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Nov 10th

Morir Soñando at the Blue Elephant Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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The winter season at the Blue Elephant Theatre has started with the exciting ELEFEET Dance Festival presenting new and innovative work. Morir Soñando is an exploration of Dominican identity, beautifully choreographed by Stephanie Peña.

Titilayo Adebayo, dressed in a white top and black pants, arrives in a new environment, a new country. Firmly rooted in her own cultural background, she dances in a freeform style with African elements to the song "Ae Mamá Si E' / Candelo (Palos o Atabales)" by Mercedes Cueva & Los Paleros de Nigua. The other three dancers - Samanta Ceriani, Larren Jeffries and Alice Seager - wear uniform reddish tops and black pants. Their style is very different from Titilayo's and they treat her with suspicion and rejection at first. After making a stand for their own style of dance and music (songs by Fernando Villalona, Juan Luis Guerra, Rokabanda), they try to assimilate Titilayo's character but she clings to her own roots, refusing to give up her indiduality and her heritage.

As the performance begins, Titilayo Adebayo is kneeling on the floor with her back to the audience. She is swaying to the music and eventually gets up to dance joyfully. Two other dancers enter the stage and lie down at first, dreaming and swaying. When they encounter the unknown dancer, they first react with curiosity, admiring her elegant and strange movements, but this soon turns into hostility because of her otherness. As they are trying to make the stranger one of their group, her own song keeps pushing to the surface. She refuses to copy the new dance moves and returns to her own style.

This is a beautiful production dealing with the complex subjects of integration and cultural identity featuring skilled dancers and a tuneful and rousing score. Titilayo Adebayo shines as the outsider but the other dancers are equally delightful.

By Carolin Kopplin 

 The show ran the Blue Elephant Theatre from 7 -8 November 2016.

Running time: 45 minutes without an interval.

More information on ELEFEET: http://www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk/whatson

Photograph provided by Blue Elephant Theatre.

Nov 10th

Snow White - Vienna Festival Ballet at Theatre Royal Windsor

By Kate Braxton

Suspending our disbelief is part of the pure magic of theatre. I enjoy seeing things in a fresh light. But as a creature of comfort, I also like to see tradition respected.  The Christmas season may be upon us, but the story of Snow White doesn’t have to be a panto. It can be ballet, but woe betide any production that drops the dwarves.  

With this in mind, it’s easy to see why Vienna Festival Ballet and its world-class, classical heritage, borne out of the city of music, culture and arts is enchanting followers across the globe. I’d go so far to say that their production of Snow White, currently gracing the stage at Theatre Royal Windsor is a true fairy-tale of a show. It’s not perfect, but it is a wonderful celebration of progress. 

The plot is familiar, the interpretation, loyal and engaging. The Queen of a faraway land is obsessed with her own beauty, and seeks the reassurance of her magical mirror that she remains “the fairest of them all”. One of her subjects, a handsome huntsman, takes her fancy. But he becomes mystified with the beauty of another – Snow White – who she sets out to kill. Snow White meets dwarves – check - is tricked into eating a poisonous apple, the Huntsman saves her, they fall in love and The Queen is remorseful, but forgiven.

All of the theatrical elements of a classical ballet experience are lovingly woven together here, then generously offered to us like a neatly-wrapped gift, under the artistic direction of Peter Mallek. Having been taught by a former pupil of Alexander Pushkin, Mallek’s illustrious career saw him dance alongside Rudolf Nureyev, and partner Dame Margot Fonteyn. You just know you are experiencing this art form at the hands of a master, which the production is joyfully celebrating. It is aware of the richness of its own quality, yet remains humble, with personality and accessible. It is brimming with traditional values and modern twists, but is far too disciplined to burst with them.

The costumes are romantic, detailed, charismatic and intelligent; sensational gowns fit for a palace ceremony, flittery, pastel organzas of the nymphs, cartoon-like, droopy dwarf matching onesies; each costume is considered and styled for consistent charm and a glint of surprise.

