270 posts categorized "New plays" Feed

Vault Festival review: Kompromat, a gripping, sexy, spy thriller

The performances ooze with sexual tension and sensuousness; the backdrop is an atmosphere of isolation and threat and it is this combination which elevates Kompromat above your average spy thriller.

Kompromat. VAULT Festival. Photo Mark Senior-3
Guy Warren-Thomas and Max Rinehart in Kompromat. VAULT Festival. Photo: Mark Senior


The 2010 'spy in the bag' murder is the inspiration behind Kompromat, a new play by David Thame which imagines the murderer using a honey trap to ensnare his victim.

A two-hander, the story is told through a series of monologues and flashbacks primarily through the eyes of Zac (Max Rinehart) who picks up Tom (Guy Warren-Thomas) at a club.

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Interview: Peter Darney talks 5 Guys Chillin' success and directing the 'dangerous' and 'sexy' play Kompromat

"Theatre should challenge, should open your eyes to the nooks and crannies of life you wouldn't see otherwise."

Peter Darney studied drama at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and has acting, writing and directing credits to his name including the international fringe hit 5 Guys Chillin’.

He is currently directing gay crime thriller Kompromat by David Thame, which was inspired by the 2010 'spy in the bag' murders and opens at the Vault Festival next week.

Here he talks about what has made him a more empathetic director, how theatre should challenge and why Kompromat is a must-see.

Peter Darney
Writer/director Peter Darney. Photo by Oscar Blustin

You wrote while you were at drama school, subsequently studied directing and then took up writing again how do the disciplines compare?

I made a living from acting for six years and it's quite blissful because I feel like I've come full circle.

I think what I always wanted to be was a writer and I am now really exploring that again but I'm bringing the knowledge I learnt from being an actor, knowing that I have to be able to motivate any line of dialogue.

And from being a director, having an understanding of structure and the bigger picture of what works and what doesn't; what's going to be impossible to stage, what's going to be cheap to stage and then taking all of that back into my writing.

Does it make you a better director?

A good boss can always do your job and everybody else's, so I think [it’s good] understanding the three disciplines.

You know what it feels like to stand there as an actor and get crushed by a director and I would hope it stops me from crushing an actor.  

Similarly, knowing what it feels like to have a director say ‘oh no this is rubbish’... having empathy for each role I hope helps me work a little more holistically and with kindness.

What are you most proud of so far?

The thing I'm most proud of is a play that I wrote and directed called 5 Guys Chillin’ which is a verbatim drama about the chemsex epidemic.

It played in London for about six months, did two Edinburgh festivals, played Sydney and Toronto and it’s opening in a French translation in Paris this month.

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Review: Rosenbaum's Rescue, Park Theatre - finding truth in competing narratives

A Bodin Saphir's play, directed by Kate Fahy, is an engaging look at the nature of truth and whether it is merely a matter of perspective or personal belief.

David Bamber & Neil McCaul in Rosenbaum's Rescue at Park Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet _50A0544
David Bamber & Neil McCaul (L-R) in Rosenbaum's Rescue at Park Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet.

Set in 2001, Rosenbaum's Rescue at Park Theatre examines the circumstances surrounding the safe exodus of thousands of Jews in Denmark during the Second World War.

A tip-off and the absence of Nazi ships meant that in 1943, 7,500 Jews were able to flee to Sweden on fishing boats.

Abraham (David Bamber) and Lars (Neil McCaul) were both 8-years old at the time and have very different views about what happened and its significance but the truth might just fracture an already prickly friendship.

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Happy New Theatre Year: 9 plays I'm particularly looking forward to seeing in 2019

Starting off 2019 with plenty of theatre in the diary, these are the nine plays I'm particularly looking forward to seeing (in date order):

RG-3X9vs_400x400Kompromat, Vault Festival (23-27 Jan)

What the website says: Inspired by the still-unsolved 2010 murder of GCHQ agent Gareth Williams, Kompromat is a tense drama of double agents and our capacity for self-deception played out against a high-stakes game of love.

Why I'm excited: Having read an early draft a couple of years ago and then attended a rehearsed reading at the Arcola I've got a good feel for what this might be like.

