Hello all! I’m still on my semi-sabbatical at the moment. However, as things aren’t going particularly well, my circumstance of late have further highlighted my need to have separate personal and professional Twitter accounts: something I’ve been putting off due to arrogance and denial for a while.
So, biting the bullet, the following changes will be made to my Twitter presence.
- @grumpyyounggay will be changing to @grumpygaycritic. This will be my professional account where I’ll Tweet all my articles and a handful of candid opinions and quips. This also needs a name change, turning 29 this month hardly qualifies me as “young” anymore! I know that means that a lot of the personal Tweets that I’ve made will still be attached to that, but I’d hate to lose the wealth of industry contacts that have made.
- @thewaybad will be my personal account. This will be locked and made private. By all means ask for an invitation. I’m not strict about who follows me, but I do need to ensure I have some control over who sees my rants and ramblings.
So follow me, unfollow me, or refollow me! Hopefully normal service will resume soon
It’s getting very close to Halloween, and the Charing Cross Theatre is offering not one, but two ghostly goings on. If you happen to make it to Afraid of the Dark, then why not stay for the theatre’s later show, The Curse of Elizabeth Faulkner for some more light-hearted creeps as a show that sits somewhere halfway between The 39 Steps and The Woman in Black.
Following on from its success in Edinburgh, the late-night show makes it to London for a run through October right into the dank of November. Crossing farce with Grand Guignol, it’s a spritely little piece.
There are more than a few hilarious moments and Tim Downie’s writing balances creativity against the usual standard farce fare. Even though all the usual suspects are there, from battering down of the fourth wall to long running on-cue sound effect jokes, there are plenty of new and unexpected gags which really make the show. Downie also does a great job at knowingly penning this “budget” show, making nods to Martin Thomas’ bare essentials set, whilst director Anthony Coleridge makes good use of what isn’t there by filling the stage with action and imagination, despite there being only two boxes and four actors to play around with.
But like a lot of farce, it’s very difficult to either not descend into being too silly and/or let the comic pace drop too suddenly. Downie’s writing lets both of these happen in places, causing the show to drag a little. Also, a handful of the jokes are either a little too obscure or referential, meaning at points you know you’re supposed to be laughing but not quite sure why. But with the amount of original and strong material elsewhere means these never fatally mar the production.
The cast are also strong, including magician and According to Bex star Neil Henry, although he, Josh Haberfield, and Anil Desai wander into being a touch too over the top at times. But it’s fresh-out-of-acting school, Harriette Sym, who delivers her role with prefect comic tone and timing.
It does seem a little harsh to give this production only three stars, because it’s certainly above average. But when compared with some of the other long running comedy shows in London like One Man, Two Guvnors and The 39 Steps (from which it lovingly shares a few gags) it doesn’t quite measure up, although it’s not far off. But none the less, on a budget and for a late-night tickling of your funny bone, as far as comedy horror theatre goes this show is ghoulish, giggly, and goosey good fun.
The Curse of Elizabeth Faulkner runs at the Charing Cross Theatre, London, WC2N 6NL, until 23 November 2013. Tickets are £17.00. To book, visit www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk.
I just wanted to post something quickly to say that, unfortunately, I’m having to take a break from theatre reviewing.
Currently my employment situation (i.e. lack of) is causing me a lot of stress, and I’m simply not in a good place to ensure that I honour reviewing commitments I might make, or actually be in a good frame of mind to write a fair review.
Part of this is that I’m currently undertaking an internship over at GameSkinny to help develop my writing (albeit in the video games sector), which is a huge commitment on top of all the job applications I’m also having to do.
None the less, I’m hoping to get back to theatre reviewing on here as soon as my situation improves and my state of mind is a bit more collected. Thanks to all the PRs, theatre companies, and readers that have given me tremendous support so far.
I will be back.
Think you know Othello? Think again. Director Hannah Kaye, one of the crew behind RIP, takes us through Shakespeare’s classic to directly challenge how we perceive the tragedy of the Moor of Venice in relation to sexism and violence towards females.
