The Rhythmics @ The Southwark Playhouse

08.12.2021

Think the full monty meets the technological age, and you have new British musical comedy The Rhythmics. Grey, a middle-aged single dad of Silva who mourns his failed career as a rock star, is encouraged to audition for Nick & The Rhythmics, only to realise he has unwittingly signed up for an all-male Rhythmic Gymnastics group. In a bid to prove to his daughter that he can commit to something, he begrudgingly joins the group which gives him a new sense of direction.

The Rhythmics is a hilarious, heartwarming and refreshingly modern tale about companionship, perseverance and regret. It isn’t all men in leotards and twirling ribbons – although the choreography and musical numbers are brilliant – the real heart of the piece stems from the relationships these burly men form with one another in the process. This laugh out loud comedy provides the perfect tonic for the chaos that we are experiencing right now. One of the most beautiful aspects of the piece was that it was part performed in sign language, with all of the dialogue presented in text on a screen upstage, so that it was accessible for deaf viewers.

It is a harsh irony that due to Covid-19 the rest of the show’s run at The Southwark Playhouse has been cancelled, but hopefully in the new year it will be possible to catch this piece again!

Straight White Men @ Southwark Playhouse

16.11.2021

Straight White Men, unsurprisingly, is a play which depicts a family of four straight white men. Three brothers performed by Charlie Condou, Cary Crankson and Alex Mugnaioni and their father, Simon Rouse, have come together at Christmas time. However, unlike most straight white men, they are a family with an intense interest in socio economic power structures, and spend their Christmas discussing their white male privilege, and what to do with it.

The play began with two queer black actors, Kim Tatum and Kamari Roméo, soundtracked by loud club music, introducing the show as one which centres around straight white men. They then reappear at several times throughout the show, forming the transition between scene changes, occasionally bursting into song, or helping to stage for the next scene. The show’s poster contains only the two black actors, so found it odd to see them so rarely featured in the piece. But, if intentional, this is a really witty way of highlighting exploitation of diversity for financial gain.

The set was, for the most part, naturalistic in style, depicting a family home, with photo frames on the wall, a fireplace with Christmas cards, and a stereo which was used throughout. Surrounding the living room set was what appeared to be the inside of a night club, with flashing neon lights and a black background. This allowed the start of the piece to feel very much like you were attending a queer night club, rather than a night at the theatre. However, I’m not sure why this experience was necessary, as though black and queer culture are supposed to be synonymous with club culture?

The acting from the straight white men of the piece was top quality; their bond as a family was believable, and at times poignant, covering topics of grief, mental health, and financial stability. Their roles as overgrown children were horribly relatable and laugh out loud funny. However, I found the performances of Kim Tatum and Kamari Roméo messy at times and I would’ve liked them to have gone further in their roles, so that their purpose could be better understood.

I found Straight White Men at the Southwark Playhouse comedic and poignant, presented in a thought-provoking (though not yet fully realised) way. I would like the show’s two elements feel less disjointed, although maybe that is the point?

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.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Photograph: Cannes Film Festival

Set in France in the late 18th Century ‘Portrait On A Lady on Fire’, is a progressive period drama about a solo female artist named Marrianne, who is commissioned to complete a wedding portrait of Héloïse, against her knowledge. In this wonderfully feminist piece the four main parts are women, with the addition of Héloïse’s mother the countess and her maid Sophie. The film is ultimately a discussion of the female gaze, a woman being painted by a woman, who also gazes upon the painter, both constantly under scrutiny. The male absence in the film is glaring and yet the female oppression is loud; it is in Marianne’s need to paint in her father’s name as well as Héloïse’s arranged marriage. Throughout the film Héloïse, Marrianne and Sophie the maid, form a kind of sisterhood like that seen Mustang, coming together through difficulty.

It is a heartbreaking and beautiful LGBTQ film. 9/10.

Viewed on MUBI.

