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July 2023

Interview: Writer & director Rebecca Holbourn on her new play and what she loves about theatre

Later this week, writer, director and producer Rebecca Holbourn will be at Camden People's Theatre preparing for the opening night of her new play Violated.

I asked her about the play and her thoughts on theatre, and you can watch the interview, or there is a transcript below.

How would you describe your play Violated?

Violated is based on real-life experiences. It explores and discusses broken consent and violation in many different forms, not just sex.

Why did you want to tell this story?

This story is obviously very personal to me as it includes a lot of my past, and that gets explored, which is very tricky. But I think everyone has their own tricky memory that they don't necessarily want to face.

And everyone needs to consider if actually some of the things they're holding on to might be because they didn't say yes.

How will you be feeling on opening night?

Opening night sounds scary, but I honestly cannot wait for my actors to be in front of an audience because they're smashing it, and they deserve to be seen.

I should probably be proud of my words too, but I can't wait for people to see my actors.

Continue reading "Interview: Writer & director Rebecca Holbourn on her new play and what she loves about theatre" »

Review: Word-Play, Royal Court Theatre - powerful and punchy play on words

Yusra Warsama  Issam Al Ghussain  Kosar Ali  Simon Manyonda  Sirine Saba Word-Play Royal Court Johan Persson
Word-Play, Royal Court Theatre July 2023 l-r Yusra Warsama, Issam Al Ghussain, Kosar Ali, Simon Manyonda, Sirine Saba. Photo Johan Persson

Rabiah Hussain's play Word-Play starts with a PR team in crisis mode, having just heard the Prime Minister use a particular word (we don't know what that word is) in a live interview. The press and social media are crawling all over it.

The Prime Minister refuses to apologise, and there are hints of a less sweary Thick Of It as one of the team Googles synonyms for 'sorry' for the statement they want to put out.

Performed behind a glass screen at one end of the oblong performance space, it gives the sense of being a clinical observer. We return to the story later, and there are also snippets of reactions in Whatsapp groups and social media. 

But the bulk of the play is a mixture of monologues and scenes exploring the complexity and power of words, particularly when it comes to culture and identity.

In one scene, impartiality is challenged to the point where choosing certain descriptive words is deemed 'opinion'. In another, a father is racked with guilt have having told his children the lie that 'names don't hurt'.

And in another, 'See it, say it, sorted' sparks a debate on what is and isn't normal.

The most powerful is the final story of a mother who is challenged over the use of her mother tongue when her young daughter uses it at school.

Less effective are the scenes where words are repeated and shouted - to what end?

The majority of the play is performed in the central space (audience on three sides) with the occasional use of plastic chairs although there is one amusing and tongue-in-cheek meta moment involving the audience.

Word-Play punches at appropriation, prejudice, and the distortion of meaning. It highlights how meaning can be ascribed through the lens of who uses or hears the word. And how language is rich, fluid and powerful.

I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Word-Play, Royal Court Theatre

Written by Rabiah Hussain

Directed by Nimmo Ismail

Cast: Issam Al Ghussain, Kosar Ali, Simon Manyonda, Sirine Saba, Yusra Warsama

Running time 80 minutes, no interval

Booking until 26 August; for more details and to buy tickets, visit the Royal Court's website.

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Review - the inventive, fun and moving Wonder Drug: A Comedy About Cystic Fibrosis, Omnibus Theatre (Edinburgh preview)

Wonder drug a comedy about cystic fibrosis
Wonder Drug: A Comedy About Cystic Fibrosis, Omnibus Theatre Edinburgh Preview

Wonder Drug: A Comedy About Cystic Fibrosis is more than its title suggests.

Writer and performer Charlie Merriman, who has cystic fibrosis (CF), takes us back to March 2020 when he's been told that a new drug treatment is coming; he just needs to stay healthy.  Charlie has also just met a woman he likes on an acting job who shares his love of 80s music.

