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Feb 12th

Crime and Punishment at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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 Sonia (Christina Baston), Raskolnikov (Christopher Tester), Porfiry (Stephen MacNeice)

Mankind won't improve itself and there is nothing I can do about it.

Arrows & Traps have done it again! After their compelling production of Anna Karenina, the company returns to the Jack Studio Theatre with yet another Russian classic - Fyodor Dostoevsky's first great novel Crime and Punishment, adapted by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus.

Raskolnikov, a former law student, murders an old pawnbroker and her sister to prove a theory. In the aftermath of his heinous crime, Raskolnikov battles with his conscience, going through a variety of emotions, from justification to guilt, from despair to empowerment. He is eventually forced to face his guilt by the contact with two characters — the deeply religious Sonia, whose life has been one long path of suffering, and the clear-sighted Porfiry, who is charged with investigating the murder. 

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 Raskolnikov (Christopher Tester)

The brilliant adaptation by Campbell and Columbus does not attempt to bring a detailed account of the novel to the stage. Instead it distills the essence of Dostoevsky's novel and focuses on the major themes. The play is a psychological thriller that takes us into the mind of a murderer. Everything revolves around Raskolnikov as he relives his memories and the thoughts that drove him to the crime.

Whilst being interrogated by Porfiry, Raskolnikov argues his theory that extraordinary people have an inner right to overstep certain boundaries and to dispose of people who hinder their grand plans, using Napoleon Bonaparte as an example. He refuses to be tricked by Porfiry into a confession, telling the inspector that he - as a superior being - can see through his indulgent act. However, Porfiry is convinced that Raskolnikov will confess in the end as a murderer is "like a moth circling a flame".

As Raskolnikov relives his memories, he reveals his feelings for Sonia who is willing to do anything to keep her family afloat, whilst being tormented by her ailing stepmother and left to her own device by her useless drunkard of a father. Still Sonia remains compassionate and pious whilst Raskolnikov embraces a nihilistic world view. Sonia realises Raskolnikov's isolation and loneliness when she tells him:" There is no one in the world as unhappy as you."

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Sonia (Christina Baston)

Ross McGregor's intense and imaginative production does justice to Dostoevsky's masterpiece. Christopher Tester is outstanding as the tormented Raskolnikov as he goes through myriad emotions, sometimes speaking directly to the audience. Christina Baston portrays Sonia as vulnerable and strong at the same time. Baston also plays all the other female characters in the play, including the murdered pawnbroker Alyona, her gentle sister Lizaveta, and Raskolnikov's long-suffering mother. Stephen MacNeice convinces as the soft-spoken inspector Porfiry as well as Sonia's drunken father Marmeladov. Both actors manage even rapid transitions between their various characters smoothly and with great skill.

Set in the time of the novel, the actors are wearing authentic period costumes, designed by Ross McGregor. The simple set by Luke Ridge consists of a few chairs, a table and a sofa. Quotes and keywords from the novel are written across two columns framing the wall that also includes a window, drawn with white chalk. Gareth Kearns' soundtrack adds to the unsettling atmosphere of the play.  

 An impressive adaptation of a classic that should not be missed.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 25th February 2017

Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

Running time: 90 minutes, no interval

Photographs by: Davor Tovarlaza @ The Ocular Creative

Feb 12th

Beware of Pity by Complicite & Schaubühne Berlin at the Barbican

By Carolin Kopplin

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Laurenz Laufenberg and Christoph Gawenda

Once more my pity had been stronger than my will.

The novel Beware of Pity (Ungeduld des Herzens) by Stefan Zweig was published in the eve of World War II and takes place in 1914, shortly before the beginning of World War I. Simon McBurney directs the Berliner Schaubühne ensemble in a compelling production that raises questions of consciousness and compassion as the Austro-Hungarian empire disintegrates.

The performance begins at night in a museum. Two uniforms are on display: the first is covered with blood as it was worn by Archduke Franz Ferdinand when he was assassinated in Sarajevo in June 1914. The other uniform is squeaky clean, the uniform of an officer of the Hapsburg cavalry. This uniform belongs to Anton Hofmiller, a young career officer who slides into a terrible situation shortly before the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the beginning of the Great War, an ill-fated love story with a rich and disabled young woman. As a now middle-aged Hofmiller remembers his younger self, the production takes us to a different time.

