Review: boom, Theatre503

“It’s not just about the sound
It’s about the event
A radical change in the state of things”

Though the quote above is taken from the play boom, it could also be about the epithet ‘fag’ which is casually and cruelly used a couple of times throughout. It’s not used in a hugely dramatic way which is almost worse, as it goes entirely unchallenged, part of a normalisation of the language which I find hard to accept, knowing only too well the vitriolic power it has when it is wielded against you. 

It proved a rude awakening in Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s play but also one that was entirely unnecessary as its utterance doesn’t bring anything substantive to the character, rather it just smacks of a lazy shortcut to characterisation. And it is perhaps symptomatic of a play that isn’t entirely clear about its own identity, despite a strong production here at the Theatre503 from director Katherine Nesbitt. Continue reading “Review: boom, Theatre503”

Review: Years of Sunlight, Theatre503

“They kicked us out
And knocked our house down
And shipped us here to the arse end of nowhere”

I learned to swim in Skelmersdale, known as Skem to anyone who has ever been there. A couple of miles from the village where I was born, the drive to the Nye Bevan Swimming Pool was always a fascinating one visually due to the whims of the 1960s town planners who designated the place a ‘new town’ – sheets of grey concrete dominated the architecture and the roads were full of roundabouts after roundabouts, barely a traffic light to be seen among the network of subways. It was also a strange feeling though, as it was crossing the invisible borderline from Woollyback territory (your more typical Lancastrian accent) into the land of the Scousers (the inimitable sound of Merseyside).

I bring you this insight into the early years of Clowns because Years of Sunlight, a new play by Michael McLean, is set in Skem and whilst it had an undeniable nostalgic charge (I’m almost certainly the only reviewer there who got excited at the sight of the ‘Connie’, or Concourse shopping centre in a video clip), the play also had the unexpected result of making me think of the place in a new light. This particular ‘new town’ was designed to rehouse the overspill population from the poorer parts of Liverpool but the forced creation of new communities is rarely so simple as that, and it is this impact that McLean explores here, by following the thread of a 30 year friendship. Continue reading “Review: Years of Sunlight, Theatre503”

2017 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Best Female 
Louise Jameson in The Diva Drag at The Hope 
Lydia Larson in Skin A Cat at The Bunker
Sarah Ridgeway in Fury at Soho Theatre 
Jenna Russell in Grey Gardens at Southwark Playhouse

Best Supporting Female 
Lynette Clarke in Karagula at The Styx
Joanna Hickman in Ragtime at Charing Cross Theatre
Sasha Waddell in After October at The Finborough

Best Male 
Fiston Barek in The Rolling Stone at The Orange Tree 
Phil Dunster in Pink Mist at The Bush 
Paul Keating in Kenny Morgan at The Arcola
John Ramm in Sheppey at The Orange Tree Continue reading “2017 Offie Award Finalists”

Review: Acts of Defiance – The Festival, Theatre503

“I’m in a cop car
I got here by accident
I think”

Produced by Mama Quilla and Theatre503, Acts of Defiance is a multidisciplinary festival which is “an explosive examination of female dissidence and a shameless celebration of global female defiance”. Film, spoken word, community-based work sit alongside a programme of six short plays, curated by Kay Adshead, which fold in a world of influences – feminism, diversity, sexuality, race, motherhood – to their tales of defiance, all accompanied to brilliant effect by Rosie Bergonzi’s percussion, evoking both the freeing beauty of dancing in a gay club to the fear of being caught in urban nightmare with the beat of her drum.

Once the cast found their feet, opening playlet The Nightclub by Chloe Todd Fordham proved to be one of the most quietly affecting. Directed with graceful economy by Rachel Valentine Smith, the tales of three disparate American women – an 85 year old recent widow, a middle-aged mother estranged from her daughter, a young Muslim (Marlene Sidaway, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Karlina Grace-Paseda respectively) – all searching for something different yet fatefully entwined together. Continue reading “Review: Acts of Defiance – The Festival, Theatre503”

Review: Screens, Theatre503

“I’m a second generation immigrant, the generation that makes it or breaks it”

In its opening quarter, Stephen Laughton’s Screens manages to be that rare thing indeed, a play that actually comes close to capturing the way in which technology has utterly transformed both our everyday behaviour and interpersonal relationships. Georgia Lowe’s smartly spare design allows for Richard Williamson and Dan English’s projections to take us through Al’s faltering first steps into gay online dating on Grindr, Ayşe’s hashtag-heavy documentation of her teenage strife on Instagram and crucially, a peek into their mother Emine’s inbox on her brand-new smartphone

It’s an ingenious route into the lives, both online and off, of this British Turkish Cypriot family living in Harlow but we soon come to see that Laughton’s scope is wider, much wider, than this, as he folds in issues of the immigrant experience, splintered cultural identity, homophobia, post-Brexit racial antagonism and much more besides. Thus Screens becomes a highly ambitious piece of writing about the difficulties in finding your self when personal and political circumstances are in such flux. Continue reading “Review: Screens, Theatre503”

Review: Screwed, Theatre503

“What’s your life plan?”

