A Taste of Honey @Trafalgar Studios

29.02.2020

I caught the final performance of the National Theatre revived 1958 British classic A Taste of Honey at Trafalgar Studios, starring Jodie Prenger as Helen and Gemma Dobson as Jo. Walking in I was pleasantly surprised by the close nature of the auditorium, with only one tier you had to walk across the stage to reach the steps to your seat, as the cast were already on stage and the band played. This set the tone for the remainder of the play which felt very much like you were invading Helen and Jo’s flat in true kitchen-sink-drama style.

What I loved…

The comedy– It goes without saying that this piece is hilariously witty and real. Set in the North West of England it follows the relationship of two working class women, a mother and daughter, through the average to low times. Constant arguments and near bust ups, dating and parenthood the piece is a real discussion of the working class at that time.

Gemma Dobson’s performance– I find it unsurprising she won the Best Actress in a Play at The Stage Debut Awards in 2018, after having seen this performance. Originally from Leeds she had an easy transition to the Salford accent and her portrayal of sassy but compassionate Jo was both comedic and believable. Although I loved the dynamic between her and Jodie, her relationship with gay best friend Geof where she showed vulnerability and compassion, allowed her to show the depth of her abilities as an actress. Her talent matched the complexity of the script and stood out in an already talented cast.

The music – It seems as though integrating musicians within the set is a popular trend at the minute, changing the landscape of West-End theatre from the traditionally separate orchestra and cast dynamic. The instruments, much like in Girl From The North Country and Come From Away were present on stage at all times and both the piano and the drum kit were interacted with by the cast; it was an odd recognition of being a theatre piece. This time the music made the piece feel earthy, adding to the relaxed atmosphere of the living room it could have just been a record player.

If I had to moan – It seemed unusual to me that half the cast didn’t have Salford accents. It seemed this couldn’t have been a style choice to make Helen and Jo stand out, as Geof also had a Salford accent. Was this there way of making it more relatable, opening it up to the rest of the country? Or could they simply not hire enough northern actors? Either way I found that aspect of the piece confusing.

Incredible script, cast and staging. Hilarious throughout.

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.

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.

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