Review: Elegy, Theatre503

‘Some stories are more powerful than others.’ 

In Douglas Rintoul’s devised monologue Elegy, the above is a piece of advice given to an asylum speaker preparing for an interview with the officials who’ll determine whether he will be allowed sanctuary or forced to return to the regime from which he is fleeing. But far from a cynical look at how the refugee system can be exploited, this is a deeply impassioned cri de coeur about the horrific realities of life for the LGBT community in post-liberation Iraq, an exceptionally powerful and haunting piece of theatre.

Based on a number of interviews from the Human Rights Watch and Stonewall, our narrator is an unnamed gay Iraqi who takes us through his personal history of cautiously optimistic though unrequited first love and the discovery of a careful but active gay community, through to the harsh dawn of a new ultra-conservatism which turned onto even the slightest intimation of homosexual behaviour and his ultimate desperate flight from his homeland. Continue reading “Review: Elegy, Theatre503”

Review: London: Four Corners One Heart, Theatre 503

“I want to show you London. My London.”

Theatre 503 has long been a supporter of fresh new theatre and they’re maintaining that reputation with their latest show. London: Four Corners One Heart is a collection of “stories inspired by the streets of London and the people who play on them”, all short pieces of new writing from emerging playwrights. The theme is London in all its variety and the four stories each take a corner, a point on the compass to talk about the city they love.

There was much to admire about the whole production, not least the ambitious scope of producers Sky or the Bird, the gusto of the cast and creatives and the supportive atmosphere of an enthusiastic audience. And though I have to be honest and say the quality of the evening was sometimes variable, I found much to appreciate too, especially in the stimulation of young writing talent. Continue reading “Review: London: Four Corners One Heart, Theatre 503”

Review: Beasts / Las Brutas, Theatre503

“Life is moving away from us, day by day”

One of the advantages of living in London is the sheer diversity of theatrical opportunity that this city offers on a daily basis and the chances to further explore sub-genres highlighted in one theatre : in this case the Latin American mini-season at the Royal Court Upstairs, by visiting another theatre whose programming complements it excellently: here Theatre503’s production of Beasts/Las Brutas by Juan Radrigán. Radrigán is a Chilean playwright and one who remained in his homeland throughout Pinochet’s dictatorship and so his work is suffused with the reality of living under such oppression and in particular the effect it had on those most marginalised in society.

Beasts is receiving its UK premiere here through a new translation by Catherine Boyle and was written in 1981 as a response to the true 1974 story of three sisters found tied together with rope and hanging from a rock in the most remote part of Northern Chile. Radrigán weaves a story working back from their deaths to try and explore how this could have happened. They were coia, part of the sparse indigenous Andean population, and their isolation from the world was nearly total. There’s a deal of humour in the tales that the sisters tell each other of the rumoured new-fangled inventions in the big bad city, like talking boxes, sunshine caught in a small glass and a broom that sweeps with no branches, for theirs is a world in which hot running water hasn’t arrived and electricity is an unimaginable concept. Continue reading “Review: Beasts / Las Brutas, Theatre503”

Review: Many Moons, Theatre503

“I looked into her big big eyes. And found one hundred moons in amongst the blue.”

Set over a hot summer’s day in Stoke Newington, Many Moons is Alice Birch’s debut play showing at the Theatre503 in Battersea. Following four people whose isolated metropolitan existences circle round each other, their stories threatening to collide in the scorching heat of a village fête in Abney Park with potentially devastating effects. Birch is a graduate of new writing schemes at both the National and the Royal Court and with her first full-length production marks herself out as a talent to watch with a highly witty yet poetic play of great maturity and dramatic intrigue.

Edward Franklin’s nervy, nerdy Ollie is a bundle of barely-socialised but still endearing energy as a young man trying to break free from a life of dull Oxford academia and dark matter to try and find something new in London. In the flat next door, Esther Smith’s effervescent Juniper is an irrepressible perma-smiling ball of positivity, newly moved down from the Midlands and unshakeably sure that love and life have great things in store for her. Jonathan Newth’s Robert is preoccupied with caring for his Parkinson’s-suffering wife but he still has deep desires of his own. And in a house across the road, Esther Hall’s heavily-pregnant and unhappily-married Meg is wrestling with her feelings of unfulfilment and channelling her time and energies into dealing with a world of suspicions. Continue reading “Review: Many Moons, Theatre503”

Review: The Biting Point, Theatre503

“The march is coming…”

Ruth is refusing to come to terms with the recent past and the reality of her life now; Dennis finds himself trapped in a sordid mess very much of his own making; Malcolm is struggling to balance caring for his sister with trying to live his own life. The stories of these three people and how the personal affects and defines the political, often to extreme levels as a race riot approaches, make up The Biting Point, a new play by Sharon Clark playing at Theatre503 in Battersea, directed by Dan Coleman.

