Tag Archives: drama

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.

[youtube http://youtu.be/bnH2s98QUak]

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.


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!

[youtube http://youtu.be/uTKh3pLmZ_U]

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: 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.

[youtube http://youtu.be/F3sCHWrd6V4]

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.


Musical Review: Dogfight (Southwark Playhouse, London)

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

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

Rating: ****

In A Nutshell

A forceful and energetic production of a surprising and captivating musical.

Overview

Based on the 1991 film of the same name, Peter Duchan (book) and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (music and lyrics) won acclaim Off-Broadway. Now, Danielle Tarento and her multi-award winning team brings the production to Europe for the first time.

US Marine Eddie is on his last night out with his comrades in San Francisco before being shipped off to Vietnam. They put together a “Dogfight” – where each marine competes to bring a date to a party, and the marine with the ugliest date wins a cash prize. Eddie thinks he’s on to a winner with Rose, but quickly sees past her frumpy veneer and connects with her sweet and docile personality. Remorsefulness of his actions, can he undo the hurt he’s caused her before he faces the horrors of ’63?

Book

Duchan’s adaptation of the film manages to combine all of it’s main elements, but also expands it to add more narrative substance and intelligence on what is otherwise a bit of a whistle-stop and slightly unbelievable story. Particularly, his lambaste of military hubris has created one of the most instantly unlikable protagonists on the stage. Brash, oversexed, and grossly arrogant, Eddie and his band of “B”s are as odious as they come. Though setting-up a rather easy juxtaposition between Eddie and Rose, Duchan exploits the vast room to explore a less direct, more humorous, heartfelt, and satisfying redemption for Eddie. There’s no fairytale transformation, but a rough and bumpy gradual change that is entertainingly convincing.

Furthermore, Duchan also manages to brutally bring the futility and tragedy of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War to the stage, as well as the ire it garnered from the American public. It explores a real sense of loss and regret that crescendos to a most devastating finale, making it brutally moving as well as adorably sweet.

The only criticism is that, having penned such a high-octane and riotous first act, Act II does slump as the narrative becomes less hectic and more tender. But thankfully, you never lose engagement with the show and are with it all the way to the end, even though you want it to move just a little quicker and as giddy as Act I during the second half.

Laura Jane Matthewson as Rose. Photograph: Darren Bell.

Laura Jane Matthewson as Rose. Photograph: Darren Bell.

Music and Lyrics

It’s easy to compare the score to Spring Awakening, especially as there have been many poor imitations since. Composers and lyricists Pasek and Paul certainly following suit with writing a score in this very American modern rock musical in style; in many ways is very comparable to Duncan Sheik’s masterpiece. However, just when you think you’ve heard it all before, Pasek and Paul put in twists in melody, style, timbre, and pace that prick up you ears and reel you right in. There are so many surprises in the music that despite it being very definite of genre,  it’s one of the freshest and original scores to come from America in a long time.

Their orchestrations and choral harmonies are part of the excitement they build into their work. Whilst these intriguing intricacies are rich and rousing, they are always used sparingly and only when it is best suited. The result is an incredibly dynamic score that goes from riotous to tender and lyrical from moment to moment, tossing the audience from wonderment to arousal with masterful strokes.

Lyrically, Pasek and Paul have an incredible grasp on language. The rhymes are seldom obvious, and words are toyed and played about with intelligent and immense wit. Most importantly, they manage to embrace a very real essence of Duchan’s characters. Flits of very homely and unembellished personality comes through every now and then, cutting through the clever language and smarts, giving us flashes of real and believable charisma. An example is Rose quipping, mid-ballad, about the bad choice in dress colour during “Pretty Funny”, which is otherwise one of the most lilting and heartbreaking songs in the whole score. Elsewhere, nothing ever feels silly, clumsy, or forced in the score. Pasek and Paul have the ability to write songs fluidly as if everyday chatter, and it’s astonishing.

Production and Direction

Tarento has done it again, despite not working with her regular partner in crime, Thom Southerland, who is in New York looking after the transfer of Titanic: The MusicalBut director, Matt Ryan, works just as well with Tarento and the rest of the team to create what is another superb production for the Southwark Playhouse. Lee Newby’s set evoking the Golden Gate Bridge sets the scene with whimsy and charm, whilst also giving the orchestra somewhere to sit and a higher level for Ryan to work with at points. But it’s main purpose is to create a sizeable thrust area as somewhere for the bulk of the action takes place. Though there’s little else by way of scenery, Newby’s set allows  Ryan to direct the show in a manner that simply allows the musical itself to do the talking, rather than the production.

