Review: Consumed

Written for The Stage

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Border Crossings’ new show explores the role of technology in our understanding of reality alongside the experiences of two Chinese generations  – from those who grew up within the Cultural Revolution to those within the internet one.

Questions of communication, both between East and West and old China and new, haunt this opaque show and it works best in the less obvious and more abstract moments rather than in the slightly stilted expressions of narrative. The stillness in each cast member lends an edge to the performances which is hypnotic, but the overt emotionalism occasionally feels stilted.

With delicate video work from Dori Deng and enough live video streaming to keep Katie Mitchell happy, Consumed is a multimedia feast. An atmospheric score by Dave Carey is evocative of the urban melding of East and West personified in Blade Runner.

Chapter titles frame each scene in an effect that is both Brechtian and reminiscent of Martin Crimp’s Attempts On Her Life. But Consumed is not derivative. In a piece that blends the future with the past, Michael Walling and his cast have devised a show that is distinctly Chinese and for many Western eyes promises to be alien and utterly unique.

For information of the tour go here

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Review: The Tailors’ Last Stand

Written for The Stage

Ian Buckley’s gently humorous new offering is a touching testament to 20th century British socialism. Based on his father’s accounts of retired tailors’ trade union meetings, The Tailors’ Last Stand is full of antiquated language and disappointed dreams. But the sentiments of these faded ‘comrades’ also chime potently with the hopes of modern ‘brothers and sisters’ such as Occupy, thus contextualising contemporary struggles.

This cast wouldn’t look out of place in Dad’s Army and although they appear a bit shaky on their legs and lines they are a watchable and likeable bunch. As the mischievous Tom, Richard Ward is a warm mediator to Terry Jermyn’s zany George and the emotionalism exploding between old love foes Edmund Dehn – as the officious Max – and Tony Parkin’s querulous Barney.

Cleo Harris-Seaton’s lemon-walled NHS waiting room design gives a potent sense of faded grandeur, while the Labour leaders who adorn the walls do a nice job of reminding us what the party meant before Tony Blair. Buckley cleverly ties in the struggles of communism as a global concept with the personal struggles of these retired communists and, apart from a contrived piece of business around a doctor, this is a sharply written piece.

For more information go here.

Review: Gay’s The Word

Written for Time Out

Gay's the Word

Staging ‘Gay’s The Word’ in February  is a canny move for the Jermyn Street Theatre: the gloomy weather provides just enough external misery to lift our appreciation of Ivor Novello’s ultra frothy backstage musical. But in this clunky production, even clever programming cannot save Novello’s flimsiest of efforts.

After producing a flop, musical comedy star Gay Daventry (a spunky Sophie-Louise Dann) tries to recoup her losses by starting an acting academy. Through a series of misadventures she and her students realise that the quality they need to succeed is ‘vitality’ – aptly the title of the show’s most famous number.

But vitality seems a long way off as Alan Melville’s songs – themselves long-winded – are performed with gumption but no zing. What actually succeeds is ‘grannies doing jazz hands’, with the house nearly coming down when four of  the academy’s elderly teachers do just that.

A musical cannot live on cheap gags alone however and while there are enough theatrical winks and nudges to keep the audience tittering, director Stewart Nicholls doesn’t have much to work with. For this, his last operetta, Novello descended into the bawdy world of music hall and it doesn’t suit his delicate upper class wit.

Nicholls is unable to add coherence to this mêlée and his choreography is simplistic. The cast are hampered by awkwardness and only Dunn and the dynamic Myra Sands as deportment tutor Margaret Fallowfield really sparkle.

For more information go here

Interview: David Greig

Written for The Stage

David Greig. Photo: K Ribbe

“I really believe that theatre is encoded into the human DNA.” Playwright David Greig’s has been talking in this vein for about 20 minutes and his enthusiasm is infectious – the kind of voice all theatremakers should want on their side right now. It feels hackneyed to say someone is inspiring but if that tag applies to anyone it’s this passionate playwright who gets carried away with his own sentences and uses more adjectives than an overwrought critic.

A prolific writer, Greig’s career has spanned straight plays (Europe), arty pieces (Whatever Gets You Through The Night), sequels to Shakespeare (Dunsinane), ‘plays with songs’ (Midsummer among others), and pub evenings inspired by Border Ballads (The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart). He is now working with director Sam Mendes on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. To read more go here

Review: Desolate Heaven

Written for The Stage

Desolate Heaven is a potent coming of age story. Two girls burdened with caring for their parents run away together. On their travels they meet three strange women – played with rather discombobulating relish by Tony Award-winner Brid Brennan – who help them.

Opaque references to the early 20th century poet WB Yeats are everywhere, from the story that each woman tells the girls – The Lazy Beauty and Her Aunts, which appeared in a collection he edited – to the poem the play ends on – The Stolen Child. But the meaning behind these references is unclear and they cloud the affecting story of love and betrayal between Orlaith and Sive.

Carla Langley as the frank Orlaith is as brittle as glass but breaks just as easily, while as the gentler Sive Evelyn Lockley infuses the stage with a warm but fragile tenderness. Their relationship is utterly compelling and these two actresses have a great understanding of each other’s roles.

Paul Robinson’s imaginative direction and Steve Kirkham’s movement work make this a dynamic production. But for all their effort Desolate Heaven is eventually weighed down by its own Yeatsian mystique.

Runs until 2nd March 2013. For more information go here

Review: A Woman of No Importance…Or Somewhat Little Importance Anyhow

Written for The Stage

nspired by the cut glass wit of Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward, this play is a modern comedy of manners. Rodden is Lauren, a ‘resting’ actress, with nothing but her Coward plays and bottles of cheap plonk for company, which – apart from the work situation – is just how she likes it. But soon she is swamped by her feuding adolescent parents and a war of fruity vowels begins.

Highly crafted and with plenty of lovingly researched detail, Katherine Rodden’s play is an enjoyable, contemporary nod to a bygone era. However, there are times when it enters sitcom territory as subtext becomes text and too much is revealed. Coward would have undoubtedly found this vulgar and a good deal – including an under-baked subplot involving two suitors – could be shaved off.

But the actors clearly relish all the horsing around and the energy on stage is high. Rodden does a neat line in self-obsessed actresses, while Alan Booty as her philandering father is reminiscent of Stephen Fry. When he and his wife – Rachel Dobell – reconcile they do so without bells and whistles, cutting through the froth to provide a flicker of genuine feeling.

Runs until 23 February 2013. For more information go here 

Fringe Focus: Offies on screen?

Written for The Stage

One of the biggest problems facing the fringe is reaching new audiences.

To raise the profile of some of London’s best kept secrets we needed to think outside the box and after taking part in this week’s The Stage poll – “Will you be watching/listening to the Olivier Awards this year?” – I think I’ve hit upon an idea – let’s live stream The Off West End Theatre Awards (or ‘Offies’ to their friends)

The media coverage of the Oliviers is the reason they are such a good thing for British theatre. By offering both the glitzily edited highlights and live radio coverage, an exclusive event is transformed into one millions can enjoy. And this isn’t hyperbole, in 2012 almost one million people watched them – a profile raising figure if ever there was one…to read more go here