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Mar 31st

When the Dove Returns at the Blue Elephant Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Captain Ned (James Little) and the survivors 

I'm going to live!

Following their debut Bibs, Boats, Borders & B*stards about the refugee crisis in 2016, which opened to good notices, Backpack Theatre now present a devised piece about the long-term effects of climate change.

The survivors of an apocalyptic flood combined with poisonous smog have fled to a ship - "The Dove". After reluctantly saving their lives, the Captain enforces a strict regime, limiting food rations to the bare minimum to ensure the survival of the fittest. After 30 days on board the small ship, coping with storms, hunger, and unbearable living conditions, the refugees are ready to revolt - but Ned is the only one who knows the coordinates to reach land.

The performance begins with audio clips on the greenhouse effect, setting the tone for the production. An ominous shadow appears on the wall before the flood survivors arrive on a simple set by Brittany Stillwell representing the deck of a ship - a slightly raised platform covered with plastic, a bucket, and a few black bin bags. The cast splash around in stagnant water which adds to the atmosphere, along with sound effects of waves crashing against the boat and constant rain. Music by Ella Bellsz and pop songs are used for the lighter moments.

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Joshua (Duncan Rendall)

Alice Lavender's intense production focuses on the effects of hunger and extreme living conditions on a group of people. Are they able to keep their humanity or will their baser instincts take over to ensure their own survival?

The song "Tick, Tock" represents the passing of time on the boat as the flood survivors, convincingly played by the dedicated cast, become weak with hunger and frustrated by Ned's strict rules. The lack of privacy is demonstrated by the frequent use of a toilet bucket, an action that is repeated once or twice too often. Yet there are also funny moments such as the enthuasiastic welcome when the survivors arrive aboard the ship and a techno dance later in the performance.

Director Alice Lavender plays Victoria, a young mother who left her newborn baby behind. Along with James Little as Ned, Lavender's touching character has the strongest impact in this production.

A valid commentary on the social and envionmental consequences of climate change.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 1st April 2017 at the Blue Elephant Theatre

Running time: 60 minutes without an interval.

Contains some nudity. Recommended for ages 16+.

Tickets and further info: http://www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk/when-dove-returns

Images by Brittany Stillwell.

Mar 20th

Rounds at the Blue Elephant Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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I'm supposed to be a doctor and all I've done today is hurt people and file paperwork.

Although junior doctors have not been in the news lately, their situation has remained unchanged whilst the NHS continues to be in crisis. Resuscitate Theatre have conducted interviews and collected anecdotes to tell the story of six junior doctors in a physical and theatrical way.

The performance begins with a news clip on the plight of junior doctors as one junior doctor has fallen asleep on her desk. As the others arrive, they are swiftly going through a variety of tasks - hurrying to cubicles, opening and closing curtains, writing reports. It is obvious that they are dealing with a workload that is hardly manageable.

Grace (Alex Hinson) learns that her mentor has resigned after the death of a patient which could have been prevented by timely treatment but the doctor simply could not find the time. Lucy (Penelope Rodie) has an introductory meeting with management and is thoroughly questioned about the gap in her CV. Meanwhile Tom (Adam Deane) deals with the workload by being careless but Tom knows how to work the system to stay on top of the game. Kal (Nicolas Pimpare), a brilliant doctor who keeps on studying throughout his spare time, sees his competency questioned by patients who demand to be treated by an English doctor. Dom (Iain Gibbons) tries to be hospitable but his colleagues are just too tired to care for dinner. Felicity (Christina Carty) keeps going on alcohol and cigarettes.

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The beginning of Anna Marshall's production feels a bit rushed as the cast use movement to reflect the hustle and bustle of a busy hospital, which is somewhat hard to follow. Yet after the fast-paced beginning, Rounds becomes more engaging and succeeds in making valid points on the stressful and frustrating situation junior doctors continue to find themselves in. The stress is taking its toll as relationships crumble, some doctors turn to alcohol and other stimulants, and others suffer from increasing anxiety attacks.

Apart from the huge number of patients, inequality and racism add to the stress. When the overwhelming workload leads to mistakes, two junior doctors face disciplinary consequences. The public school boy is let off with a slap on the wrist and is still transferred to the most popular ward whilst the female doctor is severely disciplined and consequently sent to a ward that is not even among the top 50 on her list. Another female doctor with a clean sheet is sent to the other end of the country. Although Kal is an excellent doctor, he is replaced with a "proper English doctor" when a racist patient demands it.

