All posts by Barbara Wojtowicz

Review: Free Fall – a tale of two struggles on Dartford Bridge

Reviewed by Barbara Wojtowicz

Free Fall is the first full length play delivered by the Poleroid Theatre and funded through Kickstarter. It tackles the difficult subject of the human psyche, emotions and struggle.

The story by Vinay Patel invites the audience to engage in a much needed conversation about Mental Health . It challenges the stigma that is often attached to mental health issues in our society. We follow the characters along a journey which is effective in showing how everyone can be pushed to their limits and be tipped over the edge into free fall, a decision to end it all.

The piece is about suicide. A topic many of us avoid, not knowing what to say or how to react to the people involved. We mainly see mental health problems through a lens only understanding the dry concepts explained in text books and by medical experts. The play lays it out in a very simple, human and honest way.

The theater was small and intimate with the audience sitting up close and personal to the actors and the stage. It could have been an uncomfortable evening, but that intimacy somehow made you feel safe. It didn’t feel like the scenes unfolding on the stage were in your face but instead gave a sense of inclusion. Your impression was that you were participating in the story; standing next to the actors as their narratives unfolded.

Minimalist, almost raw stage-design and basic props proved that a great piece of theatrical art can be created without flashing lights and special effects. A superb performance can be achieved with great acting and literally two chairs on the stage.

The story happens at the Dartford Crossing where a disturbed girl, Andrea (Molly Roberts), is attempting to jump off the bridge. She is spotted by a security guard, Roland (Maynard Eziashi), who with problems of his own still offers her help her.  The tale of new friendship moves from the bridge into Roland’s office where details of both of their lives and their sufferings are revealed.

The humour is black and sharp. Some of the monologues, at times, seem too long. But they redeem themselves through the honesty and strength of the dialogue. No punches are pulled; emotions flow through every line and are delivered with a spark of passion.

The language used is powerful, frank and open, with its vulgarity at times highlighting the difficult choices the characters are faced with. The interplay between the actors creates electricity on the stage; their acting making the feel every moment on that bridge next to them. This creates an opportunity for the audience to stand in their shoes, as much as you can, and to perhaps think about how these situations play out in real life and how we might react to them.

The script provides the perfect insight into the mind of a person wanting to commit suicide and balances it well with the actions of a person trying to save them. The subject although heavy and difficult, somehow shows the story with lightness and gives hope, avoiding the dry facts and medical terminology.

We never know how strangers might affect our lives and even save us. The play leaves you wondering “who actually saved who”?

14th October – 1st November 2014

Pleasance Theatre, Islington

Is it a reality TV show, is it a musical? No! It’s the Anna Nicole Opera in Two Acts!

I remember seeing a poster advertising the Anna Nicole Opera on the tube. At first I could not quite believe it. Anna Nicole? The glamour model?  The stripper? The Playboy Playmate, who married an 89 year old oil billionaire? An opera?  However with no prejudice, 2 weeks later I found myself outside the Royal Opera House with an Anna Nicole ticket for the opening night in my hand. The entrance was full of 16-25 year old students (with special ticket offers, some of them as cheap as £1!) downing their pints quickly. There was also a group of middle aged Opera enthusiasts who looked rather confused and slightly afraid of the surrounding group of tipsy youngsters.

The first thing that I noticed as I took my seat,  were the bright pink curtains and Anna Nicole paper face masks covering the cherub ornaments around the stalls, the sort of masks that can be purchased from cheap novelty shops.  The whole place was breathing and living Anna Nicole.

The Opera directed by Richard Jones, does one thing for sure, it precisely follows the life of Anna Nicole with her desperate fight to make her American dream come true, through her marriages to her death.  The show (if you don’t mind me describing it that way) engaged with the audience at some level. People were laughing; however I could not help wondering whether sometimes it was just a nervous laugh caused by trashy and vulgar language. The humour in the lyrics one might argue was perhaps more appealing to a teenage boy whose puberty makes him giggle every time he hears the word “titties”.

The stage design faithfully followed  all the different stages of Anna Nicole’s existence from a strip club with grotesque and almost cartoon-like dancers with huge breasts,  to lavish hotels. With bright neon lights and colours effectively used throughout the show.

Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Vestbroek’s title role of Anna Nicole lacked power, emotions and spark although her singing sounded decent. Her attempt to repeat what the choreographer taught her and the rest of the cast at times was almost comical.  The music by Mark – Anthony Turnage however at times might have seemed promising, but it was a let-down with its flat and rather monotonous tones.

The piece did not provide the thrill that one would expect from the opera, there were no tears or goose bumps. Two men in the seats behind me claimed that “putting a story of a gold-digging stripper in the Royal Opera House is like stabbing Puccini in his back and making a laughing stock of out La Boheme.

The evening provided the audience with amusement that’s for sure, however maybe it would have worked better in the West End as a musical, where everything can be over the top. Perhaps Anna Nicole The Musical would have even received a standing ovation which Anna Nicole The Opera failed to achieve.