305 posts categorized "Fringe/pub theatre" Feed

Review: SAD, Omnibus Theatre - coping mechanisms in a challenging world

Gloria (Debra Baker) has taken refuge in her attic, distracting herself from the dark winter months and grief by playing punk and dictating entries for her memoir into her laptop.

1. Debra Baker (plays Gloria) SAD Omnibus Theatre Apr 2022
Debra Baker in  SAD Omnibus Theatre Apr 2022. Photo Dan Tsantilis

 

She is crabby to all those who come and visit: her husband Graham (Kevin N Golding), her best friend Magda (Izabella Urbanowicz) and unfaithful neighbour Daniel (Lucas Hare) who climbs through the Velux window for sex.

Victoria Willing's play SAD explores various coping mechanisms for dealing with the challenges, frustrations and trials of life. Gloria chooses to lock herself away. Graham gets angry, sometimes channelling it into a protest, sometimes punching people. Meanwhile, Magda is scared and disappointed and planning to run away. 

The problem is that Gloria is such a difficult central character to spend time with. Rather than a sympathetic portrayal of a middle-aged woman grieving the loss of her mum, feeling the absence of her daughter who has emigrated, and that she's generally failed at life, we instead see someone who is just bitter and peevish.

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Review: Who You Are And What You Do, Bread and Roses Theatre - Making sense of spinning wheels

Who You Are And What You Do starts with spinning a wheel to determine the order of the story - it's a quirky idea and has been used in different guises before.

Who You Are And What You Do  Bread and Roses Theatre Mar 2022
Who You Are And What You Do, Bread and Roses Theatre. Photo: Rachel Guest

The wheel has six pieces of paper with words such as "dignity" and "more than this", and once each is chosen (the audience does the spinning), it is pegged to a washing line across the performance space. It has the effect of bunting.

There is glitter on the floor and boxes with various random items, and a Christmas Tree in the corner. The audience is seated around the edge of the space, and it feels like you are attending a children's party. The play kicks off with two clowns larking about doing clown stuff. 

Are they part of the narrative thread or just a scene-setter? There is a clown later entertaining a lonely boy on his birthday (played by a man wearing a dinosaur costume). That story thread contains a workaholic father who is also having an affair.

There is another thread with a woman who has lost the ability to laugh and turns to an ex-child star for lessons. In another, a woman is writing her dating profile, and in another, a couple live in a perpetual state of preparing for Christmas - the husband has dementia.

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Review: Under the Radar, Old Red Lion - mismatched and odd

In Jonathan Crewe's play Under the Radar, journalist Lee Stilling  (Eleanor Hill) is profiling inventor Martin Christensen (Nicholas Anscombe), who has built his own submarine. She is accompanying him on his two-day maiden voyage, and it will be her big scoop.

Under the Radar programme

The first act starts ostensibly as an interview. However, the notebook and pen are quickly forgotten as the two drink their way through a bottle of some home-distilled liquor of Martin's. It turns out both Lee and Martin have daddy issues, and both want to prove themselves.

But the signs are fairly obvious that this isn't going to be about two strangers alone together comparing lives and working out their problems. There are Chekhov's guns all over the place, such as Martin's expressed desire for power and how he likes being on his submarine because he can make the rules. He stops drinking while continuing to top up Lee's glass and questions her about her looks and how it's impacted her career. 

As the conversation about male-female relationships develops, more of Martin's gender bias is exposed, eventually turning into a darker, violent misogyny.

This leads to an utterly bizarre supernatural third act which, visually at least, had me thinking about Beckett's Happy Day. Is this the 'darkly comic' bit as described in the play notes?

When you've had acts of male violence towards a woman described in graphic detail in a previous scene, it's hard to find anything funny.

The acceleration of events between acts 2 and 3 is so rapid that Lee's response is glossed over. Is that what necessitated the odd final act: to give her a voice?

Reflecting on the submarine setting, it turns out to be merely a device to get the two alone and isolated with no phone signal. Other than brief references at the start about the right terms to use (a submarine is a boat, not a ship), the submarine seems to be on autopilot for the entire trip.

It is similar to Lee's role as a journalist; aside from a notebook, she seems ill-equipped to do an interview - no laptop or dictaphone to record the conversation. The fact that she turned up for an overnight work trip with just a handbag also felt strange.

