342 posts categorized "Fringe/pub theatre" Feed

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: Laughing Boy, Jermyn Street Theatre - urgent and emotional

Daniel Rainford  Lee Braithwaite  Alfie Friedman and Janie Dee in Laughing Boy_Jermyn Street Theatre_ photography by Alex Brenner
Daniel Rainford, Lee Braithwaite, Alfie Friedman and Janie Dee in Laughing Boy, Jermyn Street Theatre. Photo by Alex Brenner


Adapted from Sara Ryan's book 'Justice For Laughing Boy' this is a story about a mother's fight to find the truth about her 18-year-old son's death in a bath in an NHS facility.

Connor (Alfie Friedman), or Laughing Boy as his family calls him, has learning difficulties and epilepsy. He likes lorries and buses and often carries around a model of a red double-decker bus.

The play mixes happy family scenes from the past with the lead-up to Connor's admission to the unit and the subsequent campaign to find out what happened.

Connor's absence is, ironically, demonstrated in the fact that he is always there.

The conversation never shifts far from him, but micro-stories and examples of Connor in life are played out in interactions with his family, his comments and questions or when he simply sits playing with his bus.

Aside from Alfie Friedman and Janie Dee, the rest of the cast take on the menagerie of antagonists (medical staff and their representatives) and supporters of the family, lawyers and advisors. 

The stage is plain white, and the back wall curves around and acts as a screen for family photos, text messages, emails and documents. It feels almost like a docudrama, told primarily through Sara's eyes.


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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 www.andycatlin.com)-4140
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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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

Review: A Family Business, Omnibus Theatre - smartly performed but connection issues

A Family Business by Chris Thorpe. Photography by Andreas J. Etter. Designer & Costume Designer Eleanor Field. Lighting & Video Designer Arnim Friess 7
A Family Business by Chris Thorpe. Photography by Andreas J. Etter.

A Family Business is based on conversations with academics, activists and diplomats, and is part interactive educational lecture on nuclear weapons and part drama about the campaign for nuclear disarmament.

Writer and performer Chris Thorpe takes the part of the educator. He greets people as they arrive to take their seats, asking names, which he squirrels away for later. (A skill that I'm always hugely impressed by as someone who finds names skim through my brain at an alarming speed.)

He throws questions out to the audience to test knowledge and hands out biscuits for correct answers. He asks other questions too about where people live, favourite places etc. When a Google map is projected on the back wall, the direction is pretty clear.

However, woven between lecture segments is the story of some campaigners trying to get a treaty on nuclear disarmament signed and ratified by enough countries. 

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Review: 10 Nights, Omnibus Theatre - well-paced, funny and warm

10 nights omnibus theatre poster Feb 2024

The 10 nights of the title of Shahid Iqbal Khan play refers to itikaf, spending the last 10 days of Ramadan at the Mosque. The idea is to cut yourself off from worldly affairs, focus on prayer and read the Quran.

Yassar (Azan Ahmed) is always on TikTok, gets drunk with his friends and is generally a disappointment to his father.

When he half-seriously volunteers for itikaf, seemingly out of grief for his dead friend Aftab, it is the first time his father has been proud of him, so he can't back out.

Isolated from the distractions of social media and 'life' and with a strict routine of prayer, reading and breaking fast, it forces introspection.

Yasser has to confront some harsh truths about his behaviour, his faith and the death of his friend. 

Azan Ahmed deftly gives voice to Yasser's thoughts and conversations with the few people he encounters in the Mosque. From his frenemy Usman to the itikaf expert assigned to guide him.

This was an interesting insight into a world I'm not familiar with. Naturally, there were references and jokes that went over my head, but there were plenty that did land.

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Review: Cockfosters, The Turbine Theatre - fun and peculiar

Cockfosters The turbine theatre
Cockfosters, The Turbine Theatre January 2024

Described as a surreal comedy, Cockfosters at The Turbine Theatre is set on the Piccadilly line and centres on a man and a woman who get on at Heathrow.

Both are returning from trips abroad, and they strike up a conversation, which is surreal given the unwritten rules of tube etiquette 😉.

While travelling to Cockfosters at the other end of the line, various colourful and often outlandish passengers get on and off.

Among them are the loud American tourists in matching shirts, a loud hen do, a loud busker and a loud 'friend' of the man's (it is a surreal comedy).