The musical arrangement compiled by Alan Lisk and choreography by Barry McGrath have the fit and confident presentation of a sleek glove. Even when jaunty, energetic and playful, classical dance boundaries are pushed with the inclusion of modern personality, but never too much to derail the wholesome artistic intention. Balance.

The Queen’s evolving emotions through the story are exquisitely captured by Jodi McKnight, who steals the show with her characterization. In the opening scene she preens in front of the mirror like the most grotesque of birds, and for me, the stand-out scene for all of its dramatic qualities is the cauldron dance, within a simple white spotlight on a blood red stage. It is mesmerizing, like Macbeth’s Witches Scene, without the words.

Rachael Victoria Hernon as Snow White is physically lighter than air and Huntsman, Dean Rushton has no challenges wrapping her about him, like a prized silk robe. I would have liked him to show more visual signs of emotion, but not quite as much as the male ensemble dancers, some of whom didn’t quite carry the distinction of finesse I may have expected of this company.

But the production is maintained at its supreme overall level through the artistic staging and lighting direction by John Graham, and additional choreographed touches by Emily Hufton. Beautifully painted floor-to-ceiling backdrops, coupled with immersive lighting gives layer upon layer of texture to each scene. An over-sized chalet pantry creates a clever trompe-l’oeil effect to right-size the dwarves into their diminutive shoes. But anything to do with the dwarves is pretty cool, particularly the hip-hop routine.

For whatever reason, you don’t expect to see this at your local theatre. A bit of European fairy-tale, an authentic Viennese waltz, I truly haven’t enjoyed ballet this much since I did it myself, aged seven. Christmas can include panto, but this Snow White was what it’s really about for me; taking me back to good times, and providing special memories for years to come.

Snow White is running at Theatre Royal, Windsor from:

Tue 8th Nov - Sat 12th Nov
 
Show Times
Tue - Sat 7.30pm Wed, Thu & Sat 2.30pm
Ticket prices
£13 - £31
Royal Specials £37 - £39
Box Office: 01753 853 888
www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

 

 

 

Nov 9th

Shakespeare Revue at the Richmond Theatre

By Douglas McFarlane

 

Music, dance and sketches was the promise and I guess that's what we got. A whistle stop tour of a wide variety of sketches written by Victoria Wood, Monty Python, Stephen Fry and many others, Shakespeare Revue did what it said on the tin. 

Playing to a half empty Tuesday night audience at the Richmond Theatre, the cast of 5 started with one of the sketches that I knew well. Quoting Shakespeare was one I had personally performed in Glasgow, "It's all Greek to me", and it kicked off the night nicely. Monty Pythons "The Man Who Speaks in Anagrams" was a worthy inclusion and kept my attention in the first part. 

In the second half we were entertained with some light tap dancing, some pleasant singing and the odd amusing moment.  Alan Bennett, Derek Nimmo and Maureen Lipman providing the content.

On the whole, it was a nice night out, a bit of light Shakespeare entertainment and a couple of laughs.

It's heading to Brighton and Glasgow next.

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/shakespeare-revue/

 

Douglas McFarlane is London editor and founder of UK Theatre Network.

Nov 8th

Drones, Baby, Drones at the Arcola Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

Drones Baby Drones image.jpgTuesday is just the day we take the garbage out.

Nicolas Kent, former Artistic Director of the Tricycle Theatre, is known for his "Tribunal Plays", political pieces - often including verbatim material - dealing with complex issues. The first work I ever saw was the impressive 9-hour event The Great Game in 2009, covering the history of Afghanistan and attempting to grasp the complexity of the ensuing conflicts. I talked to Afghani audience members during the day who were deeply touched by Kent's production, confirming the truthfulness and authenticity of his work.

