Archive for November, 2022

Writer and director: Eliana

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A hit at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Eliana Ostro’s 70-minute one act comedy is revived as half of the first of the Park Theatre’s Make Mine a Double offerings, comprising new(ish), short(ish) plays. It explores the absurdities of 21st Century dating and the obstacles which lie in the way to achieving emotional fulfilment. 

Fluorescent lighting surrounds the studio space and loud dance music plays. We enter a pulsating, youthful venue where we meet W (Annie Davison) and M (Rufus Love), both out clubbing with their mates. Each has been dumped recently by partners and their self confidence is low, but both spring to life to The Killers’ Mr Brightside and their frantic dancing brings them to the notice of each other.

What follows is completely predictable, but Ostro introduces the clever device of allowing the characters to speak not only to each other, but also to the audience directly. Amusingly, their inept chat-up lines are often the exact opposite of what they truly think or what they mean to say. The writer exposes the falsehoods underlying modern mating rituals ruthlessly, laying bare the common insecurities and genuine aspirations of 20-something singles.

Davison and Love synchronise their performances beautifully, injecting pace and energy into a familiar story. Peer pressure is a key factor distorting the natural development of the couple’s relationship and the writer brings in many (perhaps too many) other characters, all played by the same two actors, to demonstrate this

This revival feels slightly overlong, occasionally getting diverted off course by more secondary characters than the play’s structure is designed to carry. Otherwise, this is a breezy, lightweight romp in which  the laughs flow freely and the comedy rarely misses a beat.

Performance date: 16 November 2022

Photo: Danny Kaan

Writer: Deli Segal

Director: Kayla Feldman

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A “welcome home” atmosphere is prevalent at the Park Theatre before Pickle get underway. Deli Segal’s hour-long one woman show had a successful run here in the Spring of 2022 and it now returns like an old friend to form half of a double bill with the umbrella title Make Mine a Double.

Segal plays Ari, a 30-year-old single Jewish woman who still lives in Finchley with her parents. The play is a natural magnet for members of North London’s Jewish communities. Others might benefit from a glossary of terms before getting fully to grips with it, but its core theme of embracing modern life while feeling held back by family, faith and heritage should resonate widely.

Ari works as a journalist, mingling with work colleagues and old school friends, all of whom express surprise on discovering that she is Jewish. She dates gentile men, while her family tries to set her up with “a nice Jewish boy”. Ari comes across as something between passive and aggressive, more exasperated than angry. She mocks with gentle humour both the conflicting forces in her life, listening to an admonishing voice in her head whenever she strays too far from her roots.

The character’s struggles to reconcile the two worlds which she straddles form the basis of this amiable comedy, performed with confidence by its writer. Under the direction of Kayla Feldman, Segal’s bounce and timing gives the play the feel of a slick stand-up routine. She begins with a witty whinge about the drawbacks of her character’s cultural roots and ends with a sweet and tangy celebration of belonging and being different.

Performance date: 16 November 2022

Blackout Songs (Hampstead Theatre)

Posted: November 12, 2022 in Theatre

Photo: Robert Day

Writer: Joe White

Director: Guy Jones

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A young woman announces that she lives by two rules: “stay single and drink doubles”. She encapsulating key themes of Blackout Songs, Joe White’s devastating study of love and alcoholism. The woman, known simply as “Her”, bumps into “Him” at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and the play then tracks the rollercoaster ride of their relationship.

Wright enters the heads of his characters as they engage with each other and with the distorting force of alcohol. He takes us into a misty world of momentary bliss and faulty memory, where reality makes occasional appearances as if a grim intruder. The two people connect emotionally, drift apart, meet again having half forgotten previous encounters, reconnect and so on. It is a stuttering relationship of growing affection and mutual dependancy, matched by the couple’s joint on-off reliance on  the demon drink.

He is an aspiring artist and she shows potential as a poet. The play  pulls no punches in making clear that heavy drinking leads to despair and destruction, but it also understands that it can bring temporary joy, a refuge from life’s troubles and a stimulus to artistic talents. The writer uses insight and wit to find the characters’ inner turmoil as they embrace and then repel each other, while battling to come to terms with  the lure of the bottle.

An intense two-hander such as this can only succeed if the level of the acting rises to the level of the writing. Bravely, Alex Austin and Rebecca Humphries dispense with the stereotypical outward signs of drunkenness; there is no slurred speech and no staggered walking, which could have provided cheap laughs, but would also have drawn attention away from the play’s focus on the characters’ inner experiences and emotions.

Austin resembles Rodney in Only Fools and Horses, a bemused innocent navigating his way through a dangerous terrain. Humphries exudes the false confidence of a woman who has been drinking heavily from the age of 12, hanging around male dominated bars. Together, their chemistry is spellbinding and the physicality of their performances adds a visceral dimension to White’s razor sharp dialogue.

