30 posts categorized "New writing" Feed

Review: Universally Speaking, Bread and Roses Theatre, SW4

The sub-head for this quartet of monologues under the banner Universally Speaking is 'How Well is the 21st Century Doing?' and it is the final piece that really probes this question.

Called The 7-11 Butterfly Effect writer Don Grimme explores America, the Middle East and Europe post 9/11. With clever and amusingly contrived character names - Talia Ban is nicknamed after a vomiting incident in a convenience store - we are taught the history of the world by a teacher (Pallas McCallum Newark) who uses flash cards to illustrate certain points.

It is a satirical piece in which the absurdity of Grimme's story exposes a truth about the West's reaction and how it has shaped society.

Robert Holtom's piece, Fat, is brilliantly performed by Samantha Shaw who manages to make food and over eating sexy and seductive. But, at the same time, it questions the fat-shaming and fat-blaming culture we live in.

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Review: And Then Come The Nightjars, Theatre503

ATCTN Dress, 503 ┬® Jack Sain 2015-0537
David Fielder and Nigel Hastings in And Then Come The Nightjars, Theatre503. Photo: Jack Sain

Struggling to remember the last time I saw a play set in the countryside and about rural life. Three Days in the Country doesn't count.

Bea Roberts' new play And Then Come the Nightjars has the foot and mouth outbreak as its central axis but is essentially a piece about friendship and the changing countryside economy.

Set in a barn on a Devon farm, brilliantly designed by Max Dorey, Michael (David Fielder) is watching over a cow due to calf. Local vet and friend Jeff (Nigel Hastings) is keeping him company.

They banter and bicker as old friends do; talk about the farm and their respective wives - Michael is widowed and Jeff's marriage is strained.

The threat of foot and mouth hovers in the background, the call of the Nightjar - in superstition a harbinger of death - heralds the future fate of Michael's prized and much loved herd.

Jumping forward in time to the day of the slaughter, Michael is resisting the MAFF-sanctioned orders to let his 'girls' be destroyed and Jeff is trying to persuade him to co-operate offering to ensure they have a humane end. We learn that with slaughter on such a large scale not all cows have a pain free death.

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#CamdenFringe review: @TheThelmas Ladylogue, Tristan Bates Theatre

Ladylogue 3 (c) Philip Scutt
Sarah Cowan performs Zero by Serena Haywood. Photo Philip Scutt

What does a murderer, an agoraphobic, a competitive mum and an ex-Facebook user have in common? They are four of the six characters at the centre of a series short plays written by and performed by women under the banner Ladylogue.

It is a wonderful showcase of talent each play is very different in style and tone. Taken together they are a brilliant mix of laughs, shocks and drama leaving with you plenty to think about. There are definitely some names among them, both writers and performers to look out for in the future:

Ghost by Lucy Foster explores how bereavement can impact on confidence and sense of self. Performed by Kim Burnett the protagonist is getting ready for a job interview that, if she can only keep it together, might be a small step towards a new start.

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Review: Do you have to be shocked by Mike Bartlett's Game at the Almeida to appreciate it?

Game_MAIN_260x356*warning* I've tried and probably failed to write this without spoilers so sorry...

The Almeida has been transformed for Mike Bartlett's new play Game. We were ushered into what looked a bit like a large bird watching hide with blinds obscuring the view.

There were three screens mounted high up which were difficult to see if you were sat on the front row but more of that later. Everyone is given a headset and there is a sound and volume test before the 'Game' begins. As the screens rise you realise you are an observer, sitting behind one way glass.

Its premise is that a young couple are given a swish new home, one they could never afford but with certain conditions attached. The play is a social and political commentary on the current housing crisis and whether reality TV is desensitising us. The problem is that the idea of violence and cruelty for entertainment purposes has been done before and with far greater teeth - The Hunger Games, is just one example.

I know some people have found Game shocking but I was underwhelmed. That may be Bartlett's point, that we are already well on the way to being desensitised and it is something I have thought about a lot since I saw the play. However, I come back to the same point: it feels like a topic that has been explored in interesting ways already.

For a start the whole Big Brother concept feels passé. The TV show has been around for 16 years and has spawned a whole genre of reality concepts such as I'm a Celebrity.

Look, also at the Japanese TV game shows, that involve inflicting discomfort and humiliation on participants. Ironically, clips from those shows used to appear regularly on our own point-and-laugh TV compilation shows so that we could laugh at the Japanese TV audiences laughing at the TV.

So do I believe that popular entertainment will push further into morally dubious territories? Yes, of course I do but I didn't need Game to tell me that.

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Review: Mike Bartlett's 55 minutes of nastiness in the brilliant Bull, Young Vic

BULL326x326It's less than an hour long but I dare you to find a play that is as uncomfortable to watch as Mike Bartlett's Bull.

The nastiness is somehow magnified by the ordinary and familiar setting. This isn't a play set in war time or criminal underworld this is a play set in an office.

