Tag Archives: Jonny Collis

Theatre Review: Fear In A Handful of Dust (COG ARTSpace, London)

Jack Morris as Simon. Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

Jack Morris as Simon. Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

Rating: ****

In A Nutshell

A powerful and indescribable monolith to the human spirit. Surprising and brutal.


Simon, an Englishman raised in India, is stuck by himself in a Great War trench in 1916, awaiting his rescue. Then, out of the blue comes Irish private Buck: sloppy, talkative, and exacerbating. Although their personalities and background could not be any more different, each form a strong bond and preserve each other through the horrors of World War I’s front line.


Sevan K. Greene, discovered through Henry Regan’s support of new writing with Vertical Line Theatre, has written a piece of great visceral and intense energy, but perhaps not quite in the way that you’d expect from a Great War play. As much as it explores some of the more harrowing aspects of the war – lice, rats, and mustard gas – it’s main focus is actually on camaraderie and how the two characters develop a strong bond of brotherhood in the most extreme of scenarios. Greene plays off the characters’ polemic personalities quite well, but always uses the clashes to reveal something deeper and an unexpected. His characters always surprise you: the cocksure and capricious Buck is perhaps not as heroic as he seems, and the uptight and fretful Simon is far more down to earth than his airs and graces would suggest. They are characters born of a deep and empathetic imagination, with a complexity that is incredibly impressive.

But it’s the compassion that these two people develop for each other is what’s heartbreaking, especially as Buck’s state of health deteriorates as the show goes on. It’s an exploration of the human spirit, once pride and prejudices are put aside, that makes this a truly devastating play.

There are just a few small flaws. For starters, Buck barges in boisterous and overbearing trying too hard to quickly break Simon’s rigid exterior at first, which is just a bit short of being easily believable: it’s sort of the point, but it just sits a bit oddly. Also, the pace can jump about a bit too much, from nuanced and deep character exploration to high action drama at the drop of a hat. Whilst this undoubtedly this mirrors just how quickly the situation on the front line can change, it makes it a little difficult to adjust to as an audience when it happens.

Otherwise, it’s a piece of great emotional intelligence and complex character writing, prising something beautifully beyond ordinary from a subject that we already have seen a lot done with this year.

Direction & Production

Traverse productions are a rare occurrence in London, but Director Jonny Collis has transformed the performance area of the COG ARTSpace into a traverse space and has worked wonders by doing so. It makes you feel like you’re trapped in a trench: claustrophobic with two high walls at either side of you. It also helps give a significant spacial depth that Collis expertly spins moments of high drama, with characters cowering far from the enemy line, or putting a physical distance to their personality chasm. It’s a set-up that works incredibly well in this intimate space and one that is particular inspired and well executed, putting the audience at the very core of the text.

Lighting and sound design, by Dan Cornwell, are also superlative. As well as doing well to light up requisite parts of the elongated set in different ways, creating an interesting pallet of hues rather than just a wash, he also plays with lighting from ground level as well from the rigging, creating some striking moments of shadow and colour. His sound design, comprising of high quality sound effects and atmospheric music, are piped through a sound system of equal standard: distant cannons and immediate gunfire and crisp and palpable, drawing in the audience rather than distracting them like the unconvincing effects you can too often find on the fringe.

Put this together with Anne Stoffels and Ed Hollands detailed period costumes and props, and Isa Shaw-Abulafia’s purposefully ramshackle set of corrugated iron and mud, it’s a production that creates a reality the really does Greene’s writing justice, assisting the audience in involving themselves in this stark and terrifying world.

Jack Morris (left) and Henry Regan (right) as Simon and Buck. Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

Jack Morris (left) and Henry Regan (right) as Simon and Buck. Photograph: Courtesy of the production.


Regan as Buck, and Jack Morris as Simon, are two superb actors. Both are utterly convincing and manage to really get to the depths of Greene’s characters, resulting in them being impressively compelling in their roles. Morris really exudes a handsome and formal authority in everything that he does, but also enables a deep underlying compassion to come through un-muddled and uncomplicated. Regan, particularity, commands a hauntingly ethereal performance in the throngs of a delusional fever, really galvanising one of the most powerful moments of the play.

The only thing I could possible pick at is that Regan’s accent is perhaps a bit too thick. Dialect Coach, Michael O’Toole, has done perhaps a bit too well a job, as, if someone is not used to the accent, they can easily lose some of Regan’s lines.


Incredibly slick and deeply moving Fear In A Handful Of Dust is a Great War play with surprising heart and intelligence. A heartbreaking and heroic piece of writing with an incredibly impressive production behind it.

Fear In A Handful of Dust plays at the COG ARTSpace, London, N1 3JS, until 9 January 2015. Tickets are £12 (concessions available). To book, visit www.cogartspace.com.

Theatre Review: Line-Up (Greenwich Theatre, London)

LineUpRating: ****

In A Nutshell

A brilliant smorgasbord of newly nurtured writing at the hands of the Vertical Line Theatre company/collaborative.


Five writers meet with five directors, and the result is a showcase consisting of 10-15 minute excerpts of a new play, performed to a discerning paying audience.


Vertical Line Theatre is a company that I’ve come across before, engaging with the end result of one of the shows that they’ve chaperoned into becoming a fully realised and top-notch play: The Five Stages of Waiting by Caro Dixey. This is also the company and concept that gave us the award-winning Superhero Snail Boy. So it’s a thrill to suddenly get to see the process from further back along the production line, with five potentially scintillating pieces.

