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Ladylike (CASA Festival at Arcola Theatre)

Back to Dalston at the weekend to review a show at the CASA Festival of Latin American Arts. Ladylike soundes intriguing, a dance piece based around the use of “chick” or “hen” to describe women, and taking a variety of dance and music styles from hip-hop to rumba.

The Ella Mensa Company first creates this piece in 2015, and it has been in evolution ever since. Four female dancers take to the floor, Anna Alvarez, Azara Meghie, Hsing Ya Wu, and Lucia Afonso.

A circle of chicken food marks the area where for the next 55 minutes their movements will challenge and expose issues relating to sexual consent, cultural and gender stereotyping, and even the audience gaze.

For me, some takeaway messages aside from the incredible athleticism of the dancers on display were around how women are regarded in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Japan and close environs, and how animal behaviour can also mimic behaviours such as attack, flirtation, assault and rutting.

Meghie in particular assumes a gender fluid role, inviting aggression and assuming dominance, but in more tender passages she is the rescuer of those in peril – the shopper who reveals a weakness for rope bondage, the yellow bird who mouths “help me” to the audience.

There are queer motifs, expressions of sisterhood, moments of vulnerability as the participants dress and undress each other, shackling one into a bright Brazilian headdress here that resembles a bird of paradise, unmasking another here in a flowing yellow dress.

In the Arcola’s Studio 1 we watch these women perform under flickering lights, pulsing music, and a simple black box staging. At times they interact with audience members by locking eyes or invading personal space, at others they sit back and watch each other’s routines and stories.

Ladylike is an unusual piece of dance storytelling which retains a powerful message around the role and assent of women in the Latin one, although of course many of these messages can be read universally. By using humour to push forward an uncomfortable set of facts, this piece in fact gains rather than loses its strength.

Ladylike played at Arcola Theatre from 16-20 July. The CASA Festival 2019 continues to 27 July, with theatre and dance at the Arcola and films at the Rio Cinema.

For more details go to the CASA Festival website. Photo credits by Camilla Greenwell.


Little Miss Sunshine (Arcola Theatre)

Musical versions of films seem to be one of the newest theatre trends, and here we have the tale of the dysfunctional Hopper family given a bit of stage sparkle.I’m not familiar with the source material, which feels a little dark at times and at odds with the cheery marketing for this production.

Still, as young Olive (Evie Gibson at this performance, who acted and sang well) qualifies for the Little Miss Sunshine finals in California, and we join her and her family in the journey from New Mexico, the story easily unfolds.


Richard (Gabriel Vick, veteran of a variety of musicals from Sunny Afternoon in the West End to A Little Night Music at the Menier) is chasing a book deal which will pull his family out of debt.

His wife Sheryl (Laura Pitt-Pulford, an excellent Charity in 2017’s production of Barnum, and an effective figure of regret here) gave up her personal plans for marriage and pregnancy with son Dwayne (Sev Keoshgerian, who plays act one as a prototype silent teenager before finding his voice in act two).

Then we have Sheryl’s brother Frank (Paul Keating, a bit fey  – and stuck with an odd scene where he meets his ex and new husband-to-be – but good at prickly insecurity). He’s professionally successful but personally shaky following the end of a gay affair and a suicide attempt. As I said, a bit dark for a family musical which has children in it.


Granpa Hooper (played with a naughty charm by Gary Wilmot, who I have seen before in Me and My Girl, The Goodbye Girl, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and more) has been evicted from an old age facility for doing drugs and chasing women. He has a good bond with Dwayne and Olive, and is quietly supportive of his son’s attempts to make good.


It’s a pity that Wilmot doesn’t really appear in act two, except to offer a moment of slapstick around the final leg to the pageant. His departure allows Vick a touching song about fathers and sons, though, while looking through the things Granpa “left behind”.

The songs are problematic and ill-fitting at times in this production, which only really shows flashes of humour in Granpa’s act one song “The Happiest Guy in the Van”, and in act two’s flashy pageant, where his dance routine for Olive turns into a quasi-strip routine which both reunites the family and gets them ejected from the stage.

Timelines, too, are muddled, with a flashback to Richard and Sheryl’s courting feeling more 1960s than 1980s, yet Dwayne furiously taps on a smartphone, and one of the little girls in competition with Olive is “related to the Kardashians”, while a soundman wears a Nirvana t-shirt from the 1990s.

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The set, designed by David Woodhead, with revolve, yellow theme, and band up in the balcony, serves the piece well although the music overpowered the vocals somewhat in the opening ensemble number, “The Way of the World”.

Directed by Arlene McNaught, the small but talented group of musicians bring William Finn’s score to life in this intimate space.

Ultimately, despite the talents on offer – James Lapine’s book, Mehmet Ergen’s direction, and a clearly dedicated cast and crew, Little Miss Sunshine ultimately fails to gel effectively, and has moments which just feel odd in a family show.

When the lead family can be accurately described by Dwayne’s “suicide, cocaine and bankruptcy” tag, it doesn’t really sit well with Olive’s sunny optimism; and as a road trip show, I can’t help but compare it with Violet, which ran earlier in the year at Charing Cross.

Little Miss Sunshine continues at the Arcola until 11 May, then embarks on a UK tour. Photo credits – Manuel Harlan.

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