Review: Pedal Pusher, Theatre Delicatessen

“I’d forgotten how beautiful it was, riding a bicycle”

First performed in 2009, Theatre Delicatessen’s Pedal Pusher took a searing look at a crucial five year period in the Tour de France when a doping scandal threatened this most noble of events but the sport managed to find a saviour to take them into the brightest of futures – a cyclist by the name of Lance Armstrong… With subsequent real life proving to be more theatrical (or soap opera-like tbh) than anyone could ever have foreseen, the production has been “reworked and re-imagined” to more fully explore the lengths people will go to in order to succeed.

The focus falls on three cyclists who all had the potential to become legendary but ended up infamous due to their various demons. Marco Pantani suffered career-threatening injuries after being hit by a car, Jan Ullrich experienced crippling depression, Lance Armstrong battled pervasive testicular cancer and as we’ve come to see, all three used performance enhancing drugs to carve their niche in a sport riddled with the practice. Conceived and scripted by Roland Smith from a variety of found texts, it fashions a most compelling story that is gripping in its intensity.’ Continue reading “Review: Pedal Pusher, Theatre Delicatessen”

Review: Henry V, Theatre Delicatessen

“Straining upon the start, the game’s afoot”

There’s something a little perverse about the most striking moment in Theatre Delicatessen’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V being one of no words, but in the anguished looks of two military medical staff waiting in the bunker as conflict rages noisily above them, there’s a flash of genuinely powerful theatre. The horrors of war are sadly timeless and that is something that Roland Smith’s modernisation, loosely redolent of the 1980s, is intent on demonstrating in this tale of a young King Henry wrestling with the burdens of leading men to war.

The company have adopted an old BBC building on Marylebone High Street as their new home, and after winding our way through its winding corridors, escorted by firm-handed soldiers, we arrive in a gloomy subterranean bunker with seating scattered around (choose wisely, it’s a long play…). And at times, the production works beautifully. The claustrophobia of the setting and the conflicting emotions of patriotism versus fear sometimes calls to mind the excellent Journey’s End; the scene in which the princess and her lady-in-waiting practise their English is excellently re-interpreted as a time-killing device which almost, but not quite, hides their nerves as conflict rages around them; and a deftness of touch which allows the company to effortlessly double and triple up, often from one scene to the next. Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Theatre Delicatessen”

Review: The Canterbury Tales, Southwark Playhouse

“Welcome one and all to the Tabard Inn”

I love a tankard, especially one full of mulled wine on a chilly winter’s evening, and so I was most pleased to be able to get one at the Southwark Playhouse. Not in the bar though, but in the main house itself which has been converted into a working medieval tavern for a production of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The yarns have been adapted for the stage by Tom Daplyn and Tacit Theatre into modern language to give their examinations of the many aspects of human behaviour greater currency for today’s audience in this piece of story-telling theatre.

Director Juliane von Sivers and the creative team have further broken the mould by aiming for an immersive experience with the show. We’re all punters in the Tabard inn – Cara Newman’s design puts the bar at one end and has the seating in the round circling a raised stage – and the team of seven actor-musicians form the entertainment, working through six of the stories and interleaving them with some rowdy tub-thumping (though perhaps a tad anachronistic) sing-alongs. The combined effect is thus one of a genial informality, a beautifully relaxed evening down the pub with a tapestry of stories being woven around us. Continue reading “Review: The Canterbury Tales, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: A Christmas Carol, Theatre Delicatessen

“You will be haunted Ebenezer, three times”

In what is the penultimate production that will take place at Theatre Delicatessen’s temporary home at the former headquarters of Uzbekistan Airways before it is converted into apartments (what else…), this interpretation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, adapted by Pete Wrench, is a co-production between .dash and tacit theatre.

On arrival, steaming mugs of mulled wine and mince pies welcome you into the offices of Scrooge & Marley’s Financial Solutions, although care should taken when taking your seat as the two additional rows that span the length of the room on the right hand side offer quite limited views. On the one hand, I’m pleased that so many tickets have been sold that this additional seating is necessary but on the other, the view, especially from those seats nearer the front, is so restricted as the stage in Scrooge’s office is so narrow and deep that much was missed as this was where we ended up.

Dickens’ tale has been modernised somewhat, references to the DWP and the current deficit abound and Bob Cratchit’s role in the office is to keep pedalling a bike which generates the electricity for the organisation. But much of the language used is quite faithful to the original text, creating a strange tension between the traditional and the innovative which is never quite resolved due to the lack of a clear creative vision for this production.

The innovation of having Marley appear on a bank of old TVs in the office was highly effective but I couldn’t quite see the connection within this interpretation: just why did Scrooge have so many screens in his office as he works in Financial Solutions rather than in the surveillance business and the ghostly images that appeared intermittently throughout the rest of the show were too indistinct to really make an impact. It would have been nice to have seen more use of video technology given its initial effectiveness and how it would have brought more originality to the storytelling.

Tom Daplyn’s Scrooge is excellent at the miserly curmudgeon, relishing in the grumpiness and anger that drives him, which makes it all the more surprising that this production has him come to his grand realisation practically after the first visitation, rendering the second and third somewhat redundant. Jonathon Saunders works hard as all three ghosts, his Christmas Yet To Come being the most effective with its stilts and long sweeping black cloak creating a sinister figure; Jonathan Wittaker is an appealing Bob and the most handsome, bequiffed Tom Ross-Williams does well as Scrooge’s nephew Fred. But in this awkward playing space, too much is lost with Scrooge’s back turned to us for too long at crucial moments, too many characters sat on a level with the audience and so swallowed up in the crowd and despite being trailed as a promenade production, there was little use of the space other than up front save for entrances and exits.

I did like much of the design aesthetic, with its mix of the modern and the Victorian and creatively, with its sound, lighting and video, this promised to be an intriguing evening. But without an equally inventive approach to the text and the way it is presented, or for that matter adequate attention to the needs of its audience, this Christmas Carol has missed a trick in order to make it stand out from the crowd.

Running time: 90 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: free cast sheet available
Booking until 24th December
Note: avoid sitting on the right hand side!!