Panto Review: Booty and the Biatch (LOST Theatre, London)

bootyRating: ****

In A Nutshell

A fantastic anarchy of panto, satire, and general filth, exploding into a larger new home with hilarious bombast.

Overview

In the French village of Ashby-de-la-Zouche, a cold-hearted prince is turned into a biatch and given sh*t Netflix connection as punishment for his insolence. In order to break the spell he must learn to love. Enter Beauty (aka Booty), who is trying to be wooed by UKIP candidate Nigel Garage. Her father, Crazy Old Maurice, after being capture by The Biatch, makes a pact to exchange his freedom for Beauty’s imprisonment. With a gaggle of mal-transformed servants, can Beauty teach Biatch how to love and break the curse, and enable Mrs. Pots to finish Orange Is The New Black?

Writing

Paul L. Martin, who until recently did bi-yearly adult pantos aboard the Battersea Barge, moves into the more generous confines of the LOST Theatre on Wandsworth Road. He continues to employ his trademark wit and knowing with gusto to create a colourful and daring panto, despite it being more risqué than the norm. All the trappings are there, including rousing songs and sing-a-longs, and high-spirited dance numbers. What’s great about Booty and the Biatch, though, is the cutting and no-prisoners-taken approach to satire, sending up everything from UKIP and Operation Yewtree, to the Disney version of the fairy tale on which the show has heavily stolen from based itself upon.

Whilst it’s not as out-rightly filthy as the capital’s other adult panto offerings, such as Sleeping Booty!, it doesn’t mean that Martin has lost any flare or frivolity. There’s still jokes about bum-sex and more than a few naughty words that slip through, but Martin still manages to ensure that a joy and magic that is crucial to panto is there every step of the way. Creating a solid panto as a basis for the evening is what takes precedence here, and therefore where the focus lies. If you take away the smut and the rudeness, you’d still be left with something that’s a hoot of a show because of this. With plenty of knowing jokes about the industry and it’s rivalries, along the sexual references and the send-ups, and you’ve got blistering funny moments left, right, and centre.

But most wonderful, as always, with Martin’s pantos, is just how relaxed they are. Yes, there is (vaguely) a script, but Martin and his company thrive in the fact that things are allowed to go wrong. In fact, these are some of the best moments.

Everything isn’t perfect, though. There are parts of the show aren’t as tight as others, and moments where the cast (and the audience) run away with themselves just a little too much. But it’s still all part of the fun, and are foibles that can be forgiven through affection, rather than becoming any major detriment.

Direction & Production

As well as these pantos have always worked very well in the claustrophobic space of the Battersea Barge, Director Vanessa Pope really embraces the larger venue. Even thought the audience is now bigger and more formally arranged, they are still as integral a part of the panto as before and are involved at every given opportunity, even if it is to trample through them and steal their booze! But specifically, what’s certainly most spectacular about this venue transfer, is that Pope has gone to wonderful lengths to include wonderfully ambitious song and dance numbers that were not possible before, and they’re delivered effortlessly. Couple this with Matt Overfield’s glitzy choreography, and you’ve got a fringe panto that can rival the shazam of larger more affluent affairs. For a company which is used to a very small space, you wouldn’t have known it seeing as how comfortable they seem here at the LOST Theatre. Pope also knows how to get the best out of panto pacing, whilst leaving enough flexibility for her cast to interact and improvise according to how the audience respond/heckle.

Birgitta Kenyon’s involvement on stage as Musical Director also adds a really nice sense of live music and interaction which the cast thrives off, adding fun and spontaneity that a backing track just can’t provide. Also, despite budget constraints, Miranda Evan’s costumes find a humour in their resourcefulness that forms as much a part as the panto’s jokes as Martin’s script.

Cast

Martin and his team couldn’t have assembled a better panto cast. Martin, as the dame/Mrs. Pots is not only fantastically camp, saucy, and ridiculous, but brings a side-splitting psychosis to his character, especially when interacting with Chip.

To point out but a few of the fantastic performances; Jamie Anderson as The Biatch is also as fierce as they come commanding an outlandish queeny bitchiness, with quick-fire put-downs and heels as sharp as his remarks; and Becky Finlay Hall is preposterously funny as Cogsworth, pulling in the laughs with her lovey-dovey professional-actor-in-panto demeanour, rapaciously sending up an actor’s sensibilities. But that’s not to say that these particular cast members are better than the rest. Everyone involved, even the cameo from the stage manager, all expertly contribute in propelling the illicit Pandemonium of this rip-roaring evening.

As a company, they all work off each other’s charisma, feeding off their own energy as well as the audience’s. Most surprisingly, however, is how well they actually sing together. There’s a real power, punch, and immaculate sound that they bring to the big numbers that makes them as incredibly slick as they are silly. It’s a unexpected touch of talent and professionalism for a production that knowingly postures itself as a little ramshackle.

Verdict

An anarchy most splendid. A manic panto with added naughtiness guaranteed to make you laugh your party hat off!

Booty and the Biatch plays at the LOST Theatre, London, SW8 2JU until 17 December 2015. Tickets are £18.35. To book, visit www.paullmartin.com.


Playwrights open submission brief – Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents..Desire

Submissions are open for “Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…”! I heartily encourage all writers out there to submit. A really interesting concept for a new writing evening. 🙂

Whoop 'n' Wail

What is Represents…?

With brand new plays from both male and female writers, Represents… is a showcase with a difference.

Whoop ‘n’ Wail have committed to achieving gender equality on the UK stage by creating a night of entertaining, engaging theatre with all plays having significant roles for women.

Consisting of six fifteen-minute shorts, each piece of writing must pass the Bechdel Test –

they must include at least two named female characters who, at some stage, talk to each other about something other than a man. Inspired by Alison Bechdel’s 1987 comic strip, The Rules, the Bechdel Test has become the benchmark for gauging fair representation on stage and screen.

The sold-out launch of Represents… in Nov 2014 featured work by both established and emerging playwrights and directors invited by the curators to kick off the inaugural event. For future nights, each will have an overarching theme, with…

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Theatre Review: This Is Not A Christmas Play (Top Secret Comedy Club, London)

Jordan Kuoame (left) and MAtthew Leigh (right) getting a little board. Photograph: Courtesy of Sofi Berenger.

Jordan Kouame (left) and Matthew Leigh (right) getting a little board. Photograph: Courtesy of Sofi Berenger.

Rating: ***

In A Nutshell

Some great comic turns and fresh ideas, but is let down by some awkward pitching and pacing.

Overview

David and Tim, have made a pact: to sit through Christmas Day without mentioning and acknowledging it. Will David’s ex turn up for dinner? Will Tim pay this month’s rent? And just who are the torrent of bizarre characters that keep coming in and out of their flat?

