Category Archives: Theatre

Late start for #LieCollector @VaultFestival

Yve Blake, the performer and co-composer of Lie Collector, finally takes to the stage 15 minutes after start time. Seated in what can only be described as the most obstructed view in the theatre, I was determined that she would have to overcome mountains to get me to engage with the show.

Blake and her trusty Apple Computer were off and the audience was immediately engaged. Visual effects were a central theme to the show and I believe they were used with good effect. I say believe because no matter how much I stretched I really could not see. Nevertheless, I could hear and rather than being angry for not seeing and hating the entire performance, I was angry because I couldn’t see and was loving the performance.  So much for mountains to overcome – and we were only 10 minutes in.

Blake takes ordinary people’s stories about lies they’ve told and retells them through narration, song and a bit of dance. Her singing voice is good, although at times I had difficulty understanding exactly what she was singing – but that wasn’t anymore problematic than when I simply didn’t understand the use of regional phrases. Nevertheless, just in case you were in doubt, she has that special look that tells you it’s a funny moment or that something more profound is to be taken from the moment. And, the dance you ask? Simply put, it was entertaining.

Yve Blake in Lie Collector at VAULT Festival 2015. Credit Katie Lambert. (8)
Credit: Katie Lambert

Blake tells us it was her second time performing Lie Collector. This, quite frankly, I found hard to believe. She is not only a natural comic; she is a good storyteller. She was animated and energetic for her entire time on stage – even through the numerous costume changes. If anything, the many costume changes, some of which were not as seamless as Blake may have liked, could have been reduced and replaced, preferably, with a few more dance and song sequences.

As for the lies Blake collected from the internet and face-to-face: I’m not sure what we should have come away thinking about the lies we all tell, but I came away with a new appreciation for lies. Perhaps not solely her intent, but I certainly understood that a ‘lie’ plays different roles in different circumstances.

Blake’s story is an interesting one and told in a way that brings about reflection on how we utilise the lie in our everyday lives. In the end, a lie is a lie no matter how you dress it up. It’s a mess up, she claims (incidentally she did not say mess up; I paraphrase), sometimes a big mess up, sometimes not so much.

It is an important story that Blake tells and her friends encouraged her not to mess it up (again I paraphrase) and she most definitely did not mess it up.

Blake is easy to watch on stage. Whether she decides to stick to writing comedy or whether she decides to be front and centre on stage, if her second performance is anything to go by she is poised to bring enjoyment to audiences for a long time to come.

Blake is continually looking for new stories to add to her repertoire so do check in and tell your best story, preferably a lie, at www.WhoWereWe.com.

True Brits

True Brits is about the fleeting mixed-race relationship between Rahul and Jess.

Through this relationship Vinay Patel, billed as an outstanding young British Asian playwright and one to watch, craftily exhibits his understanding of the complexities of emotions and ideologies within the Asian community and his understanding of human relationships.

Patel masterfully yet subtly reminds us that relationships are difficult, whether between men and women, parents and children, cultures and nations. He affirms that it takes patience, understanding and love from all parties for relationships to be successful. Love, in the case of cultures and nations, means to respect humanity.

TRUE BRITS, The Vaults, Waterloo, London, UK.
Credit: Jane Hobson

Patel’s story works on stage because of David Mumeni’s skillful ability to perform this dynamic narrative – for just over an hour with no other aid than that of a couple of blocks.

Often when the story of injustices suffered by a community are told you can find yourself angry, disillusioned and without hope in humanity. Not so in True Brits. At no time does Rahul tell his story in a way to illicit such feelings. There is no squirming in your seat; you are not made to be uncomfortable. Rather, Rahul tells his story convincingly with passion, humour, dignity and self-respect, perhaps qualities that can only be attributed to his youthfulness and naivety.

Rahul’s story, assisted by the bland but effective set design, reminds us that it is ordinary people living ordinary lives with ordinary circumstances that make changes in societies. Rahul loves and lives the life of a Brit, loving his sport among other things British.

TRUE BRITS, The Vaults, Waterloo, London, UK.
Credit: Jane Hobson

Rahul is such a Brit that it appears he does not accuse or hate but rather he readily accepts the changes to the social life of young Asians post 7/7. With spirited dialogue, Rahul invites us to sit with him in the park, in the pub or in his front room as he reveals the internal struggle and the consequences he bears both inside and outside of the Asian community since the bombings.

