Archive for August, 2013

Working from Joseph Conrad’s prescient story of an anarchist terror cell, agents and double agents, set in the 1890s, this is a bold and imaginative theatrical work, created by theatre o, Matthew Hurt and the entire company. As the terror cell operated on the principle that nothing terrifies the public more than threats that cannot be understood, so this piece uses absurdist comedy, stylised movement and bizarre images to baffle and unsettle the audience. The lighting bathes the stage in sinister colours and casts long shadows, the actors exaggerate their speech and mannerisms, all creating a nightmarish world in which anything terrible can happen and nothing is ever as it seems. Challenging, but well worth going along for the ride.

Tim Price’s intermittently enjoyable play depicts the disintegration of a four man Indie rock band, pulled apart by personal egos, chaotic domestic lives and a huge VAT bill. The band is called The Union, the members being English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish, making the events in the play a thinly disguised metaphor for the potential break-up of the United Kingdom. It is at its most entertaining in set pieces, including musical numbers, but there are too few of them and the play often rambles aimlessly, leaving the overriding impression of a great idea that has only partially been brought to fruition.

photo-120Set in a remote farm house in South Africa, the central theme of this 70 minute play is said by its writer, Lara Foot, to be isolation. Marion is white, ageing, unwell and, since the departures of all members of her family, completely alone and waiting for death to come knocking on the door. Instead Solomon, the 20 year-old black grandson of a former home help, arrives and the play charts the development of a relationship between the two. No this is not “Driving Miss Daisy” minus car, it is a completely original drama that deftly dodges all the usual cliches. Whilst there are obvious parallels with racial tensions and reconciliation in post-Apartheid South Africa, the writer wisely does not get distracted by wider themes and concentrates only on the central human story. The production is blessed with towering performances from Janet Suzman and Khayaletha Anthony which tear at the heart. If this is not as good as one act plays can get, it comes pretty close.

Dredging into faint memories of school history lessons, the Tolpuddle Martyrs were 19th Century Dorset farm workers who were transported to serve prison sentences in Australia for forming affiliations with trades union. This show, written by Neil Gore and performed by him with Elizabeth Eves, dramatises the story, adding pleasing folk songs. It is obviously a production that has meagre resources, but it compensates for this with low humour that makes the show look even cheaper and more amateurish, a bit like a Christmas pantomime in a village hall. This is a pity, because, when it takes itself seriously, it is actually rather good.

Okay, so this madcap comedy has already had a good run at Trafalgar Studios, but it’s a lot cheaper seeing it here. The title says it all – a creaking murder mystery is performed by an amateur company and everything that can possibly go wrong goes spectacularly wrong. Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off” covered similar territory, but this is better for being briefer and more condensed. The performances are all brilliant, but what strikes home most is the tremendous skill needed to ensure that it all goes right so as to seem to be going wrong. Sidesplittingly funny!

Any Stephen Sondheim musical, including one as obscure as this, is worth going out of the way for. Building a show around assassins and would-be assassins of US Presidents may seem more than weird, even for the great pioneer of new territories for musical theatre, but he uses it as an opportunity to explore a dangerous seam of malcontent and madness that runs through American history. Although the show sags between songs, lovely tunes and dazzling lyrics are plentiful. As with many Sondheims, the songs are rarely heard because the lyrics are so specific to the show. Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society has mounted this production and, if the performances fall marginally (only marginally) below the highest professional standards, it is heartening to see that enthusiasm for Sondheim is passing to a new generation.

Who gives a fig leaf?

Performed by two actors and an amateur choir which changes for different performances, David Greig’s play with choral music is a study of the aftermath of a mass killing in a church community centre. Neve McIntosh plays Claire, a lesbian vicar who is taking a choir practice at the time of the atrocity. Rudi Dharmalingham plays the killer and several other characters who Claire meets as she tries to make sense of what has happened and begin the healing process. The play includes vivid insights into the minds of those who are alienated from mainstream society, whilst never resorting to simplistic explanations. The unusual format heightens the overall impact, with the result that this is a gripping and deeply moving experience.

During 2010 in a Swiss hotel, England campaigned and lost its bid to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup. William Gaminara’s new comedy focusses on the three leaders of that bid – David Cameron (Dugald Brace-Lockhart), David Beckham (Sean Browne) and Prince William (Tom Davey). Anyone hoping for sharp and perceptive satire of politics, football or royalty will be disappointed and the services of libel lawyers will not be needed. This is just gentle, old-fashioned comedy with touches of trouser-dropping farce thrown in, all the laughs being extracted from obvious comic traits in the general public perceptions of these figures. Three spot-on impersonations add to the fun and the laughter at the hilarious climax could well have been even louder because of the large number of Scots in the audience.

Steven Berkoff is an undoubted theatrical force even if his over-flamboyance and abrasive public persona can often make him irritating. Here, accompanied by two other actors, he makes an hour-long rant against virtually everyone associated with his profession, spewing bile over fellow actors, producers, directors, writers, audiences and, of course, critics. Written in verse, the play is often astute and funny, but it is also very one-sided. It sounds like Berkoff against the world and the very fine line between lament and sour grapes may sometimes be crossed.