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March 2024

Review: The Divine Mrs S, Hampstead Theatre - Moments of sparkle and laughter

Anushka Chakravarti  Rachael Stirling and Dominic Rowan_The Divine Mrs S_credit Johan Persson
Anushka Chakravarti, Rachael Stirling and Dominic Rowan in The Divine Mrs S at Hampstead Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson

As The Divine Mrs S opens, we see brother and sister actors John Kemble (Dominic Rowan) and Sarah Siddens (Rachael Stirling) performing on stage at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

John gives a booming, stilted performance in comic contrast with Sarah, who is far more natural and emotionally charged. In delivering her final line, she faints from the effort and is carried off stage, a common occurrence we later find out.

The audience laps it up. Mrs Sarah Siddons is a celebrated actress guaranteed to pack out the theatre in late 18th-century London. John believes himself to be a great actor and, as the manager of the theatre, chooses the plays and casts himself in the starring roles.

Not that there are any lead roles for actresses.

Sarah might be adored for her stage performances but that doesn't stop the newspapers and gossip rags tearing into her for not being at home with her husband and children.

When one of her daughters gets sick and dies, she is accused of neglect.

Rachael Stirling's Mrs S is commanding and effervescent. She is sharp and witty character, which alongside her acting talent become her weapons - the only weapons she is afforded in a male-dominated society.

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Interview: Actor & writer Sam McArdle on The Manny and how it helped him bounce back into acting

Rev Stan and Sam McArdle

Sam McArdle had given up acting and started writing a play for 'something to do'. He ended up performing that play, The Manny, at the King's Head Theatre last year and a successful run in Dublin followed.

Ahead of The Manny's return to London at the Pleasance Theatre this week, I jumped on a video call to ask Sam about the play, the process of creating it, getting back into acting and what his ideal role would be.

You can watch the full interview here.

How did you decide what real parts of your experiences as a male nanny to include and what to leave out when you were writing The Manny?

Just the juiciest parts. I really wanted to keep in the bits about the child who is obsessed with World War II and then the bits about going to the school gates and seeing the other mannies literally trying to muscle in on your territory.

It's like a networking event. Picking up the mums at the school gate and working out, okay, I can get more shifts by working for them. I thought that was interesting and funny.

What parts did I want to leave out? The image of the male nanny is much more salacious than actually what the job entails.

So I left out a lot of the mundane day-to-day things of picking up the kids from school, cooking them dinner, making sure they do their homework. That would be a crap play.

Were you always writing The Manny for yourself to perform? And how did that inform the process?

No one else is going to play the Manny. No way.

To be honest, I just started writing it. I'd quit acting completely, and it was just something to do, and it's almost a form of therapy.

And then, after I got the bare bones of the script, I did a play reading during COVID, those ghastly Zoom play readings.

I thought, 'Oh, this feels really nice and good'. I felt like my old self was coming back.

And then I made a decision like the guy in The Bear, Richie, in the fourth episode, something in me just flicked, and I said, 'I've got to make a change and get back to London, put the show on, and I've got to see if I can still do it'.

So from there, after the first draught, it was something I wanted to do to express how I've been feeling the last couple of years.

Continue reading "Interview: Actor & writer Sam McArdle on The Manny and how it helped him bounce back into acting" »

Review: For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy, Garrick Theatre - seamless theatre

D) For Black Boys... (ensemble)
For Black Boys... (ensemble). Photo: © Johan Persson

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy is a play of experiences told as a seamless stream of stories.

But the play itself has its own story. This is the second West End run for Nouveau Riche's production in just over 12 months, but it started with a sell-out run at the bijou New Diorama Theatre in Euston back in 2021. It then transferred to the Royal Court before securing its first stint in the West End at the Apollo Theatre. 

It is a dream come true for any theatre production and a much-deserved success. This is an exceptional piece of theatre.

Written by Ryan Calais Cameron, the play is divided roughly into two main acts with a third shorter concluding act.

The first half is served up with a rap soundtrack focusing on black boy experiences from school, among friends and peers and at home.

It's like an informal therapy session, different characters sharing different experiences which get picked over by the rest of the group.

They discuss how it has shaped their outlook and approach to life. It isn't formal but rather a dialogue peppered with revealing banter and teasing. There is agreement and disagreement, empathy and sometimes fights.

Continue reading "Review: For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy, Garrick Theatre - seamless theatre" »

Review: Nachtland, Young Vic Theatre - provocation and problems

Nachtland Young Vic poster

As the audience arrives at the Young Vic, four of the Nachtland cast are removing a vast array of household items from the stage. It's a process I find strangely fascinating: Is it random what they take, or carefully coordinated and the same every night, timed to perfection to coincide with a 7.30pm start?

I'll probably never know, but after the final item is removed and the lights dimmed, the context behind the exercise becomes clear. In modern-day Germany, siblings Nicola (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) and Philipp (John Heffernan) are clearing out their late father's house.

They are helped by their respective spouses, Fabian (Gunnar Cauthary) and Judith (Jenna Augen), who is Jewish.

When Nicola addresses the audience (which is frequently the style in the play), she refers to 'my father' to which Philipp takes umbrage. The two fall into squabbling and verbal jibes, displaying resentment built up over many years.

