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September 2016
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October 2016

Review: Mark Strong and Elizabeth Debicki in David Hare's The Red Barn, National Theatre

Theredbarn_2578x1128_0Our first glimpses of the principal cast in The Red Barn is through square or oblong framing which shrink or widen to reveal more or less in a style that is reminiscent of the opening credits of a 60s or 70s TV series or film.

It is 1969 Connecticut, a snow storm is raging and two couples on their way home from a party - Ingrid and Donald (Hope Davis and Mark Strong) and Mona and Ray (Elizabeth Debicki and Nigel Whitmey) - have had to abandon their car and head on foot in the blizzard to Ingrid and Donald's home. Not all of them make it there safely.

The narrative jumps back and forth between the party and the events following the storm. There is a tension from the outset and not just because of the dangers of the storm. David Hare's script tells you only so much, everything else is in the body language and the pauses. This is a play that is brimming with pregnant pauses. It is a master class of understated performance. During the pitch darkness of scene changes there are phone calls, stripped of visual clues it becomes all about the tone and delivery.

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Fringe theatre news round up - from Halloween shows to immersive dance

Follow The Faun (c) Maximilian Webster (1)
Follow The Faun Photo: Maximilian Webster

FESTIVAL: The BAC's London Stories: Made by Migrants is a festival of true stories and runs from Nov 4-26. Led by a guide, audience groups of five will go on a journey to hear a selection of six stories from people for whom London has become their second home. From the rooftop terrace to the basement bedrooms, routes will traverse newly-refurbished swathes of the building, open to the public for the first time following a phased capital project with architects Haworth Tompkins that began in 2007. Info and tickets from the BAC website.

SHAKESPEARE: The Rose Playhouse has announced a production of Romeo and Juliet set in a refugee camp. They've trimmed Shakespeare's play of star crossed lovers to a bitesized 90 minutes straight through and you can catch it from Nov 15 to Dec 10 for more details head to the Rose website. Please note the Rose Playhouse is an archaeological site see the website for visit and facilities advice.

FARCE: Curl Up and Die is a comedy murder mystery set in a hair salon where the clientèle are mainly the blue rinse brigade. Catch it at the Questors in Ealing from Nov 15 to 19, details on the Questors website.

IMMERSIVE HORROR SHOW If you can't get enough of the Halloween frights 139 Copeland Road runs from Nov 1 to Nov 30 and takes at the house of the title in Peckham: In 1974 a huge fire engulfed 139 Copeland Road, with it’s inhabitants still inside. Guided by a renowned psychic, we will invite intimate audiences of 15 to take part in a unique immersive experiment, and conduct a séance to discover the dark secrets that lie hidden within the house. What happens next we cannot predict or apologise for. For more details head to

BLACK COMEDY Eliza Powers' play Feathers is described as 'sex, lies and black comedy: When Marisa and Dan welcome Marisa’s estranged sister Edie into their home, to help care for their toddler son, their marriage is put to the test. It plays at the Hen and Chickens in Islington between Nov 8 and Nov 27 and for more details head to the website:

DRESS TO DANCE Nope that isn't the name of the play but a genuine instruction to the audience. Called Follow The Faun it promises a blend of ancient Bacchanalian rite and participatory theatre.  Guided by swirling projections and a banging electronic soundtrack, the audience travel through new worlds and dimensions to experience ecstasy, transformation, and a serious attack of the giggles. Curious? Head to the Arts Theatre West End between 31 Oct and 12 Nov.

VISUAL THEATRE Masters of pulp-cinematic visual theatre Rhum & Clay return to New Diorama Theatre with a completely new type of project; a semi-autobiographical look at the construct of masculinity, written and performed by renowned female-male transgender actor and writer Kit Redstone and told through Rhum & Clay’s inimitably distinct theatrical lens. Testosterone runs from Nov 22 to Dec 3.


Review: The uplifting A Man of Good Hope, Young Vic

AMOGH326OK so I've seen The Three Penny Opera this year and now musical/opera A Man of Good Hope. What's going on? Don't worry you won't be reading my reviews of Wicked or The Lion King any time soon. I was drawn to A Man of Good Hope partly because of the story and partly because of Isango Ensemble. Isango has adapted Jonny Steinberg's book about a refuge's journey across Africa.

Four actors play Somali Asad through his life - two men, a woman and child actor Phielo Makitle (who shares the role with Siphosethu Juta). The play starts with an adult Asad talking to writer Jonny Steinberg while keeping one eye nervously on the look out for gangs we then go back to his childhood home in Somalia and the events that led to his 8-year old self becoming a refugee.

It is a story of violence, rejection and loneliness but it is also a story of ingenuity, resourcefulness, hard work - and hope. Using a mixture of African choral music and classical European opera it doesn't shy away from the harsh reality of life as a refuge or politics but it nonetheless remains an uplifting story. The danger with this sort of subject matter is to be didactic, to try to manipulate the audience but A Man Of Good Hope is subtly thought-provoking as well as entertaining*.

