Thursday, 28 February 2013

Review: The Recruiting Officer rehearsed reading, St James Theatre

“Two and twenty horses killed under me that day”

Accompanying their production of Our Country’s Good, Out of Joint have put together a programme of rehearsed readings of various of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s plays and threw in a bonus reading of George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer for good measure. It is a natural choice as it is the play which the convicts of Our Country’s Good are performing and in using the same cast here, the actors are able to play the characters they are ‘rehearsing’ in the other piece which has a lovely neatness about it.

Farquhar’s play is deliciously dry and funny, impressively so for a 1706 Restoration comedy, and even with the limited rehearsal time and the cast having scripts in hand, there was a real sense of the rich comic potential of the material. And having seen it fairly recently at the Donmar Warehouse, it was interesting to see the different choices and dynamics that a new company brought. Ian Redford’s older Kite had a weariness of the soul that felt entirely appropriate, John Hollingworth’s take on Brazen was straighter than Mark Gatiss’ out-and-out fop but no less hilarious for it and the doubling that most of the actors did was impressively done and added to the humour quotient.

Review: Our Country’s Good, St James Theatre

“In my own small way, in just a few hours, I have seen something change”

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play Our Country's Good was first produced 25 years ago by Max Stafford-Clark and his Out of Joint company and as it has remained an evergreen success, in no small part due to regular appearances as a set text for students, a revival makes good sense. And with Stafford-Clark taking on directorial duties once again, it makes for a fascinating chance to see an impresario revisiting a work with which he is inextricably linked.

Much of the appeal of Wertenbaker’s work lies in its celebration of theatre as a cultural medium but also as something more, something that can heal and restore the soul. And so as a group of convicts newly transported to Australia are convinced to put on a play – George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer – by an officer of reformist tendencies, we see the transformative power of drama and a subtle shift in the way that punishment is viewed as the idea of rehabilitation comes into play.

A vibrant young company bring a genuinely fresh energy to proceedings which makes the play feel like something new. Judicious use of doubling keeps us (and them) on their toes – John Hollingworth is simply excellent as the forward-thinking governor and a convict, Ian Redford covers four roles with a great nimbleness and there’s an embarrassment of riches in the female cast with any of Laura Dos Santos, Lisa Kerr, Helen Bradbury and Kathryn O’Reilly making a striking impression at one point or another.

And as I’m a shallow boy at heart, Dominic Thorburn as Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark is one of the dreamiest things on the London stage at the moment. Even without the pictorial evidence that recently surfaced, displaying his not insubstantial…charms, he has the kind of gorgeously mellifluous voice (which called to mind the equally silkily voiced Rupert Evans) that really commanded my attention and highlighted the quandary of his officer who is, to all intents and purposes, as much of a prisoner as his charges.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 23rd March

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Review: A Time to Reap, Royal Court

“Why does every festival have to end with a hangover and a mess and everything in ruins?”

The Royal Court’s impressive commitment to international playwriting turns its focus to Eastern Europe for the next month or so with readings of plays from Georgia and Ukraine supplementing the run of A Time to Reap, a new play from 22 year old Polish writer Anna Wakulik. First developed in 2011 on the Royal Court’s own International Residency, it is staged here in a translation by Catherine Grosvenor and directed by the always interesting Caroline Steinbeis.

Ricocheting between the Polish mountain village of Niepokalanów, Warsaw and London, A Time To Reap follows the story of a woman, Marysia, and her interactions with the handsome but restless Piotr and his gynaecologist father Jan in a Poland emerging from the shadow of Communism but where religious feeling has ensured a hardline stance on abortion. And as the three characters come to terms with the changing circumstances of their lives, the opportunities presented on the one hand and taken away with the other, their inextricably entwined lives play out in all their emotional highs and lows.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Review: Dear World, Charing Cross Theatre

“She’s not that innocent, she keeps rabbits”

This is actually the UK premiere of Jerry Herman’s 1969 musical Dear World and reading the programme notes about the tortured history of the show - the unhappiness of the writers at how the first production was taken out of their hands, the subsequent numerous rewrites, the competitive and changing musical theatre environment of the time – one could justifiably ask why the decision has been made to put it on now. Seasoned director/choreographer Gillian Lynne has been the one to take it on though, providing a refreshed take on both book and score, and in perhaps the biggest coup, attracting musical theatre legend Betty Buckley to the lead role of the Countess Aurelia. 