Drones, Baby Drones also combines verbatim material with two short plays, written by three authors. The show is framed by excerpts from an interview with Clive Stafford Smith (Sam Dale), Director of Reprieve, who comments on certain aspects of the drone war, serving as an introduction to each play.

This Tuesday by Ron Hutchinson and Christina Lamb is a kaleidoscope of characters in high positions regarding national security who are directly or indirectly involved in the drone war. Taking place in real time, we meet CIA director Maxine Forman (Anne Adams), watching anxiously over her daughter, who was involved in a severe car crash as the clock is ticking away, whilst discussing an upcoming bombing of a wedding with Jay Neroli (Joseph Balderanna) to kill an alleged terrorist leader. Meanwhile Doug Gibson (Tom McKay), a White House security adviser, married with children, is spending his Tuesdays sleeping with intern Meredith Zane (Rose Reynolds). Meredith is critical of Doug's "high tech assassination bureau" but Doug remains unfazed, pointing out that the country is at war and has the right to defend itself. Commander Ben Crowe (Sam Dale) and Captain Mario Garcia (Raj Ghatak) are playing basketball whilst talking about the power shift in favour of Langley: Important tasks have been taken away from the army and shifted to the CIA. Whereas Garcia is critical of military action in the field being replaced by paper-pushers playing videogames, General Crowe, who has an affinity to Greek drama, welcomes the development. In the end Maxine, Jay, and Doug meet to "take out the garbage".

Nicolas Kent's direction feels a bit rushed and the play itself has elements of a soap opera with echoes of Homeland but it touches on important issues and is an exciting piece of theatre with a strong cast. During the scene changes, black and white images resembling those that are transmitted by drones are projected onto a screen adding to the eeriness of the piece.

The second play, The Kid by David Greig, is the stronger and more intense of the two short works. Two drone operators, Pete (Tom McKay) and Shauna (Anne Adams), get together in a suburban home with their partners to celebrate. Pete and Shauna managed to take out a bad guy, a top terrorist, and now present their work as "a clean cut". Shauna's partner Ramon (Joseph Balderanna), a soldier in the regular army, is excited, praising them as American heroes, as they drink wine and eat pop corn. Yet Shauna feels uncomfortable about the celebration. She eventually admits that it wasn't a precision killing, there was collateral damage: A child was killed. Pete's wife Alice (Rose Reynolds), who is expecting a baby, shows remarkably little concern for the murdered kid. Her speech leeds to a shocking conclusion.

Featuring an impressive cast, both plays criticize the questionable method of a long-distance war. Eliminating a target by pressing a button, thousands of miles away, reduces the action to a move in a videogame. There is also the question of collateral damage. Is it justified to kill innocent people along with the suspected terrorist in order to - possibly or probably - save hundreds of lives? Directed by Mehmet Ergen, The Kid shows the ambiguity of drone warfare even more intensely than the first play that focuses on too many characters and their stories. The subjects of both plays overlap somewhat and these issues have been discussed in other plays and films before but this does not make this double bill less relevant.

By Carolin Kopplin

Drones, Baby, Drones runs at the Arcola Theatre until 26 November 2016

Box office: 020 7503 1646

Running time: 100 minutes including one interval

Nov 5th

The RSC Presents Cymbeline at the Barbican

By Carolin Kopplin

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Hang there like fruit, my soul, till the tree die.

The romance Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare's late plays and rarely performed because of its complex and convoluted plot. Therefore, we are rather fortunate that we've been given the chance to see two intriguing productions in London this year - one by Shakespeare's Globe and now another by the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of their London Season.

