Review: Octagon, Arcola Theatre

“Do poets get to be happy?”

It’s a rare production that really makes you sit up and pay attention but from the moment the percussive handclaps mark the beginnings of Kristiana Rae Colón’s ferocious new play Octagon, its unique energy electrifies the stage of the Arcola. Set in the world of slam poetry, 8 young Chicagoans prepare for lyrical battle but out on the streets of contemporary America, the struggle is painfully real as issues of race, gender and class characterise an inequality they can only protest by using their words.

And what words. Colón hooks her first half around the competition for a much-vaunted spot on Chimney, Chad and Palace’s team as five hopefuls take to the stage to deliver three minutes of poetry to win enough points from the judges. Watched over by Estella Daniels’ utterly magnificent compere who does a magisterial job in working the audience, subjects from Malala to Miley and racial profiling to the sexual gaze rattle round the theatre in some truly mesmerising and memorable performances. Continue reading “Review: Octagon, Arcola Theatre”

Review: The Skriker, Royal Exchange

“No mistake no mister no missed her no mist no miss no”

As my dear Aunty Mary used to say, by the crin! Sarah Frankcom’s production of Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker is a properly gobsmacking piece of work, the kind of theatre that leaves you reeling from its sheer audacity, its free-wheeling inventiveness and a general sense of what-the-fuckery. Maxine Peake’s acting career has been far too varied for a peak to ever be declared (though for me, Twinkle ftw) but it is hard to imagine her any more hauntingly, viscerally, intense than she is here, wrapping every sinew of her body around the often bafflingly complex wordplay and utterly owning it with an authoritative otherworldliness.

There’s a plot. Kind of. Though it is literally, and physically, hard to follow. Frankcom has lavished huge amounts of creativity onto the show and empowered her creatives to be daring, so that it becomes akin to an art installation in how densely visual it becomes. Imogen Knight’s choreography haunts every scene as an ensemble of 12 keep a strange and kinetic energy coursing through the theatre, Jack Knowles’ artistically inspired lighting playfully pulls the perspective one way then the other, and Lizzie Clachan’s reinvention of the physical space of the auditorium has to be seen to really be believed (book the stalls, seriously) as it rewrites the rules of engagement. Continue reading “Review: The Skriker, Royal Exchange”