Tag Archives: etcetera theatre

A Tale of Two Chekhov’s (Etcetera Theatre)

My second Camden Fringe stop yesterday was Broken Word’s duo of Chekhov comic plays: The Bear and The Proposal.

Detail from flyer for A Tale of Two Chekhov’s

The Bear is perhaps the best known of the two, in which a mourning widow takes to drink in memory of her worthless husband, before meeting a burly, aggressive, manly creditor. Actors Abby Dunlavy and Julius Wills make the most of the sharp wit and the upending of a chaise longue (which I was slightly disappointed to hear was “part of the show”!). I liked Will Banister’s unhinged butler, too.

Julius Wills in The Bear

The Proposal has had a gender change in the person of Lomov (Dunlavy), an anxious soul of a girl in suit, waistcoat and glasses who seeks the hand in marriage of Natalya (Imogen Hunter), daughter of her Cowardesque landowner and neighbour (Banister). Arguments, point-scoring, and the seeds of an unhappy union-to-be border on the farcical in this skit.

Abby Dunlavy and Imogen Hunter in The Proposal

If you only think of Chekhov for his dark and ponderous full-length plays, you may be surprised, delighted and certainly amused by the wit on show in these short plays. And The Proposal has a very funny ending, building throughout from a largely mute role from Wills.

Ditch that apostrophe in Chekhov’s, though! A Tale of Two Chekhov’s – The Bear directed by Imogen Hunter, The Proposal directed by Julius Wills – continues to romp and amuse at the Etcetera Theatre until the 25 August.


Truth After Murder (Etcetera Theatre)

The first of my double bill of visits to the Camden Fridge yesterday was a curious retelling of the tale of Electra and Orestes, depicted in Truth After Murder as twins parted for many years after their mother, Clymenestra, killed their father, Agamemnon.

We’re in psychological territory here, with Orestes touting his book on the case, and Electra displaying just the kind of vacant staring daddy-worship that has led a complex to be named after her.

Flyer for Truth After Murder

In various retellings and interpretations of the myth, Electra’s motivation for revenge has varied: here, she has been abandoned in an asylum for fifteen years for reasons which seem to come down to money. It’s sometime after an apocalyptic 4th World War and the internet has broken down.

In an intense hour in which the two actors really do get as close to the front rows of the audience as possible, they draw us into their nightmare and bizarre relationship. Orestes with memories of abuse of all kinds, fixated sexually on both his mother and a voice on the other end of his mobile phone, at first seems to be on his sister’s side, but things change.

Rehearsal image for Truth After Murder, via To Be Creatives.

Powerful performances from Riccardo Carollo and Mariana Elicetche mitigate what is ultimately a confused piece by Arif Alfaraz (who also directs). I found myself curiously detached from this pair who remain locked in their own hell, he with his gay porn magazines, she with her child’s tea set and memories of dear dead dad.

Truth After Murder runs at the Etcetera Theatre until 25 August.

Be More Bee (Etcetera Theatre)

This is my first year sampling the Camden Fringe, so I chose a few shows running in the daytime at the tiny Etcetera Theatre above the Oxford Arms on the colourful and characterful Camden High Street.

Flyer for Be More Bee

Be More Bee was an extra show, as I had already booked two later the same day. The premise of a comedy looking at Britain’s favourite insect, the bee, appealed to me.

Jenni Mackenzie-Jones, the delightful co-deviser, writer, co-producer and performer of this piece, let me know the day before that this was a play with audience interaction and was also the first performance before an audience, so I was very intrigued.

On arrival the stage was set with various props such as a paddling pool with plastic ducks, a stool, a pull-along suitcase, some vegetables, a crate, some sticks, a tombola. Under our seats are paper napkins, and our numbered ticket serves as a raffle entry.

Bea is already interacting with the audience, asking our names, making observations, putting us at ease. It becomes clear we are a group arriving into Britain, and we learn about Morris dancing, the social hierarchy of the bee, the vegetable contest, the eroticism of maypole dancing, and more.

This is our show as much as hers, and is never a bore. We bond, we laugh, we meditate, we form a paper chain, we can play games for prizes, and we learn a lot about bees, Bea and each other.

As graduates of the Acting for Collaborative and Devised Theatre course at Central, both Mackenzie-Jones and director Valentin Stoev (also co-devisor and co-producer), are at ease with audience participation (and manipulation, in the nicest way!).

Running slightly over the advertised time, I found Be More Bee paced just right, raising questions and awareness of self and others, and culminating in a surprising and evocative ending.

I very much enjoyed the chance to experience this sweet-centred and clever show, which ran at the Etcetera on 13-14 August.

Stacy: interview with director Caoimhe Blair

Over at the Etcetera Theatre on Camden High Street, a new revival of Jack Thorne’s Stacy has just opened, produced by Inkwell.

Stacy is a sexually explicit confessional monologue for one male performer and a slide projector. It was first performed at the Arcola Theatre in 2007, and ran at the Edinburgh Festival and in London in 2012.

I wanted to know more about the revival and the contemporary relevance of this play, so put some questions to director Caoimhe Blair.

It’s been twelve years since Stacy was first written and performed. Why is the time right to revive it now?

I read Stacy for the first time about a year and a half ago, and it crawled under my skin and nestled there. Its disturbing and highly complex protagonist constantly popped up in my head when talking to friends about issues usually relating to the #MeToo movement and its lack of spotlighting women without a platform, and women most vulnerable to abuse.

I then came across a copy of Stacy that had the original blurb on it (as my copy was within an anthology) and I was struck by how dated it seemed in comparison to the play text itself. The blurb described the protagonist as finding life ‘confusing’ and spoke of him as being misguided and unlucky. I wasn’t sure if the ‘boys will be boys’ attitude of the blurb was to trick the audience into believing they would be seeing an entirely different, almost jovial show, or if it was sincere and a product of its time (2007).

Either way, it lead me to reread the play, and consider deeply if someone could read that blurb, see the play, and connect the two as being one and the same now in 2019, and putting on a production of it seems the best way to find an answer to that. 

What is your vision of how to present Rob to an audience? Should observers feel engaged with him, repelled, sympathetic, or something else?

I want Rob to cause the audience a headache. He is a wonderfully layered character to explore, full of contradictions, instabilities and deep seated issues and his shocking lack of self awareness can pivot so suddenly into absolute clarity making him one hell of a story teller.

The journey he takes us on is hugely engaging but Rob can be frustratingly erratic when he chooses to tell or drop his story, and what he chooses to tell us. Remembered events sometimes flows out of him easily, and at other times seems to spurt out of him involuntarily and cause him tremendous pain.

The power of Stacy is that it doesn’t necessarily paint Rob as an irredeemable monster, he is so very human and his desperate need to connect to the audience and make us understand him shows at least at some level that he understands what he has done and now has no idea how to come to terms with it.

Rob is defined by his relationship with power, isolation and the sense of entitlement that comes with growing up pretty, and receiving attention and praise with ease as a result, but what makes him dangerous is his recognisability. Rob is disturbed, definitely, but he lives a normal life, has normal issues and fears, and he is in no way a one off case. 

Some productions of the play have chosen to utilise the set to make its own comment on Rob’s state of mind.  Without giving too much away, what should audiences expect on stage at the Etcetera?

In terms of staging, we have kept things very simple for our rendition of Stacy, in order to keep the story as focused and as aware of its surroundings as possible. Our Rob knows that he is in a theatre, and that he is presenting himself and his story to the audience.

As a result, it is an actor, a stool and over 700 cued projections, many of which give faces to the people he speaks of. With such a simple set, Rob is free to fill the space with his stories and he paints pictures of people and places wherever he chooses as he takes us on the harrowing presentation of the previous few days of his life. 

Tell me something about the company putting on this production.  I know you are recent graduates, and I’d like to hear a bit more.

Originally based in the small town of Felixstowe, Suffolk, Inkwell was formed by a trio of theatre makers: Sean Bennett, Ruby Lambert and Keelan Swift-Stalley. The company then began running productions at the University of East Anglia, recruiting fellow student Ned Caderni as a director, and I got involved as an actor having worked with Ned on previous productions. I acted in their 4 star Camden People Theatre’s production of Uncle Vanya and during that time pitched to them my vision for this production.

Several months later, after Ned and I graduated, Inkwell got in touch with me and said they were holding a slot for me to direct and have financially backed me throughout, giving me full creative reign, which has been a fantastic and informative experience.

What is particularly appealing as a director about putting together a one-person show?

A one person show means intense rehearsals. There is absolute focus on one performer which gives us the luxury of working through tiny details and nuances as well as lengthy character discussions. Peter Hardingham is excellent at multi-roling but rather than just finding character quirks we were able to hot seat him as each character and find depth to them, regardless of their importance or amount of time being enacted.

Doing a show that focuses on such a sensitive topic with such a complex, unreliable central character, means that Peter and I have been able to work collaboratively to find the humanity in Rob, and safely test boundaries and interpretations of the text until we settle on a version that fet truest to the both of us.

Finally, how does Stacy fit into the recent climate of #Metoo and gender fluid debating?

I was asked a lot during the audition process if my reasoning behind doing Stacy now in 2019 was because of the #MeToo movement but I feel strongly that that isn’t the case. The widespread accounts of sexual abuse were a surprise to no one that has listened to and believed women over centuries of abuse. The notion that a high profile protects you from power dynamics being abused and used against you has been truly dismantled by the movement, which makes it clear that women who have no media influence are even more vulnerable to harassment and abuse. Stacy puts a spotlight on that.

More often than not, perpetrators are known by and close to the victim, and violent crimes are committed in places that the victims should only associate with comfort and safety. Those that have committed the crime can live their entire lives not believing to have done anything wrong, which is truly terrifying.

By placing the narrative in Rob’s hands, the audience must follow a story affected hugely by his perspective, and battle with the self excusing and unloading of trauma he delivers whilst trying to make himself understood. Forcing an audience to listen to and possibly even relate to a character who explains amongst so many other things that he has violated someone that trusted him, makes it harder to dismiss all rapists as monstrous bogeymen that only exist in shadowy streets, and instead opens up the conversation of consent, assault and the effects of toxic masculinity in our society.

The effects of the #MeToo movement may bring in a more critical and open minded audience, and an audience that sadly, may be less shocked by what unfolds, but Stacy was just as relevant when it was written in 2007, as it is now. 

My thanks to Caoimhe for her detailed and thoughtful answers, and to Ned for facilitating our interview.

You can book tickets for Stacy (which runs until the 10th March) at

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