The story is based on a 1945 play by Giradoux called The Madwoman of Chaillot and is a rather whimsical, you could say bonkers, tale of ecologically-minded community action rising up against exploitative capitalism. A group of avaricious financiers have been led to believe that they can excavate oil from beneath the boulevards of Paris and are willing to do anything – including knocking down the Café Francis – to get at it. And plotting to stop them and save their café, city and the world they hold so dearly, are a ragtag band of odd individuals with the not-quite-as-eccentric-as-all-that Countess Aurelia. 

Cast of Dear World continued

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Review: Trelawny of the Wells, Donmar Warehouse

"Reserve your tears for the bedroom Madam, this is whist!"

With just a handful of films under his belt, Joe Wright has made quite the name for himself as a director of some theatrical flair – perhaps nodding to childhood time spent at the Little Angel Theatre that his parents founded – but it is only now that he has made his directorial debut in the theatre with Trelawny of the Wells at the Donmar Warehouse. Whether by design or by accident, it marks the third notable recent outing for the otherwise neglected Victorian playwright after the Rose’s The Second Mrs Tanqueray and the National’s The Magistrate but it cleaves closer to the gently farcical nature of the latter than the melodrama of the former. The text here has been ornamented by Patrick Marber, though more learned writers than I will be able to tell you by how much.

The play focuses on Rose Trelawny, a star of the melodramas that filled the Victorian stage, who opts to give up her career in the theatre when she decides to marry her paramour, the aristocrat Arthur Gower. But when the social chasm between her and his family drives them apart, drastic measures on both sides are necessary to try and restore their relationship. But for a play about the theatre, it had little of the breathless joy and theatricality that I had assumed Wright would bring into play and not all of that can be ascribed to the fact that this was a preview.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Review: Bottleneck, Soho Theatre

“The sun peeking its head over the tower block like a paedo”

Fast approaching his 15th birthday, Greg is obsessed with football - every aspect of his life in the Boot Estate in Liverpool revolves around the beautiful game and it informs his every action. And in Luke Barnes’ one-man play Bottleneck set in the late 1980s, we find a portrait not just of adolescence in progress as we lead up to the tumultuous events of his birthday, but also of working class life in a city in decline. It is heartfelt and lively, fearlessly funny and almost unbearably moving.

Barnes is clearly a gifted playwright, not just in the careful unwinding of his narrative but also in the richness of his text which deepens and layers his writing. Though Greg is the epitome of teenage rebelliousness and is straining for a greater independence, details abound that remind us he is still in many ways just a boy – his mittens, his naïveté about most everything about girls, the joy of being on his BMX. And Barnes also has a way of making vivid images linger in the mind, whether the comical obsession with much-vaunted moustaches or the desolation of impressions of wire fences and fingernails.

Review: Bitch Boxer, Soho Theatre

“Of course I’m gonna compete! I’m not letting anything get in the way”

After a successful run last year in Edinburgh, Charlotte Josephine’s monologue Bitch Boxer is now stepping into the ring upstairs at the Soho Theatre and fresh from being part of the all-female company at the recent Donmar’s Julius Caesar, it is full of punchy energy. Set in Leytonstone, East London in 2012, Chloe Jackson is aiming to represent her country in the 2012 Olympics and it is particularly special because it is the first time that women’s boxing has been allowed at the Games.

In Josephine’s hands, Chloe is a determinedly tough cookie with a hard earned resolve. Abandoned by her mother aged 11, her father turned all his attention onto his daughter and helped her to channel her rage and frustration into the noble art and discovering as her trainer, that she has a real affinity for it. But the arrival of a boyfriend on the scene threatens her focus and when tragedy strikes, the challenges she faces suddenly seem much greater.

Review: The Route to Happiness, Landor

“We’ll make it”

Over the next month, Aria Entertainment and the Landor Theatre in South London are hosting a whole season dedicated to new musical theatre writing – From Page to Stage – which features showcases, works-in-progress and workshops from a wide range of writers from across the globe. The programme also includes this world premiere of The Route to Happiness, a new intimate three-hander from Alexander S Bermange which runs for a week. And as befits a season of this nature, the show marks an interesting progression for Bermange as a writer, though not one without its challenges, and offers a brilliant showcase for some of our excellent talent.

The Route to Happiness opens with three Londoners having their respective dreams of love and marriage, unlimited wealth and enduring fame dashed by circumstances and follows them on their attempts to build their hopes back up and get back in pursuit of the things that they think will make them happiest. So former banker Marcus seizes the opportunity to manage wannabe celebrity Trinity despite her lack of obvious talent, whilst also romancing author Lorna after an impromptu meeting at a wedding where she believes she may finally have found the one.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Review: If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep, Royal Court

“Do you see a rise in social harmony on the horizon?”