Kaye herself plays not only Emilia, but acts as a narrator, bringing in historic reviews, essays, and hard to swallow facts to lambast the general audience reaction of sympathising with Othello, sometimes going as far as blaming Desdemona. These interjections by Kaye are surprisingly hard-hitting and incredibly unsettling. Through this device it’s impossible not to find yourself completely rethinking the play beyond its themes of racism and betrayal, let alone be troubled at its portrayal of women.
At the show’s core is an abridged original play itself, the performance of which is solid. Rosalind Parker makes for a sturdy Iago, who is surprisingly cold as the manipulative villain. She masterfully turns the jealous and vengeful knave into something unnaturally steely and inert. Adrian Quinton as Othello is also a promising performer, juxtaposing the very loving nature of his character against a frightening rage.
Sonnie Beckett is the star of the show as Desdemona. Within this particular interpretation, she thrives in the role of the faithful, yet fated, wife. She plays her character with a very down to earth humanity. There’s nothing over-emotive or whimsical about her. Desdemona is just an every day woman – no graces, no airs, no melodrama – perfectly bolstering the points that Kaye is trying to get across.
Despite the set consisting of only a few curtains and old crates, Kaye makes excellent use of the stage, exploiting the awkward shape and cumbersome nooks of the Drayton Arms’ space. She injects flow and movement without it ever feeling restless, but ensures that nothing is ever still in this dark dissection. The use of clear lines of bright white salt, representing what we think we know about Othello, is also a very clever device. The more the play goes on, and the more Kaye frames everything that’s wrong with it, they smudge and scatter to the point of being completely indistinguishable.
The crowning jewel in both Kaye’s direction and Beckett’s performance, is Desdemona’s death. This is not the highly-romanticised and tragic scene we’ve come to know; it’s horrific and disturbing. It consists of around a five full minutes of hideous shrieking and kicking as Othello callously smothers his beloved. To say it was uncomfortable would be an understatement.
But there are a few faults. Why Iago is suddenly played as a transvestite/transsexual seems an interpretation of “I am not what I am” a step too bewildering, failing to add any new intelligent insight. But that’s not to say Parker didn’t handle herself well despite this. Also, there are a couple of stylistic missteps, such as an appearance of a Leonard Cohen track that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the play or its timbre.
But overall, this explosion of Othello is an intense and difficult reassessment of a cornerstone of British culture. Unpalatable and shocking, this is a dagger to the side of everything we thought we knew about the play; and it’s extraordinary.
Othello Syndrome runs at The Drayton Arms, London, SW5 0LG, until 28 September 2013. Tickets are £13 (concessions available). To book, visit www.thedraytontheatre.co.uk.
The afterlife is a strange and prickly subject, let alone one in which to extol the virtues of and explore the social issues surrounding lesbianism. But Maureen Chadwick’s new play does just that, but with a wicked sense of humour and an imagination that’s out of this world.
Somewhere in the ether, Queenie stumbles into a spectral vision of The Gateways Club; the underground Chelsea lesbian bar made famous in the film The Killing of Sister George. There, she bumps into Ollie. Knowing they’re both dead, Ollie believes that they’ve gone to “dyke heaven”. But the staunchly religious Queenie believes that this is purgatory where her faith and resolve will be tested. But then old flame Shirley stumbles in, and Queenie is forced to face her past, questioning the choices she’s made and having to come to terms with who she is.
Strangely, Chadwick doesn’t really bring much new to the table in terms of exposing home truths, grappling with internalised homophobia, coping with societal marginalisation, rank genderism, and the damaging effect of savage faith. There are a few unexpected and interesting angles, but ultimately everything is pretty standard fare for those already versed in LGBT issues. The narrative also includes an incredibly contrived and shoe-horned sequence, that makes up the majority of the second act, regarding choosing between who we are, and who we want to be. Furthermore, Queenie’s epiphanic turn-around seems little bit sudden and unconvincing, for the sake of purely moving onto the next plot point.
Some of the lines are also incredibly stilted. It’s clear that Chadwick is trying to appeal to a broader audience than purely the LGBT community, creating something more than a piece of niche gay female theatre: an incredibly bold and worthwhile approach. But alas, this means spelling out all of the key concepts behind the issues she’s exploring and many of the references, which disrupts any natural feel to the dialogue.
