Tag Archives: fringe

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.


Camden Fringe Review: The Gentlemen of Horror (Phoenix Artist Club, London)

the gentlemen of horrorRating: ****

In A Nutshell:

James Goss’s fusion of trivia and deft wit creates a charming tale of fame and friendship.

Overview

We first join Christopher Lee in a makeshift green room with Peter Cushing in 1957, working on the Hammer Horror film, The Curse of Frankenstein: Lee was Frankenstein’s monster, whilst Cushing was the titular role. From then on, we join them in the back rooms spread across various films, striking up a life-long companionship. But will their friendship last as Cushing’s lot dwindles whilst Lee rises to fame?

Writing

James Goss has had a good career in professional geekery, having looked after the BBC’s Cult website as well as writing Doctor Who audiobooks, other radio plays, and published several Whovian anthologies. But what’s great is that, turning to these two titans of the halcyon days of the British horror B-Movies, he’s managed to combine his wealth of cult trivia with a crystal-tipped but subtle wit to weave an affectionate and endearing narrative. In contriving these imaginary meetings off-set, Goss extrapolates a tale of  their friendship, careers, and families that’s as touching as they are engrossing. Pop in some wonderful pieces of knowing hindsight, and the result is a funny and ultimately charming text of quips, golfing, personal aspirations, and the quiet private lives of two acting behemoths, forming intriguing plot-points out of nuanced fandom.

The only problem is that this piece is ultimately niche. Unless you’re a fan of either Cushing, Lee, or Hammer Horror, some of the impact of the play risks being lost. Thankfully, Goss generally ensures that the characters are properly introduced, as if assuming a certain level of audience ignorance. If viewed as if a piece of fiction, there’s still plenty within the play that establishes Cushing and Lee as rounded characters complete with solid backgrounds. So, even if you haven’t a clue who they are, you still get an easy sense of what’s actually going on as well as the wider cultural significance. But still, those interested in these two characters and the films they starred in and produced will certainly get more out of the show than those who don’t.

Direction and Production

There is little by the way of production here – nothing but a coat rail, a table, and two chairs – as this is actually a play that doesn’t actually need much production at all as it’s the writing that does the talking. However, director Kate Webster does well to garnish the play with nice little touches, such as audio clips from film trailers between scenes to set up the next period the play takes place in. Webster could also have obsessed over trying to replicate the costumes and make-up from the films that both Cushing and Lee represent. For example, Lee’s Frankenstein’s monster mask is replaced by a rag-bag of bandages. Whilst the reference to Lee having to eat through a straw whilst wearing the mask sits a little at odds because of this, it ultimately doesn’t deter from the reference it’s making. It looks far better than instead using some cheap Halloween mask or trying to make do with a poor-man’s replica: better to succeed in evoking than fail in imitating.

In short, Webster has placed enough of a well-founded assurance in Goss’s text and her actors that all she needs to do is embellish a few points and chaperone things along to make this work well, which she does confidently and competently.

Cast

The problem is always going to be how do you capture the immense presence and charismas of Cushing and Lee without being second-rate emulations. The answer is, you can’t. Unfortunately, Matthew Woodcock playing Cushing, and William McGeough playing Lee, seem to be trying a little too hard at the beginning of the play, coming across a little forced: McGeough especially seeming more voice than personality. But quickly both Woodcock and McGeough start to relax and begin to become believable as people rather than trying to be mistaken for Cushing and Lee. Eventually they start to really bounce off a close sense of companionship and chemistry as mere characters, really lifting the text and doing justice to Goss’s writing, making them very sweet and cosy to watch.

Verdict

Hammer Horror fans and film-buffs will really appreciate this enjoyable riff on Cushing and Lee’s off-screen relationship. But even if you’re not endowed with encyclopaedic knowledge of the world of celluloid, this shouldn’t put you off what is otherwise a cheekily delightful and heart-warming play.

The Gentlemen of Horror plays at the Phoenix Artist Club, London, WC2H 8BU, until 7 August 2014. Tickets are £7.50. To book, visit www.camdenfringe.com.


Camden Fringe Review: The Words I Should Have Said to Phoebe Lewis (Phoenix Artist Club, London)

press-shot---full-(website-and-social-media)Rating: *****

In A Nuthsell:

Bittersweet, hilarious, and honest to the point of wonderful absurdity, this is a tremendous piece of new writing with an outstanding cast.

