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April 2024

Review: Black Swans, Omnibus Theatre - reflection on technology and what it says about humans

Black Swans featuring Trine Garrett © Tim Morrozzo
Black Swans, Omnibus Theatre, L-R  Camila França and Trine Garrett. Photo © Tim Morrozzo

In my interview with Camila França and Trine Garrett, who play sisters in Black Swans at the Omnibus Theatre, they said Christina Kettering's play felt futuristic when it came to them in 2020 years ago, but four years later, less so.

Such is the rampant advance in AI in the last couple of years that a robot that gathers medical, mood and domestic data to deliver the best care no longer seems quite so far-fetched.

The play sees two sisters arguing about who and how their elderly mother should be cared for. Neither has had a particularly close relationship with her, but the younger sister (Garrett) feels it's their moral duty and shouldn't be a burden.

Her older sister doesn't agree. She argues that others can provide much better care.

It is an argument that is perhaps motivated by a desire to live her life unencumbered by any caring responsibility, which echoes how she and her sister were raised.

However, seeing her sister struggling with caring, part-time work, family responsibilities and an absent husband, she buys her sister a robot carer to help out. They call the robot Rosie.

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Review: Player Kings, Noel Coward Theatre - a vehicle for Ian McKellen at the expense of something richer

Player Kings at the Noel Coward Theatre is Henry IV parts 1 & 2 squished together to create just under four hours of Shakespeare with one interval.

Ian McKellen is the big star name, playing Falstaff with Richard Coyle as Henry IV and Toheeb Jimoh as Hal.

Prince Hal's behaviour is presented as influenced by his spending so much time hanging out in taverns and with thieves, and I really liked that.

It is particularly notable in the way he fights. There is one moment when his actions towards Hotspur, whom his father admires, are certainly dirty and dishonourable. It puts both characters in a different light.

Richard Coyle, as Henry IV, has such a commanding stage presence that you could hear a pin drop every time he appeared. He presents a formidable and slightly scary King.

Robert Icke, who has adapted and directed the play, leaves little room for guilt about the means by which Henry came by the crown.

Although the fact that Henry was able to leap out of bed and wrestle with his son when he was supposedly dying did feel a little comical.

Ian McKellen is going to be my favourite Falstaff. This production felt like it was a vehicle for him to do a series of comic turns.

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Interview: Camila França and Trine Garrett, co-artistic directors of Foreign Affairs theatre company

Rev Stan interview with Camila and Trine Foreign Affairs Theatre

Camila França and Trine Garrett are co-artistic directors of the Foreign Affairs theatre company, which produces translated work sometimes in unusual spaces.

Ahead of their latest production, Black Swans at the Omnibus Theatre (23 April-11 May), I asked them about the new piece, how they choose what stories to tell and the unusual places they've staged theatre in the past.  

Black Swans also sees Camila and Trine returning to acting after a 5-year break, so I asked them what they are looking forward to about being back on stage and how they'll be feeling on opening night.

You can watch the full interview on my YouTube channel here.

Your theatre company, Foreign Affairs, shares stories from afar. What is the process for finding the plays you put on, and what are you looking for from a piece?

Trine: Our focus is working with theatre in translation. And the translators are our best friends, so plays get pitched to us. We also discover them through our theatre translator mentorship, which we run every other year.

And this play [Black Swans] was discovered during one of those.

What draws us to the plays that we stage is a lot about identity and belonging. We are both not from the UK; I'm from Denmark and Camila's from Brazil.

And then plays about women. I think that has been at the forefront for the last year with this one in particular [Black Swans], and prior to that, we did a rehearsed reading of a play about a female Danish scientist.

Black Swans is about caregiving for an elderly parent in a world of increasing technological influence. Tell us a bit about the play and what drew you to this particular story.

Camila: It's a story about women, and that immediately appealed. And then there's also a personal connection to the story, both on my side and Trine's, caring for elderly family, which is something we as a society tend not to talk a lot about.

The play is about two sisters who have to care for their elderly mother, who can no longer look after herself.

In that comes all the beauty and the bickering of their relationship and what happens when decisions have to be made.

How do they deal with it, and how does it affect their personal relationships, their own lives, and their relationship with their mother?

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Review: The Long Run, New Diorma Theatre - humour and warmth in this comedy about cancer

The Long Run - Ali Wright-8
Katie Arnstein in The Long Run. Photo: Ali Wright

The Long Run is a comedy about cancer. Not words that normally go together and something writer and performer Katie Arnstein acknowledges right at the start of the play, but it turns out to be a very accurate description.

Rather than focusing on those with cancer, the play's spotlight centres on those caring for and supporting their loved ones on their treatment journey.

It's based on writer Katie Arnstein's own experiences of caring for her mum during her treatment for bowel cancer. We follow her experiences at the hospital and the people she meets sitting in the waiting room while her mum is off having radiotherapy and chemo.

Katie Arnstein's energetic and magnetic performance builds on the idea of traditional storytelling, with one person talking directly to a group of people but with added observational asides and descriptions.

These asides are delivered accompanied by a snap change in lighting in a way that gives the audience a front-row seat to her inner monologue.

It exposes how she feels about the situation she's in and her thoughts on those who, like her, are waiting for their loved ones' treatment to finish.

Her asides are simultaneously a humourous journey of how emotions combined with flawed judgement lead to some regrettable incidents and revelations.

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Review: Don't Make Tea, Soho Theatre - Funny and clever

Birds of Paradise - Don't Make Tea - Thu 21 March 2024 (© photographer - Andy Catlin
Neil John Gibson and Gillian Dean in Don't Make Tea © photographer - Andy Catlin

Don't Make Tea at the Soho Theatre is one of those plays that, if you wrote down all the elements, you'd think 'this isn't going to work' but somehow, on stage, it does.

It's the latest production from Birds of Paradise Theatre Company and is set in the flat of Chris (Gillian Dean), who has a degenerative disease, which means she's slowly going blind and has increasing levels of debilitating pain.

The Government has introduced a new assessment for eligibility for disability benefits, which is supposed to be fairer.

Chris' benefits have been frozen until she passes - or rather fails - her assessment because working is framed as the 'positive' outcome despite her level of disability or inability to work.

Ralph (Neil John Gibson), the assessor, arrives with recording equipment and a pulse monitor (to detect lies). It's a tricksy, ridiculous, definitely bureaucratic and sometimes invasive assessment.

Chris' frustrations begin to bubble up despite her best efforts to stay calm (and polite). The second half deals with the fallout of her frustrations in an increasingly surreal turn of events.

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