However, Chadwick’s construction of the play, and director Simon Evans’ presentation, is superb. The iron grip on some excellent pacing launches you back and forth between comedy and tragedy at break-neck speeds, leaving you panting and exhausted at points. Even if the points of view are a little garden variety, your heart will ache just as much as your sides. Ollie, the cynical and sarcastic third wheel, has all the best lines, plopping them perfectly into both moments of darkness and of light. They are rip-roaringly funny, enhancing or contrasting any given moment with deft results. These are beautifully juxtaposed with some tender moments from Queenie and Shirley as they try to reconcile their past and identities in this surreal eternity.
Theatrical veterans Polly Hemingway and Amanda Boxer, as Queenie and Ollie respectively, really shine in this piece, and not just because of Hemingway’s lovely sequin dress. But Boxer really pulls out all the stops in her performance. She effortlessly balances Ollie’s long suffering dry wit against the more vulnerable aspect of her character that she herself is trying to forget. Her comic delivery is also impeccable. However, it’s a shame that starlet Mia Mackie, as Shirley, seems a little stiff in comparison, especially as she seems to be lumped with some of the more awkward lines. You get the sense that she’s always on the cusp of coming into her own, but can never quite get there.
But the coup de grace is the narrative frame itself. This afterlife ruled over by the enigmatic “powers that be” manipulate and toy with the characters in this half-way house, adding not only a wild sense of unpredictability, but also some wonderfully constructed comedic situations. Right up until the last bell, you’re actually never entirely sure what’s going on, or how it will all end, keeping you just as rapt as the moments of hilarity and touching drama.
Ed Lewis’ sound design also greatly enhances the play. Pristine and well executed, whether it’s the deafening rumble of thunder from the elusive deities that rule over the bar, the light thud of remembered rain, or the gentle Dusty Springfield numbers emanating from the jukebox with a mind of its own, it’s all remarkable.
Andrew Edwards’ set also makes fantastic use of the Riverside Studio Studio 3’s infamously shallow and wide space, using columns and Johanna Town’s lighting design to give an effect of hidden depth. And whilst it doesn’t look anything like The Gateways Club itself, it certainly evokes it.
For all the faults that you could pick with certain aspects of the script, it all comes together to be a marvellous whiplash of a show. It’s also great to see a piece of lesbian theatre being so lovingly and slickly produced, let alone a piece of new lesbian writing, when there’s woefully too little of it on the theatre scene compared to gay plays.
But even when you take away its homosexual themes, you’re still left with a heady and breathtaking ballad to life and love.
The Speed Twins plays at the Riverside Studios, London, W6 9RL, until 28 September 2013. Tickets are £22.50 (concessions available). To book, visit www.riversidestudios.co.uk.
Déjà vu – noun the experience of perceiving a new situation as if it had occurred before.
Ever get that feeling that you’ve seen something somewhere else before? Well, you’ll definitely get that this week at the Tristan Bates Theatre. The Pensive Federation are at it again, exploring new approaches to new writing by asking writers to explore themes through strict criteria. This time, each writer has been given a three page script as inspiration, with certain caveats as to certain plot points, character names, and props that they must use. The result is a varied and intriguing hour of theatre.
Cat Robey directs all four plays featured, joined by the same two actors for each text, Neil J. Byden and Laura Kim. Writers for this mini-festival include Jo Pockett, Caro Dixey, Serena Haywood, and Sarah Pitard.
Robey, once more, shows off her prowess as a director. Despite only two characters, an amount of props you can count on one hand, and absolutely no set, she manages to give each piece a sense of energy and momentum. By subtly moving the action around the performance space gives them all a sense of flow, never becoming static physically or abstractly. But it’s never so much that it ever looks or feels restless. It’s these little details that make Robey such a talented director. Other little details include enjoying small pauses for the audience to take in a moment, either to enhance comic effect or augment heart-wrenching tragedy.
Byden and Kim are also two actors with a great deal of stamina and the ability to switch effortlessly between four very different characters through the space of the show. Each one they embody is believable and charming.
It also helps that the plays themselves are of a high standard. Haywood’s outrageous romp of geeks, sabotage, animal activism, and over-elaborate flirting, is a joy to watch. Despite how far-fetched the situation is, Haywood manages to create some wonderfully believable characters meaning that we’re really sucked into this twisted tale.
