Archive for September, 2014

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

In a move to encourage up and coming writers, the producers of Andrew Maddock’s excellent pair of monologues The Me Plays invited a group of them to see the show and write short plays in response. The seven plays staged here, after a week’s rehearsal, are the result. The plays, none more than 15 minutes long, some in rhyming verse, draw from Maddock’s insights into the pains, frustrations and humour of young adult life. The first, Burying a Stranger by Thomas Jones and Nikolai Ribnikov is a monologue by a young girl (Emily Aitchenson) recounting the chaotic funeral of her beloved granddad, coping with appalling weather and a drunken mother. This is the only play closely linked to Maddock’s Hi Life, I Win, the others drawing more from Junkie and taking up themes of dating, love, addiction and, above all, the internet. Tom Hartwell’s Privacy sees Facebook made human, lying in bed between a couple and wrecking their relationship. In Shaun Kitchener’s Offer, a young man and woman meet partly to go on a first date and partly to discuss the woman appearing in a porn film. Harriet Madeley’s Match introduces us to a couple who are habitual internet daters, unable to ignore their apps and texts even when in a hospital waiting room visiting an accident victim. In Henry Ashe-Jepson’s Cum & Go, Murray (a splendidly anxious Haydn Whiteside) has secured his first conquest for later in the evening and is bombarded with inappropriate “good luck” texts, including one from his granddad. The Ballad of Tab and Sal by Frankie Meredith, expands on the female characters referred to in Junkie and recounts the same events from their perspective, using similarly clever rhymes. This play in enlivened by two sparkling comic performances from Natalie Lester and Helen Booth. Six of the seven plays are highly amusing and inventive comedies, all proving the maxim that brevity is the soul of wit. However, mixed in amongst them is Saint, a tender and suspenseful love poem, beautifully written by Natalie Collie and performed with complete sincerity by an almost motionless Alice Frankham. All in all, these plays make up a tasty plateful of hors d’oeuvres, sadly on offer for one evening only. As previously noted, Andrew Maddock is a talent to watch and it is good to discover that others are following in his wake.

Performance date: 15 September 2014

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Little Revolution** (Almeida Theatre)

Posted: September 14, 2014 in Theatre

little revolutionThe London riots of August 2011 did not overflow into the territory of gentrified middle class Islington, but they were close enough to cause disquiet and the Almeida always knew that it would be touching a raw nerve by staging this 70 minute account of them. The theatre is to be applauded for putting on a show that is topical (relatively) and relevant, but, sadly, what it seems to have forgotten is that the first requirement for any dramatic production is a play and this under-developed, scrappy piece can hardly be described as such. Alecky Blythe’s verbatim theatre technique (recording interviews with people affected by an event and then using actors to replicate their responses as exactly as possible) achieved great success at the National with London Road, but there her musical collaboration gave the show shape and form, both of which are lacking here. This is a docu-drama which works as neither a documentary nor a drama; the former might have had a commentary to link it together and the latter a narrative thread. The closest we get to either is Blythe herself introducing the show and wandering around with a recorder in her hand. On the positive side, the appearance of seasoned professionals such as Ronni Ancona, Imogen Stubbs and Rufus Wright alongside a “Community Chorus” of around 30 locals works well. Director Joe Hill-Gibbons choreographs them all, using almost non-stop motion by the actors to accentuate a sense of chaos throughout an auditorium which is re-configured to in-the-round.  There are some outstanding vignettes and performances, but they last for about three minutes maximum and there is too little either to hold them together or to make a clear unifying point. As a result, they are likely to prove quickly forgettable, as is this entire production.

Performance date: 12 September 2014

OhtheHumanityNEWframe2This review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone…” said Orson Welles and the same conclusion comes to mind after seeing Will Eno’s quirky exploration of the human condition. Ordinary people, each with their own foibles, strengths and inadequacies are depicted as if small vessels adrift on a vast ocean, looking desperately for a mooring. This 2007 work by the American writer, performed in 2012 at the Edinburgh Festival and then in London, is actually five short plays linked very loosely together. Eno has a skill for taking everyday conversational cliches and platitudes and twisting them slightly so that they are exposed as meaningless. A sports coach (Jonathan Kemp), speaking to the press at the end of a disastrous season, offers the excuse that “habit is the hardest habit to break”; an airline spokesperson (Claire Lichie) explains to grief-stricken relatives after a plane crash “gravity, we trust, was a factor”. The spotlight of public attention has fallen on these characters, but all they want is to retreat into their own worlds, he to write sonnets, she to mourn her own father who simply died in a chair. Two young singles (Esme Patey-Ford and Joseph Stevenson) become isolated in front of cameras, recording videos for a dating agency and rendered inarticulate when asked to talk about themselves. He boasts of being “good at food shopping” and lists amongst his interests “not travelling”. She claims to have been described as “the girl next door”, adding coyly and without irony “by the neighbours”. The first three scenes have the feel of comedy sketches, but there then follows a wistful piece examining lives caught on camera more than a century ago and, finally, in the play’s bleakest section, we see a married couple (Kaye Brown and Keith Hill) completely disengaged from each other. They sit in what one thinks is a car, the other two chairs; they agree that they are going to church, but she looks forward to a christening, whilst he is preparing for a funeral. The pair are bound together, yet their isolation is total. Paul Lichstenstern’s revival offers a lucid interpretation of a play that is often abstract in nature and the performances are uniformly excellent. The set, designed by Andy Edwards, is a cluttered photographic studio in which the actors stand or sit around the periphery, moving to a white centre stage for their own scenes. Haunting piano music which links the scenes gives the entire production a pervading air of melancholy. This is a highly unusual work of theatre, amusing, thought-provoking and rewarding.