The Dirty Thirty by Degenerate Fox

06.03.2020

Attending Degenerate Fox’s International women’s day piece at the Rosebranch Theatre, a member of the cast on the ticket booth chewing gum and shouting us in, set the tone for this less than usual production. Thirty, two minute pieces, the order of which is decided by the audience who are reading the plays off a ‘menu’. The pieces begin with the cast shouting ‘go’ and close with ‘curtain’. Asking the sound man if he is ready, shouting that they need certain props between pieces, there is no fourth wall in this chaotic piece. In this international women’s day special they focussed on a range of mini pieces, performed by it’s LGBTQ international cast. My favourite pieces were ones which focussed on trans issues such as the piece: ‘What we think of TERF’s’ where a TERF is represented by a glass of water which they treat as if it is infected before one of the cast member reluctantly edged towards the glass and chucked it through the door. Similarly, when discussing how it feels to be labelled something you are not, their cast member Jack held up a sign saying ‘woman’ and awkwardly tried to put it down a few times before reluctantly holding it and faking a smile. The piece was insightful and informative and the wide scope of the content reflected the diverse cast, covering broad topics such as sexual assault in Latin America, to listing inspirational women we might not have heard of. I’d love to see how their usual show compares to the factual nature of this piece. Admittedly, if you’re looking for high quality theatre, this isn’t it – the talent of the cast varies from what appears obviously trained actors to seemingly happy volunteers- but what it does provide is a fun show brimming with inclusivity. The cast could work on their conviction on delivery if they did wish to elevate this to a serious piece of theatre, however, I imagine as this was a special it may have been put together very quickly. I can see this company at festivals or as a fun, more boozy night out. If you are member of the LGBTQ community this company are ones to watch!

Drop Dead Gorgeous @ VAULT Festival by the SAME SAME Collective

01.02.2020

Drop Dead Gorgeous is a darkly comic exploration of femininity and appetite by four women from the UK, India and Taiwan. The performance lies somewhere between a dance and performance art, with no dialogue whatsoever, as a table bearing fruit forms the centre piece of the action. In that sense Drop Dead Gorgeous is a visual discussion of femininity and its conflict with appetite, presenting a form of hunger I can certainly relate to.

The piece as a satire...

The piece successfully presents a comedic criticism of the universal tropes of femininity through both action and staging. Beginning with just the spotlight lit table, in a brief moment where the lights go out, the women hidden underneath the table appeared seemingly from nowhere. This felt indicative of the idea of women being ‘seen but not heard’ as they appear noiselessly, a trope which was continued throughout the piece, broken only by the occasional graceful sigh performed in unison. The set design was mostly beautiful, a pure white table cloth laid with colourful fruit, stood on pure white flooring. This perfection was mirrored in the women both in costume design, as they stood in their neat matching floral dresses and in accuracy of movement as their dance was timed to perfection. They appeared serene, controlled and delicate to the point of being comedic. Gradually they incorporated the fruit, beginning by gracefully selecting a grape each and including it in the routine. However, as the interaction with the fruit increased the unison of their movement began to break, first by selecting differing fruits, before comedically stuffing their faces until finally the piece digressed into a kind of animalistic feeding ground. They hoarded fruit, stole from one another and devoured all in sight. In this sense food acts as a means through which women cannot appear delicate and faultless.

The Set and how it supported the critique

The piece was performed in-the-round with audiences on all sides amplifying the sense in which the women were on show. Even when they did enact their appetitive desires, the majority of this was done under the long dangling cloth served as a mask to their eating. By the time they divulged into pure animalistic behaviour the table had visually broken into quarters, providing a symbolism of their societal mask slipping, revealing expectations of female bodies as idealistic.

If I had to moan…
My only real complaint was that it was so short. I would’ve loved for them to have taken this further.

The Same Same Collective are ones to watch for multi-cultural political performance art. I found Drop Dead Gorgeous a laugh out loud piece; current and thought provoking it is in tune with works such as ‘Women Don’t Owe You Pretty’. To catch them again they will be back at the London Vault festival on the 15th of February.

Girl from the North Country @Gielgud Theatre

11.01.2020

The musical that doesn’t feel like one.

Accompanying my mum to Girl from the North Country on the basis that it ‘has Bob Dylan music in it’, I had no preconceptions as to what it would be like and even though I knew it had been well received, I was taken aback by the ingenuity of the piece. GFTNC is categorised as a musical so predictably music is a central component, however it felt more like a kitchen sink drama come concert in comparison to thoroughgoing musicals such as Come From Away. Set in an American guesthouse in 1934, the play concerns itself with family issues; infidelity, illness and finance consume the plot. Within this the music acts as a kind of melancholic soundtrack, distinct from yet descriptive of the scenes. The most thorough performance came from Katie Brayben who played Elizabeth Laine, the mentally ill wife of the house owner. She convincingly inhabited the illness both in its comedic and frightening moments. Gloria Obianyo who played Marianne stood out as the best vocalist, as her soulful voice was more like a blues artist than your typical west-end performer.

The Set Design reflected its genre.

The design of the set was both naturalistic and abstract. The band was present throughout the show positioned upstage right, always in view but separate from the scenes amplifying the intrusion of the music into what, in terms of writing, could have been an ordinary play. A piano, downstage right appeared naturalistic and was used throughout the scenes mostly by Elizabeth while a drum kit, downstage left was visually out of place and was used solely as an instrument throughout the songs. It too was played by the actors (rather than members of the band) but this only brought you further away from the action, as it was so unusual to see members of the cast featuring in the musicianship. Similarly, ordinary guest house furniture such as a table and chairs and a kitchen sink were in keeping with the naturalistic script, however the spacing gave it an abstract feel as elements of the set, such as the sink, were rarely interacted with and acted more as ornaments. The most unique thing about the set, however, was the large screen revealed a third of the way into the production, which displayed an image of the nearby lake. It is unclear if this was supposed to be a modernistic representation of a window but as it was only introduced later in the production and occasionally it would show a laneway rather than the lake, I assume not. I think the purpose was to enable you to grasp the setting in a way which was going to juxtapose the naturalism, to distance you further from the scenes but more than that its purpose was to provide a backlight so that during the vocal numbers, members of the cast could stand close to screen and be mere silhouettes. It was thrilling to watch.

A genius piece so much more than an ode to Bob Dylan.

9/10

Women Aren̶t̶ Funny- PLUG IN GIRLS

@The Albany, London 9.01.2019

Women Aren̶’̶t̶ Funny, is a diverse night presenting the best in comedy and dramatic monologue. The acts were distinct but also unified by both a colloquial Britishness, which was headed by its Geordie host Ellen Lilley, as well as the shared themes of sex, ethnicity and mental health. The night’s name is indicative of female artists’ struggle in a predominately male industry as well as providing a satire of the stereotype that ‘women aren’t funny’.

The strongest performance came from Jenan Younis a woman of Assyrian heritage raised in Surrey. Much of her performance focused on what it was like growing up in a largely white middle class area with middle eastern heritage. She comically listed the dichotomies between herself and racial stereotypes, Christian not Muslim, calm not passionate and explored everyday racism. Her piece went on to discuss Stacey Dooley’s Iraq documentary and hilariously attacked her inability to speak grammatically correct English (which has always been a peeve of mine). Reading off extracts from her book ‘Women *what* fight back’ in Stacey’s thick Essex accent, she (I hope) filled grammatically correct words with incorrect ones in order to make mock Dooley’s usually horrendous use of English. Her piece was witty, insightful and creative and therefore it is no surprise that she has already been nominated for the BBC New Comedy award. She is one to watch.