When Innogen (Bethan Cullinane), the Queen's daughter and the only living heir, marries her childhood friend Posthumus (Hiran Abeysekera) in secret, the enraged Cymbeline (Gillian Bevan) banishes him. Cymbeline's husband, the Duke (James Clyde), realising that his foolish son Cloten will never win Innogen's heart, is plotting to seize power by murdering Innogen. Meanwhile Posthumus, in exile, agrees to a bet regarding the faithfulness of his wife, suggested by the cunning Iachimo. When Iachimo tricks him into believing that his wife betrayed him, Posthumus joins the Roman army to fight against Britain. Innogen, deceived by Posthumus's servant Pisania (Kelly Williams), that she is to meet her husband at Milford Haven, learns about the plot against her life and disguises as a man to save herself, hiding away in a forest in Wales where she meets Belarius and - unknown to her - her two siblings who were abducted by Belarius when they were just little babes.

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Hiran Abeysekera (Posthumus) and Bethan Cullinane (Innogen)

Director Melly Still transports the action from the times of Augustus Caesar to a dystopian future where a deeply divided and isolated Britain has slipped back into a pre-industrial state. Queen Cymbeline is wearing a garment made of sacks, the characters inhabitating the forest in Wales hunt with bows and arrows and look like they are part of the "Mad Max" franchise. Whereas Britain is presented as a series of run-down builidings, sprayed with graffiti, Rome is featured as a glorious metropolis, cosmopolitan and trendy where the characters freely converse in Italian, French, and Spanish - even English, which should come as a relief to Iachimo's friend Philario (Byron Mondahl) who, apart from being awkward with languages, uses a strong English accent to great comic effect. Even Latin is used when the Roman general and Cymbeline discuss the state of their relationship. Cymbeline refuses Rome's rule, declaring "we are a warlike tribe" Yet towards the end of the play Britain returns to the fold of Rome and to peace and harmony.

I am not so sure about the analogy to post-Brexit Britain. There is a difference between being part of the Roman Empire, which was comparable to colonialism, and being a member of the European Union. I doubt that the EU is going to wage war against Britain any time soon after Article 50 has been evoked although the other member states certainly wish Britian would remain.

However, Melly Still's production is intriguing and beautifully staged. Bethan Cullinane's Innogen is lovely and deeply touching - a sweet and innocent character who openly displays her love for Posthumus, played as somewhat awkward and rough by Hiran Abeysekera. Oliver Johnstone's Iachimo is an Italian Latin lover, smooth and slippery at first, yet tortured by his conscience later. Cloten, a great comic performance by Marcus Griffiths, is hilarious as the unwanted suitor as he is awkwardly serenading Innogen with the song "My Lady Sweet Arise".

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Gillian Bevan (Cymbeline)

The production features a diverse cast and some gender swapping with Cymbeline being turned into a Queen, which lends more relevance to her relationship with her abducted children, and Innogen's stepmother thereby becoming an scheming Duke and avoiding the fairy tale stepmother cliché. The servant Pisanio is transformed into Kelly Williams' cheeky and self-confident Pisania. One of Innogen's lost brothers becomes Natalie Simpson's wild and free Guideria.

Designer Anna Fleischle has created a sparse set featuring parts of buildings that can be transformed from medieval towers sprayed with graffiti, covered by creepers with a tree stump in the centre. Video projections add to the the story telling when videoclips of Innogen and her siblings playing as children or the city of Rome are projected onto a big screen. A live band on elevated platforms on either side of the stage provide Dave Price's haunting and often beautiful soundtrack for the production. 

An outstanding production of a difficult and rarely performed play that should not be missed.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 17th December 2016

Barbican Centre

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes

Photographs by Ellie Kurttz.

Nov 4th

THE LAST FIVE YEARS the musical

By Elaine Pinkus

THE LAST FIVE YEARS  St James Theatre

The Last Five Years by Tony Award winner Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown has returned to the UK following its previous showing at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2006 and its productions across the pond in the US. Now showing at the St James Theatre, Victoria, this cult musical has once again delighted its audience who whooped and cheered  at the excellent performances of Samantha Barks, (best known for playing Eponine in Les Miserables) in the role of Cathy and Jonathan Bailey (best known for TV productions including Broadchurch and Hooten and the Lady) as Jamie.