This highly relevant play reflects the situation of not only junior doctors but the health service in general as more and more tasks and responsibilities are shouldered by fewer and fewer doctors, nurses, and carers. The NHS is one sector that does not benefit from any more cuts.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 25th March 2016

Blue Elephant Theatre

Running time: 60 minutes with no interval

Recommended for ages 12+

Post show discussion on Friday 24th March

Panel will include: Resuscitate Theatre, Doctors Support Network, Creative Dissent and Docs not Cops.

Images by Stephen Poole.

Mar 20th

The Bad Seed at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Rhoda (Rebecca Rayne)

People tell lies all the time.

OutFox Productions return to the Jack with a psychological thriller by Pulitzer Prize winner Maxwell Anderson. Written in 1954, The Bad Seed became one of Broadway's most outstanding hits and was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The play is set in a small Southern town in the 1950s. Kenneth and Christine Penmark live an idyllic life with their seemingly perfect 8-year old daughter Rhoda. The girl is sweet, charming and full of old-fashioned graces, loved by her parents and admired by most of her elders. However, Rhoda is not liked by other children and Miss Fern, the school principal, does not consider Rhoda a good fit for her school. When one of Rhoda's schoolmates is mysteriously drowned at a school picnic, Rhoda's mother becomes alarmed by the growing number of fatal accidents that happen when her daughter is around.

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A present from Daddy - Rhoda (Rebecca Rayne) and her mother Christine (Beth Eyre)

The performance begins as Kenneth Penmark (Andrew Futaishi) has to say goodbye to his family. He is going on a prolonged business trip. Landlady Monica Breedlove (Jessica Hawksley) and her brother Emory Wages (Daniel Osgerby) stop by for a chat and it is clear that everyone adores the little princess Rhoda (Rebecca Rayne) - except for Miss Fern (Jessica Gilhooley) who disapproves of Rhoda's reaction to not winning the penmanship medal, and handyman Leroy (Brian Merry).

This afternoon Christine and her neighbours expect a visit from famed criminologist Reginald Tasker (Aneirin George) whilst Rhoda is on a school trip. "Reggie" indulges in telling murder stories. Christine is becomes upset and Monica, an amateur psychologist, immediately tries to dig into Christine's psyche. The party is broken up by the news that a terrible accident has happened at Rhoda's school picnic. Rhoda returns unfazed, not showing the slightest bit of remorse for Claude Daigle, the drowned boy, who won the penmanship medal.

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Leroy (Brian Merry) is suspicious

John Fricker's sensitive and exciting production of Maxwell Anderson's psychological thriller keeps the audience in suspense throughout the performance. There are delightful performances by the whole cast but Rebecca Rayne is exceptionally good as Rhoda, giving a convincing portrayal of an 8-year old girl, and Beth Eyre is very good as her tortured mother Christine. Jessica Hawksley adds some badly needed comic relief as the good-hearted amateur psychologist Monica Breedlove.

The entire play takes place in the living room of the Penmarks, designed in 1950s style by Mary Sankey, and features a rousing original score by Philip Matejtschuk.

Another hit for OutFox Productions and great entertainment for your evening out. 

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 1st April 2017

Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including one interval.

Images by David Monteith-Hodge.

Mar 19th

THE FROGS: House on the Hill Productions/Jermyn Street Theatre

By Elaine Pinkus

A comedy written in 405 BC by ARISTOPHANES freely adapted for today by BURT SHEVELOVE and even more freely adapted by NATHAN LANE. Music and lyrics by STEPHEN SONDHEIM. Original orchestration by Jonathan Tunick

Michael Matus and George Rae

Michael Matus (Dionysos) and George Rae (Xanthias)

Let me preface this piece by sharing with you that I am an absolute fan of Sondheim. So, it was with genuine excitement that I was given the opportunity to review Grace Wessel’s (House on the Hill) production of The Frogs and what a treat! Played with enthusiasm and energy by this company, The Frogs did not let me down.   