Read the rest of this review at Broadway World [link opens an external site]

Review: Madagascar, Theatre 503

“If someone chooses to disappear, then they need to stay gone”

The European premiere of JT Rogers’ Madagascar arrives at the Theatre 503 in Battersea for a run until 5th June presented here by a co-ordinated effort between Primavera and Le Nez Productions. After Anyone Can Whistle and The Rivals already this year, Primavera are turning into a bit of a must-see producing house for me and when I heard my favourite of the Cusack sisters had been cast in this play, I knew that I would be trekking south of the river for this.

Madagascar takes place in a hotel room opposite the Spanish Steps in Rome and is narrated by three different characters, all affected by the disappearance of a young man. His mother Lilian appears five years ago at the point of the incident, his sister June relates the tale from a few days ago and Nathan, Lilian’s adulterous lover, is there in the present. Although they occupy the same space, they are each there alone, as they tell their stories and the monologues weave around each other, dealing with the pain of loving others, whether that’s filial, parental or conjugal love and how these relationships can horribly wrong.

What makes the evening really sing though is the sheer quality of the acting. I’ve long been a fan of Sorcha Cusack and she did not disappoint as the domineering mother with her classy facade that doesn’t quite cover the complexity and indeed darkness of the persona beneath, hints of which break through at key moments in flashes across Cusack’s face. But I was equally impressed with Miranda Foster’s fragile June, tormented by grief but also perhaps grateful for the sense of purpose given to her through tragedy and Barry Stanton’s gruff but amiable economist.

Colllectively they wove together their stories and really made us care for these characters, making Madagascar as much a study in the impact of grief on those left behind as a mystery about the disappearance of a man and this makes the play considerably stronger than it might have been in a weaker production. Whereas the writing is intricate in relating the three time zones and poetic in the imagery it creates that resonates throughout, it’s a little too clever at times and keeps the audience at a bit of a distance: very rarely do we have the opportunity to lose ourselves in the true emotion of a scene and it is a real credit to the three actors that we do invest in these people.

Creatively it is extremely strong: Tom Littler clearly recognises the weight of the talent here and so has carefully employed a minimum of distractions around the actors. The faded glamour of the hotel room is evoked through the lovely burnished silver walls, a bed, bedside table and a desk the only furniture in Morgan Large’s subtle design, Will Reynolds’ lighting is excellent in smoothly and efficiently transitioning between the time periods and Jamie Beamish’s haunting cello-based score perfectly sets the contemplative mood.

Altogether I found Madagascar a very satisfying night at the theatre. Whilst I may have found Rogers’ writing a little too clever, there is no denying that he is possessed of some extraordinary skill: the way in which he obliquely reveals information is delightful, the way in which the characters are related for example and the way in which the competing theories for the disappearance are built up and floated as possibilities. Combined with some of the best acting currently on the London stage and a fabulous design aesthetic, Theatre 503 have themselves a winner, book a ticket now!

Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: 50p

Review: Porn – The Musical, Theatre503

“Fate was about to unload on him like a football team on a lapdancer”

First off, if you’ve arrived at this page by googling one of the words above, then sorry to disappoint but Porn – The Musical contains no actual pornographic material. What you do get though is a really quite funny, high-energy madcap Maltese musical, via a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival in 2009. Young Stefan is happily engaged to Jade and living a quiet life as a carpenter in Malta but when it turns out that Jade is actually a huge slut who has slept with everyone on the island, the distraught Stefan packs his bag in search of a new life in the USA. When he is mugged as soon as he arrives, he ends up being sucked (fnarr fnarr) into the world of porn, but finds that it’s not quite what he expected.

It really is very funny. The music by Boris Cezek (who is, according to the programme, well know in the Maltese music industry, how could you not love him!) and Kris Spiteri is tuneful enough, but the book, written by the same two plus Abigail Guan and Malcolm Galea who acts as the narrator is consistently laugh out loud funny. Galea drives things along with his interjections and there’s a real sense of his stand-up roots in the frequent slips out of character as the actors complain about one thing or another. This provides an almost anarchic feel to proceedings which works very well as it means it has the sharper edge of a comedy routine, especially in the role of Miscellaneous Man who plays a vast number of supporting characters, often in the same scene, which keeps the laughs coming. Continue reading “Review: Porn – The Musical, Theatre503”