Other noticeable aspects of the production is Lucie Pankhurst’s choreography. It’s as high-voltage, slick, and lively as they come. Given the relatively limited space has by no means contained Pankhurst either. Though during the large chorus numbers when there’s limited space for the 11-strong cast as there is, the performance area is filled to the brim but with an exhilarating amount of intricate moves fittingly together like some extraordinary human-Difference Engine. Newby’s attention to detail with the props and costume, too, is something of note. Laura Jane Matthewson, playing Rose, is by far an “ugly” creature, but Newby still managesd to find what is quite possibly the most hideous dress to have ever graced the stage to exaggerate Rose’s frumpiness, making Matthewson look less like Alice in Wonderland and more like Alice in Primark!

Whilst Ryan fills the space action and energy around the various props that are brought in, there are times where he doesn’t quite handle the thrust space entirely well. If you’re sat on the sides you’ll see mostly a character’s back for significant periods of times. There are some very basic directional attempts to try and overcome this, such as sing to this side first then turn and sing to this side, but it’s still a bit of irk to be left to admire an actors back pocket for too long. Whilst it really is difficult to avoid completely, these moments could probably be contained and limited a bit better.

The only other criticism is the sound levels. There are more than a few moments where it’s difficult to hear Pasek and Paul’s great lyrics because it’s drowned out by the level of the band. It’s difficult to know whether this is because of an inability to adjust the sound properly or because of the problems that come with the intimate size of the venue. Whilst the band and the performers are all mic-ed up, part of the problem is that the audience are still getting the sound of the natural acoustic sound that the band makes. This is something which isn’t necessary going to be picked up by the sound engineers who will be listening mostly to just what’s being picked up by the mics. But hopefully this will be corrected in the next few performances because, unless you’re already familiar with the score, you miss out on some of the brilliance of the songs.

Jamie Muscato as Eddie. Photograph: Darren Bell.

Jamie Muscato as Eddie. Photograph: Darren Bell.

Cast

Tarento has managed to find a superlative cast for the production. Making her debut, Matthewson is sensational. Not only has she got a voice that is both soft and powerful at the same time, she portrays Rose in such a sweet and naive manner that it’s impossible not to love her. See draws instant empathy from the audience making you cheer her on every step of the way, as well as struggle to get through “Pretty Funny” with anything less than a tear in your eye.

Jamie Muscato as Eddie is also absolutely fantastic. His ability to make every song his own is nothing short of marvellous, never being afraid to break from singing and actually act moments of a number. His big solo, “Come Back”, is not only an apex of the show but the height of his performance. He sings it with a crushing and deafening force that is worthy of every possible accolade that can be thrown at him.

Special mention must go to Rebecca Trehearn as Marcy, too. Her duet with Matthewson in “Dogfight” was sang with an incredible rawness and spite that made the number absolutely exhilarating.

The rest of the supporting cast are also brilliant, throwing every inch of energy they can muster into the show to create a piece of theatre that has the Southwark Playhouse vibrating with force. No-one sings flat or sharp, no-one feels like they’re dragging their feet, and everyone feels as integral and vital to the production as the show’s leads.

Verdict

Tarento has once again demonstrated that she’s a formidable producer to be reckoned with, with an exceptional cast and production behind her. Plus, this is a new American musical that could only have been fresher and more original if it came foil-packed. This production absolutely blows the mundane fare of Theatreland clear out of the water, and should have the West End shaking in it’s boots. A barnstorming and phenomenal show.

Dogfight plays at the Southwark Playhouse, London, SE1 6BD, utnil 13 September 2014. Tickets are £22 (concessions available). TO book, visit http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk.


Camden Fringe Review: Ladylogue! (Tristan Bates Theatre, London)

Rhiannon Story in "Cake" by Maud Dromgoole. Photograph: Vincent Rowley Photography.

Rhiannon Story in “Cake” by Maud Dromgoole. Photograph: Vincent Rowley Photography.

Rating: ****

In A Nutshell

A wide selection of hilarious, challenging, and heartbreaking plays on female identity and womanhood executed with grace, variety, and interest.

Overview

Tired of the gender imbalance in British theatre writing, The Thelmas – director Madelaine Moore and producer Rhiannon Story – have given six of the UK’s most formidable female writers the carte blanche of writing a short play for a solo female actor. The result is an interesting mix of love, loathing, obsession, loneliness, and courage that explore womanhood, femininity, and female identity.