 Way back in 405 BC The Frogs (Artistophanes) played to audiences at the Leonaia Festival in Ancient Greece. Fast forward to 1974 when Burt Shevelove and Stephen Sondheim, the well known partnership behind A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, combined forces and adapted this play. Fast forward once again to 2017 to Nathan Lane’s ‘even more freely adapted’ Broadway version of The Frogs, whose message in these times of political mayhem resonates profoundly in the intimate surround of the Jermyn Street Theatre.

Against the exciting accompaniment of the accomplished quartet, led by Musical Director, Tim Sutton, The Frogs opens with the excellent ‘Invocation and Instructions to the Audience’ – a sure fire hit with the gathering. This is a song that should be played at all productions, reminding us of the etiquette that should be adhered to, with lines like - So please, don't fart --There's very little air and this is art which certainly was true of the small basement space of this lovingly cared for fringe theatre.

So, the story!  The Frogs, playfully explores the great challenges of human existence: confronting our fears, understanding life and death, and challenging the distractions that can prevent us from achieving our goals. We accompany Dionysos, Greek god of wine and drama (Michael Matus), and his slave Xanthias (George Rae) on a journey to Hades to collect renowned critic and playwright George Bernard Shaw so that he may enlighten the easily misled and misguided masses of Earth. Along the way there is mayhem and we are treated to the larger than life characters of Herakles (Chris McGuigan), Charon (Jonathan Wadey), Pluto (Emma Ralston) and, a chorus of giant frogs (Li-Tong Hsu, Martin Dickinson, Nigel Pilkington and Bernadette Bangura). There is the battle of words and wit with Shaw against Shakespeare in the challenge of receiving the honour of becoming reincarnated and bringing  sense to the world. But will it be through prose or poetry?

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Shakespeare (Nigel Pilkington) challenges Shaw (Martin Dickinson)

Supported by an excellent chorus, congratulations must be given to Michael Matus and George Rae who appeared to be having great fun in their roles.  Songs were performed excitingly by all and, although there was restricted movement in the confined space, the production never felt static.

The Cast of House on the Hill Productions

Michael Matus, George Rae and Chorus

This delightful show sold out on line before its press night but on the day I reviewed it, I noted that the Jermyn Street Theatre does offer stand-by tickets and on that occasion the five or six people waiting eagerly for the chance to see this adaptation were delighted to gain seats, so it is well worth a try.

Photography: David Ovenden

THE FROGS: Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6ST

Box Office: 020 7287 2875   www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk

Tuesday March 14 - Saturday April 8

Performances: Tuesday - Saturday at 7.30pm,Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 3.00pm,

Additional matinees: Thursday March 23 at 3.00pm Thursday April 6 at 3.00pm

Mar 19th

The Miser at the Garrick Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

L-to-R-Ryan-Gage-and-Griff-Rhys-Jones-in-The-Miser.-Credit-Helen-Maybanks.-1-1000x600.jpgCléante (Ryan Gage) and his father Harpagon (Griff Rhys Jones)

Money gives me everything I want and more.

Writer-director Sean Foley considers most productions of Molière's comedies "far too respectful". Therefore, Foley and Phil Porter have created an irreverent adaptation of The Miser to bring it up to 2017 standards. Does it work? In parts.

A variety of tunes played on a spinet takes the audience back in time before the cast enter in period costumes. The play is set in a stately home, now in a state of dilapidation (costumes and set design by Alice Power) - there are cracks in the walls, broken windows and the plasterwork keeps falling down. Candles line the front of the stage, adding to the period feel.

Valère (Matthew Horne), the steward of Harpagon’s house, is in love with his employer’s daughter, Élise (Katy Wix). Valère is sure that he is of a good family but he knows that Harpagon loves nothing but money and will never accept a poor stewart as his son-in-law. Instead he demands that Elise marry a rich man who is old enough to be her father. Harpagon’s son, Cléante (Ryan Gage), is in love with Marianne (Ellie White), a poor girl who lives with her widowed mother. Since Marianne has no money, Cléante keeps his love for the girl from his father. What he does not know is that his father has seen Mariane and wants her for himself. Cléante is to marry Marianne's mother. Harpagon has employed matchmaker Frosine (Andi Osho) to prepare Marianne for the desired marriage.