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London fringe theatre news round up - Halloween treats, pub Shakespeare and more

Louise Orwin by Field and McGlynn_02 EXTRA COLOUR_sml1HALLOWEEN THEATRE: All Hallows Eve is nearly here and where better to spend it than at the atmospheric Wilton’s Music Hall, where Extempore Theatre & Something for the Weekend present The Society of Strange – the creepiest, strangest and most macabre of tales in a hilariously twisted improv show guaranteed to give you goosebumps…..Details and tickets on the Wilton's website.

MORE HALLOWEEN THEATRE: The children of Time + Space are being hunted. Terrorized by a dark and enigmatic figure. A monster feeding on blood, bones, and Fear itself...  LIONS + TIGERS + BEARS features 5 actors conjuring up more than 40 characters throughout the ages and across dimensions, including a Victorian schoolgirl, a really sh*t zookeeper, a lobotomist, Myra Hindley, a robotic nurse, a chorus line, Adolf Hitler, vampires, a computer virus, and a tree. It's delightfully deranged, slightly unwholesome, totally questionable family entertainment that's completely unsuitable for children. Catch it at Theatre N16 in Balham from Oct 30 to Nov 3.

PROVOCATIVE THEATRE One of the most talked about, witty and provocative theatre shows currently touring the country comes to London’s Pleasance Theatre on 24 and 25 November. In the sixties, French new wave filmmaker Jean Luc Godard famously claimed that all he needed to make a film was a girl and a gun. Artist and theatremaker Louise Orwin, a big fan of his films, got to thinking about this and how the media’s portrayal of women has moved on in the 50 odd years since he made his claim. A Girl & A Gun is a witty, fun yet unflinchingly provocative look at the relationship between women and violence in media, starring Orwin and a different male performer at each show.

PUB SHAKESPEARE Fox and Chips brings its Pub Brawl Shakespeare: Hamlet to the Pack and Carriage in Camden. NW1. It plays Mondays and Tuesdays until 15th Dec for details and to book head to the Fox and Chips productions website.

SHAKESPEARE INSPIRED Two London boroughs both alike in poverty, south and east – she’s from E8 and he’s from southeast, where Intermission Youth Theatre tell their tale. These two lovers fight for their love despite the backlash of each hood. Through drama, Intermission Youth Theatre engages young people from London’s inner-city communities who are at risk of offending or who lack opportunity and introduces them to Shakespeare, arguably one of the best story-tellers of all time. Love Me To Death is on at St Saviours Church in Knightsbridge from Oct 26 to Nov 19.

INTERACTIVE PERFORMANCE A House Repeated by Seth Kriebel is back by popular demand after a sell out run last year. It's an interactive performance-game made for Battersea Arts Centre’s old town hall where Seth has meticulously memorised every nook and cranny of the 80-room building before inviting audiences to explore it without leaving their seats. It runs at BAC from Oct 18 to Oct 29.


Review: Oil, Almeida Theatre

ImageElla Hickson's play Oil is broad in scope, starting in the 1800s and finishing in 2051 and that, in part, is its problem.

It opens in the 1880s with a poor, isolated, farming family on a bitterly cold, dark, winter's night (think Mr Burns dark). A man arrives and makes an offer that could change their lives and, as a result of that meeting May (Anne Marie-Duff), a pregnant wife, disappears into the night.

May becomes a recurring character as does her daughter Amy (Yolanda Kettle) who makes her first appearance in the next segment which is set in early 20th century Iran. May is trying to earn enough for them to get a boat ticket home. She is waitressing at a dinner reception where the English are oiling up some Iranians in order to secure a deal. She is made two different offers by two different men.

Next we see May as a senior exec of an oil company in the 1970s. She is dealing with a rebellious teen on one hand and a rebellion in Iran which is threatening business and trade.

The action then jumps to the future. First it is 2021 and Amy is working in a war torn Iraq and her mother wants her to come home, then in 2051 where she is living with her elderly mother and fuel is scarce and expensive. There they are offered a new power source and a means of changing their lives for the better, the play coming full circle.

Aside from the characters of May and Amy there are other common refrains weaving through the narrative: a particular line of dialogue, a particular action or circumstance. It is subtle and there is definitely a clever structure there but the problem is the scope of themes. Hickson touches on feminism, misogyny, power - fuel and political, trade, war, capitalism, xenophobia and parenting, among other things, and as a result it feels like Oil isn't about anything in particular.