Given how loud the passengers are, it wouldn't take much to flip this tube journey into the horror genre.

It's part a romantic comedy and part love letter to the underground.

Aside from the stereotypical tube passengers, it's packed full of references to the quirks of the underground, the sort of things that are never questioned but just accepted, like those mazes on the walls at the tube stations and the snippets of poetry.

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Review: The Sex Lives of Puppets, Southwark Playhouse - cheeky and laugh out loud funny

The Sex Lives of Puppets  Southwark Playhouse
Simon Scardifield, Mark Down, Isobel Griffiths and Dale Wylde perform The Sex Lives of Puppets, Southwark Playhouse January 2024. Photo. Nigel Bewly

Puppets manipulated by humans talking about sex could be viewed as some sort of weird voyeurism, fetish or even an odd fantasy reenactment.

But in Blind Summit's The Sex Lives of Puppets at Southwark Playhouse, when one puppet bluntly corrects her lover's grammar while they are sexting, it moves it beyond the realms of titillation into a rich, observational human comedy.

Performed by four puppeteers - Simon Scardifield, Mark Down, Isobel Griffiths and Dale Wylde - The Sex Lives of Puppets is a series of interviews with individual puppets or 'couples'.

Each interview has a particular subject to do with sex, with the question to be discussed written on a piece of brown cardboard and displayed to the audience.

What goes on behind closed doors between two consenting 'adults' is naturally fascinating, and there is enough variety of questions and 'personalities' to keep it interesting.

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Theatre in 5 questions: Mark Down & Ben Keaton, co-writers/directors, The Sex Lives of Puppets, Southwark Playhouse

Ben Keaton Mark Down interview screenshot
What inspired theatre co-writers/directors Mark Down and Ben Keaton to create The Sex Lives of Puppets? I sat down with Mark and Ben ahead of the opening night at the Southwark Playhouse to find out more about Blind Summit's latest production and their theatre work.

Here's what they had to say (edited), and you can watch the full interview on YouTube by clicking here.

1. What inspired you to write The Sex Lives of Puppets? And why puppets?

Mark Down: We were messing around, and we loved them (the puppets) doing interview-style sort of backstage interviews, and they were very good when they talked about sex. 

Ben Keaton: You had a great title for a start.

Mark: I think it was a good title. And once we had it, it was sort of irresistible.

Ben: Mark brought me in, and I've said it many times, we just have to create a show around a great title. 

2. You are co-writers and co-directors. How does the collaboration work?

Mark: It's a f*cking nightmare.

Ben: I've made sure it's difficult. It's been my job to do this.

Mark: It came about because Ben auditioned, and he said, 'I know nothing about puppets'. And I was blown away by his voice.

I looked at who'd auditioned and said to my co-director, I want Ben, and if he really can't do puppets, I will do something else. And so that's how we got together, and then the arguments started.

Ben: Mark has an immense experience. He's incredibly passionate about what he does; he has a thing in his mind that he wants. And I come from a different world.

So the combination of our two skills come together in this, but not without bumping heads, that's for darn sure. What I love is we have one agenda, which is to make a great show, and everything clears its way for that.

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2023 theatre round up - top 10 favourite plays (and 4 least favourite)

Best of theatre 2023 montage

It feels like theatre returned with a splash in 2023 after the dark days of Covid. I saw 62 and a half plays (64 and a half, including second viewings) across London's plethora of theatres, from tiny pubs to big West End stages.

Here are my favourite 10 plays - in no particular order (links are to the full review).

1. No One, Omnibus Theatre

This was a fun, lively and inventive storytelling, with brilliant fight scenes.

2. Linck and Mulhahn, Hampstead Theatre

Based on a real same-sex couple living in the 18th Century Prussia, this was a witty, effervescent and heartbreaking play.

Mediocre white male king's head theatre

3. Mediocre White Male, King's Head Theatre

Subtle shifts and throwaway remarks build to make a powerful point.

4. A Little Life, Harold Pinter Theatre (and Savoy Theatre)

A harrowing and compelling play that utterly flawed me and I had to go back and see it again.

5. The Motive and the Cue, National Theatre and Noel Coward Theatre

Superb performances in this sharp, funny and interesting play. So good, I had to see it twice.

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