Death of a Salesman @ Piccadilly Theatre

30.11.2019

On Saturday I watched Death of a Salesman at the Piccadilly Theatre. In this post I
will discuss some of the main features which stood out to me, including new thematic content, staging and of course Wendell Pierce’s performance of Willy Loman.

Issues of race- In this production of Death of a Salesman the Loman family are African American. With this brought a new interpretation of the play that Willy Loman’s struggle to make ends meet is actually a discussion racial inequality, as the casting ensures his successful colleagues and counterparts are all white men. Events such as his old boss’ son, Howard, dismissing his request to no longer travel for work, becomes a statement of the white mans career-climbing capabilities. While this made for an interesting and modern adaptation of a classic, in providing a reason for his failure I couldn’t help but feel that it removed some of Willy Loman’s own tragedy which was present in the original. Arthur Miller’s play is a discussion of the working mans pride, the American dream and it is the inexplicable nature of Willy’s lack of success which makes it so tragic. Some people don’t quite make it. In putting at least some of the blame on the colour of his skin, it removed in part some of Willy Loman’s tragedy that was present in the original. I am not saying this version is without tragedy but rather it presents a new tragedy. It could be argued what was left in its place, being more political, was more moving. The struggle of black working people in America in the mid 20th century. Ultimately whether the protagonist is black or white, the play remains a discussion of the American dream, it is merely showing two sides to the same coin.

Set- The set comprised of a series of suspended hollow wood frames which became the windows and doors throughout as well as core household items including: a set of table and chairs, a refrigerator, the gas stove and a desk with a phone on it. All of the set was attached to strings meaning that windows, door frames and household objects could either be included in a scene, or suspended above it when not required. Raised platforms also provided the ability to represent various floors visible at one time. This set complimented the simplicity of the script, just one man and his family, however it also indicated the fragility of their home as the items were suspended on strings. The varying platforms were used cleverly throughout and allowed action in multiple parts of the house at once, adding to the naturalism. There was no real colour in the set at all, in keeping with the tone and the set’s minimalism made for a very clean production.

Wendell Pierce- Finally, the man everybody came to watch, American actor and star of huge TV drama The Wire. So how did he compare on stage? My view is pretty well. He embodied proud but desperate Willy Loman well but his best moments came in the fits of rage against Biff, where his voice boomed. However, while Wendell Pierce did an incredible job throughout, I felt that the more naturalistic scenes suited his style better which is most likely why he is so memorable in The Wire. I felt that his portrayal of Willy Loman’s periods of insanity lacked the same conviction of his scenes of rage or compassion and consequently was at times outshone by Sharon D Clarke who flawlessly played the role of Linda Loman, his wife. Having said that some of my favourite pieces of action came in the moments between Willy and Charley, a long and turbulent companionship which was comedic, real but also heartbreaking. While I don’t believe this was Wendell Pierce’s best work, it was still a powerful one.

I found the production a memorable and original version of Arthur Miller’s play and would highly recommend.

Come From Away @Phoenix Theatre

03.10.19

Come From Away is the true story of how a town called Gander in the province of Newfoundland (Canada) coped with almost doubling in population as 38 flights were diverted flights there during 9/11. It is a commentary on both isolation and unity, tragedy and strength.

The most significant point to make is that it is a musical masterpiece with a running time of just under two hours it has no pauses in music, not even an interval. The entire piece is accompanied by a live band who at times even form part of the scenes. The cast were astounding as they sang and danced resiliently throughout. Multi-role play forms a major component of the show as it allows us to get a sense of the 7,000 stranded passengers while each cast member has a main character including the town mayor, a mother of a firefighter in New York and a female pilot.

However, while it is undoubtedly an incredible show, two factors left me resisting it.

Structure/ Pace- I don’t doubt that this in part stemmed from my own greed at missing out on that all too essential overpriced interval ice cream but I found the absence of two acts in a musical jarring. I fully understand the choice- it would have interrupted the pace which kept us on our toes throughout. There was no obvious place to pause nor was there quite the length required for two acts. However, this pace I found a bit much to keep up with and also prevented us from fully emotionally investing in the character’s plight. The stillest moment in the performance came naturally from the attack, which provided real poignancy but I would’ve liked longer periods of slow. Which brings me on to my second complaint…

The show lacked an obvious protagonist. We are so busy sharing in the plight of all that we have no single person we can invest in emotionally. Which naturally left me walking away feeling as though I hadn’t got the emotional investment I thought I would.