The line-up as a whole was brimming with talent with all acts bringing a unique voice. Alex Bertulis-Fernandes’ set was very dark humoured- not my cup of tea but can definitely see doing well- and Lavinia Carpentieri’s performed a hilarious monologue about needing a shit on the way to work. Weaker performances of the night were due to lack of conviction or stage presence rather than weak content or writing. One of the best things about Jenan was her calm presence on stage while other performers had the tendency to jump erratically between jokes, touch their hair or fiddle with clothing which is not only distracting but also unprofessional. I’d suggest working on delivery and presence because all the acts were brilliant in content.

As a regular attendee of Covent Garden’s Top Secret Comedy Club I believe this show has the ability to be as big, as it presents real talent in a fun atmosphere. I’d say to the organisers to aim for bigger venues and higher frequency and it could soon replace other comedy nights which consistently support male over female talent.

The night was a lot of fun but more than anything succeeded in proving that women are funny! Where do I sign up?

Rosa @ The Courtyard Theatre

Rosa is a one woman show about a woman (named Rosa) who fixates on her ability to control time throughout the day, causing her to fear sleep. The script follows her neurotic daily routine in a convincing but also bizarre manner.

Things I liked about this piece…

Committed characterisation- I found Carlota Arencibia a thoroughly committed actress, never slipping in her characterisation even during the comedic moments. The piece had already started from the moment the audience entered, which was a clever way of amplifying the realism of the piece. We really had walked into the room of a mad woman. Movement was a key and clever part of Carlota’s performance, mostly to embody the time she was fixated on, as well as to physicalise Rosa’s desire for control. This added to the thoroughness of the characterisation as well as the comedy of the piece. Most of the comedy, however, came from the quirks of Rosa’s daily routine such as her morning wee which was done on stage into a plant pot, using a water pouch tucked into her knickers. Other absurd moments included her morning cup of coffee, which was poured over her face, her exercises, which included putting match sticks in her eyes, as well as the period she spends rubbing her clit, a small pillow attached to her knickers. All these elements made for a convincing and funny portrayal of her neurotic character but also were evidence of what an incredible piece of writing Rosa is.

Set Design- This is the most fully realised set I’ve seen in a small scale production this year. It was made up of white painted wooden panelling which formed the three walls to the room. The white fresh paint was reminiscent of a mental asylum but the wood complicated this, making it feel more like a painter and decorator set or even a heavenly garden. The idea of it being a painter and decorator set was heightened by the roll-on paint brush which stood propped up on the wall throughout the piece, as well as the white linen flooring. This not-quite-finished state of the set nicely amplifies the sense of being stuck in time, much like Rosa. The set also mirrored her desire for balance, with props tending to come in equal numbers and there being only one stand out colour, red. The only sense of imbalance came from the roll on brush which looked as though it could have been left accidentally, cleverly highlighting the scene’s artificiality, much like her own sense of control.

If I had to moan…

This is a naturally difficult piece to critique due to its originality. However, I think to not lose sight of diction would be a good point to make, as parts of the performance were lost in the zig zagging of content. While the fast paced speech was obviously a deliberate characterisation choice, I think too much was missed at times.

The silent Mrs Coffman, the person Rosa speaks to throughout, was an unclear concept. Who is she? Do we know? Should we care? I found myself straddling the ideas that: Mrs Coffman was imaginary, Mrs Coffman was a psychiatrist, Mrs Coffman is whoever the audience want her to be. I think whether or not Mrs Coffman is supposed to be anything particular or not, it needs to be stated clearer as I found my attempt to grasp it distracting and spent half the piece worrying I’d missed the answer.

Finally, I would’ve liked to have seen Carlota go further in Rosa’s moments of fear, to elevate the contrast with the mostly lighthearted tone of the production.

Overall, this was an incredibly well written, performed and managed piece which I would highly recommend for anyone seeking something slightly unconventional. I wish this production the best of luck going forward and I have no doubt they will do well. Carlota is a real force.