Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Review: See Rock City And Other Destinations, Union Theatre

“It’s not what I expected.
Is it what you expected?”

I doubt it was fully the intention of bookwriter Adam Mathais and composer Brad Alexander to suggest Dante’s circles of hell in the unconnected stories of their song cycle See Rock City And Other Destinations but there are moments when it might feel like it. The show purports to show vignettes of people searching for the meaning of life and love against the backdrop of different US landmarks with no real connection between them all save the shadowy presence of the Tour Guide, lurking at each scene.


In reality, we get fragments of stories accompanied by a handful of songs each which a youthful company try their hardest to make register but few really succeed. They’re hardly helped by a format which allows so short a time to establish their characters and a score which seems intent mainly on showcasing a wide range of musical styles rather than really forming any sort of narrative push or wider coherence to the scattered storytelling. Nor does Graham Hubbard’s direction really help us to find any connective tissue that might help the piece hang together more effectively.


Short Film Review #47

Eclipse Theatre’s 10by10 project was a series of short films “exploding the myth of a homogenised Black British culture”, all directed by Dawn Walton but written by and starring a wide range of some of our most exciting writers and performers. Filmed in 10 different cities across the UK, the hometowns of the playwrights in fact, and each shot in a single day, these make a fascinating insight into a wider cross-section of British society that perhaps is normally seen. Part 1 of 2.

Parking Wars

Representing for South London is Bola Agbaje’s Parking Wars, a short, sharp and ultimately sweet tale of the thing most likely to test religious harmony on a Sunday morning – parking spaces. Richard Pepple’s pastor and Danny Sapani’s imam preach in neighbouring rooms and are united by their annoyance as the sound of car horns and shouting from outside. And out there, is a challenge that would faze any man, no matter his religion – good fun.
  

Monday, 18 August 2014

Review: The Saints, Nuffield Playing Field

“It's quite clearly not just a game or we wouldn't be this upset about it would we"

In lieu of anyone having written a play about Wigan Athletic (although maybe there is one to come from somewhere…), I had to make do with Luke Barnes’ The Saints for my theatrical footie fix, journeying down to Southampton on a beautiful summer’s day. The weather was key as the Nuffield have created a pop-up theatre in Guildhall Square for the Art at the Heart Festival and as you can see from the pics below, it takes the form of a mini football stadium, leaving the audience exposed to the elements on its terraces but fortunately a morning rain shower soon changed to blazing sun in time for the starting whistle and a really rather enjoyable piece of theatre.

Kenny Glynn is a lifelong Southampton FC supporter and that life has been one full of hardship and challenges, not least in supporting the Saints through thick and thin, and in a brilliantly conceived first half, we see exactly how that life has played out. We witness the early death of his father at Kenny’s first trip to the Dell, the development of his mother’s chronic illness which made him her live-in carer, the trials being a Sunday League footballer and not a very good one at that, and the woes of being a teenager in love with a girl who barely knows he exists. Alongside this runs a potted history of the club, Kenny unable to dissociate the key events of his life from what was happening on and off the field.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Review: The Picture of John Gray, Old Red Lion

“We are living in an age of unrivalled beastliness” 

The life of Oliver Wilde has been much explored, not least in the theatre with De Profundis and The Judas Kiss just two recent examples, but CJ Wilmann’s new play takes a different angle on the familiar events by focusing on others who were in his circle and how they were affected by the scandal that engulfed the writer and eventually claimed his life. The fresh-faced and devout poet John Gray was one of those men, a lover of Wilde’s and reportedly the inspiration for the character of Dorian Gray, and Wilmann’s play adroitly explores this slice of gay life anew. 

Though Wilde is oft mentioned, he never actually appears here, his presence is merely felt and as Patrick Walshe McBride’s youthful Gray burns brightly and briefly in Oscar’s life, he spends more and more time in The Vale, the artist’s studio of couple Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon that formed the salon for the group. There, his head is turned by the French Jewish literary critic Marc-André Raffalovich and an intense relationship forms between the two, right at the moment that the Bosie-led scandal explodes and lands Wilde in court and then in jail. 

Review: Laughing Matters with Celia Imrie, St James Studio

“They're out of sorts in Sunderland
And terribly cross in Kent”

There’s something a little curious about Celia Imrie’s Laughing Matters, a cabaret show in all but nature, which means it never quite satisfies in the way one yearns for it to do so. In the intimate surroundings of the Crazy Coqs, she rattles through a selection of comic songs and extracts from her 2011 autobiography The Happy Hoofer but with so little audience interaction until the very end, this revue feels a little sterile rather than offering the personal insight that more seasoned cabaret performers bring to the table.

That’s not to say it wasn’t an enjoyable experience, I really rather liked it, but rather it needs to be taken more as a kind of vanity project and Lord knows, she has paid her dues. Her personal anecdotes are chucklesome if not particularly revelatory and her choice of songs wisely errs on the patter side of things - she’d be the first to say she’s hardly the strongest singer although she did win an Olivier for Best Supporting Role in A Musical for Acorn Antiques, which simply demonstrates her considerable comic capabilities.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Review: The Hired Man, NYMT at St James Theatre

"What would you say to your son?"

Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man probably has to be one of my favourite musicals, British or otherwise, so going to see any production of it is something of a no-brainer, especially in a year that marks the centenary of the beginning of the First World War that plays such a strong part here. But performed by the National Youth Music Theatre of Great Britain, this one has the added bonus of featuring people who we are bound to be seeing on our stages for years to come, emerging as an astonishingly accomplished piece of work, not least in the lead performances of Amara Okereke and Dominic Harrison. 

Bolstering the sterling efforts of the cast though is some superb creative work under Nikolai Foster’s hands. Matthew Wright’s design really opens up the stage most effectively, allowing for his beautiful set to evoke the unforgiving terrain of the turn-of-the-century English countryside; Nick Winston’s choreography reflects a similar muscularity that felt utterly true; and Sarah Travis’ musical direction is just inspired, marshalling the voices of her 30+-strong company to spine-tingling effect and also employing actor-musicianship to add real texture to the music.

Review: Jezebel, Soho Theatre

“Roughly 15% of people report to have had a threesome”

There’s something rather refreshing about Mark Cantan’s Jezebel, newly opened in the attic room/oven of the Soho Theatre upstairs, in its uncomplicated nature. There’s nothing particularly ground-breaking in its format or earth-shattering in its content but rather, there’s a finely balanced comedy with a sparkling modern take on its farcical shenanigans and which, pleasingly, feels no need to try and mine elements of social relevance or emotional depth in search of ‘significance’. Sometimes a play can just be fun and not have mean anything more than that.

So it’s something of a sex farce which slides into a comedy of errors. Both in their early 30s, Alan and Robin are both coming off a series of unsuccessful relationship so when they get set up and the chemistry between them is palpable (and hilariously double-entendre-ridden), it seems their luck may have finally changed. But eight months in, that initial flame has fizzled a little and so they turn sexual adventuring to spice things up, working their way through allsorts until settling on a threesome, the kookily, hapless-in-love Jezebel being their third.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Review: Dogfight, Southwark Playhouse

“Lock your door and hide your daughter"

After the extraordinary success that was In The Heights, the Southwark Playhouse have gone for another American musical theatre import in the shape of 2012’s Dogfight. But whilst expectations were high – something heightened by the auditorium being in the same configuration as for that previous show, the reality fell far short. Peter Duchan’s book, based on the 1991 film of the same name, follows a group of boisterous marines in San Francisco on the night before they’re due to fly out to Vietnam as they look to maintain the (dis)honourable tradition of holding a dogfight.

As we come to realise, their version of a dogfight is distinctly unpleasant, a cruel game played on unsuspecting women and though he is a part of this world of pent-up testosterone and hints of sexual violence, the young Eddie Birdlace soon comes to regret his choice of victim – a sweet waitress called Rose – and tries to make amends, though whether this is because he has fallen instantly in love with her or he has spotted an easy way to get laid on his last night is anyone’s guess. So what is trying to be a sweet love story is overlaid with this troubling sour note throughout. 

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rockwell House

“The summer still doth tend upon my state”


The Malachites have more usually been found at St Leonard’s Church in their quest to “reconnect Shakespeare with Shoreditch in the public consciousness” but this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream sees them skip down the road to the tented rooftop of a venue which sits on the site where the Curtain Theatre once stood more than 400 years ago. And more significantly, it sees this young company taking a much more inventive approach to the Bard’s work – there can’t have been too many other female Bottoms, gender-swapped Oberons and Titanias or such explicit references to a 1909 silent film version of the play.



Benjamin Blyth’s production is cleverly done indeed. Projected snippets of that film play out above us – one brilliant scene sees the Rude Mechanicals mime along silently as their roles are given out by Peter Quince – and there’s something rather magical about seeing, even if only briefly, an interpretation of this same story that is over a century old. Blyth is also unafraid to contrast this with the new and novel though – having the Fairy King and Queen swap bodies in some magical mishap is further exploited when we meet our female Bottom, the tangled sexual dynamics of these mischievous spirits cast in a fresh light.


Review: Perseverance Drive, Bush Theatre

“I know we have a certain amount of dirty laundry in this family, but is it really necessary to keep on washing it so publicly?”

Robin Soans’ new play for the Bush Theatre takes a little time to get where it is going but by the time it arrives at its destination, it has gathered into something really rather moving. Perseverance Drive opens in Barbados as the Gillards come together to bury their matriarch Grace. Pentecostal pastor Eli heads up a deeply religious family but not one that is close – one of his sons Joshua has been exiled for being gay, and Nathan and Zek who are both ministers as well have splintered into opposing factions of the church.

Their battles are endless – who will get to speak the eulogy, what will happen to their mother’s soul etc etc and though the gospel-inflected ambience created in Madani Younis’ production is powerful, this opening half is a little too static for its own good. Fortunately, after the interval the energy shifts subtly to become much more affecting. It is four years later and now it is Eli’s turn to die in the somewhat less tropical surroundings of a run-down Leytonstone flat but as he slowly shuffles closer to the end of his mortal coil, it is clear that little has really changed.

Short Film Review #46

Expectation Management – Episode 2
Expectation Management, Episode 2 from tupaq felber on Vimeo.

A second instalment for Tupaq Felber’s Expectation Management, seeing Jon Foster’s Owen remaining unlucky in love and dating, not least because of the efforts of his friends. It’s not quite as funny as the first but still rather good fun.