Tartuffe, National Theatre (9 Feb-30 Apr)

What the website says: A scalpel-sharp comedy looking at the lengths we go to find meaning – and what happens when we find chaos instead.

Why I'm excited: Tartuffe is one of the classics I've long wanted to see, John Donnelly has done the adaptation and Olivia Williams is in it. I love Olivia Williams.

Jesus Hopped The 'A' Train, Young Vic (14 Feb-30 Mar)

What the website says: From Pulitzer Prize winner Stephen Adly Guirgis (The Motherfucker with the Hat), comes this critically-acclaimed dark comedy about the American justice system and the contradictory nature of faith. 

Why I'm excited: I loved The Motherfucker With the Hat when I saw it in 2015 at the National and I've been waiting for another Stephen Adly Guirgis play to hit London ever since.

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2018 theatre review: My favourite plays of the year (and my first six star play)

So I've published my favourite fringe plays list and my least favourite plays list, time now for my best plays of 2018 overall, gleaned from everything I've seen - large productions and small, commercial theatres, subsidised and fringe:


Misty, Trafalgar Studios

A play which put the pulse back into the West End and as a result was a breath of fresh air.

A Monster Calls, Old Vic

I was nervous about seeing a stage adaptation of a much-loved book but the creativity with which it was staged combined with the performances meant I was an emotional wreck by the end. So much of an emotional wreck, I had to walk around for a bit afterwards to compose myself.

Queens of Sheba, Underbelly, Edinburgh Fringe

A play about the dual prejudice of sexism and racism encountered by black women that succeeded in being both angry, uplifting and empowering.

It left me feeling teary in a happy/sad/exhilarated way and ready to march if the call came.

There is another chance to see it at the New Diorama Theatre, Jan 30-Feb 3 as part of the Vault Festival.

Notes from the Field, Royal Court

It was an uncomfortable, seat-squirming, horrifying joy to sit and experience and I gave it an unprecedented six stars. Yes, six stars.

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2018 theatre review: My 10 favourite fringe plays

Edinburgh Fringe media pass2018 was my first year at the Edinburgh Fringe which produced a bumper crop of excellent plays (look out for transfer details) but London has delivered some gems too.

Out of the 50-odd fringe plays there are 10 that really stand out but what strikes me most when revisiting them is how many evoked such a strong emotional reaction.

Yes, some are on the list for being highly entertaining but others made me feel angry or empowered or rebellious, some even a bit teary.

The other thing that strikes me is their diversity in ethnicity and gender balance tipped away from male dominance but I'll be writing more about that in another post.

So, in no particular order:

1. The Claim, Shoreditch Town Hall

Based on research into Home Office procedures this exposes the farcical system that asylum-seekers encounter but more than that, how incompetence endangers people's lives. It made me very angry.

2. My Mum's A Twat, Royal Court Upstairs

It's been an incredible year for Patsy Ferran, kicked off in fine style with this solo performance in a play about a girl's relationship with her mother who has joined a cult. Funny and spirited it also had dark edges.

3. Coconut, Ovalhouse

An effervescent love story and a coming of age story that challenged stereotypes.

4. Flesh and Bone, Soho Theatre upstairs

Shakespeare-esque lyricism combined with East End vernacular cleverly takes you on a revealing and entertaining journey that elevates the stories of those that often overlooked. Shakespeare would, no doubt, have approved.

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Review: Sweat, Donmar Warehouse - Globalism, the American Dream and human drama in Lynn Nottage's superb play

There is slow growing tension and tense personal drama in Sweat but it is also inconspicuously provocative.

ImageSeven years ago, playwright Lynn Nottage started spending time in Reading, Pennsylvania, one of the poorest towns in America and wrote Sweat based on her experiences there.

Set among a group of factory workers, what you get is in many ways a classic drama of friendship, jealousy and tragedy born out of a moment of madness. 

But globalisation and immigration beat at the heart of this story as, when the workers' way of life is threatened by layoffs, they are pitted against each other and big business.

Job for life ideology

This is a community brought up on the idea that a factory job is a job for life, where the reward for decades of hard, physical work is a good pension.