Proud Mary! Alice Coles (;left) and Jordan Kouame (right). Photograph: Sofi Berenger.

Proud Mary! Alice Coles (left) and Jordan Kouame (right). Photograph: Courtesy of Sofi Berenger.

Writing

Robert Wallis and Liam Fleming of Encompass productions turn their hand to providing an alternative but fun and frivolous seasonal titbit that does away with the trappings of British Christmas theatre. It’s a comedy, and it starts off as such. There are some wonderfully comic turns in the script, especially in it’s knowing nods at the fact that you just can’t quite escape the holidays. Some of these moments are laugh out loud, especially when executed with some of the impeccable comic timing from the cast. There are also great reference moments that, if you do get, are incredibly well placed and delivered.

However, Wallis and Flemming then start to turn the play into a farce, and this is where This Is Not A Christmas Play starts to lose its lustre. Farce is perhaps the most difficult theatrical genre to master: it requires an astute ability for punchy timing and just the right of amount of silliness. Thankfully, Wallis and Flemming never make the on-stage shenanigans too over-the-top and unconvincing: one of the easiest mistakes to make in farces make. But the problem is that the gags just don’t have the requisite energy and weight to meet the very high bar needed. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that good direction can fix: it’s a pacing that needs to already be there in the writing. This is not helped that sometimes it lingers a little to long on an attempt to make the character’s have too emotional an epiphany, as this ends up dragging the pace down even more. It’s something that could have comfortably have had it’s placed in a more straightforward comedy, but something that really irks the pace of a farce.

What this means is that, in trying to tread water in an area between comedy and farce, the pacing and therefore the pitch of the play is somewhat awkward. The energy is never consistent meaning everything stops and starts too often. But that doesn’t mean that Wallis and Flemming fail at either genres. especially as there are some inspired gags that are well set-up and executed. It’s just that they don’t excel at both.

I have a great deal of admiration for any writers who turn a hand at farce, because it’s something that can so easily go wrong. But despite Wallis and Flemming not hitting the mark, it’s still a solid and promising attempt. And even if it is uneven and sometimes ineffectual, the comedy that they do get right provide for a an enjoyable and grin-inducing hour.

Un-civil service. James Unworth (left)  and Jordan Kouame (right). Photograph: Couresty of Sofi Berenger.

Un-civil service. James Unworth (left) and Jordan Kouame (right). Photograph: Couresty of Sofi Berenger.

Direction & Production

Sarah Buller’s set does a wonderful job of turning the bare space of the Top Secret Comedy Club into a squalid flat. Everything from the snack detritus to grimy carpets are wonderful little details. But despite its grotty appearance, Buller has managed to turn the stage into something that, but for some much needed deep cleaning, is quite homely.

Director Johnathan Woodhouse and Associate Director Rachel Owens also make good use of the space, especially with regards to movement. In the chase scene/climax, it really does brim with a manic energy and sense of fun, with unexpected little turns and quips. Elsewhere, Woodhouse and Owens make sure that the comedy that does works really comes through: nothing else gets in the way of the good jokes, understanding the turnaround from punch-line to laughter thus giving the audience the space they need to react appropriately.

Virgin active! Alice Coles (left), Matthew Leigh (centre) and Jordan Kouame (right). Photograph: Courtesy of Sofi Berenger.

Virgin active! Alice Coles (left), Matthew Leigh (centre) and Jordan Kouame (right). Photograph: Courtesy of Sofi Berenger.

Cast

This Is Not A Christmas Play certainly has a great comic cast. Jordan Kouame, especially, has a wonderfully lightness and knowing in everything he does that really enhance his share of the gags. His physicality is also spot on for his comic moments, too. Although an actor who has a natural physical dominance, there’s still room for comic nuance in his presence. Furthermore, despite the clash of personality against his counterpart, Matthew Leigh as David, together they bounce their opposing charismas off each other to make themselves out as a wonderful odd couple.

James Unsworth, as Clive, embodies very similar qualities to Kouame in churning out another comic performance of a high standard, but has the added luxury of looking surprisingly dashing in just a pair of shiny hot pants!

Alice Coles, as Mary, as also enacts some wonderful moments of colourful melodrama. Between her and Unsworth, they carry the moments where the farce almost works, injecting a hilarious shot of gusto and fun as the piece’s unlikely villains.

Verdict

Despite stumbling somewhere between the two genres it tries to straddle, it’s still a giggly-good evening for all that does work with it. A fun alternative for those who come out in a cold sweat at the thought of panto or Christmas shows, but still embracing a warm sense of fun and good cheer that comes with all the festive fuss.

[youtube http://youtu.be/YJSHv-0XnNo]

This Is Not A Christmas Play runs at the Top Secret Comedy Club, London, WC2B 5PD, until 4 January 2015. Tickets are £12 (concessions available). To book, visit www.encompassproductions.co.uk/this-is-not-a-christmas-play.


Theatre Review: Back Door (Tristan Bates Theatre, London)

Laura Louise Baker (front) and Jaacq Hugo (back). Photograph: Courtesy of Jules (Philter Photography)

Laura Louise Baker (front) and Jaacq Hugo (back). Photograph: Courtesy of Jules (Philter Photography)

Rating: *****

In A Nutshell

A twisted powder-keg thriller blending reality and fiction for a sharp and glamorous play looking at truth, fact, and obsession.

Overview

Associated Press photographer, Tabitha Montgomery, lives in Paris. After badly spraining her ankle in Montmartre, she’s housebound with only her American houseboy, John, an arsenal of wine, and the luxury of spying on her neighbours across the courtyard to keep her company. Female impersonator and film artists Violette moves in across the way, for which Tabitha has the perfect view of from her apartment window. One night, Tabitha is awoken by a scream and the sound of glass breaking. When she spies Violette with blood on her hands, Tabitha is convinced that Violette has murdered her dance partner, and starts on a quest to prove her suspicions. But at what cost? And when does investigative intuition turn into dangerous obsession?

Writing

Polis Loizou combines the influence of real life female impersonator, Barbette, in an art-Deco resetting of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window: gender-bending and twisting the characters involved.

Taking on something that is arguably Hitchcock’s most acclaimed film is something that is always going to be difficult to live up to. Thankfully, Loizou doesn’t try to emulate Rear Window but merely use it to frame his own unique razor wit and a colourfully imaginative exploration of the thin line between fact and fiction and paranoia and prejudice. The result is an uncanny and debauched comic-thriller, which, although laced with plenty of catty quips and flamboyant put-downs, still manages to intensely explore its themes, throw in a few marvellous red herrings, and keep an absolutely tight and suspenseful grip on the audience to the very last beat. It’s as if Loizou was the love-child of Noel Coward and Agatha Christie: cheeky, yet masterfully capricious.