Cake, by Maud Dromgoole

Opening the hour was probably one of my least favourite. But that’s not to say it’s the weakest, or that it’s badly written or produced; it’s just the most challenging. Dromgoole’s Year 9 teenage girl blurs the line between feminism and sexism – spurning her teenage-mother friend for tying herself down with a child, whilst giving into dizzy infatuation over a 15 year old boy and imagining herself as a subordinate “good wife”. Although, the general tone of the piece is comic, strong sexist language and submissive sexual imagery makes it dark and uncomfortable at points. Whilst it does make you think about how modernism is defined and portrayed to young women, it’s a little difficult to wholly connect in how uneasy it makes you feel, especially when other audience members are laughing at these more twisted moments when they probably really shouldn’t be!

Rhiannon Story acts out the role with a real youthful electricity, both in her energy and her body language. Even if she can’t quite cream the butter for her cake on stage properly, she exudes a fizzing personality that she uses to bounce off the audience, making them feel very much a part of Droomgoole’s character’s world.

Candyman, by Tina Jay

Again, whilst by no means is badly written or produced, this is another of my least favourites because it’s the least surprising. It tells the story of an older single woman who becomes obsessed with a male escort. But Jay’s character-centric approach to the subject lifts it from being ordinary. It really is a no-holes barred look at one woman’s unhealthy obsession with the idea of a perfect gentleman that she is literally buying into. The erotic is mixed seamlessly with the remorseful, and although we do get a hint of dangerous desperation towards the end, her character is natural and real, never becoming a person that is sensationalised or exaggerated. Despite the extreme situation the narrative has placed her in, she’s not the crazy or deranged spinster which she so easily could have been, she’s a character of human depth and reality.

This is bolstered by a superb performance by Louise Templeton. She constantly fidgets and twitches with addiction and anticipation whilst emanating a slick and devilish “cougar” quality, all juxtaposed with a devastating vulnerability. A superlatively tragic femme-fatale if I ever saw one.

Sukh Ojlah in "Coconut" bu Gulereeane Mir. Photograph: Vincent Rowley Photography.

Sukh Ojla in “Coconut” by Guleraana Mir. Photograph: Vincent Rowley Photography.

Coconut, by Guleraana Mir

Cultural identity is a difficult enough subject to brooch without bringing cultural perceptions of womanhood into the equation. However, Mir manages to tackle these head-on and with a crystal-tipped wit and honesty that makes this monologue one of the most uproariously laugh-out-loud segments of the evening. Mir’s tale of the perils of being a late-twenties Pakistani “coconut” (brown on the outside, white on the inside) is blunt to the point of hilarity. The wry observations of the people and the perceptions surrounding her character are brazen but bristles with the humour that can only be found in a fondness and affection. Whilst there isn’t any “happy ending” per se, it’s an incredible and heart-warming look at culture vs. femininity that is enlightening as it is rib-tickling.

Sukh Ojla demonstrates her ability as a barnstorming comic actress. Her timing and timbre is enough to put some comedians to shame. She exalts the comedy of Mir’s text with real gusto, but also with a real connection and empathy. If it wasn’t for the programme notes, you’d have been fooled into thinking that Ojla had actually written this herself given the organic ownership she takes of the performance.

ELLA_O’MALLEY_AUDITION.MOV, by Katie McCullough

Body image is a subject that is littered with a lot of extreme and sensational stories. Yet McCullough, through her character, has crafted a monologue that brings a quiet and heartbreaking humanity back to the issue. It starts off somewhat comic, with her character finding a cheerfully sweet sense of self-deprecation about her weight. But as she begins to open up, we start to see a darker more destructive side to the damage body image can do to someone. It soon becomes a crushing account of how low and emotionally destroyed body fascism can bring someone, and is touching to the point of tears. The framing device of Ella making an audition tape cleverly puts the audience in the place of invisible voyeurs – ever prying whilst distant and detached, augmenting Ella’s sense of isolation through judgemental peers.

Jayne Edwards gives a wonderfully natural performance as Ella. Her portrayal of the distraught state she’s been bullied into is incredibly raw and affecting, leaving the audience haunted.

Danielle Nott in "Take A Look At Me Now" by Serena Haywood. Photograph: Vincent Rowley Photography.

Danielle Nott in “Take A Look At Me Now” by Serena Haywood. Photograph: Vincent Rowley Photography.

Take A Look At Me Now, by Serena Haywood

Haywood, who’s show Pause was a tremendous success at last year’s Camden Fringe Festival, presents something a little more light-hearted and completely unhinged for Ladylogue!. Her character is preparing for the ultimate imaginary date with Phil Collins in the comfort of her own living room. Absolutely mad cap, there are some side-splittingly funny jokes and quips in this over-the-top examination of female romance and sexual fantasy. Haywood’s handle of one-liners, including a spot of “dildo-blindess”, are supreme and really give the piece a fire-cracker quality. But what’s great is that, despite how outrageous it is, Haywood still manages to find a relatable sanity, especially in the slightly darker undercurrent of her character being driven to this mania through the small cruelties of her previous partner. But otherwise, it’s tender, truthful, and completely nuts!

