Edinburgh Preview – Much Further Out Than You Thought

Much Further Out Than You Thought is a one-man show which tells the story of Lance Corporal James Randall, who finished his tours of duty in Helmand six years ago.  It is Remembrance Sunday, and he is in his living room in south London recording a birthday message for his young son, surrounded by childhood toys and memorabilia.  As the narrative progresses, it becomes clear that James is suffering from PTSD, and the audience learns how the collision of civilian Britain and front-line Afghanistan can lead to catastrophe.

I met with writer and actor Giles Roberts after the play’s preview at the Old Red Lion in Islington.  A charming and interesting man, he is as sympathetic and likeable as the character he portrays with such expertise.  Giles was quick to point out that Much Further Out Than You Thought is not intended to be anti-war propaganda – it is the individual story of a single soldier.  He does, however, object to the glamorisation of the army which appears to be taking place recently.

Although James Randall is fictional, Giles did have the help of two soldiers as consultants when he was writing the play.  He got the idea after watching a 1980s documentary called Four Hours in My Lai, about a massacre by US troops in Vietnam.  The personal testimonies of the soldiers particularly resonated with him, and he began to try to empathise with how an act of killing must irreparably alter a person, and how it influences them in the future.

We talked about the timelessness of the situation: young men are trained to kill, but what happens to that training when they come back home?  There has been a lot of talk about World War I in the last couple of years, and shell-shock cases have parallels with current incidences of PTSD.  But Giles emphasised that warfare is more asymmetrical now: there are no longer two rows of trenches and the enemy can be anyone and anywhere.  This causes the combatants to develop a sense of hyper-awareness, which, unfortunately cannot be easily turned off when they return to civilian life.

Despite having several writing credits for spoken word, Much Further Out Than You Thought is Giles’ first play.  As an actor, trained at the Oxford School of Drama, he has many credits to his name.  The play is directed by Bethany Pitts, and Giles spoke of the short rehearsal period with a director he already knew very well, and how interesting it was to come at the material from two different angles.  Much Further Out Than You Thought is the winner of a 2015 IdeasTap Underbelly Award.  With IdeasTap sadly having to close, Giles and Bethany will be among the last people to benefit from their invaluable help.

Much Further Out Than You Thought is at the Underbelly Cowgate (Big Belly), 56 Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1EG, from Thursday 6th – Sunday 30th August 2015 (not 17th), at 3.20pm.  It is produced by the Molino Group.  For more information visit The Molino Group.

Romantic Fun for Valentine’s Day

She Loves Me at the Landor Theatre

I didn’t notice that Saturday was Valentine’s day when I arranged to go and review She Loves Me on that day. Once I realised, I wondered if I would look a bit strange going to a romantic musical on my own on the day for celebrating the pairing instinct! I needn’t have worried. There were a lot of couples (and quite a bit of hand-holding), but there were also people who had come because they had friends in the cast, so I didn’t stick out like a spare thumb.

Seated at the end of the front row I had a good chance to look at the set (courtesy of designer David Shields and Lighting Designer Richard Lambert) before the performance began. It was wonderful! She Loves Me is based on a play called Parfumerie (by Hungarian author Miklos Laszlo) and most of the action is set in a cosmetics shop. The set was well-designed: bright, cheerful and colourful; as well as being easily adaptable to the requirements of different scenes.

I did have one major gripe about this show, which nagged at me right up until partway through the second half, when I suppose I got used to it. The play is set in Budapest and is being performed in a London theatre. So why is everyone speaking in an American accent? Yes, I know the musical was first produced on Broadway, but that seems insufficient reason to me. And although the accents were, on the whole, excellent, they did slip on the vocal numbers in some cases. Looking at the cast list, I can see that one cast member is from the US and another from Canada. Let them speak in their native accents, and let the rest of the predominantly British cast speak in their own accents. Were an accent change indicated, the only logically choice would be Hungarian, and I don’t believe that would be either practicable or effective.

Accents aside, I really liked She Loves Me. The fourteen-strong cast gave flawless performances with high energy throughout. The songs were exuberant and infectious, and the choreography was of a very high standard – essential when you have such a large cast in such a small space. Credit is due to director Robert McWhir, musical director Iain Vince-Gatt, and choreographer Robbie O’Reilly. The cast were ably support by a trio of musicians whom I can’t seem to find listed in the program and Nina Morley’s costume design and Cecily Rabey’s stage management contributed to the excellent overall look and feel of the piece.

With such a large cast, all of such a high standard, it is hard to pick anyone out for special mention. Lead actors Charlotte Jaconelli and John Sandberg were wonderful, both vocally and in terms of creating believable sympathetic characters. The same could be said Emily Lynne, David Herzog and Matthew Wellman – although without the sympathetic part in his case, as he was playing the villain! I was particularly drawn to Joshua LeClar as the bicycle messenger Arpad and Ian Dring as Mr Maraczek, the elderly shop owner. All of the singing in the show was brilliant, and I particularly enjoyed the chorus numbers (George Mulryan, Rosie Ladkin, Tom Whalley, Olivia Holland Rose, Luke Kelly, Anne Horn and Suzie Chaytow). At 2 ½ hours the show is good value for money, and I can guarantee you will leave with a smile on your face.

She Loves me is at the Landor Theatre until 7 March 2015, Tuesday – Saturday nightly at 7.30pm, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 3pm. For more information, visit www.landortheatre.co.uk.

Nobody Does It Better

The Diary of a Nobody at the King’s Head Theatre, 20 January 2015 – 14 February 2014

The Diary of a Nobody, the story of Charles Pooter, was published as a series of articles and illustration in Punch during the late 19th Century, and was written by brothers George and Weedon Grossmith.  There have been numerous stage, screen and radio adaptations over the intervening years, often differing wildly in interpretation, for instance Keith Waterhouse’s play, featuring Judy Dench and Michael Williams, told the story from the point of view of Pooter’s wife Carrie.

As would be expected, Rough Haired Pointer have their own take on the story.  This starts with the design (Karina Nakaninsky and Christopher Hone): both set and costumes are constructed to resemble the black and white drawings in the original work.  Secondly, the adaptation and direction (Mary Franklin) splits the action between four characters in an interesting way (the narration, as Pooter, is shared by all four, for instance), and thirdly the sheer madcap mayhem and silliness of the production was extremely refreshing.

The cast consisted of four male actors, which did add slightly to the Pythonesque atmosphere of the piece, although I’m sure it could work equally well with women also.  Jake Curran played Charles Pooter throughout, which lent a much needed anchor to the play, amidst the constantly changing characters around him.  He did an excellent job of conveying both poignancy and humour.  Jordan Mallory-Skinner played Carrie throughout, although he did morph briefly into three other characters.  Again, he gave a sympathetic and amusing portrayal of the character, and, although not dragged up in any way other than the costume and a pair of earrings, at times I found myself forgetting he was not really a woman!

All the remaining characters were played by Geordie Wright and George Fouracres.  Wright did have a main character of sort, in Sarah, the maid, but he played many others also, and Fouracres was continually changing parts, although perhaps his role as Lupin, the Pooters’ son, is the one that most sticks in my mind.  These two actors contributed a lot of the over-the-top hilarity which was a characteristic of the production, and both displayed great comic flair, as indeed did Curran and Mallory-Skinner.  The chaotic fun was enhanced by the staging: little touches such as having the cast pour glasses of rice from a wine bottle and try to drink it, and the postman carrying a letter box with him as well as a letter to put through it.  There was also some audience participation involved.  In addition, there was quite a bit of corpsing, which strangely just made the play even funnier.

The Diary of a Nobody is closing at the King’s Head tonight, so do pop down and see it if you can, or look out for future productions (the current one is a transfer from the White Bear).  For more information, visit www.kingsheadtheatrepub.co.uk  or www.roughhairedpointer.com.

Photographs courtesy of Rocco Redondo

The Diary of a Nobody

Brilliant Brel

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris at the Charing Cross Theatre

You probably know more Jacques Brel songs than you think.  Ne Me Quitte Pas, anyone?  How about No Love You’re Not Alone (incorporated in David Bowie’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide)?  Terry Jacks’ Seasons in the Sun was Le Moribond with a new lyric, while Scott Walker had a hit record with Jacky in the late 1960s.

Singer songwriter Brel was born in Belgium in 1929, moving to Paris in 1953 to pursue his career in music.  Although he died young (aged 49) he left a remarkable legacy of chansons behind him, many of which focus on the darker side of life.  “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” a musical revue of his work, was first produced in New York in 1968.  The show reflects his strong anti-war stance, and features songs in English, French and Flemish.

The Charing Cross Theatre production has a heavy cabaret feel to it, which is all to the good.  The first half was enjoyable: Eve Polycarpou opened the show with Le Diable (Ca Va), followed by Daniel Boys and Gina Beck, who made a favourable first impression with If We Only Have Love. Musical Director and Pianist Dean Austin sang a brief solo with Le Moribond, and I particularly liked the closing number Amsterdam, powerfully sung by David Burt, which gave a flavour of what was to come after the interval.  I would have liked to hear some harmonies on The Desperate Ones, which was sung in unison by the full company, but by the time I got to the interval I was already impressed and looking forward to what was to follow.

Despite some feedback problems on the sound front, especially during “Middle Class” (which was a shame, as it was otherwise a very amusing number from David and Daniel), the second half blew me away.  Eve’s Ne Me Quitte Pas was profoundly moving, and Gina’s “My Death” totally rocked.  I’ve been lucky enough to see the wonderfully talented Camille O’Sullivan perform both of these, plus Amsterdam, live on more than one occasion, and Eve, Gina and David’s renditions in no way suffered by comparison.  Daniel Boys also gave a consistently strong performance throughout, with his Next being a particular standout.  Overall, the second half seemed to build to a final crescendo, with the full cast joining in for a reprise of If We Only Have Love at the end.

The four singers were ably supported on stage by band members James Cleeve, Felix Stickland, Doug Grannell and Richard Burden, as well as by Dean Austin as previously mentioned.  This excellent show was directed by Andrew Keates, and is well worth a viewing.

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris runs until 22 November 2014 at the Charing Cross Theatre, Monday – Saturday 7.45 pm, Saturday matinees 3pm.  Tickets are available from www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk.

Short but Sweet

The Fat Man's Wife 5 - courtesy Simon AnnandCanal Cafe Theatre presents The Fat Man’s Wife by Tennessee Williams

It is always intriguing to hear about a “new” play from a celebrated dead playwright.  Although written in 1938, The Fat Man’s Wife remained unproduced throughout Williams’ lifetime, having its first staging in New York in 2004.  This is its first UK production.  Despite the excitement of the new, however, there is also slight suspicion – why would the work of an extremely successful and well-regarded writer be so neglected?  It was therefore with curiosity mixed with apprehension that I arrived at the Canal Cafe on Thursday night.

I had never been to this theatre before, but from previous knowledge I had been expecting an arrangement of tables and chair, café- style.  However, the company had decided to perform in traverse, which was an excellent choice, as it really made the best of the space available.  Incorporating an actual window into the set, rather than covering it up was also a good idea.

I was first drawn to Williams’ work after seeing a film version of The Glass Menagerie, featuring Karen Allen as Laura, and this has remained my favourite of his plays.  The Fat Man’s Wife appears to have many similarities with the story of Shakespeare’s sister, in that they are both slightly gentler than much of the writer’s other work, while still containing the sense of claustrophobia and restriction that characterises the majority of his plays.

All three actors did a wonderful job.  Damien Hughes, as Dennis Merriwether, conveyed the exuberance and indestructibility of youth and the frustration when he realises that eagerness and enthusiasm isn’t going to be enough, in a lively, engaging way.  Emma Taylor (Vera) had our sympathy as the middle-aged woman trapped in a loveless marriage, who nevertheless is too scared, or too realistic, to escape.  We could feel her pain, and, even more, her weariness.  Although his part was small, Richard Stephenson Winter, still managed to portray Joe as a figure to be pitied, a victim of his own appetites, and made Vera’s decision to stay with him believable.  The play was ably directed by Russell Lucas, with assistance from Anne Harris.

Without knowing the background of this play, however, it comes across as the first act of a two act play, with the second act missing.  The ending is abrupt, and it feels as if the characters could have done with a lot more development.  But once you take into account the fact that it was one of Tennessee William’s earlier pieces of writing, and look at it as a sort of rehearsal for his later works, it becomes a fascinating piece of theatre, well worth the price of admission.

The Fat Man’s wife is running Thursday – Sunday at the Canal Cafe Theatre, Little Venice until 2 March, Sundays at 7pm, all other shows at 7.30pm.  For tickets and more information, please visit www.canalcafetheatre.com.  Picture by Simon Annand.

Mary Tynan

Owen Clinton 27 March 1950 – 18 January 2014

The death occurred on Saturday, 18 January 2014 in St Joseph’s Hospice, Hackney, of Owen Joseph Clinton (stage name Owen Nolan), late of Islington, North London.  A celebration of his life was held on 28 January 2014.  He is buried in Islington Cemetery.

I first met Owen in 2009, when we were cast together in a production of Julie Sibbons’ The Shoes at the London Irish Centre.  I was immediately struck by both his professionalism and his friendly, straightforward manner.  This initial impression blossomed into a friendship which I came to treasure over the time of our (too-brief) acquaintanceship.

Owen was born in Dublin and lived there until he was four years old, growing up in Manchester before moving to London, where he pursued a successful career in education.  He had several different roles in the field, including lecturer, head of department and even OFSTED inspector.  Education’s loss was entertainment’s gain, when, after taking early retirement, Owen trained as an actor at the Poor School in King’s Cross.  I had the privilege of playing his wife in his first professional production after leaving drama school (the aforementioned The Shoes with London Irish Theatre) and we worked together many times over the years (six months after playing my husband, he was playing my granddad).  Perhaps Owen’s most iconic role was as the definitive Frankie Flynn in Peter Hammond’s series of comedies about a likeable Dubliner, but Irish plays were far from the whole of his career.  His range was very wide –  encompassing opera, Shakespeare, and performances at the Old Vic in Inherit the Wind.  Owen’s take on Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell was a joy to watch, and you can read reviews of his performances in As You Like It and Poe: Macabre Resurrections elsewhere on this site.  Owen was also a talented musician and singer, performing Irish folk music with a couple of bands, most recently Chief O’Neill.

Owen’s impact was far greater than a professional one however.  He was a wonderful friend, family man and genuinely good human being.  Speaking for myself, I will remember the man who spent the night in hospital with me after I was hit by a car and drove me home the next morning; who came to see my plays and saw me safely home afterwards, and made me welcome in the home he shared with Mary, his partner of 15 years, and his sister Dora.  He looked after his mother in her final illness, and cared for his sister for much of his life.  Owen spent his last days in St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney, where he was lovingly watched over by Mary and his brother Niall.  Predeceased by his brother Alan, Owen is mourned by his partner Mary, his sister Dora, his brothers Niall and Denis, his sisters-in-law Maggie and Alison, his niece Katherine and nephew Kevin, his cousins, family members and friends whose lives were touched by his.  In the words of his brother Niall, “the world is a better place now, because my brother lived in it.”

Ní bhfeicimid a leithéid arís ann.

Mary Tynan

Don’t Let it Pass you By

Arion Productions Ltd presents Passing By by Martin Sherman at the Tristan Bates Theatre

Passing By begins, deceptively, with a one-night stand.  A one-night stand that turns into eight weeks and becomes the substance of the play.  Thrown together by circumstances, the two main characters have intensive intimacy forced upon them, which leads to both comic moments and personal revelations.  It is almost like a bubble of unreality, in which normal life is suspended for a period of time.  Naturally, all such bubbles eventually burst.

Toby and Simon meet at the cinema, and then return to Toby’s apartment.  Simon has just arrived in New York from Miami Beach.  The following morning we hear that Toby is about to leave for Paris, so their relationship seems doomed to be a brief one.  Nevertheless, Simon turns up at Toby’s place of work (a wine shop) several days later, and a subsequent discovery of mutual illness, coupled with the fact that Simon has nowhere else to stay, causes them to nurse each other back to health over the next 8 weeks.

This is a well-written, carefully-structured, balanced play.  It has overtones of the type of New York humour found in Woody Allen or Neil Simon, and the contrast between James Cartwright’s portrayal of Olympic diver Simon, and Rik Makarem’s New York Jew Toby adds to the richness of the mix.  Simon is laid-back, confident, physically fit and has never had a day’s illness in his life (until now), whereas Toby is nervous, neurotic and seemingly hypochondriac at the start of the play.

Both actors filled their roles extremely well.  I couldn’t fault the accents, and James Cartwright’s initially relaxed Simon was a good foil to Rik Makarem’s anxious Toby.  However, it was as the play progressed and the roles reversed that the actors came into their own, and the interplay between them was excellent.  The juxtaposition of characters was what made the play, and, to me, was reminiscent of many wonderful similar stories: The Odd Couple; Prick Up Your Ears and even Ernie and Bert!

The resemblance to both the Joe Orton story and the Sesame Street roommates was enhanced by the set (presumably designed by Philip Lindley).  The majority of the play is set in Toby’s bedroom/kitchenette, which is a very good simulation of a 1970s room, with nylon bedspreads, padded headboards and an old-style black dial telephone.  The only false note was a television remote control of a type not in common use until the early 90s – a bit of an anachronism for 1972.  The three other short scenes – in the wine shop; at the cinema; on a bench – were very cleverly fitted into the main set.

The interesting thing about watching a play which was actually written in the early 70s, rather than one written today looking back at the period, is that there is no benefit of hindsight.  There is no dramatic irony, apart from that which the audience themselves experience, and the writer had no knowledge of the vast changes which were to take place in the lives of gay men in New York and elsewhere over the next couple of decades.  This gives a purity to the piece, almost as if we were looking through a window in time and space, that you just don’t get with retrospective writing.  For this, and for many other reasons, I would recommend you catch this play – as it is passing by.

Passing by is at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden until 30th November, nightly at 7.30, tickets £14 (£12 concessions).  For booking or more information visit www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk or telephone 020 7240 6283.  Photos by Scott Rylander.

Mary Tynan

Provocative and Razor Sharp Fleabag Punches Way Above it’s Apparent Means

Phoebe Waller-Bridges’s Fleabag, from DryWrite Theatre Company at the Soho Theatre, is a confessional stream of consciousness which combines humour and pathos to elicit a powerful effect.

Fleabag tells her story in a way that is both highly entertaining and deeply thought-provoking. Despite the potentially sordid nature of her revelations, the intimacy and blunt honesty engages the audience, both male and female, drawing our reviewers and at least outwardly the majority of audience into identifying with the character and remarkably even being supportive of or at least understanding of her sometimes bizarre and certainly desperate actions. ‘Raise your hand if you would trade 5 years of your life for the so-called ‘perfect body.’ Fleabag and her sister would, but are alone in their opinion in a room of 400 women, in a moment which grabs the audience’s sympathy. She follows through on her intense yearnings with assorted characters including an elderly cockney customer at her café and a stranger met on a train. The power in her performance is apparent in the fact that we feel we understand her desperation. We don’t immediately assume she needs psychiatric care or that the elderly chap she shocks to is heading off to report her to the police. Something in her painful honesty convinces us that she will have touched them similarly. There is nothing comfortable about this piece, and yet the laughter comes from a place of genuine empathy, as does our compassion during the more poignant moments.

This is a one-woman show, which is stripped back to the bare essentials, thus allowing the smallest of movements, gestures and facial expressions to assume significance. Phoebe’s performance was matter of fact, yet moving, and her timing was excellent. She also interacted very naturally with recorded sound. The narrative flowed seamlessly from hilarious beginning to an almost tragic ending. She seemed to be hitting at aspects of the human condition that are normally hidden by social taboos, and the bravery of the performance appeared to be answered by the audience’s response. Waller-Bridges wrote and performed this; maybe that’s why she presents it with exactly the right level of blunt honesty.

Despite the previously mentioned use of recorded voices, Phoebe does voice many of the other characters in the story herself, including her sister, her father and her Australian boss, demonstrating the breadth of her acting range. The play has a multi-media aspect, utilising mobile phones in different and imaginative ways! Sound effects also add to the overall experience.

One small drawback to the evening’s entertainment was the seating at the venue. Sitting at the end of the third row, the visibility was very poor, and constantly moving about on one’s seat and moving one’s head and shoulders about can detract from the enjoyment of a performance. That said, however, this is a very good show, to be highly recommended. If you are looking for an evening of smutty talk, laughter and life affirmation, plus a hearty dose of honesty, this fits the bill.

Fleabag has now finished its run at the Soho Theatre. For more information, visit www.drywrite.com.

Mary Tynan and Ian Macnaughton

Belfast Girl: A Love Story

As it’s now less than two weeks till opening night, I wanted to let everyone know about Belfast Girl: A Love Story, from London Irish Theatre.

Set in the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement, Belfast Girl: A Love Story considers the human dimension of the Northern Ireland question, and uncovers the personal costs of political struggle.  Annie is the Belfast Girl of the title: a working class protestant who grew up during the troubles.  Her marriage to Orangeman Billy is on the rocks, and an unexpected visit from English Catholic Dave, her childhood sweetheart who she hasn’t seen since her teens, brings matters to a head in an explosive manner.  The play is written and directed by John Dunne, and features Mary Tynan (me) as Annie and Ian Macnaughton as Dave.

The story of Dave and Annie has been through several incarnations over the years.  The first, titled Belfast, premiered in the 1990s and featured the couple as teenagers, with Tanya Franks as Annie.  I become involved during the second incarnation, Belfast Boy, which was written to be the second play in a double bill with Geraldine Aron’s A Galway Girl, touring in 2009/10.  This was a two hander, with the older Annie and Dave meeting again after many years.  Belfast Girl followed in the summer of 2010, and I played Annie for the second time in a completely new work which also featured Annie’s brother and husband.  This play has recently had a Belfast run, in which the story was expanded to include two further characters.

Belfast Girl: A Love Story returns to the two-handed format, but with a twist.  There may be only two actors, but there are more than two characters!  I’m really looking forward to playing Annie again, and would like to invite readers of Notes From Xanadu to join the audience.  Previous versions Belfast and A Belfast Boy have both received critical acclaim from the press, and Belfast was a Time Out Critic’s Choice.

“John Dunne’s sensitive squint at the Ulster legacy adapts well to the stage.  What’s impressive about the rapid stucco of tense, bite-sized scenes is that they’re eloquently counterpointed by a driving commitment to character development.”  Time Out

“A sharply realistic play still willing to speak for love, however guarded, as the central human value.” City Limits

 “Fantastically gripping.”  What’s On

 “Moving stories in an Irish odyssey.”  Camden New Journal

Belfast Girl: A Love Story is playing on both sides of the Thames this Summer.  It opens on 20August 2013 at the London Theatre, New Cross, running nightly at 8pm until 24 August, with a Sunday matinee on 25 August at 4pm.  It then runs from 27 to 29 August nightly at 7.30pm at the Babble Jar, Stoke Newington and from 30 August to 1 September at the Precinct Theatre, Islington, with all performances there also at 7.30pm.  Tickets can be bought on the door, from the London Theatre Box Office (www.thelondontheatre.com), and from www.irish-theatre.com .

Belfast Girl: A Love Story

 

Well Worth a Visit

Theatre Collection presents The Visit at The Lord Stanley, Camden

The Visit opens with optimism: the citizens of Gullen are looking forward to the arrival of one of their own and hoping she will spread some of her good fortune around her old town.  But, immediately upon her arrival, it becomes apparent that Claire Zachanassian, the richest woman in the world, is used to always getting what she wants – and what she wants now is murder.

Nicholas Humphrey’s thought-provoking direction builds a sense of menace right from the outset, using sound, movement and, in particular, repetition to contribute to the aura of unavoidable impending doom.  The characters of the blind eunuchs (Christopher Dowling and Carlos Mapano) add to this considerably, as does the slightly unusual use of physical theatre, when the actors’ bodies transform but their faces remain very much in character.

Madlena Nedeva, as Claire, gave a credible portrayal of wealth and world-weariness, and Danny Reyntiens, as her old lover Ill, was consistently watchable throughout, especially approaching the end as he became resigned to his fate.  Fiona Watson’s Teacher was particularly sympathetically played, and I would love to have seen more of Erin Siobhan, whose various parts were short but significant.  For my money, the best female performance came from Penelope Day, who maintained a marvellous contrast between the Police Officer and Matilda Ill.

Although there was comedy in the play from the outset (“my father built those public toilets”), particularly in Clive Alexander’s quirky portrayal of husbands 7, 8 and 9, it was mostly overshadowed by the growing sense of claustrophobia.  The main exception was the scene with the reporters in Act II, where Ian MacNaughton excelled.  In contrast to his serious and slightly macabre portrayal of the ex-judge in Act I, Ian’s reporter was fun and lively in a game-show host way, using vocal range, movement and a brilliantly expressive face to give us the funniest scene in the play – just moments before its sinister denouement.

Overall, this is a very good production.  The tension builds exponentially and ends in a dramatic climax.  Nothing is overdone or overstated, and the audience leaves with plenty to talk about!  Try and catch one of the last three performances if you possibly can.

The Visit is at The Lord Stanley, 51 Camden Park Road, NW1 9BH on 14, 20 and 21 May at 7.30pm.  For tickets visit www.theatrecollection.net or call 07966 597190.

Mary Tynan

Top of the Pops

Popup Opera present L’elisir D’amore at Blacks, Soho.

image003As operas go, L’elisir D’amore stretches the viewer’s credibility surprisingly little, story-wise.  Donizetti’s opera is a simple story of unrequited love which becomes requited, with merely a love potion, a flour magnate and a wealthy uncle to complicate things, which allows one to concentrate upon the music and the performance, both being worthy of our attention.

Popup Opera specialise in unusual spaces, and this venue (a small room in a private club in Soho) is certainly that.  Reminiscent of Studio 503, where I saw some wonderful Chekhov last year, the performers are almost literally in your lap.  (Ricardo Panela, making his entrance as Belcore, tripped over my feet, looked at me and said “I’m sorry” and then started to sing).  This close up view allows the audience to appreciate much that might go unnoticed in a larger space in terms of emotional acting, and also the ‘comedia’ style, which the company employ to great effect.

A common reviewer’s complaint is that it is difficult to single out individuals for special praise; in this case it is impossible: not because nobody stood out, but because everyone was outstanding.  Cliff Zammit Stevens, as Nemorino (the only tenor role) played the lovesick young man to perfection and gave a piercingly beautiful rendition of Una Furtiva Lagrima (the opera’s most famous aria), despite performing it with a box of man-size tissues in hand.  Ricardo Panela gave a commanding performance as Belcore, the pyramid flour salesman who almost wins the girl.  Thomas Kennedy put his rich baritone and pantomime skills to excellent use as Dulcamara, the patent medicine man.  Penelope Manser is a powerful soprano and talented comic, who really came into her own in the second act.  Clementine Lovell was seemingly effortlessly delightful, charming and compelling both vocally and in terms of stage presence throughout as Adina.  Add to that the fact that Clementine is also the producer (aided by assistant and extremely creative stage manager Fiona Johnston) and founder of the company, and my admiration is guaranteed.

image008It is difficult in a small venue to keep the volume to a comfortable level while still keeping full passion and power in the voice, but all five of the singers managed this brilliantly.  Musical director James Henshaw provided strong musical accompaniment which ranged from highly moving to, at times, having the flavour of a silent comedy movie.  Harry Percival’s quirky captions also contributed greatly to the humour of the piece (they’re funny, yeah?).  Darren Royston did a marvellous job, both as director and MC.

I think this is probably the best opera I’ve ever reviewed.  Go and see for yourself, but be warned: there is audience participation (of a mild and unthreatening sort!)

L’elisir D’amore will be popping up at various venues around London throughout April.  For more information visit popupopera.co.uk.

Mary Tynan

Sun, Sea and Shootings

One of the basics of creating a play is selecting a subject.  When writing about factual events and recent history, this becomes even more important.  Gibraltar is a good choice.  It was a big story at the time – widely discussed and highly controversial – but it was long enough ago to seem fresh to current audiences, some of whom will be too young to remember the events portrayed or the political climate in which they occurred.

In a nutshell, the play is about the shooting – in Gibraltar in 1988 – of three unarmed members of the IRA by the SAS and the legal, political and media discourse in its aftermath concerning the lawfulness, or otherwise, of the killings.

On entering Studio 2 in the Arcola, the first objects to catch the eye are the 1980s-style televisions hanging from the studio on three sides of the stage (presumably the work of AV and Sound Designer Marco Devetek), all showing a still of the Rock of Gibraltar with the play’s title across it in a suitably old-fashioned font: slightly reminiscent of short-lived soap opera Eldora.  These screens were used to good effect throughout the production: enhancing the minimal set; naming the characters (for instance during Geoffrey Howe’s speech) and displaying a test card throughout the interval.  In an amusing touch at the end of the play, the screens were cleverly utilised to display TV-style credits for all involved.

I was very impressed by Set and Costume Designer Cordelia Chisholm’s attention to detail: the props and costumes were perfectly of the time, even down to the jewellery and hairstyles of the female actors.  The set itself was minimal, which works well for a play of this type with actors playing multiple characters and fast scene changes.  The lighting, by Mike Robertson, was very helpful in this respect.

Particularly in the second half, when the energy seemed to be higher, George Irving, Karina Fernandez, Greer Dale-Foulkes and Billy McColl all gave fascinating performances.  Karina Fernandez for me was the most compelling, especially when transferring between characters with consummate ease.  The play’s direction, by James Robert Carson, showed a lightness of touch with some interesting quirky features: I particularly enjoyed the SAS’s drunken singing.

In their telling of the story, writers Alastair Brett and Sian Evans do not seem to intend to direct the audience’s thoughts or opinions, nor is the direction that way inclined.  My personal interpretation was that Margaret Thatcher and her government had manipulated the press for their own ends, but another viewer could come away with quite a different impression.  For this reason, as well as for all the other persuasive arguments in its favour, I would strongly advise you to see this play and construe the events of 1988 for yourself.

Gibraltar is at the Arcola theatre until Saturday, 20 April, at 8pm nightly, with 3pm matinees on Saturdays.  For more information visit http://www.arcolatheatre.com.

Mary Tynan

Mirror in the Bathroom

Keir Charles and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Mydidae, Soho Theatre, 5 December 2012 (courtesy of Simon Annand) 14Mydidae was written as the result of a dare:  Writer Jack Thorne was challenged by DryWrite Theatre Company to write a play about a man and a woman set in their shared domestic bathroom.  The artistic directors wished to explore themes of privacy and intimacy, and the bathroom is an ideal device, bringing to mind somewhat Willy Russell’s use of ladies’ and gents’ toilets in Stags and Hens.

The play feels rather like a painting, in that a lot of the detail needs to be inferred by the audience.  Marian and David have obviously been living together long enough to have had a child, but still seem to know relatively little about each other on a deeper level.  The couple talk incessantly, but never, it appears, about what they really care about.  What seems like light-hearted banter to begin with quickly reveals underlying tensions.  These build to a climactic head during the shared bath, which is where the intimacy theme is explored, but in an inconclusive manner.  The ending raises more questions than it answers, and overall we are left with far more insight into David’s feelings than Marian’s, even though, ironically, it is she who does most of the talking.

Both Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Marian) and Keir Charles (David) were believably quirky and portrayed the complicated relationship very well.  Phoebe allowed the subtext to come through in a genuine way below the banter, and Kier played David’s sometimes inarticulate frustration in a credible manner.  He also used physical humour to good effect in the earlier part of the play.

The set was simple but effective and fitted well in the space.  The bath creates a natural division for the characters to play around, and the use of the part of the fourth wall as a bathroom mirror was very convincing.  Director Vicky Jones played the comedy card to good use in the early scenes, as well as building tension nicely, although some of the pauses could have been cut slightly while still retaining the aura of uneasiness.  The lighting was simple but impressive.

On the whole, the experiment definitely paid off, although one feels that there is a lot more to be told of David and Marian’s story.  Audiences prepared to use their imagination will be rewarded for the shared effort.

Photograph courtesy of Simon Annand.  Mydidae is at Trafalgar Studios until 30 March at 7.45pm nightly, with 3pm matinees on Thursdays and Saturdays.  For more information visit www.atgtickets.com or www.drywrite.com.

Mary Tynan and Emma-Lee Adams

Let’s Hear it for the Boys!

Let’s Hear it for the Boys!

Boylexe, Shadow Lounge, 26 September 2012

Having thoroughly enjoyed Burlexe earlier this year, I was delighted to be invited to the first performance of Howard Wilmot’s latest creation, Boylexe, and see how the boys measured up (so to speak) against the girls.

A 1980s soundtrack is always guaranteed to put a smile on my face, and the resident DJ played us in with some favourites from that decade whilst some of the performers threw shapes to the music (Devoh Bobbie impressed me from the start with his infectious enthusiasm), and when Kele le Roc opened the show with ELO’s hit, Xanadu, I knew I was onto a winner.  Phil Dzwonkiewicz gave us a teasing taste of what was to come, followed by Randolph Hott, whose suit and tie were soon removed in the first dance of the evening.  We then heard the story of Babette, a boy who ran away to the circus, before Devoh Bobbie took to the stage to the tune of Madonna’s Vogue.  Bobbie’s dancing and acting are both excellent, and his shy-but-cheeky boy act was very well received.

There were many wonderful moments in this show: Mr Mistress’ reverse strip was hilarious, as was Nine Bob Rob’s Playstation, and Phil Dzwonkiewicz made a marvellous transformation from suave to geek.  The monologues tended to be on the humourous side without the edginess that was evident in Burlexe, keeping the mood of the show on a constant upbeat level.  Kele Le Roc was a fantastic hostess, and also showed her acting talent as a drag queen who was, in her own words, “only one nose job away from Janet Jackson.”  Performances from Phil Bedwell, Rob Pryor and Patric Deony also added to the evening’s enjoyment.

So Burlexe or Boylexe?  The boys were funnier, but the girls were sexier.  I’d personally like to see a combined boys and girls show.  Who knows – they may even now be working on it.

Picture by Magnus Arrevad.  For more information about Boylexe, visit www.boylexe.co.uk.

Mary Tynan


 

Science meets Art at the Enlightenment Cafe

An exciting and unique new theatrical project will be taking place from 31st May – 4th June in the vaults of the Old Vic Tunnels.

Presented by LAStheatre, the Enlightenment Café combines the beauty of science with the power and imagination of immersive performance in a place of exploration, where people from all walks of life can debate, play and laugh the night away.  Only the tedious will be off limits as The Enlightenment Café aims to provoke imagination and intrigue; scientists will demonstrate their art and artists will demonstrate their science.  Scientists in residence include Tim McInerny, Stuart Clarke and Alex Bellos.   This is an interactive adventure where new theories can be mooted as to why things are, how they got there and what will happen next. The Enlightenment Café will delve into topics ranging from astronomy to paleontology, from My Little Pony to zombies and from art to invention.

Doors to the Old Vic Tunnels will open every night at 7pm, and the evenings will be split into three sections: firstly, a period of immersive theatre and free exploration; secondly, stage pieces and panel discussions; and, finally, live music and entertainment. Each night will have a different theme and aesthetic but will all inspire, breaking away from the idea that science and facts can only be learnt in a lecture theatre or laboratory.

Times and tickets for all events at the Enlightenment Cafe can be found at http://www.eventbrite.com/event/3487295595. Tickets are priced at £15 with a booking fee of £1.55.  For more information about LAStheatre visit www.lastheatre.com.

Mary Tynan

Everything’s Coming Up Roses

Time of Our Lives Music Theatre in association with All Star Productions presents When Movies Were Movies at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre, Walthamstow.

The opening song set the tone for this mesmerising evening’s entertainment, as we were taken through the history of cinema from silent movies up to 1969 via the mediums of song, dance and comedy.  Flo (Dympna Messenger), an usherette in the fictional Trocadero, is interviewed by Charlie (Raymond-Kym Suttle) about the cinema’s history as it faces its imminent demise (conversion to a bingo hall).

Dympna Messenger gave a very strong performance as Flo, and was a very effective anchor for the show.  She also sang very well and had some great comedic moments: her imitation of Carmen Miranda springs to mind as combining both.  The vocal standard throughout the show was extremely high, with some of the high points for me being Lullaby of Broadway (full cast), You Ought to Be in Pictures (Nerine Skinner and Robert Wilkes), Secret Love (Jessica Poole) and the Beatles medley delivered by the whole cast.

The musical numbers were interspersed with highly amusing comedy sketches, covering themes as varied as Frankenstein and James Bond, with my personal favourite being the “terribly” sketch (you’ll have to see the show to find out what I mean by that!)  Other comedy highlights included the show’s take on silent movies – with Flo speaking the words while the rest of the cast mimed the actions, “My Brother Makes the Noises for the Talkies,” with Raymond-Kym Suttle and Robert Wilkes as the two brothers, and the scene with Flo and the cleaner, played by Nerine Skinner.

Raymond-Kym Suttle’s choreography was inspired, and his own dancing was marvellous – particularly during the Top Hat sequence – I would like to have seen more of his tapping!  The musical direction (and playing) by Aaron Clingham was flawless, adding to the overall power of the performance.  The costumes were fabulous, with very many quick changes which I’m sure must have required their own choreography!

I could go on, but I don’t want to spoil too many of the surprises.  Suffice it to say that this is old-fashioned variety at its best with something for all the family to enjoy.  Ably directed (and written) by Keith Myers, this captivating show is robust enough for a much larger space.  Give yourself a night of nostalgia and catch it at Ye Olde Rose and Crown before it closes on 4 May.

When Movies were Movies is playing at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre, 53 Hoe Street, Walthamstow Tuesday – Saturday at 7.30pm until 4 May, with matinees at 3.30 on Saturday and Sunday.  For more information visit www.roseandcrowntheatrepub.webeden.co.uk

Mary Tynan

A Magical Production

Lost in the Dark presents Ondine by Jean Giraudoux

When I was a child, I used to make up plays.  They would often involve princesses, love stories and magical powers.  Ondine is exactly the type of play that child would have loved: the embodiment of the sense of wonder that draws us to drama in the first place.  To bring this off in a small fringe venue like the White Bear is no small achievement.  But bring it off to a very high standard is precisely what Lost in the Dark have done.

Ondine is the story of a supernatural creature who falls in love with a mortal man. When Hans and Ondine meet, the worlds of a mortal man and a magical creature of the water dangerously collide and she is forced to make an inexorable pact, which will change both their lives forever. Should he betray her, he must die and, along with her time on earth, be erased completely from her memory for her to return to the world of the lake forever.

The first thing to strike me when I entered was the set.  Auguste (Michael Eden) and Eugenie (Terry Diab) were already seated, she knitting, he reading, in a fisherman’s cottage, complete with daub walls and a working window.  The small oil lamps were a particularly nice touch.  Haunting music played from offstage.  The first act takes place in this kitchen, with Hans (Andrew Venning) and Ondine (Elizabeth Merrick) completing the cast for this part of the story.  The second set takes place in the Royal Palace, where Richard Hurst, Brice Stratford, Rob Leonard, Phoebe Batteson Brown, David Frias Robles, Marian Elizabeth and Hilary Hodsman make their debuts.  The final act takes place on a rock by the sea, where the story comes to its tragic, but inevitable end.

There were no bum notes in this production, although a personal preference would be for the actors not to turn their back on the audience quite so much, but apart from that they dealt with the small space admirably.  Everyone involved did a fantastic job: however, there are some who deserve a special mention.  Firstly, set designer Zanna Mercer has created three excellent environments for the play, which are spectacular by the standards of black-box theatre.  Andrew Venning grabbed my attention from the moment he came on stage, and continued to captivate the audience throughout, with his expressive, heartfelt delivery and physical presence.  Elizabeth Merrick was superb as Ondine, her opera training showing to advantage in her movement, her vocal range, and her portrayal of wide-eyed wonder, tragedy and love.  The final scene between Ondine and Hans was particularly poignant, with both actors showing marvellous emotional depth.  Marian Elizabeth gave a lovely, credible performance as Bertha, particulary in one scene, where I almost believed she had a live bird in her hand.  She played the part with charm and grace.  I would have liked to see more of Phoebe Batteson Brown (Voilante/Kitchen Maid).  She drew my eyes whenever she was on stage and although her parts were small, they gave indications of a much larger potential.  Finally, a play is only as good as its director, and Cat Robey must take a large amount of credit for this magical piece of theatre.

Ondine is running at the White Bear Theatre, London, SE11 4DJ, 28th February – 18th March 2012, Tues-Sat 7:30pm, Sun 6pm.  For more information, visit www.ondine-lost-in-the-dark.com.

Mary Tynan

Choose for Yourself

Excellent Choice by Eye Saw Theatre

The Vault Festival, Old Vic Tunnels

On entering the studio, the audience was greeted by the ominous sound of a loud ticking clock.  Each seat was adorned by a cork, labelled with the credits for the show, which was written by Rob Hayes and directed by Ned Bennett.  The performance area was delimited by wine bottles.  The space was clearly a wine shop.

At first I wasn’t sure whether this was a black comedy or a dark play with comic elements: as time progressed it seemed that the latter was the case.  Although right from the outset there was very funny dialogue (“Are you open?  Yes.  I hate secrets”), the suspense was built from the beginning with some uncomfortable pauses,.  However, the comedy was also present, with Benjamin Dilloway (the customer) putting me in mind of David Walliams in those Little Britain sketches where he enters a shop to buy a very specific item (eg,.pirate game, David Baddiel outfit), and Jeff Rawle (the proprieter) reminiscent of Ronnie Corbett at times.  Nevertheless, as the show progressed, the tone got darker, until the audience realised that something very disturbing was going on.  Both actors played their roles very well, having the confidence needed to take their time with emotions and motives ranging from desperation to dread to deceit.  The play culminates in a perturbing ending which is as unsettling as it is ambiguous.  The audience is, in essence, asked to make the choice for themselves.  We leave, as we entered, to the sound of the ticking clock.

Excellent Choice was billed as half an hour long, but I think it ran slightly longer than that, as I was not aware of it starting significantly later than its 6pm starting time, and it didn’t finish until 6.45 – which was a good thing.  Prospective audiences should be aware that there are a couple of items which may cause offence to some (I won’t detail them for fear of spoiling the plot – but they did cause a slightly sour note), and which perhaps could be toned down without causing any reduction in the effectiveness of the piece.  That said, I am glad I made the choice to see this startling and original play.

23 – 26 February 2012.  More information at www.thevaultfestival.com.

Photograph by Natalie Lindiwe Jones

Mary Tynan

Burlexe – Interview with Cast Member Dympna Messenger

Tell us a little bit about yourself as a performer

I was a “late starter” and came into the business after bringing up my 3 children and a stint of teaching drama in a Dagenham comprehensive. Because I hadn’t waited this long and trained this hard in order to be unemployed, on graduating I formed my own company “Time of Our Lives Music Theatre” with Keith Myers who had directed me at Drama School, sadly we lost our funding in 2008 so I am now relying on other producers to employ me and have the headaches.

How did you get involved with Burlexe?

I got involved with Burlexe by responding to an ad in Casting Call Pro, I never dreamed I get the job but so glad I did, it is so totally different to anything else I’ve ever done.

What was your impression of Burlesque prior to this?

Before this job I had no idea the Burlesque world existed! I was vaguely aware of things like Gypsy Rose Lee and Strip Tease.

What is it now?

Working with the Burlesque ladies has totally opened up my eyes to a whole style of entertainment that is the descendant of old fashioned Variety and Music Hall of which I am a big fan.

Has doing Burlexe changed you in any way?

Doing this job has been a revelation. I would love to have a discussion/debate with “women’s libbers” who disapprove of this type of thing, but my Burlesque friends tell me that they find what they do to be liberating and who am I to argue with them!

When and where is the next show?

The next show is in The Shadow Lounge, Brewer St, Soho on Wednesday 21st March at 8pm.

Read our review of Burlexe here.

Mary Tynan

Proud to be a Woman

Burlexe, Wednesday 22 February 2012

I didn’t really know much about the format of this show before I went.  I had the idea that it would tell the story of Burlesque, combined with actual performances of the art.  As to what that art actually is, I wasn’t too sure.  So, prepared to be enlightened, I made my way to Soho.  I wasn’t disappointed – by the show that it is.  The venue left a lot to be desired, particularly in the way that the clientele were treated.  I could elaborate on that, but I have decided to concentrate on the positive in this review, and there is certainly a lot to be positive about.

Burlexe was hosted by Kelly Le Roc, whose powerful upbeat vocals meant the audience were soon in the palm of her hand and receptive for what was to come.  Apart from her songs, the show was a combination of Burlesque performances and monologues based on the stories of real-life Burlesquers.  Each act flowed seamlessly into the next, and the atmosphere got better and better, and the audience more appreciative, as the night went on.  This was a true variety show, with far too much content for me to detail it all, but what follows should give a flavour of it, and point out some of the highlights.

All of the physical performances in Burlexe were of a very high standard.  Luna Rosa moved beautifully, her arms sinuous and sensual and her dances were polished and professional.  Fancy Chance’s “Alice” was a treat, both in terms of movement and comedy.  Aurora Galore did a wonderful routine with fans and black feathers.  But the best Burlesque performance of the evening for me was by Bettsie Bon Bon, whose sheer exuberance and pink and white flounces brought a smile to everyone’s face.

As mentioned, the dancing and singing was interspersed with monologues.  These were all heartfelt: some tragic, some comic, some both; but all delivered with sincerity and believability.  Each of the actors played several disparate characters, demonstrating their versatility and range.  Chloe Ewart played a number of vibrant roles, the most memorable being a young Mexican girl who lost her inhibitions to Richie Valens’ “La Bamba.”  Kiki Kaboom’s delivery was sensitive and natural, particularly as the “two Cheris” – a representation of the conflict her character felt about Burlesque.  Gillian MacGregor is obviously a strong actor, and I loved her “banker by day, burlesquer by night.”  Burlesque icon Jo King made a guest appearance and treated us to a friendly, genuine tale of an American girl called Angel with some very famous friends.  The final piece, and the highlight of the night was delivered by the talented and accomplished Dympna Messenger.  Slightly confusingly, Dympna was telling Jo’s story of what Burlesque means to her.  Her delivery was both uplifting and powerful.  She told us: “I’m 52, I have broken veins and cellulite, my tits are on that long journey south. I have lumps and bumps in some good places, and some in places I’m not supposed to have them, and I am still to this day the sexiest woman I know!”  It made me feel proud to be a woman.

As well as to the cast, much credit is due to director Jayne Hardy and the rest of the creative and production team.  I found this show to be enlightening, life-affirming and exhilarating.  If I didn’t have such a bad feather allergy, I would be enrolling myself in Burlesque school!

The next performance of Burlexe is on 21 March 2012.  For more information visit www.burlexe.com or read our interview with Dympna Messenger.

Mary Tynan