As much Loizou captures the sass and dirty glamour of 1920s Paris, what’s most astonishing about the writing is Loizou’s turn at suspense. This is not just in re-enacting Hitchcock’s infamous scene where Jeff watches Lisa snoop around the apartment opposite for clues, but in the play’s climax. It gets so intense that you honestly can’t tell for love or money which way things are going to pan out, especially as one of the possibilities places a character in considerable peril. You’re absolutely hooked in this nail-biting crescendo whilst, amazingly, Loizou manges to simultaneously deliver a bewitching finale that leaves you haunted.

Laura Louise Baker as Tabitha. Photograph: Jules (Philter Photography)

Laura Louise Baker as Tabitha. Photograph: Jules (Philter Photography)

Direction & Production

Whilst this is an incredibly small scale and humble touring fringe production, Andrew Denyer’s set, whilst simple, does it’s job marvellously. The three windows attached to Tabitha’s apartment also double as those at Violette’s far away abode. It looks a bit odd at first, with the issue of proximity being hard to ignore. But cast ability and direction draw the audience’s attention and imagination to do the work for them, suspending the belief and building the suspense. It’s a straightforward yet inventive solution to what could have been the biggest problem and tripping point for the entire production. It also bristles with wonderful art-Deco style that really compliments the wit and epoch that the show is set in.

There are also some really striking uses of projected image, fractured and distorted by being projected directly onto the set, adding a real atmosphere of sinister enigma especially given the wonderfully Man Ray-esque nature of Loizou’s video work here. It’s a production of real ingenuity that pays dividends in lieu of having the means to do something grander: an exquisite execution of essence beyond budget.

Cast

This three hander is also incredibly well delivered by the small company’s cast. Loizou takes on the role of John, and has plays him with a wonderful coy campness that crumbles into boyish vulnerability when Tabitha manipulatively picks apart his façade. Fragile, yet brimming with energy and venomous wit, he marvellously toys with the writing’s unexpected juxtaposition of camp hilarity against brooding jeopardy.

Laura Louise Baker as Tabitha is a little difficult to warm to initially, playing Tabitha as too steely, hurried, and terse to begin with. But quickly, she starts to command her performance and really dominates the stage. She brings a stark authority to Tabitha that, for better or for worse, exudes a gravitas that has you completely convinced that she’s the one closer to the truth than anyone else. Severe and expertly conniving, both her and her character are forces not to be reckoned with.

Jaacq Hugo is ethereal as the Barbette-inspired Violette. He oozes a mysterious suavity that is so chic it hurts. But most the astonishing aspect of his performance is when Violette is not Violette. Here, he turns into a brutal adversary of unnerving power, adding to the twisted and dangerous feel of the play. His switch from fay siren to threatening hulk is tremendous.

Together, the three conspire and clash meticulously, playing both sides of their characters off whatever face the other decides to reveal. It’s these constant slick and untrusting fraught interactions between them that really compel.

Verdict

A riot of Deco daring and wit. Suspense and comedy collide to create one of the most inspired and surprising plays this year. Tight, cutting, and edge-of-you seat thrilling, it’s murderously good.

[youtube http://youtu.be/t9wrJWFwLDg]

Back Door played at the Tristan Bates Theatre 9-10 December 2014. For more information about the production, including upcoming tour dates, visit www.offoffoffbroadway.co.uk.


Musical Review: Apartment 40c (London Theatre Workshop, London)

Cosy. The cast of 'Apartment 40c'. Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

Cosy. The cast of ‘Apartment 40c’. Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

Rating: ****

In A Nutshell

Despite narrative faults, Apartment 40c is a surprising and engaging new musical, marking Tom Lees and Ray Rackham as a musicals writing duo to watch out for.

Overview

One apartment, three couples, six lives. Apartment 40c in New York has seen many occupants of the years. Some of them have loved, some of them have lost, and some of them have found each other. By blurring time and place, it would appear that despite the age and era of its occupants, they have more in common with each other than you’d think.

Nova Skipp (left) and Peter Gerald (right) as Kathryn and Edward. Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

Nova Skipp (left) and Peter Gerald (right) as Kathryn and Edward. Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

Book

Librettist Ray Rackam’s almost sci-fi multiverse approach to three different couples is an interesting experience as the stories cross and interact indirectly in very interesting ways, creating a curious enigma about how, and even “if”, these sets of people are linked together. By doing this, Rackham frames the way for some astute exploration of the human condition in surprising ways. Even if you don’t quite connect with the characters on a personal level, or aren’t entirely convinced by their situations, there’s a very clear and intelligent empathy that chimes whenever they open up. It’s never over the top when this happens either. Everything is very honest and as is, meaning you as an audience member take away what you want from each emotional encounter, rather than being told what to feel. This casual and arms length approach continues even when looking at some of the more severe circumstances the characters are placed in, such as loosing a loved one. The result is a musical that is very personal to each audience member.

However, not everything in the actual narrative is as slick as it could be. Some of the couples and their situations aren’t really convincing. For example Eddie and Katie’s double-booked apartment is a bit far-fetched, but not as bewildering as the situation they end up in at the end of a single evening. Elsewhere, plot points and revelations feel contrived, adding to disbelief rather than the suspension of belief.

But it’s Rackham’s ability to make an audience feel and think that’s the main event, despite the sometimes ropey narratives. Plot faults are therefore small niggles rather than major issues. So what if the story is a little unconvincing? The point is how we emote rather than whether we believe.

Alex James Ellison (left) and Alex Crossley (right) as Eddie and Katie. Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

Alex James Ellison (left) and Alex Crossley (right) as Eddie and Katie. Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

Music & Lyrics

At first, Tom Lees music seems a bit too recognisable: something along the lines of the American rock music style than has been replicated (often poorly) ad naseum since Rent. However, though familiar, Lee’s music is far from derivative. In it are little shocks and indiscretions with regards to tone and rhythm, deviating away from the formula enough to prick your attention. Lees has found a way to really make the style his own, and by doing so keeps your attention. There are a couple of really haunting ballads that are incredibly beguiling. “Fairy Tales” was my personal highlight from the score: a mixture of childhood innocence and adult pathos with a sweeping melody, performer perfectly by Alex Crossley.

Rackham meets Lees’ musical idiosyncrasies by including unexpected internal rhymes and phrases. They don’t always work well with some feeling more clumsy than others, but they’re certainly interesting. Elsewhere, Rackham employs a more lyrical approach to exploring the themes and feelings that he’s already prying into, using alternative and more abstract imagery to achieve deeper understanding. This is where Rackham as a librettist really shines through, with an unmatched wit and imagination.