Young cavalry officer Anton Hofmiller (Laurenz Laufenberg) is stationed in a small garrison town near the Hungarian border. He is invited to a soirée held by Baron Kekesfalva (Robert Beyer) at his castle and enjoys the delicious food, select wines and the delightful company. Before leaving, Hofmiller feels obliged to ask Edith (Marie Burchard), the daughter of his host, for a dance. His request is met with shock and disbelief as Edith is disabled. Deeply embarrassed by his faux pas, Hofmiller flees from the castle. To atone for his behaviour, Hofmiller sends flowers to Edith and apologises, Edith responds with an invitation for tea. Soon Hofmiller is a daily visitor at the castle. He enjoys the rich food and the warm welcome by Edith's family but remains ignorant of the fact that Edith is falling in love with him. When Hofmiller realises the extent of the girl's feelings for him, he dutifully asks for her hand in marriage. But Edith soon realises that Hofmiller just feels pity for her.

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Ensemble

McBurney designs his production as an experiment - researching the timeless lack of compassion. The stage design by Anna Fleischle resembles a museum space with some of the actors sitting at desks, whilst others are placed in front of microphones or exhibits as they take us to the past so vividly described by Stefan Zweig. Hofmiller's story is told in German by seven actors, swapping narration and dialogue, who are not individually credited. Stylised movement by the ensemble reflects Edith's disability or suggests a cavalry drill, accompanied by Pete Malkin's thunderous sound design. Video projections of desolate battlefields and boats of refugess (design by Will Duke) place this story in a contemporary perspective.

Laurenz Laufenberg is excellent as the young Anton Hofmiller as he stumbles into an abyss, prompted by his older self and his comrades, torn between recklessness and a kind of foreboding. Marie Burchard plays Edith as a stubborn, unstable young woman who is helplessly moved around the stage on a mobile table. Robert Beyer convinces as Edith's father, acting like an aristocrat but despised as a Jewish upstart by the community and Hofmiller's comrades. Johannes Flaschberger is compassionate as Edith's doctor.

Stefan Zweig wrote that there were two kinds of pity: "One, the weak and sentimental kind, which is really no more than the heart's impatience to be rid as quickly as possible of the painful emotion aroused by the sight of another's unhappiness, that pity which is not compassion, but only an instinctive desire to fortify one's own soul against the sufferings of another; and the other, the only one at counts, the unsentimental but creative kind, which knows what it is about and is determined to hold out, in patience and forbearance, to the very limit of its strength and even beyond". We have to ask ourselves what kind of pity we are guilty of.

The production is part of 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary.  

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 12th February 2017

Barbican Centre

Running time: 2 hours with no interval

Age guidance 12+

Performed in German with English surtitles

The show is now sold out but is available online:

Live stream online: 12 Feb 3pm GMT

Available online until 26 Feb 11.59 GMT

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98C1vV49gXo

Watch on these websites:

complicite.org/live-stream

Photocredit: Gianmarco Bresadola

www.schaubuehne.de/en/pages/live-stream-beware-of-pity.html

http://blog.barbican.org.uk/2017/01/livestream-complicite-schaubuhne-berlins-beware-of-pity/

 

Feb 9th

Dubailand at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Adi Chugh as Amar

Can you see me? Can you see me standing here in the stars? Look at me I'm in the future. (...) I'm in the future and I'm building one of the highest buildings in the best city of the world.

First shown in a staged reading format as part of the Finborough Theatre's Vibrant Festival in 2015, Carmen Nasr's play discusses the contradictory nature of luxury founded on the exploitation of impoverished foreign workers.

Dubailand is the name of a retail and entertainment development that is nearing completion. The play focuses on three characters - Indian migrant worker Amar who helps building the dream, British PR hotshot Jamie who is promoting it, and British journalist Clara who intends to reveal the truth about this fantasy.

