Tag Archives: Park Theatre

Review: Kill Me Now @ParkTheatre

This was my first experience of the Park Theatre, and, perhaps understandably, I was not entirely prepared for what I was about to experience. Had I checked out their website and known they “choose plays … [with] strong narrative drive and emotional content”, I may have approached Kill Me Now without expectations of conventional entertainment.

Greg Wise returns to the stage after 17 years playing Jake Sturdy, struggling father to a disabled son, Joey (Oliver Gomm). Wise is still a thoroughly able performer, unlike his character, a former writer forced to give up work to care for his son. Wise and Gomm were joined by Charlotte Harwood, Anna Wilson-Jones and Jack McMullen, all of whom gave outstanding performances in this European debut of Canadian playwright Brad Fraser’s script.

From the outset, the audience was asked to work hard. I checked the time 40 minutes in, not because I was waiting for the end; rather, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to hold back a torrent of tears that long. When the end finally came, the characters on stage were not the only ones left devastated and broken.

This is not to say there were no moments of levity. But for me, the laughter was also uncomfortable. I was still struggling with the numerous issues that Joey’s physical disability posed for those around him. Many situations were completely foreign to me, and the ways in which family, friends and institutions dealt with them were unconventional, crossing social norms and challenging many of my own moral positions.

When the performance was over, some of the hardier members of the audience gave the cast a standing ovation. I hope they did not feel slighted that I remained rooted in my seat. I could not move. My back ached, my head throbbed, and the tension in my shoulders made it difficult to raise my hands to clap – a physical testament to how affected I was by what I had seen.

Suddenly, I heard someone ask us to clear the theatre. The stage was empty. My friend nudged me and said we had to leave. I got up, still wiping the tears from my eyes. I checked that no one had seen me break down so completely; my friend smiled at me in reassurance.

As I reflect on the play I am forced to wonder how often people with disabilities, their carers and friends must feel, or even cry aloud, “kill me now.” I have to remind myself that I only saw two hours of what many people must live with every day.

While I cannot say Kill Me Now was entertaining, it was most certainly an educational and deeply emotional experience. Director Braham Murray managed to achieve a synergy among the cast that allowed for a different kind of interaction with the audience, eliciting emotions between laughter and tears. If you are looking for theatre that offers this kind of deeper involvement, then I wholeheartedly recommend you see this.

Kill Me Now is at the Park Theatre until 29 March.

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


Man to Man – a unique an peculiar gender-bending play @ParkTheatre

Twenty-seven years after its premier and a successful run last year at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester, Danielle Tarento has brought the one-woman play Man to Man, directed by Tilly Branson to London at the Park90 Theatre.

Manfred Karge’s Man to Man is often described as “poetic”. Telling a story spanning a 50-year period during the time of Nazi rule “poetically” can only be challenging.

Man to Man is a unique and peculiar gender-bending play about a working class woman impersonating her dead husband during World War II. The play is often credited for launching Tilda Swinton’s career. Tricia Kelly has a list of credible credits behind her and taking on this completely riveting one-woman tour-de-force, although ambitious given its complexity her 90 minute performance must be seen separately from Swinton’s past portrayal and is to be applauded.

Shortly after the death of her husband Ella comes to the realisation that her only possible means of survival is to become her dead husband, Max Gericke. Kelly’s portrayal of Max is marvellous and only her sensitive blue eyes remind us of the woman and the femininity she is desperately hiding. A military hairstyle, physical body transformation and the adaptation of male characteristics kept the entire audience in suspense. The one question on the forefront of the audience’s mind was: “Is Ella gonna get caught?”

There are some elements of the play that are easily overlooked. This may be because the social commentary is perhaps unintended. But for me, the role of Ella/Max represents “schizophrenia” at its best. Wearing a single fancy glossy red heel on the right foot and a worker’s dark shoe on the left foot, allows the audience to share the tension and paranoia lived by civilians in 1940s Germany.

There are many social comments that Branson could have chosen to highlight in this production but in many ways although she has clearly represented women’s voices in theatre; there was nothing new and innovative, it’s the same old rehash of arguments. We know that women can do what men do equally well and for that matter at times better. Drinking snaps, winning a food fight with one’s fellow male co-workers and ‘masterpiecing’ the role of a scientist are possibly not the best way to illustrate the equality of men and women. But then again there is the confines of the script to contend with.

Upon leaving the theatre, happy as I was for seeing a production that was a role for a woman that touched upon the social inequalities that existed in Nazi Germany and have yet to be eradicated from modern day society, part of the story remained unsolved. Curiously, it was not the 40-year deception of Ella being Max and the plausibility of this which resonated with me but rather the remains of her womanhood. Did she overcome the death of her husband? Did the pain really disappear? I think she wanted us to believe it had but I was not convinced? And, in the end, the loneliness and the acute fear she lived with daily did she believe that the price of her deception was too great a price to pay?

