302 posts categorized "Fringe/pub theatre" Feed

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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Digital theatre review: All By Myself - a surface look at self identity in the digital age

A woman is in her dark flat, hunched over two potatoes, some nails and copper wire trying to make a battery. Her phone is running out of juice, there is a power cut and you have to admire her ingenuity.

All By Myself screen shot

It's not the first thing I'd think about if the power went off but then I don't have a popular YouTube channel and social media accounts that need regular feeding.

The play, a production by Part of the Main theatre company for Applecart Arts, is live streaming as part of the Dazed New World festival and explores identity during the Covid crisis when your only connection to the outside world is via the internet.

We see our YouTuber - played by Charlie Blandford - pouting, preening and oozing confidence for the camera while talking about self-care during lockdown.

Although we also see behind the scenes and how the best shots are carefully edited together to create the illusion of perfection and camera poise.

When the camera stops rolling and there is no self-editing she is human - flawed, frustrated, bored, lonely and desperate for that connection.

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Review: F**k Off, Bread and Roses Theatre - real live theatre for the first time in 5 months

I sat in a theatre and watched actors performing on a stage this week for the first time since the beginning of March. It was wonderful and strange and made me realise how the pandemic has changed the experience.

F*ck Off play poster

The play was called F**k Off, at the Bread and Roses pub theatre in Clapham. Kudos to Integrity Theatre for taking the gamble and planning the production without knowing if live performance would be allowed.

Henry (Michael Dunbar) is the protagonist of the piece; a boxer trying to make a comeback, training hard and trying to get his head in the right space.

A win in the ring would mean money and opportunities.

Complicated life

But outside of the ring, it is complicated. His ex has moved on, there is a court case, an absent father who wants to get back in touch and a trainer who has a dodgy side-hustle.

All good threads for creating tension and drama in Henry's story, shaping the character, except they leave more questions than they answer.

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Back at the theatre at last...to see socially distanced stand up comedy at Battersea Arts Centre

When theatres had to close in March, I thought it might be a month or two before I was back watching live performance again.

Stan fran andrew

As the weeks passed, it became obvious that it was going to be much, much longer and I stopped thinking about when I might return.

Did I imagine, that at the beginning of August I'd be sitting on a wooden bench wearing a mask with 30, socially distanced, others waiting for a live performance to being?

No.

The live performance was a series of stand-up comedian's headlined by Ed Gamble and wooden bench was in a courtyard at Battersea Arts Centre. 

With indoor theatres still closed, it is a genius use of outdoor space which also has a balcony level where some more people could stand.

So what was the experience like?

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