Such detail perhaps wouldn't matter if the play was less disjointed and knew what it wanted to be. Is it a subtle exploration of unconscious bias or exposure of toxic masculinity and male violence? Is it a dark comedy, a thriller or a horror?

There is a lot to say about gender bias and misogyny, but in Under The Radar, it gets submerged.

I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️.

Under The Radar, Old Red Lion Theatre

Written and directed by Jonathan Crewe

Running time: 90 minutes with an interval

Booking until 2 April visit the Old Red Lion Theatre website for more details

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The Collaboration, Young Vic - The play that had me on my feet

Henry V, Donmar Warehouse - Kit Harrington dazzles

 


Review: The Madhouse, Fancy Dress & Party Shop, Network Theatre - eccentric and odd mystery

There is a slight whiff of beneath-railway-arches damp at the Network Theatre, which feels appropriate for The Madhouse, Fancy Dress & Party Shop play. The shop of the title, as we quickly find out, has a damp problem in its basement, the odour of which has reached the retail area.

Madhouse fancy dress party shop flyer

But this turns out to be the least of Gloria's (Eliza McClelland) worries. The owner of the shop, Gloria, is an ex-actress and newly separated from her husband.

She quickly reveals a personality that bubbles with eccentricity. Talking directly to the audience, she reveals random facts about herself, such as her dislike of dipping bread soldiers in a boiled egg. She also has a favourite doll with which she talks and plays.

There are certain things that are incongruous which create a slightly unnerving feel to the play. Gloria's demeanour is mostly cheerful and maybe a bit scatty, and yet there is something odd about the way she plays with her doll and talks about smashing eggs when she was a child.

Her chatter reveals one side of her, her behaviour and occasional outbursts reveal another.

Missing mystery

When her son rings to say he can't get hold of his father, she dismisses the absence as a bender. It sets the play up as a mystery. Except it is pretty obvious from early on what has happened, so there is no shocking reveal.

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Review: Shedding A Skin, Soho Theatre - witty, fun and moving

Myah (Amanda Wilkin) is adrift. She goes from one dead-end job to another, trying to fit in until one day she gets called on to be the 'diversity quota' in her company's photos.

Shedding A Skin_Production_Soho_Helen Murray2 smll
Amanda Wilkin in Shedding A Skin, Soho Theatre. Photo: Helen Murray

She snaps, the restraints are off, and this departure is both dramatic and funny - think less eloquent and powerful speech, more scrawling expletives on the office wall.

On a roll, she walks out from her unsupportive boyfriend and finds herself homeless and jobless. She realises too late that it wasn't a good idea to tell her boyfriend he could do what he wants with all her stuff.

Answering an ad on the Tesco notice board, she finds herself living with an elderly Jamaica lady called Mildred on the 15th floor of a tower block with a broken lift.

This time she's going to try harder to make things work. She's going to get her shit together. No, she is.

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Lockdown London theatre walks: Arcola Theatre - memory of a famous Friend and a friendship

When I think of the Arcola Theatre in Dalston, two things immediately spring to mind. The first involves a famous Friend, the second a friend.

Arcola Theatre Apr 2021
Arcola Theatre in lockdown April 2021

The famous Friend was Rupert Friend, and he was in the Dennis Potter play, Brimstone and Treacle, in the studio space.

It was dark, humourous, and at times uncomfortable play to watch. The play has a domestic setting, but the protagonist Martin (played by Friend) breaks the fourth wall, making asides and direct eye contact with the audience.

Martin is the sort of character written and performed to bring the audience into his confidence while simultaneously making you feel that confidence could be misplaced at any time.

The studio space is small, so proximity to Martin and the sense that something isn't quite right makes that moment when he does catch your eye an all the more uncomfortable experience.

Dangerous stare

Particularly when you are sat on the front row, his head snaps around suddenly, and he fixes you with a dangerous stare, holding your gaze for what seems like an age.

It certainly wasn't for just a moment.

What also makes it memorable is that the character was a real departure for Rupert Friend. I'd seen him in costume dramas on screen, and in the Little Dog Laughed on stage which was a little boring.

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Sunday theatre question: What play do you want to see revived post-lockdown?

If there was one play/production you could revive to watch when theatres reopen (hopefully) in May, what would you choose?

Sunday theatre post lockdown play

Would you go for something tragic or uplifting? Maybe a comedy because a laugh would be good?

This week my inbox has been busy with announcements about the first swathe of productions opening, and it got me thinking about what I want that first post lockdown theatre experience to be.