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Review + Production photos: Verbal punch up in One Night In Miami, Donmar Warehouse

Four men in a room: Cassius Clay (Sope Dirisu) on the cusp of becoming Mohammad Ali, singer Sam Cooke (Arinzé Kene), football player Jim Brown (David Ajala) and activist Malcolm X (Francois Battiste). They have gathered to celebrate Clay becoming heavyweight champion of the world. Each is successful and well known - iconic - in their own right but this is on the eve of the civil rights movement and they know the limitations of their fame.

Kemp Powers' punchy play sees a party mood turn into a heated debate about black power, integration and the responsibilities of fame.

Clay is on the one hand supremely confident and yet has gentler, innocent side that is incongruous with his boxing prowess. Brown is pragmatic about milking his fame to get a career in the movies as his football playing days come to an end. He is also acutely aware of how far society will allow him to integrate, telling of his hero's return to his home town only to realise that a white man won't entertain him inside his house.

Cooke has an independent record label where he can promote black artists but also believes in integration. He tells of his determination to find the key to entertaining the white audience and, in one of the highlights of the play, demonstrates his technique leaping off stage to sing directly to people on the front row (yes I was one of them and as Libby Purves gave Arinzé Kene his own star in her rating I'm guessing she was too).

It is Malcolm that is the real challenger of the group and he particularly guns for Cooke whom he thinks should be using his music to spread important messages. He teases him comparing his love songs to Bob Dylan's campaign songs and accusing him of selling out. But Cooke wrong-foots him in what is the main bout of the play.

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Review: Relentless and bitter - Lunch and The Bow of Ulysses, Trafalgar Studios 2

Lunch-and-The-Bow-of-Ulysses-10352This Steven Berkoff double bill has been given a mixture of 3, 4 and one 5 star reviews from the critics. I'm going to opt for the lower end, in fact to be brutally honest and up front: I didn't like it.

Now there is no doubt that Berkoff is a skilled and imaginative writer but these two short plays about the start and end of a relationship are so relentlessly joyless I couldn't help worrying for his state of mind when he wrote them: Had he been through a really acrimonious split? Don't get me wrong, I'm not adverse to sad or bleak stories but I like to care - about something - and here I didn't. Not even a little bit.

Lunch starts with a woman (Emily Bruni) sitting on a seafront bench. She is noticed by a man (Shaun Dooley) who plucks up the courage to talk to her. This bit I enjoyed as we get his thoughts contrasting with his actions - confident vs bumbling and shy. They are obviously both lonely but his behaviour and language quickly turns aggressive and sexual. Berkoff doesn't use natural dialogue instead he writes in poetic metaphors and similes and that is part of the problem, it gets denser and stodgier the longer it goes on. The lunch ends in a brief Punch and Judy show.   

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New Woyzeck artwork featuring John Boyega

Star Wars actor John Boyega has been given graffiti artist treatment by Aske 19 ahead of his up coming role in Woyzeck at the Old Vic.

George Buchner's play, adapted by Jack Thorne, is set in 1980s Berlin and sees Boyega play a soldier who is trying a build a better future for the love of his life and their child - but at what cost?

It runs from May 6 to June 24.

John Boyega in Woyzeck at The Old Vic. Photo by AKSE P19 Pentagram
John Boyega in Woyzeck at The Old Vic. Photo by AKSE P19 Pentagram

Theatre hottie and girl crush of the month - September edition

Now I must apologise in advance because a) there are two hotties because I can't decide between them and b) I don't know the actors names. I've scoured the internet for a cast list of Belarus Free Theatre's Burning Doors but I can't find one. If anyone spots one let me know and I'll add them in. So this month's hotties are, for the time being, going to be known as the Belarus Boys. But before you scroll onto the picture, on more serious note, if you want to support the artists and activists imprisoned in Belarus and Russia here's how you can do that.


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Review: Mark Gatiss in The Boys In The Band, Park Theatre
Mark Gatiss and Jack Derges © Darren Bell

Mart Crowley's 1968 play is set at the home of Michael (Ian Hallard), a lapsed alcoholic, who is throwing a birthday party for his friend Harold (Mark Gatiss). Among the guests are the camp Emory (James Holmes), a gorgeous but dim rent boy dressed as a cowboy (Jack Derges) who is a present for Harold, Larry (Ben Mansfield) and his lover Hank (Nathan Nolan) who is in the process of getting divorced.

Everything is going swimmingly in a bitchy sort of way when Alan (John Hopkins) an old university friend of Michael's drops by. Michael describes him as straight and square and is convinced he is oblivious to Michael's homosexuality. Alan's reaction to Emory causes trouble and suggests his own inner turmoil which Michael seems determined to expose. 

Michael is a bitter drunk. The more he drinks, the more it reveals his uglier side born out of Catholic guilt and generally feeling ill at ease with himself. He takes it out on other people and sets on a destructive path determine to make everyone else feel as bad about themselves as he does. His party games certainly reveal some truths - some devastating, some reconciliatory.

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