Between this interview for the Evening Standard and the three pages of programme notes that accompany the playtext, Anders Lustgarten clearly sees conventional theatre as a challenge to be met and his play for the Royal Court - If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep – certainly aims to be different. Fitting into Dominic Cooke’s brief to shake up the archetypal middle class audiences at the Sloane Square venue, it offers a illuminating deconstruction of the politics and economics of austerity and promises an alternative but where the first point is definitely delivered, the second remains somewhat unrealised.

Lustgarten has imagined a world not at all dissimilar to our own with the impact of a financial system in meltdown unfurling insidiously throughout society. With traditional avenues closed to them, City financiers plot new ways of making money and alight on the idea of Unity Bonds, wherein “problem families can now be monetised” by the bankers betting on social disorder increasing whilst officially being incentivised by it going down. But this is just the start of a series of short scenes, the rest of which focus on a society which is fast unravelling. Prisons, hospitals, schools all feel the shockwaves of this approach, as services become depersonalised in the endless rush to meet targets and frustrations boil over into violence.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Review: Bull, Sheffield Studio

“If we see someone who's really going to fuck up the rest of us because they're stupid or slow or weak or thin or short or ugly or has dandruff or something you have to desire somewhere deep within you to take them down first”

Travelling from London to Sheffield to see a play that is 50 minutes long may seem close to madness but playwright Mike Bartlett is someone whose work I would happily go far to see and so there was no doubt that a day-trip to see Bull would be on the cards. I actually caught a rehearsed reading of the show at the Finborough a couple of years ago, so I knew the ballpark it was in – more the blistering intimacy of Contractions and Cock than the epic sprawling grandeur of 13 and Earthquakes in London – and with a top-notch cast being directed by Clare Lizzimore in the studio space at the Crucible, expectations were high.

And this production certainly met them. Bartlett locates Bull in a tense office environment where three members of a sales team are awaiting a meeting with their boss where one of them is going to get fired. The atmosphere is clearly survival of the fittest and it soon becomes apparent that Thomas lacks the killer business mindset of Tony and Isobel and in a brilliantly sustained barrage of bullying and mindgames which last the entire duration, they systematically dishearten, deconstruct and destroy their target. 

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Review: The Audience, Gielgud

“It is the flow of information from one institution to another”

Helen Mirren took home the Academy Award in 2006 for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in Peter Morgan’s film The Queen, so it was perhaps a bit of a surprise that her reprisal of the role was announced to take place on the stage of the Gielgud Theatre in The Audience, a new play written by Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry. The Audience centres on the custom for the reigning monarch to meet their Prime Minister every week at Buckingham Palace, a meeting which is held in complete privacy, and it is this that Morgan has seized upon. The play has just started previews and opens officially on 5th March.

He imagines how some of these audiences might have gone, with strong political characters and epochal events of the second half of the twentieth century passing through and the Queen being the only constant, though not unchanging. There have been 12 Prime Ministers during the Queen’s reign so far, 8 are featured here and even some of those are just fleeting appearances. But Morgan’s selectiveness and use of a non-chronological ordering pays huge dividends in the development of the play and of the Queen as a dramatic character. 

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Review: Chess, Union Theatre

“But nobody's rules are the same"

With music from Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus  of ABBA and conceived by Tim Rice who also contributed the lyrics, the 1980s musical Chess had grand ambitions which have never really come to fruition as it remains a show that has been revised as often as it has been revived. This new production at the powerhouse of intimate musical theatre that is the Union is a version which has been sanctioned by Rice himself as the definitive version of this story of a love triangle in the world of international chess competitions set against the backdrop of the Cold War. But the potency of an intimate venue has to be carefully captured in order to make it truly work and this is where Chess comes a little unstuck.

Ryan Dawson Laight’s design has recast the Union into a shallow thrust, the size of the theatre meaning that most of the seats end up on the sides. Not an issue at all in and of itself but Laight has a large platform take up most of the space at the rear of the stage and so much of the action is forced forward and this, combined with co-directors Christopher Howell and Steven Harris having the performers play predominantly straight ahead, results in a production that too rarely engages with the vast majority of its audience. For the handful of eight or so people facing the stage head-on, it must be marvellous but if the theatre were full, more people would actually see Florence’s back than her face during the bruisingly raw final scene – that two directors can misuse such an intimate space this way is certainly problematic. 

