I started this blog in 2011 to report back on shows I have attended, mainly theatre but also some concerts and sporting events.
It has also become a vehicle for some film, television (current and archive), book reviews, and some more personal pieces.
On a professional level I worked for twenty-five years as a librarian, and also am a published writer – academic articles, poetry, popular culture – and spent five years editing a journal for a major publisher. If you would like to know more, see my LinkedIn profile.
As of 2019 writing and editing has become my main job, and I am very keen to engage with productions, outlets, and arts organisations to expand my coverage and my reviews.
This week is the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing, and the Science Museum’s Summer of Space continues with this event – the screening of the ‘First Steps’ edition of Apollo 11, a film by Todd Douglas Miller, and a Q&A with astronaut Helen Sharman and veteran broadcaster James Burke.
The film itself is edited for maximum tension and excitement, with musical cues, split screens, cross-cutting and footage from launch, flight and landing of the historic mission. I wasn’t around in 1969 but my husband was a child at the time and remembers school projects, Airfix models and TV reconstructions of a time where space travel was seen as the future of mankind.
Sharman and Burke’s insights on space travel was engrossing, with the former discussing issues around her work on the British-Soviet programme in 1991, her intensive training, and the lack of fear felt by astronauts because of the need to trust the team around them, and the latter recalling the access he had to simulations and areas in Houston, the threat of nuclear attack during the Cold War, plus the first all-night TV broadcast on the day Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon.
The future was discussed, too, with Manchester University’s recent breakthrough in nanotechnology which would cut costs of machine production and what can be achieved, and the likelihood of China reaching Mars while the Western nations concentrate on sorting out climate and pollution on Earth.
An interesting and focused evening, with, of course, great IMAX visuals.
A play on monogamous extra-marital infidelity sounded interesting, and the poster art intriguing, so off I went to Shepherds Bush Market to visit this long-time fringe survivor (check out the posters of past productions which are displayed in the outside courtyard).
Poster image for Rust
Rust starts with promise, an abstract set of piled-up pillows and vertically-hanging flourescent bulbs of various colours, and two characters we find out are Nadia (wife and mother) and Daniel (husband and father) discussing hard and soft limits of their physical attraction.
These thirty-somethings call themselves Mr and Mrs White to lease a flat, and every Monday they put their other lives aside to indulge their fantasy together of sex, 80s tunes, and rule-breaking.
Jon Foster as Daniel, Claire Lams as Nadia
Although I admired the performances of both Claire Lams and Jon Foster as( the couple trying to escape the normality of boredom, crime documentaries, takeaways and indifferent sex over a three-year period, I couldn’t warm to them.
There are some special moments in Kenny Emson’s play where the writing takes flight (a clock, a figure outside the window, a gift, a pillow fight), but I didn’t feel the tragedy and found Nadia ultimately shallow and selfish.
With a confusing and understated ending – I expected something more in the region of Last Tango in Paris or Oleanna, and felt a little frustrated that no explosion of violence came – Rust, for all its initial intrigue and earnest attempts to evoke the ennui of middle-aged surburban marriage, didn’t convince for me.
Claire Lams as Nadia
Eleanor Rhode directs with an eye for the best utlisation of the small space, with Max Johns and Jess Bernberg’s set and lighting design adding to the sense of passionate betrayal.
I just wanted something more subversive and challenging from the relationship on view, and that was never delivered.
Rust continues in the studio at the Bush Theatre until 27 July.
A trip to Barons Court to see a Sondheim musical in LAMDA’s Summer Season was just the ticket this week, although I regret that I missed the chance to see two student productions of Merrily We Roll Along (the Guildhall School presented it at their Silk Street Theatre at the Barbican earlier this month, and it passed me by).
William Robinson, Mercedes Assad, Scarlett Courtney, Olivia Le Anderson, Stuart Thompson and Chloe McClay
Still, it is a musical I haven’t seen live at all, so I really looked forward to see what LAMDA’s graduating class had done with it.
Merrily We Roll Along was a failure on its first appearance, a rare misstep for Sondheim and director Hal Prince – over the years, though, many of its songs have had multiple recordings by major artists and regular revivals have made it an affectionately regarded, if minor musical.
Sam Stafford, Colm Gleeson, Ryan Burch, Scarlett Courtney and Esme Scarborough
This “class of 2019” are a talented bunch – in leading roles we have Colm Gleeson (Frank, arrogance personified at the start, idealistic at the end), Sam Stafford (Charlie, sweet in Good Thing Going), Esme Scarborough (Mary, the glue that binds the Old Friends), Scarlett Courtney (Beth, spiky yet fragile in Not a Day Goes By), Chloe McClay (Gussie, the vamp) and Ryan Burch (Joe, whose plot trajectory is in reverse of Frank’s), and they are very good indeed.
Sam Stafford, Colm Gleeson and Mercedes Assad
On the fringes in smaller parts are Stuart Thompson (who was awarded the Sondheim Society Performer of the Year for 2019), Liam King (fun as Beth’s southern dad), Mercedes Assad (a fiery TV anchor), and Olivia Le Anderson (the unfortunate Meg in the first scene).
Joshua Eldridge-Smith, Michael Kosko, Ell Potter (fun, briefly, as Charlie’s wife Evelyn), Ivan du Pontavice, and William Robinson form the rest of the company, all gifted in voice and movement.
Company of Merrily We Roll Along
Based on a 1930s play which used the same reverse chronology, Sondheim’s musical (and George Furth’s book) takes us from 1976 back to 1957, to see how the choices of Franklin Shephard shaped his life and made him the Hollywood success we see at the opening party.