 

For me, Mumeni’s performance is genuine. His ability to take us through complex emotions and concepts and make it look effortless does not go unnoticed. In fact, it was so effortless that at times I struggled to understand the street talk and lingo – but perhaps it was never intended for me and others outside of the Asian community to understand or maybe it is because I myself am only a pretend Brit.

In fact, I am such a pretend Brit that I almost stood up to do the “ovation thing,” a very North American way to show my appreciation for the collaboration of Patel, Mumeni and director Tanith Lindon who synthesised the script and the performance with artistic expertise. I’m happy to say I found my British composure and simply raised my hands as high as I could and applauded for as long as I was allowed, which I might add was not long enough.

True Brits is part of the Vault Festival and continues until 22 February 2015.

Hamlet – a step too far for some

Amidst the fashionable clamour for authenticity on our stages, Othello should be a black actor, Cleopatra and Juliet should be teenage girls, etc, this production seemed to dismiss such concerns and happily swapped the gender of several main characters.  Now I don’t want to start anything or be dismissed as “Protesting too much”, but even within the parameters of a bold transformation to a Victorian Gothic tale, for Hamlet’s sake, I was left wondering was it too far or not too far?

However, “The play’s the thing.”  The impossibility of certainty, the complexity of action, the mystery of death, the nation as a diseased body, incest, misogyny, senses and symbols.  Such deep themes seemed lost in the air of pantomime, the severe cuts to the action and it all being a bit rushed.

The entrance to the intimate auditorium crossed a rather drably set stage where actors in their places waited like human statues.  In this instance, stage left, two women in black crinoline and a gent in Victorian attire sat around a table.  When the lights went up and the action started, they turned out to be mid séance.  As the ghost of Hamlet’s noble and faultless father (Chris Huntley-Turner) appeared, as spectral and spooky as he should, the statues revealed themselves to be Horatio (Andrew Venning) and in black crinoline, two palace guards.  OK

Hamlet (Jack Baldwin),  a university student, was supposed to be philosophical and contemplative, an enigma.  This Hamlet, however was stuffy, aloof, not mysterious, too Victorian.  I didn’t really care what he was going through.  His soliloquies, some of the most famous in literature, were delivered with what seemed to be a deliberate under-emphasis especially where there should have been an emphasis.  The director maybe?  However, he lost it completely when he was with the lady gravediggers and uttered “Alas poor Yorick, I knew her Horatio”.  It wasn’t only me who groaned, but I just couldn’t begin to imagine him riding on her back.  Look it up.

Claudius (Alexander Nash), Gertrude (Kate Terence) and Polonius (Paul Easom) made themselves known during a royal proclamation, letting the masses know what they already thought, that they’d married too soon after the previous king’s death.  Yes, Hamlet’s late noble and faultless father.

Claudius gave us a few good moments as a villain and a corrupt politician, but nothing of the shrewd, lustful and conniving king he was supposed to be.  It was more like he was doing the day job than responding to a growing and devastating danger.  When he accidentally killed his wife, he sort of shrugged it off.

Gertrude was very convincing as a woman dependent on men for her station.  She portrayed an apt uncertainty in how much she knew about Claudius’ plan or why she married him.  She oozed grace and charm and showed little awareness of her own mind or her lack of moral insight.  “Frailty, thy name is woman,” squealed Hamlet, forcing her to face her behaviour as shaming the whole of her sex.

Polonius was suitably wrong in everything he said, but appeared more as a stern schoolmaster than a sincere father to his children.  His death, behind the arras, barely made the headlines.

Ophelia (Scarlet Clifford) who was not such a maid in her first awakenings to men’s desires as she should have been and her line between sanity and madness was crossed without effort.  Laertes (Robert Welling) who was about as vengeful as Bambi, dallied around a while, engaged in a little swordplay and expired without note.  An underused, but defiantly lascivious Rosencrantz (Katy Daghorn) and a much too twerky Guildenstern (Marie Fortune) (or was it the other way around?) brought in the players (Chloe Wigmore and Amy Christie).  “Man delights not me” states Hamlet.  Just as well, there weren’t any.

I missed the tragedy, the suffering and the catharsis but my guest, who hadn’t seen it before, loved it.  You can’t please everyone.

Hamlet – Prince of Denmark. 

A tragedy by William Shakespeare, 1599.