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Maître Jacques (Lee Mack), Harpagon (Griff Rhys Jones) and Valère (Matthew Horne) 

Sean Foley's production is broad farce and dispenses of the fourth wall almost immediately. There is plenty of slapstick and physical comedy, which often entails falling plasterwork or rickety furniture, and the cast has to act a breakneck speed to keep up with Molière's plot. The updated jokes do not work too well. Most of them are not terribly funny and distract from the story. Stand-up comedian Lee Mack, however, is having a ball as his Baldrick-like character Maître Jacques, quipping jokes whilst filling almost every position in the house because the stingy Harpagon keeps on firing his staff. 

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Matchmaker Frosine (Andi Osho) and the beautiful Marianne (Ellie White)

Griff Rhys Jones plays Harpagon somewhat straight as he stumbles around in tattered clothes to appear as poor as possible, convinced that everyone is after his treasure. Ryan Gage is hilarious as his son Cléante, a fashionista as colourful as a tropical bird, who spends his money as fast as gets it - and more. Matthew Horne is very good as the efficient Valère who believes that being as sycophantic as possible will help him obtain Harpagon's consent to marrying Élise, played by the lovely Katy Wix with a funny speech impediment. 

Despite the failed updates, this show is still good entertainment value featuring a lovely cast.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 3rd June 2016 at the Garrick Theatre

Tickets: https://www.nimaxtheatres.com/garrick-theatre/the_miser/

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including one interval

Images by Helen Maybanks.

Mar 15th

Not Dead Enough at the Richmond Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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 You hurt someone by killing what he loves.

Following the success of The Perfect Murder and Dead Simple, another adaptation of a Peter James crime novel is being brought to the stage. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, played by Shane Richie, returns to investigate a mysterious murder case and Laura Whitmore, of Strictly Come Dancing fame, is his love interest Cleo Morey. 

Peter James is one of the most popular crime fiction writers, his novels have sold over 17 million copies worldwide, and he is the 2016 recipient of the Diamond Dagger, the most highly esteemed award for crime writers. The third novel of his Roy Grace series sees the troubled detective hunt a serial killer.

Popular philanthropist Katie Bishop is found strangled, wearing a gas mask. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace suspects the victim's husband - Brian Bishop - although Bishop claims to have been sixty miles away from his home in Brighton when the murder was committed. Bishop appears to be devastated by his wife's death but Roy Grace does not trust Bishop's overwrought emoting. Apart from being overcome with grief he is jumpy and nervous. Grace's suspicions seem to be confirmed when it turns out that Bishop cheated on his wife.

Meanwhile Cleo Morey (Laura Whitmore), Roy Grace's attractive girlfriend in forensics, is expecting a bit more commitment from the hesitant detective, who is still struggling with the disappearance of his wife Sandy ten years ago. Her colleague Sophie Harington (Gemma Atkins) seems more fortunate with her dashing paramour. 

Not-Dead-Enough.-Photo-by-Mark-Douet-_31B9393-1024x683.jpgRoy Grace (Shane Richie) and Glenn Branson (Michael Quartey) are grilling Brian Bishop (Stephen Billington) 

Directed by Ian Talbot, there is some rather dark humour in this suspenseful production which offers one or two surprises that will make you jump. Yet the first half of Shaun McKenna's adaptation is a big sluggish. There is too much small talk slowing down the action whilst the characters pace between the forensics lab upstage and the police office downstage, both held in a drab grey. Yet the action picks up considerably in the second half when Roy Grace finds himself hunting a serial killer who is also responsible for a number of unsolved crimes.

Shane Richie convinces as the investigator who is tormented by the disappearance of his wife and Stephen Billington manages the right balance of charm and menace as the suspect. Michael Quartey delivers some of the best jokes as Grace's colleague and friend Glenn Branson. However, the female characters are rather clichéd and mainly serve as romantic props, except for Bella Moy, played by Gemma Stroyan with cool efficiency. Laura Whitmore and Gemma Atkins are doing their best with characters so overcome by emotion that they are unable to think straight and therefore put themselves - and others - in harm's way. 

Still there is much to enjoy in this solid thriller which offers more than one twist. 

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 18th March 2017 at the Richmond Theatre, then continuing its UK tour.