On the 88th floor of an unfinished skyscraper, Amar (Adi Chugh) is gazing at the stars, talking to his little daughter who he left behind in India. He came to Dubai for a better life - a city of lights and an ice cream parlour offering 200 different flavours - yet he finds himself living in a slum. Moving to a different camp would require bribes that he cannot afford. Meanwhile Jamie (Nicholas Banks) is living in luxury - that he cannot afford. A former activist, he now prefers living the good life. He has just impressed his icy boss Amanda (Belinda Stewart-Wilson) with the idea of a live-feed broadcasting directly from the building site so buyers can see how their property is being built and their investment is growing. So naturally Jamie is not pleased when his former girlfriend Clara (Mitzli Rose Neville) intends to further her journalistic career by putting his own job on the line. Clara, tired of writing for a shopping magazine, wants to research the working conditions of migrant workers in Dubai who are building Dubailand and reveal the brutal exploitation at the heart of the glittering dream world.

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Nicholas Banks as Jamie and Mitzli Rose Neville as Clara

Amanda's PR team strives to present Dubailand as a modern development where Emiratis drink coffee in Starbucks whilst enjoying state-of-the art technology with their latest gadgets. Any hint of tradition or the past is to be banned from the video presentation. Of course the truth is rather different. Dubai is an absolute monarchy and a tax haven for the rich. There is no income tax but you also have to do without opposition parties, elections, or unions that could protect workers' rights. Migrant workers from India, the Philippines and other south Asian countries come to the UAE and are paid very low wages, often living under appalling conditions. Carmen Nasr effectively targets these issues in her play.

The German airport security officer is a true clichée but the play is well written and Nasr presents her arguments well, placing the emphasis more on the subject matter than the characters. Occasionally, Nasr's language changes into a form of free association, using the bare minimum to get her point across.

Georgie Staight's simple but intense production features a very good cast, most of all the three main characters played by Adi Chugh, Nicholas Banks, and Mitzli Rose Neville, but they get splendid support from Belinda Stewart-Wilson's cold-blooded Amanda who defeats Jamie's arguments by comparing his present hedonistic life to the crammed conditions in a London flat share. Reena Lalbihari impreseses as Jamie's colleague Deena who is living the good life just like her western colleagues, rejecting the "backwards" traditions of non-western countries. Leon Williams plays Jamie's colleague Tommie and Varun Sharma convinces in a variety of roles. Aanya Chadha is lovely as Amar's daughter Lali.

A relevant and topical new play that shows much promise.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 21st February 2017 

Finborough Theatre 

Running time: 90 minutes with no interval

Photographs by Tim Hall.

Feb 9th

Mel Brooks' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN to open in the West End Autumn 2017

By Carolin Kopplin

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UK PREMIERE AT GARRICK THEATRE ON TUESDAY 10 OCTOBER

 

Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN  - the new comedy musical based on the Oscar-nominated smash hit movie - will open in the West End on Thursday 28 September at the Garrick Theatre (Press Night: Tuesday 10 October). Tickets go on-sale tomorrow,Friday 10 February.

The production will open for a pre West End season at the Theatre Royal Newcastle from Saturday 26 August to Saturday 9 September.

The London run for Young Frankenstein is announced in the week that Mel is to be awarded the BAFTA Fellowship, the highest honourthat the Academy bestow and a lifetime achievement recognising his remarkable career across the arts.

Young Frankenstein, the wickedly inspired re-imagining of the Mary Shelley classic, see’s Frederick Frankenstein, an esteemed New York brain surgeon and professor, inherit a castle and laboratory in Transylvania from his deranged genius grandfather,Victor Von Frankenstein.  He now faces a dilemma - does he continue to run from his family’s tortured past or does he stay in Transylvania to carry on his grandfather’s mad experiments reanimating the dead and, in the process, fall in love with his sexy lab assistant Inga?

Based on the hilarious 1974 film andco-written with Thomas MeehanBrooks will once again collaborate with Broadway director and choreographer Susan Stroman for this all-singing all-dancing new production, bringing his and Gene Wilder’s classic movie to life on stage.

