Tag Archives: Tina Jay

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.

Overview

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.

Concept

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!

Verdict

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 

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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.