Archive for March, 2014

The Boy Who Cried** (Hope Theatre)

Posted: March 10, 2014 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Review: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

A full moon rises, a girl goes missing and a werewolf may be on the loose in London. When Sam, a teenager, is seen by his mother, naked by the river and with a bite mark on his neck, she calls in the authorities to investigate. The trend established in successful films and television series to juxtapose elements of gothic horror onto stories about troubled adolescents seems to be drifting into the theatre. Let the Right One In, seen recently at the Royal Court will soon transfer to London’s West End, indicating that there is a ready-made audience for plays in this sub-genre. However, new writer Matt Osman’s work excludes the romantic themes embraced by most of its predecessors and is given a much smaller production, without special effects. The first half strikes a very uneasy balance between drama and comedy, each of which works against the other. Protection Officer Thompson arrives to interrogate Sam (Jordan Mallory-Skinner) and obtain a confession before the next full moon. As Thompson, Jake Curran is required to be sinister and threatening in one scene and a bumbling clown in the next. Understandably, he struggles. At the same time, the mother (Shelley Lang) often seems more like a character in a farce than a concerned parent. The comedy includes some quite clever jokes, but they fall flat because the context is completely wrong for them.  As a result of gratuitous comic diversions early in the play, the three main characters and the relationships between them are underdeveloped in preparation for a second half in which the balance tilts much more towards meaty drama. All the performances now grow in strength as the focus turns to a battle of wills between Thompson and Sam, the former resorting to torture in order to satisfy his obsession with proving Sam’s guilt. The drama builds to a long, tension-filled final scene which is spoken partly in verse, thereby adding to the overall surreal tone. So, what are the messages that this play is trying to convey? At first it seems as if we are looking at a metaphor for teenage angst, with allusions to mental health problems. Perhaps lycanthropy is a misdiagnosis of depression or schizophrenia and, when Sam talks of being “torn between the need to be alone and the need never to be alone”, these themes seem to underlie the story. However, Osman then changes track and makes his play about an Orwellian authoritarian state oppressing a dissenting individual. Confusion of styles in the main text is matched by confusion of purpose in the sub text. The Boy Who Cried is interesting and different, if not completely successful. However, it is fair to say that, reflecting the name of this new pub theatre, all concerned with the production show considerable promise for the future.

Performance date: 7 March 2014

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Never-Mind-the-Botox2This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Welcome to Evergreen’s, a clinic in deepest Essex where youth and beauty can be restored at the stroke of a scalpel, Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror plays on a loop and floors may be a little dusty because the vacuum cleaner is being used for liposuction procedures. Nick Reed’s new farce at first seems Ortonesque, but the name of the resident surgeon, Dr Longadonga, gives a clue that the humour is likely to be more in the vein of the Carry on films. When Amy (Georgia Darell), a plain Jane, scornfully accompanies her vampish mother Wendy (Lesley Moloney) to the clinic for a face lift, she also bumps into her father (David Skynner), in for a hair transplant, her ex-boyfriend (Matthew Fraser Holland), getting a penis enlargement, and her uncle (Alex Harland), dropping by for his regular Botox booster jabs and piling up Nectar points in the process. Mishaps and mistaken identities ensue, played with forced zaniness and peppered with smart one-line gags.  Dr L (Mike Goodenough) is an obese drunk, who dreams of becoming a vet and the clinic is run by his wife Christina, played by Liza Callinicos, who gives a deliciously funny performance. Wearing a permanent false smile and showing zero tact, her interest in the patients is purely financial and, when one of them makes a complaint, she retorts “I’m too busy to feign interest”. She fawns over a journalist (Ewen Mackintosh) who turns up to write a review of the clinic, making it pretty well certain that the procedure which he undergoes will have a disastrous outcome. This sort of material, with one-dimensional characters and a nonsense plot, often only works in short comedy sketches, becoming tiresome when stretched out for longer. So it comes as a pleasant surprise that Nick Reed keeps it bubbling for almost two hours (with interval). Largely, this is due to splendid comic timing by all the performers who deliver the rapid-fire jokes, some of them very funny, with precision. If this play was to become a meaningful satire on the modern day obsession with looks, its scalpel would need to be sharper and its incisions would need to go a lot deeper. As it is, it probably will not linger in the memory for too long, but it is a lot of fun while it lasts.

