Review: Low Level Panic, Orange Tree Theatre

“When am I going to wake up and be different?”

How far we’ve come since the 1980s. Or have we? That’s the thread going through Chelsea Walker’s production of Clare McIntyre’s 1988 play Low Level Panic, an insight into the lives of three housemates in their 20s. Dialogue heavy but conversationally acute, we eavesdrop on these women in their bathroom, sharing confidences, fantasies, stories of what it is like to be a woman in a society that continually objectifies their sex.

It may be nearly 30 years old but there’s a sinking awfulness about how recognisable so much of this is. Sexual politics in the workplace, internalised self-loathing, the effects of porn, the looming spectre of sexual assault, McIntyre covers a wide range of issues but approaches them with the complexity they deserve – her protagonists’ reactions to them are nuanced and varied and in Sophie Melville, Katherine Pearce and Samantha Pearl’s performances, deeply compelling. Continue reading “Review: Low Level Panic, Orange Tree Theatre”

DVD Review: Legend

“It took a lot of love to hate him”

On the one hand, Legend has a pair of cracking performances from Tom Hardy, who plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, that makes it an instantly interesting proposition. On the other, it’s a rather shallow, even sanitised version of events that delves into zero psychological depth and smacks of a irresponsibly glamourised take on violence that plays up to the enduring roll-call of British crime flicks that just keep on coming.

Writer and director Brian Helgeland begins with the Krays already established as East End hoodlums and tracks their rise to power as they seek to control more and more and have all of the capital under their thumb. This is seen through the prism of Reggie’s relationship and eventual marriage to Frances Shea, the teenage sister of his driver, a sprightly turn from Emily Browning when she’s allowed to act but too often she’s forced to deliver syrupy voiceover.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Legend”

Review: Brave New World, Royal and Derngate

“Everyone belongs to everyone else”

Depictions of dystopian near-future worlds are two-a-penny these days so what makes Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World so striking is that it was written in 1932. Its foretelling of a society dominated by technology, loveless sex and capitalist greed has obvious resonance today and so it makes sense for a stage adaptation, co-produced by Northampton’s Royal and Derngate and The Touring Consortium Theatre Company. Dawn King, she of the excellent Foxfinder, discreetly reshapes the narrative to its new form but doesn’t actually interfere too much with the source material.

Creatively, director James Dacre has gathered an excellent team around him who deliver great results in Naomi Dawson’s impressive retro-futuristic design Original music by These New Puritans mixes with George Dennis’ icy sound design to provide a vivid soundscape, and Colin Grenfell’s lighting complements Keith Skretch’s video work to create a strong visual aesthetic that probably errs to high-end contemporary rather than all-out futuristic, its targeted advertisements, corporate shininess and civil liberties-impinging data collection already a reality.  Continue reading “Review: Brave New World, Royal and Derngate”

Short Film Review #59

Toilets from Gabriel Bisset-Smith on Vimeo.
Gabriel Bisset-Smith’s Toilets is a great twist on your average rom-com, focusing on the people that just pop into your life every now and again but leaving such lasting impressions that one always wonders what if… For George, it is the American Fee who is his recurring theme, always appearing when he’s in the middle of something with his almost-out lesbian friend Link, and these fleeting moments are brilliantly conceived. Centring these encounters around conveniences is a neat way of linking them and the common threads of sex, drugs and dance music add an entertaining edge to this almost-love story.

Continue reading “Short Film Review #59”

Review: Dancing Bears – Charged, Soho Theatre

Part of the Charged season at Soho Theatre

“You got to show them that you ain’t messin’ around”

I can’t really say too much about Dancing Bears as I heard so very little of it. Sat where I was by the staircase up to the bar, the ambient noise of chatter and the music playing obscured most of the dialogue for me and in a tightly packed space, there was nowhere I could have moved to without causing considerable disruption. Compared to Dream Pill (for which I was sat on the opposite side of the room) where the level of hubbub helped the piece as it was set in the basement of a similar establishment, I could not see the same logic as we were set in a non-specific outdoor scenario where the noise made no sense to me. Additionally, our seats were awkwardly placed so much of the action with the injured Aaron was lost to us too: so all in all it was a shocker of an experience and really rather unsatisfactory.