Tickets: http://uktheatrenet.ambassadortickets.com/whatson.aspx

Photograph by Mark Douet.

Mar 14th

Swan Lake - Vienna Festival Ballet

By Kate Braxton

Tchaikovsky’s extraordinary score is so symphonic and dramatically charged, I find it impossible to tire of a Swan Lake experience. And the opening night of Vienna Festival Ballet’s production at Theatre Royal Windsor this week has managed to capture my imagination anew.

If anything, it was a slightly tentative and uncommitted beginning to this opening performance, which I believe was due to limitations of the theatre space, and perhaps not enough leg room for rehearsal. However, it is also a refreshing reminder of how grand an oeuvre this is, and how broad a global stage it has earned.

The corps from the Austrian ballet company, founded and artistically directed by Peter Mallek, last performed here in November with a beautifully right-sized production of Snow White. So it was enjoyable to watch the principle dancers return in quite contrasting roles.

The story centres around Prince Siegfried (Dean Rushton) who falls in love with Odette (Rachel Victoria Hernon), yet she has been transformed into a swan by the evil magician, Baron Rothbart (David Gutiérrez Robles). In order to regain her womanly status, a man must proclaim his undying love for her. Hernon’s delicate characterisation and exquisite sense of self is consistently eye-catching throughout the show. Rushton has the long-backed elegance to captivate the audience, yet disappointingly fails to visually express any identifiable emotion when they are in his hold. Robles, on the other hand, appears to grin from start to finish, with all the wonderment of a child whose stabilisers have just been removed.

Calculated mistaken identity threatens to thwart the happy ending, when Rothbart tricks Siegfried by presenting his daughter - a mirror-image of Odette- before him at the Prince’s betrothal party, where he must choose a wife. The wrong woman is courted, Odette appears, their love endures the curse and Rothbart dies.

The most enjoyable performance comes from Ashley Selfe’s natty little Jester, who springs about stage with popping personality, while the moonlit lake scene at the end of Act 1 is lit and choreographed into a deserving 'hero sequence' of the show.

Act 2 has a raised energy, and the Mallek mastery blends the production elements into a more characteristically cohesive Vienna Festival Ballet work.

 

Swan Lake is running at Theatre Royal Windsor from Monday 13th – Saturday 18th March 2017.

For tickets and information, see www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

 

Mar 9th

You're Human Like the Rest of Them

By Carolin Kopplin

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Wife (Sarah Berger) in Not Counting the Savages

Sometimes I feel like a spectator of my own life - outside. 

In a production commissioned by the Finborough Theatre, You’re Human Like the Rest of Them, an evening of three short plays by the experimental novelist, poet, playwright and film producer B. S. Johnson, are staged together for the first time. 

Spanning ten years of Johnson’s short yet prolific career, the production features revivals of Johnson’s short plays You’re Human Like the Rest of Them and Down Red Lane, and the world stage premiere of Not Counting the Savages, all dating back to the early 1970s. This is a rare opportunity to see the work of this undeservedly forgotten author and one of the most irreverent and subversive writers in post-war Britain.  

Not Counting the Savages was originally produced as a teleplay directed by Mike Newell and starring Brenda Bruce as part of the BBC’s Thirty Minute Theatre season in 1972. A middle-aged lady (Sarah Berger) returns traumatised from visiting her son's grave after an encounter with a flasher. She expects her family to support her but her husband (Brian Deacon) couldn't be more indifferent: "You've seen one before". Instead he begins to talk about his experiences in the Soviet Union - where he has never been. Daughter Rosa (Emma Paetz) shows a little sympathy but accuses her mother of overreacting and instead uses the opportunity to criticize her father's despicable behaviour. Son Jerry (Bertie Taylor-Smith) wants to hear all the sordid details of the story as he might need them for his soft porn films. This is all very amusing until the victim of this outrage screams: "I want him hanged!"which silences her offspring but leaves her husband untroubled as he continues eating his dinner.     

