Archive for August, 2019

World’s End (King’s Head Theatre)

Posted: August 30, 2019 in Theatre

Writer: James Corley.     Director: Harry Mackrill


It hardly seems like two decades since the war in Kosovo was raging and video games were in their infancy. James Corley takes us back to this era in his debut play, which skilfully blends comedy and tragedy into a teenage gay love story.

World’s End is an estate on the least fashionable part of Chelsea’s King’s Road. Divorcée Viv and her son Ben move into flat 13 in a block, next door to Kosovan refugee Ylli, a widower, and his son Besnik. The two boys strike up a friendship over games of Super Mario and Zelda and the friendship grows. Anyone who remembers the premise of Jonathan Harvey’s groundbreaking comedy Beautiful Thing will know where this is going, but predictability is offset by quirky character details, which keep the play afloat and Corley is eventually bold enough to overturn some of the Harvey feel good factor.

Patricia Potter’s Viv shows the frustration of a woman who is often between jobs and between men, but who retains a hankering for life’s finer things. Tom Milligan’s Ben is a stammering, housebound nervous wreck who can find no place for himself in the world. He contrasts with Mirlind Bega’s confident Besnik, who is more like his late mother than his father, a struggling artist, played fierily by Nikolaos Brahimllari. Ylli is a patriot who yearns to fight for his home country, but the play brings a stark reminder that sickening violence can also occur less distantly.

Director Harry Mackrill’s well-balanced production is at its best when scenes of domestic conflict are played over each other. The characters take turns to have bouts of hysteria and over-playing works well when it is generating comedy. However, it works less well when it nudges more serious scenes in the direction of melodrama. Disappointingly, Mackrill and designer Rachel Stone add little to give the production a period feel; for example, we hear no contemporary pop tracks. Also, a pedantic note to the writer for including a mention of The Sixth Sense in the dialogue: the film was first released several months after the very specific time when the play is set.

The play runs for 90 minutes without an interval and it says much for Corley’s writing that it ends with a feeling that there is plenty of scope for developing the characters further and expanding their storylines. World’s End is no world beater, but it is quietly touching.

Performance date: 29 August 2019

Photo: Bettina Adela

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

The Weatherman (Park Theatre)

Posted: August 23, 2019 in Uncategorized

Writer: Eugene O’Hare      Director: Alice Hamilton


In the first of his two plays receiving their world premieres at the Park Theatre this year, Eugene O’Hare turns to a retro style of black comedy in order to explore deeply disturbing modern themes.

At first glance, The Weatherman appears to be an undisguised homage to Harold Pinter’s 1960 play, The Caretaker. Two middle-aged, down-and-out East London men share a dilapidated one-bedroomed flat, owned by a ruthless gangster. The early dialogue is infused with Pinteresque absurdism – “it creeps up on you when you least expect it you see – Christmas; the bastard” – and brings reminders of ‘60s television sitcoms centring on bickering, dysfunctional London families, such as Steptoe and Son. 

Director Alice Hamilton seems happy for the opening scenes to be played for comedy, while ensuring that, also in the style of Pinter, a sense of hidden menace is ever present. This is a flat where every arrival (bar one) is preceded by loud thumping on the stairs. Designer James Perkins’ set is a cheaply-furnished kitchen diner, with only murk discernible beyond its windows.

O’Rourke (Alec Newman) is the dominant flatmate, but a man of few words. We know that he is angry, but, for a long time, we have no idea why. Beezer (Mark Hadfield) is a shambolic drunkard who claims that he could have been a meteorologist if he had put his mind to it. He still forecasts the weather every day. Their landlord is Dollar, played by David Schaal with a veneer of benevolence masking deep-rooted evil. Dollar is an East End villain who exploits his victims without mercy, but also possesses a warped vision of family and loyalty. “She was a crook and a womaniser, but she was still my mother” he boasts, tearfully.

The play moves into even darker territory when Dollar brings to the flat Mara (Niamh James), a 12-year-old Romanian girl. The offer that O’Rourke and Beezer can’t refuse is six months free of rent and some extra cash. The terms are that they look after the girl and only allow her out of the flat when Dollar’s heavy, Turkey (Cyril Nri) accompanies her for a “job”. Fortunately, both writer and director realise that there is nothing remotely funny about child trafficking for prostitution and the delicate balance between comedy and drama is carefully maintained.