Far more effective than a straightforward rise and fall story, it closes with perhaps the best-known song fron the production, It’s Our Time, which resonates both with the young characters we see here and the actors at the start of their careers.
Directed by Caroline Leslie, designed by Mila Sanders, and accompanied on solo piano and occasional percussion by Joe Beighton – all LAMDA staff members – this is an enjoyable piece which has its final performances today.
I look forward to seeing what this group of performers do in their future engagements.
One of the best things about having time, energy and opportunity to devote to exploring London theatre in 2019 is finding the small shows which sometimes fly under the radar from new companies.
One which caught my eye when it was first announced was Unchained Theatre’s Nine, which has its second and final performance tonight at the Drayton Arms in South Kensington.
Detail of poster image for Nine.
In its favour was a one-act structure which runs at a tightly executed forty minutes, with two performers on stage throughout. The stage is marked by white lines on the floor and one hanging light, with other areas of the ‘above a pub’ space like windowsills and corners also being utilised.
The women are nameless. We don’t know where they are (a prison, a mental hospital, their imagination?), why they are there, or what time period we are in. They dress identically in grey t-shirts and sweatpants, with bare feet.
Amy Whitrod Brown and Ana Luiza Ulsig
Is this a real scenario, or cosplay? Do these women know each other or are they imagining a companion? Is that really blood, or the red they smear on themselves ? Who are the oppressors who are invisible to us, who announce their presence only by knocks, flickering lights, and an air of menace?
Engaging with each other both physically (pushing, fighting) and mentally (a torrent of abuse here, a game of tell there, their own brand of emotional torture on each other), these women mirror each other in words and phrases, playing a game of survival which is at turns amusing, dark and eventually tender.
With talk of “being saved by a moonbeam” hinting at a world outside which may not be in conflict or apocalypse, Nine leaves an audience perplexed and provoked.
Coral Tarran makes a fine directing debut – she recently performed her comic one-woman show How I Became a Dominatrix Through Damn Lies and Statistics at the King’s Head.
The performers are Amy Whitrod Brown and Ana Luiza Ulsig, both effective and convincing in roles which require shape-shifting, toughness, and vulnerability.
Dominic Dromgoole’s production of Robert Holman’s stage trilogy comes to the screen, in a film released in selected cinemas from 19 July. I’m watching from an online screener on a smart TV, so almost get the full cinematic experience of this intimate staging writ large.
Open Palm Films was launched in 2016 by Drumgoole following the end of his tenure as artistic director at Shakespeare’s Globe. Making Noise Quietly is the first of five films to be completed, two others having already made their debuts at film festivals in the UK.
The film is split into three distinct sections, punctuated by solo piano. In part one, we’re in a wartime village, with chiming church bells, and the mundane issues which feature in everyday life. By the third part, we have gone through years of conflict, but see that the considerations and fears remain the same.
It is always a complex undertaking to transfer stage plays to the screen, and Making Noise Quietly has more of a feel of the BBC Screen Ones than a fully-fledged big-budget production; even with opened-out locations and naturalistic settings, the pacing and dialogue remains very theatrical. I don’t mind. I rather like the concept of filmed theatre, and some of Dromgoole’s set-ups are rather beautiful in their scope.
Part one, Being Friends, concerns the friendship between a Quaker consciencious objector and a homosexual artist, and how they come to understand each other alongside the background of missing sons, suspicion, and “honey still for tea”. Matthew Tennyson returns to the part he played at the Donmar, the fey Eric, and displays a compelling screen performance, with Luke Thompson finding some sympathy in the role of the “conchie”.
In the second part, Lost, we deal with loss and catastrophe in the Falklands War, in 1982, where a mother (Barbara Marten) is told of the death of her son in action. She’s very proud, resolute, and stoic – but this was the section which lost its way, just a little, for me. Perhaps it never takes flight or feels anything other than awkward.
Finally, in the third part which gives the film its title, we meet a steely German woman (Deborah Findlay) who has survived the camps forty years previously, and her interactions with a squaddie who has seen the devastation in the Falklands. It’s a powerful piece, and Findlay is good, even if we have seen similar characters and arguments on screen before.
The camera is almost voyeuristic across the film, sometimes settling back to show the main characters in deep focus, sometimes observing from unusual angles such as beneath a bicycle and behind a row of glasses, sometimes in long shot (the dots of land girls, running, quick cuts between faces and hands), but sometimes this is to the detriment of the piece, which should stand for itself.
Making Noise Quietly is a laudable attempt to open out a trilogy which is not without its problems and contradictions. In a film version it is sometimes more fitting to play with timelines and text than to be completely faithful to the source (think how different the multiple screen versions of Rattigan’s Seperate Tables have been).
This is a film with its full potential just out of reach, with nuggets of excellence. It makes the best of a trio of plays which already feel a little leaden and Dromgoole does his best to give them a lively screen treatment: he almost succeeds.
Making Noise Quietly is on a limited cinema release from 19 July. Photo credits – Open Palm Films.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s clever rock opera is now approaching its fiftieth birthday, and yet has lost none of its power as it depicts the last few days in the life of Jesus.
Ricardo Afonso as Judas
This production was first seen at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park a couple of years ago, and has now come indoors with a new principal cast at the Barbican Theatre.
I’m very familiar with the 1973 film, the original concept recording, the 90s stage version (later filmed), and most recently, the arena version.
A pulsing score and thoughtful – if occasionally dated – lyrics bring the story to life, especially the tense relationship between a Jesus who loses confidence as the cult around him grows and a Judas who watches with concern and incredulity until he is compelled to betrayal for thirty pieces of silver.