Lees arrangements for piano, violin, and cello also work really well. Despite the humility of the ensemble, Lees prises a rich and tender sound from the trio that undulates and colours each musical number. It’s a shame that we only hear Lees’ music and arrangements during the songs, and perhaps a bit of underscoring wouldn’t have gone amiss given just how enchanting it is.

Music and lyrics is certainly the strongest aspect of Lees and Rackham’s partnership. In fact, even if you go wanting to hate this, it’s simply not possible. Yes, you can pick at the smaller foibles, but the score has an absolute and inescapable charm. Maybe, with a different narrative and/or a dedicated book writer, Lees and Rackham can be the new British musicals writers that we’ve been waiting for.

Direction & Production

Jonti Angel and Evie Holdcroft’s set is incredibly striking, turning the upstairs theatre space of the Eel Brook Pub into a real doppelgänger for a New York apartment. It’s brimming with detail and minutia that really lifts the show.

Lees and Rackham,also directing, make good use of the generous space, often having all characters on set at all times, and sometimes choreograph their movements the intricately intersect each other, sometimes recognising but often ignoring their time-bound counterparts. It certainly adds even more enigma and questions to just how closely are these people interlinked. It’s a slickly executed show despite its fringe credentials.

Lizzie Wofford (left) and Drew Weston (right) sharing a tender moment as Kate and Ed. Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

Lizzie Wofford (left) and Drew Weston (right) sharing a tender moment as Kate and Ed. Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

Cast

Lees and Rackham have a solid cast on board, although some of the younger actors come across as a little inexperienced alongside more established talents. But overall, it’s very difficult to really pick out anyone particularly outstanding.

If any warrant a particular mention, it’s Lizzie Wofford as long-suffering and good wife, Kate. She has a lot of fun with her character in the little humours she puts up around her as things don’t quite go her way. Her on-stage chemistry with partner Drew Weston as Ed, is really natural and wonderfully sweet too, helped by the fact that he seems to really enjoy playing his role too. However, when push comes to shove, there is a real strength that she finds in her character’s vulnerability, powering on despite the difficult situation she ends up in without completely breaking down. She’s a powerful actress to watch perform in perhaps the strongest of the musical’s roles.

Verdict

It’s not only impossible not find something to like, but something to love. Original and beguiling, this is a thoroughly enjoyable musical penned by a duo with astonishing promise.

Apartment 40c plays at the London Theatre Workshop, London, SW6 4SG, until 20 December 2014. Tickets are £15 (concessions available). To book, visit http://londontheatreworkshop.co.uk.


Operetta Review: The Mikado (Charing Cross Theatre, London)

If you're wondering who they are... The cast of The Mikado. Photograph: Courtesy of Scott Rylander.

If you’re wondering who they are… The cast of The Mikado. Photograph: Courtesy of Scott Rylander.

Rating: ***

In a Nutshell

An exquisite vision and lavish production from Thom Southerland, but fails to capture the “oomph” that is key to a great Gilbert & Sullivan (G&S) show.

Overview

W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s renowned opera set in fictional Titpu, Japan, is given a 1920’s British make-over. 2nd trombonist, Nanki-Poo, returns to Titipu when learning that Ko-Ko, the ward and fiancé of his beloved Yum-Yum, is set to be executed. But we he arrives, he finds that small town corruption and impossible politics have seen Ko-Ko promoted to Lord High Executioner. As Nanki-Poo tries to weave a way to regain his love whilst saving the neck of his chief adversary, the solution causes more problems that it solves. After all, Nanki-Poo is not quite the wandering minstrel he purports to be.

Rebecca Caine (left) as Kitisha and Steve Watts (right) as Pooh-Bah. Photograph: Courtesy of Scott Rylander.

Rebecca Caine (left) as Kitisha and Steve Watts (right) as Pooh-Bah. Photograph: Courtesy of Scott Rylander.

Music & Libretto

Gilbert and Sullivan create a wonderful farce that’s scathingly satirical and blissfully funny. Like with any of their works, they unmercifully send up the establishment and anyone caught in its wake. Here, romancing exotic Victorian ideas of the Far East, the text is also full of very tongue in cheek Japan-isms, especially such as the names of the characters. But they still lambastes government shenanigans and the idiocy of the gentry in doing so. A mad-cap farce of love and corruption, The Mikado has endured to make it one of the best known works from their anthology due to its scintillating wry libretto and memorable music.

As well as great comic numbers, what is perhaps most endearing about this particular operetta are several beautiful arias that are pricked with pathos, providing sublime diversion from the silliness. Particularly, “The Sun, Whose Rays Are All Ablaze” is just as much as a pull for the opera as it’s comedy. This results in a wonderful mix of pathos and humour that surprisingly compliment each other incredibly well and provides for a show with as much variety as laughs.

Unique to this and every production is the carrying on of the tradition where Ko-Ko’s “list” gets updated for each run to include modern references, sending up contemporary villains and celebrity nuisances. Here, the company does an excellent job of doing this, possibly providing bigger laughs than Gilbert & Sullivan’s text itself. However, the production also goes the extra mile to also give the same treatment to “A More Humane Mikado Never Did Exist in Japan”, which is just as bellowingly cheeky and hilarious.

Getting carried away! Matthew Crowe (centre) as Nanki-Poo. Photograph: Courtesy of Steve Rylander.

Getting carried away! Matthew Crowe (centre) as Nanki-Poo. Photograph: Courtesy of Scott Rylander.

Direction & Production

Award winning director Thom Southerland has brought all the high quality hallmarks of his career to this production. The concept, setting the Mikado in a 1920s British Japanese fabric factory/shop, looks wonderful and provides a feast of visual fun. The blend of geisha glamour and Charleston glitz (with a dash of Weimar cabaret) gives Southerland plenty of ammunition to create a visual spectacular. Particularly, McKneely’s immense choreography really embraces Southerland’s vision, and ends up driving both the energy and the humour that runs through it. Then there are little visual quips too, such as the cast eating cucumber sandwiches using chopsticks which is just as delightful as the bigger more noticeable gags. Jonathan Lipman’s costumes are also sumptuous and are impressively detailed, brimming with colour and intricacies embracing this culture-crossover of east meets west. Everything about the production is lavish and well thought out. It’s as glorious an off-West End production as they come.

However, Southerland’s decision to turn to directing G&S, attempting to bring operetta to a theatre audience, is perhaps one of worthy but misplaced ambition. Despite an enthusiastic cast and gorgeous production, it’s a show that doesn’t quite get the essence of operetta, meaning that it falls flat and drags more than it should. The problem is that Southerland seems to be trying to direct The Mikado as if it were a theatrical comedy. Therefore, whilst it has the kitsch, it doesn’t have the camp energy that is essential to bring this to life in the way that it needs to.