Performance date: 5 March 2014

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a taste of honeyThe National is fully entitled to give a rare revival to what is arguably one of the most important British plays of the 20th Century. Written by Shelagh Delaney and first staged in 1958, the play differs from the works of other playwrights breaking through at the same time (Osborne, Wesker) in that it is not used as a platform for airing political ideas, it is purely and simply a human drama with a working class setting. It is astonishing that Delaney wrote it at the age of just 18 and still more so that she had the confidence and the courage to confront the taboos and prejudices of her era – teenage pregnancy, racism, homophobia – head on. We are told that Delaney wrote it to prove that she could do better than Terence Rattigan and, in the sense of how ordinary people can relate to the play, she succeeded; yet, in terms of dramatic structure and characterisation, her debt to Rattigan’s influence is perhaps greater than she would have cared to admit. Of course, the play’s shock value has now dissipated, but what remains in Bijan Sheibani’s production is a very fine drama indeed, still highly relevant in the modern age and filled with warmth, emotion and natural humour. The story concerns Jo, a teenage schoolgirl and her slutty, self-centred mother, Helen, who live in a dingy, damp, Salford flat which can boast stunning views of the local gas works; Helen marries a drunk, whilst Jo becomes pregnant after a reckless fling with a black sailor and then co-habits with a gay student. Kate O’Flynn is marvellous as Jo (presumably based on Delaney herself), rebellious, grounded, optimistic and determined to overcome whatever obstacles life throws in her way; she embodies the spirit of the new Britain that was then emerging. The wonderful Lesley Sharp fits the part of Helen as if she was born to play it, managing to be both comic and tragic at the same time. 1950s style jazz music and dancing during scene changes add brightness and flavour and the problem that the Lyttelton stage poses for intimate dramas is resolved by effectively using only half of it. True, the set is grander than it needs to be, but at least it does not overwhelm the play. Shelagh Delaney died just over two years ago and this production is a fitting tribute to her.

Performance date: 3 March 2014

A-Hard-Rain-Review-Above-the-Stag2-1024x682This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Taking its title from an apocalyptic Bob Dylan song, this new full-length play itself depicts the end of a world – a rotten one of prejudice, deceit and corruption – but, unlike Dylan’s song, it also leads to the hope of a new dawn and a better world. The action centres around a seedy, illicit gay bar in Greenwich Village, just a few blocks from its rival, The Stonewall and the time is 1969 during the weeks leading up to the historic riots. Images of Britain in the Sixties are largely positive, but, in America, it was a decade of traumas, dominated by assassinations of prominent figures and the horrific Vietnam war. This play is set at a time when Britain had already made the crucial legislative breakthrough in establishing gay rights, with America lagging behind, and the characters speak of London as a kind of nirvana. Giving a bravura performance, Michael Edwards plays Ruby, a brazen cross dresser with a strong Southern accent; a Vietnam veteran, he is aggressive yet damaged, part Rambo, part Blanche DuBois, defiant and unapologetic. He is at his best when spitting out bitchy wisecracks and going into battle to further his beliefs, but his ill-fated relationship with Josh (Oliver Lynes), a young, suited Wall Street type, is less convincing. Bartender Angie, played touchingly by Stephanie Wilson, is a single mother who becomes romantically involved with Danny (Rhys Jennings), an earnest but misguided cop; he belongs to a corrupt force which regards the Mafia and “queers” as posing equal threats. The bar is owned by the Mob, as was the Stonewall, and it is run by Frank (Nigel Barber), who takes under his malevolent wing Jimmy (James El-Sharawy giving a particularly confident performance), an abused, cheeky 16-year-old street boy. Linking together several stories involving unorthodox characters who live on the outer margins of society, the play seems rather like an East Coast equivalent to the works of Armistead Maupin. There are times when a stronger central narrative thread could have helped to hold the separate strands together and to propel the play with a greater sense of purpose towards the climactic Stonewall Riots. Nonetheless, the writing of Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper, who were previously best known for creating risqué pantomimes for this venue, is admirable. Leaving aside the presence of a “dame”, nothing here remotely resembles a pantomime; this is real human drama, with fleshed-out characters, natural dialogue and a keen sense of history. Viewed from an era when more liberal views prevail, A Hard Rain gives us a stark reminder of how the suppression of a minority group can nurture crime and ruin lives. Having conjured up this production from limited resources, Above the Stag is entitled to feel very proud of it.

Performance date: 28 February 2014

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