Man to Man runs until 30 November at the Park90 Theatre in Finsbury Park.

Review: Jonah and Otto @parktheatre

We’re a quarter of an hour into Robert Holman’s 2008 play, and I’m struggling to remain upright. Sweat is running down my face; my vision is closing in. A ringing starts in my left ear, and slowly fills my head. I tense my calves to keep the blood flowing. Looking around the room I am not the only one in distress, a woman to my left is looking unwell. Her head lolls suddenly; the play is halted (with admirable concern and swiftness from the staff); the actors leave the stage; the lights go up. The woman recovers enough to leave the theatre, and we pick up from the same point. As others mumble their surprise at the sudden interruption, I regain my composure, and hope my sweaty shirt isn’t stinking out the back row.

To say the opening of Jonah and Otto overwhelmed our senses would perhaps be an overstatement. For my part, I suspect I had simply missed too many calories that day. Just an unfortunate set of coincidences. The piece, though confrontational in style, is not overtly shocking. There is a brief moment of physical threat, and a convincingly simulated fit. Besides that, we are mostly watching two men talk. The phrasing is disconcerting, however. Lines are clipped, and not quite natural. Though the setting (a ferry port, minimally evoked with occasional ambient sound) is mundane enough, we are not quite in the real world.

Otto (Peter Egan) is an old man, haunted by choices taken and opportunities missed. A faithless clergyman, when he says he doesn’t believe in God “because God doesn’t believe in me”, we know it is self-belief that he has lost as much as spiritual. Jonah (Alex Waldmann) also appears desperate, in need of direction, of insight into the people he has lost, and of love. He brings with him a baby in a shopping trolley, playing cards, a ready supply of fresh fruit, and a knife (to rob Otto, or to chop apples for his daughter?). The men argue, make judgments on each other and themselves, swear and smoke.

Further questioning the reality of the situation, a bold sequence gives truth to Jonah’s seemingly mischievous claims to be a magician, as he puts Otto to sleep and removes his suit. The effect is indeed magical; Jonah’s deft manipulation of the sleeping man, teenaged anarchy in his eye as he ridiculously swaddles himself in the much larger Otto’s clothes. The exposure of Otto’s ageing flesh, the surgical scars and knotted veins, is intensely poignant, evoked in a later speech where he talks of washing his late father’s body, in the hope of achieving the closeness and intimacy they didn’t have in life.

Jonah and Otto is daring, complex, sad, ultimately life-affirming theatre, performed confidently by talented leads, particularly Peter Egan, portraying disturbingly convincing glimmers of mortality. Also worth noting is the incredible professionalism and dignity with which the whole staff of this fairly new venue handled the early interruption. Go and see this play. If you can’t, visit The Park when you can. It’s a magical place.

Jonah and Otto runs until 2rd November 2014 at:

Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, London N4 3JP

Bookings can be made via the online booking office

Little Black Book: A pleasing exploration of human desire

Little Black Book,  by the French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, tells the story of an odd relationship, or, more aptly, an extended encounter between a lawyer, Jean-Jacques, and a strange woman, Suzanne. It is playing at the Park Theatre until January 19.

It is a simple story, but one that is also, beneath the surface, a creative exploration of human temperament and the rules of attraction. Translated from the 2003 original by Solvène Tiffou and directed by Kate Fahy, it is undeniably French in its quirks and eccentricities, whilst still also distinctively human.

Little Black Book opens with the abrupt and unexpected arrival of the strange woman into Jean-Jacques’ life and explores the changing dynamics in their relationship that ensue. In a bizarre love triangle of sorts, the apartment plays a role in this tumultuous relationship. The Park90 theatre space, intimate and comfortable, feels more like an extension of the studio apartment set on which the production is staged, inviting the audience into the apartment whilst giving the production a freedom beyond the confines of the apartment’s walls.

The script does not seem to offer the depth necessary to sustain the simplistic nature of the production. Story-wise, Little Black Book is lacking in substance in that the characters’ respective lives, prior to their meeting, remain almost entirely unexplored,  with the exception of Jean-Jacques’ sexual history. The initial mystery surrounding Suzanne’s arrival and intentions remains largely unresolved, resulting in a distancing between audience and characters. The lack of character development in the script proves problematic for Gerald Kyd (Jean-Jacques) and Jenny Rainsford (Suzanne) who both fervently tackle the superficial character roles, but both roles are seemingly without purpose.