Friday, 15 February 2013

Review: Desolate Heaven, Theatre503

“Girls can do anythin' so..."

If you see two more accomplished or affecting debut performances this year than those of Carla Langley and Evelyn Lockley at the Theatre503, then you will be very lucky indeed. Along with the more seasoned Bríd Brennan, they star in Desolate Heaven, a new play from Irish composer and playwright Ailís Ní Ríain and a piece of new writing that dances variously between grimly realistic road-trip, lesbian coming-of-age story and cautionary fairytale. 

Langley’s Orlaith and Lockley’s Sive are both teenage girls and bound together by their similar responsibilities in acting as a carer for one parent in the absence of the other. Orlaith has developed a brittle exterior of forthright bluster in the face of her father’s mental illness but in dealing with her paralysed mother, Sive has become altogether more introverted. But despite the innate difference in their characters, they bond over the idea of fleeing the oppressive reality of their lives and seize the first chance that comes their way, unprepared for the consequences they’re ultimately forced to face. 

Review: I Know How I Feel About Eve, Hampstead Downstairs

“What exactly do we get to choose, with this better…way?”

I do like a bit of Kirsty Bushell and have decided she is one of the many actresses that I will now go to see in everything she does. Which meant a trip to the Hampstead Downstairs for Colette Kane’s play I Know How I Feel About Eve, an unusual twist on a domestic tragedy which plays out rather interestingly across its short running time. Jo and Alex are an archetypal young professional couple but something has gone wrong, something that can’t be fixed until Jo finds Gloria and the rather exceptional service that her organisation provides.

It’s a vague description and deliberately so, I wouldn’t want to reveal much more as the surprises of the play depend on it but it’s safe to say that though the plot stretches credulity in its somewhat surreal reaches, it forms an effective way in which to explore the trials and machinations of the issue that is plaguing Jo and Alex. And it is sensitively done, though a little simplistically heavy-handed at times as it strives to reach an overly neat conclusion when it could either have kept a stronger note of ambiguity or taken a little longer to get there.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Review: Glasgow Girls, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“Our story is mostly about photocopying”

Many a theatrical production lays claim to being unique but few can genuinely live up to that billing. Cora Bissett’s Glasgow Girls – playing at Theatre Royal Stratford East after an initial run at the Citizens in Glasgow – really is like nothing else you’ve seen before, a true-life story about a group of teenagers who fought for the rights of the children of asylum seekers in their city set to an eclectic score that incorporates electronic grime, Balkan music, reggae-dub, folk/rock and much more besides. 

The show is based in Drumchapel, an archetypally grim Glaswegian estate of high-rises, where in 2005, a group of seven schoolgirls were awarded the “Best Public Campaign” at the Scottish Politician of the Year Awards. As an area where many asylum seeker families had been located while waiting for their claims to be processed, a wait of several years in some cases, groups of friends clustered together from varying nationalities and when one from this particular group – a Kosovo Roma girl called Agnesa – was snatched in a dawn raid and detained for deportation, their resulting campaign to have her released and returned gathered such momentum that elements of the immigration system were changed as a direct result. 

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Review: The Vortex, Rose Kingston

“He’s always taciturn after a matinée”

I’m unwilling to write it off just yet, but I really do have problems with the Rose Kingston as a theatrical space. Its very design seems inimical to fostering the sense of emotional connection that marks truly great productions and very few directors I have seen work there have been able to substantially address this. As the AD of the place, Stephen Unwin has tried more than most but in a play like The Vortex, which unusually for Noël Coward coils ever tighter into the most intense of two-handers in its final act, it proves a serious issue.

Coward’s 1924 debut work caused shockwaves with its portrayal of casual marital infidelity and cocaine addiction and though it may have lost some of that power now, it still has the power to move. Nicky Lancaster is a disaffected young music student who returns from a sojourn in Paris with a fiancée, a drug habit and an uncertain amount of sexual confusion. He is shocked on his arrival though, to find his mother Florence engaged in a heady affair with a much younger Guards Officer and determined to live her life free from societal pressure or marital responsibilities. Over the course of a weekend, their lives and the secrets they both possess clash to devastating effect. 