Danielle Nott also gives an incredibly energetic and adorable performance that’s hilarious to watch. Her movement and voice are wonderfully exuberant, delivering a brilliantly comic performance

I Would Be Brave, by Sarah Hehir

Undoubtedly the most different and serious piece of the evening. Hehir’s glance at domestic violence from the viewpoint of a concerned neighbour with limited resources to help is original and moving. Making this particularly powerful is that her character, whilst trying to do her best in a culture that would rather leave others to themselves, is having to face the realities of her own health and relationship. Hehir writes with a deft and colourful poetry that vividly paints scene and emotion through her words, making it incredibly as engrossing to listen to as to watch being performed. There are also some powerful little bits of imagery, like the wall at the end of the lane blocking off the rest of the world, fortifying the feeling of the intense microcosm that the character finds herself in. It’s these touches that really elevate the short into being a complex and intelligent piece of writing. There is a good deal of ambiguity that runs throughout, leaving the audience to ponder and wonder about some of the things that are unsaid but also, more importantly, why they’re being unsaid. But it does mean that it’s a little unsatisfying as these are never tied-up in any conclusion. Otherwise, it’s an incredibly different and emotive piece.

Amanda Reed’s performance/recitation is prefect. She trips dexterously through the metre and language of Hehir’s poetry whilst exerting a strong character and presence on the stage. It’s impossible to think of any better casting for this monologue.

Verdict

A varied and exuberantly entertaining evening of some brilliant new writing. Whilst some pieces are more original and accessible than others, the bar set by these “ladies who ‘logue” is as dizzying and astonishing as the pieces they’ve produced.

Ladylogue! runs at the Tristan Bates Theatre, London, WC2H 9NP, until 16 August 2014 as part of the Camden Fringe Festival. Tickets are £12 (concessions available). To book visit www.camdenfringe.com.


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

s1Rating: ****

In A Nutshell:

A crushingly human Zeitgeist on a world displaced, though bold physical theatre distracts from solid writing.

Overview

Lampedusa is an island that is officially the southernmost point of Europe, located in the Mediterranean Sea and politically part of Italy. For the past 20 years, as well as tourists, the local population has witnessed a growing increase in the number of refugees and immigrants coming to the island, using it as a foot-in-the door to Europe. However, not all of them make it to the island and those who are there live in limbo. After spending three years of research on Lampedusa, Théâtre Senza, led by Valentina Zagaria, has created this collaboratively devised piece, forging accounts and of the locals, holiday makers, and the migrants into bold physical theatre.

Writing

There’s a wonderful depth, humour, and honesty that the company employs here. They manages to find really human and truthful aspects about the people and stories they’re depicting, blending joviality and affection seamlessly with desperation and remorse. Despite some of the issues with the physical stylisation (see below), you can still get a certain scope and real grasp of the characters in the play, making them feel like there are real people behind them. It’s these personable insights into life disrupted and displaced on Lampedusa that make for shocking and troubling viewing. As the humdrum collides with the horrific, they create a forceful and brutal portrait of this community caught in the middle of a tourist boom and humanitarian crisis, struggling to come to terms and adjust to their lot. It’s a stark reminder that whilst there’s plenty of dramatic world events covered by the news, we sometimes forgot or not notice the other atrocities that continue regardless, affecting things beyond the sensations we’re let to see.

The framing device of the local community preparing for their Madonna procession adds direction and drive, but does seem a little superfluous, as the diverse and myriad stories introduced to the fray have little connection to this. Given that the procession itself is the apex of the production, it does dull the impact of everything else a little.

Direction & Production

The most interesting and complicated aspect to Miraculi  is the stylistic approach to the scenes. Directing, Zagaria does well the create an ethereal landscape the flits from comedy to tragedy, evoking emotion and scene through sound, movement, and lighting dramatically: from the cramped square of light that represent the human-stuffed hold of an immigrant ship, to using height to represent the global politicians that bray and bargain over the situation in Lampedusa. She also makes great use of the space with minimal and minimalist effort. Using nothing but five black boxes and a few bits of colour clothing and materials, she conjures up everything from an army training ground, to rocky beaches, and political podiums, using all three dimensions of the performance space – width, depth, and height: sliding and constructing a world using only these featureless boxes and the cast’s bodies.