A wandering minstrel, he. Matthew Crowe as Nanki-Poo. Photograph: Courtesy of Scott Rylander.

A wandering minstrel, he. Matthew Crowe as Nanki-Poo. Photograph: Courtesy of Scott Rylander.

Producing and directing G&S is almost an academic affair. Notably, there are several highly acclaimed companies that specialise in performing there, such as the Charles Court Opera Company and D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. What they understand is that G&S operettas are pretty much the panto of opera: literally. Gilbert spent a lot of his early career writing pantomimes, and a lot of that is arguably incredibly prevalent in his work with Sullivan, and forms the basis of the style of the their operettas. Therefore, an unshakable and unabashed energy must run through it at all times. Characters needs to be larger than life rather than something more natural, and the pace must be unrelenting and over the top where it needs to be. This is something that Southerland hasn’t quite been able to capture here, although he starts getting close to this ideal in Act II.

Furthermore, it is beyond me why anyone would put on an operetta and have less than half the cast as trained classical singers. As talented a professional West End cast as this boasts, there is a power in a chorus and leading members that only classical training provides and is absolutely required even in operetta. This adds to the flagging energy at times as it means the show misses the aural “oomph” as much as the stylistic one. The bits that work best are when these involve the members of the cast who are classically trained, namely Rebecca Caine as Katisha, Mark Heenehan as The Mikado, and Leigh Coggins as Yum-Yum. Whilst the others match their comic performance skills, none ever quite capture the power and richness of their voices and the correct tonal and timbre treatment of the songs. For example, leading man Matthew Crowe as Nanki-Poo, is a well versed and celebrated musical theatre actor. But he’s not a classical tenor, meaning that in many of his songs he’s constantly resorting to using falsetto, meaning volume and power is instantly lost. Therefore, despite his reputation and skill, he becomes the weakest member of the cast because of this. It’s not at all his fault and is merely an error in casting.

Other missteps include things such as insisting on acrobatic movements during patter songs. A lot of the glorious libretto is lost in numbers such as “There Is Beauty in the Bellow of the Blast” because it’s just plain difficult for a cast to annunciate these already quick-tongued songs without being expected to roll about on the floor!

In short, this is a striking production, but there’s a reason why specific G&S companies exist and why operetta is classed in an entirely separate genre to both opera and musicals. It’s something Southerland strives towards, but doesn’t at all achieve.

Such a beautiful left elbow. Rebecca Caine as Katisha. Photograph: Courtesy of Scott Rylander.

Such a beautiful left elbow. Rebecca Caine as Katisha. Photograph: Courtesy of Scott Rylander.

Cast

Caine absolutely steals the show as Katisha. There’s a power and playfulness in everything she does to make her an expert villain, making Cruella DeVille look like Marry Poppins by comparison. Yet, she brings a tenderness and unexpected humanity for her more reflective arias, especially “Alone, And Yet Alive” that is as unexpectedly striking.

Other mentions must go to Hugh Osborne and Steve Watts as Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah respectively. These two roles are pretty much the only two roles you can get away with not casting classically trained singers in, and they’ve been cast wonderfully. Osborne’s timid, ambitious, and fretful Ko-Ko and is complemented by Watt’s marvellous pompous and “grossly insulted” crocked aristocrat. They’re a formidable double-act that reel in the laughs and are a joy to watch.

Verdict

A very worthy and slick attempt at bringing G&S to new theatre audiences. But as slick as and meticulously produced as it is, it’s missed the mark by trying to treat operetta as a musical theatre rather than try to achieve the specialist approach that these famed pieces require. None the less, it’s still enjoyable and entertaining in spite of this, and is a fun and lavish evening out.

[youtube http://youtu.be/EX6TOmMMOkI]

The Mikado runs at the Charing Cross Theatre, London, WC2N 6NL.,until 3 January 2015. Tickets are £22.50 (concessions available). To book, visit www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk.


Cabaret Review: Sheila Simmonds’ Christmas Cracker (Leicester Square Theatre, London)

Richard Rhodes as Sheila Simmonds.

Richard Rhodes as Sheila Simmonds.

Rating: *****

In A Nutshell

A frantic festive frolic from our Aussie Queen of home shopping. The Christmas party you wish you could throw!

Overview

Richard Rhodes, also known as Cookie Monstar, brings his other drag creation, Sheila Simmonds, to the Leicester Square Theatre for a festive romp to end all festive romps. Party games, competitions, celebrity guests, and songs agogo, this sassy songstress, storyteller, and #busylady brings all the Christmas cheer to the yard.

Structure/Writing

Rhodes, in collaboration with Stuart Saint, has created a night of true variety: a one-lady music hall tour de force. The evening goes from camp indulgences to audience participation skits, all with meticulous kitsch aplomb. It means that no-one ever really tires of a particular sketch or skit before it moves swiftly onto the next. You’ve got everything from 1990s family entertainment throwbacks, to salacious (and sometimes beautifully blasphemous) Christmas tales, songs, canapes, prizes, a disco-dancing hunk, and even a spot of roller skating.

Most surprising about the show isn’t the wonderful tongue-in-cheek shocks that pepper Sheila’s act, but that, in comparison to the sin-sational Sleeping Bootybilled immediately before and other drag shows, Sheila Simmonds’ Christmas Cracker is surprisingly wholesome. Even though there’s plenty of cheek and innuendo, what Rhodes does marvellously in this show is bottle a wonderful sense of joy, celebration, and community that comes with the season. Yes, it’s more adult than Boxing Day lunch with the grandparents (or so I’d hope!) but the smut is second place to the abundance of old school festive fun and reminisce. Each step of the way, the show is an exquisitely gift-wrapped hoot.

There is also a great sense of satire here too, especially in the right royal send up of home shopping channels. This wit also runs through rapaciously fun songs such as “The Old Pound Shop in Croydon”, where you can’t help but laugh and smile from deely bopper to deely bopper as a result of Sheila’s scathing observations and knowing nods.

Performance

Rhodes is a superlative cabaret performer, having the honour of being the first male to be awarded the title of “Forces Sweetheart” for his work entertaining British Troops as Cookie Monstar. As Sheila, the same wit and warmth is still present, just dressed instead in an Australian accent and lots of pink polyester. As is critical with any cabaret act, Sheila is able to riff off the audience’s energy and interactions with inspired moments of improvisation and spontaneous wit, making them as just as crucial a part of the show as the scandalous quips and the Werther’s Originals. You can’t help but be charmed from start to finish by Sheila’s ineffable personality. Furthermore, Rhodes must be congratulated on the excessive energy he pours into Sheila and the show, both in charisma and physicality, never flagging and always exuding a brilliant sense of humour and hospitality.