Casting will be announced at a later date.

Young Frankenstein is produced by Mel BrooksMichael Harrison and Fiery Angel.

Garrick Theatre

Charing Cross Road

London

WC2H 0HH

 

SEASON DATES

Performances begin Thursday 28 September

 

BOOKING ONLINE

www.youngfrankenstein.co.uk

 

PERFORMANCE TIMES

Monday - Saturday: 7:30pm

Wednesday & Saturday Matinees: 3:00pm

 

TICKETS

Tickets from £20

 

                 TELEPHONE BOOKING

0330 333 4811

Feb 5th

Run the Beast Down at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Ben Aldridge as Charlie

When I looked up, I saw him. Burnt orange, bright against the summer woods. He stood grandly on all fours, the King.

The Finborough Theatre, dedicated to new writing as well as rediscoveries of forgotten classics, presents the first play by writer, director and musician Titas Halder. Run the Beast Down is a fantasia about urban foxes, a surrealistic dream performed by Ben Aldridge, painted in a symphony of sound and lights. 

After being fired from his lucrative city job, Charlie finds his flat in a redeveloped council estate deserted - his girlfriend has left him. Suffering from insomnia after this double blow, Charlie begins to confuse reality and fantasy as he drifts into a world of dreamlike memories and hallucinations.

Charlie first introduces his neighbourhood - the elderly Mrs Winter who is worried about her cat Peter, named after her husband. The cat has disappeared and she fears that the foxes might have got him. But it might have been the feral kids on the estate whose aggression level is so high that they seem capable of anything. When he finds Peter savaged on his doorstep, Charlie starts to investigate and meets the Silver Man, Mrs Winter's brother. We also learn about Charlie's life as a banker - his mates and their local watering hole, a pub decorated with stuffed wildlife. An internal investigation ends Charlie's career.

As Charlie's sanity begins to deteriorate, he sees Mrs Winter's cat as a reincarnation of her husband, and even the stuffed animals in the pub gain special significance. He keeps contacting his ex-girlfriend assuming that she needs his help, which shows a somewhat obsessive behaviour. Eventually, the protagonist, who believes that he once met the King of the Foxes in the forest, starts identifying with the urban foxes, who have lost their natural shyness yet retained part of their feral nature as their disturbing shrieks echo through the night.

Under Hannah Price's creative direction, Ben Aldridge begins his performance at a leisurely pace, increasing the suspense and speed as the intense drama reaches its climax. He plays all the characters in his story including Mrs Winter and the King of Foxes. An online DJ, Chris Bartholomew, provides the musical soundscape, designed by ANoR (Andy & Fraser) and the inventive lighting design by Rob Mills and Robbie Butler add to the narrative.

A unique production that should not be missed.  

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 25th February 2017

Finborough Theatre

118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED

Box office: 020 7244 7439

e-mail admin@finboroughtheatre.co.uk

Running time: 70 minutes with no interval.

Image by Billy Rickarts.

Jan 30th

The One Festival at The Space - Progamme E

By Carolin Kopplin

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What reconciles me to my own death more than anything else is the image of a place: a place where your bones and mine are buried, thrown, uncovered, together. They are strewn there pell-mell. One of your ribs leans against my skull. A metacarpal of my left hand lies inside your pelvis. (Against my broken ribs your breast like a flower.) (John Berger)

The Space is an exciting venue on the Isle of Dogs featuring mainly new writing but also offering daring new productions of the classics. The One Festival, now in its fifth year, accommodates five programmes over three weeks, entailing a variety of stories that have  one thing in common - they are performed by only one actor.

Programme E includes one 50 minute play and three short plays with a running time of 15 minutes each. Searching Shadows, written and performed by Emily Orley, is structured like a scientific lecture. Emily Orley combines the biography of her grandfather, a radiologist from Bialystok who moved to a variety of European countries and the US before eventually emigrating to Britain, with the history of radiology and the reception of this new science.

Directed by Christopher Heighes, this multi-media show employs a slide projector to display x-ray photographs and photographs of Orley's grandfather and family to illustrate her narrative, an ancient record player and a tape recorder to provide various sound effects, particularly whenever Emily Orley is quoting from her grandfather's journal and letters.