Marriage of Cathy and Jamie

Samantha Barks as Cathy and Jonathan Bailey as Jamie

This powerful and intimate musical tells the story of Jamie and Cathy, two New Yorkers in their 20s each with strong ambitions, she as an actress, he as a writer, who fall in love and marry. Over the course of five years their careers take different paths. Jamie gets the book deal of his dreams and moves onward and upward whereas Cathy struggles to get work and is on a treadmill of failed auditions. Once united by their dreams, their relationship struggles over the course of five years and we share with them their thoughts and experiences through song, supported by the talented band under the direction of Torquil Munro.

Jamie's story

From the start, Cathy’s Still Hurting leads us into the disappointments and sadness of what was once a powerful relationship. The songs that follow trace each stage of the past five years, with Cathy taking us back in time and Jamie reminiscing but also moving forward. Once his inspiration, Cathy now has too many doubts and Jamie's song If I didn’t believe in you sadly shows his frustration. And so the duo suffers with the finality of their marriage at the close. Is Cathy to exist only in his shadow? Are her dreams simply dreams (I Can Do Better Than That)?

Cathy

Simplistically put, this is the breakdown of a marriage but the piece is far deeper than that. It is the disappointment on the one hand of failed dreams, failed expectations and frustration and on the other the power of success. Despite the passion and love, there is insufficient courage from our couple to ride the storm together.

Cathy auditions

At times there are memories of Lloyd-Webber/Don Black’s Tell Me On A Sunday and Hamlisch’s A Chorus Line but there is no denying that this musical stands up on its own merit. Both Barks and Bailey deliver their numbers, hers more heartfelt, his more punchy, with conviction and are deserving of the huge applause they received. If I have one disappointment it is that sadly the numbers are somewhat forgettable, which is possibly because the music tends to support rather than hold strength on its own.

The set is interesting with two levels, one of which houses the band and the other which is the main stage. Clever use of lighting and sliding set pieces set the tone of the different numbers and allow the audience to travel with Cathy and Jamie on their journey.

At times joyful and comedic, at others poignant, this production is worth the visit and is now extended until 3 December 2016,

Photographs Scott Rylander

FRIDAY 28 OCTOBER – SATURDAY 3 DECEMBER 2016

ST. JAMES THEATRE

12 Palace Street, London, SW1E 5JA

Performances: Monday – Saturday 7.30pm, Thursday and Saturday 2.30pm

Tickets: £10.00 - £59.50

 

Box Office: www.stjamestheatre.co.uk | 0844 264 2140

Nov 3rd

Rumpy Pumpy at Theatre Royal, Windsor

By Kate Braxton

When the Channel 4 documentary, The WI and Their Search for The Perfect Brothel aired in 2008, BBC-trained writer, Barbara Jane Mackie landed upon a charming idea for a musical comedy. Roll over jam and Jerusalem, and wet your whistle for tea and crumpets! Rumpy Pumpy was first showcased at The King’s Head in April, 2015 and is currently at planning stages to be made into a film. But this week the red light district comes to Theatre Royal, Windsor.

The story follows two genteel WI grandmothers, Jean Johnson and Shirley Landels, who take it upon themselves to campaign for the legalisation of prostitution. Despite Shirley’s ill-health, their seemingly dizzy quest transports them from Portsmouth to Amsterdam, Nevada to New Zealand, to greater inform their missionary positions.

We begin on a West Sussex roadside at night, where the worldly (theatrical) experience of RSC-turned-Eastenders actress Louise Jameson as Jean, is ably accompanied by her ‘Watson’, Tricia Deighton, who for me, gives the performance of the show as Shirley. She effortlessly plays second fiddle to strident Jean, but regularly gets the last laugh with sublimely timed one-liners and asides. They are a nimble, natural double act, whose chemistry abounds as their dedication to the cause rises above every intriguing distraction, from rubber arse midgets to the dentist's doings. (“I’m sure that man did my root canal treatment…”)

Their combined acting experience manages to carry the serious message through relentless comic scenes, which could otherwise dissolve into unintended farce. That, and the punctuating insights into the working girls’ daily hardship, uphold the true ethos of the piece beneath the saucy get-up.