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Diner (Reginald Edwards) and Belly (Alex Griffin-Griffiths)

Down Red Lane was Johnson’s final work written before his untimely death at the age of 40. Possibly an inspiration for an episode of Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life", this gastrodrama features an enormously obese man - the Diner (Reginal Edwards) - who barely makes it to his table in a posh restaurant to indulge in another luxurious meal. The Waiter (Bertie Taylor-Smith) knows what his patron desires and showers him with expensive wines, oysters and venison with juniper berries whilst the Diner's long suffering Belly (Alex Griffin-Griffiths) flinches with every bite his master takes. Finally Belly stirs up the other fed up organs and starts a revolt. A very funny and absurd play about a man who is "digging his grave with his teeth".

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Emma Paetz and Reginald Edwards

You’re Human Like the Rest of Them was Johnson's first play, originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1964 and later turned into an experimental short film by Johnson himself.

A young supply teacher named Haakon (Bertie Taylor-Smith) is sent to hospital with a back complaint and finds himself being lectured in back care by the therapist (Sarah Berger) alongside a group of octogenerians. Haakon wants to know why the spine was not designed for bending down but the therapist has no answer. Upset, Haakon returns to his own classroom and asks his pupils to explain the meaning of life as his own beliefs have been irreversibly shattered.

Carla Kingham's direction is fast-paced and exact. There are only short interruptions between the plays to move the few props. The stage design by Rüta Irbite consists of a few geometrical shapes scattered across the stage with the set pieces of the main production in the background. 

The cast find the correct balance to make their characters believable in this highly absurd and stylised play. Sarah Berger is touching as the lonely wife, Alex Griffin-Griffiths and Reginald Edwards are hilarious as the Belly and its gluttonous owner. Bertie Taylor-Smith convinces as the smug son and the perfect waiter who seems to move on rails as he swiftly caters to the Diner's every whim.

A rare opportunity to see some of B. S. Johnson's sadly neglected plays.

Until 21st March 2017

Finborough Theatre

118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED

Telephone 020 7244 7439

Running time: 70 minutes without an interval

The run will be accompanied by the FINBOROUGHFORUM, a series of informal post-show discussions and debates, on Monday evenings: 13 and 20 March. All events are free to ticketholders for that evening's performance of the play. FINBOROUGHFORUM events will all be Twitter friendly with live tweets from @FinboroughForum. Using the hashtag #finfor, the speakers will also answer questions posed on Twitter so everyone can be included, no matter where they are in the world. Speakers will be announced shortly. 

Images by Matthew Foster.

Mar 4th

I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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David (Adrian Lukis) and his daughter Ella (Jill Winternitz)

 If I don't make it, will you still love me?

Being the child of a star is hard, especially if you decide to follow in your parent's footsteps. Ella's father David is a Pulitzer prize winning playwright. Ella is an aspiring actor and tonight could be the start of a promising career.

The play begins as father and daughter are waiting for the notices of Ella's Off-Broadway production of The Seagull. Ella did not get the highly coveted role of Nina but had to be satisfied with Masha, which David finds rather irksome, blaming the obvious incompetence of the director for his idiotic casting decision. The fact that the director rejected David's latest play might add somewhat to his judgement. Drinking wine and smoking pot in his cosy West Side apartment, David shares his vast theatre experience with his daughter, indulging in a bit of critic bashing and warning her against playing it safe as an actor just to please the critics: "Be transgressive, be bewildering, be anything but safe!"

The childlike Ella, who verges on the edge of hysteria, idolises her father, hanging on his every word and encouraging him to repeat anecdotes from his life that she has probably heard many times before. David expects his daughter's love and adoration. Despite David's bravura, one wrong word or the slightest criticism can set him off to show his innate cruelty. When Ella mentions that David did not actuallly win an Oscar, only an Oscar nomination, his revenge is absolute, leaving Ella in tears.

David is proud of going his own way after being thrown out by his father for neglecting his school work. On his road to fame, David had no time for losers or any kind of weakness. People who disappointed or slighted him in any way were eradicated from his life, including his father whose letters remained unanswered until the day he died. Ella is afraid that she might lose her father's love if she does not live up to his expectations. 

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Ella (Jill Winternitz) and David (Adrian Lukis)

Halley Feiffer's disturbing two-hander about the destructive relationship between a famous playwright and his daughter, is hard to watch. Jill Winternitz as Ella desperately tries to please her father in any possible way, clinging to him as if he was a life buoy saving her from drowning. She listens to his monologues with exaggerated attention, eager to delve into his cornupia of wisdom. Yet after their inevitable altercation, Ella follows her father's advice and - maybe inevitably - becomes just like him. Adrian Lukis portrays David as a harsh and unforgiving man who launches bilious and homophobic attacks on those he despises, expecting his daughter to approve of everything he says and to always, always agree with him. Any little hint of criticism leads to a vicious counterattack. He wants Ella to follow his example - and in the end she does, in every way.