Overview

Wannabe young writer, Frank, is a bit messed up after the death of his mother, causing an estrangement with his father and the rest of his family. Instead of going to university to study creative writing, he’s stuck in Sidcup in debt, a freezing cold flat with his friend Bailey, and a relationship with Shropshire girl Chelsea for all the wrong reasons. But out of the blue comes Phoebe Lewis and Frank’s life turns even more turbulent. As drug-dealing becomes a means of keeping him and Bailey afloat, can Frank keep it together and overcome his cowardice when it comes to crunch-time?

Writing

Writer, Jim English, is pretty fresh out of Rose Bruford College having only graduated last year. However, his lack of experience is made up for an incredibly deft gift for observation and insight. His characters feel incredibly real and personable, steering well clear of turning them into clichéd working-class caricatures, and avoiding forced funniness and being over maudlin. It’s this ability for fine characterisation that really drives the entire play. Everything is outrightly honest and straightforward, just like real people are in all their little idiosyncrasies and inanities. English manages to make you easily connect with them through their humility and humour, making the jokes and laughs come naturally, never feeling contrived. It’s the most brutally honest observations that are the most absurd and side-splitting, yet the more emotional moments are surprisingly near heartbreaking for the same reasons.

The real genius behind English’s text is that when it comes to the climax. It feels so grounded and real you really can’t predict which way events are going to turn as it’s as feasible that it could go either way, making it genuinely thrilling. You quickly realise that this is because you’re actually with the characters for the entire show rather than getting caught up with the narrative. The whole affair feels as if it’s something palpable and true-life rather than fabricated and predictable.

In short, you’re with the play’s people through and through, gripped in both fascination and through a wonderfully casual connection.

Direction & Production

It’s very difficult to find much to say about direction and production in a space that’s so compact and Spartan. However, David Zoob ensures that nothing is static despite being so cramped. Yet he also cherishes the stillness in moments that don’t require much activity, particularly employing some nice little stylistic touches to explore intimacy and fantasy, making great use of what little space there is.

Steph Hammersley also employs some great sound design, with music and background ambience creating time and place aurally in lieu of any set. Whilst subtly colouring the production, it leaves plenty of room to allow English’s writing and the cast’s ability to do the rest of the work.

Cast

It might be a small ensemble, but you can’t really find a better six actors for this play. All embody their characters and perpetuate the believability that English so effortlessly writes. Leads James Craze, as Frank, and Sara Huxley, as Chelsea, are really exceptional at doing this. Both revel in their roles, even bringing little physical quirks to them, like Craze’s little wiggle when getting in and out of his onesie. Craze also does a brilliant job at really building a rapport with the audience in his asides to the audience, cherishing and reacting to the responses he gets from them. Huxley, on the other hand, really exudes a presence of both sensuality and sensitivity as a headstrong girl who has naively fallen in love with the wrong guy: all portrayed with a really endearing air of sweet vulnerability. Together, there’s a really touching reluctance and awkwardness in their chemistry as well as charming tenderness.

Verdict

This is some of the best new writing I’ve seen to date, not to mention supported by a top-notch cast who really get English’s text. It’s such rare serendipity to find it pop up among the great wash of shows that is the Camden Fringe. You’ll absolutely laugh, and probably almost cry, at this elating and effortlessly human tale of Nandos, “Mandy Moore”, and finding the strength in yourself as a person.

The Words I Should Have Said to Phoebe Lewis plays at the Phoenix Artist Club, London, WC2H 8BU, until 2 August 2014, as part of the Camden Fringe Festival. Tickets are £8 (concessions available). To book, visit www.camdenfringe.com.


Interview: Caro Dixey

Caro DixeyOften, critics and audience members don’t always see eye to eye. Shows that have been infamously panned by critics, like We Will Rock You, have gone on to enjoy huge profits and lengthy runs. Likewise, sometimes critical acclaim just can’t stop a show from closing early, such as was with I Can’t Sing: The X-Factor Musical.

As a reviewer myself, I was initially unconvinced about the Old Red Lion’s Old Red Line night, which sees a paying audience give direct and instant feedback on a playwright’s new work. What do mere patrons know about the finer points of playwriting? But maybe I’m missing the point somewhere, and there’s an untapped worth somewhere in this exercise.