Thomas (Sam Troughton) and his two colleagues Isobel (Eleanor Matsuura) and Tony (Adam James) have been called together for a meeting by their boss Carter (Neil Stuke). He's running late leaving the three in a room together to wait.

It quickly becomes evident that this meeting is about downsizing, one of the three will be losing their job, but what starts off as a bit of a banter soon starts to echo bullying. The staging gives a clue as to what is to come. The lighting might be office bright and the carpet corporate bland but it is bordered by railings so that the square space also resembles a boxing ring.

Isobel and Tony start to gang up on Thomas and doubt is thrown on whether they are being truthful or not in what they tell him. They play tricks and then accuse him of not being a good sport when he protests. Just how far will they go in this increasingly calculated school yard behaviour?

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Review: Daytona at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

Harry Shearer, Oliver Cotton and Maureen Lipman in Daytona

Getting invited to a West End premiere is a rare treat and on this occasion made all the more special by a certain Hugh Jackman sat just a few rows behind.

My endorsement is never going to carry the weight of such a Hollywood A-lister and fan of the stage* but I never got the chance to ask him what he thought of Daytona as he was whisked off to a VIP area straight afterwards (What's On Stage's photos here).

The play, written by Oliver Cotton, started life at the Park Theatre before touring and has now found its way into the West End at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. It tells the story of retired couple Elli (Maureen Lipman) and Joe (Harry Shearer) who keep active by entering ballroom dancing competitions and socialising with friends. They bicker but obviously care about each other, enjoying a simple and cosy life.

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Review: Nick Payne's The Art of Dying at the Royal Court

510x340.fitandcropNick Payne is sat on a chair in the middle of the stage talking about when his dad was dying. You probably aren't going to see a piece of theatre as affecting or personal as this.

And that is its power. It is obviously a personal experience for Payne but then so is it for anyone who's suffered a loss.

With great pathos he interweaves his experiences with the stories of two other deaths adding a dose of humour along the way.

What the stories acutely show is just how raw the emotions are around death, emotions that are at once simple and complicated. Despite the certainty of death it remains an awkward, uncomfortable subject; it is one we tend to brush under the carpet.

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Review: Ten Women at the Ovalhouse Theatre

Ten Women is a work in progress and therefore to call this a review is a little unfair. Written by Bethan Dear it isn't so much a drama as a presentation of ideas about women and body image.

The group of women use a mixture of performance styles. For example, they take it in turns reading excerpts from a diary cataloguing pre-pubescent thoughts about their  body through to when they are in their late 20s, then there are mantras about particular moments of empowerment and rituals which are acted out by one or two while recited by another.

It isn't subtle, it's a didactic piece and a gentle introduction to feminist thinking for the uninitiated but it is done with fun and vigor. The message is clear, women's bodies have been hijacked by the world and this is a call to arms to reclaim individuality and naturalness without guilt.

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Review: Nick Payne's Incognito at the Bush Theatre


Amelia Lowdell in Incognito. Photo by Bill Knight.

The title of Nick Payne's latest play (gosh he's prolific) gives a hint of its themes primarily the hidden self. Incognito is an exploration of the sense of self, whether through our own perceptions, relationships or straightforward biology and whether it is truthful.


There are three stories interwoven and presented like overlapping jigsaw pieces, boundaries blurring as the four cast members stride in and out of scenes with only differing accents to distinguish the multiple characters they play.

Two of the stories are set in the fifties. In one After conducting his autopsy, Thomas Harvey steals Einstein's brain to use for research.  In the other Henry's life is changed fundamentally after brain surgery leaves him with only a short term memory.

The third, set in the present, follows a clinical neuro-psychologist Martha who is struggling to cope with her patients and with her own radically changing life choices.

Each of the central characters is in some way hidden from their self and it is interesting how they cope with that. Harvey is obsessed with his research to the point where it takes over his life to the exclusion of most others. Henry's life has become frozen at the time in which he was about to go on honeymoon and he can't remember anything outside that for longer than a few minutes.

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Review: Mike Bartlett's An Intervention, Watford Palace Theatre

Rachael Stirling and John Hollingworth in Mike Bartlett's An Intervention

It must be a rarity to see two new plays by the same writer within the space of 10 days. Mike Bartlett has been busy.

An Intervention is a co-production with Watford Palace Theatre and Paines Plough and sees Bartlett return to more simple story-telling of his Cock (tee hee, cannot resist). Rachael Stirling and John Hollingworth play best friends A and B whose friendship is tested to breaking point.

A is a passionate anti-war protester and B thinks intervention is better in the long run. But the argument that sparks a break down of their friendship is only a mask for what is really going on. A likes to drink. A lot. She is the life and soul of the party, always full of energy, witty and fun and that is her life. B, however, sees a different future for himself. He's got a new girlfriend (whom A hates) who has opened the door to a different lifestyle.

Bartlett puts friendship under a magnifying glass and examines what it means. When is it right to intervene, when should you stay quiet and at what point do you throw in the towel?

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