308 posts categorized "Fringe/pub theatre" Feed

Review: Rose, Park Theatre - a story of a life of love and tragedy told with wit and humour

Martin Sherman's play Rose at the Park Theatre is framed by two identical killings decades apart, and the titular character witnesses both.

Maureen Lipman  Rose  Park Theatre Photo Mark Senior
Maureen Lipman in Rose Park Theatre, Sep 2022. Photo: Mark Senior

Played by Dame Maureen Lipman, Rose sits Shivah on a wooden bench, reflecting on her life.

Born in Ukraine in the 1920s, it is a life of searching and surviving; she moves towards the excitement of Warsaw as a teenager, and when the Nazis arrive survives by hiding.

After the war, her searching and surviving continue taking her across Europe and then the US via Palestine. Once in America, she moves driven by economics and opportunity.

But while this is a life shaped by brutal war and racism, it is also a life of love, romance, and humour. Rose, as played by Lipman, is witty and deadpan.

"I have only vague, wandering images of my childhood, but yesterday - I remember everything single thing about yesterday. Nothing happened yesterday."

She is not shy about the details and talks about love and sex almost in the same tone as losing loved ones. There are occasional emotional outbursts - anger and tears - but mostly, she is matter-of-fact, her vitality as a person expressed in her actions as described - and that humour.

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Review: Monster, Park Theatre - shocking and powerful

There was a point while watching Monster at the Park Theatre when I realised I had my hand over my mouth. What was unfolding on stage was shocking, and I haven't had a reaction like that to a play for quite a while.

 

Monster credit Ben Wilkin-7741
Caitlin Fielding and Abigail Hood in Monster, Park Theatre Aug 22. Photo credit: Ben Wilkin

 

Abigail Hood's new play is set in Glasgow in 2006 and follows teenager Kayleigh 'Kay' Grey (played by Hood) and her best friend Zoe (Caitlin Fielding). Zoe is quiet and shy and gets bullied, and Kay is prone to retaliate on her behalf. However, the retaliations tend to get her into increasingly serious trouble.

One teacher, Mrs Hastie (Emma Keele), thinks Kay is at heart a good person, but something is going on to make her act up. She is trying to build trust so Kay will open up.

But before Mrs Hastie can find out if her hunch is right, events start to spiral out of control with horrific consequences.

(I'm being deliberately vague as I don't want to spoil anything.)

The structure of the play means it builds to a critical event, but rather than that being towards the end, it allows time to deal more fully with the consequences. And that's what makes this really interesting.

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Review: Freud's Last Session, King's Head Theatre - a compelling watch

Mark St Germain's play Freud's Last Session at the King's Head Theatre in Islington is a compact yet powerful play which imagines a clash of intellect and reasoning between two famous minds.

Freud's Last Session King's Head Theatre
Consulting couch on the set of Freud's Last Session, King's Head Theatre July 2022. Designer: Brad Caleb Lee

It's England on the day that World War II will be declared, and Freud (Julian Bird) has invited Oxford Professor CS Lewis (Séan Browne) to see him at his London home. The founder of psychoanalysis is in the later stages of painful mouth cancer, while Lewis is yet to become a famous writer.

Freud, an atheist, is fascinated with Lewis's sudden re-adoption of Christianity, having lost his faith as a teenager. With the threat of war looming, the two debate the existence of God, religion, sex and relationships.

St Germain's tight script allows the interrogation of both men's arguments, yet the conversations' seriousness also has flashes of wit and humour. It is not so much a case of one winning over the other but what they discover about themselves during the conversation.

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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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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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