It is also a community where union cards are the key to the lucrative factory jobs but they are like elusive golden tickets if you aren't local or the right sort of local.

Two families form the centre of the narrative. Cynthia (Clare Perkins) works at the factory and her son Chris (Osy Ikhile) works there too but has longer-term plans to go to college.

Cynthia works with her friend Tracey (Martha Plimpton) and Tracey's son Jason (Patrick Gibson) who is happy to have his factory job and his life mapped out.

Friendships challenged

Tensions in their friendship first appear when there is an opportunity to apply for a promotion - the first person to make it off the factory floor into a management position.

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Review: Boys, New Diorama - joy, silliness, subtlety and enlightenment

It is a play of joy and silliness that is also multi-layered, subtle, touching and enlightening.

PappyShow Boys
The PappyShow's Boys is introduced as a 'celebration of manhood' which is then swiftly followed by a fight.

In hindsight, it isn't ironic rather getting a misconception or common viewpoint out of the way.

There will be scuffles periodically throughout the hour-long show but while there is much that is celebratory - you will leave with a smile on your face - the subhead should be 'it's not all toxic masculinity'.

It is refreshing to have gender stereotypes smashed, to see young men displaying joy, tenderness and myriad other emotions.

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Interview: Playwright Jennifer Cerys on queer history and 3D lesbian characters

Playwright Jennifer Cerys' new play Dandelion at the King's Head Theatre explores queer history through a lesbian relationship in the time of Clause 28. Here she talks about why queer history is important and the need to diversify queer narratives in mainstream theatre.

Dandelion Show ImageIt’s 30 years since Clause 28 why is it important for queer history to be on the stage?

Though it may be 30 years since Clause 28 was introduced, and 15 years since it was repealed, the effects of it can still be seen in our education system today.

The School Report by Cambridge University last year found that 40% of lesbian, gay, bi and trans young people are never taught anything about LGBT issues at school.

Though schools should obviously be the place where queer history is taught, showing it on stage will hopefully be a step in the right direction.

I know a young, queer me would’ve loved to have learnt about my community’s history at school, as it would have given me a greater sense of belonging and identity.

Some of the biggest plays of the past few years have centred on gay characters - Angels in America, The Inheritance, My Night With Reg (to name just three) which is fabulous to see but stories which feature lesbian narratives still feel like the preserve of fringe theatre. Is there a queer glass ceiling that needs smashing?

Definitely! It’s great to see any queer characters on stage, but lesbian narratives do seem to be forgotten.

I saw the brilliant Grotty by Damsel Productions earlier this year and that show was the first time I had seen lesbian characters on stage.

When I was growing up, lesbians and bisexual women were presented through a male gaze in an overly-sexualised way and I saw a lesbian for the first time over the shoulder of a boy at school who was watching porn on his phone.

Shows like Grotty (and hopefully Dandelion) show lesbians as much more 3D and complex than simply someone’s sexual fetish.

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Review: The Dark, Ovalhouse - vivid and rich writing

Makoha's writing is vivid and rich but it is the slower, more considered exchanges which have a bigger impact. 

THE DARK_Production_HelenMurray-14
Akiya Henry and Michael Balogun in The Dark, Ovalhouse. Photo: Helen Murray.

Nick Makoha's play The Dark tells his own story when, as a child, his mother smuggled him out of Idi Amin's Uganda in search of a better life in the UK.

It is a story of a dangerous, overnight, bus journey shared with a group of strangers and told through a series of recollections and sketches.

The narrative jumps back and forth in time as if memories and the landscape are being pieced together.

Tense moments and encounters

Nick and his mother's fellow passengers are an assortment of stoic survivors, rebels and the mysterious. The journey becomes a mixture of anecdotes, politics, history and tense moments with life-threatening encounters. 

The set, cleverly designed by Rajha Shakiry, is a deconstructed bus with an overloaded roof rack hanging precariously above bench seats.

These are moved around into different configurations for flashbacks and journey breaks.

Lighting by Neill Brinkworth throws long shadows around the edges of the stage, creating a darkness from which danger can emerge and passengers can disappear.

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