Monday, 11 February 2013

Review: The Secret Garden, King’s Head

“For in the earth, the charm’s at work”

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s story The Secret Garden was first made into a musical in the early 1990s with book and lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon but despite an RSC production in 2000, it remains a rarely-performed work. Aria Entertainment and Knockhardy Productions are seeking to redress that with a concert version playing Sunday and Mondays at the King’s Head Theatre Pub. The story focuses on Mary Lennox, the sole survivor of a cholera attack in her home of the British Raj who unceremoniously shipped back to her closest remaining relative, a disinterested uncle who lives in a vast stately home in Yorkshire. Initially ill-tempered and stubborn, she finds her calling in the restoration of a neglected garden which awakens not only her own good nature but the ailing spirit of her uncle and her sickly cousin Colin.

Although billed as an intimate concert, the reality of Matthew Gould’s production is closer to a semi-staged performance, a choice that has both its benefits and drawbacks. It allows a company of 18 to be utilised effectively, flowing around the small stage space and giving full voice to the sweeping harmonies of Simon’s score. But it also unnecessarily complicates matters as it introduces more elements of the show without their full context, meaning the relationships between the characters aren’t always clear, the nuances of the shifting time periods are lost, the budgetary constraints highlighted.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Review: Fiesta - The Sun Also Rises, Trafalgar Studios 2,

“We pondered life and death and the vanity of it all" 

The art of adapting a novel for the stage is often fraught with difficulties, the need to balance fidelity to the source material with the demands of a different art form is further complicated by the expectations and preconceptions that audience members familiar with the book bring to the theatre. And so adaptations run the gamut from slavish retellings to freewheeling interpretations and more often than not, someone will come out saying ‘well it wasn’t like the book…’. So it may seem a brave choice for Alex Helfrecht to take on Ernest Hemingway’s first and most celebrated novel Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, but it is one that is attacked with invention and gusto to create an admirably different theatrical experience. 

From the moment that one enters the intimacy of Trafalgar Studios 2 to see and hear the bass, sax and drums of the Trio Farouche jazz band establishing an entirely appropriate mood, it is clear that Helfrecht, who also directs, is as concerned with symbolism and atmosphere as story. The band remain part of the staging throughout, soundtracking the action from bohemian Parisian bars to the bullring at Pamplona and Sonja Perreten’s choreography is frequently used to convey the emotional interplay and depth of passion between characters. And Rachel Noël’s design of suspended wine glasses leaves the cast literally soaked with red wine as a visual cue to the recklessness of their carousing but also the aftermath of the climactic bullfight. 

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Review: Flow, The Print Room

"Go with the flow..."

Since setting up as a new venue in 2010, The Print Room has pulled together programmes covering a wide range of artistic disciplines. So whilst the following months sees live sculpture making and plays from Brian Friel and Amy Herzog, one can currently take in an exhibition of photography and an international dance premiere in Hubert Essakow’s Flow. A musing on the unique properties of water and the different relationships that we have with it in its varying states, it creates a dance experience that is immersive in more ways than one.

Waterproof bibs, not dissimilar to binbags with neck holes, are handed out as the audience enter the West London studio, seated around the edge of the intimate space with its raised performance area and a column of sheer fabric in the centre. And from here, the five dancers work their way through their way through water in all of its forms, from the frozen tranquillity of the ice-bound opening sequence through to the exhilarating energy of a powerful storm with rain falling from sprinklers and the dancers splashing so gleefully, you’ll be glad of your binbag! 

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Review: Money the game show, Bush

“We’re going to add a bit more risk and therefore potential reward into the game”

On picking up one’s ticket for Money the game show at the Bush Theatre, a raffle ticket is placed in the hand and instructions given to wait in the bar where the show will begin as we’re divided into teams. Leading the groups are Casino and Queenie, former hedge fund managers in gaudy suits, who are here to take us on an illuminating journey through the machinations of the stock market and how such gambles played their part in creating the financial crash of 2008. And they do it with £10,000 in real pound coins piled on the stage in front of us, though a security guard and CCTV are in place to avoid any smash and grab attempts.

Written and directed by Clare Duffy as a co-production with Unlimited Theatre, the show is part interactive gameshow, part play, part performance piece. And if it perhaps succeeds more on the former two points than the latter, it is not for lack of enthusiasm or ambition from all concerned. Lucy Ellinson’s Queenie (for whose team I batted) and Brian Ferguson’s Casino do a remarkable job slipping between the roles of team captain - as they cajole and encourage audience participation in a series of games based on economic principles (much more fun than it sounds – you get to play with the pound coins after all) – and their characters – as those principles are located in the real-world context of the financial system that they try to manipulate to their gain.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Review: Saer Doliau, Finborough

“Ma’ rhaid I ni symud hefo’r oes, Ifans”

It is often on the fringes that boundaries are pushed the most and West London’s Finborough continues to do just that by hosting the English premiere of Gwenlyn Parry’s Welsh play Saer Doliau, translated as Doll Mender. Performed entirely in Welsh, with English surtitles available for those whose command of Welsh is not so strong, it really is a unique opportunity to take in a vibrant expression of Welsh linguistic and cultural history in a season which has already covered the sad decline of another British minority language, Scots Gaelic.