Adrian Lukis and Jill Winternitz are outstanding in Jake Smith's hard-hitting production.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 25th March 2017

Finborough Theatre

Running time: 90 minutes with no interval

Images by Scott Rylander.

Feb 28th

La Strada at the Richmond Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Gelsomina (Audrey Brisson) and Zampanò (Stuart Goodwin)

Zampanò - he's here!

Before I had even seen the film, my mother kept talking about it as one of the true masterpieces of European cinema. She was fortunate enough to see Federico Fellini's La Strada in the cinema when it was released in 1954, with Anthony Quinn as the great Zampanò and Fellini's wife Giulietta Masina as his gentle assistant Gelsomina.

Bringing La Strada to the stage is no mean feat but director Sally Cookson and her ensemble succeeded, supported by Mike Akers as Writer in the Room. Instead of using a finished adaptation of the screenplay, they used improvisation as well as the film and the original script to create something new whilst keeping the essence and the spirit of Fellini's work.

La Strada (The Road) tells the story of the naïve and slightly awkward Gelsomina (Audrey Brisson) who is sold to the travelling street performer Zampanò (Stuart Goodwin) to replace her late sister Rosa. Gelsomina is reluctant to go. She prefers spending her time alone at the sea, listening to the sound of the waves, but her mother has many mouths to feed and Gelsomina is expected to help support her family. Zampanò, a strongman whose act consists of breaking a chain around his chest, is not too pleased with an assistant who cannot even cook or sew but Gelsomina is smart enough to announce his act and then pass a hat around. The crude Zampanò beats Gelsomina and often leaves her alone at night, visiting bars and picking up women. Still Gelsomina remains loyal. When joining a small-time circus, they meet Il Matto (The Fool), played by Bart Soroczynski, a clown who also performs daredevil stunts on a tight-rope. Obviously Zampanò and Il Matto have a past and they are not the best of friends. Despite Zampanò's violent tendencies, Il Matto cannot stop taunting his rival - with tragic consequences.   

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 Il Matto (Bart Soroczynski) and ensemble

The stage design by Katie Sykes consists of a grey backdrop with chains and ropes hanging from the ceiling. Two telegraph poles rise up from the stage, indicating the continuous travel of the protagonists on the country roads and allowing Gelsomina and other cast members to climb them, thereby adding another level to the performance.

The international ensemble, composed of actor-musicians, is permanently onstage, often acting like a Greek chorus, introducing the performance as narrators and watching the story unfold, creating props such as Zampanò's motorcycle with a few wheels and movements, performing as a band in a bar, or representing a wedding party. The chorus often speaks Italian which provides a closeness to the Italian source text. Benji Bower's beautiful original score adds to the Italian setting and the narrative. Sally Cookson's production achieves a surreal quality matching the original film.

Audrey Brisson is an outstanding Gelsomina. A dreamer, at first awkward and socially shy, she gains enough confidence to demand her fair share of Zampanò's earnings. She is touching in her innocence and admirable in her loyalty and brings a Chaplinesque touch to her performance whilst using her soft voice to sing Benji Bower's melancholy melodies. Stuart Goodwin convinces as the brutish Zampanò, spending his money as soon as he earns it, giving little thought to what tomorrow will bring. He is a rough character but there Goodwin shows that there is more to him than expected. Bart Soroczynski's Il Matto is a world-weary clown who is kind to Gelsomina but cannot stop antagonising Zampanò. Maybe taunting the strongman provides the same kind of thrill as walking on a tight-rope. Soroczynski is a skilled acrobat who shows some astonishing feats during his performance.

A beautiful and highly theatrical production with an outstanding ensemble. 

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 4th March 2017 at the Richmond Theatre

Tickets: http://uktheatrenet.ambassadortickets.com/whatson.aspx

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes including one interval

Tour dates: http://www.lastradalive.com/

Photographs by Robert Day.