This is an intriguing performance, providing a plethora of information about society's fascination with radiology 100 years ago as well as retelling Dr Orley's story. The show is a bit slow-paced at times and somewhat repetitive, the John Berger quote is used three times, but it remains a fascinating piece of work.

After the interval, the programme continued with three shorter plays. If the Shoe Fits, written and performed by Cheryl Walker and directed by Simone Watson is a delightful play about a young Londoner with a Jamaican background who travels to Jamaica for the first time to celebrate her great-grandfather's 100th birthday and ends up learning much about herself.   

Cornet Solo by Ben Francis and performed by Silas John Hawkins deals with the owner of an ice cream van. Business has been slow and this is one the last hot days of the year. Yet on this particular day the queue at Ianto's van is never ending. His customers are enjoying a special spectacle - a potential suicide who is standing at the ledge of a high building. Hawkins inhabits his role as the seasoned ice cream seller as the story reaches an unexpected climax.

The final play of the evening is Among the Missing, written and directed by Niamh de Valera, Artistic Director of the Blue Elephant Theatre, and performed by Jess Neale. A recent graduate is taking a "gap year" working as a barrista in a coffee shop when she meets the perfect student, obviously on the road to success. Immaculately styled and enjoying her exciting internship at a local gallery, Jess Neale's frequent customer is an object of envy for the hapless barrista. But one day her customer disappears and it turns out that her situation was quite different - "appearances can be deceptive". An intriguing play with a surprise ending that makes one think. 

These very different plays are well acted, well written and provide a thought-provoking experience and an entertaining evening.

By Carolin Kopplin

Running time: 2 hours including one interval

The run has now ended.

Jan 29th

A Lesson from Auschwitz

By Carolin Kopplin

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Will you allow it to happen again?

I still remember seeing images of Rudolf Höss (not to be confused with Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess) and his staff celebrating the successful murder of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews - the so-called "Ungarn-Aktion". They were part of the "Höcker-Album", a collection of photographs collected by SS officer Karl-Friedrich Höcker, illustrating the lives and living conditions of the officers and administrators who ran the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex and an important document of the Holocaust. Höss was the longest-serving commandant of Auschwitz and is shown in many of Höcker's photos, often together with Josef Mengele. Höss was the most successful commandant of Auschwitz and the man who introduced Zyklon B to murder Europe's Jews more efficiently and in far greater numbers.

James Hyland is trying to shed light on the mentality of this mass murderer and the other perpetrators in his disturbing play that focusses on a secret meeting of Höss and his SS personnel in 1941. Purpose of the meeting was the introduction of Zyklon B, a more efficient method than mass shootings.

As the play begins, Abraham Könisberg (Michael Shon) a Jewish prisoner, who has been badly beaten, is standing on stage, wearing a blackboard with the words "Ich bin zurück" (I am back) around his neck. Höss treats him with condescension from the start and interrogates him personally about his escape, using him as an object to prove his inhuman theories whilst spreading the typical anti-semitic slander. The prisoner tries to keep his dignity despite the terrible abuse and humiliation he is subjected to.

Höss marches across the stage, clicking his heels before addressing his personnel, meaning to intimidate and demonstrate who is in charge. He also proves a master of rhetoric and manipulation. From the start, he makes them complicit: "There is no turning back now, gentlemen." Coaxing and threatening the soldiers in equal measure, he tries to turn them into effective killing tools who will obey all orders unquestioningly and abandon any human emotions such as mercy as this "weakness" helped the prisoner escape. Höss makes it quite clear that there is no room for weaklings.

James Hyland's portrayal of Höss is frightening - a sadist and a manipulative bully who seems capable of any atrocity. His rhetoric style reminds me of Roland Freisler, a Nazi judge who completely perverted his office. Michael Shon impresses as Abraham Könisberg, a man who tries to keep his dignity in this hell.

Directed, written and produced by James Hyland, this production should be seen by all - especially in the light of recent events.

By Carolin Kopplin

Running time: 60 minutes with no interval.

Recommended for ages 14+

Next performance:

FEB 25 @ 7.30pm

KETTERING - KETTERING ARTS CENTRE

St Andrew's Vicarage, Lindsay St, Kettering NN16 8RG

01536 513 858 www.ketteringartscentre.com

The play is dedicated to all victims of the Holocaust: those who were murdered and those who survived.

Proceeds will be donated to charity

 
 
Jan 23rd

Richard III at the Rosemary Branch Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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This is the winter of our discontent...

When the late great Ian Richardson played Francis Urquhart in the original "House of Cards" in the 1990s, he based his character on Richard III, speaking directly to the camera, seducing the audience and making them complicit. Years later, a U.S. remake starring Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood hit Netflix and found a new audience. Inspired by the U.S. remake, Theatre company GODOT's WATCH returns to the original Richard, presenting an energetic modern dress production including smartphones, references to videogames, and cocaine.

Sam Coulson's Richard is not deformed except for a dark red birthmark covering the left side of his face, which would probably be enough to keep him in obscurity in a world where young children already worry about their looks and normal people have cosmetic surgery to look like filmstars. But if Richard does not have the looks, he certainly has the drive to become King of England. Charming and deceitful in equal measure, he surpasses his obstacles, and if they don't yield, they will lose life and limb.

Directed by Sean Aydon, this high voltage production is fast-paced and intense. Sometimes the speed is almost too fast and certain aspects of the play are only touched upon, and the ending is somewhat abrupt. The emphasis of this cut down production is on the scenes between Richard and the female charaters, notably Lady Anne and Queen Elizabeth. The cast of eight is predominantly female with some of the actors playing two or three parts. Sam Coulson is an energetic and demonic Richard and Elena Clements is his intriguing counterpart as the cold and calculating Buckingham. Sophie Ormond impresses as the young Prince Edward and his murderer Tyrell, which is clever casting indeed. The cast is very young and although I enjoy the cross-gender casting I wish there had been some room for older actors as well.

The stage is dominated by a massive golden throne, source of envy and constant reminder of what Richard strives for. The punchy sound design by Daniel Harmer including a variety of musical styles and the trendy neon lights in different colours (lighting design by Jack Channer) add to the contemporary setting of the production.

An exciting production with some daring casting choices.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 29th January 2017

Rosemary Branch Theatre

Box office: 020 7704 6665

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including one interval. 

 

Jan 22nd

Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road at the White Bear Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Flip (Michael Wade), Mitch (Robert Moloney) and J.D. (Keith Stevenson)

Noam Chomsky is the Jerry Lewis from West Virginia.

This was my first visit to the White Bear Pub and Theatre in Kennington after it had been refurbished and redecorated. It seemed far more spacious and brighter than before and made patrons feel welcome. The theatre is now upstairs and remains an intimate stage, about the size of a living room, which especially benefits this production, the European premiere of Keith Stevenson's hilarious comedy.

Set in a shabby motel room on Fried Meat Ridge Rd. in West Virginia, the play focuses on the hapless Mitch (Robert Moloney) from Maine who, after moving down South, has lost his job, his girlfriend, and his apartment. Now he cannot even sleep in his car because it was torched in front of a Girls' Reform School. Desperate for shelter, he answers an ad for a roommate and finds himself walking all the way to a backwoods motel on Fried Meat Ridge Road. His future roommate turns out to be the amicable hillbilly JD (Keith Stevenson) who surprisingly knows Latin but has never heard of Maine. Before Mitch even has time to digest this upsetting news. Mitch's neighbours begin invading the small room - bigotted motel owner Flip (Michael Wade), the meth-head artiste Marlene (Melanie Gray), and her volatile poet lover Tommy (Dan Hildebrand).

