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!

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

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.

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.

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