In other words as my moaning suggests, this musical is one which works outside of the bounds of the conventional structure. However, I’m not sure I can take issue with it providing something a little different when it is still an entertaining and incredibly tight production. I believe the style had its drawbacks but it also made it the most interesting musical I have ever seen.

8.5/10

Trouble @ The Chapel Playhouse

18.09.19.

Lizzie Annis’ ‘Trouble’, is a linguistically powerful and genuinely moving depiction of a night out from the perspective of a woman with Cerebral palsy.

It is both familiar and enlightening as it comments on sleazy men, social awkwardness, friendship and dating but from the perspective of someone with a disability. The piece was both hilarious and heartbreaking in one short half an hour sitting as it gives light to both the complexities but also humour which derives from the social repercussions of having a disability.

What I loved…

The language. The entire piece was written as essentially, one long poem with a rhyming scheme running throughout. It was cleverly paced, colloquial yet elevated with clever use of imagery throughout so that no set or props were required. I was struck by what an incredible piece of writing it was.

Multi-Role.

Throughout the piece, Lizzie embodies the people she interacts with simply by changing the tone of her voice and movement. I found this a lovely way of making a simple piece more powerful. She does a really good job of showing how sometimes less is more.

If I had to moan…

This is a really difficult piece to criticise as I genuinely loved it however, I felt some of the transition in her multiple-role playing could have been sharpened. At times it wasn’t entirely obvious who was speaking or which character she was embodying. Therefore I would say simply to focus on sharpening the tone and movement at all times, to avoid blurring the characters.

Overall however, I found this to be a really clever and contemporary piece of feminist theatre. We need more like this.

The Incident Room @ Edinburgh Fringe- My Recommendation.

03.08.2019.

Detailing the police investigation of ‘the biggest manhunt in British history’ The Incident Room looks at the inside events of the Yorkshire Ripper case. It presents a re-enactment of the case’s developments over the years over leading up to his conviction.

What I loved…

  1. It’s thorough.
    It gives a detailed account of the investigation into the Yorkshire ripper case, meaning it is genuinely interesting from a historical standpoint. Having said that this is not just one for the history nerds.
  2. It’s authentic.
    Set in a 1980s northern police station it’s a great step back in time. Think no computers, sexism and ‘simpler times’- making for a much greater piece of theatre but far worse police services. It’s comedic, raw and honest.
  3. The staging.
    This was my favourite set that i saw at The Fringe- having said that Fringe isn’t exactly known for its sets- but the use of space is well thought out and the interactive filing cabinets and the multi-use single door was clever while also being in tune with its naturalistic style.
  4. The acting.
    Last but not least this is the best piece of naturalistic acting I saw at The Fringe. Best Actor award goes to the woman who doubled as the police woman and the victim of attack (excuse my lack of clarity here but it did not come with a program). Despite being the underdog she was brilliantly Yorkshire, hilarious and committed to both roles.

If you want a gripping naturalistic piece of theatre this is your man (excuse the pun)

9/10

Post Popular @ Edinburgh Fringe- My Recommendation.

03.08.2019. Not for the faint hearted.

Lucy is utterly brilliant, fearless and spontaneous in her latest piece Post Popular. Her piece combines theatre, dance and vocals in a thoroughly interactive piece which relies upon audience participation. A dramatic retelling of women throughout history, from Eve to the present day, Post Popular is far from what you might expect.

The piece acts as a statement of female power while simultaneously reflecting on the lack of female presence in our history books. Lucy, with her incredible comic timing, unrelenting commitment and brave choices counterbalances the weak and lacking women in the stories. This idea is amplified by the two men which accompany Lucy throughout the piece acting as her extras but appearing more like her servants.

In order to not give too much away I will end this review here simply to say if you are not afraid to get your hands dirty, it’s a must see.

Warning: contains nudity and strong language.

9/10

Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner @ The Royal Court Theatre

12. 08.19. “How exactly does one kill a social media figure/entrepreneur, or as I like to term her: a con artist-cum-provocateur?”

Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner focuses on the perspective of a black English woman on the economic and online success of Kylie Jenner. The play sways between the protagonist, Cleo’s, ramblings on twitter and a dialogue with her mixed race best friend Kara as they’re sat in her bedroom. Throughout the play Cleo posts a series of tweets detailing the ways in which she would kill Kylie Jenner, which allows the play to explore the themes of social media and race as she faces both online criticism and debate with Kara.

