Theatre Review: Ghost From A Perfect Place (Arcola Theatre, London)

Florence Hall (centre) as Rio Sparks. Photograph: Courtesy of Ben Broomfield.

Florence Hall (centre) as Rio Sparks. Photograph: Courtesy of Ben Broomfield.

Rating: ****

In a Nutshell

Solid and enchanting writing skilfully produced, but just not as daring and dangerous as other Philip Ridley plays.

Overview

Grandma Sparks receives a visitor one evening, none other than East End mob boss Travis Flood, who has come out of hiding after many years. He’s here to see her granddaughter, Rio, leader of the violent local girl gang, The Disciples of St. Donna. But during his visit, Travis gets more than he bargained for, as this old school gangster clashes with new blood, and past wrongs come home to roost.

Writing

It’s hard to believe that this play is 20 years old, first getting its performance to great acclaim back in 1994. What’s astonishing is that it has lost very little of its sheen, even with the moral panic of violent girl gangs,  a very integral part of the plot, being somewhat dated. Yet two decades on, and with a new edition of the text, it’s still a vivid and rich play.

Ridley has come up with a watertight narrative, full of complex themes and abstracts, and with several quiet twists and turns that surprise or prompt little “aaah!” moments. Memories and the re-telling of them are often a key theme in a lot of Ridley’s works, and here is no different. It’s these scenes that are the most beguiling and entrancing, and really elevate the play from being something ordinary. The way these are written, and the deft handle of language, result in an ethereal and transient netherworld that flits in and out of ours and the characters’ reality; it’s transfixing, even if some of the points put across through them are more than unsavoury.

This a phenomenal sense of high poetry – tripping dexterously through metre, rhythm, and language – creates a dazzling aural kaleidoscope that is exhilarating: you hang on every word, especially when delivered with zeal and energy of the cast in this play. One particular moment, “The Sermon of St. Donna,” is nothing short of intoxicating, and really marks Ridley out as a genius playwright. What’s more, Ridley effortlessly puts wry humour, tension, and disturbing undercurrents in a headlock against each other, making this a fractured and unsettling piece. You never feel quite at ease even in the most lighter moments because of this constant juxtaposition of reality and dreams and truth and secrets shrouding foetid goings on.

However, there are a few criticisms to be had. For starters, the storyline is a little predictable and it doesn’t take much to figure out where the play is heading. Because of this, it doesn’t keep sense of unknowing mystery that would better drive the show as the comic-thriller it is. Furthermore, it’s just simply not as bold or as dangerous as his other plays. His first play, The Pitchfork Disney, had its first audience reportedly running from the Bush Theatre screaming in terror; I still get shivers thinking of Cosmo Disney’s “party trick” or Pitchfork’s “solo”. Then, there’s Mercury Fur: a sickening but perfect horror that took five years to convince the critics of it’s brilliance behind some of the most gruesome and perverse scenes to have graced the stage.

But that’s not to say that Ghost From A Perfect Place isn’t at all capricious and impacting. Gang culture is still a very real and spiky issue that hasn’t at all left us, and within the play are moments that are very violent and visceral, almost spitting at you and your comfort zones at point blank range. It still really challenges perceptions of gang culture and crime by exploring the tragic reasons youngsters turn to this sub-culture, savagely satirising the fanaticism of gang members that verges on the religious, and contrasting the misplaced romance of old mob-days with the gritty reality of the modern.

It might not be the best Ridley play, and those who have been thrilled by some of the many other new works and/or revivals of old ones might have their expectations of Ghost From a Perfect Place fall short. But that’s not to say it’s badly written: far from it. It just there’s just better Ridley out there.

Shelia Reid (left) and Michael Feast (right). Photograph: Courtesy of  Ben Broomfield.

Shelia Reid (left) and Michael Feast (right). Photograph: Courtesy of Ben Broomfield.

Production & Direction

This is a very slick production, giving Ghost From A Perfect Place the attention and quality it deserves. Russell Bolam has previously directed the award-winning Shivered, so already has experience of how to treat Ridley’s luscious text. He toys with pace and tempo excellently, really stringing the audience along with sudden builds of crescendo, and elsewhere swaggering among the at-odds humour of the piece. It’s great to see a director who understands not just the story, but the beat of the text itself.

He is also supported well by Anthony Lamble’s set, brimming with detail, helping us become absorbed in the squalid world and twisted turn of events. However, it’s Richard Hammarton’s sound design that is most striking. There are wonderfully subtle touches of slow-building music to support the growing intensity of some of the scenes, as well as some clever use of adding in reverberation to live sound to also achieve a sense of high drama, really bringing the piece to vibrant life.

Florence Hall as Rio. Photograph: Courtesy of Ben Broomfield.

Florence Hall as Rio. Photograph: Courtesy of Ben Broomfield.

Cast

Stealing the show are the three gang ladies: Florence Hall as Rio, Scarlett Brookes as Miss Sulphur, and Rachel Redford as Miss Kerosene. Even though they don’t appear until the second act, they drive the show with a vicious energy and a palpable animalistic cravenness. They work excellently well with each other to create an unpredictable tempest of fraying relationships and fuck-ups on the edge of reason, bouncing mercilessly off the differences of their personas. Hall is especially haunting, striding about inert and icy, curiously trying to comprehend the situation she’s been placed in, whilst desperately trying to keep control of herself, her status, and her ‘disciples’. It’s a wonderfully slow cracking of character that’s controlled and spine-tingling.

However, Michael Feast, as Travis Flood, sometimes breaks the suspension of disbelief in being a bit too much like a Victorian melodrama villain plopped in the middle of Eastenders. However, this might be more of a directional misstep that of Feast’s characterisations. It’s difficult to feel intimidated by someone who feels like a panto Ronnie Biggs, but when the show is all about the power shift from ageing gangster to unhinged “bimbos dressed in kitchen foil”, this might well be what Bolam is trying to get across. But at other times, Feast excels in smaller ticks and quirks in his performance that makes him a real treat to watch, especially what he does with his tongue! And even though you’re mostly not scared of him, because of these little garnishes, it’s when he his most vulnerable that he feels the most fiendish.

Verdict

This is not the most astonishing or outstanding of Ridley’s play’s, but it’s far from bad: in fact, it’s incredibly good. It’s still challenging and daring, just not as much as some of his more renowned works. But with this good cast and slick production, it’s your personal expectation that’s the let down, not this otherwise thrilling and suitably twisted revival.

Ghost From A Perfect Place plays at the Arcola Theatre, London, E8 3DL, until 11 October 2014.. Tickets are £19 (concessions available). To book, visit www.arcolatheatre.com.


Opinion: Dogfight – Misogynistic, Or Just A Show About Misogynists?