Both Jameson and Deighton tend to speak-sing. A few more bars of pure written tune would give us a clearer understanding of the composer’s musical intention. However, the spirit of their partnership is so robust, and the rest of the cast offer a range of pleasingly delivered melodies, belters and titillating ditties, that it has the overall feel of a balanced offering.

In their pursuit of the perfect brothel, the ladies encounter local Madame, Holly Spencer, a role that is primed for show-business legend, Linda Nolan, to grab by the teeth and tonsils. She projects a tough-fronted, maternally protective stance over her girls, whilst watchful of the rife hypocrisy which brings Father Hugo and other society types to her back rooms. I was somewhat under-energised by the characterization of this powerful part, which included noticeable tip-toeing around the musical numbers, and the odd missed line. However, I can’t help feel that a few more runs and less dowdy costuming would help put the right kind of edge into this performance.

Rumpy Pumpy’s banter-laden comings and goings take place amid minimal staging. One plain room is built within the open space, lit red or blue to reflect the brothel or police station, with two simple flanking projected images to set the context. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than this, as the musical score is intricate and interesting, the characters, bold and Panto-esque. The simple device of stepping out of the room to provide interim narrative keeps the story moving effectively under the direction of Stephen Greiff, and an interesting angle is given to the joy of sex when the ladies tout a mobile sex parlour around the streets of Hampshire.

There are some vibrant individual performances from the girls, in particular Sally Frith as blonde, gamine Goisa, the pole dancing Pole and Alex Roots as Holly’s daughter, searching for a ‘normal’ life with the boy next door, played with unequivocal likeability by James Charlton. Scarlet Wilderink and Liberty Buckland also inject youthful sparkle to the brothel with fresh sounding vocals and eye-catching presence.  Since most of the cast play more than one part, we are reminded of the dual lives of sex workers and punters alike, but are left with less room for empathy with the individual characters themselves.

All credit must go to the small band, whose presence feels a little too thin for some of the score’s bolder numbers. With greater conviction from the cast and a broader sound, there could be show-stopping moments rather than each song passing through and falling away, like a knocking shop conveyor belt.

Rumpy Pumpy lovingly sucks at its own sweet idea from start to finish, knowing at the centre it has all the ingredients for a fine piece of theatre. And just as Mackie intended, it succeeds at making the dark side of prostitution accessible to all. Technically, it’s not quite tight enough to produce a completely happy ending, but that’s nothing a big injection of passion and confidence in the production cannot overcome. It's all in the script.

 

Rumpy Pumpy runs at Theatre Royal, Windsor from Tuesday 1st - Saturday 5th November 2016

Tue - Sat 8pm

Thurs - 2.30pm

Fri & Sat - 4.45pm

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

Box Office: 01753 853 888

 

 

 

Nov 1st

Sam Shepard's Fool for Love at Found111

By Carolin Kopplin

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I get sick every time you come around, and then I get sick when you leave.

Following the successful shows The Dazzle, Bug, and Unfaithful, the final production in the unique space Found111 is Sam Shepard's dark play about relationships, identity, and abandonment. 

Set in a run-down motel room in the Mojave Desert, Fool for Love is the story of a couple who cannot live with or without each other. Eddie (Adam Rothenberg) is the son of an unaffectionate alcoholic father who had a long affair with another woman. Eddie has been repeating his father's mistakes by cheating on May (Lydia Wilson) and abandoning her whenever he felt like it. May has finally managed to start a new life when Eddie suddenly appears in her door, informing her that he has travelled 2,480 miles just to see her and expects her to move to Wyoming with him. May is still angry about Eddie's affair with "The Countess" as she calls the other woman and turns him down, informing him that she has a job, a new life, and is expecting her date. Yet when Eddie tries to leave, May holds him back. As they kiss passionately, she kicks him in the groin. Eddie tries to sway May's opinion of him by amusing her with lasso tricks and painting an idyllic picture of their life in Wyoming yet May remains unimpressed. When May's date Martin (Luke Neal) arrives, Eddie does his utmost to provoke him and to scare him away, trying to prove to May and to himself that he is her man.

