Review: And The Rest of Me Floats, Bush Theatre

Outbox Theatre’s And The Rest of Me Floats is the queer house party at the Bush Theatre that you didn’t know you needed

“Do you see me?
Do you really see me?”

Outbox Theatre’s And The Rest of Me Floats soars in its opening and closing moments. There’s not a word spoken for the first few minutes but as the company of trans, non-binary, and queer performers take their seats one by one on the stage of the Bush Theatre – full of unflinching direct eye contact with the audience – there’s such a powerful statement of intent about their unalienable right to take over this space.

And as the show winds to its climax just over an hour later, this already most unconventional of shows opens out into something of a game of ‘Never Have I Ever’ as performers and audience members alike are encouraged to share something of themselves. It’s a beautifully intimate and inclusive act, topped off with a raucous singalong to MUNA’s anthemic ‘I Know A Place’ – how my queer little heart filled with joy. Continue reading “Review: And The Rest of Me Floats, Bush Theatre”

Review: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, National Theatre

“This is an empty world without the blues“

The title might be something of a misnomer in that there ain’t a whole lot of Ma Rainey in this play but that shouldn’t detract from the extraordinary power of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, part of August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle of plays examining each decade of the twentieth century African American experience. And Dominic Cooke’s production for the National Theatre loses nothing of its urgency, it may have been written in 1984 about 1927 but its incendiary racial politics are sadly just as pertinent in 2016.

Rainey was one of the first professional singers of the blues and among the first to be recorded but the play opens with the ‘Mother of The Blues’ singular in her absence. Her manager and studio manager, both white, are fretting about her lateness and how financially dependent on her records they are and downstairs in the rehearsal basement, the four black men who make up her band are shooting the breeze as they gear up for some music-making. But as the wait grows longer, patience wears thinner and long-ingrained injustices start to bubble to the fore. Continue reading “Review: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, National Theatre”

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”

The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.

Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. Continue reading “Film Review: London Road”

Review: Everyman, National Theatre

“It seems every man has had enough of me”

Starting quite literally with the Fall of Man, Carol Ann Duffy’s contemporary verse adaptation of medieval morality play Everyman sees Rufus Norris direct his first production since taking up the reins of Artistic Director at the National Theatre and finds him in a rather provocative mood. Through 100 minutes of boldly imagined drama, it’s hard not to feel that there’s an element of grabbing this institution by the lapels and giving it a good old shake. Not so much in establishing a definitive vision for the future per se but more in establishing just how wide its parameters will be. 

Norris and designer Ian MacNeil work cleverly within the constraints of the Travelex budget to provide impactful moments with – variously – Tal Rosner’s video wall, a powerful wind machine, William Lyons’ music which combines shawms with Sharon D Clarke most effectively and bags of rubbish. Javier De Frutos makes a significant contribution too as choreographer and movement director, the wordless opening sequence of a coke-and-Donna-Summer-fuelled birthday party makes for a bold beginning. Continue reading “Review: Everyman, National Theatre”

Review: The Amen Corner, National Theatre

“Ain’t nobody born that infallible”

Reader, I ovated. It is a rare occasion indeed that I actually give a standing ovation, more often than not I think about it and don’t do it but just occasionally, one bears witness to something in a theatre that is just irresistibly, incandescently amazing that the only response is to get on one’s feet. For me, it was Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s simply extraordinary performance as Sister Margaret Alexander that beats powerfully at the heart of The Amen Corner, a revival of a 1965 American play by James Baldwin, that fills the Olivier Theatre with the glorious sound of the London Community Gospel Choir.

 Jean-Baptiste’s Sister Margaret is the fiercely passionate leader of her local church in Harlem and living underneath with her sister Odessa and 18 year old son David, she leads her congregation with an iron fist of religious fervour. But trouble is brewing with discontent rumbling in the group of church elders who are looking for an opportunity to oust their leader and when her long estranged husband Luke turns up unexpectedly, they seize the moment as it turns out that their glorious leader may not be as blemish-free as she would have them believe. Continue reading “Review: The Amen Corner, National Theatre”

Review: Feast, Young Vic

“Your hair is like a water buffalo”

Though one tries to remain open-minded about most things theatrical, the word ‘multi-authored’ tends to make my heart sink. I don’t think I’ve ever really seen an example of the form that really worked for me (though it is possible that I have and I have forgotten) as it takes something extremely special to harness the potential unleashed by numerous writers and to turn it into something satisfying. And with Feast at the Young Vic, the point is proven once again. Part of the World Stages London festival (although feeling like a Johnny-come-lately in that respect), Yunior García Aguilera, Rotimi Babatunde, Marcos Barbosa, Tanya Barfield and Gbolahan Obisesan have all contributed to a production that celebrates the West African Yoruban culture and traces the paths by which it has spread and developed in their respective and native USA, Cuba, Nigeria, Brazil and the UK.

The central conceit of the show is that three sisters, demi-goddesses if you will, on their way to a feast but who encounter a mischievous trickster on their way who scatters them through time and space, reflecting the diasporic spread of Yoruba. But sadly, at a dramatic level, the globe-trotting and centuries-spanning narrative doesn’t really work. The episodic structure gives little time for the scribes to make their varying points and bouncing from Nigerian folklore to the end of the Brazilian slave trade to sexual politics in Cuba to the US civil rights struggle has a curiously flat effect as none have the space to really develop. But true to its name, Feast is made up of many, many parts and director Rufus Norris brings an astoundingly vibrant energy to the production side of things with dance and music and design elevating this into a genuinely spectacular affair. Continue reading “Review: Feast, Young Vic”