10 top theatrical moments of 2021

As distinct from my favourite shows of the year, this list celebrates the fact that sometimes the good and the not-so-good co-exist right next to each – some of my favourite moments.

For reference, here’s my 2020 list, 2019 list, 2018 list, 2017 list2016 list2015 list and 2014 list.

Helen McCrory, in memoriam
I still don’t really have the words to talk about how sad the passing of Helen McCrory is, such a favourite actor of mine for so long. But what was joyful was hearing the absolute esteem in which seemingly every one of her colleagues held her, a testament to the person as well as the performer.

Being scared, by women
After having declared that scary theatre just didn’t work for me, the Terrifying Women made me eat my words in quite some style with their Halloween special. Continue reading “10 top theatrical moments of 2021”

Review: Talking Gods, Arrows & Traps online

Talking Gods sees Arrows & Traps move online with a creative hybrid of theatre and film hoiking Ancient Greek mythology into the modern age

“Do you know what comes up first when you type Zeus into Google?”

The world of Greek mythology has long proved fruitful fodder for playwrights and it is to here that Ross McGregor has turned for his season of modern Greek myths – Talking Gods. And whilst the titles of these five digital plays might resonate – Persephone, Orpheus, PygmalionAphrodite and Icarus – the approach that McGregor’s writing takes means that these characters are refracted in sometimes significantly different ways. It’s a wise move, which proves something of a commentary on the act of myth-making as well, an acknowledgement that to remain relevant one needs must adapt whether celestial or commonplace.

So the art that bewitches Pygmalion so becomes an online avatar in the video game he is creating (a superb performance from Edward Spence), Ares may be the god of war but not even he can outrun PTSD here (edgy brilliance from Buck Braithwaite), Icarus is worried less about wings than the family secrets that are pouring out following the death of his father. Recasting the stories this way also allows a more direct way for the plays to speak to contemporary issues – family atomisation, climate change, identity struggles and isolation in so many different forms. Continue reading “Review: Talking Gods, Arrows & Traps online”

News: Arrows & Traps presents Talking Gods

This spring, Arrows & Traps presents Talking Gods, a digital season of five reimagined Greek myths. These moving reworkings of classic Greek tales present snapshots of the modern world filled with pathos and comedy, music and love and tragedy and loss. During the week-long digital festival, one play will premiere every night, and each play will be followed by a live Q&A on Zoom and then remain online for free.

The Greek myths have been a cornerstone of Western culture for millennia, telling stories of gods and monsters but conveying deep wisdom about the human condition. Writer Ross McGregor uses them to examine vital contemporary issues, some of which have become heightened during the pandemic, in his five new plays. Continue reading “News: Arrows & Traps presents Talking Gods”

10 questions for 10 years – Ross McGregor

The only interview (so far) to feature the phrase ‘horse race sex scene’, have a read of Ross McGregor’s 10 questions for 10 years

Frankenstein to The White Rose to Taro to The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde. Trying to pick my favourite Arrows & Traps show is like picking your favourite child (always the middle one!) and naturally in choosing Anna Karenina with its waltzing romanticism, I went wrong πŸ˜‰ In any case, I enjoyed getting to know their artistic director Ross McGregor a little better here.

“Your favourite?! Well, thank you very much. The one I didn’t write, haha. My favourite memory is the look on my movement director’s face (Will Pinchin) when I told him I needed him to choreograph a horse race at a derby, that was simultaneously a sex scene. And watching him slowly make a note that read: “horse race sex scene”, and underline it, and not ask me why. In my defence, it was in the script. And thanks to Will’s enormous talent, and the cast’s incredible efforts, the scene was an absolute highlight of the piece, and I was very proud of the team when they showed it to me.”

  • Where were you 10 years ago?

