265 posts categorized "New plays" Feed

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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Review: Cuckoo, Soho Theatre - funny and poignant portrayal of Irish teens desperately seeking acceptance

Iona is a funny, bubbly, car crash character - you can see her driving towards the collision but can't look away.

Cuckoo  Soho Theatre (Courtesy of David Gill) (4) Elise Heaven and Caitriona Ennis
Elise Heaven and Caitriona Ennis in Cuckoo, Soho Theatre. Photo by David Gill.

Iona (Catriona Ennis) just wants to fit in, be one of the cool kids rather than the target of their ridicule and bullying.

Her best friend is Pingu (Elise Heaven) is non-binary, wears a tuxedo to school and has decided not to speak, but that's OK because Iona talks enough for both of them.

Set in Crumlin, a suburb of Dublin, writer Lisa Carroll's play Cuckoo follows Iona and Pingu over a couple of fateful days when they announce that they are moving to London.

It is a decision which catapults them into the spotlight in a way that they never anticipated.

Sharp, witty and descriptive

Iona has a sharp, often witty and descriptive way with words and the play opens with her enthusiastic and colourful recounting of a shoplifting trip.

Pingu's silent reactions speak volumes and Iona's story, while laugh out loud funny, paints a picture of a life where having a good TV and wearing the right labels are the difference between being accepted and being bullied. 

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Review: A Very Very Very Dark Matter, Bridge Theatre - does Martin McDonagh's new play measure up?

A Very Very Very Dark Matter is a fairytale of human ugliness and evil but it is also a toy that isn't working properly.

IMG_4103Martin McDonagh's new play is a (very) dark fairytale with colonial undertones.

Who else's imagination could put Hans Christian Anderson (Jim Broadbent), a one-legged black pigmy woman called Marjory (Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles) and two bloody, time-travelling Belgian twins in the same story?

The question is whether it works.

McDonagh's Anderson is the antithesis of what you'd expect the writer of fairy-tales to be like but there may be a very good explanation for that.

Dark secret

He is self-centred, vain and politically incorrect, to put it mildly, and has a dark secret in the form of Marjory, whom he keeps locked up in a glass-sided box in his puppet-strewn attic.

Marjory is from the Congo, clever, sharp and capable, having survived the massacre of her people engineered by Belgian King Leopold II.

But she has more problems to deal with than merely being a prisoner, she is also a person of interest for the murderous twins.

Awkward laughter and guilty giggles

The dialogue is liberally sprinkled with swear words as well as the sort of lines that have you laughing awkwardly - or guiltily giggling as I did a couple of times.

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Review: Stories, National Theatre - Nina Raine's desperate for a baby drama fails to deliver

Strip out the comic vignettes and the play is left feeling flimsy

IMG_1292One of my favourite plays recently was Hear Me Howl at the Old Red Lion about a woman, approaching 30, under pressure to have a baby when it really wasn't something she wanted to do.

It was refreshing to look at the woman/mother debate from a different angle.

Nina Raine's new play Stories is back to familiar territory: A woman desperately wants a kid.

Unlike Yerma (Billie Piper was cracking in the Young Vic production two years ago) it's not a physical problem, more of a partner problem.

Anna (Claudie Blakley) is 39 and in a long-term relationship with a younger man Joe (Brian Vernel) but on the eve of their IVF treatment he gets cold feet about being a father.

Desire for baby not questioned

Such is her desire for a baby she decides to use a sperm donor but it is a desire that isn't really questioned or examined.

Only once is Anna asked directly why she wants to have a baby - it's a feeling she 'can't explain' - and it isn't debated.

Ideas of legacy/not wanting to die alone are, slightly clunkily, referred to by the recurring appearance of a young girl and flashbacks to Anna's old landlady.

What alternatives?

There is no mention of alternatives such as adoption.

The focus on the pros and cons of using an anonymous sperm donor vs a named donor feels more like a comic device than something to explore in depth.

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Review: The Sword of Alex, White Bear - power and violence overshadows identity debate

Meaningful debate, clever thought and persuasiveness get overshadowed by ego manifested as sneering, sarcasm and physical violence.

The Sword of Alex (c) Valeria Coizza (6)
The Sword of Alex. Photo: Valeria Coizza

Power and identity are at the heart of Rib Davis' play The Sword of Alex.

A confrontation between leader Antonio (Patrick Regis) and Karl (DK Ugonna), one of his ministers who is trying to get independence for the region of Nikal, interweaves with scenes of their own domestic problems.

Antonio's mistress Calantha (Kate Terence) wants to leave him while Karl's wife Gina (Georgia Winters) has similar plans.

The confrontation between the two leaders occurs during a ceasefire when they meet to try and persuade their opponent to back down from hostilities and violence.

Are ego and aggression the problem?

Antonio is arrogant, dismissive, sarcastic and grows aggressive easily. Karl, by comparison, has the demeanour of an underdog but has more fight than first appears.

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Review: Hear Me Howl, Old Red Lion - a fun and considered exploration of female stereotypes

Great to see a play challenging gender stereotypes but doing it in a way that is both fun and considered

Hear Me Howl (c) Will Lepper (1)
Hear Me Howl. Photo: Will Lepper

Jess (Alice Pitt-Carter) is nearly 30, lives with her boyfriend Taj and has an unstimulating office job.

It's an ordinary life, one she feels she is sleepwalking through and frustration grows about the question of when she and Taj are going to get married and have children.

Taj has leanings in that direction (it's not that play) the problem is that Jess doesn't.

Life changing decision

And while she is wrestling with that conundrum, she decides to join a post-punk band but before her first gig, she has to make a life-changing decision.

Written by Lydia Rynne, Hear Me Howl is peppered with references to culture contemporary to the 30-somethings and bubbles with quips and funny observation while handling issues such as pregnancy and abortion with sensitivity and insight.

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