Which was a shame as from what I could see of the play, it was interestingly set up. Looking at gang violence both through the perspective of young men, as the performers all initially arrive in hoodies playing boys, one by one they strip off the tops to become young women, sisters, girlfriends, comrades of the boys who ostensibly are sick of the lifestyle thrust upon them by men, only to form their own equally damaging little group, capable of just as much horrific violence. Ony Uhiara managed to stand out amongst the din with a physically intimidating performance as both a boy and girl whose lives are dominated by the idea of their gang as ‘family’ and unable to accept anything but total dedication.

Review: Dream Pill – Charged, Soho Theatre

Part of the Charged season at Soho Theatre

“You will like working here…”

Part of Charged 1, Rebecca Prichard’s Dream Pill tells the harrowing story of two young Nigerian girls, 9 and 10, who have been somehow locked into the sex-slave industry and kept prisoner both physically and mentally, playing on their spiritual beliefs which have been manipulated against them. It uses the setting of the downstairs restaurant well as the play is set in a cellar beneath some less than salubrious establishment and the faint hubbub of the Soho Theatre bar thus serves an effective purpose.

Danielle Vitalis as the bolshier, more gregarious Bola drives much of the narrative, her plain speaking presenting harsh truths to us with a, but Samantha Pearl as the more timid Tunde gives one of the most affecting performances of the whole six plays, Clearly damaged by her experiences, yet still hungry for affection and approval, she broke my heart with her wide eyes and hushed speech. Director Tessa Walker has them walking throughout the audience, addressing the audience directly and in such an uncompromising manner that one ends up not begrudging the temporary if unconscionable ‘relief’ provided by the dream pills they receive in return for services rendered.

Review: How To Be An Other Woman, Gate Theatre

“After four movies, three concerts, and two-and-a-half museums, you sleep with him. On the stereo you play your favourite harp and oboe music. He tells you his wife’s name.”

It’s a long quote to start off a review with I know, but it made me chuckle for ages and it is still raising a smile now as I look at it. This marked my first visit to Notting Hill’s Gate Theatre, a tiny 70 seater above a pub but with an impressive reputation for attracting talent. Based on a short story by Lorrie Moore, How To Be An Other Woman is about Charlene, a young New Yorker who falls into an affair with a man who happens to be married and despite her best intentions, she finds herself fulfilling all of the clichés around being a mistress.

The story reads as a set of instructions and so lends itself quite well to being acted out, but in Natalie Abrahami’s adaptation, the character of Charlene seems to be used as an everywoman figure, rather than telling the story of an individual, as we start off seeing four shop assistants who then take us through the play. Morris’ writing is wry and funny and if I say it reminds me of early episodes of Sex and the City, then I mean it as a compliment, this is Carrie before you wanted to slap her. There’s a pleasing briskness to proceedings, very little maudlin soul-searching but rather a self-awareness to the protagonist who despises her behaviour even as she does it.

The cast of four cover all the characters and even rotate playing Charlene and her lover, the balletic changing into the beige raincoat that marked an actress becoming Charlene was just lovely and I was a little disappointed when they stopped doing it in the middle of the play. The use of movement and dance was mostly effective, though the mix of choreographed routines and more expressive movement didn’t always work for me (I liked the ‘putting on the coat’ move, I did not care for ‘expressive climbing into bed’), but most crucially, in the brilliant montage of cheesy dance moves at the New Year’s Eve party, the running man was omitted: unforgivable!

Fresh from the triumphant run of After the Dance, Faye Castelow impressed here, especially in her narrating role as she does wry humour extremely well; Cath Whitefield was probably the best at slipping into the role of the male lover disturbingly convincing at times and Samantha Pearl was also strong. Unfortunately, Ony Uhiara has lost her voice so whilst she was onstage acting, her lines were being read in for her which was the first time I have actually seen that happen so it took a little getting used to.

As a preview, it seemed in very good shape already, but it felt like the ending could use some work, tightening it up to provide a more definitive conclusion. Altogether though, it was quite a nifty little piece, imaginatively staged and attractively presented and a good introduction to a new venue which I will have to add my list of ones to keep an eye on.

Running time: 1 hour (no interval)
Programme cost: free, but it doesn’t look or feel it, most impressive.
Booking until: 2nd October