Robert Tripolino as Jesus, Sallay Garnett as Mary
You know the plot. This production opens with a dancer who almost conjures a feel of black magic, before she is joined by the fervent followers. Judas and Jesus have to have the charisma and powerhouse vocals to carry both the drama and the music, and in Ricardo Afonso and Robert Tripolino those roles are more than adequately filled.
Utilising hand-held microphones which are sometimes passed from one character to another, sometimes used as plot props (bound in the hands of Jesus at trial, thrown down by Pilate, dropped with a long trail of red wire at the death of Judas), sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, but it is a different approach to shackling main characters with radio mikes.
Ensemble of Jesus Christ Superstar
Sallay Garnett’s Mary is the strong prostitute you would expect her to be, but I didn’t feel her vulnerability until the trial scenes. Matt Cardle’s Pilate, first seen smoking and crushing a beer can, exudes Roman bravado, but completely breaks under the realisation he’s been used just as much as Judas: his vocals are absolutely fine, too, especially in his final couple of lines.
Samuel Buttery as Herod
Also of note are Cavin Cornwall’s menacing and deep-voiced Caiaphas, Samuel Buttery’s drag queen Herod with his long eyelashes, gold cape, and air of genial menace, and Tim Newman’s Simon.
Tom Scutt’s design is deceptively simple – a platform, some arches, galleries for the band to play in and characters to observe from, some trees, and recurring cross motifs which are particularly effective in the temple scene.
Ensemble of Jesus Christ Superstar
Timothy Sheader’s direction and Drew McOnie’s choreography perfectly complement the score, and although I missed the hand-held cameras that used to bring us close to the cruxifiction, there are new innovations I do like, and moments of closeness, clarity and even humour (the freeze frame of the Last Supper) that make this show as relevant as it has ever been.
Two images that stood out for me: Judas with silver paint on his hands after the betrayal, and Jesus being taken from the cross and removing his crown of thorns in a kind of tired and resigned resurrection.
This is an important revival of a modern classic. Jesus Christ Superstar continues at the Barbican until 24 August, and if you’re so inclined, you can see the other Lloyd Webber/Rice musicals in London this summer, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the London Palladium, and Evita opening soon in Regent’s Park.
I’m very fond of theatre which utilises “found space”, whether it is as a pop-up venue or, as here, repurposing the stunning council chamber at County Hall which was once the centre of London’s local government.
Lewis Cope as Leonard Vole
This room has now been repurposed as the courtroom at the Old Bailey, where Leonard Vole (a fine performance from Lewis Cope), accused of murder, is brought to trial.
It begins with a rather hysterical sequence in which Vole is sentenced to death and executed before we find ourselvesin the chambers of Sir Wilfrid Robarts, combative defence lawyer (played by Simon Dutton, once seen on TV as Simon Templar, no less, some thirty years ago).
Simon Dutton as Sir Wilfrid Robarts QC
Agatha Christie’s work lends itself well to drama and theatrics, and once we are in the court (for £95 you can be a jury member, with a prime position) it feels as if we are really involved with the case.
Out to reach a guilty verdict on the accused is Mr Myers (a fine piece of work from Giles Taylor, who evokes memories of the late film actor Marius Goring).
Is Vole guilty, ot not? And what of his cold and mysterious German wife (Carolin Stoltz, who turns even a bit of throwaway business with a cigarette into a depiction of ennui and frustration).
Giles Taylor as Mr Myers QC
The judge in the case (the reliable Michael Cochrane), is in full ‘Crown Court’ mode with his address to the jury, benign tolerance and deft handling of his star QCs, and sense of justice. It’s an enjoyable performance.
Even knowing the verdict and ending (I’ve seen both film versions many times), I found the final scene very well acted by Dutton, Cope and Stoltz, and the atmosphere in the chamber was almost of an audience holding it breath.
The council chamber at London County Hall
If I changed one thing, I wouldn’t have incidental music during some points of the trial, but I liked the venue, the scene changes and the fine performances in the great Christie tradition.
Witness for the Prosecution continues at County Hall. I utilised TodayTix to get a heavily discounted ticket, but a range of options for seating are available, including galleries.
In the tiny theatre downstairs at Hampstead, it’s new balls please as Cash Cow tells the story of an ordinary couple who realise their young daughter (tellingly, never named) is a tennis prodigy.
Phoebe Pryce as Nina
Jonathan Livingstone and Phoebe Pryce navigate a script that utilises a short scene structure to move backward and forward in time: their child has cut them off for years and we slowly see how their pushing for her success, while disregarding her mental state and own wishes, engineered the break between them.
On a stage which resembles a tennis court in size and shape, with the use of a light strip around the performance area and piano music and light changes to separate the scenes, both Livingstone and Pryce do well with tonal changes that require them to move through a range of emotions, as well as playing their shadowed, monosyllabic daughter – her only words are yes, no and OK.
Phoebe Pryce as Nina
Cash Cow is a deftly performed piece which benefits greatly from the intimacy of a small space, and a running time of just 90 minutes. We feel we know this couple but slowly they reveal themselves as they really are, however much they protest that “it isn’t for the money, we just want her”.
In this Wimbledon fortnight, with teenagers playing at the top professional level, you do wonder about the lives of the children who put parties, boyfriends and even menstrual cycles on hold for the good of the game and their careers.
Jonathan Livingstone as Ade and Phoebe Pryce as Nina
Oli Forsyth has written a literate play here which throws up all kinds of questions about the rights of minors and fame by proxy. Katie Pesskin directs, Anna Reid designed the set and Ed Lewis the evocative sound design.
Cash Cow continues until the 20 July at Hampstead Downstairs.
A mystery boat trip from Embankment Pier for press, creatives and theatre folk yesterday took us to Battersea Power Station at the invitation of Paul Taylor-Mills and associates for the launch of London’s newest theatre, the Turbine.
With lots of hints as to location, the 200-seater space turns out to be in the new Circus West Village area, already full of places to eat and drink, and in the shadow of the iconic power station itself, being developed into three performance spaces of its own, due to open in 2021.
Battersea Power Station
As well as the theatre itself, the Turbine will have a pop-up cafe open during the day, and the creative programme will include new work, festivals such as MTFest (such a success at Taylor-Mills’ previous venue, The Other Palace), plus classic revivals given a contemporary spin.
Inaugural artistic director Paul Taylor-Mills
The Turbine has the financial support of producer Bill Kenwright, but it is Taylor-Mills’ ambition for it to be funded by one of its shows running “somewhere in the world” within five years.
We all know small theatres face issues the bigger ones might not even think about, but Taylor-Mills seems upbeat and confident about the chances of his new venture succeeding in this space – Battersea itself has changed massively in a short space of time, and the new Northern line extension is in planning.
The first production at the Turbine Theatre will be Harvey Fierstein’s play Torch Song, directed by Drew McOnie. With all tickets priced at £32 this feels an affordable destination for those travelling to Battersea, as well as the wealthy community based in the immediate environs.
The Turbine Theatre opens for business on 20 August, and will undoubtedly be an exciting addition to the London theatre scene.
The London transfer of the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan comes to St Martin’s Lane with lots of cheesy energy, chock-full of hits from Gloria and the Miami Sound Machine.
The rather thin plotline follows the young Gloria as she performs in her community, before growing up to catch the attention of Emilio, at this point playing weddings and the like with little success.
The company of On Your Feet
Although she sings “Anything for You” at her audition (complete with a section where all the other observers leave the stage, letting the young couple have their ‘love at first sight’ moment), the Machine is strictly Latino and pitched at that market.
Gloria’s home life consists of a mother who had performed, successfully, in Havana, now resenting her daughter’s ambition; a father sick with MS and mute except in flashbacks and one dream sequence where he gives his child advice; and a younger sister who isn’t sharply enough defined for us to get a sense of her.
Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan
With these is Consuelo, the tough grandma who also provides the comic relief as well as key support for Gloria as she builds her career. I liked her scenes, but it’s a trope we have seen so many times before, the helpful granny.
The music is good, and the production values are high in terms of lighting and effects – the set is mainly a series of sliding platforms to keep the action moving.
George Ioannides and Christie Prades as the Estefans
Act one closes with dancing in the stall aisles and “Conga”, before a pace change in the second half with Gloria’s road accident and rehabilitation. For me this slowed the pace too much for what has been marketed as a show which will get you “On Your Feet” and presumably keep you there!
As the Estefans have had a long and happy marriage, there’s nothing much to exploit there in the way of conflict, and other than their record label declining to support “Dr Beat” or put money into their albums, there’s little sense of the obstacles faces by a Latino group crossing over into a white market (other than a great joke about Sweden feeling like “a land of dancing cotton buds”).
Christie Prades and company of On Your Feet
For all the high energy of this piece, it is a jukebox musical with a sliver of story, and if you paid full price for your tickets you may feel a little disappointed. Look around for the many discounts available and you may feel you have more value for money.
Gloria Estefan is played by Christie Prades, who gets the singer’s mannerisms and vocal patterns just right. Emilio is George Ioannides, who did well with an underwritten role (and a slightly troublesome microphone). Madalena Alberto (who was in AspectsofLove earlier in the year) is Gloria’s mother, and Karen Mann is Consuelo.
On Your Feet continues at the London Coliseum. Tickets are available throughout the remainder of the run, but shop around for the best prices.
To reach The Vaults performance space you venture down the graffiti tunnel at Leake Street, then into one of the arches and through an unsteady route to the bar.
Poster for Bare: a Pop Opera
Bare: a Pop Opera isn’t on in the theatre, but instead in an extension of the bar space with a long stage in the shape of a T. From my section, the ‘red’ seats (the perks of the press), there isn’t much turning required to see everything, but the cheaper ‘yellow’ section must miss bits or see a lot of backs of heads.
So, settling down on a plastic chair with the rumble of trains passing from Waterloo, the set I see is simple – religious paintings, chairs, a tree. The lights are purple, there are church chants. We’re in a Catholic school with teenagers about to graduate – Peter, Jason, Ivy, Matt, Nadia and others.
Mark Jardine as Peter, Darragh Cowley as Jason
Over the next two and a half hours we watch them pray, party, fall in love, struggle with their identities, and eventually deal with the catastrophe of a loss they can only just comprehend.
Songs (by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo) and scenes stand out – Nadia, a little large, who wants to be pretty (she is, reminding me of Mama Cass); Peter, trying to confide in his mum over the phone (“his father will die … where was the warning?”); Matt, who loves Ivy, but she looks right through him: Ivy, outwardly confident but “only a girl”; and Jason, our Romeo who wants things “best kept secret”.
Lizzie Emery as Ivy
There’s the sister, too (Stacy Francis), appearing in a dream like a Supreme as the Virgin Mary, then reminding Peter that as conflicted and ashamed as he may be for loving another boy, “God don’t make no trash”. The priest is less helpful, preaching doctrine that it is best “not to question”.
This show has had a long genesis – it debuted in 2000 in Los Angeles and eventually evolved into Bare: the Musical in 2012. The original version, which we see here at The Vaults, feels timeless, without the clutter of social media or the opening out of the book.
Georgie Lovatt as Nadia, Lizzie Emery as Ivy
Bare: a Pop Opera is almost completely sung-through, with more than thirty songs of different types. For me, the second act was stronger with less ensemble numbers (the sound in the venue is a problem with multiple singers), but there are fine performances throughout.
The use of Romeo and Juliet as a framing device, the end-of-term play, gives a chance for the Queen Mab speech to be incorporated, and the suicide by poison, this time for the love of a boy.
Romeo and Juliet sequence
Parallels with Spring Awakening feel inevitable, but I feel that had a more focused book throughout (although Bare, with its tree and pictures of children who struggled too long with their sexuality and perceptions of others, has the more emotional ending).
Julie Atherton’s direction makes the most of the stage space available – although there is at least one scene change that drags – and in the cast there are several young names to watch: Daniel Mark Shand (Peter), Georgie Lovatt (Nadia), Tom Hier (Matt) especially impressed me, but the whole cast are good.
Bare: a Pop Opera continues at The Vaults until 4 August.
Nigel Slater’s memoirs become a compelling stage production in this fine adaptation by Henry Filloux-Bennett. The late 1960s are evoked in the music we hear on arrival and in the design of Libby Watson (all kitchen tops, red toaster, old portable gramophone and yellow Aga) and the period choreography of director Jonnie Riordan.
Mixing a discovery of cookery with growing up, we see Nigel at nine and the relationship he has with his mum, an asthmatic in a floral dress, as they make jam tarts together (only with strawberry, blackcurrant or lemon curd). A moving sequence which is almost dreamlike in which boy and mother dance on the worktops to Charles Trenet’s La mer is complemented with the fun of a Top of the Form round in which “Mr Slater’s views on sweets” is the specialist subject.
So much here pulls back memories of the sixties and seventies – sharing sherbet fountains, the “magic ingredient – lard”, school cookery classes, and the awkwardness of the working dad and the stay-at-home mum. The cast give out bags of sweets for the audience to pick from in act one, with Walnut Whips taking pride of place in act two, the act of exploring the chocolate treat leading into Nigel’s first experiences as a voyeur.
Filloux-Bennett’s script deftly deals with the different emotional events in young Nigel’s life, culminating before the interval with the knowledge that “I knew that Father Christmas would not be coming”. Giles Cooper is simply marvellous as the young, precocious child who turns into a moody, then confident teenager dealing with a new force in the house and “Aunty Joan” with her food contests.
Stephen Ventura does well in an unsympathetic role as Dad, who copes badly with a son he cannot understand, even down to leaving him marshmallows each night to help communicate what he cannot say, while Lizzie Muncey’s Mum, physically weak but mentally strong, is well-defined as Nigel’s most enduring influence right up to the closing scene. Marie Lawrence brings her comic gifts to the hideous and over-painted Joan, who barges into the Slater household to cause havoc and discord.
Toast is a deeply reflective piece that will make you laugh (Nigel refers to Aunty Joan as “that baking bitch”), make you cry (that act one closer), and make you hungry (you get a whiff of glorious garlic mushrooms towards the end as Nigel builds his first signature dish). With the right mix of humour, cooking and pathos, this adaptation really is a winner.
You can catch Toast at The Other Palace until the 3 August. Book here.
I asked Tilly Price (actor and producer) and Joshua Silverlock (director) to tell me a bit more about the company and the show.
The title of your piece, How to Mend the World (with a student play), offers many possibilities. What might an audience coming along in London or Edinburgh expect?
JS – It’s a very thorough exploration of what each individual can do to help resolve the various crises currently affecting the world we live in. I think often people think that because they are just one person in a population of 7 billion they can’t make a difference but actually if you are a privileged (preferably white) theatre student from Notting Hill you can put on an experimental play that will have a huge impact. That’s just one option. We explore them all.
TP – I should probably say, Josh is not going to take this seriously. Sorry. It’s a riotous character comedy mixing satire, slapstick, and surrealism to take a jab at some of the more pretentious theatre makers within our ranks.
You’ve chosen Arthur Miller’s The Crucible as your inspiration. Are you planning to tease out some themes from that in your 45 minute show, or keep things light?
JS – There’s a scene in this play in which a cucumber is snapped and grated in place of a penis. Take from that what you will.
TP – The characters in How to Mend the World (with a student play) do discuss The Crucible and it’s ‘themes’ but it becomes clear that the majority have misunderstood the text completely (or not even read it). Indirectly, the play itself exposes certain themes and ideas from The Crucible as part of the narrative but this too is kept light.
Tell me about your cast and creatives, and how Drunken Brainstorm came together. What might we expect from you in the future?
JS – We met on Hampstead Heath late at night. No more questions on this please.
TP – Our cast/creatives are made up of graduates from a few drama schools. We have four actors (myself, Liam Hurley, Francis Nunnery and Oliver Tritton-Wheeler). While some of us attended parts of our education together (three of us met at the Arts Ed sixth form and two on the RADA Foundation), we met as a group in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which we played the mechanicals. We really enjoyed working with each other and decided shortly after that our relationship couldn’t stop with ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’.
You’re at the Old Red Lion in Islington for two nights, then on to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. What are you most looking forward to from your chosen venues, and how will the spaces inspire your performance and production?
JS – I’m most looking forward to meeting the Old Red Lion himself, I’ve been a fan since a very young age so will be amazing to be working together at last!
TP- All our venues have a different layout which has been great for ensuring our production is very adaptable (this is good for the future too). I think the different audiences we will have in London and up in Edinburgh will be really interesting and with a comedy I love the variety in audience reactions. The different audiences keep the play fresh and I think our venues are diverse which can only add to this. This is our first time at the Edinburgh Fringe as a company and I think the play we have created is extremely suited to that audience so it’s an exciting opportunity.
This production utilised crowdfunding, which is an exciting way for theatre fans to support emerging artists and companies. How can audiences support Drunken Brainstorm in the future?
JS – I need a new bike. So …
TP – The crowdfunding was amazing for us as it has demonstrated the support we have for the company. We were touched by how many people wanted to contribute. The best way to support us now is to come and watch our performances in Edinburgh (at theSpace on the Mile from 12-24 August) or our possible future London/touring shows. Keep an eye out for these on our social media pages. Twitter – Instagram – Facebook.
My thanks to Tilly and Josh for their time – best wishes to the company for their Edinburgh run!
Over at Kilburn for Samuel Adamson’s play about LGBQT+ history, using Ibsen’s The Doll’s House as a jumping- off point. Nora’s plight and decision to leave her husband at the close of that play brings us into 1959, and the dressing room of Suzannah.
Sirine Saba as Suzannah.
Young wife Daisy visits the actress after the show with her argumentative husband Robert. Talk of a garden party and a slow reveal exposes Daisy’s unhappiness and Suzannah’s frustration.
A tambourine becomes a linking device between this scene, and the second act, and the baby Daisy carries in 1959 becomes important to the following stories, set in 1988, the present day, and three decades into the future.
Calum Lynch as Eric, Joshua James as younger Ivar.
Cleverly weaving stories together and utilising cross-casting to make the most of a small company, Wife revisits many different Noras – the avant garde, the gender swap, and eventually, a return to the traditional.
It slowly develops the stories of those we see – Daisy and Suzannah and Robert, Ivar and Eric and another Suzannah, Clare and Finn and Ivor and Cas, another Suzannah and another Daisy – before going full circle to the garden party which saw the liberated lesbian thespian in Katharine Hepburn slacks and the closeted “invert”, already starting to drink, meet for the first time in a swathe of stage-managed mist.
Karen Fishwick as Daisy, Sirine Saba as Suzannah.
Juxtapositions can be startling – as when “Smalltown Boy” plays and Eric (“so closeted he’s in Narnia”) becomes transformed as Cas, in a dress, playing Nora, to Suzannah’s almost Elvish drag king Torvald.
Jokes, too, from Lady Diana and Alan Hollingshurst to Elton John’s wedding and “death by buggery”. Fear about catching AIDS becomes flippancy about PREP, and openness becomes domestication.
Joshua James as Finn, Karen Fishwick as Clare.
This is a complex piece, well directed by Kiln AD Indhu Rubasingham and performed by a cast of six in which Sirine Saba’s shape-shifting Suzannah and Richard Cant’s lovelorn Peter and conflicted older Ivar stood out for me.
This is a key play for Pride month, and shows how far we have come, and how complacent we can be. 1959 Daisy has a touch of the hysterics we might associate with 19th century lesbians forced into marriage and loveless sex, young Ivar embraces the sexual freedoms associated with being out and proud, but that’s not all of the story.
Richard Cant as older Ivar.
Wife continues at the Kiln Theatre until Saturday. While not perfect, it packs an emotional punch and I would recommend it.
Twenty years since the death of the reclusive and perfectionist film-maker, who relocated from the USA to the UK and only completed thirteen feature films in a near fifty year career, this exhibition lands at the Design Museum.
Stanley Kubrick was obsessionally concerned with even the smallest details around the creation, development, production and release of his films. Letters, memos, notes and more attest to this, along with scribbles on scripts, artwork, and storyboards.
There are props (the star child from 2001: a Space Odyssey, the furniture from the Clockwork Orange milk bar), costumes, production shots, models (the maze from The Shining, a reproduction of the Dr Strangelove war room), posters, and artefacts utilised by Kubrick including the steenbeck he used for editing, part of his huge library on Napoleon, his archive boxes, his headed paper.
A fairly comprehensive exhibition on Kubrick starting with a video installation and moving on to each of his major films from Spartacus on, ending of course where we began, with 2001, and HAL.
Stanley Kubrick: the Exhibition continues at the Design Museum. All photos by Louise Penn.
A hybrid of opera and musical theatre, The Light in the Piazza is based on an old Hollywood film and sets a complex love story among the ruins and sites of Florence.
The Royal Festival Hall isn’t known for staging musicals, and it is easy to see why – with no flies, wings or ubiquitous revolve, opportunities for set and staging are limited, and the hall is best utilised for classical concerts or semi-staged operas.
Renee Fleming, Dove Cameron and company of The Light in the Piazza
Here, the set is dominated by a huge plaster statue of a headless naked man’s bottom, and a cut-down snippet of set with a staircase, doors, archway, and a small space which is utilised for anything from a hotel room, art gallery and church to a tourist square, pavement cafe and briefly, Rome.
The cast is headed by opera superstar Renee Fleming as protective mum Margaret – I felt she didn’t quite fit her character early on but her singing was wonderful and as the character softened and we had an insight into her dead marriage back home (telling and brief scenes from Malcolm Sinclair) we warmed to her.
Dove Cameron plays Clara, mid-twenties and emotionally underdeveloped due to a childhood trauma (it felt for ages that the problem may have been terminal illness, as Margaret’s explanation to the audience comes late). Cameron is best known for her work for Disney, including the Descendants film series. Her high soprano didn’t quite click for me, but she acted well in a difficult role, depicting a girl finding romantic love for the first time.
Dove Cameron and Rob Houchen
Rob Houchen, a new name to me, is Fabrizio, the Florentine who falls so head over heels for Clara he sings an impassioned aria about her – in Italian! He has a glorious voice, although in his scenes he is saddled with speaking in broken English.
Alex Jennings plays his father, with better English due to his work with American authorities during the war. He’s an urbane shop owner with a wife (Marie McLaughlin) stereotypical Italian until she breaks the fourth wall in act two to tell us what her family are talking about in scenes which verge on comedy), and older son (Liam Tarne) who neglects his flighty wife (the scene-stealing Celinde Schoenmaker).
Alex Jennings and Rob Houchen
The score, by Adam Guettel, is not that memorable, sadly, but is performed well – including solos for Fleming, Cameron, and Houchen, and duets for Fleming/Cameron, Cameron/Houchen and even Fleming/Jennings. The orchestra of Opera North do well, conducted by Kimberly Grigsby, even if they over-dominate that vast stage.
View from front stalls.
The Light in the Piazza feels swamped in such a large space, even with the top level closed. I was lucky enough to secure my seat for half the price, but could have paid a lot less. Pricing this as a top-flight West End show when it is effectively a semi-staging feels too ambitious, and show would surely have more emotional impact in a more intimate space.
Renee Fleming and Alex Jennings.
From my seat in the front stalls I did feel engaged and involved, but in the back row the experience would be very different. Kudos to director Daniel Evans and designer Robert Jones for bringing a bit of Italian magic to this cavernous stage, although the ensemble were limited to bits of movement and dancing on that staircase.
Sushi Girls, a new play by British-Ukranian playwright Tony Leliw opens at the Theatro Technis next month from 25-27 July.
It features a company of four actors: Mark Keegan (Anton), Kate Winder (Anna), Shina Shihoko Nagai (Ichika) and Rina Saito (Shizuko). It also features songs and sounds as if it will be an intriguing addition to this summer’s fringe theatre scene.
The play is based around Leliw’s experience of over two decades as a host family welcoming foreign students to London, who have come here to study English.
The play is “a rollercoaster of linguistic and cultural mishaps” and a tug-of-war between one student, Ichika who wants to study and stay in London, and the other, Shizuko, who does everything to sabotage the trip to be back with her boyfriend in Tokyo.
I asked Tony to tell me a bit about Sushi Girls, which I will be reviewing on the 27 July.
What should an audience expect when they come to see Sushi Girls? How would you describe the show?
It’s not very often when you go to the theatre, that you see two native Japanese actresses land major roles in a British stage play. So for this reason, our play is more out of the ordinary than others.
Being professionals, Shina and Rina speak with Japanese accents when talking English. When they converse with the host family they have a heavy accent, full of grammatical mistakes and mis-pronounciations, while when chatting amongst themselves, they speak clearly and properly, except when they do cockney, which is a whole new ball game.
Without giving too much away, our audience will be blown away when they hear the girls speak with a cockney accent, picking words up from Anton the host father, and host mother Anna getting annoyed, ‘when they rabbit and pork’ and don’t speak ‘proper’..
I am hoping our audience will be partially made up of foreign students, who will in a subtle and fun way learn about British culture, while our domestic audience will pick up on a few Japanese habits and traditions.
For those coming to our opening night (Thursday, July 25, 7pm), the first 50 will be offered a free shot of sake from Tom and Lucy, who run the Kanpai London Craft Sake Brewery. They will also get a chance to meet a Pearly King and Queen. Other Japanese beverages may be on offer from theatre barman Leo.
Why did you decide on the Theatro Technis as a venue? What do you particularly like about it?
I grew up in Islington, and as Camden is a neighbouring borough, I believe you should support your local nstitutions, otherwise they will fade and disappear. I did my first play You What? He’s Ukrainian at Theatro Technis, so it feels a bit nostalgic coming back.
Theatro Technis is on the doorstep of central London, so is easily accessible. It has a good bar, decent dressing rooms and an amphitheatre atmosphere with 120 seats. The theatre is run by a Greek family, George and Aris Eugeniou and his team of volunteers. As the Greeks invented drama, it seemed the perfect venue for my play.
Who are you aiming at with your publicity, social media, trailer etc. How can interested potential audiences spread the word further?
People who have studied abroad, been away from home, experienced a foreign language or culture, or are from a different country now living here, will relate to this play.
I specifically put this play on during the holiday season to attract tourists and foreign students. Equally, in this country is a whole group of host families who will be able to share in some of the experiences featured in the play.
I have targeted English language schools. Those that have been receptive so far include: Lemy School in Harrow, International House London in Covent Garden; and Tti School of English in Camden, who have made students aware of our play. I have also promoted my play through a Sushi Girls page on Facebook, created a dedicated website, Twitter account and shared information with the APL – UK Host Family Support Group.
I am hopeful we will attract a large Japanese following. The Japanese Embassy in UK has included our play in its Japan-UK Season of Culture and our play has been listed by The Japan Society of the UK. Nestle Japan have allowed us to use their Matcha KitKat logo on our poster.
Doki Japanese Tableware in Harrow, my local dry cleaners and Chinese take-away Ming Sing, have put our posters up. Sophie’s Japan Blog interviewed me and our director Antti Hakala. During our last rehearsal we put up a promotional video on YouTube called ‘Sushi Girls coming to London’.
I hope that those that can’t make it will tell their family and friends and share any information we put into the public domain through various social media channels.
Sounds as if you have covered all the bases! What’s next for you after Sushi Girls?
I would like to revisit my last play UktheNuke. It’s a political satire on recent and current political events in Ukraine. It’s about a super hero, set in the future, who liberates his country after it gives up its nuclear weapons and is invaded.
UktheNuke reclaims his country’s territory by making his enemies nuclear weapons redundant with his army of hackers.
Fresh from a run at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, this reworking of Oscar Wilde’s classic novel (one of four permutations using the same cast of four) comes to London with a female Dorian.
Helen Reuben as Dorian Gray. Photo credit Samuel Taylor
While this works well with the dominant relationship between the beautiful and unspoiled Miss Gray and the dissolate Sir Henry, it doesn’t quite come off in the section concerning Sibyl Vane, the teenage actress Dorian promises to marry and then callously casts off.
Lesbian relationships were problematic at the time (see Anne Lister as one example, in the current TV series Gentleman Jack) and would have caused social ostracism, but there could have been no legal contract of matrimony, and Gray’s nickname of ‘Prince Charming’ makes little sense when she is a woman.
Set (portrait) designed by William Reynolds
Basil Hallward’s infatuation with his artistic muse, though, is clearly indicated and the use of sound and light (floating microphones that echo and distort, bulbs that flicker and illuminate) is well done, as is the minimal set – two mirrors, one depicting the infamous painting which is represented by illuminated water, more red as the years progress; one depicting reality, with one moment where Dorian sees through her reflection right into her soul.
Wilde’s seminal queer text stands up to redefinition, and in turning Adrian Singleton to Adriana and Alan Campbell to Allie, it puts the female gaze centre stage. It may be gruesome to think of a young man taking a life of debauchery, but a young lady, with all her refinements and natural delicacy (in 19th century tradition) feels much worse.
I found all four performances (Richard Keighley’s Henry, Helen Reuben’s Dorian, Augustina Seymour’s Sibyl, Stanton Wright’s Basil) very strong, and although the ghostly narrative of unconnected words from characters on the fringes of the scene felt odd at first, they gained power as the piece progressed.
Other combinations in the quartet of plays allow Keightley and Seymour, and Reuben and Wright, to swap roles. Picture B, with a female Henry and male Sybil, sounds particularly intriguing, although really the play (or prose) is the thing.
A trip to Earl’s Court on a Sunday afternoon to see a play that hasn’t played in London for over a century?Why not?
Dion Boucicault, Irish actor and playwright, was famed for his melodramas with a touch of farce – London Assurance, for example – and also authored the saga of Rip van Winkle.
After Dark is not as well-known, but proves to have all the ingredients of the genre including an implausible storyline, pockets of over-acting where the text demands it, dastardly villains with questionable pasts, and even an appearance from Queen Victoria.
Jemima Watling and Toby Wynn Davies
It opens at the dedication of the new Metropolitan Railway, and the arches which shaped the new tunnel became a variety of places from a posh garden and a mission to the haunts of the homeless and the stage of a music hall.
Blackmailers, baronets, insanity, the demon drink and the penal colonies all make an appearance alongside tunes like Burlington Bertie and Hold Your Hand Out, Naughty Boy, while some interesting and quirky staging and lighting cues make the most of the small space (using torches to represent a train which rushes up the stairs in the seating bank works particularly well).
Atmospheric staging in After Dark
I enjoyed this piece which had particularly good performances from George (Jonathan Le Billon), Eliza (Jemima Watling), Dicey Morris (Victoria Jeffrey), Frank Dalton (Simon de Deney), and good comic turns from the lawyer (Toby Wynn Davies), the clerk (Tom Fyans), and the dreadfully shallow Rose (Jazz Sanders). The music is artfully arranged by Rosa Lennox and doesn’t hold up the action.
Rosa Lennox, Gabi King and Helen Potter as the good-time girls
After Dark may not be a lost classic, but this revival is worth a look for its technical innovations, impossible coincidences, and relative rarity.
Jazz Sanders and Jemima Watling as Rose and Eliza
Phil Wilmott directs, Hannah Postlethwaite designs, and the play runs at the Finborough Theatre until 6 July. Photo credits Scott Rylander.
Having grown up with the war film The Man That Never Was, I’m familiar with the basic facts of the operation which allowed British forces to hit back against the Nazi occupation by duping the enemy over Sicily.
The company of Operation Mincemeat
Here, creative company SpitLip have created a musical about this very operation, which manages to be both irreverent (to the Germans, the British, and even a sole American airman) and respectful to those living through and lost in war.
Men play women (notably office secretary Hester, whose love letter is a small masterpiece, “why did we meet in the middle of a war … the roses miss you”), and women play men (a wonderful Montagu, all bluster and physical posturing, including top hat and high kick finale), but this company of five are adept at quick character metamorphosis throughout.
The company of Operation Mincemeat
Charles Cholmondely is a geek who loves insects, a clumsy man whose limbs seem too large for his body, who dominates his scenes through his innate awkwardness. In two duets, one with the Montagu he idolises (“some were born to follow, but we were born to leave”), and one with young typist Jean, we see the measure of the man.
A Nazi jackboot song and dance heading up act two, a sleazy coroner who supplies bodies (“must have a head … must be a man”), a celebrity pathologist (music hall style), and even sultry club singer Velvet, all add to the colour of this accomplished show.
Board at New Diorama Theatre box office
The design of the show (by Helen Coyston, Sherry Coenen and Dan Balfour) utilises hanging telephones, blocks, lighting cues, and a small band of three slightly off to the side. Operation Mincemeat, a mix of comedy and glam, “Singin’ in the Rain meets Strangers on a Train”, is an absolute triumph.
SpitLip are three members of comedy troupe Kill The Beast (David Cumming’s Cholmondely, Natasha Hodgson’s Montagu, and Zoe Roberts’ Bevan), with composer Felix Hagan.
They are joined here by Joe Malone (Hester, US airman) and Rory Furey-King (Jean, Velvet), with Ellen O’Reilly and Lewis Jenkins completing the band.
Set design of Operation Mincemeat
Everyone involved should be proud of this superlative show. It closes today, but surely has a future, as do SpitLip‘s musical creations: more please!