Jamie Muscato (front) as Eddie. Photograph: Courtesy of Darren Bell.

Jamie Muscato (front) as Eddie. More “douche” than a French shower! Photograph: Courtesy of Darren Bell.

Anyone who has seen Dogfight at the Southwark Playhouse, or even been aware of it, will also be aware of the divisive twitter it’s gotten critics in. Some, like myself, loved the show, whilst others found it to be offensive in it’s apparent excusing of misogyny. So, I’ve decided to wade into the argument (late) with my own thoughts as the show closed at the weekend.

Where’s the Offence?

I was actually quite shocked to hear that some people had found the show abhorrent, even going as low as 2*s from The Evening Standard. I consider myself a male feminist, so was a little taken aback at the whole debate, and was panicked at the prospect that I missed something quite dire. I thought it was fantastic, and whilst my review wasn’t a full 5*s, I think there’s so much here that’s worth praising and was genuinely some of the best new musical theatre to have hit London in a long time.

Particularly, I loved Peter Duncan’s book, based on the film by the same name. Gone is the fairy tale/Hollywood transformation and shallow redemption of a protagonist bee-lining towards a happily-ever-after, and instead we get a tale that’s awkward and a resolution that’s rocky and incomplete. The number “First Date, Last Night” wonderfully encapsulates this less than perfect character development.

But I’ve been trying my hardest to think about what could possibly be offensive. The easiest thing I could find offensive were the marines themselves. I myself describe them as “odious” in my review. And I think that’s the point: you’re supposed to hate them. They’re chauvinistic pigs of the highest order, even going as far to rape a prostitute, forcing her to have sex against her will by using the threat of violence. I would loathe to meet anyone who didn’t find them deplorable! But just having them present and behaving such doesn’t mean this celebrates or excuses them, does it? At least, it shouldn’t.

What I think may enshrine this as a misogynistic show in some people’s minds is that they don’t get their just comeuppance. Eddie, on the cusp of a moment of self-awareness and self-respect, literally throws it away for pride and bully-boy camaraderie. He doesn’t learn, and it’s infuriating. But in the very last scene, we see Eddie return to San Francisco, and is embraced by Rose. There are two possible ways of interpreting this. Either we praise Rose for being a most forgiving, intelligent, and humanitarian character that sees the good in everyone and tries to educate them to being better people. Or we scold Rose as someone who suffers patriarchy, and/or is too shallow, cowardly, or stupid (!!!) to give Eddie the scorn he justly deserves: thus misogyny wins.

Laura Jane Matthewson as Rose. Heroine, or patriarchal enabler? Photograph: Courtesy of Darren Bell.

Laura Jane Matthewson as Rose. Heroine, or patriarchal enabler? Photograph: Courtesy of Darren Bell.

Other Misogynistic Theatre

Though I can see at least one way of interpreting Dogfight as misogynistic, what makes me titter about this debate is that there is far more misogynistic theatre out there. For example, the solid but lengthy recent musical adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles isn’t exactly a feminist war-cry. The whole crux of Hardy’s story is, “patriarchy sucks, but there’s bugger all you can do except die by it,” which is probably more uneasy to accept than Eddie’s difficulty in changing into a civil citizen. Then there’s Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel. Whilst the last thing I want to do is wander into the debate surrounding people who chose to stay with their abusive partners, neither do I wish to belittle their reasons, I find this a bigger excuse for misogyny (and domestic violence) than Dogfight. Also, there’s the production that the fringe forgot, The Last Ever Musical, which was out-rightly the most offensive and misogynistic thing I’ve ever seen. Two hours of singing songs and making schoolboy jokes about menstruation almost had me storming out of the theatre and forfeiting my review because I was so aghast.

So why has Dogfight received the brunt of criticism? I think it’s because the misogyny here is so explicit; it’s not shielded away from, and shocks because of this. In contrast, a quite easy way of looking at Carousel is that it’s a piece exploring difficulty in consoling love and violence, dressed in some great music and a lot of high-romantic ideas. But Dogfight is balls-out outrageous regarding the disrespect the marines have for women. It’s far more visible, therefore easier to be offended by it.

Male v Female?

The majority of critics who loves the show have been male, and the majority of critics who disliked the show were female. But this is no means, “Oh, well that explains it!” It’s a red herring, if anything, and probably says more about male critics than it does female. But is this really a male v female situation? I think not. It’s more of how a person, regardless of gender, interprets the show. Indeed, there are plenty of females who see the show in a similar light as I and many others.

Worth reading is Rebecca Trehearn’s, who plays Marcy, blog post that brilliantly tackles the debate: one of the most intelligent and objective looks at the argument, where she ultimately takes a positive view of the show. But I also took the time to ask one of the most prominent female theatrical figures in London for her views, who also just happens to be Dogfight’s producer: Danielle Tarento.

“I’ve been astounded by [the debate], to be frank,” claims Tarento. “Firstly, just because we don’t like something, doesn’t mean that a) it doesn’t exist or b) that we shouldn’t look at it. And secondly, surely the show is the opposite of this! Yes, the boys behave badly, but in each instance the girls come out on top. Yes, there was bravado and bad behaviour but to hide the fear and ignorance and to bond as a group. That may not make it right, but that’s no reason not to not confront it.”

Yet I want to do is use Tarento’s words to justify a dismissal of those who think otherwise. As much as I hate the phrase, “check your privilege,” I think it’s important here. I’m a white(ish) lower middle-class male. I am probably going to default to a more to a rosy view of the show than others with less privilege than I, and that’s something I need to bear in mind. Therefore, even with Tarneto’s backing, I recognise that I may not be the best person to have an opinion on the issue. Thus, I’ve actually found my rethinking of how I view and interpret the show a thoughtful experience as a result of this debate.

Laura Jane Matthewson (left) and Jamie Muscato (right). Photograph: Darren Bell.

Laura Jane Matthewson (left) and Jamie Muscato (right). Photograph: Darren Bell.

Critical Miss

Elsewhere, I think too many people have looked to put weight their own, and only their own, opinions on the subject. Particularly, Paul Taylor and Mark Shenton (I use these as two as of the most prominent current critical voices) were quick to come to the show’s defence and fend off the cries of misogyny, neglecting to try to actively engage in their articles with those who oppose their thoughts, even missing a trick in getting in contact with any authoritative females voices, such as Tarento.

I’m disappointed with their responses. Taylor ultimately says that people should see it again and try to see it as not a misogynistic piece, suggesting they “resisted” the first time around, thus implying there isn’t any other viable way to interpret Dogfight. Shenton, though a little more balanced, concluded that, “perhaps some have proved blind to what the show is trying to show.” Whilst I agree that people have seen something quite different to what Tarento has said about her vision in her own words, I think saying that they’re “blind” is a bit too dismissive. I think Taylor and Shenton’s defence of the show is too defensive which hasn’t helped the discussion. Even if difficult to understand and/or agree, these dissents are at worst interesting and at best important, and shouldn’t be shrugged off with such ferocity. Misogyny in entertainment should be an important discussion, and one approached without such polemic dialogue.