But then the first COVID lockdown hits.

Having CF, which affects the lungs and digestive system, means he's at high risk and needs to shelter.

He mixes up his monologue with puppets, game show elements, audience prompt cards, impressions, rewriting famous song lyrics and snatches of 80s pop. He also gives his various treatments and drugs characters with different voices to distinguish them.

Continue reading "Review - the inventive, fun and moving Wonder Drug: A Comedy About Cystic Fibrosis, Omnibus Theatre (Edinburgh preview)" »

Review: Cuckoo, Royal Court Theatre - Sharp and silly laughs

Cuckoo-royal court theatre Jul 2023
Cuckoo, Royal Court Theatre July 2023. L-R Michelle Butterly, Jodie McNee, Sue Jenkins & Emma Harrison. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Home is where the heart is for the Merseyside family at the centre of Michael Wynne's play Cuckoo at the Royal Court.

Daughters Carmel (Michelle Butterly) and Sarah (Jodie McNee) gravitate towards their mother Doreen's (Sue Jenkins) house, but when granddaughter Megyn (Emma Harrison) locks herself in an upstairs room and won't come out, the peace of their chip shop dinners and scrolling on their phones is disturbed.

Patience is tested, concerns grow, and uncomfortable truths are revealed.

The play's title serves up its double meaning. It's a reference to the borderline crazy situation and perhaps a nod to the derogatory term for people with mental health problems.

Cuckoos also famously lay their eggs in other birds' nests to be brought up by the unsuspecting 'foster' parent, and Megyn has taken up residence in her grandmother's bedroom, where Doreen waits on her hand and foot. Megyn will only communicate via text.

Megyn's mother, Carmel, is withering in her remarks, which doesn't always help the Megyn situation but does deliver a sharp humour to contrast the more playfully funny lines given to Doreen and Sarah.

But underneath the humour, the real world and the problems, struggles and strife that come with it press in.

Continue reading "Review: Cuckoo, Royal Court Theatre - Sharp and silly laughs" »

Review: Bones, Park Theatre - rugby, mental health and toxic masculinity

Bones park theatre poster

Hot on the heels of Dear England at the National Theatre, which explores mental health and emotions in the England men's football team, we have Bones at the Park Theatre, which looks at men's mental health through the prism of a rugby team.

Both plays highlight some of the negative impacts of toxic masculinity, which forces self-reliance and emotional repression.

In Lewis Aaron Wood's play, the rugby team throws gendered insults and references to sexual acts with each other's mothers. Problems are 'solved' by drinking copious amounts of alcohol.

The story centres on Ed (Ronan Cullen), who is a reluctant participant despite scoring the winning try in an important game and is considering drastic measures to get out of the next big match.

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Review: Song From Far Away, Hampstead Theatre starring Will Young

Will Young in Song From Far Away at Hampstead Theatre. Photo Mark Senior-6
Will Young in Song From Far Away at Hampstead Theatre 2023. Photo: Mark Senior

Yes, I voted for Will Young on Pop Idol, but I've never seen him on stage as he's mainly done musicals, so I was excited to see him in Song From Far Away.

The fact that I loved the play the first time I saw it at the Young Vic back in 2015 added to the excitement.

It’s told in the form of letters Willem (Will Young) has written to his dead brother Pauli, recalling the trip home to Amsterdam for his funeral after 12 years away living in New York.

Willem is a sharp observer of the people he encounters and his family. His comments are arch. And yet he retreats from any meaningful connection, avoiding family engagements.

Rather he opts for casual sex in the hotel he is staying at and yearns for a relationship he had when he was younger that he ran away from.

His emotions, in part, reflect the stages of grief; he is in denial, he gets angry, he bargains, and he is depressed, but it is also driven by introspection sparked by the loss.

The sudden absence of his brother and the return home forces him to reflect on his life and his actions.

Continue reading "Review: Song From Far Away, Hampstead Theatre starring Will Young" »