Rainer @ Arcola Theatre

04.10.2021

Arriving at Arcola Theatre’s outdoor space, I was pleasantly surprised, without yet knowing how suitable the venue would be for this piece. Sure enough, the opening scene showed Sorcha Kennedy as Rainer, walking through the audience, helmet, and ‘Angel Deliveries’ jacket on. This introduced the play as one which frequently broke the fourth wall, as Rainer began by addressing the audience directly.

Depicting the story of a woman who is forced to take up a job as a food delivery cyclist, as she isn’t quite ‘making it’ as a writer, Rainer is a funny, witty and at times, sinister piece. Throughout the show Sorcha performs multi-role play, becoming all the people Rainer interacts with, including an ex-boyfriend, a current love interest, and her boss, just to name a few. Her use of accents was a joy to watch, and the multi-role play really showed her versatility as an actor. I think the multi-role play could’ve been tidied up in places; I would’ve liked to have seen her perform the characters varying mannerisms, and ensuring that Rainer’s voice didn’t blur into the voices of those character’s she was depicting. However, the pace of the piece was demanding and her performance, nonetheless, impressive.

Throughout the play Rainer’s deliveries are interrupted by snippets of Rainer’s counselling sessions with her ‘shit NHS counsellor’. These scenes successfully explored mental health within a backdrop of underfunded mental health services in the UK. The script was rich in thematic content, with other topics including love, class, sexual assault, grief and (of course) COVID-19. I found the content of the play entirely relatable, and its exploration of these themes nuanced, all the while being laugh out loud funny. The brilliance of the script made sense when I discovered that its writer, Max Wilkinson, has previously won the Stage to Screen Award.

Throughout the play Sorcha frequently ran laps around the audience, while on her one of many ‘trips’ around London. The scripts successful ability to depict the areas of London meant that you felt you were on that journey with her, visualising each setting as she whizzed past. The ‘pinging’ of the delivery app, jolting her into action again and again, while the slightly less warm auditorium aided the realism. The ever changing settings were depicted usually by a small change in lighting, or music, with very little need for props. Despite the sparse stage, the writing and performance convinced you of the scenes.

All in all, I think the writing, performance, lighting and sound came together to provide a unique and gripping show. I’d love to see more of Max’s writing, and I think Sorcha’s energy and versatility make her an exciting performer to watch. I think if you get a chance, absolutely catch this piece before it finishes!

When Rachel Met Fiona @ The Space Theatre

Attending When Rachel Met Fiona at The Space Theatre, I was met by a thin traverse stage, with the audience sat on either side. A tall set of shelves were situated upstage, while a small coffee table stood to the left of the stage. Naturally the staging choice sparked my intrigue, but once the play began it felt like a clever way of bringing Rachel and Fiona’s relationship to life.

Performed by Megan Jarvie and Florence Russell, When Rachel Met Fiona is an incredibly well written lesbian love story by Colette Cullen, which reveals snippets of Rachel and Fiona’s relationship, from its onset to its decided finish point. I found the dialogue incredibly moving, as well as witty in its ability to portray both the mundanities and tribulations of love. The story begins, like all best love stories, in a less than ideal fashion, with one person already dating someone else. This sets the tone for the play; one which is honest, open, and sometimes ugly in its exploration of love. As we move through the play, the traverse stage serves to show the ebbs and flows of the relationship as they are frequently at opposites ends, swapping sides or varying their height. This in turn causes the audience’s heads to move from one end to the other, making the push and pull of their relationship physical for the audience.

The passing of time in the play is usually signified by a scene change, where the lighting will dim momentarily and the scene’s opening line reveals how far along in their journey we have travelled. A new scene comes with a new prop each time. Frequently this was alcohol, but other significant or homely items are brought into each scene. This was a clever way of not distracting from the scene, while also bringing something new into it. At several points in the play, the stage becomes like a black board that they can draw on with chalk, physicalising their thoughts into something material.

However, I couldn’t help but feel like I still wanted more from the direction in this show, as there were times where I felt that – due to the pure brilliance of the script- I could’ve just shut my eyes and treated it as an excellent audiobook. I wanted to not be able to take my eyes off them, but I think there was too little action to achieve this. Maybe it is a limitation of a script which is so descriptive, but I think because it was stripped of its naturalistic setting, we needed to see something more in their performance to account for that. Instead, we received a very ordinary portrayal of a couple, within a slightly less ordinary backdrop. I was left craving for something to watch.

That being said, the show was a brilliant exploration of LGBTQIA+ relationships, containing content such as fertility treatment and division of labour within the home, performed with amazing sincerity by Florence and Rachel, who were both well suited to the naturalistic style. It is important to recognise that there is still far too little on stage which explores the realities for LGBTQIA+ people, and When Rachel Met Fiona does this beautifully.