Verdict

A Christmas variety show so glamorous and lovable it makes Kylie look second rate. A perfectly bonza capture of traditional Christmas mayhem with a twist of camp and cheeky flare. Expertly entertaining. #loveit.

Sheila Simmonds’ Christmas Cracker plays at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, WC2B 7BX, on selected dates until 3 January 2015. Tickets are £15 (concessions available). To book, visit www.leicestersquaretheatre.com.


Panto Review: Billy The Kid – A Panto Western

Ye-haw! The cast of 'Billy the Kid - A Panto Western'. Photograph: Courtesy of Bill Knight.

Ye-haw! The cast of ‘Billy the Kid – A Panto Western’. Photograph: Courtesy of Bill Knight.

Rating: *****

In A Nutshell

Brimming with a side-splitting and unimaginable originality, Charles Court Opera’s brave campaign to blend the traditional with the different sets a staggering panto standard.

Overview

Billy The Kid is not the Wild West outlaw of legend, but a literal kid. And by kid, I mean goat. Under the companionship of Bukaroo Dan, who’s struggling to keep his ailing ranch afloat, this tripple “Best In Show” winning goat has attracted the attention of cockney snake oil salesman, Mumford. Mumford wants Billy to stuff as a prime and lucrative piece of taxidermy. To achieve this, he posts a fake eviction notice on the stead to get his hands on Billy’s hide. However, in a last ditch effort to save the farm, Buckaroo Dan and a motley crew of friends go on an adventure to find the legendary treasure of Riding Bareback.

(left to right) Amy J Payne, John Savournin, Bruce Graham, Matthew Kellett, and Joanna Marie Skillet. Photograph: Courtesy of Bill Knight.

(left to right) Amy J Payne, John Savournin, Bruce Graham, Matthew Kellett, and Joanna Marie Skillet. Photograph: Courtesy of Bill Knight.

Writing

John Savournin has been penning original pantos for the Charles Court Opera for many years now to great acclaim, earning pride and place as one of the UK’s top 10 pantos. Whilst the stories might not be “traditional” fairy stories, it’s still very much traditional panto with all the elements there. Whilst the narrative is a tad unfamiliar, it still follows the expected ups and downs of a panto story without deviating one bit, and all the usual trimmings are there too.

Working with Musical Director David Eaton in Billy The Kid – A Panto Western’s creation, they tick all the panto boxes. But what they in their collaboration is an incredible imagination and comic ingenuity. They reworks songs with alternative lyrics, or inserts them in as is to create moment of bellowing irony, with devastating wit. We’ve got everything from Rimsky Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee” to Spring Harvest hymnals here, all bursting with tight jokes and punchlines. And it’s not just the musical numbers that bristle with hilarious genius either. There’s pop culture references agogo, plenty of shocking innuendo, and moments that just take you by complete surprise causing prolonged joyous torture to your already aching sides. The scene with the spirit coyotes (and I shan’t give any more away than that) absolutely broke me to the point I couldn’t breath. Likewise, the Ghost scene (not to be confused with the scene with a ghost) was gloriously too much to handle.

The key to the success here is that not only have Savournin and Eaton created a sound, solid, and superlative panto, is that it’s also a fantastic piece of comic farce: the belly-aching cherry on a rich gigglesome cake. If you stripped away the panto elements, it would still make you laugh out loud with incredible ease and would fare effortlessly as a piece of farce.

There are things missing in the sense that there’s no chase scene or an “it’s behind you moment”. But this doesn’t take anything away or make it any less a paradigm of panto. They’re not needed here, and therefore not forced into it for the sake of it, and whilst it might be a shame that such loved skits are absent, Savournin and Eaton keep the panto slick and effortless.

The only criticism I can offer is that it seems a little unsure of where to pitch itself. Whilst it’s certainly a hoot for adults, with so many references to things that weren’t around when most children of panto-going age weren’t born, it leaves a room for things to go over their heads despite the standard frolics, possibly risking their interest.

But over all, this is a youth serum better than anything Olay can concoct. Watching it, I felt twenty years younger, recapturing a distant childhood and making me lose all inhibitions to the point I got told to “calm down” by a fellow critic! But if this isn’t the measure of a successful panto, then I don’t know what is. By this test Billy The Kid – A Panto Western passes this test with flying colours.

Direction & Production

William Fricker’s set design is an astonishing feat of slick professionalism, and not just for a fringe venue. It’s Wild West Vaudeville veneer is incredibly colourful and impressive, but also brims with little details, such as the shadow puppet theatre-esque cyclorama, capturing the same sense of colourful variety as the show. Nic Holdridge’s lighting also embraces this effervescent sense of fun, especially with his green lighting and flashing strobe for the whenever the villain is saying his piece, adding more to an already pristine show. In fact, the entire production crew, from actor, set designers, and musicians bring and enhance each other’s contributions.

There are also fantastic moments of choreography from Savournin’s hand, bringing a sense of West End flare to this comparatively humble venue. It’s as fast paced and as high octane as the action and gags, giving the show a rapturous momentum.

Aright Jeremy hunt! Bruce Graham as villain Mumford. Photograph: Courtesy of Bill Knight.

Aright Jeremy hunt! Bruce Graham as villain Mumford. Photograph: Courtesy of Bill Knight.

Cast

All the cast, despite being established and professional opera singers, embrace the panto style and energy with grace and gusto. Particularly, Bruce Graham is an excellent villain, tripping through his rhyming couplets and hackneyed rhyming slang with grisly delight, making him an adversary worthy of every boo and hiss thrown at him.

However, it’s Savournin, as not one dame but two, who steals the show. He’s a physical comic performer of astonishing ability. As well as employing plenty of kitsch, camp, and knowing, it’s his little physical nuances, such as a single facial expression, that can make the audience guffaw with laughter alongside the groaners and the tongue-in-cheek.

Verdict

Quite possibly the best panto in London, maintaining it’s well deserved kudos as well as continuing to set a dizzying standard for it’s competitors. A monstrously funny unholy hybrid of the traditional and the original. If you happen to already have a ticket to their nearly sold out run, treasure it with your life! Otherwise, be prepared to beg like you’ve never begged before for a seat to this seasonal humdinger.

[youtube http://youtu.be/H7mfpOYR-BI]

Billy the Kid – A Panto Western plays at the Rosemary Branch Theatre, London, N1 3DT, until 10 January 2014. Tickets are £21 (concessions available). To book, visit www.rosemarybranch.co.uk.


Panto Review: Sleeping Booty (Leicester Square Theatre, London)

Up and under! Leon Scott (centre) between Paula Masterton legs. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Up and under! Leon Scott (centre) between Paula Masterton’s legs. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Rating: ****

In A Nutshell

Filthy, puerile & disgusting, you couldn’t ask for a more expertly debauched adult panto. Laugh? I nearly wet myself!

Overview

Despite allusions to Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent, don’t expect there to be much correlation between the fairy story and this panto. Exotic dancer Booty! wants to make it big. In fact, she’s destined to “take” the mystical golden schlong and thrust herself to stardom in the Pantoverse. With the help of her fairy godmother, Fairy Muff, and foppish Prince Willie Wontie, they’re on their way to achieve just that. However, Muff’s evil sister, Mangelina, has other plans.

Miss Dusty 'O' as Mangelina. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Miss Dusty ‘O’ as Mangelina. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Writing

Stuart Saint returns to the Leicester Square Theatre for a third year running with an adult panto offering. This time, instead of reviving Dick! for a hat-trick, Saint has penned a brand new panto. His previous experience with Dick! has certainly steeled him for creating the most shocking and outrageous pantos the capital has to offer.

The bulk of the narrative is mostly wallowing in absolute filth with an obscene amount of joyous knowing kitcshe. There’s everything from blow-up dolls, dildos, twerking, dogging, to some brilliantly revolting applications of “sexual detritus”, all aimed and shot directly at the audience’s faces without mercy, and it’s a hoot! NOTHING is sacred and this is definitely not for the easily shocked, the overly sensitive, or the sexually queasy. Even Operation Yewtree, as woefully inappropriate as it is to poke fun at, doesn’t escape Saint’s no-holes-barred assault. You’ll feel guilty for laughing, but you won’t really care. But as tongue-in-cheek as it all is, Saint’s application of satire, unexpected and unprecedented, provides as much a raucous source of fun as his puerile and salacious gags.

However, what actually makes this a great panto is not the filth (as brilliant as it is), but everything else. The filth is actually very mindfully held back and rationed, being far from going from one cock-gag to the next, leaving room for variety and never squeezing dry the sexual-comedy juices. If anything it’s an expert panto. All the familiar elements are there, from the sing-a-long to the “it’s behind you” moment, all executed with as much child-like aplomb as any more family orientated show. In fact, the best moments of the panto is the times when it pays homage to or sends up the “traditional” formula and genre. The “old school pantomime”/chase scene had my cheeks (the ones on my face) moist with tears of laughter, chortling with as much, if not more, glee than any quip about fanny farts or Jimmy Saville.

The only issues is that some of the moments get drawn out a bit too long, losing comic momentum in doing so and not being as tight as other parts of the panto. Furthermore, whilst Saint has done his best to make sure that as many of the panto “requirements” are ticked off the list as possible, some feel a little more shoe-horned in compared to others and/or don’t bring in as big a laugh in comparison.

However, in essence, once you strip away the explicit references, it’s an excellent panto: just as good, if not better, than anything Babs could conjure up from her career. Ultimately, without the presence of children, the stage is ripe for the taking by twisted-minded grown-ups, and Saint pulls an absolute heist!

Paula Masterton as Fairy Muff. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Paula Masterton as Fairy Muff. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Direction & Production

The tiny lounge space might be seen as a hindrance, but with a bit of ingenuity and a smear of fairy dust, Saint and his team have done a wonderful job. It’s a simple stage adorned with ivy and fairy lights, with all but two entrances. The lighting, (low-budget) special effects, and music is enough to let the masters on the stage work their magic. Indeed, the entire production is just a splattering of scene and wonder that enables the talent involved to shine through. As much as technological spectaculars and outlandish sets are pulls for other pantos, Saint and his team have made sure that the essence of what makes a panto – the writing and performance itself – is what shines through, demonstrating that you don’t need a ridiculous budget or big names to make that happen.

A very special mention must also go to Miss Dusty ‘O”s costume designer, putting Ru Paul to absolute shame!

The cast of 'Sleeping Booty!'. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

The cast of ‘Sleeping Booty!’. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Cast

Saint could not have pulled together a better company to do this. Combing a mix of cabaret performers, professional actors, and comedians, all take like a duck to water to panto. Miss Dusty ‘O’, the show’s top billing, blends drag banter and panto patter perfectly to become a villain not to be reckoned with. Every punch-line is delivered with precision timing and tone, but most wonderfully it’s her spontaneity and cast-away quips that really make her a comic supernova.

Leon Scott as Prince Willie Wontie is also an absolute dream. Even though he’s a professionally trained serious actor (he’ll be in Shakepseare’s Globe’s upcoming production of Othello), it doesn’t stop him from being a tightly packed and bulging package of panto perfection. He’s got the energy and the tone that panto requires down to a “t”. Not to mention he’s distractingly handsome and probably the hottest prince (not so) charming ever!

The same praises can be said for the other cast members too. Rachel Torn as Mangelina’s side-kick, Tit-Bit, is outrageously saucy; Alice Marshall’s Booty! is brilliantly brash; Paula Masterton’s Fairy Muff is deliciously deviant; and Alexander Beck as You Look Familiar is a slick tour de farce.

They all bounce energy and delight off each other, often causing themselves to laugh on stage. They embody the very essence of panto: fun, silly, and care-free, and it absolutely rubs off onto the entire audience.

Verdict

Leave the kids at home, shut the blinds, and lube up your funny bone for a panto so dirty and hilarious it makes Ann Summers look like the Disney Store.

Sleeping Booty! plays at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, WC2H 7BX, until 17 January 2015. Tickets are £22. To book, visit www.leicestersquaretheatre.com.


Theatre Review: Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents (Waterloo East Theatre, London)

whoop n wailRating: ***

In a Nutshell

A programme of new writing showing the breadth of feminist theatre, but the success of individual pieces still lie on the imagination and ability of individual playwrights.

Overview

Theatre company Whoop ‘n’ Wail launches a new platform for new writing with a difference. All plays presented in the evening much past the Bechdel Test: where there must be two female characters present who must speak about something that isn’t men. Out of all the submissions, six fifteen minute pieces are presented as part of an evening of feminist theatre from both female and male playwrights.

The Final Frontier, by Sam Hall

Dir: John Mitton
Rating: ***

This piece starts off nicely inverting the stereotypical women’s role in TV, and not quite in the way you’d think. Unfortunately, as fun as the piece tries to be, it does come across as a little silly, meaning that a more sinister sub-plot/twists fail to convince and feel out of place, as well as distract from the moments of keen intelligence that are there. It’s reveals are a bit unwieldy and over the top meaning it doesn’t quite satisfy or do any justice to the more serious issues being explored behind the farce. None the less, there’s some interesting ideas here, despite it running away with itself.

Three Women In A Music Box, by Dan Horrigan
Dir: Alice Bonifacio
Rating: *****

This is a play of fascinating imagination and heartfelt intelligence. Three women live together inside a music box, with their sole purpose being to answer a teenage girl’s questions. Their keeper is going on a date with a boy, and she needs answers: quick!

Although this is the one play of the evening that only just(?) passes the Bechdel Test (with the characters spending most of their time talking of the teenager girl’s male love interest), Horrigan’s short is joyous and playful. As well as pawing through the anxieties of teenage courtship whilst carefully treading through issues of adolescent sexuality with deft analysis, Horrigan writes with a marvellous theatrical ingenuity as well as a narrative one. The characters interact directly with the audience (even, at one point, to make salacious accusations upon my character), making them feel wonderfully part of the small world that the characters’ inhabit. Furthermore, actors Lizzie Bourne, Thea Beyleveld, and Dani Moseley not only relish in this break of the fourth wall, but nimbly bounce their character’s personalities off each other with a marvellous joie de vivre.

The result a warm and charming play that’s pricks the cerebellum as well as comforts the cockles.

Cause for Alarm, by Deborah Klayman
Dir: Emily Bush
Rating: ***

Klayman’s tale of a woman going back to a past home and bumping into a lover she’d tried to forget had promise but fell short of being something truly bold. There’s a dark enigma that runs deep in the piece that slowly rises to the surface. However, unfortunately it has to push through some pretty standard melodrama. Some of the shocking twists feel a little too soap-opera rather than something deep and daring. Perhaps a bit more innovative subtly in the direction might have helped a little, rather than resorting to constant outbursts of shouting from characters. It’s a shame, because at the play’s climax, central character Effie turns her personality into something quite chilling and dangerous, capturing a sense of originality and caprice that could have been done with elsewhere.

Furthermore, one of the performers in the piece was far too timid and unconvincing, especially alongside the veteran confidence of their colleagues, making the piece lose any attempt at dramatic traction and impact it might have otherwise.

On The Horizon, by Adam Hughes
Dir: Sarah Davies
Rating: **

The fame machine is brutal: tell us something we don’t know! Unfortuantely, Hughes’ contribution to the evening really doesn’t. A starlet on the cusp of “making it” must decide between her career or her personal morality. Domineered by her manipulative manager, she not only has to make this choice, but simultaneously has her own prejudices challenged. Then play ends up being as shallow and empty as the industry it’s trying to send up. The entire “you-think-you-know-me-but-you-don’t” plot point that the piece hinges on just churns out something incredibly predictable. Flat and obvious, the play really drags.

However, Amanda Croft and Amy Flight’s performances are excellent. Croft in wonderfully devious as the manager and Flight is charmingly ditzy as her ward. Both bounce and clash their personalities in the piece with incredibly slick perception. Croft is also especially unnerving in moments of uncomfortable sexual tension: an unsavoury predator if there ever was one. However, despite these strong performances, they don’t manage to lift the play beyond dull mediocrity.

Dust, by Sarah Davies
Dir: Norman Murray
Rating: *****

Davies has created something that is not only imaginative, but really unique and engrossing. A still-life retrospectively capturing the crumbling relationship between an estranged daughter and mother, Davies applies a dexterous and expert theatrical treatment to this vision. Her main character returns to her deceased mother’s house to sort out her possessions, sifting through an anthology of greeting cards that she kept, getting a glimpse of a heartbreaking decline of her mother’s health and senses that she never knew about.

Davies flanks her main character with two almost spectral actors. But rather than signifying anything supernatural, their purpose is to become the voices of inner monologues, other characters on the end of a phone line, or be the charismatic signatories of the salutations that get sorted through. Because of this treatment, even though not much really happens in the play, there’s a pace and a variety that holds you from one sincere greeting card to the next. Davies also adds in little comic reliefs that break up the pace, but are throwaway, playful, and natural enough that they never distract from the incredibly tender emotions they explore.

The only criticisms is that it feels like it forms the part of a much larger work, and I, for one, am really keen to see it materialise as such. Also, the eventual ending the piece went for was a little bemusing: too sudden and unexplained, adding to the sense that this is an excerpt rather than something stand-alone. But this is absolutely forgiveable as the overall result is a piece that is achingly touching as it is subtly emotive.

My Bloody Launderette, by Ali Kemp and Deborah Klayman
Dir: Paul Kevin-Taylor
Rating: ****

Kemp and Klayman end the evening with a marvellous romp! Prince Leia runs a run-down laundrette, where Shakespeare’s Juliet and the Mona Lisa pop in to do their laundry. What transpires is a ping-pong game of wits and intelligence exploring women’s lot in film, art, and theatre respectively, probing notions of beauty, empowerment, and patriarchal ownership in these genres.

There are fantastic little one liners and some wonderful little quips not just in the writing, but visually in things such as Leia’s ear-muffs and her e-cigarette being used as a make-shift lightsaber. It proves that director Paul Kevin-Taylor is as in on the joke as Kemp and Klayman are, making sure that no funny goes unturned in this feisty little farce. But for all the laughs, it’s a surprisingly provocative look at women in the arts. As the characters bemoan their lot and envy the others’, as much as the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, the audience find themselves challenging what they thought they knew or finding a perspective on the issues that they hadn’t considered before.

The only criticism is that the humour is entirely referential. As iconic as Princess Leia, the Mona Lisa, and Juliet are, there are still people out there that have either not read or seen these works of art. Therefore the jokes might not just go over their heads, but perhaps also the points that are trying to be made. But it’s a brave punt on a vehicle for executing some absolutely inspired comic moments and thoughtful dissection.

Verdict

Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… goes to show that feminist theatre doesn’t at all need to be swaddled in the gaudy and offensive stereotypes that can surround feminism. It’s also is an interesting look at the fallibility of the Bechdel Test as some plays meet it’s criteria far better than others, although all are mindfully female. What’s great is that nothing feels contrived or finds it an awkward instruction to work around. Yet the success of the pieces, and therefore the evening, is less about a playwright’s feminist persuasions, but the individual creativity and ability of the playwright. But despite a hit and miss launch, the few pieces that absolutely shine marks this an exciting new writing showcase to keep a close eye on.

[youtube http://youtu.be/F2xSki4422g]

Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents took place at the Waterloo East Theatre, London, SE1 8TH, on 17 and 24 November 2014. For more information about the company, visit www.whoopnwail.com.