    I was in Norwich, working for a different theatre company that specialised in regional touring. We did classics and more than our fair share of seat-filler fodder (Godber, Coward, Aykbourn, etc.). Looking back at that time is strange as we were touring nationally but didn’t really have much of a sense of planning or patience. We definitely tried to run before we could walk, which is why the theatre company ultimately failed to flourish. It seemed an easier time, but I guess everything does when you’re in your twenties. I remember the Norfolk winds though, eeesh that place is cold.

    Continue reading “10 questions for 10 years – Ross McGregor”

Review: The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde, Brockley Jack

Arrows & Traps’ queer noir take on The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde is a contemporary adaptation that speaks to the ages at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“It’s verging on the apocalyptic”

Well if you’re going to do the classics, you might as well do them like this! Ross McGregor’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella updates The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde to the 2020 US presidential election but it also infuses the story with an undeniable air of menace and queerness that at once feels contemporary and entirely respectful of the source.

McGregor has taken clear inspiration from ‘Mayor Pete’ for his version of Henry Jekyll, an energetic young senator from Indiana who, in light of Trump’s impeachment, dares to dream of rescuing the Oval Office. Against a backdrop of seemingly never-ending school shootings, his platform is a vociferously anti-gun one but as investigative journalist Gabrielle joins his team, she discovers there’s more than just a skeleton in the closet… 
Continue reading “Review: The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde, Brockley Jack”

Review: TARO, Brockley Jack

Arrows & Traps’ TARO is a beautiful tribute to a historical figure we have sorely neglected, playing now at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“In the lens it looks different”

If TARO is to be Arrows & Traps’ final production, then it’s a hell of a high note to go out on. Bringing together so much of what has made them an enjoyable and enlightening company to follow, it’s a swansong to be proud of as the #FemaleFirsts season turns its attentions to Gerda Taro, a pioneering photojournalist whose distinction as the first female war photographer killed in action proves to be far from the most interesting thing about her.

Born Gerda Pohorylle in Stuttgart 1910, the rise of Nazism splintered her Jewish family as she, her brother and her parents were forcibly ejected to different countries. Finding herself in Paris, a chance encounter with fellow refugee Endre Freidmann sparked an interest in photography which they then parlayed into careers in war photography that revolutionised the genre. Their work covering the Spanish Civil War was the fateful making of them. Continue reading “Review: TARO, Brockley Jack”

Review: Gentleman Jack, Brockley Jack

Arrows & Traps’ #FemaleFirsts season kicks off with the striking Anne Lister biography Gentleman Jack at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“This is Paris
This is England
And this is Yorkshire!”

The temptation with biographies – particularly of those of trailblazing figures – can be to treat them with the kind of reverence that smooths away rough edges, excusing behaviour that would otherwise be questionable and questioned. So it is pleasing to see that Ross McGregor’s new play Gentleman Jack respects its subject enough to give a full picture of their life.

That subject is Anne Lister, a nineteenth century Yorkshirewoman whose determination to buck societal convention earned her the sobriquet of the “first modern lesbian”. Her daring lay more than just in her open sexuality though; as an heiress and landowner, she redefined expectations of what women could achieve society as she and her partner sought to break into the mining industry.

Continue reading “Review: Gentleman Jack, Brockley Jack”

Review: Dracula, Brockley Jack

An imaginative take on a familiar tale – Arrows & Traps’ Dracula is good Hallowe’en fare at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“I am counting down the days until we get to Whitby”

On National Coming Out day, there’s something rather delicious about the first act climax of Dracula being set to a haunting remix of Britney’s ‘Toxic’. He may be fangs-deep in Lucy and longing to make Mina his countess but we all saw how taken he was by Jonathan as he set up for a shave. Love is love is love, right, or should that be a vein is a vein is a vein… 

Arrows & Traps have turned their hand to horror before, with a fearlessly inventive take on Frankenstein which lit up the Brockley Jack last year. So adaptor/director Ross McGregor turning to Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula makes sense, not least as at offers ample opportunity to refresh its rather dustily antiquated take on gender. Continue reading “Review: Dracula, Brockley Jack”