Set in the timewarp that is Ifans’ studio in rural Wales where he is surrounded by broken dolls and painstakingly repairs them one by one with the tools that his father used and his grandfather before him, the doll mender’s tranquillity is shattered by the arrival of two strangers. Merch, a young woman who is determined to drag the business into the twenty-first century and then Llanc, her accomplice and putative apprentice doll mender, thoroughly shake up this world, smashing Ifans’ certainties and playing mind games to unsettle him. But all is not quite so straightforward, Ifans constantly makes calls to talk to his gaffer yet there’s no phone line in the building and so we’re left to question if the visitors are real or just manifestations of Ifans’ imagination.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Review: Mare Rider, Arcola

“I’m a legendary woman my dear, and as you know, the legendary women never die”

Leyla Nazli co-founded the Arcola with Mehmet Ergen in 2000 and it was here that her first play, Silver Birch House, was directed by Ergen to considerable acclaim in 2007. And with her new play Mare Rider, her writing returns to the Dalston theatre, directed by Ergen again and featuring a highly seductive cast including Kathryn Hunter and Anna Francolini. The Mare Rider is full of mystery, a bad spirit named Elka, reputed to haunt new mothers and as Selma goes through a troublesome birth at Homerton Hospital, the two women take a journey of haunting revelation that hinges somewhere between fantasy and tragedy.

Elka is the kind of role Hunter revels in inhabiting. A mythical figure from Turkish fairytales, there’s a strong vein of mordant humour in her stories of her own rebellious long-gone past in which her struggle for independence was subverted to make her an enemy of her own society and thus a monstrous legend was born. She’s also a highly fantastical figure and her tales of adventure frequently possess a magical quality, something conjured excellent by Richard Williamson’s lighting and video design from Ben Walden and Dick Straker and of course, Hunter’s own sinuous physicality, whether stamping out a tribal dance, aggressively flipping beds or riding a horse across the Anatolian plain.

Review: Gruesome Playground Injuries, Gate

“What have you got, a death wish?”

The first thing to strike you as you enter the Gate for Gruesome Playground Injuries is Lily Arnold’s design. A jagged streak of clinical white bisects the theatre, Mariah Gale and Felix Scott already sit onstage, the traverse staging exposes half of the audience in this already intimate space. Rajiv Joseph’s intimately bruising two-hander initially sustains the premise that is promised by the visual ingenuity and its intriguing concept, but the writing runs out of steam before its 80 minutes are over and so ultimately proves a bit of a frustrating watch.

Kayleen and Doug first meet aged 8 in the nurse’s room of their school – she’s got a sore tummy and he rode his bicycle off the roof of the school and a perverse attraction with each other’s sickness soon grows between the pair. We then trace their (not-)relationship through the next 30 years, jumping back and forth through time as they are repeatedly drawn together at key moments in their lives despite having drifted far apart in the intervening periods. Their encounters are almost always based around a new injury suffered by one but as Doug’s daredevil stunts continue with a horrific disregard for his own safety and Kayleen’s internal demons prevent her own happiness, it is clear that this is a vicious cycle of pain in which they are trapped.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Review: Lift, Soho Theatre

“I keep telling myself if this is happening, it will happen in time”

A musical looking at “love, life and loss in a London lift”, Craig Adams and Ian Watson’s Lift is a thing to treasure in and of itself – a new British musical. Adams started writing the song cycle in 2005 and following the nurturing development of Perfect Pitch and its housing in the welcoming arms of the Soho Theatre - both necessarily ardent supporters of new musical theatre writing – it now makes its world premiere. The show looks at a cross-section of contemporary London life, taking its sample from the inhabitants of a lift at Covert Garden tube station as their lives intersect in the 54 seconds it takes to surface and then scatter to the wind on departing it. 

The central conceit is that even though we may not make eye contact with the people next to us on tube journeys, our lives are more connected than we know and so we see the paths of these eight characters cross again in varied and unexpected ways. It’s a neat concept but one which falls a little short in the execution, coming across as too haphazard in its bringing together of such disparate elements – we long for more of a connection, both between the characters but also between the characters and the audience, the device of the lift just doesn’t feel strong enough.