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August 2023

Review: Vanya, Richmond Theatre - Andrew Scott does it all but does it deliver?

Vanya Richmond Theatre andrew scott poster

Chekhov's Uncle Vanya - 'Vanya' - adapted by Simon Stephens and starring Andrew Scott playing all the characters? Well, of course, I had to buy a ticket, it's ANDREW SCOTT, but I was equally curious about the concept and what it would add to the play.

I've seen a few productions and am familiar with the story. Note: If you are not, it's worth glancing over a plot summary in prep, but more on that later.

Chatting to the woman sitting next to me, she had never seen a production before and asked if it was a comedy. "It depends on how it's done", was my reply. Chekhov's plays can be funny.

I followed up with: "Are you familiar with classic Russian literature? Tragedy of inaction, that sort of thing?"

"Yes, love that", was her reply.

Vanya is part unrequited love story, part exploration of a life's purpose. It's about those toiling away on a rural estate to support the 'genius' professor who came into possession of it via his first marriage.

His daughter Sonia, brother-in-law Vanya and mother-in-law work hard to generate funds for his city life. When he visits with his new young wife, Helena, it throws the estate in turmoil.

Simon Stephen's adaptation sees a more naturalistic and modern dialogue. The setting is transported to Ireland, which allows Scott to use his natural accent.

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Review: As We Face The Sun, Bush Theatre - energic, fun and tinged with the bittersweet

The Bush Young Company in As We Face The Sun at the Bush Theatre. (Photo by Harry Elletson) 6
The Bush Young Company in As We Face The Sun at the Bush Theatre. Photo by Harry Elletso

As We Face The Sun at the Bush Theatre is part coming-of-age drama, part exploration of the impact of grief on a group of school friends. The story centres on a group of 14/15-year-old classmates at a West London school after the death of one of their friends and how that shapes them and their friendships over the next 10 years.

Performed by the Bush's 18-25 Young Company, we first meet them loud, energetic and excited for a school trip. There is joking and joshing with individual personalities coming through from the quiet to the loudest and most confident.

However, this energy gets overshadowed as each deals with loss in their own way and starts to grow into adulthood and life after school. In one poignant scene when they forget and let loose, their fun is pulled up sharp when the mother of their dead friend is spotted.

The group's annual get-together in memory of their friend's birthday, held at the same venue with the same food, playlist and dance routine, starts to look more like nostalgia than a memorial.

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Review: Dumbledore Is So Gay, Southwark Playhouse

Charlottte Dowding  Alex Britt  Martin Sarreal - Credit to David Jenson
Charlotte Dowding, Alex Britt & Martin Sarreal in Dumbledore Is So Gay, Southwark Playhouse Aug 2023. Photo: David Jenson

Fans of Harry Potter will no doubt enjoy the references to the Wizarding World, but Robert Holtom's play Dumbledore Is So Gay is, in essence, a gay coming-of-age story.

It starts when Jack (Alex Britt) is 12 and joins in with his friends' homophobic name-calling out of fear of being on the receiving end. Meanwhile, his dad (Martin Sarreal) insists the TV is turned over when Graham Norton comes on because of his sexuality.

Jack's relationship with his parents and best friends Sally (Charlotte Dowding) and Ollie (also Sarreal), on whom he has a crush, plays out through his teen years, culminating in a devastating event.

But what if, like Hermione, you could use a time-turner and go back and change certain events in your life, make different decisions based on hindsight and experience? Would the outcome be different?

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Review: A Mirror, Almeida Theatre - a play that continually surprises

A Mirror Almeida promo poster

I was intrigued about A Mirror before I even got to my seat. Its description on the website doesn't give much away (and I don't like to read any interviews until afterwards).

The Almeida foyer is decked out ready for a wedding celebration. But alongside pink ribbons and pastel balloons, there is a huge Oath of Allegiance on the wall and notices from the Ministry of Culture reminding you of the rules and regulations.

That contrast in tone - celebration and authority - is emblematic of Sam Holcroft's play which has you thinking you are watching one thing, only for the curtain to be ripped back to reveal something else.