The Real Question

Whilst I think it’s right that we’re having this debate, and I think it’s right that people have seen it the way they have, I think the real question is whether audiences should be sheltered. Should producers be putting on shows that offend?

Offence is something that Tarento isn’t worried about. I asked her what she would do if she was given a piece that was potentially offensive. Although being very clear that she does not find Dogfight offensive, she says, that:

Should I actively be choosing a show because of its potential to offend, I would serve the text as honestly and as fully as possible by giving it the best possible production and letting the audience decide.”

As Tarento’s response shows, theatre should challenge and it is up to us to take whatever we will from it. Producers and directors shouldn’t shy away from putting on shows that may offend, within reason and proper context, especially if they spark much needed debates such as this one. But in doing so audiences and critics should not scoff at the fact that something some people might be offended, even if it didn’t offend them: this approach only stymies debate.

In summary, to me Dogfight is just a show about misogynists, and not a show that is misogynistic. I think the fact that Eddie and his marines are hideous human beings, really colours the show and makes it different and engaging, especially as it doesn’t end the way we’d like it to. But just because you disagree, does not make your opinion invalid. In fact, I’m more than interested to hear what you think, and have my own perceptions of the show challenged.

Dogfight played at the Southwark Playhouse, London, SE1 6BD between 8 August – 13 September 2014.


Musical Review: Tess of the d’Urbervilles (New Wimbledon Studio, London)

17304_fullRating: ***

In A Nutshell

A rich, dramatic, and inventive score, but a show that is far too long for its own good.

Overview

Based on Thomas Hardy’s romantic melodrama, we see farm-girl Tess’ life turned upside down when her family learn that they’re the surviving heirs to an ancient aristocratic lineage. But her attempts to re-affiliate their family to the bloodline only ends in heartbreak and violence, causing Tess’ world to crumble around her in tragedy most bleak.

Writing

Award winning musical playwright, Alex Loveless, makes an incredibly comprehensive attempt at adapting Hardy’s celebrated novel into a musical. Indeed, there is very little, if anything, that is missing from the book in the musical. But whilst this is an incredibly worthy effort to stay as true to the original novel as possible, it also is the show’s major downfall as Alex Loveless’ work is a stark reminder at how complex and lengthy the original novel is. Given the story’s heavy emphasis on melodrama and tragedy, at over 2.5 hours long (including interval) – with Act I an epic 80 minutes long – it’s very difficult to stay engaged, even with such a solid score behind the production.

Not helping is that important plot points feel a bit rattled through whilst minor aspects of the story are dwelt upon for longer than needed. For example, Tess’ first meeting with Angel, accompanied by a wonderfully lilting romantic song, ‘I Saw Your Face’, feels disappointingly truncated, whereas later on we get almost a full four minutes of the ensemble singing about milking cows. There are more than a handful of moments and musical numbers that could have easily have been axed to speed the show along and make it more digestable. But instead, the audience are left to become fatigued for want of trying to stay focused, being made to sit through a truly mammoth amount of material.

Music & Lyrics

Score and songs is certainly Alex Loveless’ strong point. Having already picked up several awards for his work, including the Howard Goodall Award for composition, it’s no surprise that his score here is as solid here as elsewhere. For starters, Alex Loveless is not afraid to experiment a little, giving Tess of the d’Urbervilles a unique and inventive sound that marks it out from other new musicals. Here, Alex Loveless really embraces not just a modern musical style, but also the sounds, harmonies, and rhythms of English folk and pastoral music. Behind these he also puts behind a lot of thought and emotion, resulting in such stirring numbers like ‘Children of the Earth’ and ‘Joyfully, We Praise’, to soaring and rich numbers like ‘I Hear Your Voice’.

But not everything Alex Loveless writes works though. There are several weaker numbers such as ‘Saturday Night’ that is just too unwieldy and messy to be entertaining, and ‘The Belly of the Beast’ that is just a bit too unorthodox making it stick out like a sore thumb as it doesn’t gel with the timbre of the rest of the score.

Lyrically, whilst Alex Loveless doesn’t emulate the arch-poetry of Hardy’s style, he does bring an own sense of wit and creativity to the libretto that really compliment and augment the emotions he’s encapsulating in his music. There are more than a few unique and attention grabbing songs that demonstrate that Alex Loveless’ reputation is by no means one garnered from false praise.

Direction and Production

The production behind the show is also of a high standard and is as impressive as the new musical writing on offer here. David Shields stage design does a good job of portraying several of the abstract themes. His dilapidated arches, with peeling wood panelling and painted with drab pastoral scenes, very handsomely represent the ideas of a waning aristocracy and nature being unforgiving and harsh, not to mention easily conjuring up Stonehenge: where the novel’s climax takes place.

Director Chris Loveless also makes great use of the space. Particularly in capitalising on the nooks and crannies among Shield’s flats, meaning that actors end up being framed dramatically, appear, disappear, or be hidden with ease. Working closely with  Movement Director, Lucy Cullingford, there are also bits of choreography and physical theatre that really add energy and slick showmanship to parts of the show. It’s just a shame that these excellent production values can’t stop the show from labouring.

Cast

Kudos to Casting Director Benjamin Newsome for finding a cast that can also play a plethora of instruments on stage without sacrificing acting ability. It’s really great to find such multi-talented performers, and make full use of their many skills. Particularly, Emma Harrold, Sarah Kate Howarth, and Jessica Millward are a trio of ladies who not only interact and bounce high-spirits and impish energy off each other, they work just as close-knit and refined an ensemble on violin, flute, and viola respectively.

However, Jess Daley in the titular role really steals the show. She’s astonishing at being the heartbroken heroine, balancing out devastating misery with a wonderful sense of romantic hope and feminine tenacity. You really feel the inner pain and turmoil that is written clear across her face, and even if you find yourself flagging because of the length of the show, it’s still easy to get lost in her the beautifully tragic portrayal of Tess.

Verdict

Certainly worth a look if you’re a hardy Hardy fan, or keen on supporting some really great new British musical writing. Whilst the score is rich, vibrant, and original, be prepared for a show as long as the book is thick!

Tess of the d’Urbervilles plays at the New Wimbledon Studio, London, SW19 1QG, until 27 September 2014. Tickets are £15.40 (concessions available). To book, visit www.atgtickets.com.