A political core…

SMOFKKJ enlightened me to the cultural appropriation which is all over our social media pages by, mostly, white women who are able to mimic traits of black women through cosmetic surgery such as ‘big lips, wide hips and big bums’. In this piece Cleo argues that off the back cosmetic surgery are white women such as KJ making billions from features that Black women have while those very same features in black women have invited racism and even violence. SMOFKKJ invites the audience to give a long hard look at the people we put on pedestals and the racism at its core.

Another racial debate running parallel to that of cultural appropriation and success of white celebrities is that which is held in the discourse between black Cleo and her mixed raced best friend Kara. Ironically Cleo is racist to Kara calling her a ‘lighty’ stating that she’d had it ‘easier’ and stated that ‘bare man’ were looking to ‘jump’ on her. She cites mixed raced celebrities which are idolised for their beauty such as Beyonce, Rihanna and Jorja Smith while there are very few idolised black celebrity women. However, Kara replies while that they may be true she is and will always be ‘a black woman’, highlighting the isolation mixed race women can feel even from the black community.

Staging

The staging became a clever visual embodiment of the plays central themes. The sparse blocks of wood with cream mesh hanging above appeared both stylish and haunting. I took the wood to represent the natural while the mesh, something that is man made. The mesh had a single hanging noose, inviting reflection on the lynchings of black African American people Cleo speaks about, yet the mesh had a strange attractiveness to it like those you might see draped at a fancy beach club. In that sense the mesh became a discussion of the way in which the same features can double up to mean two very different things for different members of society.

Here I have focused on the central theme of the play, racism but the play covered so much more which I won’t discuss here including feminism, homosexuality and social media. It is one of the most thought provoking pieces I have seen in a while.

My rating: 10/10 poltical, current, moving, hilarious.

DUMPED @ Camdens People’s Theatre

Beyonce made Lemonade – Emily Howarth made DUMPED.

A brutally honest, funny and witty piece.

Describing itself as a ‘one woman musical comedy shit storm’ DUMPED is not your conventional piece of theatre. The mish-mash of genres become a clever structural embodiment of the mild hysteria recognisable in a break up – disjointed and fluctuating you’re never quite sure if you should be laughing or crying. This piece definitely doesn’t know what it is, as it see-saws from theatre to stand-up, from an intimate gig to karaoke session. Whether it was the creator’s intention or not the piece feels utterly confused but that’s the brilliance of it, because who the hell isn’t confused when they are dumped right?

It’s genuinely interesting from a musical standpoint.
As the entire piece is mostly built around an analysis of music’s break-up genre- with the occasional interruption from voice memos- this is definitely a piece that would interest someone from a musical standpoint. Probably the most significant musical aspect in this piece, unsurprisingly is Emily’s own singing. Firstly may I add Emily can really SANG and her singing offers poignancy amidst her otherwise wacky routine. However, strangely at points it does turn into a bit of a music history lesson and I found her in depth chats about Fleetwood Mac and Adele genuinely interesting and entirely relevant.

It’s raw.
DUMPED certainly doesn’t shy away from honesty or ugliness. It lays all the cards on the table or in this case, voice memos baring fully the soul of a broken heart. But we are living in the age of honesty right? and stuff like this is important. It serves as a great reflection on heartbreak, grief and femininity even if it makes you want to go home and cry about all the break-up emotions you thought you’d suppressed.

If I had to moan..

This is probably a matter of personal opinion but I’m not a huge fan of comedians laughing at themselves as it can come off amateurish. Similarly with the dance pieces if Emily could do them with conviction without bashing herself after or even during, they’d be even funnier. Embrace the awkward bones they’re the best bits.

If you love to laugh… and cry this is one to watch.

My rating 6.5/10

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie @The Apollo Theatre

23.05.19

Last Night I FINALLY got round to seeing Everybody’s Talking About Jamie starring the amazing Ru Paul’s, Bianca Del Rio and Faye Tozer from Steps. The show exceeded my already high expectations; an incredibly tight production with a very talented cast. If you are a theatre lover and haven’t yet seen it- stop reading now and go and do so. For those readers that have seen it, here are some thoughts I had…

The Set

Set is not always a feature of a production which I normally leave thinking about that however the set for ETAJ is flawless. I loved the unravelling kitchen which stays on stage at all times, the painfully accurate grim school toilet, the multi-use single door leading to abyss’ beyond (i.e. the club door, the classroom door, the stage door). The set was both simplistic yet advanced.