And given how tough it's been, combined with what will undoubtedly feel like quite joyful new freedom, I don't want to see something too depressing or tragic. 

Not off the bat anyway.

I'd like to revisit something that had me walking out of the theatre with a spring in my step.

Something like Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Rd, which I saw at the White Bear Theatre and Trafalgar Studios on its transfer.

Or The Dirty Great Love Story from the Arts Theatre, which was a guffaw-inducing modern love story.

Alternatively, I'd like to watch something that is just downright silly, like Bears in Space which was at the Soho Theatre and starred none other than King Joffrey actor Jack Gleeson.

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Lockdown London theatre walks: Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington and seeing an early career Olly Alexander

London has an abundance of pub theatres, and the Old Red Lion in Islington is one of my favourites. The space is tiny—pew-like seating on two sides of the tea-tray sized stage.

Old Red Lion theatre

If you sit on the front row, you are in constant fear of tripping an actor because they are so close.

And that is part of the appeal, there is no separation between audience and actors; the drama is happening right there in your face.

One of the stand out plays/productions for me was Mercury Fur in 2012. I'm a huge fan of Philip Ridley's plays and had heard a lot about Mercury Fur but hasn't seen a production of Mercury Fur.

Coincidentally, an early-career Ben Whishaw starred in the very first production back in 2005. Not that I'm trying to weave Ben Whishaw into all my lockdown theatre walk posts. Well, I wasn't, but I may challenge myself now.

Anyway, back to the Old Red Lion. Watching a Philip Ridley play like Mercury Fur in such a small, intimate space means there is no escaping the horror and repugnance. Sitting in this small darkened room, the separation from the comfort of the real world yawns.

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Sunday theatre questions: Which play have you seen the most?

Theatre-land is a mixture of new plays and revivals, but there are certain classics which regularly get staged - which have you seen the most? Is there a particular reason why you've seen one play more than any others?

Which play have you seen the most

The hands-down winner for me is Hamlet. I think I've seen 17 or more different productions, but I confess it was less than literary reasons that got me hooked initially.

Yes, Hamlet was one of the set texts in my final year at Uni but that year also saw the release of a film version of Hamlet starring Mel Gibson.

He was one of my teen crushes so; naturally, I ran to the cinema to see it and then went back to see it again... and again.

I have no idea if it was well done - I wasn't really watching it for the play - but it helped me get really familiar with the key speeches. Handy when exam time came around.

The very first production

The first stage production of Hamlet I saw was on a student trip to Theatr Clwyd. It was memorable for several reasons no least because one of the actor's costumes caught fire  - it was all fine, quickly stamped out by another actor without even a pause in their speech.

But it wasn't until I saw it again years later - in 2008 - with David Tennant as Hamlet that it really sparked my interest/obsession. The speeches were still familiar, and the production just opened up the play in different ways.

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Lockdown London theatre walks: White Bear Theatre, Kennington and two very different memories

I should have thought of this back in March but better late than never... I've started using my lockdown weekend walks (or cycles) to visit some of my favourite London theatres.

White Bear Theatre in lockdown Jan 2021
White Bear Theatre, Kennington in lockdown Jan 2021

The off-the-top-of-my-head list I drew up has 18 non-West End theatres (well not the big West End Theatres anyway) so let's see how many I get to between now and, well, having something else to do at the weekends other than walk or cycle.

First up is the White Bear Theatre in Kennington, which is about a 30-minute walk from home.

Now I have to start with a question. Did the theatre at the White Bear use to be downstairs at the back of the pub before they moved it into swisher space upstairs? Or am I getting it mixed up with somewhere else?

Anyway, it's one of my favourite pub theatres, and I'm not just saying that because it's close to home. It's a nice size, has some raked seating (important when you are 5ft 2in tall) and puts on an interesting mix of new work.

I'm all for pub theatres being the proving ground for new talent and to be quite frank; I'm long over pub theatre productions of classics by Shakespeare and Chekhov. 

Going to a pub theatre is about the chance to see a spark of new talent or something different and inventive.

Two particular plays I've seen at the White Bear Theatre stand out for very different reasons:

Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Rd by Keith Stevenson

This was one of those productions which had me grinning and feeling full of life. It came at a dark time - Trump's inauguration and Theresa May spouting hard Brexit speeches - so was a very welcome diversion on a cold January evening.

As I said in my review, it was a reminder that there is some good in the world.

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