In order to find out, and hopefully disprove my preconceptions, I spoke to playwright Caro Dixey, who recently had her new play The Five Stages of Waiting put through the Old Red Line’s process. A few months ago, I found her sat in the Greenwich pub where we arranged to meet, tablet PC in her hands and papers strewn across the table: all flanked by a large glass of chilled white wine. She seems particularly excited. Not only because she had just confirmed the venue for the premier of the work, but also because this the first time she’s been interviewed, much to my surprise.

Dixey, an incredibly fresh writer on the London fringe circuit, has already begun to make waves with the short pieces she’s written for The Pensive Federation, among other things. These were performed alongside other established fringe playwrights such as Sarah Pitard and Serena Haywood. With The Five Stages of Waiting being one of her first full length pieces to be fully produced, this is a big advance for her. So was the process beneficial?

Been There, Done That 

Dixey is in a unique position as a playwright: she previously trained as a dramaturge. Because of this, she holds constructive feedback from any outside party in high regard.

“I need a dramaturge, and I can’t do that myself with my own writing,” she tells me. “You can get lost in your own world of witty comments and clever dialogue. But that doesn’t matter if it doesn’t connect with an audience. I’m very about opening it up [and] asking other people’s opinion. If it’s a thing that no-one can look at, then I don’t know why you’re writing.”

Indeed, putting the play forward for Old Red Line wasn’t the first time The Five Stages of Waiting had been given a critical platform. She first submitted the first ten minutes of the play to Vertical Line Theatre, a production company championing new writing through smaller audience feedback initiatives. Artistic Director, Henry Regan, took a shine to the piece during this initial exposition, and then took larger segments of the play through some of Vertical Line’s other initiatives, cumulating in the full draft being scrutinised at Old Red Line: a direct project of Regan’s.

Although now familiar with some exposure to the brutal world of audience opinion, Dixey’s previous training also prepared her from the perils of merciless patrons.

“It is a really interesting situation to be put in,” she admits. “I knew it was going to be difficult [and] I prepared myself for the worst. As a dramaturge, I was given a lot of training and advice about how to approach playwrights: how to discuss their work and how to be sensitive. It was quite interesting to see how people do exactly what I was told not to do.”

Original promo for  The Old Red Line.

Cause and Effect

Of course, my prime interest in speaking to Dixey was to get her point of view of how well it all went. She illuminates to me just how inglorious some of the audience members where. Broad, sweeping, and damning statements were made by some, chastising some of main facets of the work. Thought Dixey admits that she could have easily enabled these to dent her confidence, instead, she managed to find an unlikely positivity in it all.

“People were writing. People wrote on both sides of the [feedback] sheet. Even when it was quite critical, it meant that someone’s actually taken the time to write two sides of comments. I had their attention for an hour and ten minutes, and they hadn’t run straight back to the bar. They’ve been bothered to write feedback. Even if they hated it, at least they were engaged enough to give me feedback.”

But was there any more positive and constructive feedback, and if so, has it affected the play?

“Definitely,” Dixey declares, with unwavering gumption. “I was at a bit of a turning point with a couple of the characters, and needed to make a decision. When people start saying that they don’t understand what [the character is] doing there, or they don’t understand their line of thought, it reaffirmed ideas.”

In fact, she tells me that she has even kept some of these pieces of paper pinned to where she does her writing, to spur her on in and give her encouragement. “I’m working on a rewrite, and it’s going to be a new draft. But I’m very excited about that draft.”

Neil, J. Byden (left) and Laura Kim (right) enjoying a first/last dance in "Done". Photograph: Courtesy of The Pensive Federation.

Neil, J. Byden (left) and Laura Kim (right) enjoying a first/last dance in Caro Dixey’s “Done”, as part of The Pensive Federation’s “Rewritten” festival. Photograph: Courtesy of The Pensive Federation.

Repeat Performance 

As the process seemed to have gone quite well this time, I ask if she thinks that this is something she’d do again.

“Yes,” says Dixey, although I detect a little hesitation in her voice. On enquiring further, I find out that the scintilla of reluctance I sense wasn’t so much about the process, but more about the readiness of her next piece to be put through it.

“With The Five Stages of Waiting, I’ve been working on it for the last seven and a half years. So I know this play, I know what I want from it, and I know that I feel very secure within it. I’ve got a new play that I’ve just finished about six months ago. That has never been produced. It’s a first draft, and I certainly wouldn’t put that up for this.”