Theatre Returns @ The Shakespeare’s Globe

Photo credit Marc Brenner

04.07.2021

Walking into the wooded stands of The Shakespeare’s Globe, aside from a little extra spacing and the lack of a standing audience, it was almost as if nothing had changed. The Globe’s new version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet had clearly taken the lessons from the last year, in an attempt to provide something new, as the revised script allowed for a heightened focus on mental health.

This contemporary exploration of Romeo and Juliet saw Romeo riding around the stage on his BMX, Mercutio puffing on a vape and party scenes soundtracked by Mike Skinner’s ‘Who’s got the bag?’. This helped the play’s relatability, but also successfully divided the Montagues and Capulets by class and character. The fight scenes took on a new significance as they stabbed one another in their tracksuits, the audience were reminded of the rise in London knife crime amongst teenage boys. The red and black costume colour theme brought a cohesiveness to the costume design, as Juliet often wore an oversized red hoodie with tartan pocket and matching hair band, while Romeo wore an all black tracksuit with small details of red. The most unique aspect of the show came from the interjecting statistics around mental health and race, which after the last year of lockdowns and #BLM felt especially poignant. The show closed with details for the Samaritans, displayed in red on the stage screen.

The stand out performance from the show came from Alfred Enoch, who played Romeo, as he successfully performed the Shakespearean language in a way that was believable and relatable as well as achieving a compelling emotional performance. The downsides of the show came mostly from the draw backs of the staging – occasionally speech is lot in the open space and unless you are lucky enough to be face on, you are probably going to miss some of the action. The set and prop design was basic, but these are all things we sign up for in the name of tradition and therefore, I don’t think can fairly be criticised. I found that despite excellent performance’s from both, the speeches from Adam Gillen (Mercutio) and Zoe West (Benvolio) often lacked the same clarity as Enoch’s and huge chunks of script were lost. On the whole I have very little complain about the show, apart from the fact that I think they could’ve pushed the contemporary adaptation further, maybe to include social media or a discussion of race, to give us something more revolutionary.

I found this version of Romeo and Juliet poignant progressive and fun, with strong performances and witty staging choices.

8/10








Theatre returns @ The Garrick Theatre

Photo credit: The Gay Times

06.06.2021

My second show since return of the theatre, Death Drop, was a contrast in style and talent, to the first.

Death Drop is best described as a fun Dragatha Christie, starring Drag Race royalty: Latrice Royale and Willam. The show depicts a group of fictional z list celebrities, played by drag queens and kings, attending a ten year anniversary dinner for Charles and Diana (whom they assume will be attending), hosted by a woman they’ve mysteriously never heard of. However, not long into their evening the death of the first attendee raises suspicions about their invite to the house. As the plot probably suggests, the show is stupid at its core. It pokes fun at the inadequacies of theatre in all the ways we know how, from farcical multi-role play to comedic uses of special effects. If drag is your bag, and you don’t mind a lot of cheesy humour and average acting, then this is the show for you.

It goes without saying that unless you are a fan of Drag Race or drag more broadly, this show probably isn’t worth your time. However, I was pleasantly surprised that both Latrice Royale and Willam proved themselves as more than just names to pull in the crowds. Willam’s vocals were impressive; she felt fitting to the West-End stage, while Latrice had a good stage presence. These were not the only drag royals of the show, Myra Dubois, who played the show’s host, was a semi-finalist in Britain’s Got Talent 2020, while LoUis CYfer who played ‘Rich Whiteman’ was the first drag king to win Drag Idol UK. The cast were definitely the highlight of the show, as a group of drag performers at the top of their game.

Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t much I loved about the show outside of the drag. Contrary to The Gay Times suggestion that the writing was ‘exactly the tonic we needed’, I think the cast were let down by an overly simplistic script, which at times felt like it had just given up on finding ways to captivate the audience, or even be comedic. The best aspects of the script came in the form of lampooning patriarchy, which was held together brilliantly by the physical comedy of the drag kings. Elements of multi-role play were also used well, such as the triplets performed by the same actor, under the pretence that the ‘real’ actors had food poisoning. However, in places it all felt a bit GCSE drama, with tongue twisters like ‘Peter piper picked a pepper’ forming about five minutes of the second act, and jokes around delayed sound queues that became boring. Even the deaths became unimaginative, as at some point they switched from mystery black outs to an out of place ninja in lycra. In short, the comedy often lacked wit. I wasn’t expecting top quality theatre, I was just disappointed that I wasn’t proven wrong. I had hoped at the very least the set design would help explain the far from cheap ticket prices. In true murder mystery fashion, there was just one set throughout. Yet, it was predictable in style and appeared inexpensive compared with other West-End shows.

This is not to suggest that I didn’t find the show enjoyable, I did, however, I think it would’ve been best kept as a drag show, rather than theatre.

5/10