with a brash sauciness, the costumes often looking like something from the window display of Agent Provocateur or a men's aftershave advert.

Nonetheless, you can't accuse the performers of using titillation as cheap entertainment, they are extremely skilled often bringing a fresh edge to the familiar.

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Review: Crisis? What Crisis? Colab Factory - Parabolic Theatre's political role-playing in the winter of discontent

It's 1979 and the Labour Government is facing a vote of no-confidence, out on the streets there is civil unrest, lorry drivers are on strike and more industries threaten to follow. Can you save the day?

Crisis What Crisis  Courtesy of Russell Cobb (3)
Crisis? What Crisis? Photo: Russell Cobb

Parabolic Theatre's latest immersive experience is more of a role-playing game than theatre thrusting the audience into decision-making, negotiation and media interviews.

'Staged' on the floor of an old office building near The CoLab Factory in Borough, the space is divided up with clusters of furniture either desks and chairs or sofa's set around coffee tables or TV.

The walls have Labour campaign posters and charts on which to monitor industrial unrest and economic performance - inflation, FTSE, Government spending power etc - this is the pre-computer, pre-digital world.

Telephones ring, a fax-machine hums, the door buzzer sounds and there is general hustle and bustle.

Players in a crisis

There is no introduction, you are thrown straight into the world of the Winter of Discontent and it is up to you and your fellow 'players' to defeat the no-confidence vote and get the unions back on side without pushing the economy over the edge.

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Review: On Bear Ridge, Royal Court - heart-wrenching, tense and laugh out loud funny

There is a vulnerability in the ordinariness and something epic in its simplicity. 

On Bear Ridge by the NTW and Royal Court Theatre Photo by Mark Douet I80A8399
Rhys Ifans and Rakie Ayola in On Bear Ridge by the NTW and Royal Court Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet


Warplanes occasionally roar across the sky above John Daniel (Rhys Ifans) and Noni's (Rakie Ayola) grocery store and butchers on Bear Ridge.

They wave knives and shout at them because it makes them feel better. Then the quiet of the falling snow returns.

It is reflective of the tone of Ed Thomas' play On Bear Ridge, emotions that momentarily crack and shatter before a jagged peace returns.

Up in the mountain, in an unidentified country - although it is easy to imagine it is Wales - Bear Ridge store has long ceased trading.

Customers and community have left

It's shelves empty, the fridge is quiet, John Daniel and Noni are down to their last bag of potatoes but they won't leave like the people who were once their customers have.

Grief and loss keep them on the desolate Bear Ridge. Loss of their son, loss of the community in which they were a part and loss of a language - a culture and identity.

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Interview: "It's a bit like being in an episode of The Thick of It... set in 1979" - Owen Kingston on his new immersive show.

Parabolic Theatre’s immersive theatre show Crisis? What Crisis? cracks open the government machine and gives the audience the chance to get hands-on with the levers of power.

Owen Kingston
Director Owen Kingston

I spoke to director Owen Kingston about the show, what immersive theatre adds to the audience experience, how the company prepare for the unexpected and advice for those who are shy about getting involved?

Crisis? What Crisis? Is an immersive experience - how does it work?

All the events of the show take place in a Government office building in 1979.

The country has just been through the “winter of discontent” where strikes brought the country to its knees, and now Jim Callaghan's government is facing a vote of no confidence.  

In our shows, the audience is firmly in the driving seat narrative-wise.

We don't go as far as giving our audience specific roles, but we do give them a reason to be present in the world of the show.

In “Crisis? What Crisis?” our audience members are special advisors to government ministers, and they have been gathered together to try and solve some of the big problems facing the country while all the MPs are in parliament debating in advance on the no-confidence vote. 

The audience as a whole has to actively engage with these problems and try and solve them.

This can involve negotiating with Union representatives over the phone or in person, persuading MPs to try and vote in a particular manner, or choosing financial policies to enact to try and stabilise the economy.

The whole thing feels like a cross between a theatre performance and a board game, where the decisions taken by the audience affect the direction of the story.

