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June 2016

#RADAfest Review: Night Kitchen Cabaret's Family Tree, RADA

Festival_2015_family_treeRuby (Roses Urquhart) runs a cabaret from her kitchen in the East End. The night of the cabaret is fast approaching and Ruby's has lost two of her acts but can she pull a show out of the bag in time for the arrival of her cousin (once removed) who lives on another planet?

She's not on her own, she has her adopted family and friends around her all of whom have their own problems to solve. In the corner of the kitchen, Mabel (Jo Bowis) is trying to find the missing ingredient to distil a hangover-free gin which Sapphire (Clare Barrett), the temperamental French chef, might be able to help with but she needs to face the past. Then there is the Boy Bun (Jordon Stevens), a waif Ruby has taken in, but he likes to sleep in the dog basket and has to face his nightmarish fears. But, there are always the dead relatives to call upon.

It is a circus of characters with Ruby as a sort of ringmaster or conductor keeping everything in some sort of order. It's a story that is part (Grimm) fairytale, part musical and part variety show. There is puppetry, hoola hoops, juggling, acrobatics, dancing, magic and comedy weaved through the story - or is the story weaved through the variety acts? It is amusing, entertaining and often laugh out loud funny.

The set is impressive and imaginatively manipulated for what are a series of loosely connected set pieces. It is performed with skill and panache and I particularly enjoyed Jordon Steven's Boy Bun who has a twitchy energy and streetwise innocence.

Family Tree is a fun show, polished and brilliantly executed and there are two performances left as part of the RADA Festival which finishes this weekend. It is 70 minutes long and I'll be looking out for what Roses Urquhart's Night Kitchen Cabaret do next. It's getting a fun five stars from me.


Review: Finding the truth in Faith Healer, Donmar Warehouse

Faith-Healer-Background-1300x500-2016-updateThe small stage at the Donmar Warehouse is veiled with a curtain of pouring rain, similar to the torrential down pours we've had recently. The rain stops and the stage is revealed for what will be the first of four monologues that make up Brian Friel's play Faith Healer.

It reminded me of driving on a motorway in heavy rain and those brief moments of respite when you pass under a bridge. It is an appropriate image for a play that sees three people telling the same story; they all end up at the same point in the narrative but take different paths to get there.

Frank Hardy (Stephen Dillane) is a faith healer travelling the remote corners of the British Isles with his wife Grace (Gina McKee) and manager Teddy (Ron Cooke). Frank starts the story telling us about a night in a rural pub in his native Ireland and then rewinding to what led them there. Grace follows with her story and then Teddy, finishing with Frank who concludes the story of the night in the pub.

What you get is different versions and different perspectives - some very different perspectives - and Friel leaves you to pick over the different narratives to determine what actually happened and the nature of each of the characters.

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Review: Gay love triangles and tangles in This Much, Soho Theatre upstairs

320x320.fitandcropSeemed appropriate to be watching a play about gay relationships in Soho while the Pride celebrations were cranking up in the streets outside.

In John Fitzpatrick's play Gar (Lewis Hart) is in a steady relationship with Anthony (Simon Carroll-Jones), who is house proud and hints that he wants marriage and kids. However, Gar has also just met Albert (Will Alexander) through a dating app and he's young, exciting, steals biscuits to impress and gets his cock out in public.

Gar wants his (wedding) cake and to eat is as well or rather he doesn't know whether he is the 'cake' or 'eat it' type. He wants to wear a wedding dress and dance with his friends but he wants what comes with marriage and a longer term relationship.

Anthony offers Gar love, stability and domesticity whereas Albert offers excitement, passion and no strings. But it is more complex than that, it is a play about how relationships define you. Both Gar and Anthony's attitude towards marriage and relationships is shaped by their parents, whether that means they want something very different or hanker after something similar. Certainly, at times, it feels as if Gar's behaviour is a way of sticking two fingers up at his parents and in particular his dad who hasn't spoken to him since he came out.

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Production photos: Mike Bartlett's new play Wild, Hampstead Theatre

Very excited about seeing this one next week. Have always had a preference for Mike Bartlett's 'smaller' plays such as Cock, An Intervention and Bull rather than big production numbers like Earthquakes in London - although King Charles III is an exception to that. Wild has a cast of three and from these pictures looks like a fairly straightforward setting so it's already ticking a lot of boxes. It runs at the Hampstead Theatre until July 16.

Jack Farthing (Andrew) in Wild at Hampstead Theatre. Photo by Stephen Cummiskey (4)
Jack Farthing (Andrew) in Wild at Hampstead Theatre. Photo by Stephen Cummiskey
Caoilfhionn Dunne (Woman) and Jack Farthing (Andrew) in Wild at Hampstead Theatre. Photo by Stephen Cummiskey (1)
Caoilfhionn Dunne (Woman) and Jack Farthing (Andrew) in Wild at Hampstead Theatre. Photo by Stephen Cummiskey

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Dr Faustus Q&A with Kit Harington and Jamie Lloyd and tales of slow-dancing and 'weird shit'

6a0133ec96767e970b01b7c80f05da970b-320wiSo I found myself back in the Duke of York's watching Dr Faustus again last night - there was a pair of £15 tickets on the front row so I couldn't resist. Following the performance, there was Q&A with director Jamie Lloyd, Kit Harington plus Craig Stein, Brian Gilligan and Garmon Rhys.

Chairs were set up on the tiny bit of stage that protrudes from underneath the safety curtain behind which the clean-up operation could be heard. Jamie Lloyd said he felt for the stage management team who had the big job of cleaning up after each performance (puke of various colours, soil, flour, poo, blood and food).

