Review: Birds and Bees

Charlie Josephine’s Birds and Bees captures teenage awkwardness perfectly, in the shadow of a school sexting scandal

“‘Cause us rowdy year tens, we’re not making it any easier for you”

My abiding memory of sex education at my high school is the relief felt as I managed to avoid being the one selected for the banana demonstration exercise. But in today’s altogether more digital age, teenagers are faced with a much more complex entry into the world of relationships, temptation and sex, particularly as they intersect with a deeper understanding of wider societal issues such as identity, mental health, consent and the use and abuse of social media.

It is into this world that Charlie Josephine’s new play Birds and Bees explodes as four students sit through 45 minutes of after-school detention in the aftermath of a sexting scandal. They’ve been tasked with writing a speech to dissuade their classmates from taking or sharing explicit pictures but warring couple Leilah and Aarron are deep in their feelings, neither of them can stand the nerdy Maisy and non-binary Billy seems just too cool to get drawn into all this drama. Continue reading “Review: Birds and Bees”

Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor, RSC at the Barbican

In the spirit of the season, I’m not commenting too much on the RSC’s The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Barbican

“I hope we shall drink down all unkindness”

Fiona Laird’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor is the third of the RSC’s show to open at the Barbican this winter and whilst it is certainly an eye-catching revival with its Only Way is Essex tendencies, it really wasn’t the one for me.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes ((with interval)
Photo: Manuel Harlan
The Merry Wives of Windsor is booking at the Barbican until 5th January

Review: Romeo and Juliet, RSC at the Barbican

A modern and moving take on Romeo and Juliet from the RSC at the Barbican

“I am too young. I pray you, pardon me”

It’s sometimes a little difficult to take seriously how old everyone is meant to be in Romeo and Juliet but Erica Whyman’s modern-day production for the RSC, playing in rep now at the Barbican, never lets you forget. She fills the stage with kids for a cacophonous prologue, Karen Fishwick’s Juliet rightfully feels like a child and in turn, Mariam Haque’s Lady Capulet (“I was your mother much upon these years that you are now a maid”) is a convincing 26, closer to her daughter in age than her husband, but emotionally distant from both. 

It’s a pattern Juliet seizes the first chance to break when she meets Bally Gill’s charismatic Romeo, a young man very much still coming into his own. And you feel that it is the running away that appeals to her just as much as the running away together. For she’s all too aware that there are cycles of violence that the young’uns of this Verona can’t hope to escape – indeed what chance do they have when even all the adults around them carry and use knives to resolve even the smallest slight.  Continue reading “Review: Romeo and Juliet, RSC at the Barbican”

Review: BLUSH, Soho Theatre

“Cock, non-bio.
Cock, non-bio.
Cock, non-bio.
Cock.”

Charlotte Josephine’s BLUSH makes its way to the Soho Theatre after a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year and ahead of a tour across the South of England (and Birmingham). And it’s a play that manages to hit two of my bugbear phrases in theatre writing, in that it is both ‘darkly comic’ and ‘extremely timely’. But though reviewers and publicists may desperately overuse both terms, it doesn’t make it any less true here.

BLUSH is concerned with revenge porn, weaving together five stories of people who have found themselves swept up in this most modern of afflictions. An older sister looks on helplessly as her 18 year old sibling has intimate photos published online by a boyfriend, a father struggles with his porn addiction, a jilted lover is surprised at the reaction she gets when she posts her ex’s nudes, Josephine and her co-performer Daniel Foxsmith show us the many ways in which the issue can impact our lives. Continue reading “Review: BLUSH, Soho Theatre”

Review: Weald, Finborough Theatre

“The earth sings when he touches it”

The slow decline of the English rural economy and the way of life that accompanies it has proved a fruitful one for playwrights and it is a subject to which Daniel Foxsmith has turned, drawing on his own brief experiences in a livery yard, for his third play Weald for Snuff Box Theatre. And hand in hand with this changing world come questions about our place within it, once clearly defined gender roles now more fluid, Foxsmith suggesting that modern masculinity is in crisis for both young and old in this intriguing two-hander directed by Bryony Shanahan. 