Tackling problems affecting one part of the country might worsen problems in another part, and it is down to the audience to prioritise what to fix and how, and to try and work out what will have the biggest influence on the no-confidence vote, which is the ultimate metric of success or failure.

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Review: Vassa, Almeida Theatre - looking for the laughs in this blackest of black comedies

Vassa is a pitch-black comedy... so pitch black that you struggle to see where the laughs are.

Vassa programme almeida

The set for Vassa, designed by Fly Davis, is a wood-panelled room, windowless but with five doors.

When a door is open, characters often loiter outside. When they are closed there seems to be a constant stream of exits and entrances - and more than one huffed slam.

In a farce, they would be used for comic effect and someone, no doubt, would end up with one slammed in their face.

But Vassa, adapted from Maxim Gorky's original by Mike Bartlett, is a pitch-black comedy rather than a farce, so pitch black that you struggle to see where the laughs are.

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Review: The Man In The White Suit, Wyndhams Theatre - Does this Ealing comedy adaptation revive the laughs

Foley has injected the odd contemporary quip about proroguing parliament, Brexit and capitalism which landed well with the audience.

1-Stephen-Mangan-in-The-Man-in-the-White-Suit-Credit-Nobby-Clark
Stephen-Mangan in The Man in the White Suit. Photo: Nobby Clark

The woman sat behind me at Wyndham's Theatre for The Man In The White Suit, last night, had a very distinctive laugh. It was the sort of laugh that is infectious, it made me chuckle more than once.

She was obviously enjoying Sean Foley's adaptation of the 1950s Ealing comedy which stars Stephen Mangan as clever but hapless scientist Sidney and Kara Tointon as Daphne, a posh, mill owner's daughter.

The physical comedy and slapstick, in particular, made her guffaw as did the way Daphne walked with an exaggerated, seductive swagger.

Loud chuckles

Sidney's 'farting' lab equipment, explosive experiments and the way food and drink seemed to gravitate towards crotches were also afforded loud chuckles.

The story centres around his invention of an indestructible, dirt-proof cloth. Unable to absorb coloured dye, Sidney has the cloth made into a white suit to demonstrate its unique qualities.

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Review: 'Master Harold'... and the Boys, National Theatre - lessons and losses

It is a play about lessons and devastating loss, about how you can't dance around injustice and its impact.

National-theatre-master-harold-and-the-boys-2160x2160
Athol Fugard's semi-autobiographical play is set in a tea room in Port Elizabeth, South Africa in 1950.

It is a wet afternoon - rain patters on a skylight - and Willie (Hammed Animashaun) and Sam (Lucian Msamati) are making the most of the quiet to practice their ballroom dancing steps ahead of an important competition in two weeks.

Hally (Anson Boon) the owner's son arrives to hang out and do his homework as is his routine.

Spectre of apartheid

There is an obvious friendship between the three, with familiar banter and games but the spectre of apartheid lurks in the background.

As they reminisce about Hally's early childhood we learn how Sam has become an influential figure for Hally who has a difficult relationship with his actual father - an amputee with a drink problem.

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Review: A Day In The Death of Joe Egg, Trafalgar Studios - old attitudes and familiar struggles

Peter Nichol's 1967 comedy A Day In The Death of Joe Egg demonstrate both how far we've come in our treatment of and attitudes towards disability but equally how the moral dilemmas and struggles remain.

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg - (L2R) Lucy Eaton  Claire Skinner  Storme Toolis  Patricia Hodge  Toby Stephens  Clarence Smith. Photographer Credit - Marc Brenner
A Day in the Death of Joe Egg - (L-R) Lucy Eaton, Claire Skinner, Storme Toolis, Patricia Hodge, Toby Stephens and Clarence Smith. Photographer - Marc Brenner

Fifteen-year-old Joe (Storme Toolis) has cerebral palsy, is wheelchair-bound and can't communicate. 

To cope, her parents Bri (Toby Stephens) and Sheila (Claire Skinner) use humour, creating a persona for Joe but it is putting a strain on their marriage.

Bri and Sheila (and later other characters) break the fourth wall telling the audience their thoughts on each other and their life, revealing not only the history of their relationship and raising Joe but also their inner struggles.

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