Robert Moloney's Mitch is a neurotic character, very much like one of Woody Allen's creations, who throws up whenever he is upset and suffers from an unusual condition that cost him his job. The laid-back JD, portrayed by playwright Keith Stevenson, is your picture book hillbilly who turns out to be the hub of the motel community, being the go-to guy for everybody in need of help. Yet this should not be too surprising, considering his parentage. Melanie Gray's Marlene and her hot-headed boyfriend Tommy straight out of New Jersey, played with the unpredictablity of a loose-cannon by Dan Hildebrand, are the perfect ill-fitted couple who react to each other "like fire and gasoline". Michael Wade lends credibility to the gruff redneck Flip who has a treasure trove of insults for almost any ethnicity.

The approximately one-hour long play, directed by Harry Burton, is very much like a TV comedy show featuring a host of outrageous characters. After it opened in L.A. in 2012, it soon became a cult hit and two sequels followed.

This is a highly entertaining show with a good cast and a surprise ending.

A fun night out.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 4th February 2017

White Bear Theatre

Running time: 65 minutes

Photograph by Gavin Watson.

Jan 11th

Veteran's Day at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Colonel Kercelik (Charlie de Bromhead) and Sergeant Butts (Craig Pinder)

All they ever cared about was each other and the hell they'd been through.

Originally produced in Denver and Los Angeles, Veterans Day by political playwright Donald Freed was last seen in the UK at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, in 1990, with Jack Lemmon, Michael Gambon and Robert Flemyng. The London critics loved Jack Lemmon but hated the play, which might be one reason why there hasn't been a revival as yet. Marooned Productions in association with the Finborough now provides the opportunity to see this play after almost thirty years.

Three American war veterans meet at a Veterans Administration Hospital just before a remembrance ceremony where two of them are going to be decorated by the commander-in-chief himself: Private Leslie R. Holloway (Roger Braban), veteran of the First World War, in a wheelchair and in an almost catatonic state; John MacCormick Butts (Craig Pinder), a Sergeant in the Second World War; and Colonel Walter Kercelik (Charlie de Bromhead), the most highly decorated soldier of the Vietnam War with the looks and demeanour of an All-American hero.

The enervatingly chatty John Butts, who makes his living as a used-car salesman, contrasts nicely with the quiet authority of Colonel Kercelik, a teacher at West Point. Private Holloway's presence, though almost entirely silent, adds to the anti-war message of this play. As the evening progresses, the characters begin to talk about their experiences and it becomes clear that all three of them have been badly damaged by their experience although the ever jolly John Butts states: "In terms of fun, nothing ever comes even close to the war." Employed in an administrative function, Butts was mainly responsible for providing the big brass with a fresh supply of young girls. He returned from the war with a defective digestive system and a grudge against the Japanese who, after losing the war, now seemed to win the peace with their car industry. Private Holloway is forever trapped in a world of his own "where the dead murder the living". The calm Colonel Kercelik, a picture book soldier, turns out to be a sociopath who intends to assassinate the President as a representative of all the commanders-in-chief who have sent soldiers into the hell of war, leaving many of them dead, mutilated or badly traumatised - either by the deeds of others or their own crimes. 

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Private Holloway (Roger Braban) and Colonel Kercelik (Charlie de Bromhead)

This is the part where the drama stops working. After making valid points about the horrors of war and the appalling treatment of the veterans, the play takes a sharp turn into implausibility and becomes an absurd melodrama. After Kercelik informs Butts of his plans to assassinate the President including the catatonic soldier as a preposterous element, Butts does not even try to prevent the assassination attempt although Kercelik does not have a weapon or pose a threat - except to the President. The confrontation between Butts and Kercelik is rather one-sided and the outcome seems clear from the start because Butts is so weakly written that he is not a suitable antagonist for the deranged but strong and persuasive Kercelik who bombards Butts with conspiracy theories.

Hannah Boland Moore's production benefits from an outstanding cast who are sadly let down by a dramaturgically faulty play. Military marches and popular war songs throughout the 20th century, forcefully played on the piano by Craig Pinder, add to the authenticity of the production which is skilfully designed by Liam Bunster - a canvas splattered with blood and dirt covering the back wall and a sundry of props on the floor, including a defective gumball machine.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 24th January 2016

Finborough Theatre

Box office: 0844-847 1652

Running time: 85 minutes without an interval

Photographs by Scott Rylander.