Performance date: 4 September 2014

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The Me Plays**** (Old Red Lion Theatre)

Posted: September 4, 2014 in Theatre

the me playsThis review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

Short, rotund and 30-ish, Andrew Maddock has the look of a miniature James Cordon, which makes him perfect to perform these two monologues in the guises of laddish Londoners, known simply as “Me”. But then he would be perfect, because they are described as “semi-autobiographical” and he wrote them. The plays are humorous and poignant reflections on life at a time when childhood and teenage years are gone and the harsher realities of the adult world are coming into focus. Maddock has taken the risk of writing the plays in rhyming couplets, which could have made them feel over-stylised, but the gamble pays handsome dividends. Each time that he delivers a successful rhyme, Maddock the actor seems to exude a glow of satisfaction which underscores the essential cockiness of both characters. In Junkie, “Me” is a self-conscious loner, addicted to drugs and the internet. He has set up a date with Tabatha, with whom he only communicates by text and, acting on her insistence that must wear red, he visits Top Shop to find only a tight-fitting jumper which accentuates exactly what he most wants to hide.  The digital age is supposed to have made meeting girls easier, but, for “Me”, it has done the opposite. He posts the most favourable images and descriptions of himself on dating sites, assuming that others will do the same, but, knowing that the average first date lasts just 12 minutes, he is overcome by trepidation when the time comes to reveal the truth. Ultimately, the habit which this character finds hardest to break is loneliness. Hi Life, I Win sees “Me” hospitalised, undergoing tests and facing up to his own mortality. He looks back on growing up in the 1990s, fondly remembering Grandad Fred whose death was followed by a family break-up and his own drift into unruliness. To put him back on the straight and narrow, he was sent to a religious centre in London Colney and given guidance by “Arizona Dan”, an adherent of God and Loudon Wainwright III. This “Me” has a not particularly likeable past, but there is something deeply moving about seeing him fall to his knees sobbing, a teenage thug now humbled by fate. As he takes random fragments of his life – family, acquaintances, education, religion – and starts to piece them together, he seems to be realising that his existence could have some meaning, even if he cannot yet figure out what it is. The Me Plays are insightful and sobering, yet they always entertain, adding a touch of poetry to the regular monologue format. Andrew Maddock is a talent to be watched.

Performance date: 3 September 2014

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Emilia Galotti*** (Barons Court Theatre)

Posted: September 2, 2014 in Theatre

LessingThis review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

Abuses of power, taking advantage of wealth, position or celebrity, are not a new phenomenon and their examination here give this 1772 play by the German writer Gotthold Ephraim Lessing particular topical relevance. The play concerns The Prince of Guastalla, the overlord of a region in Italy who becomes besotted with the towns girl of its title, setting off a tragic chain of events. Written as a socio-political commentary on 18th Century European life, the play highlights the conflicts between aristocratic rule and the new enlightenment of the Bourgeoisie who sought to cast aside ancient traditions and privileges. Emilia, supported forcefully by her father, claims the right to choose her own suitor and finds the advances of the Prince repulsive. Performed today, plays from this period can often come across as comic melodramas, and Dr Mark Ewbank’s production, which has costumes that look as if they come from last Christmas’s Cinderella, often walks a very thin line between comedy and tragedy. The production crosses the line towards comedy in scenes involving the Prince. Che Watson, bewigged and decked out in green velvet, makes this character a foppish buffoon whose lustful eye would seem more likely to be fixed on the nearest mirror than to wander towards Emilia. Fortunately, Ewbank gets weightier performances in other prominent roles. Samuel Haughton is creepily effective as Marinelli, the Prince’s scheming and duplicitous fixer and Peter Wheal-Jones brings real power and conviction to the role of Emilia’s father. As Emila, Roseanne Lynch has a beguiling innocence, but it is Francesca Burgoyne who steals a large chunk of the second half; as the Prince’s spurned lover, she plots a ruthless revenge and, in a delightful touch, she leads the audience in a slow handclap to celebrate having sown the seeds of destruction. This play is at its most interesting when it focusses on the plight of its female characters who are striving to assert some measure of independence in a male dominated world. In this sense, it was very much ahead of its time. Ewbank’s production does well in bringing these themes to the fore and, although it is at times uneven in its tone, it builds to a strong, dramatic climax.

Performance date: 1 September 2014

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