But at the same time, it’s the stylisation that takes a little away from the show’s success. With the solid writing, and some brilliant sound effects from both created by the cast and recorded sound, makes the play more of an aural affair than visual. The physical theatre, though earnest and bold, does sometimes cause a detachment from the subject matter: the movement feeling a little too inorganic to the text or too ostentatious. With very few visual climaxes to go on, bar a chilling scatter of colourful clothing washed ashore from a wreck, Miraculi could really work as well, if not better, as a radio play. The impetus on sound, and the piece’s detailed and honest characterisations, means you could close your eyes for the entire play and still be shaken by it.

Senza-Shoot1917Cast

Zagaria’s cast are all very talented physical performers harvested from an international pallet. The physical signifying traits of individual characters are very well executed helping them to quickly throw themselves from one person to another, creating a living and thriving town of inhabitants alien and local, without so much of a lick of hesitation. But sometimes, they can sometimes stop you connecting with characters as they just seem that bit too unreal. Particularly there’s a juxtaposition of accents, whether purposeful or unintentional, that can jar you away from the scene a little. But overall, it’s the same criticism that the physical theatre can take away from the engagement with the text. They’re all very good at what they do, but they manage to drive little wedges between you and the subject with their physical charisma and prowess.

Verdict

The fact that it’s a piece of physical theatre rather than something more natural stops Miraculi from being brilliant. It’s not that the physical theatre is bad: far from it. It’s just that it’s not completely effective here. But none the less, this is an important, stark, and arresting piece of writing about refugeeism and a community in turmoil that absolutely deserves to be seen regardless of its faults.

Miraculi played at the Tristan Bates Theatre, London, WC2H 9NP, from 4 – 9 August 2014 as part of the Camden Fringe Festival. For more information about the festival, visit www.camdenfringe.com.


Musical Review: Grim: A New Musical (Charing Cross Theatre, London)

Keeping Grim (Roseanna Christoforou, far right) company. Photograph: Scott Rylander.

Keeping Grim (Roseanna Christoforou, far right) company. Photograph: Scott Rylander.

Rating: **

Verdict

Certainly dark and daring, but significantly falls over its own ambition in its execution.

Overview

Grim is lonely. As she traverses the world taking the souls of those who die, she is mystified by human emotions. Therefore, in order to learn more about what makes mortals tick, she decides to become a student at an English school. However, there she meets Cupid. As he and Grim fall for each other, it creates a whole netherworld of problems, not the mention flaming the ire and superstition of the school’s pupils.

Book

Best-selling novelist and newspaper columnist, Fiona O’Malley, turns her efforts once more to musical theatre after the success of her previous show, The Daily Fail: The Musical. Unfortunately, sinking her teeth into a Gothic fairytale does not yield the same level of results. The plot rattles along, quick, improbable and too shallow even for a bedtime story. Nothing is ever fully explained or expanded, such as Cupid’s presence at the school and the logic behind his actions to be with Grim. The audience are just fed everything on face value and are expected to take it. Other narrative devices lead nowhere or fizzle out unsatisfactory. We just steam through full-speed, skimming the surface of what feels like could have been a properly paced and thought out musical. There’s potentially enough material here to last an entire full-length show. Instead, we get a quick fumble of around 90 minutes (including interval).

Furthermore, at one point I was left wondering who the show’s intended audience are as parts of it felt so much like a family-friendly show/school production. Dialogue is stilted and basic to the point of pantomime. If it weren’t for the overtures to euthanasia and characters donned in black hoods, whilst others dropped like flies, I felt I should have been accompanied by a child and dishing out pick ‘n’ mix to those sat next to me.

However, you can’t fault O’Malley for being bold in her remit. Whilst what she’s written completely hasn’t worked in practise, throughout you can peer a little into what she was setting out to achieve: a romantic and slick new musical for generation Twilight. It’s just a shame her earnest ambition has nowhere near paid off in that she’s unable to come up with the panache and substance for this to have been a successful venture.

Music and Lyrics

The lyrics are dreadful. It’s pretty much a sing-what-you-see-but-make-sure-it-rhymes approach. It’s completely devoid of any poetry or inventive language, let alone any wit and intelligence, making the songs a real trial to sit through. If you’re not bored, you’re wincing at clumsy couplets. O’Malley absolutely needs to employ a proper lyricist.

