Review: Lost In Yonkers – Watford Palace

“It’s not so important that you hate me, it’s only important that you live”

Neil Simon’s play Lost in Yonkers starts in August 1942 and after their mother dies of cancer and their father has to take on a job away from home to pay off the debts for her treatment, young teenagers Jay and Arty Kurnitz find themselves deposited at the door of their grandmother’s flat on top of a sweet shop in the city of Yonkers. But there’s no warm family embrace waiting for them, Grandma Kurnitz barely spoke to her son and initially doesn’t even want to take in her grandchildren. She finally relents and so the boys stay there for a year, learning a whole new set of life lessons as she rules the roost with the harshest rod of steel and they get reacquainted with the aunts and uncles they hardly know.

Trapped with no chance of escape, the trials and tribulations of Jay and Arty are highly amusingly played by Jos Slovick and the playful Keith Ramsay, the misfortune of their situation more than tempered by their teenage concerns and constant mini-battles against the strictness of their new life regime. Some light relief comes in the form of the presence of their childlike Aunt Bella, their dodgy Uncle Louie and the later arrival of Aunt Gert complete with random speech impediment and the boys find themselves fitting into an entirely new family dynamic and one which their presence subtly changes. Continue reading “Review: Lost In Yonkers – Watford Palace”

Review: The Prophet, Gate Theatre

“Who will win in a free and fair election?”

Vinegar, Pepsi and onions. The things one learns at the theatre are many and varied but having seen The Prophet at the Gate Theatre, I now know three ways to counteract the effects of tear gas. With the fresh turmoil of the Egyptian presidential election and a military -enforced constitutional crisis, Hassan Abdulrazzak’s new play arrives with impeccable timing. Set in the middle of the Arab Spring in a Cairo bubbling with possibility of significant change and all the danger it brought with it, he uses this as a backdrop to explore the lives of people living in the middle of it.

Hisham and Layla have been married for seven years but things are going stale. He’s struggling with writer’s block but having his head turned by interest from glamorous Western literary agents; she’s an engineer, fending off her amorous boss even as she feels utterly neglected in the marital bed. Initially, the incipient revolution seems like an unwanted distraction from their comfortable liberal lives but as it awakens Layla’s nascent political activism and Hashim’s imagination flips into fevered overdrive, their own well-buried secrets threaten as seismic a change as the overthrow of the Mubarak regime.      Continue reading “Review: The Prophet, Gate Theatre”

Review: Salome, Richmond Theatre

“You must not look at her. You look too much at her.”

Salome has quite some theatrical pedigree: presented by Rupert Goold’s Headlong company and directed by Donmar Associate Jamie Lloyd, Oscar Wilde’s one act tragedy based on the Biblical story has been radically refashioned into a bold new production currently touring the UK (Oxford, Newcastle and Brighton remain) before settling at the Hampstead Theatre for a month on 22nd June.

Set in a post-apocalyptic futuristic industrial hellhole somewhere in the Middle East, spoiled princess Salome takes a perverse fancy to Iokanaan (John the Baptist) despite or perhaps because of the grim prophecies he has for her mother, Herodias, and stepfather, the Tetrarch King Herod. It seems as if these prophecies, and the detestation both Herod and Herodias have for the prophet, are the reason for Salome’s sudden obsession but when Herod makes her an offer she can’t refuse involving a dance, the opportunistic princess sows the seeds for her own downfall.

After a slightly slow opening 15 minutes or so, Salome soon kicks into gear with a highly visual gore-filled, sexualised take on the well known Biblical story. Not recognisably Wildean it must be said, Jamie Lloyd has stripped it bare of its original idiosyncrasies and reconstructed a savage modern tale of 21st century sexuality which surprises rather than truly shocks but nevertheless develops into an engaging account of what is a largely familiar story.


As the titular Salome, Zawe Ashton is unashamedly shallow and sexual, portraying her as hopped up on something or other, her jittery hands unable to stop themselves from running over her body, alive to her sexuality but not yet fully aware of its power and the consequences of flaunting it so vividly. This awkwardness is perfectly played in the beginning of the infamous dance sequence, thoroughly updated here but imbued with a painful ungainliness exacerbated by the reaction of Herod (which is to masturbate furiously in the open court). Ashton has to deal with much of Wilde’s repetitive text, endlessly repeating two key phrases but she fills them with sufficient petulance to remind us that this is just an oversexualised kid.


As the tyrannical, testosterone-fuelled Herod, Con O’Neill is quite something: sexually hungry for men and women alike and unable to control his urges, leading to his rash promise that leads to the climactic demand. Physically he gave a magnificent portrayal of this rapacious despot and the human frailty beneath the swaggering, but I wasn’t 100% convinced by his vocal delivery, strangely high-pitched and mostly delivered at a bellow. Jaye Griffiths is vocally much stronger as his attention-hungry embittered wife and as a result becomes something of a focal point as probably the strongest performance onstage. Seun Shote’s Iokanaan deserves a special mention though: kept chained under a manhole, his first arrival from his prison kickstarts the show, his muscular presence rising from the deeps and spewing forth prophetic pronouncements with a powerful baritone. The rest of the ensemble is strong but there is little to distinguish them from one another, only Richard Cant’s heartbroken Page of Herodias stands out with his revelations about the true closeness of his friendship with the Young Syrian Sam Donovan.


The design by Soutra Gilmour is impressive, all the more so considering how it reinvents the traditional stage at Richmond and is a touring show, with a large square sandpit strewn with puddles of tar dominating the dungeon-like space, scaffolds and lighting rigs around the walls add to savagery of the landscape. Combined with very effective lighting and pulsing sound design, there is a great sense of atmosphere to this production culminating in the production of an extremely gory and effective severed head, and with a running time of just 90 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. All in all, something really quite different and interesting that you should make the effort to see.


Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Programme cost: £3
Note: smoke, haze and scenes of a sexual nature abound in this production so probably not one for the sensitive.