The action is observed by an Old Man (Joe McGann) who exists only in the minds of May and Eddie, adding to the dreamlike quality of the play. The Old Man, converses with both May and Eddie and comments on their stories and actions. As the stories begin to contradict each other, one wonders which character is actually telling the truth.

Adam Rothenberg, who is making his London stage debut in Simon Evans' production, and Lydia Wilson - who was nominated for an Olivier award for her performance as Kate Middleton in Rupert Goold's King Charles III -, who performed together in the popular TV series "Ripper Street" are very good as the ill-fated couple living through a love-hate relationship. Joe McGann is excellent as the Old Man, a grisly, weathered cowboy with an affinity to Barbara Mandrell. Luke Neal convinces as Martin, a good-natured gardener who is drawn into the poisonous relationship.

The design by Ben Stones features a dreary motel room with black soil widening the space to the front and back. Although the set is fascinating, with touches of the wide open spaces in the West, it takes away a bit from the claustrophobic atmosphere that is so important to the play. 

An intense performance with an outstanding cast.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 17 December 2016

Found111

111 Charing Cross Rd, London WC2H 0DT

Box office: 020 7478 0100

Personal callers 

Mon-Sat 10am-6pm

Soho Theatre 21 Dean Street, London W1D 3NE

Running time: 60 minutes without an interval.

Oct 30th

Howard Brenton's Magnificence at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Joel Gilman (Jed), Tyson Douglas (Cliff), Daisy Hughes (Mary), Will Bliss (Will), Eva-Jane Willis (Veronica)

We are the writing on your wall!

Originally commissioned by the Royal Court Theatre in 1973, Howard Brenton's political play reflecting the state of Britain at that time has not been seen in London in over forty years. The Finborough in co-production with Fat Git Theatre is presenting a revival of Magnificence and sadly, many of the issues addressed in the play are still unresolved and remain as relevant as ever.

London, 1973. A group of left-wing activists have broken into an empty flat to protest against homelessness and redevelopment. The squatters hope to make a point by occupying the flat and hanging a banner from the window that nobody can actually read: "We are doing our humble best to wreck society". Newcomer Veronica (Eva-Jane Willis), who used to work at the BBC, is appalled by the lack of efficiency and action. After ten days the bailiff forces them out, using excessive violence against the pregnant Mary (Daisy Hughes), whilst Veronica is shouting quotes from Mao's little red book at the "fascists". Jed (Joel Gilman) is sent to prison and his girlfriend Mary miscarries. When Jed is released, he has become radicalised and plans to use gelignite to make an explosive statement.

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Hayward B Morse (Babs) and Tim Faulkner (Alice)

Set against the main plot are two darkly comic sketches, one entailing a conversation between the bailiff Slaughter (Chris Porter) and a police officer (Tim Faulkner) who thinks that we are all part of a Martian experiment. Slaughter, a racist and a bully, admits that he did have a bad conscience when harrassing a nice old British lady to repossess her flat, he didn't even blink when bullying her Pakistani neighbours. The second sketch involves dying Tory politician Babs (Hayward B Morse) who has been shuffled off into Academia after his extensive political career. He has invited his former lover Alice (Tim Faulkner) to keep him company on his last day. As they are punting along the Cam in this hilarious scene, Babs reminisces about old times and creates his own obituary. The strings all come together when Jed assaults Alice, a high-ranking Tory politician, with the intent to blow him up: "A little blaze for the the delight and encouragement of all your enemies."