Review: Mojo (White Bear Theatre, London)

mojo flyer imqge_1Rating: *****

In A Nutshell

An intense tinder-box production that brings Jez Butterworth’s phenomenal first play into quarters so close that the tension is unbearable.

Overview

Potts, Sweet, Skinny, and Baby all work at a Soho club. Their boss, Ezra, is about to make it big over a deal concerning a hit young singer, Silver Johnny. But as they celebrate, Ezra gets murdered and the club is set under siege. Can this drugged-up band of misfits keep it together, defend the club, and save their hides?

Writing

This play took the Royal Court by storm when Butterworth presented it as his début back in 1995. It was praised for its dark humour and unflinchingly fluid dialogue. Rather than this being a play about gangsters, it’s more a play about the camaraderie of a group of men who believe they’ve grown up but have done everything but.

Butterworth is quite open that Harold Pinter is a huge influence on his work, and here it’s really apparent. But in bringing out these seemingly inane repetitions and circular conversations, we find some very real and wildly charismatic characters. Despite these very definite text stylisations, it actually compliments the fact that they’re mostly off their faces on narcotics, and later broken of spirit, mind, and sense. As unlikeable and/or pitiful as they are, they’re still utterly absorbing to watch through Butterworth’s masterful handling of the text.

He manages to prise a deft and bleak comedy out of the characters, dialogue and situations. The characters often go off on bewildering and audacious tangents, belittling the dire situation that they’re trying to face turning the severe into guff as hilarious as it is ridiculous, at the drop of the hat. It’s an exhausting switch of pace and timbre that’s both unsettling and ecstatic.

But whilst the comic element of the play is one it’s most noticeable facets, the real coup de grace is the tight and tense action that Butterworth has created here. You genuinely can’t tell where the story is going to take you next and there’s more than several surprises. Darker themes are explored unapologetically, augmenting the sense of tense mystery, foreboding, and general twisted nature of the plot. But when the proverbial really hits the fan, it’s a complete edge-of-your seat adrenaline rush: a slick and violent comic thriller that gives Tarentino a run for his money.

Direction & Production

Director Sebastien Blanc has really struck gold with this production. Rather than finding the intimate space of the White Bear Theatre a challenge, he works with it in perfect accord to lift the production into something that’s absolutely phenomenal. It does still feel like a tiny space, but he really uses it to create a claustrophobic sense of cabin theatre that is just perfect for this play. He also manages to meticulously pilot the pace and action, making sure that nothing is left to wobble or be diminished by misplaced timing. He also ensures everything is as vividly visceral and natural as it can be. You never doubt the authenticity or the plausibility of the plot, as there’s a real sense of flow and organic quality to everything that happens.

In addition, Blanc has got an exceptional production team behind him. Particularly, set designer Joana Dias has spared no effort in her contribution. The set is brimming with tiny details and nuances, from untidy stacks of poker chips, saucy pin-up posters, clutters of drink cans, to dirty, tattered, and musty period furniture. You could swear that you had actually found yourself in this dingy back room of an actual 1950s Soho club, rather than the theatre space of a humble 2010s Kennington sports pub. It just adds to the sense of realism, helping the audience gets sucked into this broken and debauched world. Even the contents of the dustbins, which cannot even be seen by most of the audience, are approached with just as much eye for detail and sense comprehensive quality as the rest of the set. Not to mention some special effects that are certainly not for the squeamish. Productions of this scale of detail are rare to find on the Fringe, and this is incredibly impressive, giving the play a palpable sense of reality that compounds the already intense experience.

The only fault I can find is that there’s a gunshot sound effect that breaks the suspension of disbelief at a rather crucial moment. But this is certainly excused given just how meticulous the rest of the show is.

Cast

The cast, too, are also extraordinary. They revel in the play’s text and really embrace their characters to the core. What’s more, is that they really bounce off each other’s personalities and energies, especially juxtaposed to Oscar Blend’s staunch and bullying Mikey, who tries to make order out of his colleagues chaos. However, certain members of the cast really shine through.

Max Saunders Singer is fantastic as Potts. He gives an incredibly high spirited performance throughout. Especially, mind-riddled with narcotics, he twitches and splutters tremendously through his part, making him fascinating to watch. What’s more, is that he not only has a grand command over his stage presence as an actor, but is also able to channel this into his character’s presence and dominance of Pott’s associates. Charming yet conniving, he excels as being the unlikely wrist attempting to turn the screw.

But Luke Trebilcock is the real show stealer. Detached and unhinged, he gives an electric and unprecedented performance. Incredibly controlled and taut, Trebilcock gives a performance of power and might that will make you feel tangibly afraid of Baby’s unsound and scattershot state of mind. He’s as creepy and unnerving as they come, and really adds to the fizzing and dangerous energy of the show.

Verdict

Shows like this are the reason I’ll always love the fringe, as this is a theatrical experience that you just can’t extrapolate to bigger stages. The play is already like a tightly pact piece of plastic explosive with a slow-burning and suspenseful fuse. But in the hands of Blanc and his company, stuffing it into the intimate space of the White Bear Theatre, it turns into an unbearably tense and nerve-shredding thriller of epic proportions. I don’t want to see another toffee apple for a long time!

Mojo runs at the White Bear Theatre, SE11 4DJ, until 21 September 2014. Tickets are £14 (concessions available). To book, visit http://whitebeartheatre.co.uk.


Cabaret Review: Briefs: The Second Coming (London Wonderground, London)

Evil Hate Monkey expertly plays with Captain Kidd's ring! Photograph: Courtesy of Roy Tan.

Evil Hate Monkey expertly plays with Captain Kidd’s ring! Photograph: Courtesy of Roy Tan.


Rating: *****

In A Nutshell

Outrageous, arousing, and utterly gob-smacking. Rethink everything you thought you ever knew about circus and burlesque, because you ain’t seen nothing yet!

Overview

Aussie performance troupe return to London Wonderground with their show Briefs: The Second Coming, after a successful stint at Glastonbury, with several new and rebooted elements. A fusion of circus, cabaret, drag, and burlesque, it’s the most surprising, sexy, and scandalous show the capital has ever seen.

Production

Everything is as slick, glitzy, and sumptuous as you could ever imagine. For starters, the costumes really are as show-stopping as the acts themselves: this is by no means the bargain bin at Anne Summers. The outfits are as intricate as they are provocative, and impress as much as they titillate. Yet the attire is just the first glimpse of a high-end and meticulous production that is hidden behind the show’s anarchic energy and inglorious affront.

Particularly, there is a real attention and embrace of aesthetics here that take this far beyond being a mere pumped-up peep show. Everything from UV osterich feathers, to well executed lighting design, really augment the acts. The performers themselves already have an intrinsic sense of visual artistry in what they do. But the production just makes these into even more stunning moments, turning them into gasp-out-loud acts of daring debauchery.