Everyone was in a relaxed and jovial mood which made for an often amusing discussion. Here are some of the highlights:

Jamie and Kit were asked about casting:

JL said he has a list of plays he wants to do and he wanted to work with Kit so he sent him a couple of things to look at one of which was Dr Faustus.

KH said if he reads a script and then wants to immediately read it again then he wants to do it. He likes juicy, wacky and weird roles: 'I love weird shit'. In Dr Faustus, he loved the contemporary sections of the play spliced with the Marlowe original. 

How do you learn your lines and approach the role?

KH said that JL likes the actors 'off book' and he looked at how much there was in the script and thought 'oh shit' so he booked a cottage in Wales, cut off from everything and 'spent four days pummelling it'. Then there was one of those pauses when everyone is thinking it but no one wants to say until JL kindly stepped in quipped 'but what about the lines?' Much laughter at that, naturally.

Once he recovered he went on to say how he didn't know what the premise would be. He saw a magician friend and thought it would be like the poster (pictured).  But then JL told him that Dr Faustus is just in his room, it's all in his head and everyone is in their pants. So he approached it as if he going through a psychotic episode, that he is on some big, bad trip.

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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: Hamlet has a mother his friends would like to... in Gertrude - The Cry, Theatre N16

Izabella Urbanowicz as Gertrude and Alexander Hulme as Claudius in Gertrude at Theatre N16 (c) Roy Tan
Izabella Urbanowicz as Gertrude and Alexander Hulme as Claudius in Gertrude at Theatre N16 (c) Roy Tan

Spent a lot of time during this production of Howard Barker's Gertrude - The Cry thinking about the playwright and what had inspired him. As the play progressed I couldn't help wondering if he'd been jilted or spurned but I'll come back to that.

The Cry is a re-imagining of Shakespeare's Hamlet but with his mother Gertrude as the central character. The cards are laid on the table in the opening scene. Gertrude (Izabella Urbanowicz) and her lover Claudius (Alexander Hulme) are going to kill her husband, Old Hamlet, and they copulate on his body as he dies. Copulate is too polite, the word 'f*ck' more accurately sums up the sentiment of the act.

Gertrude is sexy and sexually objectified. She's 35-years old, we keep being told by Barker's script, and I'm not sure if that is suppose to make us think 'she's young and has certain appetites' or that 'she's too old for such passion'. The opening act elicits from her the cry of the title and Claudius becomes obsessed with that sound and the emotion behind it. He wants to make her make it again.

But Claudius isn't the only one obsessed with Gertrude. Polonius of Shakespeare's play is reborn as Cascan (Stephen Oswald) Gertrude's loyal servant who knows exactly what she wants without her even asking. Then there is Albert (David Zachary) who is open about his desire for carnal knowledge of his friend Hamlet's mother. Gertrude flirts with all and is unfaithful to Claudius.

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Review: Helen McCrory is both playful and doleful in the gripping The Deep Blue Sea, National Theatre

Tumblr_o32so5LNaE1qci1qdo1_500The Lyttleton Theatre's safety curtain rises to reveal a flat. The walls are gauzy so you can see the corridor and stairs beyond including the upstairs landing. On the floor in front of the fire is a woman covered in a blanket and outside the door someone is calling anxiously for 'Mrs Page'.

Terrence Rattigan's 1952 play The Deep Blue Sea opens with a failed suicide. Hester (Helen McCrory) has taken some aspirin and turned the gas tap on but the attempt ultimately fails for the want of another shilling. It is a moment of control that fails, perhaps.  A moment of control in, what we subsequently discover, is an unhappy, out-of-control life.

The suicide attempt exposes Hester's secret to her neighbours. Freddie Page (Tom Burke) - a former test pilot - isn't her husband but her lover who drinks too much and prefers to spend his weekends playing golf with his friends. Her husband Lord William Colyer (Peter Sullivan) is a High Court judge and has thus far refused to grant her a divorce.

Helen McCrory's Hester is a mixture of doleful, manipulative and charming. There are glimpses of an endearing playfulness as well as a desperation as she realises that she is losing Freddie. She is a woman who realises that her hold on the men in her life is sexual but what she wants is something beyond that.

When Freddie unpacks his heart to her when they first meet has she misread the signs? There is pride too - is it pride that prevents her from accepting her husband's offer she does, after all, light up when he talks about their friends and social life? Lord Collyer is a proud man too but is it pride or love that won't let him give up Hester?

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Review: Ralph Fiennes is Richard III, Almeida Theatre

RIII_IMAGE_1470x690_72As soon as I stepped into the Almeida auditorium and saw the stage I got the reference. There was a grave-sized earthy hole around which there were spotlights and actors dressed in white, forensic-style jump-suits who were excavating bones. The last to be lifted is a twisted spine which is a macabre sight and sets the tone.

The grave excavation is a nice merging of history and fiction and is used to bookend Rupert Goold's production. It was also a promising start to what is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays.

When Ralph Fiennes' Duke of Gloucester appears for the 'winter of discontent' speech it is a slow, deliberate delivery. He makes sure he has everyone's attention, holding people's gaze.

His Richard is a snake, slithering slowly, fixing you in his eyes so that you daren't look away but a snake which has a sudden deadly bite. I've seen productions where he's played as a loveable villain - dangerous but charming. There is no such charm here. He is pure evil, prone to occasional violent outbursts, particularly towards women when his violence turns sexual. He is a coward in that respect. He's not a hands-on murderer as he is sometimes portrayed, he leaves that to others, instead, he picks his fights with those he can easily overpower.

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