Pitard’s piece looking at friendship, semantics, and support, is also incredibly charming. Although one of the most concise narratives of the lot, it’s insight into friends sharing a space and their lives together is heart-warming and humorous. Furthermore, as the final play, it cheekily and ambiguously ties together some of programme’s earlier plays to it, really teasing you with that feeling of déjà vu.
But the most outstanding piece of all was Dixey’s Done. Never have I seen the subject of assisted suicide approached with such tender humanity and sensitivity. Her characters are incredibly real and honest. But what’s more, despite the grim situation, Dixey still manages to find a heartbreaking sense of humour. Furthermore, Kim and Byden really pull out all the stops for this piece, as the determined woman wishing to end her life, and the steely and mysterious assistant she has hired to help her do so. The result is one of the most intense, affecting, and haunting 15 minutes of your life.
Pockett’s play, however, is the weakest of the quartet; but by no means weak. Despite a very down-to-earth and warts-and-all portrayal of her characters, the problem is that her protagonist/antagonist is so deluded and insufferable that he’s difficult to believe or connect with, causing as much irritation for the audience as with his long-suffering friend. Otherwise, Pockett does well to balance punch-lines and pathos in this look at extreme denial.
The only other issue I can pick with the production is that having the characters re-dress to music between plays does drag. But when the only alternative is to have the audience sit in silence and/or with nothing to look at, it’s a small price to pay for what is otherwise a wholly unique and entertaining evening out.
Rewritten plays at the Tristan Bates Theatre, London, WC2H 9NP, until 23 August 2013, as part of the Camden Fringe Festival. Tickets are £8. To book, visit www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk. For more information about the Camden Fringe Festival, visit www.camdenfringe.com. For more information about The Pensive Federation, visit http://pensivefederation.com.
Cataclysm is, for some reason, a particular favourite among new writers, especially on the fringe. Often it leads to sensationalism and shallow explorations of quite serious issues. Therefore, I was apprehensive about Pause, given the play’s plot outline of a woman coping with her son’s head injury leaving him in a vegetative state. However, Serena Haywood proves that she is a writer of brilliant insight by creating a piece that is incredibly honest and human. Couple this with a great production from director TutkuBarbaros and new company Moustache Contraption, this is an hour of touching, endearing, and heartbreaking drama.
The great success of the piece is that, given the tragic circumstance, it doesn’t wallow. The portrayal of Chris’s mother, Victoria, and Chris’ close childhood friend and lover, Mark, are incredibly down to earth. Instead of finding them cursing the air, shaking their fists, and generally being unreasonably grumpy at everyone and everything, they act like people who deal with this exact situation day in and day out; they try to converse normally with the patient as if nothing had happened, despite receiving nothing but a blank response; they try to come to terms with this unwelcomed situation; and they tell themselves little lies to get them through the day. Sometimes, what they say is cynical, sarcastic, and funny. As much as there are tears in this play, there is just as much humour in these everyday people, be it mistaking Tom Daley for David Beckham, or lamenting the decline of the Trio chocolate bar; Haywood’s characters are incredibly real.
As the narrative switches back and forth between before and after the accident, you quickly realise that this play is not just a vignette on adversity. It fasts becomes an essay on loss, deceit, and delusion. Chris keeps the real situation of his university education from his mother, and Victoria is also kept blissfully unaware of the depths of the relationship between Chris and Mark. When this is put into the context of Chris’ accident, the theme of lies and secrets become something profound and affecting; the pain it causes Mark in not being able to openly express his grief, and Victoria’s hopeless optimism for the recovery of her son.
Because of this astute approach to portraying people and a very real life narrative, by not over-egging the drama, the parts where the play is quietly tragic are absolutely devastating. I confess, I was touched to the point where I was moved to tears.
Barbaros directs the show with brilliant flair, and commands an all round great production. Especially notable is the use of light and James Lawrence’s sound design to add variety and atmosphere. Particularly effective is the use of a single pulsating spot light during the play’s climax, accompanied by deafening sound. This created a compelling sense of drama despite the size and simplicity of the Theatre Collection’s space and sparseness of set.
