Exeunt Critics’ Picks of 2011

LOTS of fabulous picks here by some people who really know their stuff including some expected and not so expected pieces. Wish I could have mentioned London Road, wish I could have seen Mission Drift…

Originally published on Exeunt

Of course we are wary of the arbitrary nature of these things, the artificiality of seasons, the ordering of experiences into peaks, the hierarchal maps they reproduce, the dangers of placing Fabulous ones next to Those who have just broken a vase.  However at some point you have to be practical.  Our critics have valiantly seen a metric stage-tonne of theatre this year, so what better to relive with sufficient context their most notable moments? And from here it looks like they have produced a list unrivalled for its scope, depth and surprises.  So without further ado-ing, and in no particular order…

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The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd; a compendium of theatrical curiosity.

Note: This is not a review, I didn’t see enough of it to be a review – if you did see enough to disagree with me please let me know.

I was reminded of the wonderfully weird world I work in last week when I went to see The Roar Of The Greasepaint – The Smell Of The Crowd.  With clown urchins, the battle of a tramp and a gentleman crook and some kind of dream fairy, 1960s musical giants Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley went existential. We watch with increasingly shuffling confusion as a strange game of life is played between master (Sir) and servant (Cocky), with arbitrary rules weighted against the poorer of the two men.

Some of my colleagues have inferred that this tortured process is a comment on class (and Wikipedia certainly seems to think so). But this whirligig production of cackling choral clowns, apocalyptic circus environments, Victorian blonde visions and ‘Negro’ saviours is so bizarre any such comment surely gets lost in an out of control music hall analogy.  As we see one man constantly testing and beating another, the question does not seem to be one of social power but ‘if Samuel Beckett were to knock off a musical version of Waiting For Godot what would it be like?’ And what a frankly incomprehensible answer Bricusse and Newley have come up with. Because whilst this hallucinogenic whirlwind may have worked in the psychedelic 1960s today I can’t get away from the fact that in its outlandish absurdity this musical has become a true theatrical oddity. Just what led the estimable Ian Judge to produce it?

But why has The Roar Of The Grease Paint – The Smell Of The Crowd slipped into the sphere of the puzzingly freakish for me and not just been relegated to the slowly growing ‘so bad it’s, well just really bad’ pile? What goes into making a theatrical curiosity?

Here at least it seems to be that whilst all the ingredients in the pot are right, with Bricusse and Newley, Judge and designer Tim Goodchild all being names that are synonymous with quality musical theatre, the result was just wrong. It’s not bad because the songs aren’t bad, and the performances aren’t bad and yet the story doesn’t make sense, the choices are too outlandish: the arrow has well and truly missed.

But I don’t hold this show or it’s makers in contempt, instead I’ve felt energised by its strangeness, oddly inspired by its inherent failure. Have any shows ever done that to you? What would you call a theatrical oddity and why? A compendium of these experiences seems to call out to be documented, something with metaphorical jars that is suitably Hunterian, and yes I realise there’s something fittingly odd about that whole idea in itself…

Review: Miss Lilly Gets Boned or The Loss of All Elephant Elders

Miss Lilly Gets Boned or The Loss of All Elephant Elders is a suitably cheeky title for this mischievous new play by Bekah Brunstetter. It is perhaps a tad dismissive too, with the elephant part of this piece feeling a little underbaked in the midst of Brunstetter’s Richard Curtis-inspired comedy.

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S-27 Review – Finborough Theatre


by Sarah Grochala



It is sweltering hot and a guillotine like camera click is the only sound that fills the room, apart that is, from a boy’s desperate wail for his mother.  So begins Sarah Grochala’s potent play S-27 which has been given an emotionally gut wrenching production at Finborough theatre in a piece which may not teach you anything new about the atrocities of human oppression but will place you right at the centre of it. 


Nameless and faceless S-27’s stream through May’s room getting their photographs taken before walking ominously through their last door.  But May is beginning to apply names and stories to these faces and as each person comes and goes, she takes on the role of a Confessor for the dead and her hard worn facade begins to crack. 


Grochala cleverly keeps her unspecified regime invisible in all but May and her assistant June, whose evident pleasure in torture is the only physical indication of their terrifying power.   But they are are inherently laced into every threatened ‘them’ and ‘they’ and the undercurrent of violence is evident in the terrified inmates and broken gaolers. 


A series of one on one scenes slowly shows humanity cracking through this chilling oak of power but it also means that the wider picture is simplified down into black and white situations, the regime is clearly bad, the oppressed are clearly good, when perhaps a more subtle look at individuals working within these groups would have been more interesting.  Grochala almost does this with an aggressive prisoner who used to be a bullying Police Captain, but it is the only glimpse of a less clear cut vision that we see. 


This simplicity does lend itself to some raw emotional moments however which are performed  with intense focus by the cast.  Pippa Nixon brings a taut strength to May which melts beautifully into a hopeful idealism and Brooke Kinsella is both hateful and pitiable as the cold June.  


S-27 may have an obvious message, but it succeeds in putting the audience for a moment into the shoes of both the oppressed and the oppressors and shows that even in the most desperate of situations hope springs eternal. 


Runs until Saturday, 4 July 2009

Tuesday to Saturday Evenings at 7.30pm. Sunday Matinees at 3.00pm. Saturday Matinees at 3.00pm (from 20 June).


Review originally published on Broadway Baby http://www.broadwaybaby.com/

Trying at The Finborough

Further to my post below on the thinness of modern writing, I went to see Trying at The Finborough yesterday and it flies in the face of everything I’ve written being elegant, effusive and joyously pedantic in its use of English (well American but still).  Oh and the acting is pretty fab too.  My full review is here if you’d like to peak.  It is on until 11 April.  Absolutely go and see it.