Tag Archives: Sonnie Beckett

Theatre Review: Othello Syndrome (The Drayton Arms, London)

Gagging order. Photograph: Courtesy of Sky or the Bird.

Gagging order. Photograph: Courtesy of Sky or the Bird.

Rating: ****

Think you know Othello? Think again. Director Hannah Kaye, one of the crew behind RIP, takes us through Shakespeare’s classic to directly challenge how we perceive the tragedy of the Moor of Venice in relation to sexism and violence towards females.

Kaye herself plays not only Emilia, but acts as a narrator, bringing in historic reviews, essays, and hard to swallow facts to lambast the general audience reaction of sympathising with Othello, sometimes going as far as blaming Desdemona. These interjections by Kaye are surprisingly hard-hitting and incredibly unsettling. Through this device it’s impossible not to find yourself completely rethinking the play beyond its themes of racism and betrayal, let alone be troubled at its portrayal of women.

At the show’s core is an abridged original play itself, the performance of which is solid. Rosalind Parker makes for a sturdy Iago, who is surprisingly cold as the manipulative villain. She masterfully turns the jealous and vengeful knave into something unnaturally steely and inert. Adrian Quinton as Othello is also a promising performer, juxtaposing the very loving nature of his character against a frightening rage.

Sonnie Beckett is the star of the show as Desdemona. Within this particular interpretation, she thrives in the role of the faithful, yet fated, wife. She plays her character with a very down to earth humanity. There’s nothing over-emotive or whimsical about her. Desdemona is just an every day woman – no graces, no airs, no melodrama – perfectly bolstering the points that Kaye is trying to get across.

Despite the set consisting of only a few curtains and old crates, Kaye makes excellent use of the stage, exploiting the awkward shape and cumbersome nooks of the Drayton Arms’ space. She injects flow and movement without it ever feeling restless, but ensures that nothing is ever still in this dark dissection. The use of clear lines of bright white salt, representing what we think we know about Othello, is also a very clever device. The more the play goes on, and the more Kaye frames everything that’s wrong with it, they smudge and scatter to the point of being completely indistinguishable.

The crowning jewel in both Kaye’s direction and Beckett’s performance, is Desdemona’s death. This is not the highly-romanticised and tragic scene we’ve come to know; it’s horrific and disturbing. It consists of around a five full minutes of hideous shrieking and kicking as Othello callously smothers his beloved. To say it was uncomfortable would be an understatement.

But there are a few faults. Why Iago is suddenly played as a transvestite/transsexual seems an interpretation of “I am not what I am” a step too bewildering, failing to add any new intelligent insight. But that’s not to say Parker didn’t handle herself well despite this. Also, there are a couple of stylistic missteps, such as an appearance of a Leonard Cohen track that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the play or its timbre.

But overall, this explosion of Othello is an intense and difficult reassessment of a cornerstone of British culture. Unpalatable and shocking, this is a dagger to the side of everything we thought we knew about the play; and it’s extraordinary.

Othello Syndrome runs at The Drayton Arms, London, SW5 0LG, until 28 September 2013. Tickets are £13 (concessions available). To book, visit www.thedraytontheatre.co.uk.

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Theatre Review: RIP (King’s Head Theatre, London)

Promotional image for RIP. Photograph: Courtesy of the King's Head Theatre.

Promotional image for RIP. Photograph: Courtesy of the King’s Head Theatre.

Rating: ***

Jack the Ripper is possibly one of the most enduring of morbid infamies. Five brutal murders and the fact he was never identified or caught, has managed to hold the fascination of centuries of generations. But whilst much is talked and debated about the murderous man himself, little is ever said about his victims.

Sonnie Beckett and Joe Morrow’s new musical sets to change this, looking beyond the mere names and occupation of Jack’s women, prising into the tragic back-stories of these five fated ladies. However, despite a worthy and interesting premise, there are issues that stop the show from being great, which is a shame because even if it’s not tremendously slick there is a definite spark of genuine inspiration here.

The main issue is the music. Whilst Beckett and Morrow manage to write a score with a great sense of variety and flair, the numbers are a little unrefined. Melodies and musical structure will often meander a bit making the songs feel hollow, never quite giving enough for the audience to sink their teeth into. Couple this with some rhyming schemes that are a little obvious and simplistic, and the music falls short of the mark more often than not.

But there are, however, a few good pieces that really illustrate that there is promise in the duo’s composing abilities. These include a rather chilling opening number, a beguilingly mournful folk tune, and Annie Chapman’s raucous burlesque of a ballad. Bolstering the score is also some very innovative use of scissors, whetting knives, and luggage as a rhythm and percussion section to accompany the single piano that provides the music, which in itself carries a lot of charisma.

The other things that let show down are smaller details that have a large impact. Hannah Kaye’s direction is very unsympathetic to the new configuration of the theatre. If you happen to have gotten a seat to close to the back wall of the stage area, or in one of the back rows, its impossible to see the heavy amount of action very central to the space and on the floor. It’s a shame, because you get the sense that if you could actually see what was going on it would indeed look quite impressive. Kaye is clearly a talented director and this is demonstrated in some frantically choreographed chorus numbers that add a sharp sense of the twisted ripe for the timbre of the tale, and the bleak tenderness she gives the women’s life stories. But she just needs to have had more thought about the dimensions and sight lines of the venue, as, unless you’re sat in a prime position, you can only imagine what’s happening, which doesn’t have quite the same effect.

Also, Jack the Ripper’s “mask” consisted of actor Peter-Lee Harper wearing some black tights over his head, which feels more silly than sinister, dissipating any tense build-up the production had been working towards.

But there is a great cast behind the production, and Beckett’s book is incredibly solid. All the women are strong actors and really manage to ply the depths of each of their characters. Especially notable was Gemma Brodrick as the drunk and downtrodden Polly Nicholas, and Emma Hook as the deranged Annie Chapman. Beckett also makes a wonderful juxtaposition of police coroners Thomas Bond and George Bagster Phillips (played by Morrow and Thomas Deplae respectively) revelling in the hideous details of the murders themselves, against the ghosts of the victims fleshing out their personal stories to build deep portraits of five real women.

Furthermore, the educated assumption Beckett makes of the identity of Jack, and the playing out of the unnerving indiscretions in the relationship he had with his own wife, is a really intriguing twist to what we already know about Jack.

It might not be totally ground-breaking in its execution, but it’s certainly a unique and interesting take on London’s most gruesome of histories. Although it doesn’t quite gleam like it wants to, it’s certainly worth your time as it’s brimming with potential and is none the less a provocative and entertaining evening.

RIP plays at the King’s Head Theatre, London, N1 1QN, on Sundays and Mondays until 21 July 2013. Tickets are £20.50 – £25.00 (concessions available). To book visit www.kingsheadtheatre.com.