The activists seem all very incompetent and toothless against the establishment. While they choose to leave their middle-class existence to squat in a run-down flat, a homeless man (quite a departure for Hayward B Morse) is already living there because he has no choice. Nobody cares about their protest except for the bailiff who considers them a nuisance and evicts them eventually for the redevelopment to go ahead. Today protests are far better organised, with the help of the internet and social media, and the efforts of this group seem pathetic at best. But how effective are our protests today? Redevelopment, gentrification, and homelessness are still very much with us, forty years later. However, violence should not be an option, as Brenton clearly demonstrates.

Josh Roche's production features an excellent cast, particularly Hayward B Morse as the retired Tory Babs, Tim Faulkner as the seemingly pleasant Alice who tries to keep his stiff-upper-lip attitude in any situation, and Chris Porter as the ruthless Slaughter who does have a conscience as long as his victim is white and British.

Designer Philip Lindley's set with peeling wallpaper and debris lining the walls is in absurd contrast with the posh Tory scene, adding to the irony of the play.

A highly relevant must-see production.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 19th November 2016

Finborough Theatre

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes including one interval

Photographs by Tegid Cartwright.

 

Oct 24th

Gothic Season at the Hope Theatre: The House of Usher

By Carolin Kopplin

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What was it—I paused to think—what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? 

"The Fall of the House of Usher" is one of Edgar Allan Poe's most popular short stories and has been adapted countless times, by directors as diverse as Roger Corman and surrealist filmmaker Jan Švankmajer - it even became part of a concept album by The Alan Parsons Project called "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" in the 1970s, which is, in my opinion, one of the best musical adaptations. Luke Adamson and Daniel Bottomley were also drawn to the atmospheric gothic tale and decided to create a musical version of the story. 

An unnamed narrator (Richard Lounds) visits his boyhood friend Roderick Usher (Cameron Harle), who resides in a mysterious and gloomy house together with his sister Madeline (Eloise Kay). Having received a letter from Roderick, informing him that his friend was feeling physically and emotionally ill, the narrator felt it his duty to rush to his friend. Roderick is pale and suffers from a heightened sensitivity of the senses. He seems afraid of his own house, still he won't let his sister leave the cursed place. The narrator spends several days trying to cheer up Roderick, listening to him play the guitar and reading him his favourite stories, but all his attempts fail, and he comes to realise that the house might be alive after all and out to destroy Roderick and his sister.

The performance takes place in the round with the actors, in period costumes, and the pianist / keyboarder, respectively, positioned at the four corners of the stage as the show begins. Roderick and Madeline have their distinctive spaces defining their characters (design by Verity Johnson): Roderick's is cluttered with books and musical instruments, Madeline's is dominated by a clinging vine which adds to the feeling of claustrophobia that seems to stifle her. The three actors also serve as the orchestra which is quite a feat considering that they sing and act in the show - with Richard Lounds playing the cello, Eloise Kay the clarinet, and Cameron Harle as Roderick - naturally - the guitar.

Luke Adamson and Phil Croft's production benefits from a dedicated cast, most of all Richard Lounds who does his best to create a gothic atmosphere, assisted by unsettling sound effects, but the musical numbers by Dan Bottomley fail to convey any sense of mystery or imagination - with the sole exception of "The Raven". True, I know the story well but I was not scared even once, despite the best efforts of the hard working actors. The music is too pleasant to be unsettling in any way. There is some drama due to the possessive relationship between Roderick and his twin sister, which is played by Cameron Harle and Eloise Kay with threatening intensity, yet the pace of the production is too slow and lacks suspense.

Richard Lounds, who has the hardest task as the unnamed narrator, has great audience rapport and kept my attention throughout the performance. Eloise Kay has a beautiful singing voice and gives a good performance as the fragile Madeline. Cameron Harle, dressed in cool black leather, convincingly switches between irrational exuberance and suicidal melancholy.   

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 5th November 2016 at the Hope Theatre

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including one interval.