And then there is a discovery. Tucked away in the loft, wrapped in brown paper, is a painting.

The siblings argue about its merits and what to do with it: Nicola wants to get rid, Philipp wants to keep. When the frame is removed, and the artist's identity and association with the Nazis are revealed, opinions about the painting and what to do with it change.

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Review: 52 Monologues for Young Transsexuals, Soho Theatre - pink sequins and wipe-clean rubber flooring

52 Monologues for Young Transsexuals  credit to Arabella Kennedy-Compston (11)

52 Monologues for Young Transsexuals at the Soho Theatre sets out its stall as you walk into the theatre and are asked to spit in a cup. It's a request that certainly sets you thinking.

Once inside, writer/performer Laurie Ward dances to a bouncy track in a pink sequined, halter-neck jumpsuit. The stage is covered in a pink, rubbery, wipe-clean tarpaulin.

It manages to be both frothy fun and slightly sinister at the same time.

The show is a montage of styles and stories. Snippets of verbatim theatre are woven between dance and movement segments and lip-syncing.

Trans women talk candidly about their experiences and feelings around love, sex, intimacy and their bodies. It reveals a heady mix of experiences, from the joyous to those that are much darker.

Sometimes, it is hard to keep up as the conversations weave tighter and tighter, and one story blends into another.

You also get Charli and Laurie's story, how they met and became best friends and their relationships with their parents. It is frank and honest, full of laughter and love, but as with all the stories, there is a darker edge.

There is a sense throughout of not knowing what will come next, which is exciting but also gives a sense of foreboding.

52 Monologues For Young Transsexuals is a play that fizzes with the light and shade of trans experience; it is pink sequins and certainly needs the wipe-clean rubber tarpaulin.

52 Monologues for Young Transsexuals, Soho Theatre

Written and performed by Charli Cowgill and Laurie Ward

Movement Director Naissa Bjørn

Director Ilona Sell (she/her)

Running time 60 minutes without an interval

Booking until March 16; for more information and to buy tickets, visit the Soho Theatre website

Recently reviewed:

Macbeth, Dock X ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until March 30.

A Mirror, Trafalgar Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 20 April

The Unfriend, Wyndham's Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 9 March

The Motive and The Cue, Noel Coward Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 23 March

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Interview with Birds of Paradise Theatre Company artistic director Robert Softley Gale

Interview: Robert Softley Gale of Birds of Paradise Theatre talks disabled representation and snobbishness about musicals

Robert Softley-Gale
Robert Softley Gale, artistic director of Birds of Paradise Theatre Company

Birds of Paradise, Scotland's pre-eminent disabled-led theatre company, is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a tour of its darkly comic play Don't Make Tea.

Before the company hits the road later this month I spoke to artistic director Robert Softley Gale about how he chooses what work to produce, disabled representation in the theatre (and yes Richard III at The Globe comes up) and his favourite type of theatre to watch.

Here are the highlights from that chat, scroll down to watch the video.

Tell us a bit about the work you do as artistic director of the Birds of Paradise (BOP) theatre company and how you decide what work to produce.

The company has been going for 31 years, and I’ve been artistic director since 2012. And I think the role is best explained as putting disabled stories onto the stage.

And that sounds very simplistic and ‘what's the big deal with that’? But if you look at our culture, there's a real lack of disabled stories.

I feel like BOP has a role to play in putting those stories on stage.

The first show I produced was a sex comedy called Wendy Hoose in 2014. It was a very standard two-actor comedy where they meet online, get together, and then he comes to her apartment and discovers that she's got no legs.

So, he’s immediately having to navigate how that works.

Taking stories that are quite familiar, like a sex comedy, and then putting disability into them is something I think is very interesting.

The stories we have to tell aren't radically different, but with a different perspective, they've got something different to say. 

Then there was Purposeless Movements, which was a physical theatre piece with four disabled guys telling you about their lives and explaining what masculinity meant to them as disabled men.

Then My Left/Right Foot, which is a musical co-produced with the National Theatre of Scotland.

That took the story of Christie Brown who wrote My Left Foot and asked the question: If an amateur theatre company tried to put this on stage, how wrong could they get it, how inappropriate could you be?

It's a very in-your-face musical. It was really well received as a big scale, quite shocking but also quite endearing musical about disability.

The key is that people came for a great night at the theatre; they didn't come to be told what it's like to be disabled because that's not very exciting.

So I guess I'm telling you about those productions to explain how I pick things. It's very much about what will attract audiences.

"If you come away from a piece of theatre having laughed very hard, having cried and thinking about something a different way, then its job done"

I hate theatre that's navel-gazing and 'what I want to say'. I mean, obviously, it's about what I want to say, but it's about what audiences want to hear, what they want to find out about.

It's about being aware of where the audience is, what they're interested in, what will entertain and surprise them and what will educate them. That's not a very popular word.

If you come away from a piece of theatre having laughed very hard, having cried and thinking about something a different way, then its job done.

Continue reading "Interview: Robert Softley Gale of Birds of Paradise Theatre talks disabled representation and snobbishness about musicals" »