Unless you’re a friend of Nigel Farage, it’s hard not to feel that we’re all screwed at the moment. But Kathryn O’Reilly’s play for Theatre503 has a slightly different perspective, looking at a particular part of Broken Britain with a bleak sense of despair. Screwed opens with 30-somethings Luce and Charlene battling through an epic hangover while they try to get away with doing as little as possible in their dead-end factory job, screwing fixings onto pieces of metal hosing.

It’s no one-off though – the entirety of their existence is taken up getting from one drunken night out to the next, trying to score as much cocktails and cock as they can, snorting poppers and necking miniatures along the way. Rocking up late to work and relying on caffeine pills to get through the day, they’re barely holding it together but their self-destructive behaviour seems to know no bounds – it’s only the intervention of others in their lives that disrupts the flow of vodka. Continue reading “Review: Screwed, Theatre503”

Review: We Wait In Joyful Hope, Theatre503

“My God’s out there. That’s why I go out in that van. Each night I sit behind the wheel and, believe me, I pray. But with the engine running and the headlights on”

Brian Mullin’s first play as part of the 503Five Writer-in-Residence scheme is We Wait In Joyful Hope, directly inspired by his aunt, a nun who helped to found a successful NY women’s shelter. Thus the central character here is a nun who helped to found a women’s shelter, in New Jersey though, where it has been helping people for over 30 years. They say write about what you know but in this case, it does feel occasionally that Mullin could have done with a bit of distance to really make the drama work.

For Sister Bernie D’Amato is an absolutely cracking character, played with intelligent and varied depth by Maggie McCarthy, but the play around her doesn’t quite match up. D’Amato is battling the spectre of gentrification as property buyers are wrecking the community, the patriarchy of the church hierarchy against whom she’s always had to fight and her own failing health too. But in among all this, Mullin rarely ventures out to deal with any of these larger themes on which he touches, there’s little that’s truly dramatic. Continue reading “Review: We Wait In Joyful Hope, Theatre503”

Review: A Secret Life, Theatre503 at Wandsworth Arts Fringe

“Do you know what goes on in my head? Do I know what goes on in yours? Maybe it’s not what either of us expect…”

What an unexpectedly, tenderly beautiful thing this turned out to be. Too often, words like ‘immersive’ and ‘innovative’ are thrown out too easily by theatre marketing teams so my intrigued hopes were adjusted accordingly by the potential of this piece of ‘digital promenade’ theatre as part of the Wandsworth Arts Fringe. But what playwright Tamara Micner and Baseless Fabric Theatre have done here shines with a subtle but sparkling freshness as it actually delivers what it promised.

A Secret Life arose from a series of interviews with people aged 65+ in the Merton and Wandsworth area about their recollections of being a teenager. These memories and experiences were edited and reshaped into a single narrative of a couple called Audrey and Fred, and then played through headphones on apps (created by NetStronghold) on our smartphones as groups of around 15 people follow Audrey on a walk through Battersea Park and its environs. Continue reading “Review: A Secret Life, Theatre503 at Wandsworth Arts Fringe”

Review: BU21, Theatre503

“If you can fucking laugh at it, you can beat it you know
Is that true?”
 
 

How would you cope in a crisis? But no, really, if the sky came caving in on your world, if terrorist atrocities landed on your doorstep (or back garden), could you even begin to conceive of how you might react and respond. That’s what Stuart Slade’s BU21 asks of its six characters as they congregate in group therapy sessions for survivors, all dealing with the aftermath of a jumbo jet being shot down in the skies above West London with an anti-aircraft missile.

One woman lost her mother, the news smashing into her world through a photo on Twitter; another saw a man still strapped into his seat crashing into her garden, still alive even if only for a couple of seconds; yet another has been horrifically burned by jet fuel, and so on. Their stories are told through interlinking monologues, details drawing their experiences inevitably closer but even as Slade gives us a searing account of tragedy close to home, he brilliantly skewers the way in which society, and particularly the media, tries to deal with it. Continue reading “Review: BU21, Theatre503”

2016 Offie Award Winners

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Best Female 
Clare Higgins for Clarion at the Arcola Theatre 
Gemma Whelan for Radiant Vermin at Soho Theatre
Nadia Nadarajah for Grounded at Park Theatre
Olivia Poulet for Product at the Arcola Theatre

Best Supporting Female 
Emilie Patry for The Christians at the Gate Theatre
Kate Kennedy for Three Short Plays at the Old Red Lion
Lucy Ellinson for The Christians at the Gate Theatre
Rochenda Sandall for Little Malcolm And His Struggle Against The Eunuchs at Southwark Playhouse

Best Male 
David Fielder for And Then Come The Nightjars at Theatre503
Ian Gelder for Gods and Monsters at Southwark Playhouse
Matthew Tennyson for A Breakfast Of Eels at The Print Room
Rob Compton for Bat Boy at Southwark Playhouse Continue reading “2016 Offie Award Winners”