Now in his 50s, grizzled and weatherbeaten, Sam has worked the yard as long as he can remember but life seems to be passing him by – his wife has left him and he’s sold off the farmhouse to make ends meet. And it’s a life to which Jim, a 25-year-old full of cocky swagger, has returned, after flying the coop six years ago for life in London. There’s much history between the pair, not least in the manner of Jim’s parting and as he wangles his way back into his old job, secrets old and new start to spill forth like imaginary animal feed into a bucket.  Continue reading “Review: Weald, Finborough Theatre”

Review: buckets, Orange Tree Theatre

“What we want – and you know this, but I’ll say it again – what we need is lists. People like lists. They share lists”

One of the more difficult jobs that Paul Miller has had, dealing with the loss of Arts Council England funding aside, is in bridging the gap between the old and the new at Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre. As the incoming Artistic Director, his debut season has more than doubled the number of first-time visitors to this in-the-round space – fuelled by buzz-worthy successes like Pomona, soon to be revived at the National – but Miller has also kept a keen eye on existing audiences, making sure that the shift in programming, with a wide range of new writers and directors, hasn’t come at their expense but rather just widened the remit of this venue.

And it is tempting to see buckets , the latest production there, as something of a bridge – Rania Jumaily is the Orange Tree’s Resident Director and first-time (full-length) writer Adam Barnard started as a trainee director here back in 2003 but together, they’ve come up with a subtly forward-thinking piece of theatre. Initial impressions are a little reminiscent of a Gap advert with the company of six draped in shades of blue and white and flowers scattered around a stage dominated by a stainless steel slide but in the midst of James Turner’s innocuous-seeming set, an intriguing mode of storytelling emerges. Continue reading “Review: buckets, Orange Tree Theatre”

Review: Secret Theatre 4, Lyric Hammersmith

 “You clandestine peasant.
‘You curdled cock’”

Much of the buzz about Secret Theatre was the fact that audiences are kept in the dark about what it is they are booking for, placing their trust in the hands of an adventurous company looking to shake up the way theatre is created and commodified in this country. It makes for an entertaining evening, especially at the start as one waits to find out where in the theatre we’re going to be, and what delights are in store.

As it was, I got to the end of Show 4 without having worked out much to be honest. The post-show information told me it was a play named Glitterland, an adaptation of John Webster’s The White Devil by Hayley Squires but not being a play I am familiar with, that proved of little assistance. In a densely woven plot, the striking aesthetic of the company – directed here by Ellen McDougall – takes you a long way but not quite far enough into a satisfying dramatic experience.  Continue reading “Review: Secret Theatre 4, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Secret Theatre 3, Lyric Hammersmith

“Your last meal – what would it be?” 

Where shows #1 and #2 of the Lyric Hammersmith’s Secret Theatre season maintained complete radio silence about their content (even if certain critics weren’t able to hold off revealing titles at the interval…), it seems that the efforts of keeping things mysterious have gotten a little too much. Secrets are still thrillingly in store for other aspects of the show but clues are being offered for #3 right up front on the website, strongly hinting that the death penalty is something to do with the production.

And so it proves, Caroline Bird’s new play Chamber Piece is an unremittingly dark piece of writing, set in a near-future where capital punishment has been reintroduced to Britain. But Bird wants to look at what happens when it goes wrong, as we witness an execution that doesn’t follow through and the ethical and practical mess that emerges in the aftermath. Can the state try again to kill someone for whom they have a death warrant? Should they? Continue reading “Review: Secret Theatre 3, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Secret Theatre Show 1 and Secret Theatre Show 2, Lyric Hammersmith

“You must think us a right rough bunch of people”

How long can you keep a secret? How long should you keep a secret? As it turns out, critics were tweeting the title of the Lyric Hammersmith’s ‘Secret Theatre Show 2’ as soon as they could get their phones on in the interval, unleashing a flurry of outraged blogs and tweets which argued both sides of the toss – it was either like Christmas being ruined or one of the least important parts of the whole experience. That experience is Secret Theatre, an ambitious 8 month programme launched by the Lyric’s Sean Holmes which has pulled together an ensemble of 20 creatives who will produce 7 shows over the period. But the key is that the titles are kept from us, no programmes are for sale on arrival and so technically you take your place in the auditorium, which is mid-renovation, not knowing what the curtain will rise upon.

A quick scoot around the internet will reveal the titles of Secret Theatre Show 1 and Secret Theatre Show 2 which have now opened but in the spirit of the whole affair – after all as we leave, we are urged “Shhh. Keep the secret…” – this review won’t spill the beans too much. We live in a spoiler-saturated society now when it comes to much of our popular culture and so whilst it may not be to everyone’s taste, the unique thrill of knowing nothing in advance is one to savour. It also leads to the intriguing question of when recognition of what play is being performed will come, indeed if at all for it could be a piece of new writing, experienced theatregoers should be fine but new audiences have the opportunity to possibly experience some of the greatest writing of last century as if it were a brand new play and that is what is genuinely exciting about this enterprise. Continue reading “Review: Secret Theatre Show 1 and Secret Theatre Show 2, Lyric Hammersmith”