A tiny criticism is that some of the interludes (particularly in covering set changes) means the pace can sometimes drop too quickly from heart-pounding sexual octane or dizzying acrobatics, leaving you a little bewildered and agitated as it’s an awkward come down. However, these bits of padding thankfully have their own sense of joy that make them feel as integral to the show as the more rehearsed and climactic sequences.

One other criticism is that there is one moment that probably takes good/bad taste a little too far, and is certainly not something that is for the weak of stomach. Whilst merely attending a male drag burlesque show means you’re not one to be easily offended, one particular scene (not giving too much away) does push comfort zones a little too much; some may find it rather unnecessary even within the pervy pretext of the show. But as long as you view it as outlandish and risqué as the rest of the evening, you’ll still be able to at least produce a shriek and a guffaw between the dry-retching!

Performers

Every performer in the show brings something as unique and amazing as the next. But as a troupe, they bristle with a filthy wit and eroticism that is unmatched by anything else that you’ll have ever seen. Hostess Fez Faanana/Shivannah is as sassy a drag queen compère at they come, adding a ridiculous camp and sharp glamour to the proceedings as she expertly works the crowd. Dallas Dellaforce’s drag interludes are also salacious and shocking, making “Priscilla” look tacky and tame by comparison.

Physical performers Captain Kidd, Evil Hate Monkey, Thom Worrell, and Louis Biggs are all also at the prime of their talent, absolutely wowing you in such a manner that they take you from behind by complete surprise. There are moments where your jaws will drop with amazement (or cringe in disbelief) at just how astonishing their skills are. Even if you’ve seen these kind of circus acts before, these boys pull out all the stops, raising the bar and executing some genuinely unique and gob-smacking tricks that really makes this a superlative spectacle. You just can’t wait to see what feat they’re going to pull next as well as what item of clothing will disappear with it. Particular mention must go to Captain Kidd, who’s “birdbath” grand finale takes your breath away, whilst simultaneously making you literally wet with excitement (especially if you’re in the first few rows).

These are also a band of performers who are sexy and know it. I know it’s a little cheap to so openly lust over performers in a review, but if a burlesque night doesn’t make your groins stir with delight then it’s not doing its job properly. And, by Jove, do these boys know how to get your blood pumping to those more intimate areas. They revel in the knowing fact that they are some of the most achingly gorgeous performers on the circuit, and do their best to expertly tease as they do dazzle. But even then, they play with both being cheeky and humorous by sending up traditional burlesque with steamy satire, as well as pushing the modern boundaries of the genre. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at a yo-yo again without getting at least a semi!

Verdict

Put this altogether and there were moments where I didn’t know whether to applaud wildly, laugh, be reviled, or cross my legs! Hot, haughty, and hilarious, this a mesmerising kaleidoscope of sleaze and mind-blowing performances unlike anything else. I’ve never wanted to run away to the circus so badly! #woof

Briefs: The Second Coming plays at the London Wonderground, London, SE1 8XX, until 28 September 2014. Tickets are £16.50-£21.50. To book, visit www.londonwonderground.co.uk.


Tips: The Boy Who Climbed Out Of His Face (The Jetty, London)

Shunt artwork - A5 RGB 72dpiShunt’s new show, The Boy Who Climbed Out of His Face is wildly inventive, and something that I found to be quite brilliant. However, I’m completely aware that this is the type of theatre that is going to be quite divisive when it comes to opinion, already demonstrated in The Stage’s luke-warm review, and the comments on Time Out’s review of the show. This is because it’s as far away from the traditional type of theatre, and far more unhinged and off-the-wall than other promenade experiences that have happened in London such as The Drowned Man and In The Beginning Was The End.

So if you’re a little undecided about whether to go or not, or simply want to know how to make the best of your visit then here are some tips from myself.

Getting There

The walk from North Greenwich Underground station is quite straight forward, but it will take around 10 minutes minimum! So make sure you leave plenty of time to get there. However, don’t panic if you’re running a little late. Audience members for a booked time will be let in at several intervals within that half-hour. But still try to make it there on time as the last thing the show needs is people bottlenecking towards the end of each half hour slot: it’ll probably frustrate you a little too.

Dress the Part

1. Wrap up and keep dry.

Although the show takes place inside shipping containers, it’s not entirely inside them. Also, the pop-up food and bar area is uncovered which is where you’ll be held until you’re summoned into Shunt’s intense microcosm. So, as September draws on, remember that things can get a bit wet and chilly.

2. Wear small shoes.

You WILL be required to take off your shoes and socks to enter – no exceptions – and you’ll then be carrying them around with you in a shoe box. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend boots, high heels, or platforms (!?) because it’s likely you’ll end up carrying two shoe boxes around with you (one per shoe) like I noticed some people did on the night I went. You don’t want to be distracted by cumbersome luggage as this may take away from your enjoyment.

It’s also an easy, but not short walk from North Greenwich station. So probably best to wear something comfortable so you don’t tire out those poor feet before even getting there.

3. Be clean.

You’re barefoot. For the comfort of other audience members, please ensure that you have clean odour-free feet.

Make a Night Of It

1. Try pie. Try.

The venue is not just about the show. It also has its own pop-up bar and food area. The food is certainly worth staying for. It’s reasonably priced with decent sized portions and is more than a little delicious! With the bar and food are open from 5pm – a full hour before the performances kick off – and after the last lot have been in, there’s no reason why you can’t catch a tasty bite.

Highly recommended is the pulled pork: spicy, sweet and succulent, it’s delicious but quite distinct from pulled pork you may have otherwise tasted. Also, be sure to try their homemade rum & raisin ice cream, laced with Kraken Rum. :Q_

2. Stay for the Entertainment

Whilst the show is obviously the main draw, The Jetty will also be putting on a programme of live music and other entertainment in their bar area throughout the duration of the run (schedule tba). So why not plan your evening to take in some of the other things they have to offer.

Remember, the O2 is also a short walk away, so if you could easy take in a film before or after, or even a gig if you time things properly.

The Boy Who Climbed out Of His Face: Official Trailer.

Enjoying the Show – Dos and Don’ts

1. DON’T expect a narrative. DO open yourself to the experience.

As mentioned in my review, whilst there is a definite sequence of events, there isn’t a narrative as such. So don’t expect to try and find one. Instead, open yourself to being whisked through areas of amazing detail and design, and don’t be afraid to get yourself emotionally stuck in this intense and multi-sensory journey. Try to think of it more like a piece of walk-through art. It might not make complete sense, but it’s a spectacle none the less.

This is not a traditional theatre experience. If you don’t like anything outside of traditional theatre experiences, stick to traditional theatre experiences. However, I would encourage everyone to expand their theatrical horizons should they have the time to, even if you end up hating this.