The Cast

Layton Williams was astounding as Jamie New, I couldn’t fault his performance which is no easy feat.

Roy Haylock/ Bianca Del Rio- It was a dream to see Bianca del rio (as Loco Chanel) on stage as any lover of Ru Paul could imagine. However, I think her lack of performance training showed slightly next to the cast- her projection wasn’t great at times and her performance as Hugo was seemingly lacking in confidence. Having said that, once she stepped into drag she was indistinguishable from Bianca Del Rio- witty, loud and high class. I think the short run for Hugo Taylor may have meant a lack of rehearsal time in comparison to the rest of the cast, which may account for the slight disparity. Regardless, overall I was delighted to see Roy Haylock in this.

Sejal Keshwala- The unsung hero of the piece as she played friend of Jamie New’s mum, Ray, perfectly. I’m not sure if it’s the incredible acting or the well- written character I fell in love with here but she brought the most emotion to the play, offering the completion of Jamie’s unconventional family. She brought both brilliant wit as well as poignant familiarity as she provided the most authentically northern character in the piece.

If I had to moan:

Honestly, I would’ve liked to have seen more drag. Jamie New was never once seen in drag only as a ‘boy in a dress’. I understand the time pressures of transforming someone into a drag queen, so I wasn’t expecting it to come early on. They tease at the idea with the clever use of the projector at the end of act one and I kept assuming their would be a grand unveiling towards the end, however the unveiling never came. Maybe this was due to wanting to stick to the original story (as we know the musical is based on the BBC documentary) but if thats the case who gives a damn about authenticity, let Jamie New come in FULL drag to the prom. Give the audience what they are after. Surely in a show all about an aspiring drag queen, it has to be done once right?

Similarly, Roy Haylock only appeared for a brief time in drag and spending 3/4 of her performance as Hugo rather than Loco Chanel. Give the audience what they want!

Aside from my drag hunger- Everybody’s Talking about Jamie is an incredible watch well worth the pricey ticket. Filled with a top class cast, cleverly executed design and genius script.

My rating 9/10. Shantay you Stay.

Stream @The Drayton Arms Theatre

09. 04. 19

Tonight I saw the first of what is going to be a week long run of the production ‘Stream’, which is divided into two short plays split by an interval. Despite being in the same production these two plays are highly contrasting in style and theme as my review will show.

Salmon

If I had to sum up Salmon in a word it would be, claustrophobic- a description which can only probably be fully understood after watching the production. Everything in this play overlaps: speech, space, meaning- making the small upstairs theatre at The Drayton Arms pub a very apt space for this production. The play begins as what appears to be a comment on the mundanity of life as we hear the story of a young Scottish man, from a town where nothing much happens whose dog recently died. However, as the play unfolds it shows itself to be a powerful watch, rich in meaning. Some of the best aspects of this production was undoubtedly the writing- language and especially imagery is used very originally throughout. I also found the actors Scottish accents thoroughly convincing, their timing well executed and commitment to the characters strong. I think if I were to critique this production at all I’d suggest slowing it down in places, the fast pace generally adds to the claustrophobia nicely, however in places speech gets lost and we are left wanting a pause. I also think the penultimate scene with the main guy and girl laid together- probably my favourite scene from the whole production- would have made for a more poignant close as it offered a welcome stillness. However, these are simply points for the company to think about as they head off to The Edinburgh Fringe Fest where I have no doubt they will do well. The production is running for the remainder of the week in The Drayton Arms, London and if you are heading to Edinburgh and you are looking for a thought -provoking watch, definitely give these guys a watch.

My rating 7/10


Mom Bob

Mom Bob is simply a great feminist watch, acting as commentary on womanhood as well as tapping into the relatable mundanity of human experience. It’s simplicity, one woman (and some wooden ducks) on stage relaying her feelings about a recent incident in her biological daughter’s life, makes it a profound watch. It covered everything from the extreme side of a woman’s experience- domestic abuse- to the everyday naggings of societal expectations; I found it thoroughly relatable. It is an incredibly well written, as well as, well performed piece by Jane Hancock, the one woman’ed band who both wrote and performed her piece. I was gripped from the second the protagonist began speaking and her monologue succeeded in making me feel every spectrum of emotion from laughter to watery eyes. If this piece was anything to go by, I would recommend seeing another of Jane Hancock’s plays, she’s a force to be reckoned with.

My rating 8/10