Review: The Scar Test, Soho Theatre

“I just – I can’t believe this is England”

Hannah Khalil’s intelligent exploration of the Israeli-Palestine conflict Scenes from 68* Years was one of my top-ranked plays of last year and so I was delighted to be able to see her new play The Scar Test, albeit in the oppressive, claustrophobic heat of the Soho Upstairs at the height of summer. And with that knowledge of at least some of Khalil’s theatrical style, it was a pleasure to be able to sink into her idiosyncratic storytelling and be so thoroughly challenged by its subject matter.

Here, Khalil has turned her focus to the experience of female detainees at the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre and the many, many indignities suffered by those trying to work their way through the knots and prejudices of our immigration system. And as with that previous play, multiple verbatim strands are splintered into non-linear episodes, some coalescing into something approaching an overall arc, some disappearing into the ether, forgotten victims neglected by us all. Continue reading “Review: The Scar Test, Soho Theatre”

Dispatches from the Vaults #1

“Who knew the world needed a two-hander musical about chemsex?”

Keeping on top of reviews is a challenge at the best of times, so throwing in a whole bunch of festival shows from the Vaults makes time management even more challenging. So I’m opting to round up shorter reviews of what I’ve seen in the week into a single post. First up is Thom Sellwood’s Happy, the aforementioned chemsex musical and also a whole lot more. Constructed as something of a meta-theatrical experiment, it takes the form of a pitch for a new show, wrapped around the confessional outpouring of a man struggling to deal with the comedown from his last, successful, show.

Lounging in his East London flat and firing up Grindr on a regular basis, Thom (the character) is battling with ideas of self-worth and whether the notion of just ‘being happy’ is a false construct in a society only interested in selling us things. On top of that, Thom (the pitcher) is dealing with the stress of his creative partner not turning up and though his friend Carrie has stepped in at the last minute to sing the songs, she’s barely up to speed. Thus comes in a second level of interrogation about personal and creative satisfaction as Thom and Carrie spar over his increasingly outrageous behaviour. It’s all perfectly pitched on the teetering edge of collapse, highly convincingly so and definitely one to look out for. Continue reading “Dispatches from the Vaults #1”

Review: Gatsby, Union Theatre

“I’m too old to lie to myself”

Louis Armstrong used to sing ‘it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing’ and unfortunately, Ruby in the Dust’s Gatsby hits the floor rather flat-flooted and singularly lacking in any discernible rhythm. The Roaring Twenties that characterise F Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel The Great Gatsby were all about the freedom of jazz, the liberating release of the Charleston, the fizziness of gin rickeys but so little of that spirit is in evidence here, in a production intended to mark 10 years since this company opened their first show here at the Union. 

Bookwriter Linnie Reedman and composer and lyricist Joe Evans first adapted Gatsby a few years back and have retooled the show for this new venue but this new version struggles on a number of counts. The decision to make Jay Gatsby’s compadre Wolfshiem the focal narrating figure as opposed to the novel’s Nick Carraway could have worked if implemented more thoroughly but where as the latter is present at many of the key moments (and thus able to tell us about them), the former isn’t and so neither actor is able to make their character find a satisfactory role in the unfolding of this version of the tale. Continue reading “Review: Gatsby, Union Theatre”