Despite struggling to connect with its audience, the production does succeed in communicating a thought-provoking sub-script. The characters, though in many ways frustratingly undefined, are remarkably human in their respective behaviours and emotional temperament. Though it may seem that the progression and dynamics of their relationship make very little sense, there is a distinct familiarity in their absurd, unpredictable behaviour and tumultuous three-day relationship that makes the play an exaggerated but pleasing exploration of isolation, relationships and human desire, which, in reality, do often defy all logic.

Rainsford, as Suzanne, takes superb control of her character’s sense of entitlement and self-assured charm, with a volatile unpredictability that is both amusing and endearing. Kyd, though delivering a commendable performance, doesn’t achieve the same level of character communication that Rainsford does with her role, making Jean-Jacques more difficult to connect with than Suzanne, and perhaps less likeable. The lack of character depth in the script impedes both Rainsford and Kyd from assuming greater command of their roles, as neither succeed in fully engaging with the audience.

Little Black Book is curiously charming and appealing, but, in other ways, particularly in scripting, shallow and lacking in personality. These opposing underlying feelings seem to fuse into a frustratingly odd, whimsical and presumptuous production that reflects, rather artistically, the intricacies of human nature and the yearning for that which we do not have.

A remarkable new twist on Sleeping Beauty

This Christmas, one of the most loved and enchanting stories ever told, Sleeping Beauty, is boldly adapted and transformed by Jez Bond and Mark Cameron. It’s premiering as the Park Theatre’s first annual Christmas pantomime.

This new stage version not only reinvents the classic fairytale, but completely transfigures it – spinning it upside-down and inside-out, dousing it in spectacular colours, showering  it with fairy dust, wrapping it in twinkling Christmas lights and inflating it to bursting point.

It comes with new and original music, comedy and drama – all in true raucous pantomime style. Co-written by the artistic director, Bond, and associate artist, Cameron, the original script and music brings a fresh, quirky and at times vulgar take on the good versus evil story to the stage. It’s bursting with bold, loveable characters tackled by a superbly talented cast, both human and canine.

The result? A wildly entertaining and, for the most part, captivating production in which the audience revels, drawn in with magnetic effect.

The attention to detail in every aspect of the script is a treat; set in the mythical land of Waa – a nonsensical far-away kingdom encompassing various distinctive provinces and a bizarre original dialect – the setting and background to the production and script is a creative success in itself. The ridiculous ‘Pilipotsian’ dialect used throughout the pantomime to tremendous audience amusement is a personal highlight, as is the simple but novel inclusion of “A Note on Pronunciation” – a guide to the language of Waa – that’s included in the production guide (a beautifully produced book covering all aspects of the production, together with the full script). It’s these small details that bring this Sleeping Beauty to life.

The cast of six, including co-writer Mark Cameron as the Dame, tackles the range of colourful roles confidently and with fluidity.  This is a feat, considering the amount of role-doubling in the production.  Every character exudes personality, charisma, charm and unique comedic value, and each is instantly loveable.

Special mention must be made of Cameron, who brings a most farcical, slapstick Dame to the stage, whose gaudy antics and constant demand for audience participation (Pilipotsian dialect training, including body movements) in true pantomime style adds a vigour to the production.

The original music is fabulous in its simplicity. The toe-tapping musical numbers are interwoven into the production in such a way that there’s a steady balance between song and drama. The entire cast does glorious justice to the vocal elements of the production. The visual elements, ranging from the set and lighting to the costumes, are all of an incredibly high standard and one would be pushed to find fault in any of these aspects.

Victor Craven’s eye-catching projection designs add an extra creative element to Sleeping Beauty and allow for smooth, swift transitions from scene to scene and far more visual exploration into the land of Waa than would otherwise be possible.

Unfortunately, it does feel as if the performance loses momentum and some of its spark towards the end of Act II, and the final few scenes feel somewhat rushed by the cast, especially when compared in duration to the opening few scenes. Distracted younger audience members – fidgeting, crying and generally restless – indicate a drifting audience, which is a huge pity as one gets the feeling that Sleeping Beauty climaxes early and doesn’t end at its best. It could perhaps do with being slightly shorter, even if purely for the youngsters.

Sleeping Beauty is as raucous and boisterous as it is charming, making for light-hearted entertainment that, taken at face value, is a joy for the entire family. Yes, the production is gloriously absurd in every way, but isn’t that the point and the appeal of the peculiar British tradition that is winter musical comedy theatre?

Cheesy, imaginative and thoroughly enjoyable, Sleeping Beauty is a true winter warmer and one that I recommend.

Sleeping Beauty runs until 19 January 2014 at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park.

Evenings: Tues – Sat 7.30pm
Matinees: Sat & Sun 3pm

Booking information:
By phone: 020 7870 6876
Online: www.parktheatre.co.uk