2. DON’T go if you’re scared of dark confined spaces, suffer from photo-sensitive epilepsy, have access needs, or are offended by male nudity.

You’re going to be inside shipping containers for 45 minutes, and some parts of it are quite dark and a little cramped. Several parts of the show also include total black outs. There are also some flashing lights, at points – although never strobe – so those who suffer from photo-sensitive epilepsy should seriously be aware that this could trigger their condition.

Unfortuantely, given the nature of the show and the fact that it’s inside shipping containers, it is completely inaccessible for theatre goers who use a wheelchair. For those who require assistance to get around, do be aware that it is not level and there are steps and obstacles throughout that you’ll be required to move through at a good speed.

As for male nudity, that’s your problem. Not Shunt’s.

3. DON’T be afraid to be afraid. But DO be brave and participate.

As I and Time Out have mentioned, there are parts of the show that are actually terrifying. So expect to be at least a little unnerved. But even so, there are points where you as an individual and/or as a group are singled out and/or left to your own devices. So go with a “can do” attitude and a willingness to put yourself out there, even if it is a little petrifying.

4. DO go with friends.

Relating to the point above, going with friends is actually a good idea here. Whilst for shows like The Drowned Man and In The Beginning Was the End audience members were encouraged to go off individually to explore and have an individual experience, there’s not really much scope to do that here. Therefore, find strength in numbers by a coercing a loved one or a couple of mates come along with you, especially if you want to go but feel you might get a little too scared to go solo.

However, do be prepared for the possibility that a member of your group might be split off from the rest at various points. But don’t worry, nothing horrifying will happen to you or them should that happen: this isn’t Sweeny Todd’s!

5. DO make use of the bar. DON’T turn up drunk.

You’re probably going to need a drink afterwards, but I’d also recommend you have one before. Dutch Courage would certainly help some of the more nervous patrons, but it’ll also hopefully loosen you up a bit a really get yourself stuck into the show and open your mind a little.

That said, I can’t imagine anything worse than going through the show intoxicated, or worse, arriving under the influence of narcotics. This is a supremely surreal, scary, and intense show that’s enough of a crazy trip as it is when sober. Arriving off-your-face will most likely make you freak out, not to mention become a pain and spoil the experience for the rest of the audience.

6. DO hang around at the last scene.

Even though the last scene is a bit of a let down compared to how much you’re built up before it, it’s pretty striking and beautiful. The loop for this scene is also around 15-minutes and is actually really relaxing and subdued as well as visually arresting. It’s a nice wind-down even if you could have done with a bit more of the main show itself.

The Boy Who Climbed Out Of His Face will run at The Jetty, London, SE10 0FL, from 14 August – 28 September 2014. Tickets are £10. To book, visit www.barbican.org.uk. For more information about Shunt and the production, visit www.shunt.co.uk.


Review: The Boy Who Climbed Out Of His Face (The Jetty, London)

Shunt artwork - A5 RGB 72dpiRating: ****

In A Nutshell

A wildly experimental event that will push you senses, your courage, and your perceptions of theatre.

Overview

Renowned (and arguably infamous) “event” company, Shunt, take up a six week residency at new south London arts venture, The Jetty. This new show promises a wild multi-sensory 45 minute experience inside shipping containers, drawing influences from both Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies and Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness.

Writing

With so much secrecy about the actual content of the containers (which I’ve been asked to keep) it’s difficult to say much about what happens inside them. However, if you think it near impossible to combine The Water Babies and The Heart of Darkness together, on account that these couldn’t be any more polemic to each other, you won’t be surprised to find that they don’t. Whilst there is a definite sequence of events inside the containers, if you go expecting a narrative in the traditional sense, you’ll only be left baffled and confused. However, if you go open to an experience, then you’ll get a lot more out of it than you would otherwise.

You genuinely have no idea about what is going to happen next as everything is supremely surreal and nonsensical. There are moments that are literally in your face, disorientating, or just downright creepy. These are made even more unnerving as there are moments where continuing on with the experience means that you, and your fellow audience members, must swallow your fears and press on to the next area; you may be singled out as an individual, or simply left to your own devices as a group in this strange and surreal landscape, with moving forwards being  your only option. Given just how bizarre and unsettling the events are, this is sometimes easier said than done.

The only major criticism is that the show is too short. 45 minutes fly by, and just when you’ve found you’ve steeled your courage enough to carry on deeper into Shunt’s twisted world, you find you’re at the end twitching for more. Furthermore, the climax is so subdued, although beautifully staged, that it feels like a big let down given everything that has been building up towards it. But at a humble £10, you definitely get your money’s worth, even if you’d like to stay longer or wanted a bit more from the event’s apex.

The Boy Who Climbed Out Of His Face: Official Trailer

Production

With Shunt’s emphasis on senses and how their theatre can make you feel, it’s no surprise that the quality of production and attention to aesthetics is superlative. Everything from lighting, set, costume, and even optical illusions, all work in tight cooperation with every other component and is as essential as the last. It all works perfectly in unison to create a netherworld of madness that makes Alice’s trip through the looking glass seem like a stroll around Ikea.

Visually there are more than a couple of incredibly arresting visuals that become images that will really stick with you. This is set design at it’s most ambitious but also most artistic, with some scenes that are as high-quality and striking of those in large scale operas. There’s some particularly good use of lighting, sound, and video throughout, demonstrating that Shunt aren’t scared of experimenting with different mediums to create a truly unique world.

Most interesting is bringing the sense of touch to the fray. By asking all audience members to remove their shoes and their socks, what you feel with your feet is just as quintessential. But this is also a very clever experiment on forcing an audience out of their comfort zone by heightening how they perceive the world around them, and making them do something that you wouldn’t do anywhere else.

Cast

Whilst difficult to say much without giving much away, Shunt has an indefatigable cast that are as intense as the production itself. They make an effort to thrill and disturb as excellently as the rest of the show. But you also get the feeling that they’re willing to push themselves as performers in their roles as much as the production pushes the audience, making them as integral and as striking as any other part of this experiment.

Verdict

If you want something unique and off-the-wall, then you’ll love this. If you want something more traditional, then you’ll probably loathe it. Go with an open mind (and possibly some Dutch courage) and experience one of the most exciting and different pieces of theatre that London has to offer. Short, contained, and intense, this is the sideshow reinvented for the 21st Century and Generation WTF. Terrifying and intoxicating, this is the stuff of both dreams and nightmares.

The Boy Who Climbed Out Of His Face will run at The Jetty, London, SE10 0FL, from 14 August – 28 September 2014. Tickets are £10. To book, visit www.barbican.org.uk. For more information about Shunt and the production, visit www.shunt.co.uk.