Musically, composer Joseph Alexander produces an incredibly rich and full orchestral score, which complex choral writing to match, produced using some very high quality samples. He riffs very comfortably somewhere between Danny Elfman and Camille Saints-Saens, effortlessly giving the show the dark fairytale vibe that it aims for. Unfortunately the majority of the music is just too unwieldy. It’s technically very well put together, with things like the by-the-book quartet of previous numbers that come together to cumulate in the Act I finale. But there are seldom any tunes or motifs that have a hook. It meanders around a vague musical theme and offers little with any meat on to enjoy. The whole thing feels more like one long recitative, as if Tim Burton had hurriedly scribbled out an opera. It’s a shame, because one song, “I Wished For Someone Like You”, is the only song in the entire production that feels like a song from a musical: lilting, sweet, and catchy.

Georgi Mottram (left) as Amelia, and Roseanna Christoforou (right) as Grim. Photograph: Scott Rylander.

Georgi Mottram (left) as Amelia, and Roseanna Christoforou (right) as Grim. Photograph: Scott Rylander.

Direction and Production

Anna Driftmier’s set might look sparse, but it leaves plenty of room for the large cast to go about their business. It’s design is simple yet effective: nothing but a painted gauze tab centre stage. Her imposing Gothic wrought-iron gates of the school is all the show really needs, with nothing else but props and Jack Weir’s lighting design plotting out the scene and atmosphere. So much more could have been done on the generous stage of the Charing Cross Theatre, but it’s great to have a production team who know that it’s best to just do what is needed rather than what’s possible.

On the other hand, within the space afforded by Driftmier, director Adam Wollerton and choreographers Adam Jay-Price and Sam Lathwood manage to make the stage feel cramped and crowded. Wollerton constantly seems to want to use as much space as possible, making the full 20+ cast vie for space. Everything else is squished downstage. There’s no use of depth here or appreciation of the space: it’s very basic direction without flair or ingenuity.

This isn’t helped by the choreography. All the actions and moves are too big and over the top. As well as making the show look like a school disco dancing troupe, the gestures employed are so grandiose that it sometimes forces some of the non-dancing actors to hug the edges of the set for fear of getting smacked in the face by a pair of errant jazz hands or over enthusiastic high kick. It, like a lot else in this production, lacks any thought or refinement; it’s brazen and hyperactive with little art or consideration.

Cast

The only cast member that’s worth mentioning is Roseanna Christoforou in the show’s titular role. Even thought she’s not given much to go on from the text, she’s makes the very best of what’s she’s been handed. She effortlessly portrays Grim’s steely inertia and endearing ignorance of human world foibles without managing to make Grim come across two dimensional. Ironically, she feels the most human out of all the cast. What’s more, Christoforou has a fantastic voice which she still manages to make shine through the lack-lustre score, pricking up you ears to her presence whenever she sings.

Verdict

As unsatisfying as this show is, there are still flits here and there of the DNA of something that could be so much better. It’s certainly bold, original, and ambitious: O’Malley has an idea born from an imagination that could have struck gold, and Alexander demonstrates that he’s a talented orchestrator and composer who can write at least one good tune. But in execution, it dies on stage along with several of the characters. Unless you really want to see this, Grim: A New Musical lives up to its moniker.

Grim: A New Musical plays at the Charing Cross Theatre, London, WC2N 6NL, until 30 August 2014. Tickets are £10 – £19.50. To book, visit www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk.


Camden Fringe Review: The Five Stages of Waiting (Tristan Bates Theatre, London)

five stages of waitingRating: *****

In A Nutshell:

A devastatingly funny and human play that finds sublime humour in all the wrong places, and heartbreaking tenderness in all the right ones.

Overview

Liz, Jen, and Sara’s mother is in hospital: she has a brain tumour. As they come together in these unfortunate circumstances in the hospital waiting room at various stages of their mother’s care, their separate ways collide in an environment of anxiety and uncertainty. What reconciliation can they make in themselves with their mother’s possible death on the horizon? And when is it not ok to laugh?

Writing

Caro Dixey is a writer that I’ve had on my radar for some time, having been wowed by her short plays previously. Therefore it’s great to see her full-length writing faring just as well. What I’ve always loved about Dixey’s writing is just how upfrontly human it is. She manages to get right into the real heart and nature of personalities and the human condition, portraying them on stage in such a natural and effortless way.

Here, Dixey’s talent is finding a pitch-black humour alongside tender observations in everything from the mundane to the maudlin is supreme. It’s all executed with an incredible honesty, consistently feeling organic and never contrived. Humour wise, there are moments that are just out-rightly hilarious, even when they absolutely should not be, finding wonderful juxtaposition, absurdity, and bad jokes in sorrow and plight, playing intelligently into the understanding of an audience as an observer. But Dixey is able to dish out heartbreak just as readily using these same skills of observation and empathy: sometimes simultaneously alongside the jokes. At points, I found my jowls wobbling with laughter whilst my chin quivered with anguish. There is, in her unbelievably believable characters, a chime that can make you burst into tears as instantly as guffaw with laughter. It all stems from a savage embrace of truth and photographic considerations of human life that very few playwrights offer.