She continues to explain that having this lack of confidence and certainty in direction would mean that such broad comments would likely change the very essence of the play, rather than just ironing out the kinks. Engaging an audience is more about letting her improve certain points of the play, rather than having them write one for her.

To Dixey, she feels that those who are at the early stages of a playwriting career can really benefit from this process, providing they’re confident with the play they’re putting forward. It gives writers a different type of criticism to what theatre professionals can give, creating a window into the minds of those you’re writing for.

“[When] you’re still learning your craft, sometimes feedback from a director or a script consultant or a dramaturge can be quite daunting. When it’s Joe Bloggs saying,  ‘I really like that bit, but I don’t understand that;’ that’s the sort of feedback you might get from an audience; instead of the structure, the character development, and the technical ideas.”

Most surprisingly, Dixey’s experience on the more technical side of theatre production means she’s discovered that the audience are more of an informed benchmark than us critics give credit for.

“If your writing is good, then the audience feedback will reflect the views of the company or the artistic director, nine times out of ten.”

Epilogue

I left my time with Dixey far more positive than I thought I would be. Her enthusiasm for the tangible benefits she claims to have received from engaging an audience at a creative level have intrigued me. It’s actually diminished the contempt that I can sometimes hold an audience in; both unwittingly and out of the arrogance that comes with the territory of reviewing.

None the less, my initial cynicism has led way to anticipation for seeing for myself the positives of audience insight and participation in the writing process. I have already witnessed Dixey’s writing first hand and found it be a staggeringly impactful and powerful. So this can only improve it, right?

The Five Stages of Waiting will be performed as part of the Camden Fringe 2014, on 4 – 9 August 2014, at the Tristan Bates Theatre, London, WC2H 9 NP. Tickets are £12 (concessions available). To book, visit http://tristanbatestheatre.co.uk.

For more information about the Camden Fringe Festival, visit www.camdenfringe.com.

For more information about Caro Dixey, visit www.carodixey.com.


Musical Review: Fashion Victim – The Musical! (The Cinema Museum, London)

Rosie Glossop (centre) as Mimi Steele. Photograph: Alex Carr.

Rosie Glossop (centre) as Mimi Steel. Photograph: Alex Carr.

Rating: ****

In a nutshell

It might stumble a little on the catwalk, but its wit, sense of fun, and fierce compere makes this an incredibly entertaining evening.

Overview

Fashion: dazzling, daring, and fickle. As it’s an industry so full of divas and drama it’s no surprise that it makes for a good subject for a musical. It’s no further surprise that, capitalising on this, Fashion Victim – The Musical! is full of as much pizzazz and punch as Naomi Campbell’s mobile.

After the success of the earlier Edinburgh Fringe version, writer Toby Rose has made alterations and accessorised Fashion Victim – The Musical! for a London debut, having interestingly resorted to crowdsourcing for the funds to build a custom catwalk and hire a suitable venue for the venture. Ending up in the little known but none the less stunning space of London’s The Cinema Museum, is the result more Prada than Primark?

Writing

Rose is no stranger to outrageous camp wit, especially being the founder of the Palm Dog Award: a prize for the best canine performance in film. Consequently, Rose’s writing is full of unabashed satire and vicious pokes that are aimed not only at the fashion industry but pop culture as a whole, meaning there are plenty of punch lines and gags to keep you chortling. Those less fashionably inclined might miss a few of the references, but nothing is really so obscure that it would go over too many people’s heads.

Therefore, it’s as shame the thrust of the story is as shallow as the industry it’s sending up. A thinly veiled and pedestrian cautionary tale, it doesn’t really offer anything deep or original. In fact, because of this Rose doesn’t quite manage to keep up the octane of the show as it sashays towards an all too predictable conclusion. But thankfully, its overall humour, production values, and cast makes up in bounds for what the plot lacks.

Songs

Cayelan Mendoza pens a score that has variety and energy, managing to capture the anarchic chic of the show. Admittedly, whilst there isn’t really anything you’ll come away humming, none of the songs feel third rate or uninspired. Indeed, if you pay close enough attention to the lyrics, there’s a definite intelligence and sharpness: the only thing that really fleshes out otherwise ordinary characters and story.

Production

Rose has managed to pull out all the stops in getting a top-notch creative team on board for Fashion Victim – The Musical!. Director Robert McWhir (also Artistic Director of the celebrated Landor Theatre) works incredibly well with TV choreographer Ryan Jenkins to fill the catwalk with colourful action and scintillating dance. But it’s great to see McWhir spend as much attention to bits that happen as asides and off the stage, giving the whole show a real sense of spontaneous cabaret which bolsters its sense of unbridled fun.

Richard Lambert’s lighting design also adds some unexpected nuance, particularly through his use of spotlight, paying a quiet homage to the venue, even if, on the surface of things, they seem a little juxtaposed.

James Wilkinson as Cedric Chevallier. Photograph: Alex Carr.

James Wilkinson as Cedric Chevallier. Photograph: Alex Carr.

Cast

As the vivacious and devious Mimi Steel, Rosie Glossop finds time within the production to wow the audience with the sheer power of her brilliant voice. Yet, it’s a shame that these are but small moments that allow her talent to shine as the writing of her character doesn’t make full use of her abilities. However, alongside our hero James Wilkinson as French male-model superstar Cedric Chevallier, they both bounce a keen sense of joyous pantomime against each other to great comic effect.

On Wilkinson’s part, again the superficiality of his character doesn’t allow a proper glimpse into any talent he may have. It’s also a little disappointing that he finds it difficult to project his singing voice in the lower range of his register, even though mic-ed up, meaning that his one big solo number is lost among the music. But when he’s singing higher in his range in some fab little duets with Glossop, and/or when he gets his shirt off (see picture), he is certainly forgiven.

Yet it’s really Carl Mullaney that really steals the show. As host, narrator, and compere for the evening, Mullaney is the real star at the helm, piloting the show at full steam ahead. Feeding off the audience’s energy and reactions as well as interjecting with a litter of marvellously knowing quips, it’s worth going to see Fashion Victim – The Musical! just for his company and entertainment alone.

Verdict

It’s hardly high theatre, but it’s wholly entertaining. It’s camp catwalk kitsch at its best, and if it’s a carefree and laugh-a-minute evening you’re after then you should be killing for a ticket for Fashion Victim – The Musical! 

Fashion Victim – The Musical! plays at The Cinema Museum, London, SE11 4TH, until 5 July 2014. Tickets are £10-£20. To book visit www.fashionvictimthemusical.com


Theatre Review: Love and Lust in Lewisham (Tristan Bates Theatre, London)

Louis Cardona (left) Ruby Snape (centre) and Price Lindsey (right. Photograph: Gregor Donnelly. Courtesy of the production.

Louis Cardona (left) Ruby Snape (centre) and Price Lindsey (right. Photograph: Gregor Donnelly. Courtesy of the production.

Rating: ***

Directed by Suzy Catliff, this play is set in Lewisham, where we find Bradley, a timid and hard-working student, desperately trying to find a cheap place to live so he can continue his studies. Replying to an advert for a “room”, he ends up in Pinko’s rancid bedsit faced with only a bed in a corner behind a shower curtain. Coerced by the slovenly American’s knock-down rent offer, Bradley moves in. But when Pinko, after a drug and alcohol-fuelled binge in Soho, brings home Polish masseuse and holistic therapist, Ania, she ends up uncovering aspects of all their personalities and fears that none were expecting.

At the beginning, the comedy is quite fun. The laughs are found in what nuances Pinko, Bradley, and Ania’s personalities bring out in each other, rather than relying on the clash of personalities and the living situation. Therefore, the jokes are surprisingly wry, honest, and refreshing, despite being a scenario akin to 1970s American sitcom, The Odd Couple. The dialogue is a little stilted, but you’re laughing, so it’s not a massive issue.

However, award winning author, Stewart Permutt, decides that what the play really needs is to career towards something darker and more serious. Whilst it is always worth exploring deeper human emotions such as belonging and affection, it means that all too quickly the play loses its quirks and charms, and starts to drag, with laughs suddenly few and far between.

Without much warning, the already chauvinistic and alpha-male wannabe, Pinko, turns violent, causing a whirlwind of cataclysms to sweep through the plot. And when severe mental health issues crop up with an approach that is shallow and trying hard to shock, you’re not quite sure where it’s all going. Furthermore, you really start to notice how forced some of the dialogue is, and it starts to grate.

It’s a shame that it veers from quirky comedy to overwrought drama in such a way, because both the comic and the tragic elements are actually not bad on their own merits. Having already highlighted the quality of the comedy, with the tragedy, once you strip away the troubling simplicity of how the mental health issues are dealt with, you actually have quite a poignant piece about how relationships play out when it comes to love, lust, and the longing for companionship. If the more sensational side of the play was less melodramatic, it might have be a bit less schizophrenic and more of a consistent and lighter evening.

The cast behind the show are very good. Price Lindsey, as Pinko, is so testosterone fuelled and over-masculine that you genuinely flinch at his cocksure, brash, and over-sexed antics, and feel intimidated by his bully-boy tactics. Louis Cardona, as Bradley, is also wonderfully shy and politely long-suffering of his bullish housemate from hell, and palpably exudes the tenderness that endears Ania to him. Ruby Snape, as Ania, is also on top form. Although possibly the most level and “normal” character at the start of the play, when her desperation sets in, she turns into something sweetly sinister and grossly manipulative; a marvellously subtle but equally hideous character transformation, performed with quiet panache.

All in all, it’s still a decent night out, and does leave you pondering about how we interact and relate to one another. You also, oddly, find yourself even a bit sympathetic towards Pinko in his eventual downfall. Ultimately, you laugh, you feel, and you leave the auditorium thinking. That, in itself, is reason enough to go.

Love and Lust in Lewisham plays at the Tristan Bates Theatre, London, WC2H 9NP, as part of the Camden Fringe Festival, until 17th August 2013. Tickets are £10 (concessions available). To book, visit www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk. To find out more about the Camden Fringe Festival, visit www.camdenfringe.com.


Theatre Review: Treatment (Drayton Arms, London)

Rating: **

Family: you can’t live with them, you can’t live without them. When Ryan is spending time on holiday visiting his partner and their dysfunctional family, he gets a call from his sister to say that his mother is ill and then she subsequently dies. When confronting his homophobic estranged father, Graham, for the first time in 20 years to arrange the funeral, Graham has a stroke. Then, Graham must rely on the one person he has cut out of his life out of prejudice to look after him and nurse him back to health.

Unfortunately, writer/director/actor Raymond-Kym Suttle’s new play about reconciliation is as cliché and tiresome as the opening sentence to this review, despite there being flits of wit and perception. Billed as a dark comedy, there was certainly scope in the potential of a wry look at homophobia, family, and care through humour. However, Suttle seems more content with shoe-horning in as many emotive issues and cataclysms as possible that there’s seldom any room for narrative depth or character development, let alone laughs.

Straight from curtain up there’s drama, drama, drama. Almost every actor gets up and shouts out a deeply troubled back story in a loud and lazy string of expositions that makes Eastenders look reserved and subtle. Starting with a row about drug-addiction, the play swiftly flows on to religious homophobia, the ethics of polyamory, domestic violence, and child abandonment and abuse.

If these shallow characters and issues aren’t enough, when topics such as politics and religion are discussed/screamed, the arguments Suttle puts forward are so binary and simplistic that they’re a bore. We’ve heard the point-counterpoint about those passages in the Bible far too many times for them to be engaging anymore, and a schoolboy dissection on the ethics of warfare isn’t exactly intellectual fodder. There isn’t anything surprising or new about these opinions, making them incredibly ham-handed and crass. It’s less a moral maze, and more of a moral cryptic crossword: needlessly frustrating and unrewarding.

However, asides from this incessant need to stoke some sense of moral worth through melodrama, when the plot does calm down, Suttle manages to pick out some very touching aspects of the awkward situation of Ryan and his father, the demands of being a carer, and the meaning of compassion and forgiveness. It wouldn’t be surprisingly that, given how acuminous a few of these scenes are, that Suttle has drawn from his own experiences. It’s a real shame that these moments are never given time to take hold before another truckload of tribulation comes stream-rolling in.

There is also a peek every so often to what could have been some really great characters if they weren’t constantly being concerned with being so tragic. Ryan’s twisted sense of humour is quite charming when allowed to come through, and Astrid, Graham’s extra-marital lover, is incredibly enigmatic and intriguing when not being attacked with piety.

There is also a talented cast behind the show. Getting their teeth into their roles, they really revel in the times the writing turns its attention to personality rather than catastrophe. Brodie Bass, as Ryan’s partner Owen, shares a fun and adorable rapport on stage with Suttle who plays Ryan, being most charming and believable when his character is forgiving, placid, and understanding. Michelle Fine as Astrid is also wonderfully ethereal and regal as the charismatic and carefree mistress.

But it’s Julian Bird, as Graham, that really draws your attention. Despite an introduction that’s unconvincing due to the script, Bird really excels at Graham’s seething resentment and stark vulnerability. Combining this with a ravish cantankerousness, the slow and forceful reconciliation between him and Ryan becomes more engaging to watch than it is to consider through the text.

Unfortunately, what gloss the cast do bring to the show doesn’t quite counter the hackneyed writing. More still, it’s stripped away by the unsure and often stumbling delivery of lines by others in the cast, and some unforgivably amateur blunders with sound on opening night.

It’s a shame that the clear latency for Suttle to create some great characters and bring deft insight is not realised due to this need for a constant assault on “hard-hitting” issues. Because of this, Treatment is a play that requires intensive care.

Treatment plays at the Drayton Arms, London, SW5 0LJ, until 10 August 2013. Tickets are £10 (concessions available). To book, visit http://www.thedraytonarmssw5.co.uk.


Theatre Review: 179 Hackney Road (CLF Art Café, London)

Promotional image. Courtesy of The BRIT School.

Promotional image. Courtesy of The BRIT School.

Rating: ***

You cannot fault the Bridge Theatre Company for their vision. In 2008 this company was created specifically for students graduating from Croydon’s The BRIT School to have an opportunity to work in a professional theatre environment before moving onto the next stage of their careers. They engage in all aspects of putting on a fringe production: not just acting, but booking venues, sorting out funding and promotion etc. They also support new writing, this time working with acclaimed radio playwright Frazer Flintham as their third new writing commission.

As a vehicle for showcasing up and coming talent from the school, the first thing you notice about this production is that it’s as striking as it is inspired. After all, it does employ some industry professionals in order to give their students this valuable experience. Susannah Henry’s set is an empty phantom jigsaw of shelves and frames that gives the production room to swiftly switch between the three eras that the play is set over – the 1960s, 1980s, and the present – with only a few props and the mere suggestion of the characters and their outfits.

Paul Edwards’ direction also does well to traverse the decades. Having a select few characters from all or just two of the time periods present on stage for the majority of the play isn’t exactly ground breaking. But he handles it excellently making sure you’re aware of the geographical anchor of the play’s remit, but never lets their omnipresence distract or get in the way of what is actually happening. It really gives a sense of fleeting lives; the people just the ghosts of someone else’s story.

However, Henry’s set and Edwards’ direction, like the address of the old pub all the action takes place in, are two of the few things that loosley holds the three narratives together. There is nothing more that links them apart from each story dealing with issues of prejudice and status; belonging, racism and feminism in the 1960s; class and race in the 1980s; and a little bit of everything plus the fear of obscurity in the present. These explorations, however, don’t bring anything to these topics that has not been done before, gaining no new ground. Furthermore, with there being no obvious singular destination for the narratives to reach, the pace drags as it all feels a little futile; it’s nothing more than three tenuously bound period dramas.

However, Flintham does write all his characters incredibly well. You very quickly and easily gauge the size and personalities of them without the need for strenuous assumption or laborious back story. They might not be the most complex of people, but neither are they shallow. You don’t have to do much work to connect, understand, or engage with each. Therefore, despite the grumbles about the text, you still feel like you’ve been on a journey with each of the social groups from each decade. You really feel the loss, betrayal, and acceptance of fate of each respective story, which leaves the audience with quite some poignant reflection at the end of it all.

Being a student production some of the performances are inevitably a little weak. One or two had problems with diction and projection, whilst others just felt wooden or over-acted. However, part of could this be down to issues of confidence as everything became stronger and improved as the play progressed. When you think about it, this is an exciting but no doubt daunting opportunity for them.

But there were several stand-out performances from the outset. Louis Livesey-Clare is suave and confident as the Mod-styled Sid, and Ashleigh Berry’s dippy yet friendly beauty technician manages to find a soul and personality beneath the blonde and pink veneer of what could have easily been a two-dimensional character (helped, of course, by Flintham’s writing). But it’s Sarah Vaughan’s 1980s feisty bad-girl-gone-good that is as effortless as they come and really steals the show. She revels in her character but manages to find space to build in Sandra’s vulnerabilities and the hold her past has over her. Vaughan delves into the complexity and conflicts of her character and brings them to the fore, but always maintains a strong empathy that keeps her beguiling throughout.

It’s not the perfect play or the perfect cast. The fact the experience lacked by the company is made up for in enthusiasm means it’s rough around the edges compared to the other professional fringe productions they aspires to compete against. But with a script that, despite is faults, is still emotional and full of well written and interesting characters, and a few star turns from the young cast, you can’t go wrong with this show.

179 Hackney Road plays at the CLF Art Café, London, SE15 4ST, until 1June 2013. Tickets are £8 (concessions available). To book visit www.clfartcafe.org.


Theatre Review:A Woman of No Importance…Or Somewhat Little Importance Anyhow (Hen & Chickens, London)

Katherine Rodden as Lauren, with a glass of Sainsbury's Finest Merlot. Don't know it until you've down it.

Katherine Rodden as Lauren, with a glass of Sainsbury’s Finest Merlot. Don’t know it until you’ve downed it.

Rating: ***

Lauren (Katherine Rodden) is not so much having a bad day but a bad month. Out of work and lost somewhere in a sea of Bond Street shopping and empty bottles of Sainsbury’s Finest Merlot, she passes the time drunk and rehearsing monologues by Oscar Wilde. But just as she feels she about to have an epiphany her mother (Rachel Dobell) rudely barges in with some shocking news – she’s divorcing. Soon what follows is a farce of family dysfunctions, divorce lawyers-cum-marriage counsellors, feisty suitors, and some other guy whose name eludes me.

In her programme notes playwright and resident company member Rodden mentions that her goal here is to create a modern farce in the style of Wilde or Noel Coward – updating class-based comedy for a modern age. But you needn’t read the programme notes to have sussed that out. Sarah Pitard’s stage is a handsome collection of 1940s Chinoiserie furniture complete with an elegant painting of the period, even if it is cluttered with the debris from Lauren’s despair. There’s even Coward playing over the theatre’s sound system between scenes. Yet despite Rodden and the indomitable Paradigm Theatre Company’s efforts, A Woman of No Importance… is an example of just how difficult it is to perfect farce, even when it’s something so well meaning and modern as this.

There is very little wrong with the writing. In fact Rodden’s text delivers a bevy of sharp and sassy one-liners that will keep you chuckling or, in some cases, laughing out loud throughout. The only criticism is that towards the end it succumbs to what is so easily done with farce – it all gets a bit too over the top that it looses the charm it held the audience with for the first four fifths of the play with. But more so it’s the execution that lets it fall short of what its trying to be.

There are moments when the cast’s comic-timing is a little off. Snappy little lines are sometimes not delivered as quicksilver as the script begs for causing some of the gags to arrive a little stilted. Also, the cast often don’t react too well to the audience, so when there are big laughs you all too quickly miss the next line because there isn’t a pause enough it above the patrons’ bellows. And when it comes to the physical comedy element it feels far too rehearsed and laboured. Slapstick begs a spontaneous and unsuspecting energy to it and Paradigm’s crew lacks just that. Knowing where the kicks are going to come from next spoils the punch-line, and this stops what should have been a riotous climax from being so.

But there are many saving graces to the show that makes Paradigm’s effort very worthy and still manages to result in an enjoyable evening. Cat Robey’s direction, although admitting it’s her first time doing farce, manages to pick out smaller details which augment Rodden’s witty text – everything from lawyer Geoffrey’s errant tongue, played wonderfully weaselly by Matt Houlihan, to some well placed interactions with some well placed props. Robey has always been a director who knows that God is in the detail and despite venturing into new territory A Woman of No Importance… is no exception.

The cast also hold themselves generally very well. Rodden’s Lauren is sufficiently whiney, self-absorbed, but charming enough for us to sympathise with her plight but willing indulge in a schadenfreude that makes her mishaps comically worthwhile. But it’s Alan Booty, playing Lauren’s father, that really steals the show. He has a monolithic presence on such a small stage whose persona as the oversexed toff dad is as boisterous as the laughs he brings about. His deliveries are always light, playful, and more often than not spot on making him a real delight to have on stage.

A Woman of No Importance… is a production on not quite perfection. It’s such a shame because it really tries to be, and with tighter execution it really could have been the formidable modern farce it wants to be. But none the less it’s still a sterling effort that, despite its faults, will push away the February gloom with charm and gusto.

A Woman on No Importance…or Somewhat Importance Anyhow plays at the Hen and Chickens, London, N1 2NA, until 23 February 2013. Tickets are £12 (concessions available). To book visit www.unrestrictedview.co.uk.