Ryan Wichert, as Chris, and Samuel Casely, as Mark, also give outstanding performances. They share an excellent and believable chemistry when it comes to their juvenile antics, solid camaraderie, and conspicuous, but tender, sexuality. Wichert is also incredibly commendable in his portrayal of someone in a vegetative state, producing a well studied portrait of someone with such a severe disability, rather than relying on shallow caricature.
The only criticism I can give is that some of the solo passages are a little contrived. Characters rattle through several stages of emotions and reasoning in the space of several minutes, and it’s here where the language feels a little forced. But even so, the comprehensive scope of internal conflicts is insightful none the less, and all are still delivered with fantastic conviction.
Haywood and Barbaros have shown how drama and tragedy should be done on the fringe, putting many pieces and productions of new writing to shame. A brilliant and heartfelt piece, and an intense and fulfilling evening out.
Pause plays at the Theatre Collection, London, NW1 9BH, until 25 August 2013, as part of the Camden Fringe Festival. Tickets are £10 (concessions available). To book, or to find out more about the festival, visit www.camdenfringe.com.
Directed by Suzy Catliff, this play is set in Lewisham, where we find Bradley, a timid and hard-working student, desperately trying to find a cheap place to live so he can continue his studies. Replying to an advert for a “room”, he ends up in Pinko’s rancid bedsit faced with only a bed in a corner behind a shower curtain. Coerced by the slovenly American’s knock-down rent offer, Bradley moves in. But when Pinko, after a drug and alcohol-fuelled binge in Soho, brings home Polish masseuse and holistic therapist, Ania, she ends up uncovering aspects of all their personalities and fears that none were expecting.
At the beginning, the comedy is quite fun. The laughs are found in what nuances Pinko, Bradley, and Ania’s personalities bring out in each other, rather than relying on the clash of personalities and the living situation. Therefore, the jokes are surprisingly wry, honest, and refreshing, despite being a scenario akin to 1970s American sitcom, The Odd Couple. The dialogue is a little stilted, but you’re laughing, so it’s not a massive issue.
However, award winning author, Stewart Permutt, decides that what the play really needs is to career towards something darker and more serious. Whilst it is always worth exploring deeper human emotions such as belonging and affection, it means that all too quickly the play loses its quirks and charms, and starts to drag, with laughs suddenly few and far between.
Without much warning, the already chauvinistic and alpha-male wannabe, Pinko, turns violent, causing a whirlwind of cataclysms to sweep through the plot. And when severe mental health issues crop up with an approach that is shallow and trying hard to shock, you’re not quite sure where it’s all going. Furthermore, you really start to notice how forced some of the dialogue is, and it starts to grate.
It’s a shame that it veers from quirky comedy to overwrought drama in such a way, because both the comic and the tragic elements are actually not bad on their own merits. Having already highlighted the quality of the comedy, with the tragedy, once you strip away the troubling simplicity of how the mental health issues are dealt with, you actually have quite a poignant piece about how relationships play out when it comes to love, lust, and the longing for companionship. If the more sensational side of the play was less melodramatic, it might have be a bit less schizophrenic and more of a consistent and lighter evening.
The cast behind the show are very good. Price Lindsey, as Pinko, is so testosterone fuelled and over-masculine that you genuinely flinch at his cocksure, brash, and over-sexed antics, and feel intimidated by his bully-boy tactics. Louis Cardona, as Bradley, is also wonderfully shy and politely long-suffering of his bullish housemate from hell, and palpably exudes the tenderness that endears Ania to him. Ruby Snape, as Ania, is also on top form. Although possibly the most level and “normal” character at the start of the play, when her desperation sets in, she turns into something sweetly sinister and grossly manipulative; a marvellously subtle but equally hideous character transformation, performed with quiet panache.
All in all, it’s still a decent night out, and does leave you pondering about how we interact and relate to one another. You also, oddly, find yourself even a bit sympathetic towards Pinko in his eventual downfall. Ultimately, you laugh, you feel, and you leave the auditorium thinking. That, in itself, is reason enough to go.
Love and Lust in Lewisham plays at the Tristan Bates Theatre, London, WC2H 9NP, as part of the Camden Fringe Festival, until 17th August 2013. Tickets are £10 (concessions available). To book, visit www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk. To find out more about the Camden Fringe Festival, visit www.camdenfringe.com.