A Mirror is about making theatre when the state decides what is and isn't suitable to be put on stage. And from the moment you step into the decorated foyer, you are part of the narrative.

Inspired by Holcroft's visit to North Korea, Adem (Michael Ward) submits his first play to the Ministry of Culture for approval.

It ends up in the hands of ńĆelik (Jonny Lee Miller), a slightly sinister senior official who happens to have a love - and knowledge - of theatre. He doesn't want to necessarily follow a check list of suitability, but he does have firm ideas about what theatre should and shouldn't be.

He sees talent in Adem if only it can be channelled into material appropriate for public viewing.

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Review: Spiral, Jermyn Street Theatre - growing unease and suspicion

Spiral image - Ben Wilkin
Abi Hood and Kevin Tomlinson in Spiral. Photo: Ben Wilkin

Last year Abi Hood's play Monster had one particularly shocking scene which has lingered in my memory; in contrast, Spiral is a play of unease and suspicion.

It centres on the friendship between Tom, a teacher (Jasper Jacob) and Leah (Abi Hood), an escort, the motivation for which has one or two grey areas and the impact that has on their other relationships - Tom's wife, Gill (Rebecca Crankshaw) and Leah's boyfriend Mark (Kevin Tomlinson).

Tom and Gill's teenage daughter Sophie has gone missing taking nothing with her, and they are coping in different ways. Gill has turned to drink and the church, while Tom meets with Leah, who looks a bit like Sophie.

Leah isn't in a good place herself. Her mother is no longer around, and she lost contact with her father when she was a child. Mark, who came to her rescue at a low moment, isn't the guardian angel he first appeared, rather, he is increasingly controlling and abusive.

His moods swing between the kicks he gets from her escort work, which he encourages her to do, and jealousy if punters show the wrong sort of attention.

I was mentally screaming 'leave him' from very early on.

But it's Leah and Tom where the unease really centres. They meet more and more to share chips and conversation; are they fulfilling an innocent need for each other? Is it merely that Tom's way of coping is to try and recreate his relationship with his beloved Sophie? Is Tom a much-wanted father figure for Leah?

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Review: The Effect, National Theatre, starring Paapa Essiedu and Taylor Russell - oozes with chemistry

The Effect National Theatre signage
The first production of The Effect had its premiere in 2012, so it is a departure for director Jamie Lloyd who more typically gives older material such as The Seagull and Cyrano de Bergerac a fresh contemporary feel. (Does this mark a new chapter?)

Lucy Prebble's play is set around the clinical trial for a new anti-depressant drug. Connie (Taylor Russell) and Tristan (Paapa Essiedu) are taking part to earn some money - Connie is a student, and Tristan wants to travel.

Dr Toby Sealy (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) is running the trial and has brought in depression-sufferer Dr Lorna James (Michelle Austin) to help.

An attraction quickly forms between Connie and Tristan but are their feelings a side effect of the drugs they are taking? Is love simply chemical or something to which the cause can not be clearly attributed?

Similar questions about chemical responses are raised about depression and the drugs used to treat it. James, ironically given the trial she is working on, doesn't believe it is something solved by medicine.

Despite warnings, Connie and Tristan's blossoming romance threatens the integrity of the trial, and the trial causes friction in the relationship between Sealy and James.

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Review: Violated, Camden People's Theatre - raw and relatable

Violated rebecca holbourn art work
After watching Violated at Camden People's Theatre, we stood in the bar talking about what we related to, our own experiences and how the play had changed our perspective.

Rebecca Holbourn's play explores real-life experiences where consent isn't given or is assumed. It is the seemingly micro-violations that add up and can leave a lasting impact.

It's told from the perspective of a woman (Tamsin Harding) and a man (Arthur Perdreau), highlighting how stereotypes and peer pressure compound the problem of consent - or lack of it.

There is a range of incidents from playing kiss chase to having a stranger sat next to you on the bus and put their hand on your thigh when you were a child.

The play demonstrates the lasting impact these violations have: Anger, guilt, regret, problems with trust...

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