The writing is also technically brilliant, especially in using the differences in personalities of characters to subtly tease out plot and back-story form their counterparts, and well placed red herrings and ambiguities to keep you intrigued and unknowing. The pacing never drags across the play’s 90 minutes; no scene feels better panned out or lack lustre to any other. It only suffers in that, being flung from one polar feeling to another at break-neck speed, you want the play to end sooner just because you’re mentally exhausted. Dixey’s toying with the audiences sensibilities is an emotional marathon that’s just as elating as it is heartbreaking. But it’s you that flags, not the play.

Direction and Production

Sophie Moniram is a director that astutely understands Dixey’s text. Every effort has been made to make the action feel as bone-fide as the characters. She’s not afraid of making long awkward silences just that, or have people talk over each other just like they would in real life. Some of this is even employed theatrically to create a sense of tension and drama as well as a sense of reality. But most importantly, Moniram allows the cast as much time as they need to be their characters, never feeling that they’ve not been given enough space to be who they are, or cutting short what they are doing.

Henry Regan and Dixey’s production is also superlative. The set is done well enough to easily evoke a hospital waiting room, as well as quickly become the living room of the sisters’ mother’s house. But it’s the fact that it’s awash with very deliberate minutia that really is its coup de grace. Everything from the wonky wall clock to the quiet significance of the choice of Salvador Dali painting, has a place and a role even if it looks like mere dressing at first.

Cast

Dixey and Moniram could not have found a better cast for this production, with every member being fantastic. Even Pauline Menear’s short appearance as Patient is smoothly and wonderfully carried out. But it’s the three leads that are really phenomenal. It’s a real surprise when you find out that Sara Winn playing Liz, Sophie Spreadbury playing Jen, and Charlie Blackwood playing Sarah aren’t actually real life sisters. This isn’t just because they look vaguely like they could be related, but because they manage to forge an astonishing sense of on-stage sisterhood among their chemistry. They each organically embrace their characters to create performances that are completely flawless, connecting with each of their co-star’s on-stage personalities as much as they do their own.

Verdict

An astonishing piece of new writing that is perfectly executed. Dixey has proven once again that’s she’s a formidable playwright and producer in creating one of the most brutally uplifting and joyously upsetting shows of this year.

The Five Stages of Waiting plays at the Tristan Bates Theatre, London, WC2H 9NP, until 9 August 2014 as part of the Camden Fringe Festival. Tickets are £12 (concessions available). To book, visit http://tristanbatestheatre.co.uk. To find out more about the Camden Fringe Festival, visit www.camdenfringe.com.


News: Orwell’s “Animal Farm” to be Staged at Newham City Farm

Revolution FarmGeorge Orwell’s twisted tale of revolution and status quo, Animal Farm, gets a summer performance in London this year on an actual farm!

After the success of last year’s When Chaplin Met Ghandi, Jim Kenworth and Community Links will let Revolution Farm will take over (pun intended) Newham City Farm this August for a modern twist on Orwell’s enduring satireOnce again, the company will be working alongside local schools to give students a chance to perform alongside professional actors in a professional production.

In this new text by Kenworth, Revolution Farm plucks the cautionary tale from the mid-twentieth century and reworks it for a contemporary age. Using “in-yer-face” language indicative of the location of London’s largest city farm, Kenworth may well explore the resonance the novel still has today within a culture of urban disquiet.

With 1984 having already torn up Islington and the West End this year, this is set to be an ambitious setting of an iconic piece of British literature in a truly unique and exciting location and setting.

Revolution Farm runs at Newham City Farm, London, E6 5LT from 19 – 24 August 2014. Tickets are £10 (concessions available) and £5 for Newham residents. To book visit www.animalfarm.ticketsource.co.uk


Theatre Review: East of Berlin (Southwark Playhouse, London)

Jordan McCurrach (left) and  Jo Herbert (right). Photograph: Ori Jones Photography.

Jordan McCurrach (left) and Jo Herbert (right). Photograph: Ori Jones Photography.

Rating: *****

In A Nutshell

Complex, uncomfortable, and daring, this is theatre at its most intense.