Although it’s another new writing night in London, where it differs from initiatives like Bare Essentials is that it’s a vehicle for proofing lengthier ambitions of new writers with a view to develop well received ones further, rather than just provide a showcase platform for new writing. What this provides is an opportunity to gauge a direct response from dedicated theatre goers to these new pieces.

As per my #FreshOffTheStalls video review, as it’s a bit difficult to really rate out of five any of these pieces of writing as they’re all excerpts,  I’ll apply a traffic-light rating as to whether this is a play I would like to see more of (green = yes, amber = maybe, red = no).

Emoti(con), by Andrew Maddock
Dir: Anne Stoffels
Rating: Green

In this play about cyber bullying, there is so much more that meets the eye beyond your usual high school cautionary tale. Maddock intersperses scenes with wonderfully imaginative and rich poems, as well as prying intelligently and truthfully into the sinister depths of the issue. But even within this small snippet of a larger play, Maddock weaves a web of intrigue and enigma that takes the characters and the message of the piece beyond something shallow and as juvenile as the students it involves.

Director Stoffels also compliments these artistic interludes with an intricate fuss of movement and physical theatre that mesmerises as much as it enchants.

An intriguing subtle thriller full of teenage kicks.

Someone Borrowed, Something New, by Sevan K Greene.
Dir: Adam Slepowronski
Rating: Green

Greene tears down ideas of what constitutes love and relationships in this riotous comedy. As well as providing a scenario that very intelligently toys with perceptions of sex, marriage, and affection, Greene writes characters with some amazingly hilarious comic ticks and traits. Because Greene’s comedy comes from the very nature of how the characters behave and interact, it augments the issues and arguments that are being made here. Even when things get a little serious you hardly notice that the pace of the comedy has dropped a little because you’re actually incredibly involved in the characters’ predicaments themselves.

Actors Alexa Hartley, Darryl Oakley, and Greta Wray work marvellously together in bouncing oddball chemistries off each other, and really understand and push through the comical aspects of the characters they inhabit. A raucous yet surprisingly provocative chuckle.

Underneath, by Joe Lidster
Dir: Ahmed El-Alfy
Rating: Amber

Seeing as Halloween had just recently happened, it was nice to see something supernatural in its remit: a comedy where two characters fall asleep on a tube and end up in what they assume is Epping. The comedy is created by Lidster capitalising on the everyday prejudices of the characters through eavesdropping in on their internal monologues, providing some wonderful character-driven laughs in the midst of a more sinister unfolding narrative.

However, it does have some significant flaws. The back and forth (and internalised) banter just feels a bit untidy, drawing focus and procrastinating away from the overarching narrative that’s supposed to be developing. Also, there are some technical plot points that are a little overlooked, such as the lack of attempt at emergency exits, which feels a little obvious. It’s also difficult to distinguish whether a character is speaking externally or internally, confusing the action just a touch.

But there is real potential in the piece, especially in it’s audacious and original concept. Despite the grumbles about the play’s pacing and messiness, I certainly keen to see what spooky spooky goings on will become of it. It just needs some definite tidying up and more meticulous tweaking.

Parade, by Perditta Stott
Dir: Elliot Brown
Rating: Green

One of the most powerful pieces of the line-up, as Stott looks at sectarian culture and racism in Belfast through the eyes of a child. Brutally honest and innocent, its both a heart-warming and unnerving look at The Troubles. Stott’s writing is wonderfully child-like and were it not for the visible comparative maturity of the actors, you’d have thought the stage was awash with children’s’ chatter.

Enhancing the marvellous text is some creative direction from Elliot Brown. Not only does Brown capitalise completely on the bare set (just a row of wooden chairs) to build walls and bonfires, there’s also elements of puppetry to represent other characters involved in the story, particularly the main character’s toddler brother. The result is a production that as playful as it is inventive.

The cast here are also excellent. Not only do they embody a real child-like charm and energy, those that do play several characters throughout this excerpt through their efforts into playing the others as well.

Back, by Tina Jay
Dir: Jonny Collis
Rating: Green

Tina Jay is a new writer that I’ was first introduced to as part of Ladylogue! and it’s great to see her appear here too with something just as polished. Jay presents what is certainly the most difficult piece of the evening, but by no means making it the least interesting or entertaining.

What makes it difficult is the subject: something that is already trigger-saturated and uncomfortable without it being put through Jay’s narrative. Therefore, it takes a while to settle into the issues being discussed, but once you do, you start to notice how intricate the writing is as well as it being incredibly emotive. Jay’s piece leaves little breadcrumbs along the entire way for the audience to pick up and follow. You never, at any point, get the full picture, leaving you intrigued and wondering what the real story is behind the confrontation that we’re witnessing on stage. But every so often, another fact is suddenly unveiled significantly changing the meaning and perception of what’s happening. This keeps you constantly involved and curious as to where the narrative is going to turn next, and is a plot that’s as unforgiving and intense as the issues discussed.

Unfortuantely, the excerpt means that we don’t get the Full Monty of this teasing reveal: all the more reason to hope it’ll see a full-length realisation soon!


An excellent and surprising evening of new writing of an incredibly high calibre, demonstrating that the successes of Superhero Snail Boy and The Five Stages of Waiting are by far the apexes of this initiative.

[youtube http://youtu.be/JVYfssQ32YU]

Line-Up took place at the Greenwich Theatre, London, SE10 8ES, on 1 November 2014. For more information about Line-Up and the work of Vertical Line Theatre, visit