Review: Revolution Farm (Newham City Farm, London)

 

Andreas Angelis (centre) as Smoothy and Nicola Alexis (right) as Daddy Love. Photograph: Courtesy of www.broadwayworld.com.

Andreas Angelis (centre) as Smoothy, and Nicola Alexis (right) as Daddy Love. Photograph: Courtesy of http://www.broadwayworld.com.


Rating: ****

In A Nutshell

Visceral and twisted, this bold reworking of Orwell’s masterpiece is supported by a savage cast.

Overview

The animals are revolting. Tired of their lot, the animals take over their farm by force. But after the death of Old Boy who led the first revolution, a new and dangerous regime has crept in.

This modern adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm  uses modern language and imagery to explore just how relevant Orwell’s text is today in the wake of social unrest and austerity. The company, Community Links, also involves the participation of local school children throughout.

Writing

James Kenworth’s adaptation is as raw and ready as they come. The dialogue employs common vocabulary and slang instead of any eloquence or clever wording. Yet Kenworth loses nothing by doing so, and if anything makes it more vibrant. Whilst all the main characters and plot points are there, what this modern setting does is help you connect it so much more readily to the current socio-political climate, often scraping a little too close to home truths. For example, the younger animals berating education and opting for ignorance becomes particularly unnerving, especially when it’s performed by Newham’s young residents themselves. It’s overall a pretty brutal and certainly strikes all the chords that the original book had meant to.

Kenworth has also adapted the novel well for the space. Whilst the ‘humans’ are completely cut from appearing and the battles only suggested they are far from absent. It means that their significance in the tale is still present, but means the production doesn’t labour itself in doing something which it wouldn’t be able to execute properly for want of a bigger cast and production resources.

Direction & Production

Director James Martin Charlton does well to pilot the show around the small farm spaces, including the picnic area, the barn, and a paddock, making good use within these spaces to separate characters to create distance and enmity between characters as well as closeness and intimacy.

However, the production as a whole results in the only main criticism of the show: it starts to drag noticeably towards the end. Promenade performances are always prone to suffering from a dipping of pace due to the nature of needing to break the momentum by moving actors and audience around. But the bareness of the production doesn’t help matters. There are moments where lighting and sound design could help keep the atmosphere and the tension going, as well as colour the performance spaces better to bring out an aesthetic engagement. However, it’s possible that these things are simply not doable due to the constraints of the production’s budget and/or the venue itself. But it is a bit frustrating because, when you imagine the show being done in a more traditional theatre with the same cast and text but more scope for production, you can see the potential for Kenworth’s adaptation to be even more thrilling than it currently is.

Otherwise, Ian Teague’s costume’s are wonderfully twisted. Face paint, hoodies, and masks distort the faces of the cast into some uneasy hybrid of modern masked vigilantes and animals. Indeed, sometimes you do wonder whether Kenworth’s characters are actually animals like they are in the book, or a disguised angry young human mob. Again, this really helps the connection of Orwell’s themes to a more modern day relevance, but also serves for quite a dramatic transformation of the pigs into humans, especially given the casts physical performance abilities.

Kevin Kinson (left) as Warrior, and Katie Arnstein (right) as Lil' Monster. Photograph: Courtesy of www.broadwayworld.com.

Kevin Kinson (left) as Warrior, and Katie Arnstein (right) as Lil’ Monster. Photograph: Courtesy of http://www.broadwayworld.com.


Cast

Chartlon and his team have done an excellent job of finding a troupe of professional actors to act alongside the community’s youth for this production. Particularly, their physical performance abilities are striking. If Teague’s costumes didn’t already make the cast look enough like modern half-human half-beast atrocities, the way the cast twitch, grunt and snort in such a base and animalistic manner will have you questioning the nature of the creatures beneath the masks. In fact, they’re so absorbing to watch, that you quickly forget the idiosyncrasies of the venue, such as the rather out of place ping-pong table, and forgive the bareness of the production as it’s them that you become engrossed in.

At the same time, they are also all particularly powerful actors who’ve really embraced Kenworth’s vision: they’re as slick , streetwise, and energetic as the students they perform alongside. Particular mention must go to Kevin Kinson, as Warrior, who’s brute force in presence, voice, and physicality really drives the show. He also brings a sweet tenderness in his chemistry with Katie Arnstein, as Lil’ Monster, teasing out a more human side to Orwell’s dystopic catastrophe. Furthermore, Nicola Alexis, as Daddy Love, revels marvellously in her role as the smarmy and charismatic leader figure. She comes across consistently psychotic and dangerous, oozing rabid megalomania through every inch of her body and vocals, and frighteningly, in her eyes also.

It’s also great to see Community Links working with the local populace to be involved in a professional production. The enthusiasm of the younger members, particularly those playing the hens and dogs, really pays off and makes them feel as valuable an asset to the production as the professional actors.

Verdict

Kenworth’s inspired and brutal adaptation is both bold and powerful, especially when executed by this savage cast. The novelty of seeing the show on an actual  farm quickly turns into a deep immersion in a relevant and disconcerting take on Orwell’s revered cautionary satire.

Revolution Farm plays at Newham City Farm, London, E6 5LT, until 24 August 2014. Tickets are £10 (concessions available, £5 for Newham residents). To book, visit www.revolutionfarm.ticketsource.co.uk.


Camden Fringe Review: Ernie (Tristan Bates Theatre, London)

James Craze as Ernie.

James Craze as Ernie. Photograph: Courtesy of End of the Line Theatre.

Rating: *****

In A Nutshell

An irrepressibly charming biography of heart and honesty, bolstered with an exceptional performance.

Overview

Ernie Hort is a man who believed he’s done little of any worth, describing himself as, “just the guy next door”. But none the less, we’re taken through his life from growing up in the poor East End of London on the outbreak of World War II, to his enrolment and service in the navy. Hort’s biography is written and performed by his own real life grandson, James Craze. As Craze takes us through his grandfather’s life, we’re introduced to the dozens of different characters that Ernie met during his lifetime.

Writing

What’s so refreshing about how this play portrays Ernie’s life is just how frank and non-sensational it is. In a year where many theatres are remembering the horrors of the First World War, it’s nice to see a more matter-of-fact and less dramatic account and military life and conflict. But that’s not to say the piece is without interest and climax; Ernie gives his accounts of nights in bomb shelters, the ambush on the flotilla his corps were escorting, and getting chased by an angry and violent mob in Egypt. Its just that nothing is embellished or told with a view to be provocative. It’s just a man, casually going through the facts, regaling his achievements and revelling in memory. Beneath all this is a humour and honesty that is irrepressibly charming. Everything about the play feels very real and personal. Craze, through his writing and performance, makes it effortless to connect and empathise with his grandfather and his life.