Overview

Anything that touches on the horrors of the Holocaust is always in danger of being too purile, shallow, or offsneive. Yet award-winning Canadian playwright, Hannah Moscovitch, has crafted a complex, daring, and unprecedented piece using an imaginative and intelligent slant on the aftermath of  the concentration camps atrocities. There aren’t any shallow shocks or crude politics here, just an unexpected and unnerving look at redemption and the human condition.

Rudi has grown up in Paraguay in a post-war German settlement, never knowing his father’s role in the Nazi effort. When his friend lets slip that his dad was an SS doctor experimenting on people at the camps, Rudi’s world is turned upside down causing him to flee from his family back to Berlin. But will the divided city provide the escape from his father’s past that he’s looking for? And just how fine are the lines between love, guilt, spite, and salvation?

Writing

Moscovitch’s is a formidable writer, having scooped up  many writing awards. Indeed, East of Berlin has toured and been performed internationally on the basis of Moscovitch’s talent. Despite the prickly subject, she approaches the narrative with a huge amount of intelligence and emotional depth. All characters here feel real, but most importantly, realistically flawed. Even as awkwardly ghastly as the play’s subject is, it feels organic and convincing, and not just some bad taste novelty. Moscovitch also knows just when, and how much, dark humour to employ, which not only lightens some of the heavier moments, but is used to explore character and issues with an inviting depth and grace.

In closer details, Moscovitch’s, writing really comes to the fore in her handle of language. Throughout, there are a lot of unfinished sentences and fragmented paragraphs. It feels a little awkward at first, but you soon realise that the metre is all about embodying the small self-censures and internal lies we, and the characters alike, subconsciously make. Suddenly, you start to see the high-intelligence behind the play.

All this, when crescendoing towards the play’s climax, cumulates in an absolutely overwhelming finale of shock and awe: a soul-shaking finish that is seldom pulled off so successfully in theatre.

Production

The production is also top notch with all parts of the team working incredibly well together. Holly Pigott’s set of cluttered archive shelves evoke a strange calm and clinical bleak backdrop for Rudi’s plight. There are also several little surprises hidden in the shelving’s mobility and hidden crannies. Ingeniously, these all slowly move and unravel parallel the gradual deterioration and destruction of Rudi’s life, giving the show a brilliant aesthetic intelligence alongside the writing.

Blythe Stewart’s direction ensures that the text and the action buzzes unceasingly around it. Even monologues have a real sense of drive and drama despite there visually being little to concern yourself with. She makes sure that it’s the characters and their thoughts that drives the pace, as this is where the theatre of the piece truly lies.

Particular note-worthy is Jasmine Robinson’s video design. Projecting directly onto the set’s shelving units, images and moving animations become distorted and broken by the unevenness of the files, boxes, and paraphernalia. These either quietly change the mood of a setting, or serve as surreal illustrations as to what’s going on. Robinson’s videos mimic Moscovitch’s use of fractured language; nothing is whole and everything has fissures which attempt to distort the truth, either aurally or visually.

In short, there’s a sheer amount of thought and subtlety that runs throughout the production. This is not a play that needs resources, pomp, or razzle-dazzle to work, but merely brilliant and ingenious minds that acutely understand the text. Stewart and her team lavish the show with just this, and more.

John McCurrach (left) and  Tom Lincoln (right). Photograph: Courtesy of Ori Jones Photography/

John McCurrach (left) and Tom Lincoln (right). Photograph: Courtesy of Ori Jones Photography/

Cast

The trio of actors are all excellent. In particular, they manage to always seem to be withholding something that they’re not letting on to their counterparts or the audience, creating a pervasive sense of guilty/traumatic enigma. Even Jo Herbert, as Sara, as bubbly and outgoing as she is, conceals a troubled past and interfering prejudices that makes her almost as couched and distant as Rudi at times. These cumulate in emotionally tactile and visceral performances from these three excellent actors.

Jordan McCurrach as Rudi, however, is particularly masterful, especially in his asides to the audience. He handles the dark humour handed to him by Moscowich with a blunt grace and dexterity perfectly suited to his character. McCurrach both endears and repels us from Rudi in equal measure, without ever making him caricature or overtly neurotic. He gives a quiet yet barnstorming performance of controlled power, revelling in the unsettling comi-tragic awkwardness of the narrative and Rudi himself.

Verdict

Immensely thought-provoking and incredibly intense, Moscovitch’s outstanding writing is supported by a supreme production and extraordinary cast. Uncomfortable and subtly shocking, it’s an extreme yet elating piece of theatre.

East of Berlin plays at the Southwark Playhouse, London, SE1 6BD, until 12 July 2014. Tickets are £18 (concessions available). To book, visit http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk.