278 posts categorized "Fringe/pub theatre" Feed

Review: Spy Plays, Above The Stag - sophisticated gay spy thrillers

Spy plays by David Thame are two pieces based on real events, 55 years apart and linked by themes of espionage and gay liaisons.

Spy Plays programme

The first, London/Budapest, is set in 1955 where successful gay author Adam (Guy Warren Thomas) picks up handsome young airman Reg (Max Rinehart) at a sauna and takes him home.

Adam is erudite and eloquent, quick and observant but perhaps not quick enough - or maybe he doesn't want to see?

Flashbacks reveal more about his background, including a friendship with Guy Burgess who defected to the Soviet Union, which give the authorities enough grounds to be suspicious of his loyalties.

But while Adam may not be as innocent as he claims to be, is Reg being equally honest?

The tension mounts, is the sex functional, a ruse or is there something more, will this liaison end in the usual way?

Kompromat, which was first performed at the Vault Festival last year, has similar tensions although the narrative is reversed starting with final events so the question is how it got to that point.

It is set in 2010 and inspired by the death of GCHQ employee Gareth Williams whose body was found in a sports bag in his Pimlico flat while he was on secondment to MI6 in London. 

Tom (Warren Thomas) is the brainy country bumpkin for whom the freedom and accessibility of London's gay scene have made him joyously wide-eyed, naive or purposefully unobservant?

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Review: Chyna, Vault Festival - deaf teen's joyous portrayal of a year in her life

Chyna Brianna Harrison-Bell is a 15-year-old deaf performer and in her eponymous show, she documents a year in her life.

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Chyna, Vault Festival 2020

Using video, dance, movement and sign-language and with the help of director Laurence Dollander, we are introduced to Chyna's life at home, at school and with her friends.

Her personality shines through in the expression of her movement and sign language, she is bubbly, funny, full of energy and ideas for the future.

Chyna is a keen observer of others, brilliantly portraying her friends' different personalities in a segment that culminates in an inventive solo re-enactment of a football match.

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Review: Flights, Omnibus Theatre - drinking games, denials and grieving for youth

It is 17 years since the teenage Liam laid down on a road while tripping on drugs and his friends Barry (Colin Campbell), Pa (Rhys Dunlop) and Cusack (Conor Madden) gather to drink and remember his untimely death.

Rhys Dunlop; Colin Campbell; Conor Madden as Pa  Barry and Cusack photo Ste Murray
L-R Rhys Dunlop, Colin Campbell and Conor Madden in Flights by John O'Donovan. Photo Ste Murray

But this night is less about Liam and more about them and how their lives have measured up since. 

The large crowd they expect never materialises leaving them playing drinking games and darts while picking over their school days and adult life.

Barry's girlfriend has just got a good job in London so they are leaving Ireland, Pa is living on benefits, taking drugs and sofa surfing and Cusack has a baby with his wife.

Picking its way through the witty banter and amusing reminiscences is a growing mood of melancholy that reveals grief and regret.

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Vault Festival review: Tinted, Amy Bethan Evans throws the spotlight on life and relationships for the visually impaired

Writer Amy Bethan Evans' new play, Tinted, is another piece that explores what life is like for the visually impaired.  While her previous play, Libby's Eyes, exposed the Kafka-esque nature of the benefits system, Tinted takes on friendships and dating.

Tinted Vault Festival
Charlotte Eyres in Tinted, Vault Festival. Georgia Harris Photography

Charlotte Eyres plays Laura, a visually impaired young woman, talking us through both childhood and adult experiences around friendships and relationships.

Her dad wants her outlook rooted in reality - he likes to take a hatchet to her favourite fairytales - but is equally over-protective and as a result, Laura isn't very worldly-wise.

She prefaces the tale of her first dating experiences with stories about her sex-education classes which are light on actual detail, to put it mildly.

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Vault Festival review: Sticky Door, Katie Arnstein's funny and poignant show about sex, equality and mental health

Writer and performer Katie Arnstein's one-woman show Sticky Door is about how she planned to take back control of her love life but ended up learning to live with past trauma.

Katie Arnstein  Sticky Door  © Lidia Crisafulli
Katie Arnstein, Sticky Door © Lidia Crisafulli

It starts at Christmas 2013 when life seems to be conspiring against her. She is between acting agents, lives in flat above a fried chicken shop which means her clothes always smell of fat and her boyfriend has just dumped her.

She decides attachment is where she is going wrong and sets herself a goal of having a different lover every month.

Through a year's exploits, we not only get Katie's witty perspective on dating and casual sex - peppered with numerous cases of cystitis - but also learn more about how past and more recent traumas have affected her mental health.

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Review: You Stupid Darkness! Southwark Playhouse - funny, haunting, moving and strangely uplifting

Sam Steiner's play You Stupid Darkness! is set in a decaying office where four volunteers man a helpline - Brightline - trying to help people look on the bright side.

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Andrew Finnigan, Lydia Larson, Andy Rush and Jenni Maitland in You Stupid Darkness! Photo: Ali Wright.

Inspirational posters cover water stains and holes in the wall with messages such as 'It will be alright in the end and if it's not alright, it's not the end."

The world outside the office isn't in a much better state. Nothing is directly discussed but the volunteers arrive wearing gas masks, you can hear sirens going off outside and there are hints from occasional remarks.

Frances (Jenni Maitland) the team leader is heavily pregnant and at one point is asked if she regrets it.

New volunteer 17-year-old Joey (Andrew Finnigan) comments that he hasn't seen a pregnant woman since he was 12.

Not looking ahead

When he says he prefers not to look too far ahead, it isn't the words of an apathetic teenager but a young person for whom the future genuinely doesn't hold a lot of promise.

Brightline, it seems, is like the cheery posters covering up far more serious problems.

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Review: The Co-op, White Bear Theatre, Kennington - fun, if sometimes clunky comedy

Make It Beautiful Theatre's first production, The Co-op, is about three actors who have set up their own acting agency.

The Co-op Make It Beautiful Theatre
They spend their day, drinking and trying to get auditions for each other, being supportive and barely hiding jealousy and rivalry.

But a crisis is looming for the agency and it isn't just that Caza is skint.

The narrative thread is more of a vehicle for a series of sketches that are part homage to famous films and different genres and part gentle satire on the fickleness of the acting industry and audition process.

Don't look for too much coherence and consistency in the story because there isn't much.

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Review: Lullabies For The Lost, Old Red Lion - emotionally vivid and powerful but a problem ending

Lullabies For the Lost is one of two plays by Rosalind Blessed about mental health that are being performed in rep at the Old Red Lion.

Rosalind Blessed and cast  Lullabies for the Lost  courtesy of Adam Trigg
Rosalind Blessed and cast Lullabies for the Lost, Old Red Lion Theatre. Photo: Adam Trigg

It starts with Larry (Chris Porter) agonising about going out to dinner with his friends, as the clock ticks closer to the time he needs to leave.

His dilemma is nothing to do with the company but his anxiety about social situations and he tests out excuses for why he isn't able to go - which raise a few laughs - but it is nonetheless heartbreaking to see the pain his anxiety causes.

And there is a lot of that in Lullabies for the Lost as it cycles through 8 stories of different mental health conditions - depression, anorexia, bulimia, chronic low self-esteem, hoarding, among others.

Lighter moments

Some of the stories are harrowing but some show a more humorous side bringing lighter moments. 

Blessed has the sufferers stuck in a white room, doomed to retell their stories until they can find the key that will unlock their condition - let them back out into the world.

'We have to solve our riddles.'

The room feels like a slightly clunky device and the conversations between its occupants - a mixture of bickering and encouragement - adds little to the overall narrative or tension.

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End of year review: My favourite theatre of 2019, a year of dazzling performances, wit, drama and tears

It's been tough but I've managed to whittle down my 'best theatre of 2019' list to 10 plays, well, one isn't actually a play but deserves a place nonetheless. So here goes, in no particular order:

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

1. Downstate, National Theatre

A challenging, difficult play with humour and wit inflected with wisdom that carefully balanced entertainment without detracting from the seriousness of the subject matter.

2. Betrayal, Harold Pinter Theatre

I wasn't that enamoured with Jamie Lloyd's season of Pinter shorts and then came along Betrayal and it was utterly breathtaking.

The sparse script was layered with nuanced performances from Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox. What wasn't said screamed loud.

3. Seven Methods For Killing Kylie Jenner, Royal Court upstairs

This made a lot of what is on stage in London look stodgy and staid. A fresh and achingly contemporary play that cleverly and boldly tackled social media and what it reveals about modern society.

4. Hansard, National Theatre

One of those plays that get mentioned a lot in theatre conversations, this was an extremely witty and acerbic political drama/comedy which had an unexpected emotional punch.

I loved it also for its balance approached in scrutinising both left and right-leaning politics.

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End of year review: My 5 favourite fringe plays of 2019

It's the end of year theatre review time and thought I'd kick off with my favourite fringe plays of 2019.

Kompromat Vault festimal photo mark senior
Guy Warren-Thomas and Max Rinehart in Kompromat. VAULT Festival. Photo: Mark Senior


Some of these may well end up on my final top 10 list but this is my way of cheating highlighting some more great theatre.

In no particular order (links are to my original reviews):

1.Kompromat, Vault Festival

David Thame's sexy spy thriller is elevated by emotional depth. It was just as much a play about loneliness and connection as it was about a hitman and his target.

Can't wait to see what he writes next.

2. Seven Methods For Killing Kylie Jenner, Royal Court upstairs

This made a lot of what is on stage in London look stodgy and staid. A fresh and achingly contemporary play that cleverly and boldly tackled social media and what it reveals about modern society.

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