The most memorable and moving scene comes at the beginning of the second act when O’Rourke sits with Mara, folding old clothes for despatch to a charity shop and he sets about offloading all his problems, knowing fully that the girl has no understanding of English. Newman finds all the pathos in his character and in the desperate situation. O’Hare is writing about the terrors of exploitation and he offers the bleak prognosis that the dice will always be loaded against the exploited. Mara, lying on a camp bed at the front of the stage while the nastiness unfolds behind her, creates a profoundly unsettling image.

For all its humour, The Weatherman has a gloomy outlook on human nature. However, bold, if derivative, writing and outstanding acting make the production genuinely suspenseful and absorbing.

Performance date: 21 August 2019

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

Book and lyrics: Lynn Ahrens      Music: Stephen Flaherty      Director and choreographer: Lee Proud


Continuing The British Theatre Academy’s 2019 Summer Season, Once On This Island is a revival of a short musical which was seen on Broadway in 1990 and in the West End in 1994, the latter production winning the Olivier Award for Best New Musical.

The show is based on My Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl, a 1985 novel by Rosa Guy, telling a mystical tale that has strong echoes of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. The story is infused with the flavour of its Caribbean island setting, with local superstitions and folklore intervening along the way.

A little girl, Ti Moune (Kassidy Taylor at this performance), is orphaned in a storm and adopted by the peasants Euralie (Marie-Anna Caufour) and Tonton (Andre Beswick).

Having grown up, Ti Moune is played by Chrissie Bhima, who gives a terrific star performance. It is now her turn to become a rescuer and, when she finds the young upper class Frenchman, Daniel (Sam Tutty), injured in a car crash, she nurses him back to health. After his family has reclaimed Daniel, Ti Moune pursues him across mountains to the far side of the island only to find man-made barriers standing in her way. The social divisions in the story are about class and director Lee Proud takes care to make sure that they are not seen to be about race.

Proud, a vastly experienced choreographer, packs the traverse stage with movement and colour, sometimes using the entire company of 19. Atmospheric lighting, designed by Andrew Exeter, and Simon Wells’ flamboyant costumes help to transport us to a tropical paradise and the overflowing exuberance of the performers does the rest. The show is virtually sung through, Lynn Ahrens’ lyrics telling the story concisely and clearly. Stephen Flaherty’s easy listening, melodic score combines calypso influenced numbers with power ballads, all sung and played beautifully under the musical direction of Chris Ma.

Running at around 85 minutes without an interval, the show is just short enough to ensure that it runs out of neither story not musical variety, not to mention energy. It brings a brief splash of tropical sunshine into our lives.

Performance date: 14 August 2019

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

River in the Sky (Hope Theatre)

Posted: August 12, 2019 in Theatre

Writer and director: Peter Taylor


Peter Taylor’s riveting 70-minute one-act play, River in the Sky, was seen briefly at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre in London just a few months ago. Its quick return for a longer run here is richly deserved.

Taylor explores how a couple, both devastated by the loss of their child, find ways to come to terms with their grief by creating worlds of wild fantasy. We first meet Ellie (Lindsey Cross) and Jack (Howard Horner) when they are planning the size of their family, settling on the number one. We then learn that, after an earlier miscarriage, their one child has died in infancy. Immediately after the funeral, Ellie disappears to a dilapidated caravan on a rugged coast, seeing no one, apart from visits by Jack to bring her supplies of Earl Grey tea and custard creams.

We know that Ellie is a writer, but, otherwise, Taylor gives us only scant back stories for the couple, leaving it to his capable actors to flesh out the characters. There is little to distract from the assured writing and the acting in Taylor’s in-the-round staging and deliberately understated performances from Cross and Horner convey the depth of individual and joint suffering. Ellie and Jack find their own way of coping, embarking on flights of Game of Thrones style fantasy to divert their minds from reality and give themselves time to heal. 

Ferocious monsters, flying cars, roaring winds and turbulent seas feature in the stories which Ellie and Jack relate to themselves, each other and their dead child. They become the heroes, saving their limbs from the jaws of hungry carnivores and slaying dragons, as they act out their brave deeds. The tales feel less like metaphors for the cruelty of real life than examples of the wild fantasy worlds in which we all may seek refuge when life becomes too hard to bear.

The play has progression, taking the couple on a journey from deep depression, alienation and attribution of blame to a common understanding which shines a beacon of hope. The journey is marked out by subtle changes in writing style and performances which suggest the potency of fantasy as a cathartic force. The couple’s method of dealing with grief may not necessarily find approval from psychologists, but we feel that it gives them the strength to move on.

Performance date: 8 August 2019

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: