Review: Mydidae

Written for The Stage

Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Kier Charles

 

A master of dialogue that is both funny and brutally revealing, Jack Thorne is one of the most sharply empathic writers we have in film, TV and on stage today. New writing company DryWrite have performed an act of theatrical grace in commissioning this intuitive and witty playwright to create their first full length play, Mydidae.

In a clever move this two hander is set entirely in the intimacy of a bathroom – here fully plumbed in Amy Jane Cook’s minimalist but impressive design – as a modern relationship is stripped bare. Against this clinically exposing setting, Thorne shines a spotlight on a young couple with more to hide in the bathroom mirror than merely the onset of age. What begins playfully soon sinks into darker territory as a tragic anniversary threatens to suffocate Marian and David a year later.

In Vicky Jones’ courageous production, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Kier Charles have nowhere to hide. Waller-Bridge is utterly compelling as Marian. In a fearless performance she imbues this witty, damaged woman with a complexity and depth that feels endless and completely human. Charles does an admirable job as her duelling partner and the chemistry between the two is palpable.

This confident production pierces the heart of Thorne’s bitter-sweet study of humanity. The only act of hesitancy comes when Thorne continues the play for too long. What has been an opaque and potent exploration of modern intimacy comes dangerously close to becoming an issue piece. Even so the writing and performances remain peerless throughout making this superb show unmissable.

For tickets and more information go here

Edinburgh review: I Heart Peterborough

Written for The Stage

A bump of London overspill in the middle of the flat Fens, Peterborough is more famous for its trains than inspiring love letters. For a town at the centre of so much travel, the dreams of many of its locals are at a standstill. But in his glittering new play, Joel Horwood has penned a heartfelt note to those inhabitants who aren’t simply “human cul-de-sacs”.

There’s more than a dose of sparkle in this story of cabaret transvestite Michael/Lulu and his son Hew. Thrust together unexpectedly, they attempt to get through life’s ups and downs in a place designed to flatten them. They also form a rather good variety act – flaky Lulu flicking on the switch when a performance is needed and Hew solidly providing the ever brilliant accompaniment. He has the voice of an angel, and can do a fabulous gossipy neighbour impression too.

As always with Horwood’s work, music beats through I Heart Peterborough like a pulse. The bombastic soundtrack underscores Lulu and Hew’s strange and isolated suburbia. Horwood’s script is full of funny touches, and he is a compassionate director.

Milo Twomey as Lulu is a fragile and fierce narrator, while Jay Taylor’s Hew provides a compelling and tragic foil.

For more information on I Heart Peterborough at Soho Theatre go here.

Review: Boys

Written for Time Out

Boys will be boys. Not since ‘Men Behaving Badly’ has a situation comedy so delighted in the old adage. Ella Hickson’s ‘Boys’ is as funny as the ITV/BBC kidult classic. But it is also a wounded look at a generation who feel the world owes them and know it isn’t going to deliver; a plea for old heroic values in a society run by villains.

Final exams are done and the lease is up on Benny, Mack, Timp and Cam’s flat. But before they go they’re throwing one more drug-fuelled party to launch them into the aggressive adult world. Chloe Lamford’s design creates the perfect conditions for a group teetering on the edge of an explosion. A leaning tower of pizza boxes and months of dirty dishes pile up against see-through Perspex walls with banks of lights behind; this room is both student kitchen and human pressure cooker.

Robert Icke’s cool direction and his cast’s fearless emotional immediacy and tight comic timing add a level of sophistication to this riotous sitcom. Like all the best parties, ‘Boys’ goes on too long. After a spectacular bin bag bust-up the last 20 minutes feel like a drag, tipping into easy sentimentality. Still, don’t let this downer spoil a quality production that will leave you with laughter lines and troubled thoughts.

Runs until 16 June.

Review: Touched…Like a Virgin

Written for Exeunt

After playing the character of Lesley in Touched For The Very First Time three years ago Sadie Frost returns as the Madonna obsessive and Manchester socialite. Back then the Queen of Pop published a disclaimer claiming no responsibility for the content of writer Zoe Lewis’ play. God knows what she would make of this second outing; this is a character that surely had everything that was vaguely interesting about her explored the first time around.

Lesley has grown up since then; the things that concern her now are not just the loss of her virginity but having a baby and living in a feminist world as a determinedly non-feminist girl. But Lewis’ faltering attempts at social commentary on female freedom and the legacy of the suffragettes merely calls to mind an episode of Sex and the City. We’ve heard all about being strong independent ladies before and from more engaging women than this.

Frost turns in an endearing performance as Lesley but strains for her words on occasion and often looks like a rabbit in the headlights, tentative in front of the somewhat raucous and talkative audience. But she has a fragile charm which is undeniable, and you find yourself willing her through this. As a celebrity friend of Madonna, Frost seems aware of the postmodern aspect of her performance as a woman who longs to hang out with the legendary pop star. But these nods to real life are never taken far enough and this extra layer of understanding feels like an opportunity wasted.

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Q&A with Little Bulb Theatre

Written for What’s On Stage

Soho Theatre kicks off its spring season with last summer’s Edinburgh hit, Operation Greenfield, from the award-winning Little Bulb Theatre – a tale of sexual awakening, Christian folk rock and forest fruit squash.

Formed by graduates from the University of Kent - Alexander ScottClare BeresfordShamira Turner and Dominic Conway, Little Bulb Theatre combine innovative character work, beautiful imagery and exciting homemade music to create performances with humour and sadness that will touch, startle and entertain.

Operation Greenfield - a touching, funny, bizarre and visually fantastical exploration of faith and friendship – captures the confusing, awkward and beautifully naïve time of adolescence. We spoke to the company about their upcoming Soho Theatre run, which opens on 19 May (previews from 17 May) and continues until 4 June 2011.


You use a lot of original music within your shows and you’ve said Operation Greenfield is your most ambitious mixture of theatre and music so far. Why is this such an important part of your process?

We feel that music can evoke something different than what watching a play does, and find the result of combining them yields such exciting results. Developing characters is a big part of what we do, but also we often find it easier sometimes to express ourselves through music. Many early performances of Operation Greenfield were as a music gig, and some people thought we were actually teenagers as we looked even more awkward outside of a theatrical context.

Talk us through a typical day of rehearsal for you.

Well, as we’ve been living on the road for so long now, on rehearsal days we tend to wake up wherever we are together, have breakfast together and set out to the space wherever that may be – we try to make a temporary home for ourselves wherever we are, and that includes in the rehearsal space, so when we walk in of a morning, we’re also walking into the world of the show and all the feelings that go with that. As a company we’re fascinated by process, and we try and find fresh approaches to our rehearsals depending on the show, an entire day could be spent writing, improvising, moving, composing songs, or obsessively discussing the intonation of a specific line. Collectively we tend to be night birds as when we come home, we’ll spend a long time cooking, making plans for the next day and playing music, so because of that rehearsals tend to begin around 10ish or just after but go ’til about seven or a bit later, depending on when it feels like its good place to call it a day.

You are becoming known for quirky stories which delight in eccentricity and feel truly original. Where do you get your stories from?

All our stories come from many hours of being in a room in character and building their world through lots and lots of improvisations. Our director, Alex, is extraordinary at creating exercises that will bring out some texture that until that moment you hadn’t realised was there. After hours and hours of inhabiting someone else’s physicality and thoughts, the stories tend to write themselves – we don’t know what the end will be when we start, and we often don’t know what it will be until the very end.

Operation Greenfield deals with growing up – a topic also covered with immense imagination in Crocosmia, as a young company do you feel this is a topic close to your heart?

Yes, I suppose it is close to our hearts, maybe its because we, as a company are growing up, and when we were very young and naive we made Crocosmia, and at the time when we made Operation Greenfield it really reflected our adolescent phase as a collective. On the one hand we were still very much newcomers trying to find a sense of identity, but on the other hand, we had a very clear sense of who we were and the work we wanted to make, all the while feeling the pressure of living up to expectations. Also, we personally have been both ages, and all have very strong memories of what it is like to be at that age, so we can use those memories and experiences to develop characters and make them more truthful.

What excites you about theatre at the moment and who or what has influenced you in the past?

There are loads of inspiring companies making work at the moment, and it would be impossible to list them all, but in the past we have been inspired by the likes of Improbable, The TEAM, The Shunt Collective, and more recently we very much enjoyed seeing Kneehigh’s revival of their Red Shoes, but we often find inspiration in other mediums as well as theatre; books, poetry, people and in particular music all have a great affect on the work we create – last night we saw Sufjan Stevens at the Southbank – what an incredible man, his music is just beautiful and the show itself is a real spectacle, we were all blown away, in fact, we’re going back again tonight!

After Soho what’s next?

Well, we will be rehearsing for a new project for just under a month, and then we will be hitting the festivals and performing there in various guises (Lounge on the Farm, Latitude, Secret Garden Party) etc, then we will be going up to Edinburgh and playing music every night as part of the BAC at Summerhall venue in the last week of the festival, and then finally we will be taking Operation Greenfield on a national tour, dates of which will be available on our website very soon.


Operation Greenfield opens at the Soho Theatre on 19 May (previews 17 May) where it runs until 4 June 2011.

Winterlong @ Soho Theatre

Written for www.whatsonstage.com

    Winterlong

They fuck you up, your mum and dad…” So begins “This Be The Verse”, Philip Larkin’s infamous rallying call to end the interminable production line of progeny he sees miserably populating the earth. It’s a biting sentiment and one that could have found no greater spiritual home than Andrew Sheridan’s bleak debut play Winterlong.

Oscar, a sweet natured kid, slowly has his hopes and dreams of love squashed out of him by his self loathing adult relations. Ignored, inappropriately propositioned, stolen from, his grandparents and parents cannot even bring themselves to hold his hand.

Joint winner of the Bruntwood Competition in 2008, Winterlong is a text of admirable structural ambition. Weighing in at a hefty two hours plus and with pretentions to the heightened naturalism of Harold Pinter or Howard Barker, Sheridan has certainly dreamt big.

Sarah Frankcom’s desolate production does justice to these aspirations. Setting the action in Amanda Stoodley’s suitably Beckettian wasteland, an otherworldly rubbish dump of life’s tatty collectables (bikes, radios, saucepans, all suffocating under a river of clear plastic – a nod to Oscars own emotional suffocation?) Frankcom adds an apocalyptic feel to what is essentially a twisted tale of family screw ups. A taut cast ramp up the intensity levels to near boiling point with acute and emotionally wrought performances.

As for the play itself Sheridan starts well, brutally dissecting the broken parent child relationships with a ruthless elegance. But the second act fails to leap from the podiums built in the first and Oscar’s story remains safely ensconced in familiar territory. For all its dreams of Greek tragedy, and Winterlong does sucker punch you at points, this story is simply an everyday tale of cruelty, and there’s sadly nothing original in that.

Runs till 12th March 2011

The Best Of The Rest 2010

We all know the big un’s to watch out for in the first few months of 2010; Red, currently running at the Donmar Warehouse, the West End transfers of Enron and Jerusalem, Peter Brook at The Barbican which also houses the eclectic Bite Season for 2010 and work by the legendary Pina Bausch, Trilogy at The BAC and of course the London International Mime Festival.

But what about the smaller venues – not just the BAC’s or The Riverside Studios’ who consistently punch above their weight, but the truly off-piste theatres – The Blue Elephant Theatre, The Royal Vauxhall Tavern and The Cock Tavern to name but a few.  Unlike the big theatres these small houses can only programme up to 3-6 months so no need to book miles in advance – these are things you can see in the very near future so check your pre-planned nature at the door and get a little trigger happy.

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Icons

Michael Twaits

Written for Whats On Stage  20 November 2009

There is something terribly beautiful about the rawness of Michael Twaits’ work and something rather spiritual about it too. He’s not afraid to reveal all to his audience, offering himself up completely on an alter to the gods. It is therefore fitting that in his new show Twaits takes us through an exploration of our new holy of holies; celebrities.

Icons is a caustic multi-media cabaret that is as far away from the calm religious portraits of the past as Jesus is from Jade Goody. But maybe these two figures are closer than we like to think; as Twaits rather eerily puts it, “If Heat is the celebrity Bible, Jade Goody is its parable”.

It’s this mixture of wit and scary insight that makes Icons more than just a pithy piece of celebrity fun. Twaits is out to find the meaning of our modern icons and he does so using both sparkly schadenfreude and a disturbing amount of common sense. We are introduced to Lucky, a Britney Spears fan who is trying to transcend herself and literally become Britney (if she could eat her body and drink her blood you genuinely feel she would), a hesitant yet defiant Garry Glitter obsessive and of course the fabulous Lady M, Twaits’ infamous drag alter ego.

Whirling through a blend of video footage, Q&A sessions, monologues and songs, we’re plunged into their obsessions, seeing them in all their desperate neediness and vulnerability. At points it’s a bit of a messy journey, with not all the sequences totally working, but holistically Icons packs a punch. For although Twaits’ vicious wit is out in force, so is his empathy, and through our laughter we feel for these star worshippers. Because in the midst of all this glitter and gold it’s the sad realisation that our icons have fallen from their celestial posts that hits you the hardest. In the face of their fall where does this leave us mere mortals?

Twaits’ greatest skill is the ability to marry the frivolous with the serious and in the midst of all this fluff to make you think. The defining number of the night comes as Lady M heart-stoppingly sings “Stonewall”, Twaits’ joyously defiant song. In this moment, as Judy Garland inspires a group of individuals to change the course of their lives, you are transcended from the mundane to the sublime and surely whether religious or famous, that’s the purpose of a modern icon.

Edinburgh I love you, but let me flirt with London a little…it’s surprisingly tempting

I wrote this piece when I didn’t know that I was going to be going up to Edinburgh with my lovely friend (and children’s book writer – PLUG!) Louise Beere, but I like it so much that I’m going to post it anyway so read on McDuff and the basic premise is the same – Edinburgh in August is fabulous, but London has revealed itself to be just as wonderful:

Edinburgh is calling to me like a long lost lover.  Loud and clear over the airwaves, newspaper pages and facebook status updates, everywhere I look the presence of the Edinburgh Fringe haunts me with it’s vibrancy, variety, drinking and surprisingly good weather.  Great fun if you’re stuck down in little old London.  But not for me the moping of one whose financially straights have caused this enforced separation, no darkened bedrooms and constant stalking of facebook friends who are up there for a bread crumb of the experience. No! Once more into the theatrical breach dear friends, and blow me down what a delectable breach London has to offer in this holiday month.

So far I’ve seen an appallingly lazy production of Dreams of Violence at the Soho Theatre (boyfriends and girlfriends shouldn’t work together if this half arsed attempt is the result) that was great fun to rip apart, a delightful theatrical ditty in the form of Con Ghiaccio’s Grimms, an insightful production of Tis Pity She’s A Whore and an all woman glam rock version of Macbeth.  Next up is absurdist comedy Mascha and Vascha, a Butoh inspired performance, Down-A and a one woman show about family loss, Twinless.  And all that’s in one week.

There’s just so much choice for a city supposedly put to sleep by the migration of artists to the great Scottish capital and although much of this variety has to do with the punked up Camden Fringe, other great fringe London venues are refusing to be cowed, with the Royal Vauxhall Tavern’s Hot August Fringe naughtily representing the South in its usual fabulous fashion and The Arcola in Dalston with the delightfully trendy Arcola Grimeborn Festival.

So forgive me Edinburgh if I let my hair down a little in this glorious capital of mine and forget to stay with my head under the covers pining for you; you have my heart, but what’s a girl to do in the face of so much theatrical temptation? I’m off to flirt more with a bit of the London theatre scene and over the next couple of days I’ll be posting the bits that I’ve written for The Camden Voyeur and also The Fringe Review because it may be repetition but it’s what I’ve been writing this month and this poor blog oh mine has frankly been looking quite neglected.