Craze’s writing also ensures that the show never feels like granddad drolling on to himself. He introduces myriad characters that Ernie knew and interacted with. Although all performed by Craze and Craze alone, the play is brimming with a full West-End sized cast that interacts with our hero, making the text as dynamic and as electric as they come, making this a solo show in name only. The only criticism  is that Ernie’s accounts are so ‘as is’ that you’re aching to know about what else happened. What japery did he and his comrades get up to in Hong Kong? What was the first kiss with his wife-to-be like? Did the cocky Scotsman ever get what was coming to him? It’s at these points you realise that you’re completely hooked, and by the time the hour is up it feels as if you’ve be sat down for mere minutes. Despite Ernie, in his own words, “never climbing any mountains or contributing to modern medical science”, for 60 minutes he is the most fascinating person you’ve ever met.

James Craze as Ernie. Photograph: Courtesy of End of the Line Theatre.

James Craze. Photograph: Courtesy of End of the Line Theatre.

Performance

Craze’s performance is also one of the most astonishing on the London stage right now. He is one of the most dexterous and talented physical performers in London. He not only snaps between characters in the blink of an eye, but is always completely unrecognisable from the last. He masterfully exaggerates small little quips and ticks in voice and physicality to glorious effect, making him distinct in every person he becomes, whilst simultaneous still leaving an impression of the last in the air around him. As well as tackling over 30 characters with an insatiable energy and stamina,  Craze is a performer that knows that the devil is in the detail, and this is what makes his performance incredible. I could have almost sworn he was an actual man of many years when he first came on stage, and after flipping 70 years into the past become a younger Ernie, I then watched him almost literally grow older before my eyes. It’s an absolutely magical feat, making this a performance that is utterly inescapable. Not only has Craze written a well paced and engrossing text, his performance is so ecstatic it’s addictive.

Production

There isn’t a director, per se, as Craze himself making the space his own, darting around it making good use of the space’s depth and width. But he is supported by a superlative production consisting of Sara Huxley and Alex Jordan’s lighting and sound designs. With nothing more than a chair, a couple of costumes, and an old crate, their audio and lighting beautifully colour the show. They’ve a keen eye for artistry and aesthetic that elevates the show even further beyond Craze’s exceptional performance. Lighting changes, such as the soft spot down-lighting for Neville Chamerblain’s declaration of war to a well timed black out, are genuinely striking. They demonstrate that Huxley and Jordan are not a production team that are content with doing the minimum, but find ways to actively augment Craze’s work.

Verdict

Ernie is inescapable and indescribable in person and in text. Seldom does writing, performance, and production come together so perfectly to create something so astounding. You’ll leave the auditorium dizzy and elated, as well as with a small lump in your throat. An enthralling, personal, and heartfelt show like no other.

Ernie plays at the Tristan Bates Theatre, London, WC2H 9NP, until 23 August 2014 as part of the Camden Fringe Festival. Tickets are £10 (concessions available). To book, visit www.camdenfringe.com.


Camden Fringe Review: Go! A Mini Disaster Musical (Phoenix Artist Club, London)

GoRating: **

In A Nutshell

Clichéd characters, bewildering musical numbers, and tawdry innuendo distract from moments of the otherwise nuanced pathos of a powerful songstress.

Overview

Flight GO999 takes off, but never makes it to its intended destination. Seven characters on board the flight, both passengers and crew, relate to us in song their lives, aspirations, and libidos.

I feel quite bad about giving this such a bad review, especially as cabaret star and creator of this piece, Nikki Aitken, allowed me to review the production after I’d contacted her directly to do so as the blurb sparked my interest. However, I can’t bring myself other than to be honest about this show, so here goes.

Book

After Mile High – The Musical I have been left thinking that there is very little more that anyone can prise out of airline comedies. Unfortunately, Aitken has not managed to make me disparage this opinion.

Characters are generally clichéd: posh English gent it posh and English, loud American gal is American and loud, and oversexed “mincing” gay air steward is still the irritating stereotype that we’re apparently still defaulting to for comedy. The attempt at humour mostly falls flat. For the most part it relies of a few snippets of innuendo that’s a cross between some budget Pam Ann and a Great British Bake Off soggy bottom. Otherwise, we’re expected to find jokes in the characters that are over the top, unbelievable, and less than compelling.

Yet there are a few flits of depth here and there. Aitken’s momentary pause to explore the failed relationship and charisma of said English gent is actually quite sweet and enchanting, with traces of nuanced pathos. As is another character’s exasperation about her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which is pursued with quirk and interest: a genuinely human look at living with such a condition. But otherwise, there’s little to go on that engages. It seems Aitken works best when she’s not trying to be funny and actually trying to find a degree of humanity in what she’s doing.

The plot development is scant and implausible, lacking drama or drive. It makes a quick landing before it even gets a chance to take off. Even the salvation from the mild peril our characters are placed in doesn’t really lead to much or instigate any substantial arousal.

Songs

Much like the book, the songs are mostly misses with a few hits. There’s a boringly burlesque song about a baggage-handler in love, a bewildering romp through the airline’s safety demonstrating, and a Black Box a la Barry White soul number. But again, coinciding with the flits of character exploration as mentioned above, there are a couple of solid songs that reflect a more pensive and insightful side to Aitken’s intelligence. There are even moments of musical originality, in the form of melodic quips and less than ordinary turns of phrases, marking Aitken out as someone who has talent somewhere among all this.

Performance

Aitken certainly has a voice. When she lets rip you really know about it. It’s her singing talent that’s the most sure-fire thing about this production: a testament to the reputation she’s garnered.

However, her ability to portray multiple characters in quick succession doesn’t measure up to her vocal prowess. She doesn’t have the physical acumen to create the tangible detail that would define and personify the characters she’s trying to channel. At some points, it wasn’t clear who she’s playing, not helped by the fact that sometimes Aitken would remain stationary through several characters changing only her voice, rather than trying to embed herself in the spaces that her characters would otherwise be in. If the personality of the characters didn’t endear enough to begin with, it’s hard enough to believe that they have manifested in the theatre space.

Verdict

It’s a real shame that Go! A Mini Disaster Musical hasn’t worked as there is evidence that Aitken could achieve something much better. But whilst writing comedy musical theatre may not be her calling, her powerful voice, small peeks at a keen poignancy, and moments of musical originality, means that she won’t be a performer as forgettable as this show.

Go! A Mini Disaster Musical runs at the Phoenix Artist Club, London, WC2H 8BU, until 21 August 2014 as part of the Camden Fringe Festival. Tickets are £10 (concessions available). To book, visit www.camdenfringe.com.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,005 other followers