Archive for February, 2015

IMG_9904This review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

“When two tribes go to war…” blares out from a loudspeaker to open Adam Hughes’ new play which takes us back to the days of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the Miners’ Strike and football hooliganism. In 1984/85, Leeds United had an indifferent season in football’s second tier, but the gang of thugs which affiliated itself to the club was all-conquering. The play centres on Yorkshire football “supporters” of that era and there is some irony in seeing it pitched up in gentrified Arsenal territory in 2015. The passing of 30 years has seen what sports journalist Brian Glanville once described as “a slum game for slum people” go from being neglected and impoverished to, at top levels, pampered and rich. Happily the world seen in this play is all but gone, although, sadly, inner city gang violence persists in different forms and Hughes’ purpose may be to teach the lessons of the past to new generations. Macca (Adam Patrick Boakes) is released from prison, having served three years for thuggery, to find his former gang mate Jono (Jim Mannering) having moved on to family responsibilities and his own position as gang leader now occupied by the younger Nathan (Alex Southern), a crude bully. He is sucked back into the sub-culture of tribal warfare mainly because other doors are slammed shut in front of him – no employment opportunities and an unforgiving partner (Donna Preston) who denies him access to his son – and he mentors Tommy (Joshua Garwood), a new recruit to the gang. Hughes’ dialogue has an authentic feel, as have all the performances and there are interesting insights into a gang mentality which creates a sort of mini-Mafia, with its own unwritten codes of loyalty and honour. Boakes’ powerful central performance shows Macca as a man unable to control his violent instincts but also gives glimpses of his softer side and his frustration at the hand which life has dealt him. Corrugated iron fences and abundant graffiti in Max Dorey’s set design evoke the austerity of football at that time, probably a factor contributing to the gang activity. Joshua McTaggart’s production is raw and gritty, with strong suggestions of violence, rightly eschewing sentimentality and nostalgia for the 1980s. Although the Miners’ Strike was concurrent with the events depicted, it has only a peripheral bearing on the drama, as does the game of football itself, which is hardly mentioned at all. Hughes’ play could benefit from some tightening up to lessen repetition and it also needs clearer references to connect it with a modern audience. As it stands, it serves mainly as a reminder of a chapter in our history that some would not have known and most others would rather forget.

Performance date: 5 February 2015

Photo: Tania van Amse

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Bad Jews**** (St James Theatre)

Posted: February 5, 2015 in Theatre

bad jewsA bold title, particularly in view of recent events, and delicate subject matter too, but, as Book of Mormon has demonstrated emphatically, it is possible for a show to get away with almost anything if it is funny enough. So, no problem, because Joshua Harmon’s depiction of dysfunctional Jewish family life, already a big hit in America, is laugh-out-loud funny for nearly all of its 100 minutes. Jonah and Liam are brothers, Daphna is their cousin and the three are temporarily sharing Jonah’s New York studio apartment to attend the funeral of their grandfather, a Holocaust survivor. Daphna brandishes her Jewishness like a medal of honour, Liam is more respectful towards Japanese culture than his own and Jonah just wants to be left out of it. The opening is slow; it takes a few minutes for it to register just how much of a horror Daphna (Jenna Augen) is – self-righteous and using tactless, acid put-downs to bulldoze over everyone, she is the Jewish matriarch of countless New York comedies, except that she is at least 20 years younger than those stereotypes. “Pappy” left a family heirloom and she wants it, but Liam actually has it, paving the way for total warfare. Liam (Ilan Goodman, son of Henry) is a picture of smouldering rage until Daphna exits to the bathroom when he lets rip with a marathon rant, one of the play’s great set pieces. Another follows when Melody (Gina Bramhill), Liam’s demure, non-Jewish girlfriend, defies her name with an excruciating rendition of Gershwin’s Summertime. Underneath all the hilarity, Harmon is questioning the places of faith and tradition in the modern world and showing us how Daphna and Liam are equally in the wrong – she flaunting hollow values, he denying his heritage yet secretly clinging to it. In a beautifully poignant ending, it is the seemingly passive Jonah (Joe Coen) who shows us a better way to balance conflicting forces. Michael Longhurst’s production, sharp and often raucous, elicits a quartet of superb performances each with impeccable comic timing. It will be bad news if Bad Jews does not make its way to a longer run somewhere in the West End.

Performance date: 4 February 2015

The WaspThis will be a very short review. If too much were to be written about Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s skilfully crafted little thriller, spoilers would be unavoidable. Two thirtysomething ladies meet in a coffee bar for the first time since schooldays, 20 years earlier. Carla (MyAnna Buring) is heavily pregnant with her fifth child, impoverished, chain-smoking and wearing a track suit, whilst Heather (Sinead Matthews) is childless, affluent and swathed in an expensive pashmina. What follows is a little like a new version of Sleuth, but these protagonists are female, the setting is modern and the twisting storyline is occasionally close to credible. Implausibilities are inevitable, but the writer has mastered the art of papering over cracks in her plot with engaging dialogue and just the right measure of wry humour. She also incorporates themes of serious social concern, but it would be a sin to reveal what they are, except to mention that the title refers to some ghastly tropical insect which is used as a metaphor for the actions of one of the characters. Under Tom Attenborough’s crisp direction, the two principal actors are both frighteningly believable. Thrillers are a little out of fashion in modern theatre, so this boost to the genre is very welcome. An absorbing and refreshingly different 90 minutes.

Performance date: 2 February 2015