Director; Andrew Shepherd

Production Company; ACS Random

Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, London

02/12/14 – 14/12/14

 

Hope @Royal Court Theatre

After a successful run of the hit Let the Right One In, expectations were high when Jack Thorne (writer) and John Tiffany (director) teamed up once again for the production of Hope. The BAFTA-winning writer Thorne delivered a story of austerity with surprising levity and wry humour.

Hope tells the story of a Labour council in an unnamed working-class town. The play centres on the various schemes local council leaders make after being told they must make £64 million savings over a three-year period through budget cuts.

One council leader, Hilary, (played by Stella Gonet) with her strict and pragmatic approach, proposes important cuts to urban facilities such as libraries, museums, and street lighting. The second council leader, Mark (Paul Higgins), tries to defend Hilary’s decisions. Still short of making their goal the cuts eventually hit a centre for adults with learning difficulties. This decision becomes national news and the small working-class council is left humiliated.

Hope's cast.
Hope’s cast.

Through Mark’s character (Paul Higgins), a man who is struggling with the consequences of his divorce and suffering from alcoholism, Thorne manages to juxtapose complex decisions of political life with obstacles and anxieties in private life. This juxtaposition exposes how there is little difference, in some ways, in how politicians make decisions publicly and privately. In both spheres, we fear we will fail to achieve our goals or live up to expectations, on the one hand, and on the other, we find the strength to fight for our goals.

Paul Higgins (as Mark)
Paul Higgins (as Mark)

 

The conversation between Mark and the ex-leader George (Tom Georgeson) is where Throne wants us to reflect on the Labour party’s role in the recent past and how today there is a lost sense of solidarity. Throne demonstrated a dynamic ability by portraying both negative and positive aspects of the party. He concluded this scene with a pinch of optimism and strong sense of purpose, driving the message that one should make good decisions not for the Party, not for the country, not for the working class, but for the town.

Tommy Knight and Tom Georgeson
Tommy Knight and Tom Georgeson

The play ends with an informal chat between an elderly George and the young Jake (Tommy Knight). This is an encounter between different worlds and different experiences, yet ends on a point of agreement in their understanding of Dickens’ book Great Expectations. Hilarious and intense, this conversation’s common ground also summarises the play: it’s sort of pointless not trying. I admire Thorne’s sense of lightness and humour and Tiffany’s ability to convey this fully whilst leaving us with a sense of hope, especially in life itself.

Hope runs until 10 January. Tickets: (£12- £32; Mondays all seats £10)

Venue: Royal Court Theatre (Jerwood Theatre Downstairs), London

 

 

Accolade @St_JamesTheatre

You feel as if 1950s London is inches away in Accolade, a crisp production of Emlyn Williams‘ play about a writer on the eve of Knighthood for services to literature.

The play opens with the cast in pyjamas, a scene more striking than you might imagine. The luxurious fabrics drop you into an era not long after Downton Abbey’s. But (predictably) the stereotypes of the decade soon start to be shown for the veneer they are.

We learn writer William Trenting’s dark literary influences are drawn from experience, and not from a murky past but the present too, lurking behind his full family life. It’s this apparent hypocrisy which sets the story in motion. The shady characters he spends time with burst vivaciously into the play, allowing you to enjoy it without having expectations of a 50s living room drama.

If you cosy up to depictions of post-war England, you’ll enjoy Accolade. If you prefer existential ponderings with conceptual stage designs, this probably wouldn’t be your choice. But despite its setting within a class-conscious England of flowing skirts and rumours about the goings-on in East-End pubs, there’s a freshness to it which is largely due to the sincerity of the cast.

Admittedly Mrs Trenting’s endless “darling”s at her husband’s moral dilemma flatten her character (and the play); whether her primness is deliberate or not is for the audience to consider. The protagonists’s preference for orgies (the script doesn’t blush much) are also explained away simplistically; you scream out for a little more depth.

But Accolade is worth seeing for the supporting characters, particularly the Trenting’s son, played by Sam Clemmett. His parents and the audience share custody in compassion for him as he watches his father’s life scrutinised and his own wrenched apart.

I spoke to Jay Villiers, who plays Trenting’s publisher Thane, about the themes of the play: “None of us are squeaky clean, we all have a skeleton somewhere… and the question is what right is it of the public at large to know?” As he points out, the Leveson enquiry and Operation Yewtree have made these questions pertinent for a contemporary audience. Accolade provides the chance to imagine the insider’s point of view.

Accolade runs until 13th December at the St James Theatre near Victoria.

Tickets start at £15; student get £5 off Thursday matinée (2.30pm) performances.

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