The large, square stage is used to exciting effect in director Guy Jones’ highly animated yet still intimate production. At the end, a Champagne toast to the whole creative team feels appropriate. Well, maybe not.

Performance date: 11 November 2022.

Noor (Southwark Playhouse)

Posted: November 10, 2022 in Theatre

Photo: Ikin Yum

Writer: Azma Dar

Director: Poonam Brah

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The return of war to modern day Europe adds a chilling dimension to Azma Dar’s new play, which gives an account of living in a city that is occupied by enemy forces. Set during World War II, the play tells the true story of the heroism and sacrifice of a young woman who was later to be awarded the George Cross.

Noor Inayat Khan, in her late 20s at the start of the War, is of Indian/American parentage. She was born in Moscow and grew up mostly near Paris. Having joined the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, she is recruited in 1943 to join the Special Operations Executive. In peacetime, she was a writer of children’s books, but, notwithstanding her relative inexperience, she is sent on a highly dangerous mission to work as a radio operator in Paris, sending back vital information about German activities.

Noor’s vulnerability and selfless determination are brought out beautifully in Annice Boparai’s compelling performance. Her story is framed by the post-war interrogation of German officer Kieffer by Noor’s senior officer Vera Atkins, who, we are told, is of Hungarian Jewish descent. The complexities of nationalities and loyalties are emphasised by the writer. As Kieffer, Chris Porter manages to avoid most of the clichés associated with such characters and make him seem almost human, while Caroline Faber shows all sides of the ruthless, compassionate and slightly ambiguous Atkins.

Laurence Saunders and Ellie Turner appear as characters encountered by Noor in Paris, where she has just a few minutes to transmit messages before radio signal are detected and traced back by the Germans. At first glance, the play should be, in part at least, a gripping suspense thriller, but Dar’s decision to frame the narrative as she does reveals the story’s outcome at the beginning, thereby lessening the suspense and robbing scenes of potential thrills.

Director Poonam Brah sets her production on a long traverse stage, but makes little effective use of it. When characters converse from opposite ends, the visual experience for the audience is comparable to that of watching a tennis match, but, more significantly, the staging does nothing to inject tension into the drama.

The writer packs the play with detail, not all of it wholly relevant to the core story, but she achieves the worthy objective of generating wider awareness of an important contribution to the allies’ war effort. However, the story’s potential for forming the basis of an exciting work of theatre is not fully realised.

Performance date: 9 November 2022

Not Now (Finborough Theatre)

Posted: November 4, 2022 in Theatre

Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

Writer: David Ireland

Director: Max Elton

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Perhaps a David Ireland play would not be a David Ireland play if it failed to question Northern Irish identity. Irish or British? Both or neither? Not Now, receiving its English premier here, continues that tradition, but expands its themes to explore false identities assumed by ordinary individuals in everyday life.

In plays such as Cyprus Avenue, Ireland’s other most notable trademark has been black, sometimes savage, comedy. That style is hardly evident in this miniature gem, being replaced by a much gentler, even warm-hearted, strain of humour. A breakfast table, set for four with a cafetière as its centrepiece, dominate Ceci Calf’s neat design, but only two characters appear: Matthew (Matthew Blaney), an aspiring actor about to depart for London to audition for RADA, and his uncle Ray (Stephen Kennedy) who remains rooted in Belfast, believing, as he approaches his 50th birthday, that life’s opportunities have passed him by.

It is the morning after the funeral of Matthew’s father, Ray’s brother, who, it seems, could have been living a lie. The play’s comedy emerges from the contrasts between the cultured, ambitious Matthew and his less enlightened uncle, who has trouble distinguishing George Michael from George Clooney. Ray is baffled by the world that Matthew is entering, one in which David Hare is a “Sir” and the supposed greatest, William Shakespeare is not. Fair point, but his own nomination for greatest writer of all time is Stephen King.

In brisk and very funny exchanges, superbly acted, the characters’ outer layers are stripped away and their true selves are revealed.Matthew’s audition piece is to be the opening speech from Shakespeare’s Richard III, hammed up hilariously by Blaney. Later, when Matthew accepts Ray’s challenge to deliver the speech in his own Belfast accent, all the artifice falls away naturally, making a stinging point about theatre technique which could have been noted by director Max Elton, whose quietly effective production never feels over-cooked.

Bringing to mind the playwright’s previous work, it comes as a surprise that this latest play includes no acts of violence. There is a clear sense that Ireland has great affection for the two characters and the actors bring this out beautifully. Playing for a mere 50 minutes, Not Now is a human comedy, pared down to its bare essentials. Not a syllable is wasted and it is not a second too long.

Performance date: 3 November 2022