Review: The Brief Life and Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria: Part The First, VAULT Festival

Out Of The Forest Theatre nail it once again with The Brief Life and Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria: Part The First at the VAULT Festival

“I did what I could…
‘Did you?'”

I would hardwire Out Of The Forest Theatre to my brain if I could, something about the way in which they think about theatre and the stories that they tell (Call Me Fury; Bury the Hatchet) proving a real shot in the arm and deserving of much bigger renown. But for now, we should rejoice in the smaller spaces in which they’re playing as the intimacy only adds to this special air.

The latest chapter of the history books to receive a breath of their bracingly fresh air is a lesser sung (in this country at least) piece of European history that manifests itself as The Brief Life and Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria: Part The First. Written by Joseph Cullen and Sasha Wilson, their inventive mode of storytelling probes into the mythos of that very storytelling and how history chooses to remember people. Continue reading “Review: The Brief Life and Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria: Part The First, VAULT Festival”

My 10 favourite shows of 2019

I barely saw 250 shows this year, quiet by my standards! And as is the way of these things, here’s a rundown of some of the productions that moved me most…

1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Southwark Playhouse
I haven’t lost it in a theatre as much as this in a good long while. I cry at all sorts but this superlative musical had me trying, and failing, to choke back huge, hacking sobs. And I can still sing some of the songs – it has to come back, surely. “It’s all just a matter of time…”

2. Call Me Fury, Hope Theatre
“This is the history we should be teaching, these are the stories we should be sharing”, this striking and soulful piece gave voice to so many whom history have ignored, and was bloody entertaining with it. 

3. West Side Story, Curve Leicester
A musical I love, in a production that I simply adored. Getting to see two WSSs in one year was a privilege and for me, it was the emotional heart of Nikolai Foster’s production that won out.

4. As You Like It, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
The second year of the Public Acts programme comes up trumps once again with this gorgeous musical version of the Shakespeare classic, community theatre at its finest.

5. Islander, Southwark Playhouse
The magic of musical theatre distilled into two voices and a loop pedal – a marvellously inventive and endlessly moving. 

6. Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre/UK Tour/The Other Palace
As sweet-sharp as a diabolo grenadine, something truly gorgeous emerges from this film adaptation that simply demands you come up with better words than quirky to describe it.

7. & Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre
Tell me why… About as much fun as you can have in the West End right now, this is a particularly fine example of the jukebox model and I want it that way.

8. Sexy Lamp, VAULT
A standout piece in a standout festival, Katie Arnstein’s brutally honest monologue about navigating the patriarchy may be lightened with songs and sweets but is no less effective for it.

9. Karaoke Play, Bunker Theatre
Deeply confessional and subtly magical, Annie Jenkins’ inter-connected monologues combined to become so much more than the sum of their parts.

10. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, National Theatre
A magical family tale, perfect for kids of all ages. Not even reading the exit poll as I left could ruin the feeling! 

Shows 11-25 under the cut

Continue reading “My 10 favourite shows of 2019”

10 questions for 10 years – Abi Zakarian

I ask playwright Abi Zakarian to kick off round two of my 10 Questions for 10 Years feature

Abi Zakarian’s I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream kinda blew the roof off the VAULT Festival in 2018 and so she’s definitely a writer to watch out for, if indeed she’s not already on your radar – she has won a Fringe First too. But it is I Have A Mouth… that I will be putting on in my theatre when I win the lottery and I asked Abi to kindly share some thoughts about the play:

“Apart from the unbelievable amount of love and revolutionary fervour it seemed to inspire I actually really loved your review of it Ian – the bit at the end where you stated you’d changed your font for the review because of what you’d read in the Womanifesto made me choke up a little bit. So thank you.”

Review: The Green Fairy, Union Theatre

New musical The Green Fairy is a bleak but bold experience at the Union Theatre, featuring the unmissable, almighty voice of Julie Atherton

“So how are you, aside from being an alcoholic”

The Green Fairy announces itself as “a queer pub musical” which sounds like a genre that should have existed for years already and certainly feels like one rich with potential. And in the hands of debut musical writers Jack Sain (book, music and lyrics) and Stephen Libby (lyrics) together with dramaturg Hannah Hauer-King, it proves intriguing, even if the final effect is considerably more Once than Old Compton Street.

Which is a good thing because this musical fully embraces its intimate actor-musician ensemble and  in a still all-too-rare occurrence, focuses on the L (or perhaps the B) in LGBT+. It is open mic night at newly refurbished pub The Green Fairy and knowing her estranged daughter is going to be singing, Jo turns up to the place where she used to work and live and drink, and where the ghosts of her past – her girlfriend, her husband, her childhood best friend – still linger on. Continue reading “Review: The Green Fairy, Union Theatre”

Review: Call Me Fury, Hope Theatre

Out of the Forest Theatre’s Call Me Fury comes highly recommended from me at the Hope Theatre

“It begins with a girl…”

In the space of just three shows, Out of the Forest Theatre have indisputably become a no-questions-asked do-what-you-can must-see company for me and so by extension, for you too. Bury The Hatchet (2018’s 7th best show as I’m sure you’ll recall) and On Your Head Be It whetted the appetite last year and now it is the turn of Call Me Fury to weave its theatrical magic at the Hope Theatre.

Using the Salem Witch Trials as a jumping-off point, writer Sasha Wilson and director and collaborator Hannah Hauer-King attempt no less than a complete recasting of the history we think we know and the societal behaviours to which we’ve unflinchingly clung. The result is a bracing history lesson cum TED talk cum musical odyssey that gives an insistent voice to those whom historians have chosen not to record. Continue reading “Review: Call Me Fury, Hope Theatre”

Review: Grotty, Bunker Theatre

Lesbian subculture is put under the microscope in Grotty at the Bunker Theatre, anchored by an idiosyncratic performance from Izzy Tennyson

“There’s got to be another lesbian like you”

There’s something a little extraordinary about Izzy Tennyson’s central performance at the heart of Grotty. Her Rigby is mesmerising, a young woman finding her way through the London lesbian scene, characterised as an almost grotesque clown, clambering over every inch of the Bunker Theatre, hunched over, tongue lapping, words gabbled, a striking presence indeed.

As strong as she is though, this isn’t a one-woman show and Tennyson’s idiosyncratic manner (she is also the writer here) doesn’t always sit easily within the wider world of the play she has created. The relationships she crashes in and out of, the hookups she searches out, the friendships she abuses – all are more conventionally conceived, insofar as this slice of lesbian subculture could be considered conventional. Continue reading “Review: Grotty, Bunker Theatre”